POSTED: August 1, 2022
I really love Malta. It is a great place that I have adopted and many of my posts reference how nice it is. But its not perfect and like most of the world there are times when… well, shit happens.
Such was the case last week when an older woman, Isla, who lives on an old vessel in our marina was out later at night and confronted by a young woman on a scooter who tried to steel her bag. In so doing she did not get the bag but did knock Isla. She incurred a few multiple fractures from the event when she tried to regain her balance she fell over a high curb.
The marina community has rallied to help her with her chores and some financial help and I have taken over some prepared meals.
But the community has also taken to talking about their various encounters with people who attempt to rob others, and are prepared to get into a physical confrontation in doing so. The experience is quite traumatic for most of us and the effects linger for some time, even if we were not physically hurt or financially impacted by such an event.
One such experience sticks in my mind from when I was just out of high school. As regular readers know it has only been in the last year that I have connected with my old high school friends and only a few years since reconnecting with Jim. If you are not familiar with that aspect of this website you should read the ABOUT section.
But back in the spring of 1974, it was less than a year since graduating high school and I was still very much in touch with many of them and was off and on living in South Florida with a bunch of people as I was working on a cruise line that went out of there. My buddy Jim had contacted me in early March to see if I would be around as he was contemplating a trip to Ft. Lauderdale over university spring break coming up in a week.
The trip, like most things that happened to people like Jim and me and most of our friends had come together quickly and with not a lot of preparation. The background is that Jim and another high school buddy Bo had really enjoyed their photography hobby through high school. Bo was off to college for it and Jim as teaching a rudimentary, non- credit course in it to pay for university. So with a few bucks in his Jeans from that job and doing some freelance work for UPI, the wire service that bought photographs from freelancers like him, he had been saving to go to New York to the camera district and buy a Nikon F2 Photomic. At the time, unless you were going to mid or large format cameras like Rolleiflex, Hasselblad or Linhof, this camera was one of the best in the small thirty five millimeter film format.
Now sometimes a variety of things just come together as if they were meant to be. His girlfriend at the time had made the decision to fly to Ft. Lauderdale with a few of her girlfriends for the spring break. At the same time Greyhound, the American bus company had announced a new promotional programme. For $99 you could have unlimited travel on Greyhound busses throughout North America for seven days. Jim figured he could take the bus at midnight to NYC, spend the day shopping for the camera, then get on another bus heading out late at night for an all-nighter and much of the next day on the bus as well to get to Ft. Lauderdale. He would have a few days there with his girlfriend, see me and then get back on the bus in time to make it back to Ottawa within the seven days.
There were other motivations as well. This girlfriend was a bit of wild card and not super predictable. He thought that her time in Ft. Lauderdale would be quite the messy business.
So the plan was hatched, the Greyhound pass purchased, and Jim was off to the Big Apple.
Today NYC is a fairly safe, major city but in the 1970’s this was classic Gotham. Hoods and gangs roamed the streets. The police, city officials, some ambulance services and most of the public had given up large portions of the city to drug dealers and gangs. It is hard to believe today.
The fourteen hours overnight to New York worked out but left him a big groggy for the wheeling and dealing that went on in the camera shops of the day in the Camera District. People would bump into each other at the counter and there was a lot of haggling and brinksmanship etc. They sold lots of new gear but the haggling really came to the fore when a purchaser would bring in a piece or two of used gear. The best deals happened on buying a new camera where there was very little flexibility on price, when combined with trading in something used, or buying something used in addition to the new camera. The used equipment aspect attracted lots of questionable characters and sometimes purchasers were vendors and haggling with people behind the counter or beside them at the counter with something to sell or trade.
As Jim tells it one huge fellow who looked like Samuel L. Jackson on steroids, wearing black jeans and sweater and a long black leather cape who was pretty loaded down with gear dropped one of his cameras and Jim happened to be right there and caught it. No big thank you or shaking of hands or anything, just a nod. If you are from Ottawa this is not the amount of recognition you would usually receive for such a fortuitous catch, but it was New York and when in Rome…. The guy behind the counter told him to check to see he still had all his gear as sometimes one person distracts you while another picks your pocket. Nope, he had it all, but when he looked around the huge guy with the cape was not to be seen.
The buy went off without a problem and after walking around Jim found himself Uptown. It was late afternoon and the sun was retreating quickly and he thought he might get a chance to see the Apollo theatre before heading back to the bus station. But as he walked and the sun withdrew the park started its evening shift. Guys were appearing from almost nowhere and they were in little groups of two and three. This was not going to go well, and he wisely tucked his new prize camera into his coat as he picked up the pace to get closer to the parks edge where he could see there were more passersby. But his timing was all wrong and a few of the little groups had become larger and it was very clear that it was not only the loss of the camera that would be at risk.
But just as quicky as the strange falling camera events had unfolded in Downtown Camera, the guy with the cape strolled along and asked if he knew where he was. “Uptown… wanted to see the Apollo… Jim struggled to get the words out. “You’re a dead white kid in Harlem” was the low octave reply. But as he spoke, he asked “are you the one who caught my Leica in the store? ..you all look the same to me”. After establishing that yes, he was in fact that spindly white kid who had done the big camera catch, they walked together out of the park while sharing a couple of thoughts on photography. Well as Jim tells it he was chattering nervously and there was little said in response. And then after a pause as Jim turned to thank him the expanse of black leather cape moving into the subway was all Jim saw of angel.
He caught his bus, and after about another twenty hours of bus ride to Ft. Lauderdale stopping to drop off and pick up along the way, he made it to the address his girlfriend was staying at. It was clear to him pretty quickly that they were no longer together and her interest was elsewhere. I had been called up for a cruise on an unscheduled basis as someone had quit so we didn’t connect either. He didn’t have anywhere to stay and little money. I understand it was a long bus ride home for him.
My direct experience with this kind of perilous world of muggers and beatings was more recent.
Regular readers of my posts know that early in the Pandemic I went to Ireland to have a chat with a lad who was the ex-husband of my captain, Ciara. I did not say a lot about that in earlier posts and I won’t say much more here as it was a fairly unsavoury experience for all concerned. But in my efforts to find the fellow I had not realized just a how tight the communities are in rural Ireland. If you walk into a village pub and are not recognized you might as well as be wearing a Bugs Bunny costume as the stares will be the same. If you then ask someone behind the bar if they know where to find a particular person you are quickly sized up and determined to be a long lost relative from America, which is not the best, or someone looking for another purpose, which of course is worse. You are also measured in terms of the quality of the person you are looking for. If it is any sort of low life scoundrel you are put in the same category. This was the case here of course.
So when the woman behind the bar told me he wasn’t around much, but that she would ask around and served me my pint, she gave me one of those piercing looks like film directors like to capture that cut out about a few hundred words of dialogue. I had two addresses of his relatives and decided to head off to find one of them before it got too late in the day. It was only mid afternoon but the two lads who met me as I stepped out to the street had been waiting. After a dialogue over why I was looking for their brother it was clear that they were not there to help. It didn’t help my case asking them to repeat some of their questions as if I needed a switch for close captioning to understand them.
I did not see the first punch coming. It was to the area not in my back but on my side just behind my stomach. Two of these guys were really not needed. One could have beaten me up on his own. But after falling over and catching myself on the stone wall of the pub, I nervously blurted out something stupid. “Well I guess if I have some super powers I am not familiar with, this would be a good time for them to kick in wouldn’t it.” They both looked stunned for a moment and then started to laugh uncontrollably. They both had gone through a lot of beer that afternoon I expect and I thought one of them might piss himself or have a heart attack they were so out of control in their laughter. And then after looking behind me and seeing we were being joined by a few people leaving the pub they sort of ran and stumbled away.
After a bit of searching, I found where I was going and did my business with Ciara’s ex.
I got off pretty easy on that one. The psychological effects of the actual meeting I had were worse. And that is a common result of these assaults, or attempted robberies. We are not as comfortable being out around people, we often look at strangers with more suspicion. It is a bad combination with aging where we are sometimes more reticent to get into any conflict.
My neighbour in the marina who was knocked down is certainly shaken, but she seems like a fairly resilient sort. Isla was from Utrecht originally. She is old enough to be my mom. She came here originally with her partner who was not well and has now passed and has lived on a boat for the last couple of decades so I am think she has some serious inner strength. I think she will be ok.