The following is an account of a Gypsy Attack, described to Mr. D’Amico by Mr. Mike Lindgren.
I’ve always heard that gypsies were a problem, that they were thieves, but I never worried about it. I figured I’d be able to spot a gypsy and everything, since they’re always traveling in bands with covered wagons and scarves on their heads and everything. Anyway, I was walking down the Piazza Madonna Fortuna with this Irish girl I’d met by a public toilet, and these two little girls come up to me like they’re going to ask me something. They were dark haired little things, with skin that looked like it had been dusted in dirt or soot. But they had the eyes of angels, dark little balls of brown that stared at you like a begging mutt. Which is what I thought these little girls were doing, really, was that they were simply going to ask for some money. And I was actually thinking about giving them some.
But the tallest of the two—she couldn’t have been more than 8-years-old—whipped out a newspaper from behind her back and started frantically waving it at me. It’s funny, I remember trying to read the headline, because it was something about “Notre Dame,” and I figured it might be a football score. I remember the crinkling sound of the paper. It was deafening, as if I was trying to sleep and someone in the other room was wadding up a Doritos bag to throw it away. By the time I recovered from the crinkle blast and the momentary confusion over football scores, it was too late. The littlest of the brutes had surreptitiously circled around my back and grabbed my wallet. I didn’t feel her take it so much as I felt it gone. These little gypsy girls are like surgeons. They can relieve you of anything, even a choker, if they get a good jump on you. Luckily there were only two of them, so they failed to snag my Rastafarian braid wristband and my Kids On The Block pocket grooming kit.
Anyway, the too little ethnic urchins took off running like roaches. I looked back at Patty, my Irish friend, but she only shrugged and plopped down on the ground like mashed potatoes spooned on a plate. I was on my own. I dropped my pack and took off like a metal rabbit on a greyhound track. I huffed and puffed after them for about 100 yards or so, but they were increasing their lead, since I had to turn and spit dip every so often. It’s funny, I kept pumping and pumping, running after them, and the only thing I remember is the soles of their shoes. They had holes in them, and I wondered if their feet were getting wet in the madcap dash through the dingy puddles along the sidewalk.
My heart sank a bit when I saw them turn a corner. I was sure I would lose them to some rat hole or alcove known only to these little street crooks. But oddly, I turned the corner and found myself face to face with the little darlings. They smiled crooked teeth, and I have to tell you, it was more eerie than a Night Gallery Episode. But I wasn’t daunted. “Give me my wallet back or you’ll be sorry,” I said.
The youngest of the two flipped her hair back with one hand and snarled, “Ga Zuna di vaga! Shloppflagk!” I didn’t understand a word of their language, probably some strange tongue fashioned among the werewolf-infested mountains of Hungary. But I knew what she meant and it wasn’t, “Why of course, sir. Sorry for any inconvenience.”
I went to grab her, but she darted left then snapped her foot out with a quick kick to my shin. I reeled in pain, and shamefully, I tried to kick her back, but missed. I say “shamefully,” because I can’t ever imagine, or couldn’t then at least, striking a little girl. But that would all change, for the older girl then lunged at me and tried to scratch my face with her claws, like a territorial alley cat hovering over a tuna bone. Luckily, she pawed wide.
“God damn it!” I screamed and lunged back with a left hook that caught her square on the side of the head. She dropped like a sweater slipping off a hanger and held the side of her head wailing and crying. I felt guilty for a moment, just enough time for the little one to punch me in the gut. Unprepared for her little knuckle jab, my wind left me like the cockpit cabin pressure in Airport ‘75.
What happened next is sort of a blur, since fear took over and I struck and flailed and ripped at the little girl with all my might. She did likewise. The bigger girl still shrieked from the ground and apparently, her cries brought reinforcements. Two gypsy men with suede vests, earrings and flared pants came running from an alley. They stopped to survey the chaos, then one of them pulled a mandolin from his back, grabbed it by the stem in an inverse G-chord and swung it like Jose Canseco on a bases-loaded count. Scared shitless, I instinctively swung my left arm up to block. Luckily, again, it crashed into my elbow where the strings met the hole on the mandolin—a cushioned blow. Nevertheless, the impact shattered part of the instrument and caused the gypsy to drop it. The little girl let go of my pant leg and jumped back to see what would happen next.
“Come on you two-bit swindler,” I screamed. “You’ll have to do better than that. I’m American.” He seemed to hesitate at the word “American,” but then he attacked again, this time yelling and swinging a small chain of silver bells. I ducked his bell swipe, then grabbed his vest before dropping down backwards and throwing my feet up into his chest. I used my feet and his own momentum to send him soaring over me. He crashed against a building and slithered to the ground like a milkshake tossed against a window. Then he rolled around slowly, stunned. The gypsies seemed amazed. But it was actually easy, a defensive maneuver I learned from the Starfleet Academy Personnel Combat Manual.
Seeing what they were up against, the other gypsies took off in a run. I was too tired to pursue, but I noticed that the stunned one had a tambourine on his belt. I hurried down and unsnapped it, then stood up and took aim. Unfortunately for the gypsies, I was an accomplished disc thrower, having come in fifth at the Alaskan Frisbee golf championships the year before. I flung the tambourine with all the might that self-preservation and fury provided. It jingled through the air, quickly overcame the older girl and nailed her in nape of the neck. She staggered a few steps then fell forward into a pile of garbage. By the time I got to her, the police also had arrived. They surveyed her injury, a small symbol slice and a rather significant contusion. I got my wallet back. Nothing was missing. The other gypsies had escaped, gone back to their campfires to lie about their adventures, like all thieving gypsies do. But the police asked me if I wanted to press charges against the girl.
“Nah, she’ll just be back on the streets tomorrow, telling fortunes and picking pockets,” I said. “Besides, she’s learned her lesson.”
“And what lesson is that señor,” said the police officer as he flattened his puny black mustache with his finger.
“Don’t fuck with an American,” I said proudly.
Editor’s note: This was, at the time (1996), an attempt to make fun of the notion that Gypsy thieves in Italy were the number one cautionary tale we heard, and we were urged to be on guard in their presence.