This was NOT on me. Despite the popular current tendency of people to blame somebody else, anybody else, for whatever problems they or others are encountering, I am NOT responsible for how I’m perceived by a complete stranger, NOR am I responsible for their emotional state. The world simply doesn’t work that way. I am responsible for what I can control and how I act upon it, nothing more…or less.
Still, I’m uncomfortable that I am the focus of those strong reactions. This is not a power I’ve ever sought or exercised over another human being, or indeed even permitted to be exercised over another in my presence. I have scars to prove that. Some of them are even on the outside.
The events that have conditioned her to behave this way…in this circumstance, are things I’d eradicate from the world, if only it were even remotely possible. I used to believe it was. It took death to prove me wrong. Choice…is not something I can or want to eliminate.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’m generally not a fan of the big city. Certainly there are benefits. I can get anything I could possibly need here, pretty much at any time, but the sheer logistics of a large population center make vast portions of life there nearly untenable.
Oh, I understand the need and the forces driving people TO the big cities, but it’s difficult to find an example of one, anywhere in the world, that is truly a pleasant place once you dig a little deeper into it. Generally when observed with a disciplined eye, it is readily obvious that the city is a predator of the very highest order. The people “running” it are slaves to its needs and serving for its benefit, rather than for the benefit of the inhabitants. The city as a whole is an absolutely ruthless entity bent on nothing less than expansion and survival of itself…at any cost.
So, of course, I have to make my way into the very heart of one nearly every day, in pursuit of “the big bucks”, most of which are expended on the costs of living so close to the thing without being utterly consumed by it. It would be ironic, if it was an isolated case, but we have reached a point in our history where the majority lives in the same way and the irony is lost. It’s mostly replaced with a pathetic sadness.
All that said, the city is an absolutely fascinating place for observation of the human condition. Everybody has a story, problem, or mission…and there’s LOTS of “everybodies” here. Millions in fact, and not a one of them is “average” or statistically predictable on an individual level. Statistics are only marginally accurate when applied to large groups. They breakdown spectacularly when applied to individuals. It’s a failing, and dangerous, when we forget this.
In the city, you’ll see anything and everything. All the time. All you have to do is keep your eyes open.
It amazes me how few people actually do. Most wander along their path completely oblivious to the events and others around them.
Perhaps they’re happier that way.
Top floor of the parking garage today. That’ll teach me to come in a little later then the nine-to-five crowd. I’m normally well ahead of them but spent the previous evening into the wee hours dealing with work stuff. I should’ve taken the day off but somebody scheduled a meeting for me today. Damn that work ethic of mine.
Anyway, later than normal. That means eight stories of stairs to get out of the garage…yes, there’s an elevator, but stairs are good exercise and I’ll get precious little more of it today, consigned as I am to driving a keyboard for the next ten plus hours.
As I exit onto the sidewalk after the long decent, my keenly tuned male observational brain notes a couple things:
1) Petite black woman with a cute butt is stopped on the walkway, facing away from me, about 20 feet ahead.
2) She has a cute butt (I am what I am, get over it).
3) She’s nicely dressed in a tight, short, patterned print skirt and that highlights her…you guessed it…cute butt to advantage. I would guess high-end professional sales of some sort by the obvious quality, and revealing cut of her attire.
4) She is VERY angry/frustrated.
That last bit is obvious because she is sort of jumping with one foot and stamping with the other in pure frustration and helplessness, and as I stop walking, screams into her phone, “NO GODDAMMIT! I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU DID THIS TO ME!”
Then she turned around, and combining the momentum of her turn with the force of an overhand swing, throws her phone as hard as she can.
Straight at my face.
This was turning out to be an interesting day.
I knew even as she turned the thing loose that I wasn’t an intentional target, she hadn’t even known I was there. Didn’t really matter though. Intentional or not, her aim was dead on.
I generally expect the unexpected but I’ve little experience with cute butts throwing stuff at my face, so the throw caught me completely off guard. A half-pound of phone to the face while not fatal, wouldn’t be fun and my best action would have been to duck, or try to bat the projectile aside, or both.
What I did was reach out and snatch it clean out of the air directly in front of my head, in a smooth overhand catch. Left handed. Best catch of my life. Not even a bobble. I’m sure it looked really cool.
I wish I could say it was intentional.
I looked at the phone in my hand. Damn. How’d I do that?
I kept my face neutral. It didn’t seem an appropriate time to scream, “WOOOOHOOOO! Did you SEE that?” and high five somebody. The urge to “spike” the phone, touch-down fashion, was probably not productive either.
Since the gal had spun toward me with the throw, the cute butt was no longer visible, so my brain clicked back on. Sort of.
She had nice tits, revealed via a rather spectacular cleavage. By the obvious quality and careful fit and cut, I’d guess the skirt and blouse would cost a week’s pay. Never has it been possible to spend so much to cover so little.
Zork. Pop. I find I’m highly in favor of this. That male brain thing again.
Dammit! EhHumm…where was I?
Stairs…Butt…Phone…Tits…Ur…Phone. Yah. Phone. High velocity phone. This. Means. Something.
I reluctantly bumped that to the top of my list.
The phone in my hand was a late-model I-phone. The call was still active. I thumbed the “end call” button. Clearly that conversation was over with. Briefly I wondered what an I-phone sailing through the air sounded like to the person on the other end. Silly thought. The things my brain comes up with. Well, when it’s not distracted by the scenery anyway.
I looked back up at the woman. EhHumm. Then up a little further, eventually meeting her eyes.
Hand over her mouth, she was clearly mortified. Angry. Terrified. Defiant. On the verge of rabbiting. She peered back at me, poised for flight, yet seemed unable to look away.
I doubted she really intended to deliberately smash an $800+ phone so I started walking toward her. It was only about four strides.
The eyes told the story. The precise moment. They went…blank…for lack of a better description. The intelligence was still there…but it quite plainly slid to the background. That’s when she surrendered. Deer in the headlights. I doubt she’d move if Godzilla attacked the city (an event, by the way, that I’d be highly in favor of).
Gone. Totally passive. Checked out. As limp as she could be without actually falling over. Paralyzed. I’ve rarely seen such a thing in a living, conscious human being.
Rarely. But I’ve seen it.
I grimaced at the memories it inspired, and the pain, and then shoved them back into the dark recesses where they belong. Now was not the time.
I’d really prefer if I never saw it again.
But part of being a man is we don’t always get to choose what we want.
We are obligated, however, to deal with what’s presented to us.
Not so long ago, in a place not so far from here, I’d seen that look before. A call from an old acquaintance. She was in trouble. Needed out. A simple task, on the surface. Grab the truck. Make a short trip. Load some stuff and the girl. Take her home.
I’ve done this a number of times. For friends of friends. Acquaintances. Strangers. On two occasions…family. There’s always the blank look. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of.
I’ve had quite enough nightmares thank you.
She was one of the lucky ones. At least, I thought so at the time. She still had family and friends. A place to go. People to call. And she’d made the choice.
Loaded, pulling out. HE showed up. Tried to physically take her. The look. Tried to come though me. A mistake on his part…and perhaps on mine. I intervened. I won.
Two months later she went back to him voluntarily. Her choice. Six months after that she was dead. He was male, but he was not a man. He wasn’t even a boy. He was an animal. She thought otherwise…I expect right up till the end.
They put him in a cage, where animals should be. Should they ever be through with him and let him out I’ll know about it and he’ll vanish without a trace. Most say say justice was done. I call bullshit. None of it matters. She’s gone.
Boys. Men. Animals. They are not the same thing. Not even CLOSE. It’s not so hard to tell the difference. You just have to look with your eyes instead of your expectations.
I stopped within an arms length, held out her phone. “Your phone.”
She continued to face straight forward, not tilting her head, frozen, but her eyes strained upward to see mine, towering a full head and a half above her.
So soft I barely heard it, she pleaded, “No-oo.” and my heart broke. She looked like she expected to be hit by a truck.
…and I was the truck.
I blinked, finally grocking the state she was in…at what I represented to her.
Dammit. Dammit. Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.
Most of the people in my life, men or women, would never go so passive in any situation, and I have limited experience with those that would. It never ends well. Some of those that have, are gone. Lost souls.
Somebody here was broken. It wasn’t me.
She needed a hug. I figured that would not go well if it was from me.
I had no idea how to respond. Zip. Zero. Nada.
I was gonna have to anyway.
I’ve been motorcycling longer than it’s been legal for me to do so. I’ve a quarter-million miles on my current bike alone. I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. The road, and the challenges inevitably encountered along it, are effective and ruthless teachers. If you meet one of us that’s been doing this for a few years, you can rest assured there’s more than a few hard-won lessons under our belt. Likely a few scars too.
At least if we’re still breathing.
Two of those lessons popped into my head at that moment, both concerning what to do, when you don’t know…what to do:
1) When in doubt, throttle it out. This lesson is simple. When in an untenable situation, lacking any other direction, action, or idea of what to do…apply MORE of whatever you’ve got. You’re not going to make it “more untenable”…and you just might make it better.
2) Patience. Motorcycling above all other things…teaches patience.
We have a name for the impatient motorcyclist. It’s the same name we use for a drunk motorcyclist; “Corpse.”
For my current situation I applied both of those lessons at the same time.
With any luck everybody would survive the encounter.
Applying lessons. Sounds sophisticated, right? Yah. That’s me. Sophisticated.
What I did was stand there with a silly grin on my face, holding her phone out to her, and repeated, “Your phone.”
And I waited.
Shortly her eyes flicked. Then her head tilted slowly up.
Maybe the intelligence was coming back to the front. Or the soul. The eyes were certainly…less blank.
I didn’t move. “Your phone.”
She reached out with both hands. Lightly grasped the proffered phone. Slowly pulled it back. She seemed surprised that I let it go.
She took a step back. “Thank you.” Her voice was a little firmer this time, but now she was shaking like a leaf.
I could’t proceed on my way without pushing past her and it was not time for that so I asked, “Are you okay?”
She backed up a couple paces. “Yes. No! I don’t know.” She shook the phone. “He cheated on me! Then he dumped me when I found out! Said I was just a piece of ass.” That last bit was with a little force.
“Sorry.” I was grasping for a way to show her I was not a threat and I’d leave her in peace if she’d let me. Finally I indicated the path she was blocking and my intent to move on. “If you’re okay, I should get to work.”
She almost jumped to the side, but “she” was back. As I passed she said, “Sorry about the phone. Thank you. It’s just that men…they’re all cheating bastards!”
I paused. I wasn’t sure I could let that go…or SHOULD. The universe often delivers exactly what’s expected of it…and it was obvious what she expected of men. I’ve been here before. Maybe not done all I could have. The result was not pretty.
In an instant I silently lamented the world we’ve created where there is no avenue, no method, and no tolerance for the education and experience REQUIRED for boys to become men. Indeed, the very foundations of that, a moral code, honor, strength, self-reliance, responsibility, defense of others, male role models, are ridiculed in our society. Intentional or not, our current society meets out lessons that counter and punish all of the things they boys need to become men. We treat “male” as if the only thing different from “female” is that one has a tab, and one has a slot.
As dramatic and interesting as those anatomical plumbing differences can be…they are the very least of our differences. Anybody that indicates otherwise is selling something.
Then we compound the error when we reward the sociopaths, requiring and praising those traits, and only those traits, to succeed in sports, government, and business. People as playthings. Tools to be used as desired and then disposed of when broken or no longer needed…or a new one comes along. We put the folks that believe and practice that in charge. Call them heroes. Pay them silly amounts to do EXACTLY what this woman’s “male” had done to her…use her for what he wanted then discard her.
Boys need to become men. It’s not automatic. But it’s not proper to teach that anymore. We ridicule and punish the few that manage it anyway.
The rest only have two paths ahead of them…to remain a child, or to become an animal. Male. But not MEN.
We don’t teach, encourage, or allow boys to become men. And we don’t teach girls the difference…and that they have a choice.
Men. Boys. Animals. Vastly different things.
I can easily guess which kind she’s been dealing with.
I stopped, cocked my head at her, smiled. “No we are not. Not. A. Single. One.” I nodded at her phone, still in her hand, “You’ve not been dealing with Men.”
She stood up a little straighter. “What do you mean?”
I thought of another, not so long ago, that didn’t understand there was a difference, and I wonder if there was anything more I could have done. I still don’t know. I couldn’t have stopped her from going back. Women have every right to deliver themselves into the clutches of boys…or animals. But they should do so with their eyes wide open.
“Men can be frustrating, driven, maybe even incomprehensible at times, and occasionally clueless, but Men don’t cheat. Boys do. Men don’t abuse. Animals do. It’s not all that hard to tell the difference. There’s plenty of Men out there. In the end, it’s going to be your choice.”
Stupidly simplified. Almost a platitude. But it’s still the truth.
She was still shaking.
“You need me to walk you somewhere? Car? Train?” I nodded at The Statler Hotel across the street, “Coffee?”
The Statler has utterly fantastic, and fantastically over-priced, coffee. The ache starting between my temples was telling me I could use some. Her dress was telling me that “overpriced” and “pretentious”, both describing the place pretty well, was her normal environment.
An interesting day, indeed.
She looked hesitant for a moment. Then, decided. I saw it before she did. A little firmer, more confident. She was still shaking though. “Yes. Coffee. Then the train.”
“You got it.”
She smiled for the first time. Glanced overtly at my ring finger, which only highlighted the glance.
There’s no ring there. Hasn’t been since the 90’s…when it got crimped onto my finger by some piece of equipment or other I was working with. I had to cut if off. The wife has it somewhere.
I’ve never made a secret of my status though. Generally it’s obvious.
I glanced down myself, just to make it obvious I’d noted it, and winked at her.
She smile just a little more, “You’re already taken, aren’t you?”
I laughed. “Oh yeah. Years before you were born!”
And so…eight stories of stairs turned into eight blocks of walking and I paid for a couple over-priced coffees.
But I did get a hug…or more accurately, gave one.
And I saved a phone. I hope, perhaps, I saved something else too.
I’ll never know though. It’s a big city. Hope will just have to do.
Those eyes though…were the stuff of nightmares.
Like I needed any more of those.
I’ll see you on the road.