About a month before I came back to America from my year abroad in Germany I the most Kafkaesque mugging I've ever heard of. It was about three in the morning and the evening should have been winding down, but the streets of Freiburg were unusually crowded because of a techno festival. I was feeling ambitious because I was wearing a suit jacket and my Venetian hat. M joined me outside the bar where our friends had taken up residence for the remainder of the evening and, in the spirit of things, I invited him to a friendly fight.
To anyone else, it probably looked like a real fight, but we were having a good time. Once upon a time it would have been considered noble. If only we could have had sabres, then there would have been a very traditional duel in the street over whose honor neither of us could have said.
Two large men, on the other hand, took it the wrong way. They shoved Max and I apart and cornered us.
"Why are you fighting?" said one. We'll call him A.
"Why are you fighting?" said the other. We'll call him B.
"We're just messing around," M said.
"Yeah, come on. He's my friend. Let's have a drink," I said, gesturing to the nearest bar.
"Why were you fighting?" said A.
"He asked you why you were fighting," B insisted, turning on me.
"He's my friend..." I said slowly.
"And you fight your friends?" A said.
"Occasionally," I said.
"Is that the way to treat a friend?" B asked and looked at A for help.
"That's no way to treat a friend," A replied, sagely.
"I thought not."
"Uh, guys...?" M said.
Their attention turned away from me for a moment and the three spoke in rapid German. M looked worried. Briefly, we managed to stand side by side and he muttered, "We should go, now."
It was about that moment when I noticed that A and B were both wearing navy blue, three-piece business suits. They looked like they had walked out of a conference. Their cufflinks shone like stars and they both wore scarlet neckties.
A snatched my hat away and put it on his head. It had a comical effect since his head was much larger than mine, but he still looked very proud of himself.
"Do I look good in the hat?" A asked.
"You look very good in the hat," B said.
A struck a Humphrey Bogart pose.
"Uh, can I have my hat back?" I asked.
"I like the hat," A said and turned away. He contemplated the crowd and the world, like a movie star.
"He says he likes the hat," B explained.
I was beginning to suspect that A and B were, in fact the same person. One ego complimenting the other. After M tried in vane to snatch the hat back we began to settle on terms.
"Two euros," said B, finally taking initiative.
"Fine," I said.
He looked at me for a moment, startled. I had spoken out of script. "Five euros," he said.
"You said two."
"I said five."
A turned around, gave me a pitying look and slapped me across the face. Obviously I had missed the point.
"What did I say?" I asked.
"You can't bid down," he said.
"You're supposed to lose," A said.
"You're supposed to lose," B assured me.
I handed over five euros in coins and they counted them carefully. A handed my hat back and said, "It was a pleasure doing business with you." Then he and B disappeared into the crowd.
"Did that just happen?" I asked.
About a week later, still shaken, I related this story to my friend, S. We were sitting at a cafe and when I said, "He said, 'I like the hat,' and the other says, 'He says he likes the hat.'" S started laughing uncontrollably.
When S finally composed himself, he said, "It's just so ridiculous Like Kafka, man."
I agreed and laughed. We sat around for hours nursing the cheapest cups of coffee available. I budgeted enough to leave a tip.