It never happens when you’re thinking. It’s when you’re tired, on a level even your bones would deny — Lady, don’t make this about us.
That’s when the angry kid sitting in the dark goes after you.
I am hurrying, almost running but not quite, to BART. It’s Friday, and the meeting that now controls my life is now just a week away. Critical provisions of health care reform will pass into law in six days. Six days.
The responsibility for this: mine. The content: mine. I wanted this job, now I have it, and the future is more or less in my hands.
I have to get to work.
As I pass him, the kid asks for money. I ignore him. I have nothing to spare, least of all time.
Something about my rebuff makes the kid angry. He gets up, he confronts me. Against the wall of the underpass (Hallidie Plaza is above us), he asks me why I didn’t recognize him. I have never seen him before in my life.
He knows I have money. He informs me of this. He steps in closer.
The kid’s look (yes: I’m calling it that) is layered: the strap of his bag crosses his chest. The flannel shirt might be ironic; there are silver rings on his index and middle fingers as he gestures at me. He’s barely even got stubble.
I live in San Francisco. I know the look a street person has. This is not that look.
I’m okay, until I turn to go. Until he touches my shoulder, blocks my feet with his. Until I can hear the trains passing: trains I will not be on. That’s when I turn on him.
You son of a bitch, I yell at him, What right do you have to keep me from my job with your pathetic lack of one? Do you have any idea what other people need? Get a job! Or don’t, I don’t care! It doesn’t matter! You’re covered now, you ungrateful shit! Why did I fight? For the likes of you? You worthless …
You get the idea.
By now, I’m pretty sure that passersby (if there are any) think I do recognize him, that the two of us go way back. If anyone can see us, they want no part of this little scene, whatever it is — mother and son? Aunt and nephew?
I am so angry I’m shaking. I am making a ruckus. Somewhere outside the ruckus, it occurs to me that I’ve done this before. When I do it’s never good.
It also dawns on me, at some rage-y, blood-thumping-at-the-temples moment, that the kid has pulled a small blade from somewhere. He is gesturing with this now, as if to punctuate what he is saying: about me, my corruption, and his basic, virtuous neediness. I see the blade, and I push away the hand that’s holding it. It’s the same gesture I’ve used when drunk men have tried to cop a feel in bars.
I am sure that I do this more than once.
At some point, the kid gives up: drops an f-bomb, gives me a final push against the wall and leaves. I reflexively take a half-running step after him.
Because I am not done. I am into that fight. I have not won it yet.
So here’s what is bad:
Not me. I am not bad (nor am I the other kind of bad: bad ass). I doubt the kid is bad, either — I haven’t met a bad kid yet. If anything, he is just really bad at mugging people.
What is bad is having so little sleep that you are willing to fight with a guy who demands money when you’re on your way to work.
What is worse: escalating that fight, even when you see a knife, ignoring the threat to your own life and the lives of those around you. For no good reason, other than that you feel entitled, and it feels good, to be angry.
For me, this is a new problem hiding an old one: sitting comfortably over it, the dull workmanlike shell shielding the old animal that still lives, and somehow never ages. What’s outside is only a threat to some.
What’s inside is a very real danger to me, and those around me: a terrible one.
Author’s Note: I debated posting this. Of all the blog posts I’ve written, this is the one I do not want posted up elsewhere and passed around — taken out of context. My city is decent and kind.
In short: Don’t be like me. Please consider the consequences of your actions.