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Mugging as a Way of Life

Hector’s jaw, pitted with clusters of bullet-hole acne marks, hangs open and occasionally dribbles a stream of spit across his delicate throat where the scars give way to bubbling, festering sores. At 21, Hector is compact and wiry, and although his eyes are usually glazed and he often spends days on end in one of his apartments picking at the scabs on his arms and face, shooting up and nodding out, Hector is actually in better shape now, on heroin, than he was a year and a half ago when he was living on red wine. Hector, juiced out at 19, according to friends, was so filled with wine that his brain started going soft. Hector had been living on rotgut for about three months before he wandered over to the rhythm concert in Tompkins Square. Louise, who admits to having had her eye on him for some time before the concert, recalls his state easily, saying, “He was so drunk that if you would cut him, his veins spurted Dago Red. Guys would go after him with a knife just to get a drink.” Louise, who finds wine disgusting, changed all that when she introduced Hector to her very old friend, Snow White. Louise says she first took heroin when she was 12. Unlike Hector, she seems able to take it in small doses and stop when she cares to. Hector says proudly, “Since I got on the horse, I didn’t take a drink at all. Juice is bad for you, make you mushy. I’m all over that now.”

Hector and Louise usually work whatever neighborhood they’re living in. They knock over every old man on the block, every young man who follows Louise’s swinging hips and pocketbook, and every young girl attracted by Hector’s olive eyes. They rough up all of them, take whatever money is there, and then move on.

Their procedure is classically simple. Louise swings her purse and her hips and walks casually down the street. When someone starts following her, and someone always does, Louise wanders aimlessly toward Hector, who steps out of inner space and puts a knife to the man’s throat. Hector tells him—only once—to keep his mouth shut. Louise, who has been standing there looking confused, starts to grin and steers her new friend into the shadows or into an empty hallway to rifle his pockets and take his wallet. The whole thing takes two minutes and then Hector and Louise leave as suddenly as they appeared. Occasionally a victim screams and Hector covers the man’s mouth to shut him up. If that doesn’t help, Hector must make a choice: cut or run. If he cuts, he usually gets excited and cuts again. If he runs, Louise will laugh at him. Usually he cuts. Not to kill, but to silence. Hector doesn’t know if he’s killed anyone. He remembers cutting one old man pretty badly, but he doesn’t know if the man died. “He bleeded a lot. Like anything—thass all I know.”

When Louise has picked up a likely candidate and wandered into Hector’s shadow, she stops, lets the man catch up, and smiles and lets him move in. On Avenue D, that means a few sweet words and then some action. The victim starts pushing Louise into the shadows, pawing and babbling what he thinks is smooth talk. She giggles and protests mildly. Then Hector moves in. If the man has been rough with her, Louise sometimes takes the opportunity to spit in his face or kick him in the crotch. If it’s a woman and she turns out not to have any money, Hector occasionally rapes her. Louise helps him by gagging the girl and holding her arms or spreading her legs. Like the cook who loved Mother Courage, Hector usually takes his women standing up. Often he threatens to rape the girl and then instead of consummating it, he and Louise kick her and run. If her clothes look good, Louise takes them, leaving the girl to wander Avenue D bruised and naked.

Although Hector and Louise have no permanent home, they have established a bit of middle-class comfort in their lives. Hector and Louise are car owners, or more precisely, truck owners. Several months ago a dry cleaner on Avenue B left the ignition keys in his delivery truck. Hector jumped in, and he’s been driving the truck ever since. Hector has no driver’s license and in fact can barely drive, but he and Louise practiced, careening around the streets, until now they can both manage to maneuver the truck, a Ford, without too much trouble. They hid it in a garbage-covered lot on Sixth Street until Louise produced three gallons of blue house paint appropriated from a renewal project on Avenue C, and the two of them painted their mobile home with rollers and a whisk broom. When they can afford gas, Hector and Louise joy-ride around the Lower East Side at night. When they can’t find an abandoned building, they sleep in the back of the truck. With a can of red spray paint Hector has scrawled “Quiere me” on the right fender.


Related:

  • Archive: “Features
  • From the Feb 23, 1970 issue of New York
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