Bobo in the Hospital

Dear Ken,

I don’t want you to be alarmed or overly concerned, but I am in the Washington Hospital Center I’ve been here about a week. I didn’t want to burden you with unnecessary worry or to make you feel like you were obligated to visit me or bring me things—but now I do need a few things. I would have called you, except I forgot your phone number and Directory Assistance says it’s unlisted. I’m very curious to know why that is.

So that’s why this letter.

I guess you deserve an explanation! It was very disconcerting to wake up in a hospital bed with my left leg in a cast and my left wrist heavily bandaged, but it turned out that my injuries were more spectacular than serious. Just a broken leg and a sprained wrist. At this point my biggest problem is boredom.

I had decided to set up shop in Anacostia [the District of Columbia south of the Anacostia river; generally regarded as a rough area] to study the effects of the socio-economic conditions on the psyche of the residents, and things did go well for a while. I got a menial job in a beauty parlor-general errand boy, floor sweeper; my usual cover. It’s the first time I lived in an all-black area on Earth, and as much as you might think that would make me feel at home, it didn’t. Sure, my complexion fit right in, but these people suffer the worst cultural deprivation, alienation and economic despair I’ve ever seen!

I was walking down Minnesota Avenue at about midnight, when three very tall youths swaggered out of an alley and surrounded me. One fellow (I guess you might say he was the leader) very politely asked me to loan him some money to buy gas, because their car ran out of gas. I asked him how much money he needed and pulled out my wallet. They became very cordial at that point, but they could not agree on the amount. “How much you got in there?” one asked. He took my wallet! They practically tore it apart looking for money, but there was only about ten dollars in it. One kid pushed my left shoulder and challenged me. “You dress too nice to be poor. You dress like a white man. You got more money in your shoe?” I noticed his speech was slurred and his eyes were dull. I knew from the beginning it wasn’t gasoline they needed the money for. They knocked me down and started pulling off my shoes without untying them first. When they didn’t find any more money, they started hitting me.

That’s all I can remember, aside from a jumble of sirens and red lights. A local resident called the police.

So while I was languishing in my hospital bed, some sort of a psychologist paid a call on me to help me get in touch with my feelings about my traumatic encounter. She was impressed with the way I dealt with it but she did not understand why I did not defend myself. (By ‘defend myself’ she meant ‘fighting back.’)

So I explained it to her. He hit me, so I was justified in hitting him back. She nodded in agreement. So by hitting him, I give him justification for hitting me again. She looked thoughtful at this point. Then he hits me again, giving me further justification to hit him, and so on. A vicious circle! So by not hitting him, I robbed him of his justification for hitting me, and he ended up subconsciously pulling his punches. I was going to get hurt anyway, so by not fighting back, I could lessen the extent of my injuries. She rubbed her chin reflectively, as if stroking an imaginary beard. She admitted my injuries were less than one normally expects from a mugging, but she disagreed with my tactic.

She lectured me vigorously that the neighborhood toughs probably had me marked as easy prey, and that it was very likely I could be mugged again. She recommended I take some preventive measures; carry something I could use as a weapon, or learn some oriental martial art. “Life in the city is no picnic,” she concluded, “all sorts of evil things go on.”

“I know that,” I replied. “But if evil is returned for evil, then evil is propagated, and therefore wins.”

“You could be killed!” she protested energetically.

“This is quite true,” I replied, “but I would rather be remembered by the quality of my life than the length of my days.”

She bit her lip as tears welled up in her eyes. She stood there wordless for a moment, and left in silence.

There are a few things I left behind at your house. There is a small zipper bag that contains a few toiletries, my watch, and a book entitled Anthropology Field Guide, Earth Edition —well, I guess you won’t be able to read the title, but you can recognize it by the funny letters. It’s the only book in your house in Thorgelfaynese!

I look forward to seeing you, my friend! Oh yes! Please get me a pair of black shoes—size eight medium. They didn’t find mine.