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.