Finding a parking place downtown San Francisco on a Saturday night is never easy, but as I cruised down Market Street with my date alongside, it was clear I’d have to search the side streets quickly to make our show in time. Turning, I drove slowly down the nearest one and disappeared soon into the darkness amid bars, porn shops, and massage parlors.
Nervously, I checked my watch and then at last, a welcome gap appeared ahead in the line of parked cars. We’ll just walk fast and get out of here quick, I told myself as I pulled into the space and glanced at my date—now peering anxiously out her side window.
“Well,” I declared, hastily adjusting my tie, “at last we found a place!”
Mugged on a Date…Well, Almost
Not waiting for her response, I hopped out of the car; immediately, the heavy odor of beer and urine leapt out and seized me as amped-up guitar and drums blared from a nearby bar. A few feet from the car, a man covered in rags sat slumping on the sidewalk against an alleyway, clutching a small paper bag.
I looked again at my watch and realized there was no turning back; we’d have to hurry to make the show. I stepped around to my date’s door and opened it for her.
Catching the aroma and noise, she drew back and paused uncertain, then looked up at me. “Do you think this is…, I mean, is it OK to park here?”
Mustering my most confident smile, I reached out a hand. “It’s not that far from the theater,”
I reassured her—and myself. “If we hurry we’ll be there in no time.”
With a measured sigh, she reached out her manicured hand to mine with a gesture that charged, OK, you’re the man here, so I’m trusting you to protect me!
I helped her out firmly, if not cautiously—hoping to communicate great strength; as her white heels leaned unsteadily on the splotchy, cracked sidewalk, I drew her to me. “OK, let’s go!”
Walking deliberately, fast enough to get us to the theater on time but not enough to draw attention, I pulled her ahead as quickly as her heels would allow. Above us, a bare-breasted woman flashed in yellow neon as a large martini glass teetered back and forth beside her. I pressed ahead, focusing on the sidewalk.
It’s only another block or two, I told myself. We’ll be there in no…“HEY, YOU!”
Startled, I looked up mid-stride as a man much larger than myself lurched out of the bar and seized my shoulder with an iron grip.
“Wh—what?” I blurted out, wincing. Startled, I shifted to keep standing as my date gripped my other arm fearfully.
“Yeah, I mean YOU!” the man shouted, careening from side to side. “An’ I mean I’m gonna beat the sh-t outta you!”
In a flash, I knew this fellow was no neon sign, but as real as the beer sloshing over his other hand. My date wobbled as her heels caught a crack in the sidewalk; desperately, I held my balance as she grasped me in terror.
“Y’HEAR ME?” the man shouted, eyes flaming as he shoved me again toward the street, and staggered closer.
“Uh, yeah…, yeah, I hear you…” I managed, struggling desperately to stay standing. “And, uh, you know what?” I heard myself saying, “you’re right!”
To my surprise, the words flowed out of me: “I mean, you’re so big and strong! Wow—you could beat the sh-t out of me in a minute, alright. Look how tough you are! You must be the toughest guy around here—I’m no match for a big man like you!”
Confused, my assailant drew up—and released his grip on my shoulder. Breaking out in a sneer, he steadied himself, then bent down and glared at me. “You…b-betcher ass!” he snarled.
With a contemptuous snort, he lifted his head high, then turned and stumbled back into the bar, swallowed by its darkness.
I stood fixed to the sidewalk, stunned—my heart thumping along with the punk band inside the bar. In that moment, all shame dissolved in adrenaline and yielded to thanksgiving.
Gingerly, I brushed off my sport coat and flexed my shoulder.
I exhaled deeply, then caught myself and turned to my date—frozen wide-eyed and still gripping my arm. Straightening up, I lifted my head high and smiled thinly. “Let’s go,” I said, patting her hand decisively. “We can still make the show if we hurry.”
Gordon Dalbey is the author of Fight like a Man: A New Manhood for a New Warfare. See www.abbafather.com for his other books, podcasts, and mp3 downloads.