A NIGHT OF PRAGUE
To be robbed at gunpoint in New York is one thing...what is 20 dollars afterall? In New York it can buy ones life. Now our story, which is true to the memory takes place in Prague Czech Republic in early spring of 1999, the precinct named "Flora" or Flowers. In Prague they were much more tenetious when it came to mugging...using a very powerful mix of Russian Tear/Gas and Chemical to mug me (Ive experienced Pepper Spray and this was no such issue...felt like Nitric Acid, burining my cornea to blind me/choak me off/Pull me down?...only catch my wallette...and all of my documents!
Wandering around Prague-Blind as a bat all night-face a crimson bloated red from the chemical-coreneas scratched and back totally out of alignment from the fight that ensued as the purpetrator pulled a knife....Prague-trying to get "help",Swolen and beaten without any documents. How this worked out...
Was it a closed end conspiracy...some people have asked me...
The Timeline still in memory....
I am an artist, and was completing a series of paintings of the people of Prague. Now some would thing 10 works were ample to make a series of works--but on this occassion, and at this time, I had sketchbook at hand, and the oil series had grown to at least 80 works in oil--(though small works) My eyes had a steady speed about them, having studied classical painting, I was also a good portraitist--not the subject of photographic work, but able to capture a dead likeness if needed---
It was a dark night, when I was returning home to my place in Prague (Flora). I had just met with some artist friends as well as gave a couple of English lessons to private students at the government offices and concluded some business for an exhibition/showing of my work. It was an average day for my life in Prague, a smirk over my face of a little addition, a possibility of a new show making it successful day altogether and the mode of business had drawn into the night till 11pm. I had some bills to pay and this night of all nights I had my papers with me, strapped to my side in a sling like sack.
The streets of Prague are dreary at night. A certain coldness of the mercury lamps creates an uneasy texture on the streets and buildings especially outside the city center.
What we can imagine is a Kafka night in its coldness.
It was a cool night and I was coming home to my apartment in the Flora section of Prague. Since it was rather a small place (to what I was use to) with big tall ceilings, and some plaster walls with large windows I tried to consume most of my time away from it, only to utilize the days out in the field of life...if the perspective was clear...coming home pushing back the large Soviet era furniture so this could become my studio. I had no television or radio to entertain me, so it was comrads who I sat and met with, talked with, had intellectual conversations and sometimes exchange a game of chess, where I would often promptly lose with intellectual forgiveness, not really good at the game now, but was then
But now I was headed back to that place I called something of a large memory in the details, that place that was an old mansion, and that all consuming part of the floor that was my studio, a safe haven.
But it was this night that terror struck out of the blackness of the subway stop. The grin of fortune only last so long as they say..as the rather happy events of that particular day reared their head quickly to an aweful one, being mugged from out of the shadows.
It all started when I turned a corner of a street ajacent to where I lived. it was only about 5 blocks from there...and down a street...ususally an easy and uneventful walk, rather lonely as the streets were always vacant...but on this particular night they wernt.
"Dobre Den" a voice came frome out of the blackness of the Prague stree background. I fumbled in Czech saying "What do you mean? Its nighttime!..Dobra Noc!" And thats when it hit..a very quick struggle for my wallet-fanny pack that was tightly worn around my waist. It was not just one fellow...but two...and they came in very quickly, and the struggle was rapid. He reached for the pack and I tried to get away...His friend out from the darkness tried to hold me down..striking very quickly. And a very forceful push ahead for me..trying to fight not one but two of these muggers back with furiousity. All of a sudden one fellow pulled out some sort of gas and sprayed me right in the face with it. It felt like some kind of acid. (I had been hit with mace after a cloud wisp by from riot years ago in Seoul Korea..and this was nothing of the sort!) It felt like acid. I brought out my keys that were tightly chunked together and the fight grew to something of a life struggle for me to get away. He hit me again with a direct blow of this gas. Whammo! My God! I pulled to the left and then to the right...my asailants friend coming in from the side to try to knock me out with blows to the head which I dodged and kept fighting this other fellow off. Like a cross between Westside Story and something unimaginable...Whammo! It was a losing proposition as my eyesight was going quickly and my adreneline was kicking in, hitting the assailent as hard as I could to try to get away...using Judo and a brandishing full set of keys in a ball in a full status military attempt at saving my own life, and then I went down. I was fighting two off, one coming in from 45 degrees to the attack and falling away while his friend did the mugging. I was clear, but the face full of aerosol Mace was too much, feet falling from under me into a turtle shell position..back up on the ground! The mugger spilt the entire aerosol container right into my face while I was in a curled up position, pounding my side and back and then I saw him draw a very large and sharp knife..appearing as a 2 foot flash in my peripheral...
What happened next? I just ripped the bag and threw it to the side--he gave me a couple of blows which literally felt like rubber against my cinder filled eyes, sprayed with this spray--I couldnt see a thing when I looked up!
But I got to my feet---Right up, and a sound coming from somewhere "Stand!", it sounded like God, with the voice of my father at command!
I took my palms and tried to feel my face but it was burning with intensity and I could only see small specks of light, my back bruised, and legs pretty unsteady after the assault.
Needless to say he got my fanny pack..and all of my documents running away with his friend into the darkness.
I was blind.
I wandered the night streets in an attempt to get home, but first trying to summon help. I went to this cafe nearby. I stood in the doorway, the place ready for closing and the lady behind the counter shrieked at my tomato red face, burned by the substance as I tried to get her to call the police. (I didnt want to summon an ambulance, Ive never been that way-it didnt seem like I was heavily wounded except my eyes were becoming more and more swolen. "No Understand! No Understand she yelled ushering me out. I knew it was I against the night. If I could find my way home by edging along the street I could probably put some water or ice on my eyes as the sensation was really bad--I would say worse than a pepper spray-
I did find my way home and passed a phone along the way attempting to summon some assistance from a friend or two--Cislo #--the numbers were in my pack- Up doo-doo creek without passport or documents, and about 2 dollars to my name and thats about it--a phone card with 50Kc on it half expired- no cell phone in those days---
The phone took the card and I called friends--it ticked off money anyway--I tried again--ticked off money for an answering machine, and I was chancing it that one friend would be at home, speaking little English anyway---I called my then girlfriend--Middle of the night--ticking away that filthy phone loud in my ear--Her mother answered. She spoke one word of English...Hello...I asked for my girlfriend. She said she was sleeping and would call me in the morning and hung up. I called back and surprising even thought I said Emergency she did not get it! (Its good to give English lessons to the parents of those your involved with) I called back a third time, I got two words in and the phone card died.
I made it back to the apartment in the blackness of night even scaring black Prague cats as I walked by. Roughed up and looking like the Golum, I somehow scraped myself to my room and the lights came on. The blazing light hurt and I went to the sink and doused my eyes with water---baaaaaad choice---I something serious going on and this wasnt gonna work.
I had that image on my mind, the fellow who mugged me, and it would be the last day of the Earth that I wouldnt see some kind of justice to him--
I brought out a pen and drew half blinded a sketch of him, my eyes becoming more and more closed with each minute--I couldnt see what I was drawing--I needed help.
I set off into the night grabbing what I may now about 2 AM. I had to get to a hospital or find someone to help me.
The streets were dark and I edged my way down streets against the wall like a blind man finding purpose for a specific direction. No one was around and like a compass I set myself in the direction of Prague center in order to try to find that Green Sign which I remembered was a foreign medic. What was I going to pay him with? I would cross that bridge later.
It was very early and I found some internet spot that was open. I convinced the young lady I needed help and to please type for me an emergency message to my girlfriend that I would be at the medic office in the center of Prague on Vodichkova Street and Wenseslas Square. The young lady said I looked bad but didnt offer any help but directed me towards the center of Prague.
All night I had been walking and finally I had made it to the Green Cross, up the stairs and to an office where I even scared the receptionist! The doctor came piling out, she asked for payment for services before rendered...a cozy 35 dollars "just to see"--yes but that was the problem!
Well in all cases there is a good samaritan, a passing nurse who grabbed me and took my arm to the Czech Opthemologists office upstairs. She spoke english,and the charge was nothing-due to polite European emergency procedures which are free.
They worked on me. Quite severe scratched cornea was the diagnosis and that spray! Even the doctors eyebrows went up, not normal! Not Pepper spray!
"You must contact the Police" they insisted!
They were not letting me off the hook in this respect as the assistant doctor took me right over to the central office on Wenseslas and filed a report-
Now in New York they laugh! I was mugged in NYC, had a shiner the size of the state of Texas, and they said I was lucky to be alive...
But in Prague they made it almost like a murder investigation.
Kid you not, before the afternoon I had an inspector a crime scene investigator and two police cars up to the place where it happened as they drew and photographed a police line, to the point of taking witnesses.
Questioned and cross questioned I told the story about 25 times and when asked what the fellows look like---ha! Well Ive got a drawing! They couldnt believe me at first, but I produced it, was asked to look at photos etc and taken to the "Owls Nest" a gray sombre building that Im sure used to be the old KGB headquarters.
They took my drawing and they scanned it into an APB, the police investigator making notes and rather impressed by the drawing itself--not artful, but every important detail of my assailant!
Two days later, and after filing report after report, they had him in a line up! Got the Son of a......Behind a mirror I watched as five people were brought in. Number 1---Nope---Number 5 ...No...and then the door opened and the fellow came forth looking as though he had had the roughest night in Hell. 130 pounds, a Russian Boxer type with a rough Damienesque doll like face and blue eyes---He looked like he went through a thicket of razor wire, and hit a few poles along the way. My description was a gash on the chin and brow--right there and there--a small earing, left---tufted lower lip---I could have entered the drawing in a photo contest---
He stood shaking at the other side of the mirror glass---
Now more formal reports and interrogation by the defense--All evidence was marked "State Secret" until processed---and i got to choose the punishment in this case! Old Napoleanic rules in Prague!
"Book-Em!" What was my choice of punishment? "Throw the book at him!"....and they did! After court, witnesses etc he got 4 years in the Hooskow, rather known as Jail---
He had been active around Prague in a number of really bad activities, beatings, attempted murder of an old lady, lude encroaching acts on young ladies, selling, racketeering etc and no one had fingered nor got a good photo of he the Son of ___except me, with a drawing!
I was shown at one point what they called "The Hall of Death" at the Czech police headquarters, which was not encouraging and downright spooky enough to commit to nighmares, unknowns who were never found---and asked if later I could use my talents in there police force-(quite good if I could of attained a visa for extended stay--permanent visa)--There is another angle to this which is interesting altogether later, which I found out-
Now after he, my Nemisis got out, there was talk on the street (and Prague was small-in some sections0 so one heard of many things that happened), he might be looking for me etc etc, but rather I might be looking for him too! I took some time out and came back to the USA to regroup several months later-
It took me the rest of the summer to recouperate from this crazy thing, and one can imagine living with what means one has in the interim in a foreign land. Of course I had work, and everything came out to be ok---
The fellow had tried to cash my Visa out at a Casino, and some other cards which were dead---bad choice, another card was cancelled-only one live card with a low balance MAX per day (good idea for foreigners-travellers to immediately have a set of cancelled cards with them--theyre easily tracked) it demands a trace on the card. He also tried to sell my passport...Bad choice, since I was a foreigner I was also on a Special List. (Good choice to be on the Warden List, I believe it was called) Having a special visa mark one was a sitting duck in trying to use it Another document had him almost immediately arrested in trying to pass it for cash from witnesses. But the big thing was the drawing, one simple drawing! I didnt get my documents or anything back, even though requested, a letter of lienency later if he returned the documents---