I was talking to a client on the phone the other day. Before getting to real business we exchanged the usual mundane innocuous pleasantries about our ‘nice’ weekends, both of us feeling well and of course that old trite stand-by the weather. I even went over the top and slipped in that standard line ‘you know what they say about the weather here, if you don’t like it, wait five minutes and it will change!’ It was in my head since the night before my wife was making fun of the fact people say that everywhere. She was right. No matter where they live, most folks seem to truly believe their town’s experience with the weather is unique from everywhere else.
Wait… sorry… I didn’t mean to give something away. Are you one of those people that believes where you live is truly unique? If so, maybe you also believe you’re work place has the craziest people. Or that the drivers are the worst where you are. If I may, everywhere has weather that can change rapidly, every workplace contains crazy dysfunctional people and no matter where you go there are folks that drive like Helen Keller with narcolepsy trying to answer a text. Sure, slight colloquial differences and variations exist but basically people are the same all over. Oh yeah and Planet Of The Apes is Earth, Soylent Green is people, Tyler is the narrator in Fight Club, Darth Vader is Luke’s Dad and Wizard Of Oz is a dream. I’m just giving everything away today.
There was another thing I wanted to mention on that business phone call but since our relationship had not really moved past the superficial banter phase I thought it best not to ask him if people had often made fun of his name. Although not as bad as some elementary school role call sheet fake names like Jim Nasium, Lynn Nolium, Dick Hertz or Miter Ben Sturdy, the person’s name did include not one but two slang words for male genitalia. How do parents do that to their children? Please folks, before naming your kids, check it in Urban Dictionary.
Whenever I come upon funny names I always recall the stationary store on Jamaica Ave, near where I grew up, owned by the Lipschitz family. I am sure we were not the only brats that prank called those poor folks. They always answered the phone ‘Lipschitz Stationary’ to which we would reply with some Einstein line like ‘if your Lipschitz, my ass talks’. I didn’t say we were geniuses.
My business call got to the blah, blah, blah… words, words, words… part and my head did a ‘one thing leads to another’ drift. Right in front of that Lipschitz Stationary store was the first time I really saw someone get violently beat up. I have no clue about the back-story, but between the famous 1970s New York street gangs and the rather well-known mob presence in that neighborhood, young Dan knew to mind his own business as I witnessed two large grown men whipping the daylights out of a guy with heavy steel chains until eventually crashing him through the store’s glass and steel gated side entrance.
It was quick and there was no crowd watching. As a matter of fact, the busy sidewalk seemed to suddenly become ghostly vacant. I was still a little shaken from recently having my bicycle stolen from me at knife point and there was no chance I was getting involved. Right or wrong, I disappeared too.
All these years later that angry act of violence is still with me in my head. My bad memory has managed to preserve that nugget perfectly. Back then there were no video games to desensitize you. No YouTube fight videos to make this seem common place. No cable TV or access to adult content movies. A description in the paper, a fuzzy brief shot of war on the evening news or even the occasional sloppy slug-fests in a schoolyard were not the same. This was different.
Nothing came of it. There was no write up in the next day’s paper. No buzz on the streets. The next time I was in that area, the glass had been fixed and looked like it never happened. Yet I was somehow different. New York was rough back then and stuff like that has fed into my daily paranoia and fears shaping my views on violence. It makes me look over my shoulder on a quiet street. I remember when my brother Arthur got mugged during the same era. I learned to separate your cash and wallet into different pockets, not to look obvious or wear something to make a target out of yourself.
I guess you never know what will shape or warp your view your universe. I mostly avoided physical fights growing up but was that due to experiences like this or that I was simply a big gawky wus.
I was not raised with violence in my home, so it just never seemed like the smart option. Dad yelled and screamed from time to time making it feel like it’s almost imprinted on my DNA that things can escalate up to that point but not passed it. Those gut reflex reactions of what is acceptable or not stick around your entire life and you only learn how far you will go when you suddenly find yourself dropped into one of those situations. Obviously, my line of what is acceptable behavior falls somewhere between making fun of the guy whose name consists of two slang words for a penis versus slugging him for it.