Pondering right action
On Saturday, Elizabeth and I went out to our favorite Thai place up on Western Avenue. The food was, as usual, quite good, and I tried an appetizer that was new to me – beef satay. I’d had chicken satay before, but it turns out that the combination of fat from the beef and fat from the peanut sauce makes for a delicious combination of fat and yumminess.
Unfortunately, this post is not really about mouthwatering, greasy, delicious food. It’s about what happened when we left the restaurant. Walking the couple of blocks back to the car, we encountered a couple, one man and one woman, having a very loud argument. They were on the other side of a 5 lane, heavily trafficked street and we could hear every word that they said (well, shouted) to each other. At one point the woman started walking away, and the man (in a fit of great chivalry, of course) positioned himself to cut her off two or three times. She sort of pushed him out of the way, at least half-heartedly, and then they started yelling again.
Now, a little context. At home, we live next to an apartment building where confrontations between residents happen often enough that I’ve called 911 a couple of times (receiving approximately no response from the CPD, but that’s a topic for another day), but in the time we’ve lived here I’ve never brought myself to get involved directly in one of those confrontations. Some of it is a conscious desire not to be noticed by those neighbors, frankly. Anyone willing to shout at the top of their lungs on the sidewalk (no kidding – one woman in particular has yelled loudly enough that it hurts my throat just listening) is not someone whose radar I really want to be on.
Somehow, this situation felt a little more immediately worrisome. At least part of it was because this was happening in such a public setting, and I guess my thinking was that anyone who didn’t care that people were certainly watching this unfold might also not care if someone watched them become physically violent. After watching for a minute or so, silently wishing that one of them would back down, I sighed and did what I tend to avoid doing in most similar circumstances – I crossed the street toward the angry people.
About halfway across the street, I thought, “Huh. A smart person would have asked Elizabeth to get her phone out.” Oops.
When I got to the corner, I realized I didn’t really know what to say. I got close enough to be heard without raising my voice too much, but far enough away that my patented Flight or Flight Response(tm) would be effective, and said, “Um, guys? I don’t mean to intrude, but I noticed that you both seem really angry right now. Are you okay, or do I need to call someone?”
Both of them looked rather stricken for a moment, and the man said tersely, “No, I’m fine.”
I looked at him a little incredulously, trying to silently communicate, “Um…what in the world makes you think I was most concerned about your safety, dude?” without implying that he should come and kick my ass. Either I succeeded at this task, or it was dark enough that my expression was unclear. Either way, he didn’t come to kick my ass, which is always the cornerstone of a good plan in my book.
After a couple of tries, I managed to get the woman’s attention and asked if she was all right. She nodded, then said at least fairly convincingly, “Yes. Thank you for checking, sir.” They began a more quiet conversation when I turned to leave, which…I guess is good. Maybe.
If nothing else, this served as a reminder for me about how adding an unexpected person to a conflict can serve as an energetic jolt. Who knows, maybe one or both of the people thought, “Oh, geez, we’re making a spectacle here, maybe I should dial it back a bit.” On the other hand…well, I’m not convinced that “quieter” really means “better” in this case. In some ways, I wonder if they both would have been safer if they continued having an audience. If one of them (I’m enough of a gender-normist to assume that it would be the guy) had crossed the line into physical violence, I imagine someone would have at least called the cops. By interrupting them, did I accomplish anything other than reminding them that if they really want to scream at each other, they should take it home and do so there?
I really don’t know, and can’t know. I know I would have felt guilty if I hadn’t said something, though. Now I just feel thoughtful and sad, so, you know…yay? I wish I had a better sense of what The Right Thing to do would have been, but at least the path to doing a right thing was pretty clear in the moment.