Sunday, April 03, 2005

All in a Day's Work

No one heard him. ..."A single thought of ours could change the universe. We human beings are small things. Life is a great thing."

--Ben Okri: Dad
The Famished Road

Spring forward, and everything gets crazy.

Sunday, after an intensely fun bike ride, I ended up needing and taking an unplanned nap. One moment I was laying on my bed reading, and the next moment I was waking, completely unsure of whether I had slept for 2 hours or 24. My clock is am/pm challenged and indicated that it was 5:48am, though it seemed it had to be early evening. Because we hadn't yet sprung foward, it was impossible to tell from the light. I just didn't know if it was still, Saturday or if I'd pulled a modest Rip Van Winkle and slept through my Sunday. I ended up having to call Six to find out what day it was and was relieved to find I still had a Saturday night and entire Sunday to enjoy.

However, I woke up Sunday searching frantically for that lost hour. I have the feeling it won't turn up until October. Meanwhile what an odd Sunday it turned out to be. First I got simultaenous drop in visits by PBoss, Amber, and The Ron. I clearly wasn't expecting company, which was most apparent by the dirty socks and running clothes strewn around the room. We discussed the revamping of our band amidst a pile of panties and an empty pizza box. I felt like I was in a dorm room instead of my humble studio.

When the impromptu meeting was over, The Ron and I went grocery shopping at the 23rd and S. Van Ness Cala. What a nightmare that turned out to be. Far be it from me to be politically correct at all times, so I'll go ahead it say it: that store is ghetto. In fact, it's super ghetto. The prices are higher than at any local corner store and more importantly there's no visible management. When I noticed that the cheese was rotting on one shelf because that part of the refrigerator section wasn't working, I told a passing cashier who shrugged and suggested that it was defrosting. I asked her if it's supposed to defrost until the feta turns brown.

The entire time I grumbled and moaned, driving The Ron as crazy as I felt as we endured a three-year-old motor mouth who seemed to be standing next to me wherever I went. She was cute, and she was polite, asking her dad for this and that and thanking him profusely as she commented "oh this is great because it's my favorite and it tastes so good and i haven't had it in a long time because last time mom didn't buy it because she said that we had some at home but we didn't and she didn't believe me because she forgot but i don't think that she didn't want me to have it so thank you daddy, thank you daddy, thank you!!!!" Three aisles later I looked at The Ron and said, "just a glimpse of your future." His response: "fuck you." Oh it was insane.

But the real insanity began when I turned the corner and caught a customer shoving about $200 worth of meat into a rolling suitcase. Talk about cojones. Now, here's a clear cut example of not knowing what you would do in a given situation until you're in it. Had I been asked a hypothetical "you see a customer stealing at the grocery store--what do you do?" I would have said that if it was something little, like a candy bar, I'd ignore it. A suitcase full? I'd report it to the store, then I'd go back to my own business."

Well, I started out meeting my own prediction. For a moment I thought the guy had to work there because it was so blatant, but it didn't make any sense, and he definitely got a little frantic when he saw me see him. I immediately abandoned my cart and headed towards the front of the store, where I ran into a cashier going to her register. Careful not to draw unnecessary attention, I sidled up to her and said, "I think there's a customer stealing a lot of food." She merely kept walking. I thought maybe hadn't heard me so I repeated myself, adding, "he's right behind me." She laughed, shrugged her shoulders, and went to her register. He walked out carting his stash behind him. Incredulous, I said, "So you don't care." She shrugged again and asked what she could do. The store doesn't have any security, and there were no male personnel in the store--and besides, "he comes in here all the time. He came and stole food yesterday." It was at that point that something in me snapped. Without giving it a second thought, I left the store without telling The Ron. I saw the culprit strolling down S. Van Ness towards 24th, and I did what any (ab)normal person might do: I dialed 911.

Let's pause for a moment. Normal or abnormal? If the store clerks weren't going to be proactive, was it up to me to do so, or should I have left well enough alone? I ask because the people who've heard this story live from my lips have fallen into two camps: those who think I'm crazy/overreacted/endangered myself and those who think I was "brave" but still think I went above and beyond. My own feeling falls somewhere between the two extremes. I'm not a heroine, that's for sure. But I am surprised both by the lengths to which I went and by the fact that my reaction wouldn't be universal--even though before it happened, I would have considered it to be "above and beyond."

What happened was that I saw the guy across the street, so I hid behind a truck and called 911. They asked for a description, so I told them what he was wearing, his height, hair color, described the 'case, etc. Then he started walking again, so I followed him on the other side of the street. He turned down 24th; I crossed against traffic and stayed about half a block behind him. He met up with a woman, and they continued walking leisurely until he happened to turn around. When he saw me, the woman automatically split, and he crossed the street again. I stayed on my side of the street and actually ended up walking past him so as not to panic him. About half a block later, I stopped and saw him step out of a doorway--with different clothes on. That's when the chase began in earnest. He started walking faster and faster and was quickly at a run. Me, too, except the entire time I was on the phone with the cops. Telling them which streets we were on and headed towards. The chase broke into a full out sprint; meanwhile I was yelling at the cops to hurry up. We dashed across Cesaer Chavez and down a side street. He rounded the corner, and so did I, just seconds later . . . but he was gone. 30 seconds later the cops came rolling up, wanting to know where he was. I was so disgusted, all I could say was "Maaaan." They shrugged their shoulders.

The only thing that made me happy in that moment was the realization that I wasn't out of breath at all. Not too shabby. That and the fact that I'd drank a yogurt at the store that I hadn't paid for since I abandoned my cart. I mean goddamn it, this world isn't right. How freakin' annoying. I'm about to stand in line with my rotten cheese, and this asshole gets a free ride everyday? The Ron asked me why the cashiers should care. I told him that even though they don't own the store, they also have to spend 6 or 8 or 10 hours a day making 8 or 10 dollars an hour. Everybody should care. I don't think I overreacted even though my reaction was much stronger than I would have expected of myself.

So that was my adventure. The rest of the day had no chance of topping that. And I'm still mad at the cops who said they'd put two cruisers in the area. I know it wasn't a life threatening crime, but if a citizen is gonna go the lengths I did, they should fuckin' nail it. And the cashiers suck, too, because they should call the cops the moment that guy sets foot in that store. It makes me wonder if they're in cahoots. Well, that's bullshit. That's the first and last time I set foot in that store--without a suitcase. Free food down at Cala.

But more importantly, what does it say about us culturally, that most of us would have stopped at reporting it if even that? Or is it simply that we don't know what we'd really do? In either case, I think we need to ingrain it in ourselves that the most normal response is to do what I did. Not because what I did was great but because there are a lot of unfair things in this world, and whenever we see a chance to rectify it we should. I'm not talking vigilante justice or anything like that. But the cops, the cashiers, the culprits, need to know we care. Maybe instead of giving chase I should have shouted an pointed to the guy in the store and let other customers get involved. But would they have? I hope so, though if I were in the store and one customer was denouncing another, I think I'd just shrug my shoulders and move on the next aisle. But the thing is, it's not any different than signing a petition or waving a sign during a march; we've got plenty of signers and wavers in this city, myself among them. Yet I see stupid little petty crimes all the time--I'm sure we all do--and nobody does anything, I suppose because it seems futile. Well, when that's the stance we take, all that happens is we end up with overdeveloped shoulders from constant shrugging, and nothing changes.


Blogger Zenslinger said...

I probably would have asked the guy what the fuck he was doing, if I weren't already feeling extremely tired or discouraged, and he didn't look too scary. But the cashier's reaction would have taken the wind out of my sails for sure.

10:42 AM  
Blogger mpho said...

I don't think I would have taken it as far as I did had it not been for the fact that beginning with that nap, I felt like I was being toyed with by the universe. It was like I was trapped in some absurdist moment that I could only get out off by doing something extreme. But later it bothered me that my motivation wasn't strictly principled.

9:48 PM  
Blogger mpho said...

For instance, I've twice given chase after having witnessed hit and run accidents in Detroit--just far enough to get the license plate number. But in those occasions it was clear that someone else was the victim. In this instance, I somehow felt victimized--by the crappiness of the store, by the attitude of the employees, by the hyperactive child, etc. I know they say that shoplifting hurts everyone (higher prices, etc.) but I don't think I've ever taken it so personally. It just made me mad.

9:54 PM  

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