Congratulations to Bindlestiff for its 25th anniversary! I congratulate them even though, through them, I experienced my first (and only) ever San Francisco mugging. Bindlestiff was the first (I think) to produce one of my plays, and it had a run of three nights. On the way to the first night, I walked there from some restaurant (I was new to SF and didn’t know the area). I was carrying my former banker’s briefcase as I needed a container for the props I was bringing to the theater. Well, three young men jostled me and took my briefcase and ran away.
I was shocked—so shocked I ran after them (obviously, kiddos, don’t do this: run after a mugger). They turned into an alley and I stopped at the mouth of the alley as sanity kicked in and I knew not to go in. But I yelled loudly into the alley: “Please. Just take the money but leave the bag behind. Take the money and just leave the bag!”
Believe it or not, I was concerned about the props for the play which was scheduled to start in, say, a half an hour! So I just yelled into the alley for them to leave the bag behind.
Amazingly—amazingly!—the three paused. They looked at me, looked at each other, then dropped to the ground to rifle through the bag. They took my wallet and started to run away. But one paused. He went back to the bag in the middle of the alley, picked it up, and motioned for me to come as if he wanted to give me the bag. At that point, I felt in no danger. I honestly think he felt bad and wanted to give me back the briefcase. I took two steps into the alley, then paused again. I looked at him and shook my head. Our eyes held each other. His said, “I understand.”
Then he put the bag down and ran the other direction. I ran into the alley, grabbed my briefcase, and ran back out of the alley and right into Bindlestiff. We called the police and—I can just imagine what the milling crowd was thinking—they came to pick me up for a quick drive-through the neighborhood in case I could see them (the police insisted, then theater director Allan Manalo said they could delay the curtain for a few minutes, and I think I just wanted my wallet back; I didn’t care about the money but more about the pain of replacing my Driver’s ID, canceling cards, etc.). That drive-through lasted 5-10 minutes. The cops dropped me back at Bindlestiff. And the show went on.
But I’d lost my voice from all the yelling-into-the-alley. We had to shuffle parts so that Barbara Jane Reyes could be my voice for the next two performances. (My play with its whip and the mistress-in-business suit is a tale for another time…)
I hadn’t thought about the above until I saw the email notice this morning about Bindlestiff’s 25th anniversary. I love you, Bindlestiff. I bear no grudge for my mugging: We’re pinoys and so our experience must always be … pungent. Like patis. Like bagoong.
And I will never forget that young man. How his eyes lost a bit of light as he realized why I couldn’t come forward to meet him in the middle of the alley. We simultaneously understood at that moment: what he took was not just money, and he didn’t just take from me but took something from himself.
I only wish he knows that when I saw his realization, I fell in love with him: the son he is, struggling to survive, to mature, in a world of dark alleys. I fell in the love with the notion of “son.” He is among the many I could not help.