De-Escalating an Early Morning Fight

Yesterday morning I was awakened by yelling and brazen threats coming from the mouth of my elderly neighbor.  We’ll call him George.  George has a habit of picking fights with homeless men and women who – every so often – will come around to sift through the dumpsters for cans and food.

Now before we get on to that conversation about how they shouldn’t be doing that – I know, I get it.  From our – from my – middle class perspective I can understand why we would be more worried about protecting our property and our identities than about letting the homeless go through things we gave so few shits about that we threw them away… in order to feed themselves.  After all, don’t they know how unsanitary it is to search through the garbage like that?  So many germs let loose by an hour-old, half eaten burger from In-n-out that we would rather smack the sandwich out of their hands the way we might slap away a child’s hand from an electrical outlet.  No! we might say.  Bad!

This isn’t about that patronizing bullshit.

I was outside before I was even fully awake.

No, this is about an older white man, George, who had the gall to pick up a bat and wave it around at a homeless black man (we’ll call him Otis), whilst accusing this man of looking for drug money, all the while filming the whole exchange on camera (thereby incriminating himself later to an extremely patient [must be nice] cop who politely suggested he erase the video).  Otis was not – by the way – on either of our properties and therefore wasn’t trespassing, which George was accusing him of doing.

Exposition completed, we turn back to the matter at hand.  I was sleeping a nice peaceful sleep when I was woken up and driven out into the rain by the sounds of an escalating fight between two men from different social classes and eras having a pissing contest outside my window.  Knowing full well that this escalation meant cops on – or near enough to – my doorstep that I would have to start worrying about my own safety as a black woman, I was outside before I was even fully awake.

No, I assured him, I had come to his defense.

I chiefly remember grumbling about how it isn’t that hard to de-escalate a situation, saying good morning to my other neighbor who – by this time – had come outside and stood casually at the ready to defend the older white man from the consequences of his own bravado, and placed myself squarely between the two men who were at this point screaming at each other.

I can’t recall with great certainty, but I do remember yelling at the older man.  Something about respect for other human beings and not being a racist asshole, I don’t know.

Anyway, after I made clear I was here to de-escalate the fight – which George and Otis both appreciated – I turned back to Otis, who was under the impression that I had come to the defense of George.

No, I assured him, I had come to his defense.  I was not ready to be on the news trying to tearfully explain why another black man had been shot by Los Angeles cops while trying to collect cans for money.  No, I was not ready to defend myself against cops, fighting for my own life after an idiotic George decided he was ready to fight a man thirty years (at least) younger than him.

I asked him what he needed, and he explained to me that – as I have said multiple times already – he was just trying to collect aluminum cans and recyclables.  Because I knew what he really needed was money – and because I do feel comfortable giving a bit of money to those who are in desperate need of it – I made him a deal.  If he went away from here, somewhere where there wasn’t an eighty-some-odd year old man looking to start a police-involved fight with any black or brown man that passed by “his” property, then I would go inside and try to find some cash for him.

My waking up at the moment that I did was more important than I had initially considered in my current sleepy state.

He agreed and went to gather his things from around the corner, and I grabbed $15 from my wallet and waited outside without a jacket, in my pajamas, in a light misting rain.  Why I didn’t put on a jacket, I’m not entirely sure, but I will attribute it to my half-asleep state, because I also forgot to put on shoes.

My waking up at the moment that I did was more important than I had initially considered in my current sleepy state.  As I moved closer to full consciousness, I became aware of what I had done.  Uncertainty is, of course, always a present factor, and perhaps nothing more would have occurred than a yelling match and an embittered parting of ways.  But it seemed that both men’s instinctive response to threats (real or fictitious) was to fight, and had I not intervened, my humble abode may have been on the news a few moments later for all of the wrong reasons.

As I stood out in the rain, not conscious enough to consider going inside to put on more layers, I nodded a quiet affirmation to myself, of a good deed done.

Now at this point, I need to remind you of my current state of disarray.  It matters, I assure you.

A man I can only deem to be the instant karma wizard came in the form of a weathered cyclist with several boxes of aluminum cans, clothing and organic (his emphasis) fresh fruit attached.  No this wasn’t Otis, but another man who, excited to see me “enjoying Mother Earth” as intended, that is, barefoot, offered me an apple for breakfast.  With a smile and a reminder to stand in the dirt rather than on the less forgiving asphalt, the man disappeared out of sight and Otis came back into view carrying two large bags filled with cans.

I nodded a quiet affirmation to myself, of a good deed done.

I gave him the $15, he asked me out, I politely declined and – having completed my good deed for the day – I went back to bed with slightly less resentment for the morning than usual. ♦


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