Part 2So, as I prepare to leave town I sent a shout-out to my friends saying hey if we’re gonna hang out let’s do it, because I’m outta here pretty quick. As it happens, a guy I’ve known for about 25 years and hadn’t seen since I’ve been back in the Kalamazoo area, just moved to a place about five blocks from me. He got in touch and said hey drop by, I did, we were hanging out. I want to stress that everyone involved here is a perfectly decent human being. There was just some misunderstanding and over-reaction.
There’s four of us standing outside on the porch as I’m leaving, and this guy staggers up out of nowhere. I can smell the booze on him big time, from a distance. He was rather over-enthusiastically self-intraductory, by which I mean he came staggering up the steps – not aggressively, mind you, but quickly, like he knew somebody. In fact that’s how he started the conversation: “We all know each other, right?” VERY gregarious fellow, and very drunk. Long-term drunk. Smelled like OLD booze.
And no, actually, none of us know you and you don’t know any of us.
Now keep in mind, this is not what you’d call an upper-middle class suburb; there’s strange folks afoot, and this guy was way forward and definitely needed a stern “who the hell are you?” But this other guy who’s there, who I won’t name and who I want to stress is not a “bad guy,” he’s just got a different context than I do in the world, gets agitated really fast, reaches inside the door and grabs a baseball bat.
I’m standing there being all longhaired and shit for a second, the dude didn’t come back out swinging, but things definitely started getting heated. Then he said something along the lines of he intended to swing that bat in a quick hurry, and he pulled it up and looked quite legitimately serious.
So I put a stop to that, by taking the bat out of the guy’s hands. Not struggling over it, I didn’t snatch it, and I didn’t turn around and use it on him or anyone else. I just started talking to him as I was walking toward him: you don’t take that shit out and wave it around and tell everyone how important it is that you have one, unless you intend to use it. RIGHT NOW. And there’s no reason for you to even think about using a bat on someone at this point. So you’re not going to.
Meanwhile, the other two guys were politely but firmly escorting the other guy off the porch.
Drunk guy goes walking down the street, and I go all Dad on this kid, establishing firmly that you do not ever ever do that, ever, and no you didn’t have a reason. This is the neighborhood you live in, the guy wasn’t particularly threatening, he was just not socially acceptable in his enthusiasm. This is how people end up in jail or shot or dead or in the hospital. Escalating aggression and shows of force have an amazing propensity to self-perpetuate until Bad Things Happen, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to not start swinging in the first place.
In about two minutes comes back with less drunk guy to vouch for him. Nobody knows less drunk guy either, but he’s less obnoxious too – being less drunk and all – and he and I quickly established what had happened and why and that I was in the midst of giving my young new friend a stern talking to about when and why it’s appropriate to even suggest that you’re about to do something that will absolutely only end up with someone dead, in the hospital, and or/in jail unless you absolutely intend to do it right now, and why the reasons for absolutely doing it right now do not often happen. No problem here any more, just a misunderstanding, have a nice night, good to meet you, see you around.
It’s not hard to draw a very credible and objectively demonstrable line between that behavior between people, and how we treat each other at every level of society. We’re paranoid as hell. I will also spare my thoughts on that for now, but they won’t be popular with some folks.
I explained all of this to my young new friend (he’s like 24, a friend of the friend I mentioned earlier) for about 5 minutes after our new, new friends left. In great detail and lots of reasoned explanation. I never called anyone a name, I never tried to get aggressive with anyone, I didn’t scream and shout, and didn’t throw any elbows.
I just took the weapon out of the picture.
Finally, I pointed out that it’s entirely possible to be well capable of defending one’s self or anyone around you who might need defending, without always being on a hair trigger to provoke a physical confrontation, or even a power struggle.
He appeared to listen. *Intently.*
He said he’d never forget it.
I hope he doesn’t.
Thinking About It AllHere’s the thing: all of this behavior, all of this paranoia and fear and aggression…that shit has to go. And it’s not just situations like that, it’s conversations online and unreasonable disagreements over trivialities that keep us distracted from working together to solve our common problems. I’m not saying that we should ignore the racial bias being shown by abusive authorities, but we should strive to understand that in the larger context of police brutality at all, because while it affects parts of the population disproportionately, it affects all parts of the population. When you speak of ending abuses of power, you must end all of them. By all means let’s not ignore the racial bias, but if you solve the larger abuse of power problem it becomes much easier to have a meaningful and constructive discourse on the results and manifestations of those abuses of power, such as the clear racial biases that at least some police and people in general still have. Such as how we’ve become such a paranoid, aggressive nation since 9-11 in a way that’s becoming frankly embarrassing.
This of course leads to a much longer and sometimes tedious series of related conversations, because things like this are a process, not a result. The world doesn’t just become unbiased overnight.
But you can un-pull a hair trigger by having the wisdom to know that you never threaten violence unless you intend to carry it out right here and now, the judgement to know you never need to do that unless your life or someone else’s is under immediate threat, the strength to be the first to back down immediately if it becomes clear that there’s a misunderstanding, and the restraint to never make the first aggressive move.
Pretty soon instead of hair triggers we can be having conversations and learning from each other and teaching each other and becoming better all the way around. We might even start understanding each other, finding common ground, and working together toward mutual success.
And that’s my little story.
CodaLeaving on Friday morning. I believe I’m set for necessary money for the trip, but of course I’m in no position to turn it down if someone shoots me ten bucks to gram a semi-decent meal – a Golden Corral buffet or something I could hit hard one time on the way. I have to turn the car in Sunday by noon or it starts costing huge money immediately, and I don’t have huge money. I’m sure this will be my last writing before I go. I’ll be keeping my Facebook page updated from the road (not ON the road!).
I’m going to miss Kalamazoo, and I’ll be back before too long…I’m figuring somewhere along the lines of 3-5 years. And I should be able to shoot back in this direction once in a while, at least. Once I’ve got wheels, I can make a five-day trip out of it and visit more people while I’m on the road, plus explore my new half of the country at least as much as I have this half. I have friends all over the mountain west, northwest, southwest, and coast, and there’s so much natural beauty and other great things to see and explore and examine and talk about and…yeah.
This isn’t the way I’d have preferred things go when I started school in 2010, but it’s the right way. See you in Utah.