There was a guy, driving a beat up mid-sized sedan, who, racing down Western Avenue at dusk, sped up when he saw my wife and child crossing the street ahead of me. It was clear that he was speeding up. It was so clear.
The mama bear in me roared, and the tiger snarled, and the leopard got ready to pounce. THe man stopped his vehicle a few feet away and my girls scooted across the crosswalk to safety.
But I did not.
I held my ground.
I stood in the crosswalk and glared at the little man. I narrowed my eyes and lowered my center of gravity as the man rolled his car up to me and then stopped less than a foot from my shins. I stared at him through the windshield. I hefted the plastic bag of dog shit in my hand.
“Do you really want to do this?” he asks me.
“Do you?” I ask him.
The bag of dog shit is begging to be thrown. It’s begging. It is saying, have your revenge, thrown me at this guy, smash it all over his window, goad him into running you down. And then retire on the lawsuit.
It’s a good, baseball sized loaf of shit. I could easily wing it, side-armed, into the car. I’m thinking about it. I could hit this guy right in the face with a bag of shit. And then he would not be able to say “nobody has ever thrown a bag of shit at me” ever again in his life. He would always remember the day he got hit in the face by a bag of shit.
It would be an epic story.
"So, what’s it going to be?" asks the bag of shit. "Fight or flight?"
I’m pretty sure both of those end up with the bag of shit thrown at the car. I’m on to you bag of shit. You can’t trick me.
In order to make up my mind, I used the whiteboard in my head and drew up a quick a list of pros and cons for throwing the shit.
- Pro: I don’t have to carry this bag of shit anymore.
- Con: I don’t like to litter.
- Pro: But I could throw a bag of shit at a guy and be totally justified. (*Bucket list!*)
- Con: Possible jail time
- Pro: When the driver tells the story about the time he got hit in the face by a bag of shit, he would make himself the hero of the story. He would tell the tale of an insane fat man who lept of the bushes and assaulted him with a 12-inch knife and two attack dogs. He’d talk about how he’d probably be dead if he hadn’t been able to escape thanks to his amazing driving skills.
- Con: That sleaze doesn’t deserve a story that good.
So it's decided. I know that I cannot throw this bag of shit. I can only stand my ground. Legally in the crosswalk; mere feet away from being run down.
But I want you to know this: I didn't throw the bag of shit, not because it’s morally reprehensible, not because it’s unclean, and not because I don’t want to be the kind of person who throws a bag a shit at a guy. I don’t throw that bag of shit at that guy because I don’t want to give this guy a cool story. I don’t want to make this guy the hero of his dumb existence. I don’t want him, ever, under any circumstances, to feel like somehow he was the bigger or better person. I want him to be the kind of a guy who speeds up when he sees a child and a stroller cross the street in front of him because that’s who he is. He’s not a victim of a morning-zoo style crime blotter story. He’s a slime of a human who had an impulse to kill a child and her little dog and acted on it. Because he was in a hurry.
I take a step forward. I can feel the heat coming off his car now. I issue a demand. “Slow down,” I say.
“We can’t see you!” his wife, or girlfriend, or ugly mistress or whatever, shouts from the passenger seat. “You’re wearing black, and have a black stroller, and are walking in the street.” Because somehow, it’s always the victim’s fault. Because somehow, darkness justifies running a child down.
I step out of the way. The man pulls forward. I am now face-to-face with the woman and her open window.
"This is it!" shouts the bag of shit. "This is your last chance. You could hit that woman right in the face with a spicy bag of dog shit, and it would be so good." It would be so good. And I would probably get on the tonight show. The bag of shit is so right.
But I am not the antagonist of this story. I am not the dangerous lunatic on the street. I am not the kind of person who throws dog shit on people. I used to be. I might still be. Sometimes I probably am. But that night, I was not.
I take a step back toward the car, and I reissue my demand: “Slow down.”
The man steps on his accelerator. His engine sputters and moans and propels him and the woman away. I am left standing in the street, adrenaline pumping and surging. And there is nothing that I can do.
I will have to become ok with that I did not get to punish or change those horrible people. I will have to become ok with the fact that somehow, they are going to go on with their life, and probably never give this incident another thought, and if they do at all it will be as a justification for why people shouldn’t wear black at night.
I will have to hope that they're better than that.
I hope that, maybe, just maybe, the next time they’re driving too fast on a dark street, they will slow down. I really, truly, genuinely believe that they might. And that is the gift I have given them. I have made a way for them to become better people. All they have to do is act on it.
I am the protagonist of this story.