Pedaling enthusiastically through a sidewalk puddle, Liam splashes a stylish woman in high boots. I dawdle, glance up at the sky—skys are more interesting than you’d think, and harder to spell. I stand there whistling, hands in pockets. But the woman slowly turns and looks at me. “Never seen that kid,” I say, “Not related to him in any way.” She smiles broadly. “You must be his father,” she says, and then, indulgently: “Lucky I’m in education.”
So that’s the value of education. My parents always told me to get one. I smile back.
Now I’ve got an education, and a leaky roof. I was complaining about this hidden value of education to my friend Michael in Turkey—he’s the one declaring the end of money worldwide at the lighting of the torch at the 2012 Olympics—and he says yesterday that people he knows have lost whole houses to floods this week. That shut me up.
As I may have mentioned elsewhere, my parents live in Dayton, Tennessee, on the top of a mountain they share with a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark. Be prepared, scout’s motto.
I was reading that Missy Beattie this morning. You been reading her? Elegant lady, that one, but she’s got to remind you she’s not packing heat because, frankly, her writing’s been going that way lately, getting there right on the edge, like we’re in the calamitous fourteenth century and it’s time to take things into our own hands. Missy and I both lost nephews in the same August of year five, hers to the war, mine to cars, if those are different things. Our activism tends to follow the sad hint of destiny in such somber punctuation.
Well, sex and death. I’m out here on the city streets every day, and my mandate is to give it to you straight from the inside. As to the woman, she only looked back once after that, so it’ll have to be death this week.
We got them big G-strap guys, 8 and 20, coming to town next week, the ladder-balance busker tells me, so in the leadup to that let me tell you what it is we’re trying to do with violence on the street. At City without Cars we see through the five coats of paint on cars to the vicious brute heart of the predator that stalks the innocent in every vehiculoid. And we’re not backing down.
My own part as scribe to cwoc/seewalk ventures is to be faithful to a certain elegance in the violence of street encounters. Not so much glorifying the violence as being a scrupulous witness to the anthem of abandonment thrumming through the tumult of victims and victim makers in the shrill heat of the fruckus.
Not ten minutes ago I started writing this. Not fifteen ago I read Missy. Not twenty ago a big man whom I myself had hunted down offered to “pop” me, though he refused my goad that if he had a gun he should produce it. I had pursued the encounter not merely on behalf of all cyclists or nephews or little people, nor because his brutality should be named and outed, but with a certain moth-to-the-flame fascination with his very big chest. As an American with parents atop a once or future ark’d Tennessee island, I am no stranger to gunplay in every form, no stranger even to the back-alley threat of the “pop.” And I am an educator.
Many of these encounters begin with different opinions about whether I should juggle while I ride my bike.
My brief today, as it has been on so many days, was to explore homosociality and intimidation in cross-section, rather like a sociological study but with an altered, heightened temporality. Street bravery, probably like war bravery, is a debased form of courage. Anyone with a young heart can grab their red badge of bluster and rush to a fray against a superior opponent. It’s generally nonsense to venerate people for doing their “duty” to their nation-state for the usual risks with guns. If it’s bravery you want to see, find the soldiers twenty years later in the V.A. and see how they’re holding up. I grew up in a V.A. town and I can tell you all about it. Guns and big chests are nothing. It’s disease and mental illness you have to keep an eye on.
Turn to your article on Obama or whatever if you want, but I assure you that everything you need to know about bullies is right here.
Bullies like to jerk their bodies, pretending to strike but not breaking what we might call the plane of scrimmage. If you’ve never seen this, maybe you should get out of your car and wander down some back alleys. Very educational.
For my part on this particular encounter, I have to admit I flinched on the first faux-swing. Reflex. But it’s really not scary at all. After that, I had him. I made the marked difference in the size of our chests part of what we were doing. And I tried to draw him out of the alley in front of other people, taunting him with the fact that he threatened me with a gun but didn’t have one (though he pretended to reach for one) and with his unwillingness to say the things he was saying about cyclists in front of other people. His girlfriend tried to interfere but he shoved her really hard. So his willingness to strike women and not me became part of my commentary.
Well, I have a good time. I asked his girlfriend what she was doing tonight, that kind of thing. You know, sex and death. I’m scared of throwing up, the semitic storm god, and the New York Times, but not of big men and guns. Weird.
Will I be filing reports from the hospital soon? I’m not planning anything brave for when the Girly Men come to town. But I’m going to juggle on my bike if I feel like it. I hope my students see me.
DAVID Ker THOMSON has a PhD from Princeton and is training to be a street busker. He teaches at the Bard Language and Thinking Program and at the University of Toronto. firstname.lastname@example.org