My Mama Said Knock You Out
I’ve always considered myself more of a lover than a fighter. I’m all for someone fighting for my love, however, but the most involved I’ll get is cheering from the sidelines. What I didn’t bank on was what happens when you’re caught completely unaware.
I was on yet another of my infamous family vacations. This particular year we had chosen Brazil because we wanted to be both adventurous and experience the beach in a country where winter temperatures mean a balmy eighty degrees. This also happened to be after the movie City of God came out, a film about one of the most dangerous slums, or favelas, in Rio de Janeiro. My mother saw the movie after we returned from our trip and said that she “might have rethought Brazil as a vacation destination” if she’d seen this first. After doing some reading on my return of my own I learned that Brazil is a not a good place for tourists. I looked at the US State Department’s website on said country and learned about all the things I shouldn’t have done, like:
· Be outside at night.
· Use an ATM.
· Be in “areas surrounding beaches, hotels, discotheques, bars, nightclubs, and other similar establishments that cater to visitors. The incidence of crime against tourists is greater here.”
· Not be Brazilian. Apparently “Good Samaritan” scams are common. If a tourist looks lost or seems to be having trouble communicating, a seemingly innocent bystander offering help may victimize them.
· Take the bus. Incidents of theft on city buses are frequent and visitors should avoid such transportation.
I imagine Brazil’s travel industry wouldn’t be too pleased if it knew the US government was talking so much trash about its country.
But enough about all that crime. Did I mention that Brazil is amazing? Like incredibly beautiful. Like beaches so gorgeous that you think Brooke Shields might appear in a scene from Blue Lagoon at any moment. Like a mountain that has a statue of Jesus on the top that is so intriguing a Jew like me just had to get to the top. That would be the Christ the Redeemer statue at the top of the Corcovado Mountain, which happens to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Like clubs that are full of world-renowned music and dancing beautiful. One of the clubs we visited (and yes we had to be outside at night to get there) was an old antiques warehouse that was several floors with balconies the overlooked the stage on the ground floor, which showcased an eighteen-piece salsa band. Brazil is so beautiful that even the hookers are gorgeous. I didn’t see one woman of the night that looked even slightly “crack whorey.” There is, however, something very creepy about watching a hooker hit on your father in broad daylight. And then your father, in his high-waisted “dungarees,” as he likes to call them, and a monogrammed shirt that says Saúl on the pocket (don’t ask), smiles shyly and replies, “no, thank you, maybe later.”
One afternoon, my family visited the Museo de Arte Moderna in Rio de Janeiro. While the art was fascinating, it seems that artists are a tortured bunch regardless of their country of origin. My brother had decided to opt out after a night of doing many activities that the US State Department would frown upon. After, we walked through the financial district of the city, which on a Sunday afternoon was pretty deserted.
We passed a guy that looked to be in his twenties. He had wavy black hair that curled around his ears and was wearing a nondescript facial expression and matching black T-shirt and jeans. Sensing that we might be from out of town, he gestured to us for the time. Being that we didn’t have any fanny packs on us, I was sad that it was that obvious. Perhaps my sunburn and not being a six-foot tall gorgeous-looking Brazilian woman gave it away. My father, who was walking in front of us, showed him his cheap digital watch, which read 5:27 p.m. We continued on our way, with me in the middle and my mother bringing up the back.
All of a sudden I heard a scream coming from behind me and then a thump. I turned around to see that very same nondescript man holding on to my mother’s handbag and pulling for dear life. My five foot five, short blond-haired soccer-hairdo coiffed mother—perhaps due to her upbringing on the mean streets of the suburbs of Philadelphia—was gripping it just as fiercely.
It all seemed to unfold in slow motion. I simply couldn’t believe it. It was broad daylight! We were on vacation for crying out loud! Did he have no decency? This was not a relaxing situation! I think it took me about twenty seconds to process what was happening, but as soon as I did, I started screaming at the Brazilian, using every curse word I knew in combinations like “youmothershitfuckingassdoosheface!”
And all the while the mugger was sweating, and looking slightly frazzled but pulling as hard as he could. He tugged so ferociously my mother’s legs came out from under her, her Saucony-sneaker clad feet flailing in the air, but she still held on to the bag, not saying much of anything except for the occasional grunt, her eyebrows set in a firm line of determination. As far as she was concerned, this was war.
And then I thoroughly surprised myself. I walked right up to the guy, who was literally two feet away from me this entire time and said “Don’t touch my mom!” and then slapped him across the face. I actually smacked a criminal across his ugly mug. Granted, there was no force behind my slap (adrenaline works in mysterious ways) and it probably felt more like I was caressing his face or smacking him Victorian-style with a white glove, but he got the idea.
And then he did something even more surprising: he ran away. Even better, he ran away empty-handed. What was this, his first mugging?
This entire ridiculous exchange took place in about a minute and a half, but it wasn’t until after the Brazilian escaped that my father actually turned around. He was just far enough ahead of us that it took him a minute to realize that all the scuffling that was going on behind him actually concerned his own family.
“That’s okay, we can handle it,” my mom said sarcastically. She sat in the street, slightly winded, dirt covering her black shorts and white T-shirt with a Monet painting across it, gripping her small, vinyl, brandless pocketbook with both hands. I think she still hadn’t processed what had just happened. I, on the other hand, was in awe of her.
My father and I helped her up and gave her a big group hug. She continued to hug her purse.
“Should we go to the police?” my father asked.
“What’s the point?” my mother said almost nonchalantly. “They wouldn’t catch him in the States; you think they police are better here? And you know what’s funny? All I had in there was my reading glasses and a novel,” she said. “I read in the tour book that you shouldn’t keep anything valuable on you because of the crime. But I really liked that bag.”
If only that Brazilian mugger had known: never come between a woman and her accessories.