Friday, June 15, 2007


I was able to visit my friends Rich, Rebecca, and Ben a few years ago in Rio de Janiero. They are doing some amazing work there among children living on the streets.

When visiting, I proposed that we see a soccer (football) game. I had always wanted to go to a Latin America soccer game. I had heard that they get CRAZY and wanted to see the excitement. Ben and Rich knew of some local teams that were playing and the fans hated each other. Normally these teams would be playing in a nearby stadium but it was under renovation. Another stadium had to be used, a stadium in a sketchy and largely unfamiliar neighborhood.

We debated whether to go and were told NOT to go by locals. Since the game was free, everyone was going. This was going to be a particularly rough event.

We decided to go anyway. We went with a large crowd. About five guys and four girls. Rich and Ben boxed our group in, one taking the lead and one following the group..both keeping an eye out for trouble.

I was particularly comforted when we had to go through a security check at the gate and were patted down for weapons. I thought this was a good sign. There wouldn't be any knives or guns. That had to eliminate a lot of potential threats.

The crowds were already excited, but when the game started they went NUTS. Chanting, singing, huge flags waving, big drums and deep bass sounds, firecrackers in the stands, huge waves of people jumping up and down with wildly flailing arms. Some of the words were translated and they were the worst curse words and threats you've ever heard at a game.

Rich and Ben advised us to leave the game before the end. All the parents were taking their children from the stands and careful boyfriends were taking their girlfriends home a little early. We all wanted both to beat the rush and also avoid problems that large crowds can exacerbate.

We got lost on the way out of the stadium, not finding the appropriate exit, and then starting to walk the wrong way home. In fact, besides probably loosely circling the standium again, we were walking the opposite way from home. We ended up changing direction and walking with several other small crowds. We talked loudly in English, relating our stories of the game, while Rich and Ben again looked to avoid trouble. Rich was in the lead and Ben was following the group. We had walked for about 10 minutes before I felt a tug on my rain jacket. I had taken it off a few minutes earlier because it was too hot. I carried it in my right hand.

He pulled, I pulled. He pulled, I pulled and the motion turned me toward him. Time started going very slowly. He jumped kicked me in the stomach but I held my ground. Being someone who abhors violence, I remember thinking that I couldn't punch him, but somehow kicking him seemed fine to my quickly formed moral grid. I was mostly frozen however. At this moment I felt the hand of Rich on my chest, like he was holding me back and giving the robber consent to take the jacket. All in one motion the sense was conveyed that the jacket wasn't worth fighting over and that he could take it. (Only sunglasses remained in the pocket of the jacket; I had taken out my passport earlier in the day).

This fellow ran back across the street to his friends and Ben quickly approached from behind. He had simultaneously been robbed. Someone came behind him and went for the wallet in his back pocket. This violent action ripped his jeans along the seam from the pocket all the way down his pants. He had a big strip of material missing from his pocket to his socks and his boxers were showing.

He was imploring the attacker the whole time to calm down in Portuguese. When this attacker went back to his group of friends, amazingly he was beat up. They had only heard the group speaking English and now were upset that they had robbed someone who was "local", a fellow Portuguese speaker. The mob beat this attacker and someone brought Ben's wallet back to him (without the money) and apologized for the attack.

As we continued to walk, we quieted down and picked up our pace. Police had already started firing tear gas and people were coughing loudly around the bus stops. We were willing to pay extra for a taxi, but we thought we might even break even if we could all squeeze into one stationwagon/van taxi. Nine fares on a bus might equal one taxi fare. We eventually found two taxis that took us home.

There are several versions of this event circulating. Being personally involved, I believe my version of my attack is the most true. Other versions, being circulated by Ben or Rich, show that my attacker was mostly a kid, and probably half my size. They also debate whether there was a jump kick involved in the robbery. But I am confident that he was a late teenager and ready to rumble. And his friends across the street would have jumped in if their friend was in trouble. It didn't stop either attacker that there were five men and four women as part of our group.

As so often happens, cliches about the event build up before the evening ends and the story is retold. The biggest guy in our group told me that if he had seen what had happened, he would been the first to get into the fight to help me. But I seemed to remember him out of the corner of my eye, frozen like everyone else.

I recently retold this story to friends, and I let it slip that "the joke is on him [the robber], that jacket didn't breathe". Evidently this was the funniest part of the story, but I really didn't like that jacket. It was hot and a personal sauna. But maybe I'm just justifying myself for having not responded.

Requested Stories


This story begins when I agreed to help some friends move. We began on a Saturday morning in December. The husband had rented a UHaul and we knew we wanted to put the heaviest furniture in the UHaul first. We started with our first piece of furniture: a wood chest. The sky had just started to produce snow. We started carrying the chest up the ramp and as soon as I tried to set my right foot inside the trailer, my foot gave way. The snow had made the aluminum floor in the back of the truck like ice. My foot slipped and I face-planted the wooden chest. I heard a crunch and could immediately feel my broken teeth bobbling about inside my mouth. I was afraid to open my mouth, because I knew that my friend would be horrified. But I also needed to know how bad the situation was. His expression would tell me everything. It did: shock and terror.

As I felt my teeth with my tongue, I could feel two broken teeth...probably the two front teeth. When I was able to go inside, I saw that one of my front teeth was still hanging from a permanent retainer installed years earlier. The other I could spit out into my hand. I quickly removed the retainer and the other half-tooth.

A friend of their family, an angel, set up an emergency appointment at a local dentist and I had the two broken pieces glued back to my teeth. The work done was superb, but these teeth were fragile and would always remain fragile. I debated whether to keep these teeth and about 11 months later (in time for insurance) I decided to have crowns and posts put in, with new porcelein teeth.

For those of you who don't know about posts, this means that they drill/wittle/shave the remaining parts of your teeth and connect them to metal posts. These "posts" allow the new teeth to fit snugly in the mouth.

I would need to try on several sets of teeth over a few weeks before the permanent teeth could be made. When I received the third set of temporaries, with the permanent set to arrive on the following Monday, I set out for a cross-country journey by plane. These temporaries were a little loose, but I could wait three days. Only the permanents would be properly cemented.

That weekend I was to travel from Nebraska with a quick stop over in Chicago before on to New Jersey. I left the Omaha airport too early for lunch so when I arrived in Chicago, I had to run to the next gate and wolf down something. Being a native of Chicago, I had only one option: Chicago hot dogs. I bought a hot dog from the closest vendor to the gate and started eating. Within the first few seconds I knew something was wrong. I couldn't feel my front teeth. I had a bite of hot dog (with Chicago style toppings: relish, mustard, pickle, tomato) still in my mouth so I searched for my teeth with my tongue. Nothing but soft items. I didn't trust my tongue so I spit my hot dog back into the wrapper to search with my eyes and fingers. No teeth. I had swallowed my temporaries.

I was disgusted and threw the rest of my hot dog in the trash, boarded the plane and called my friend Ron for advice. Ron told me to force myself to gag, to vomit up my teeth. As soon as the plane took off and the seatbelt light came off, I went back to the lavatory and stuck two fingers down my throat. I was reaching as far down as I could, gagging and spitting, but nothing else was coming up. I tried for several minutes in pain, eyes watering, but nothing important came up.

When I arrived in New Jersey, my friend Silas met me at the airport with one of his daughters. He immediately saw something was wrong. "What happened to your teeth?" I said "I swallowed them in Chicago". His daughter was scared by my missing teeth.

Even though I was traveling to be with Silas' family, I had already booked a nearby hotel, because Silas' family were already guests in someone else's house. Silas still kindly offered to have me stay with them and told me I should cancel my hotel room.

I told him privately that I better not. "If I see those temporaries later tonight or next morning in the toilet, I'm going to wash them off and put them back in." Somehow the thought of picking my temporary teeth out of my stool in the toilet was less embarassing that going to church the next day with missing teeth. Go figure.

I never recovered the temporaries and suffered through lots of lisps the remaining part of the weekend, and trying to covertly cover my mouth while talking (think George and Jerry trying to fool the deaf woman who could read lips). My permanents arrived on schedule that Monday morning back in Omaha and have been great.

As I look back on that experience, I wish I would have finished my Chicago style hot dog.