Monday, September 04, 2017

What to Do in an Urban Moment

Something happened to me the other day while walking the streets of Pasadena, California, my hometown, the other day.  When I tweeted about how it began, one of my friends asked me a very similar question to what I asked myself at the time it was happening.
“What did you do?”  
“Nothing,” I replied.  Which was the truth.  I choose to not get involved in the situation.  At the time, though, I was wondering if I needed to get involved.  In order to be the type of citizen I think I should be, that we all should be.  To prevent some greater wrong being done by letting someone get away.  
But I held back.  And, having thought about it…
Here, in lieu of a police report, let me tell you what I saw happen, and what I surmised to have happened, and you tell me if I did the right thing or not.  If you think I blew it, then by all means, let me know.  
It started, like so many urban moments we face and witness in whatever medium to large city we might live in, with a car horn.
It wasn’t a quick, “Watch your lane,” little “Toot.”  It was a “What the EHF are you DOING, Mother-Ehfer?!” lean on the stearing wheel blast.  
Followed by, “Thunk.”  
I was about a block away.  It was a night.  Pools of streetlamp light marked my path toward the drug store where I was strolling, like spaces in some board game.   
Looking ahead I could see where the moment was taking place.  Past the last space I needed to cross to leave the current block I could see a huge white SUV sitting at the end of the side street I would need to cross.  Its left turn signal was blinking, “yellow-yellow-yellow.  But there was no traffic.  And it wasn’t moving.  
At first I thought that someone had bumped into the side of someone else.  Like what happens in a parking lot some times.  Someone else is backing out of a space, and they don’t see you sitting there waiting to pull into a space a few to the left of the guy backing out.  But the guy backing out doesn’t see you and you realize he’s going to hit you if you can’t get him to stop NOW…
I thought I’d see some people get out of their cares to exchange insurance info, complain about how stupid they are, and ask why they couldn’t look where they were going.  
I didn’t see people.  But I didn’t see them coming out of the SUV or any other car.  They were directly underneath one of the street lamps casting the pool of light spaces I was walking through.  Two silhouettes standing together.  Almost like they were dancing.  In a violent, fighting sort of way.  
I slowed down at first.  I looked to the other side of the street, wondering if would be safer to cross and continue toward the drug store over there.  I could hear the sounds of people yelling and screaming at each other.  No.  The two people I could make out where not suddenly doing the tango.  
I decided to go forward.  I figured I should at least see what was going on.  See, and then decide what I should do.  If I was going to do anything.  I wondered if I was ready and willing to break up a fight.  I didn’t answer myself at first. 
And before I got the chance to, one of the silhouettes put the other on the ground.  Not, “knocked to them to the ground.”  Nor did the second silhouette trip and fall.  The first, and bigger silhouette bent over.  When it straightened up, the second one suddenly vanished in a pool of shadow.
The cries and shouts got louder.  
I decided to pick up my pace.  
It was maybe a dozen seconds later that the first silhouette, which was moving toward me, resolved itself into the shape of a person.  
A tall, muscular man.  The type of musculature that requires spending a fair amount of one’s free time at the gym building and maintaining while drinking protein shakes.  As we were approaching each other, he decided to take off his tee-shirt, pulling it up over his head.  
Just as he became bare chested, I heard someone call out from some distance away, “Stop him!  Don’t let him get away!”  
I pulled to a halt.  Where they talking to me?  Were they expecting me to make this guy stop? 
If so, how did they expect me to do it?  Maybe I was a silhouette to them, the way this guy was before to me.  About half my age, twice as big, in all the ways that mattered when it came to one person making another stop.  
And, why did I need to stop him?  Looking at the guy, I couldn’t see anything that gave me a reason to stop him, except the insistence of a disembodied voice.  He was strolling along.  Not running away.  Not even walking fast, like he’s trying to get away as if nothing happened.  Walking.  He had on a game face, not showing any specific emotion.  And except for being bare chested, which I don’t think violates any civic ordinances, there was nothing odd about him.  
If he had been running toward me, with a lady’s purse in his hand, would I have tried to stop him?  Maybe so.  
If he had been running toward me, with a blood machete in his hand, ripping off his blood soaked tee-shirt, would I have tried to stop him?  Maybe not.  But I might have taken his picture to help ID him to the authorities later.  
So…  I did nothing.  I continued working forward.  I looked at his face as he walked back.  He didn’t look back.  He just kept walking.  
“Hey!  Hey!”  
This is when the second character of the urban moment appeared.  
Short and skinny Asian woman.  Blue short-shorts and a tee-shirt looking blouse.  Cool clothing for a hot night.  He had a cell phone in her left hand which was glued to her hear.  
“Hey!”  She came right up to me.  “Call the police!” 
“Eh?”  This ended up being my only dialogue in this entire encounter.  
“Call the police!  He assaulted my sister.”  
“I was just defending myself!”  
That was Muscular Guy.  He’d turned around to respond to Cell Phone Lady’s assertion.  
“You assaulted her!”  Her free hand shot forward. She was pointing at Muscular Guy with all the accusation she could muster.  “You threw her to the ground!”  
Muscular Guy gave Cell Phone Lady a dismissive wave of his disrobed shirt.  He turned around and continued walking.  
“Call the police!”  Cell Phone Lady looked back at me, then left the pool of light space we’d been standing in.  “Hey!  Stop him!  Call the police!  He assaulted my sister!”  
With this new information, I decided that I needed to do…  Nothing.  Yet.
My first thought as Cell Phone Lady was exhorting me to call the police was, “Uh…  That thing against your ear is a phone, right?  Why aren’t you calling the police?”  One of two things were going on with that phone.  Either, A) she was already calling the police and wanted everyone she found on the street to call as well, in order to get as many patrol cars as possible to arrive and take down this Sister Assaulter, or B) She was continuing a phone call with a friend and had been narrating the urban moment to her and was continuing to do so even as she chased Muscular Guy down the street, in which case, if the situation wasn’t important enough for her to stop the call and contact the police herself, then it was possible that things were not so dire that the police needed calling at all.  
Also, I had seen the two the two silhouettes in action.  And the first one, Muscular Guy I’m assuming, hand not THROWN the second one, the sister in question, to the ground.  It had been BEND, PLACE, then STRAIGHTEN.  PLACE might not have been gentle, but it had been PLACE not THROWN.
So…  I turned toward the drug store again, and kept walking.  
Within two light pool spaces, I came across two more individuals, one of whom was a key player to the drama that was happening around me.
Big, round guy with a shaved head, holding a cell phone to his RIGHT ear.  
I don’t know if this guy was involved or not.  He was about my height, but weighed about half again as much as I did.  The street light shimmered off of his shaved head.  His thin mustache was straightened out on his face in a snickering smile.  
My thought at the time was that he was with Cell Phone Lady and he was doing the police-calling.  Looking back, I think I was wrong.  He was probably some other pedestrian on the street, calling some friend to tell him what he was seeing.  “Dude, this is so jacked up.  You won’t believe it!  They be screamin’ and yellin’…”  
This guy wasn’t doing nothing, like me.  He was Audience Guy.  He was following and watching and conveying it to his public.  
I looked forward to see the last of the main characters make her appearance.  
“น้องสาว...  Leave him alone.  Came back.  He’s crazy!”  
Oh…  I had heard a foreign sounding word, but couldn’t recognize it.  What I was seeing was another Asian woman.  This one tall.  Long blonde hair.  Dressed in what I would call a swishy, black dress that ran to her ankle.  A summery thing to wear at an upscale barbecue.
“Come on back.  He’s insane.  A crazy ass.  Come on!”  
This must be Sister.  The one Cell Phone Lady said had been assaulted.  An attractive woman, for sure.  Stylish.  And…  Not very mussed up, I noticed.  And her attitude was not what I’d expect from someone who’d just been assaulted.  Her voice was strong.  She sounded used to getting her way.  She was giving orders.  She was done with this.  It was time to move on.  
She walked past me after her sister, Cell Phone Lady, continuing to call her back.  “น้องสาว...  Come on!”  
I’m thinking “น้องสาว” was Cell Phone Lady’s name.  
Since Sister looked fine, and I didn’t Muscular Guy was going stop to go another round with Sister, I turned back toward the drug store, and kept walking.  
There was on other thing that I think tied everything together.  
SUV.  Big.  REALLY BIG.  “I DON’T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING’ Big.  It was still sitting there at the end of the street.  It’s left turn signal was still going.  It wasn’t going anywhere.  
I walked around behind the SUV to cross the street, bearing left to get even with the curb.  I stepped up and took a couple of steps…
When I stopped.  Turned around.  And looked at where the SUV was parked.  
It was in the crosswalk.  It filled the crosswalk.  The reason I went behind it was due to the fact that going in front of it would have forced me to curve my path into the street.  I had done this numerous times in Pasadena…
When the way some driver had approached the intersection had forced me to do so.  
I channeled my inner Sherlock Holmes with this last piece of evidence.  Just like in the movies when you see the detective looking at a piece of broken glass, remembered what one suspect had said at a perfect moment, eyes flickering back and forth in his sockets as he strolls through his Palace of Imagination. 
As I was doing this, Sister returned to the SUV.  She got into the driver’s seat.  Started it up.  Then pulled into the street to whip around in a u-turn and back down the street she had been coming from.  
Driving HER SUV.  
I turned around and continued walking away.  This is what I saw in my Palace of Imagination: 
Sister and Cell Phone Lady are in her SUV, going off somewhere to do something.  Cell Phone Lady is talking with whomever they’re going to visit.  Something like that.  
Muscular Guy is walking home.  He’s thinking he might have time to change and take a quick 5K run before bedtime.  
Sister is talking to น้องสาว about what they’re going to do.  She’s not paying much attention to how she’s driving.  They need to turn left at the end of the street, Cell Phone Lady tells her.  To get to the freeway.  It’s the fastest way to where they’re going.  
Sister cuts across the pedestrian crosswalk.  Muscular Guy has to jump back to avoid being hit.  
Muscular Guy is pissed.  He has the right of way.  She could have hit him if he hadn’t been so agile (and muscular).  This happens WAY TOO OFTEN in Pasadena (which it does).  He decides to make a point.  
Sister is about to make her left hand turn, when she realizes just before putting on the accelerator that someone is in front of her car!  She hits the brakes to keep the SUV from going forward.  Asshole!  She uses her horn to get him to move.
“Are you kidding me?”  No embarrassed smile?  No apology wave?  Who does this… Bitch! thing she is?  He decides to show her who HE IS and what his time in the gym has bought him.  
“What the—-?”  Sister and Cell Phone Lady say it simultaneously, eyes wide in disbelief as the guy in front of Sister’s beautiful SUV brings his two fists down to smash the hood of its trunk.  AND THEN…  He walks away like nothing happened!
Sister decides he’s not going to let him get away with it.  Shuts off the SUV.  Stomps on the break.  Leaps out of the vehicle.  She races after Muscular Guy as fast as she can on three inch hills.  
“Hey!”  She tries to grab his shoulder.  He shrugs her off.  Cell Phone Lady follows behind her, telling her friend what’s going on.  
“You won’t believe it!  This…  Asshole just SLAMMED his hands on my Sister’s hood.  Jumped outa NOWHERE!  Does that for no good reason!”  
“Hey!”  Sister is not used to being ignored.  She grabs his shoulder again.  This time, when he tries to shrug her off, she grabs the hem of his sleeve.  
“Damn it!”  Muscular Guy looks at the torn shirt.  Looks at the bitch that tore it.  He raises his hands…  But no.  He’s not one to hit a woman.  Not even when they deserve it.  
“What do you think you were doing?”  She uses both hands to shove him in the chest.  He barely rocks back on his heels.  “Huh?  If there’s a dent, you’re gonna pay…”  She shoves him again.  
Muscular Guy grabs her by the shoulders.  No…  He doesn’t hit women.  But, he’s not about to let them hit him.  Holding on tightly, he bends forward, pushing her off balance.  
“Hey!   What the…?”  
And places her on the ground.  Before she can get to her feet, he walks away.  He feels the torn sleeve flapping on his arm.  He doesn’t wear torn clothing.  Ever.  It’s a rule.  His favorite tee-shirt.  Now it’s garbage.  He takes it off as he hears the screeching of the other bitch from the car behind him.  He’ll throw the tee-shirt in the trash as soon as he gets home.  
And this is where I came on the scene.  
I’m not sure this is the way it happened.  Not at all.  But I wasn’t sure that I needed to stop Muscular Guy just because Cell Phone Lady called out to me to do so.  
Maybe I’m picking a scenario that exonerates me.  Entirely possible.  Not purposefully.  But possible.  What I think it shows is that, coming on urban moment, it’s important to not get dragged into the emotion and hysterics and screaming and yelling, UNLESS you see something that CLEARLY needs attention.  Like a child ABOUT to get abused, or someone ABOUT to step in front of a car without looking.  
I did nothing.  And, I think I can be pretty confidant that doing nothing was the right thing to do in that situation.  
Writer’s Note: In case you’re wondering, น้องสาว, is what I get when I put the Japanese word for “little sister,” 妹 - いもうと, into Google Translate and ask for a Thai translation.  I don’t know if the sisters in this urban moment were Thai or not, I just wanted to convey that I heard something I just didn’t understand.  

The End.