From the Mercury Retrograde Files

I was born with Mars at 29 degrees of Sagittarius square the Nodes and have periodically been subject to violence in my life. Most of it has been of the schoolyard bully variety. However, when I’ve traveled, I’ve encountered some tough characters.

With Mercury turning direct right on my Sun at 21 degrees of Capricorn on Feb. 1, I’ve been thinking back to two times that I encountered thieves while traveling in Europe back in the late 1990s.

When a friend and I went to Barcelona over Mother’s Day weekend in 1997, I got in a tussle with a man who was trying to steal her handbag. That incident happened just six months after I was relieved of my wallet in Prague while traveling with the same pal.

Of course, Neptune (confusion) was hanging around my Sun at the time and I probably wasn’t as alert as I could have been.

In Prague, I was a victim of the old distraction and commotion trick. As an elderly man tried to steal my friend’s shopping bag of china while I snapped pictures of the famed astronomical clock with the procession of the 12 Apostles, a girl who looked to be about 5 years old slashed my fanny pack and grabbed my wallet.

It took me a minute to realize that the flash of metal in her hand was a switchblade. She was very skilled with the knife for such a young person. I looked into her eyes in the split second when she had my wallet before she ran away into the crowd. I saw nothing but hatred.

I only had a little bit of cash and my American Express card inside my wallet, having read in the guidebooks to immediately deposit valuables in the hotel safe deposit box upon arriving in Prague because the city has the fastest pickpockets in the world.

As we walked to American Express to get a new card for me, my friend and I marveled at our stupidity: Why would anyone from the Czech Republic be interested in stealing their country’s ubiquitous signature china?

Flash-forward to Barcelona in May 1997. It’s at the end of siesta and we’re walking down a lane where the shopkeepers are starting to roll up their blinds. Suddenly, I hear my friend screaming.

I look over and see that skinny youth has my pal’s pocketbook, which has her passport inside (I know this because she’s screaming “My passport!”). She’s vigilantly holding on to the bag’s strap. Without thinking, I tackle the man (I’m 6 feet tall and then weighed about 160 lbs.).

I get the bag back, but the thief can’t resist punching me in the face and knocking me to the ground. A crowd gathers, and members of the “audience” clap their hands, stamp their feet, and cheer at the sight of me and my friend’s mugger going mano-a-mano.

It’s as if they’re watching a bullfight. No one intervenes to help me, but I get a nice round of applause when I stand up and brandish the handbag.

As the villain ran away, I screamed, “Don’t fuck with New Yorkers, asshole!” To celebrate our victory, my friend and I retired to a wine bar to sip cava and to get ice for my rapidly swelling face.

It could have been a lot worse.

Kitty on Board

funny pictures of cats with captions

How do you travel 3,000 miles with a cat in tow?

Well, as all you animal lovers out there know, you have to patronize “pet-friendly” motels. These typically tack on a surcharge that ranges from $5 to $30, depending on how upscale the establishment is.

I know. I can hear you asking: Why bother to declare the cat? Just stay at motels where you don’t have to enter through the lobby, and ask for a room at the back.

Despite a lifetime of Sagittarian procrastination, I find it difficult to lie about traveling with a cat, particularly when a sign at the front desk warns that an $85 fee will be assessed if you bring an “undeclared” pet to a room.

This must be my natal Jupiter in Sagittarius at the midpoint of the transiting Saturn in Virgo/Uranus in Pisces opposition: Traveling with a cat named Bogey.

I love Bogey, but I have to admit that I got really tired of taking apart the kitty carrier, using the bottom for a litter box, cleaning it out, and putting it back together again.

Luckily, in Rio Rancho, N.M., I discovered eco-friendly disposable cat boxes at a PetSmart that made my life a lot easier, especially when I had to set up the litter box in the passenger seat in response to a pointed “Meow.” (You’ll be glad to know that I stopped the Jeep in order to do this.)

I guess I could have put Bogey on a harness and taken him for “walks” at the rest stops the way dog owners do. But I just didn’t feel right doing that. Cats aren’t meant to be on a leash. So I ended up turning the Jeep into a moving litter box.

Maybe one of the car companies will add a litter box as an extra, the way they have with drink holders and TVs. I’ll put my money on a Japanese car maker to do the honors, since the Japanese excel at disposing of waste in a civilized fashion.

If you’ve ever worn special Hello Kitty slippers to step into the bathroom of a Japanese home, you know what I’m talking about.