Friday, 11 May 2007

"If only I knew Capoeira"

I went to LA on my way to somewhere else and decided to stay. That was in 1978 or so. My first flat was in Palms - Mentone Avenue to be exact - in a building centred around a patio and a pool. The neighbours were like a mini-Organisation of American States with a few other countries thrown in - Spanish and Portuguese were the predominant languages, and the nationalities ranged from Cape Verdean to Cuban. The original manager was a Wasp who bred boa constrictors in his flat, and his successor was an Argentine woman with a slight German accent named Aida Horn who spoke little English and was dating a foul-mouthed Yugoslavian when we first met (she eventually married a handsome Mexican tailor who spoke no English at all). I got on very well with Aida, who was also my next-door neighbour, and it didn't hurt that my Spanish was fluent after several months in Spain.

I have lots of stories to tell about my years in Palms (down the street from the original Chippendales) but I'll cut to the chase. One night in February 1983, I decided to go to the supermarket. I think it was open 24 hours, so I went at 11 pm and got home a bit after midnight. I was driving my third car since I'd arrived in LA - a second-hand Cutlass Supreme (a very nice hand-me-down from my father) - and my parking space was in the back alley. I got out of the car and kept my keys in my hand - a lesson learnt from a self-defence book my mother sent me - while struggling with two bags of groceries and my handbag. Suddenly, someone shoved me from behind. I thought it must be one of my neighbours having some fun and said, "Oh, stop it!" Then I felt a tug on the strap of my handbag and fell forward while the bag went off in the other direction, under the arm of a burly Samoan-looking guy who jumped into the passenger side of a yellow car that sped away as he shut the door. Of course I chased after him, like a fool, all the while thinking "If only I knew Capoeira, I'd know what to do with him if I catch him!" Fortunately, I didn't come even close. Afterwards I noticed that an apple in one of the bags had been sliced with the same blade that cut the strap.

I let myself into my flat - thanks to my Mum and her handy self-help book - and one neighbour gave me some brandy while another rang the police. When they turned up, one officer took my statement while the other cheerfully remarked: "We've had several muggings in this area by a gang that's staking out alleyways. You're lucky to be alive. The other day they shot and killed a woman that screamed."

Nice of him to tell me - some forewarning would have been helpful! I certainly wouldn't have gone grocery shopping in the middle of the night. I had managed to memorise the license plate number (had no idea of the make or model of the car). Turned out to be stolen so that was no help at all. The thieves got very slim pickings - seeing me drive up in a Cutlass must have made their mouth water. They actually rang me (my phone number was on my worthless cheques - I cancelled them right away) to vent their rage and frustration. Fortunately that was all the revenge they took. I had to have another driving license issued, and the photo, taken the next day, is a portrait of my rage and frustration. The thieves got nothing, but it cost me nearly $50 to replace the bag and everything in it (some things, like a pewter-backed mirror I'd bought years before in Curaçao, were irreplaceable). The most important outcome of that incident was that I made a decision. I wasn't going to be a victim ever again. I was going to learn Capoeira.

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