Somedays I wish there was a sort of handbook for living in this type of setting. I grew up here and it was always the type of city where you learned how to lock your door (car and home) once you were in and once you got out, and if you drove downtown back in the day, you rolled up the windows and locked the doors so as not to get jacked by the pimps and druggies. Looking back I think there was likely some overdramatizing on the subject of personal safety but, the city still does has a vibe of instability to it at times.
Today I was coming back from a jog (two miles post-Christmas belly and I was giving myself a mental high-five on a job well done). I was cooling off down the street from my house and saw someone who looked like they were walking up on my lawn. Someone I didn’t recognize. Then they seemed to be in the neighbor’s yard. It was a girl who walked a bit like a boy so there was an edge of toughness there. When I came closer I could see she snagged a soccer ball from our neighbor’s porch and was coming towards me. Our neighbors have five kids and one of them plays with my son so I did feel a bit defensive of his property.
When she came towards me like a Harlem Globetrotter, a mentally ill Globetrotter, she was trying to do the offensive/defensive dribbling movement with me in a way that total strangers do NOT do with one another. I just smiled while she was laughing a bit too overconfidently while saying, “Come on. Let’s go. Let’s play” in her tomboy voice. I laughed a bit insecurely and just swerved around her to avoid her then thought, “I know she took that from our neighbor’s yard. What the….?”
So I asked her, “Did you take that from up there?” pointing at their porch and she paused. When she paused I immediately regretted asking her that question. She started coming at me and it was clear she was looking for a fight. She said, “Oh, you wan it? You wan it?” I said nothing. Just stated at her. Then she threw it HARD towards my face and I put my hand up and blocked it (thank you cat-like reflexes). I was a bit stunned but still said, “Thanks”. It was the thanks that was the other mistake. It seemed to fire her crazy up to amber alert. She came at me, while I was holding the stolen ball in my arms like a small cat, and just started pushing into me. It was mental (I use that word deliberately) because I was trying to protect myself without getting her really fired up. I kept wondering if she had a knife or something. So I just kept pushing her off me then she pushed her hand into my face and walked away.
The whole episode reminded me of a scuffle I use to get into in high school. Totally unexpected and a bit stupid in its subject matter. I actually wanted to punch her to get her away (at my core I’m a pacifist but I have my moments of weakness, sorry) and because of my kung fu training (thank you David Welther) I was thinking of ways to swing her around and trip her and get her on the ground. Then the better part of my mental make up took over and told me, “She’s crazy. Don’t ‘eff’ with her!”. Then I felt bad and sort of didn’t want to hurt her. She was tiny and not really strong. My pushing on her was pushing her back hard. She wasn’t really a good match for me even though she thought she was. I walked away shaking partly out of anger and partly out of totally being stunned. Too much adrenaline, fight or flight stuff going on in my innards.
I had to tell the kids about it because they heard me speaking about it to the husband on the phone. Then later my son and I drove around a bit to try to see if we could figure out where she was from. I’ve had another encounter with her so I think she lives around me. Fantastic! I can’t wait to see her again. I told O she was wearing all brown and she was small. The best part of the entire event is when we finally went into Safeway to get our five gallon water jugs filled and O saw a tiny old woman, maybe seventy years old, in a brown trench coat. He pulled on my sleeve and pointed to her while pressing his mouth shut and his eyebrows raised, like he was saying, “Look! There she is. The crazy lady that attacked you”. I laughed out loud thinking of the small Vietnamese woman that he was outing throwing a ball at my face and trying to push me over. It was really cute of him to try to be my advocate.
So, I wonder where is the handbook on urban living that helps those of us who are committed to living in a developing city with an abrasive identity that she is trying hard to overcome see people who are a pain in the ass with compassion? Where is the compass that gives us some direction on what to do in really weird situations, not to avoid getting in fights but more to see things the right way? There’s a fine line between staking your place in the city and loving it, wanting to make it better, clean it up, develop her….all while contending with the disenfranchised who roam the streets day and night and letting them live here too. It’s just as much their city as mine. What to do? What to do?
Well, I’ll tell you this: If you see a small, tan woman wearing all brown, walking all tough like a tomboy and trying to interact with you for a good game of basketball while walking down your street….just pretend you don’t really notice. I learned the hard way not to stir up someone else’s crazy out of a sense of justice for your neighbor’s soccer ball. I’ll put that in the handbook.