When I was a child, Mother — whose own father was commonly brought home semi-conscious after brawling in bars — and Pop always told me that it takes a bigger, braver man to walk away from a fight. This turned out to be perfectly awful advice. I knew, as I walked away a million times, that I wasn’t doing so because I was nobler or braver than my antagonist, but more cowardly. I came, much later in life, to wish their advice had been, “The physical pain you’re likely to suffer will be very much less awful than the psychic pain of thinking yourself a chickenshit, to use the playground vernacular.” The problem being that it wasn’t physical pain I dreaded so much as humiliation. What if, after decking me, my adversary didn’t graciously murmur, “Well contested, old sport,” as he helped me back to my feet, but peed on my ankles?
I thought of all this 48 hours ago when, after traipsing all the way up to Hollywood Blvd. to enjoy the glorious spring weather, and to pretend I wasn’t dying of boredom, I caught a southbound bus at the corner of Sunset and Fairfax. The mentally ill ridership of Los Angeles public transportation is very high, and this bus contained one of the craziest crazies in town, a black woman of around 45 who was stridently arguing with herself as I boarded, and who felt called upon to critique the appearances of several others who boarded after I did. She found especially objectionable the coiffure of a young black woman who boarded at Santa Monica Blvd. Heading for the back of the bus, the YBW said, “Fuck you, bitch,” over her shoulder, and BW45, shot out of her seat screeching, making no secret of her intention to tear YBW limb from limb. It fell to someone braver than I to keep the pair of them apart. I did what I usually do in such situations, and pretended it wasn’t happening.
It always falls to someone braver than I, and I hate that about myself.
At Griffith Observatory in mid-2014, a great many of us were queued up for one of their wonderful multimedia presentations in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, known for its Zeiss star projector, laser digital projection system, and state-of-the-art aluminum dome. A mountainous (maybe 6-8, 280 pounds) guy whose palpable arrogance reminded me of the Russians at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt when we holidayed there a couple of years ago pushed his (and his mortified-looking girlfriend’s) way into the middle of the long queue. Everybody let him. Eleven months later, I’m still kicking myself for being one of everybody, for worrying about one of my expensive contact lenses or even more expensive dental bridgework being knocked out if I did the right thing. Or maybe Igor would have been content just to snicker, “And what are you going to do about it, Foureyes?” though, as noted, I was wearing contact lenses, and not spectacles.
As everyone does, I sometimes encounter a parent being awful to his or her child in a supermarket, say, or at Target. I can pretend from now until Doomsday that what usually keeps me from intervening is the fear that, out of my sight, the parent, embarrassed, will really let the kid have it. The shameful fact of the matter, in many cases, is that it’s my fear of being punched in the kisser and then having my ankles peed on that keeps me from doing what I strongly feel I should.