Not Knowing is the strength of man and beast.
What was it Kipling said, wagering everything on just one turn of pitch and toss, and lose, and never talk about the loss. Something like that. Putting it all on the line. Most often we don’t make that bet, the irrevocable decision.
There was a thing on Facebook last week, cell phone movie of a black girl being beat up by two other black girls who were trying to take her cell phone. This happened on a bus filled with people, who watched, and took photos. As heartless or cowardly as they seem, it’s not hard to forgive the bystanders. What would we have done? No way to know until you get a chance to make that bet. One of the would be thieves might well have had a gun, or a knife, but they were only using hands, giving their victim a good beating.
Facebook respondents were disgusted. “They could have done something, all of them, together.” Right, if there was time to talk about it. I’m sure many passengers were thinking about making some kind of move, or to say something? Hoping somebody else would beat them to it.
There was a great song back in the fifties called, Somebody Else, Not Me. I can’t find it on Google, but remember part of the lyrics, something about a Bengal tiger that had gotten loose in town. ‘It was a chance to be a hero, man of great renown. A wonderful chance for somebody. Somebody else, not me.’
A reasonable decision, not to get involved. Can’t fault someone for that. We all have much to lose. What would our loved ones say about the choice, to get involved, or not? One thing I learned the hard way, never bet on being helped by strangers.
I was walking home one Sunday afternoon in San Francisco, 1965. Haight Street was crammed with tourists come to see hippies, or pretend they were ones. At the corner of an intersection on my way, a hulking, brute sized guy was beating up a skinny Asian kid. The kid was making no attempt to fight back, probably a good move on his part. A crowd of people were observing from about eight yards way, all standing, silent, in a semi circle. I was also watching as I crossed the street. The kid was down by this time, cowering.
A woman with a camera yelled, “I took your picture, bully. And I’m going to show it to the cops!”
I stopped on the other side of the street, and was leaning against the wall of a storefront, watching to see what happened next. The brute strode over to her with a few long strides and grabbed the camera from her hand.
“Now you don’t have a picture, or a camera.” Bruto held it openly in his right hand and started up the sidewalk, passing by me, holding the device before him like a trophy.
I reached out and grabbed it from him easily, no problem. He was totally surprised, perhaps as much as I. I tossed the camera into the crowd, toward where I thought the woman was. I had no time to look as Bruto turned to face me, and I thought, I’m going to get hurt, but the crowd will stop things if it gets too bad. Why the hell did I think that?
He swung on me and missed. Then missed again. The man was big, but clumsy. Wow, I’ve got a chance, I thought, and stood my ground. From half a block away I saw two guys were running towards us. Ha! At last somebody had the guts to get involved, at last. The first one threw a block into me, worthy of a football lineman. I went down and then the three began to kick me in the back and legs, and head. I covered up as best I could, fetal position. Damn. It went on long enough for me to notice people watching, silently. It finally stopped and one of my abusers said, “You don’t fuck with the major.”
They left me alone with the crowd. I got up with a nose bleed, and some bruises, but was more or less okay. I later learned the ‘Major’ and his buddies were Hell’s Angels, and the skinny kid had cheated on some kind of drug deal. I forgave the Major, but had trouble getting over the crowd. I was twenty-nine then, and single. Being young and single helps.
What would I do today, in my late seventies, and married? Now? You never know. I didn’t know back then, but I was never sorry for the lesson learned.