Take it or leave it.

Friday, July 10, 2015

GET UP STAND UP SHOW LOVE

When I was in kindergarten a kid started picking on me. His name was Chris. He was chubby, black, with a well-oiled Afro kept impeccably groomed with a pocket comb he wore proudly in his jeans. Chris was in the first grade. So he was older than me, and taller, and chubby just meant he was bigger than me. Real intimidating.

I don't know why out of all the kindergartners it was me Chris singled out to harass for money. It certainly wasn't because my mom drove a stylish car, although her Toyota station wagon did have wood paneling. I don't know what kind of ride Chris's mom owned. Like many kids, he got bussed into school from the 'hood. He was straight outta Compton before there was such a thing. Crips and bloods were in my vocabulary before I even knew how to spell Mississippi. I knew all about gangbangin', secretly wished I could join, although my black friends told me white kids were not allowed in their gangs. "Then I wish I was black," I said. They looked at me like I was crazy.

"If you don't give me a dollar, I'm gonna kick your butt," Chris announced one day outside of class, when the teacher wasn't looking. It was the first time I had heard the expression. Of course I took Chris literally. Imagined myself putting my hands on my knees as he kicked me in the backside from one end of campus to the other. Having my rear pummeled like that would surely hurt a great deal. And he wore work shoes. So I decided it most judicious to give Chris what he demanded.

By this time in my life - I was 5 - I had accrued a modest sum in allowance money, mostly for the performance of chores, which my mother kept in a glass jar atop her closet, beside her high-heeled shoes. The jar was about half full of nickels and dimes and a few crinkled bills. We had a housekeeper, so chores were limited to the occasional sweep of my room.

The next day at school I give Chris his dollar. He slides it in his back pocket, the one without the comb. "Another one," he says.

This was getting to be a pretty expensive habit. Soon my mother noticed. I think she may have seen me climb into her closet, or else I gave him all my dollar bills and had to reach into mom's purse or ask her for the money flat-out, which made a confession unavoidable. God love her, mom decided to take matters into her own hands. Rather than go to the teacher or principal, she told her father, my grandfather, who was golden gloves in his youth. So my grandfather goes out and buys me a punching bag, a speed bag, the kind that stands on a platform rather than hangs overhead. He was going to teach me how to box. We've this great picture after I think our second session "on the bag." After the third I threw up and cried.


I didn't like the idea of fighting Chris, not even if I won. As I saw it, either he "kicked my butt" and it would hurt like hell, or I would kick his and feel bad about it, or we'd tie and be sent to the principal's office and maybe even expelled from school. Jail would be the inevitable outcome. Probably by the time I hit my teens. A life of juvenile delinquency followed by grand theft and maybe capital crimes. I'd be dead by the time I hit thirty.

There has to be a better way, I say.

So we put the punching bag in the closet next to my dwindling allowance and went out for French fries. I can't remember how it all resolved itself, exactly. I may have told Chris I was all out of cash. I may have stood up to him in some non-confrontational way. Or he may have forgotten about our little arrangement. After all he had the attention span of a 6-year-old!

I thought about Chris while running the other day. Specifically while running along a road not 2 miles from my house. I look up and see a cyclist 100 or so feet in the distance. He looks big and wears a frown, like a pale, angry-looking Garbage Pail Kid, or maybe he's just focusing on the ground in front of him trying to avoid dips and holes, and he's barreling at me.

Usually when I see cyclists I run to the other side of the street, that way I know we'll both have enough space; but this time I keep to my line and continue running straight ahead, I don't know why. There are no cars in view. Usually the cyclist will give some. Not this guy, who is really intense. He keeps to the outside third of the lane, and keeps on coming. I keep on going. It's a game of chicken for who will give first.

Fifty feet. Then 20. At about 10 feet separating us he growls "Move!" Which I think is rude, so I hold my arm up parallel to the ground as if it were a Samurai sword and I meant to chop his head off and at the last minute raise my arm to let him pass. "Asshole!" he barks as he pedals away. I'm the asshole, really? I turn around in disbelief to see him moving off into the distance. For a moment I think about yelling back some name, like baby, or name caller, or asshole. But I'm no copycat. Better: Why are you riding away? Or, Face me like a man sissy!

Clearly this bicycle rider and I had different views on etiquette and right of way. His was probably that cyclists should go with the flow of traffic and keep to the outside third of the road at all times, which is what traffic laws say. It's the rule I usually follow when I'm on my bike. My view was that there were no cars coming, which if he just looked over his shoulder he'd have noticed, and since it's uncomfortable to run in the gutter, especially for a guy who broke his hip a mere 9 months ago, he could have scooted over a couple feet rather than box me in. But he didn't know I broke my hip. And maybe he's not a runner. When I am on my bike I give runners extra room even if it means I have to veer into the center of the road. How would he like it if I was the one boxing him onto the shoulder like that, with only a foot or two of room to maneuver? But I am not that guy.

The altercation could have gone anywhere had I reacted. I could have yelled back and got it off my chest. But this could have made him turn around. I could have charged at him. We could have wound up like two kids wrestling in the middle of the road. Or two dogs. I could have bit him on the neck, and maybe twisted his titties (which were big). Then he'd have sued me for like a million dollars because that's what people do. I doubt he'd have won but who needs all that stress? Besides we are not animals. It is not always easy to live up to our nature, rather than descend into the primal - and possibly costly. Or we both could have been hit by a car and died.

So after a second or two I resume running. I'm not saying I was the better person. Maybe I was being puerile by pretending to lop his head off. Every person has his own perspective. But if you come from love and kindness rather than hatred and anger, if you treat others as you'd want to be treated, things usually work out okay. There wasn't much love in my heart that day, but there wasn't any hate.

From now on I'll do as I usually do and maintain space. I didn't with our cyclist, maybe because I knew I needed to stand up to him, because he was a bully. I can smell them 100 feet away.

We are all God's children. Some are just chubbier than others, and mean. Aw, maybe he just had a real bad day.

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