I’d not seen it.
The flattened beer can slid one foot forward on the sidewalk creating a brief scraping noise. Just a moment ago, it’d been sitting harmlessly, hidden by darkness. Then my right foot landed on top of it and pushed it forward. No big deal.
It was a warm evening in the spring of 1999 and I was four months shy of graduating from The Ohio State University, home of tens of thousands of kids flocking from all points of the state to learn, get laid, and party like idiots newly released from years of incarceration. In the late nineties, OSU was the place to accomplish all three of these things. The majority of these young adults lived in apartments and houses squeezed into a 1.5 mile by 0.5 mile region just east of campus.
The south side of this area was where things got rowdy. Only once in my life had I been dead center in a police helicopter’s spotlight and it was with a red solo cup filled with watered down beer at an outdoor party in the heart of this area… 12th Street. This was the neighborhood where party supplies started at no less than ten kegs, people pissed everywhere and anywhere, blocks looked like a war-zone the next day, and most importantly… you did not walk alone.
The North side, however, was the opposite. Juniors, Seniors, Grad-students and the like kept things a bit mellower, sophisticated parties that had kegs of dark brown beer and marijuana smoked out of glass bongs. I’d been at a gathering of this nature and it was time to get back to my duplex, where I lived further north with two roommates who were also my band mates. Usually they would’ve been there with me, but this night I was on my own. A girl caught my attention as I was leaving.
“You sure you’re alright walking by yourself?”
I smiled smugly and confidently.
“Yes, it’s not that far … I’m not concerned.”
I wasn’t concerned. It wasn’t far and I was on the North side. So that is how I found myself half way home, walking alone, and unintentionally stepping on a crushed beer can. The screech of it sliding across miniscule concrete texturing was annoying, but whatever. It hardly broke my stride.
However, a sudden and terse declaration, coming from somewhere to the right, made me rethink this conclusion.
“Hey Motherfucker!! What the fuck are you doing to my yard?!!”
The next series of observations happened in split seconds, in which I was suddenly aware of a singular impulse. Fear will make you quickly aware of your surroundings way before intelligence gets a chance to catch up. My heart raced as I took two additional steps, and most importantly, did not turn my head.
I flashed to an image of my surroundings, which my subconscious had observed fifty feet behind and just seconds before arriving to this spot. To my right, a lawn steeply sloped for a few feet before gently rising to a large corner house, which fit the typical design description of this area… built in the early 1900’s, contained four or five bedrooms, and usually housed five to eight college students. There was a porch and I assumed this held the source of the voice. The command and question were definitely directed at me because there was no one else on the corner or across the street.
And of course, I concluded, I’d done nothing to his yard. All I did was step on a beer can and push it forward, which meant this person was belligerent, probably bored, and looking for any excuse to fight.
My assessment was over as my second step landed square. I did not break stride as I stepped down the curb and into the cross street. I took a trajectory towards the kitty-corner. I was half way across when the agitated voice projected louder.
“Yo’ Motherfucker!! I’m talking to you bitch!!
I didn’t stop, nor look behind me. For the time being I was sticking with the “ignore-it-and-it-will-go-away” strategy. I stepped onto the far sidewalk and quickened my pace. Twenty feet further and the voice aggressively blared again. This time it sounded a new alarm, triggered by whatever Doppler Radar-like mechanism that exists in the brain – the one that can sense sound waves and recognizes that, as they are being created, the creator is moving forwards… and quickly.
Now I had no choice, but to stop and look behind. My brain took a Polaroid picture and I spent the next millisecond studying it. There was a guy and he was mid-skip in the intersection of roads I’d just crossed. Like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, his entire body was slanted out towards the right. His left foot was a few inches off the ground and pointed downwards. His right knee was lifted towards his midsection. Both arms shot upwards and away from his shoulders. His chest was puffed out. His hat was pulled snug and the brim was tattered and shaped into a tight arch probably from countless moments of aggressive manipulating. He had a very-popular-at-the-time shirt, a plaid long sleeve. If I had to bet money in Vegas, I’d wager Abercrombie and Fitch first, then American Eagle second. The perfect camouflage. But worst of all, there were two others right behind him.
“Yeah that’s right motherfucker!! I’m talking to you!!”
One after another, his legs reconnected with asphalt while his arms still protruded up in a “Victory” formation.
Immediately I could read their stories – it was a common one. These three were not students. They were from some town in the middle of a cornfield, got some clothes that the “big-city-college-kids” wear, and made the pilgrimage to the place they could get belligerent and live out the stereotype that countless before them had entrenched into our minds. These were the ones that came from far and wide for football games and were the ones that usually started the riots afterwards. OSU had its own city police force and these were the guys very much responsible for that.
The problem was, these three idiots were probably ruing their folly for picking the wrong “friend” to visit. If it had been “Billy” they would’ve been ten blocks south and in the middle of all the action. Instead it was “Tommy” who lived in the middle of bored-to-death-nothing-to-fuck-or-fight-ville and their little peon minds didn’t know how to read a map and figure out how to get down to the action. So instead, they sat on a dark porch continuing their constant inhalation of alcohol, which I’m sure started early in the day, maybe fueled it with some amphetamines, and cussed for something to do … And that’s when I came into the picture.
And now I was faced with a very important decision … Should I run? I was still seven-or-so blocks away from my place. If I were to run, it would confirm my guilt and my fate would be narrowed down to two simple outcomes, out-run them or fall short. I would be the prey and they would be the hunters who most likely would forget why they were even chasing me, but have 100% conviction to get their bird-on-a-run.
This was not the first time in my life I’d been jumped, but I’d escaped injury all times before, and quite frankly, thought I’d gotten to an age where I didn’t have to worry about this thing anymore. I was scared.
Unfortunately, since I took the finite amount of time to let these evaluations cross my mind, I ate up any possible window to run. If there was a chance, it was gone. I’m just not that brave. Some of my friends will rush towards the flames before the word “Fire” is even done rolling off my tongue. I, on the other hand, tend to have a window ranging from seconds to a minute where I stand frozen, trapped by my calculations.
They were closing in. I looked to my right.
Across the street, through the front living-room window of another large house showed the signs of a gathering. It was time to crash a party. I did a ninety-degree turn and walked briskly across the street. I heard them excitedly call out a string of indiscernible words, as I’m sure they were changing their own routes. I bounced up onto the other sidewalk, then bee-lined it to the front porch, sprung up the four steps, opened the door, and didn’t look back.
The entryway led into a dim corridor allowing me to enter without bringing any attention to myself. Two feet ahead and to the left was a wide entrance into a brightly lit room, which held twenty to thirty people. It was much like the party I’d left, a bit more highbrow, but still an OSU college gathering nonetheless.
My diminutive stature as a young adult had its advantages from time to time, especially when it came to going “unnoticed.” I put my head down and silently nudged through some people to make it to the far side of the room … next to a bright lamp. Not good. But it was too late. Before I had a chance to look for a better spot, I glanced back to the entry corridor and the three were there. They spotted me. They charged through a group and now surrounded me.
Three yellow-eyed hyenas wearing plaid shirts poked me in my chest and babbled weighted questions.
“What up son? How come you ran you little bitch?!!”
Now that I was face to face, I realized they were no bigger than I was. But their eyes were blank and there would be no reasoning with the bunch.
‘Why, of all the nights, was I not with my friends?’
‘Stick with your pack and nobody gets hurt.’
These were among the questions and statements that scampered across my psyche as I bounced between the three posturing jackasses. Suddenly, the obvious host of the party threw himself into the mix.
“Whoa!!! What the fuck is going on?!! Who are you?!!”
I replied quickly, but my words babbled out of my mouth.
“Just walking home … did nothing to these guys … came in here to get away…”
The three kept spewing intoxicated jabs and gibberish.
The host absorbed what I said, looked at the hyenas, took a moment of contemplation, and then responded.
“Listen. I’m sorry man, but you and these guys have to go.”
I didn’t blame him. The three giddily started shoving me towards the front door. I stepped out in front of them and turned to the room of people who were all in total and silent focus of our escapades.
“Please,” I futilely complained. “Can someone please just call the cops?!!”
This was in the days before cell phones, so if somebody were to take me up on my request, they’d have to make the call on a landline. I exited the house. I was above the four steps of the porch. I’d been in fights before, but I’d never been any good. And there was no way I was going to handle three of them. I expected a blow to the back of my head.
Right then I noticed a very attractive girl exiting the passenger side of a car parked in the street directly in front of the house. A tall, fit looking guy (enter stage left: Good Samaritan) was coming around the front to meet her. It seemed apparent they were arriving to the party. I leapt off the porch and ran down to him.
What I wanted to convey in a split second was, “Can you drive me away from here in this car … your car – right. this. fucking. instant?!!”
I’m not sure what I blathered, but he looked down at me with genuine concern. He was about to reply “what?” but he didn’t get a chance to finish. He obviously became very aware of three people moving aggressively towards me and he threw up both of his hands in a “stop” formation.
“Whoa!! What the hell is going on?!!”
This is the moment everything became very surreal. I never turned around to face the hyenas. I kept looking up at the guy, I think, to Jedi-mind-trick him into driving me out of there. The entire party must’ve immediately spilled out behind us, because in seconds, the scene was a chaotic mess of people. All awhile, the Good Samaritan wanted answers. Somehow the three dogs were now barking at him, but he was taller and bigger. Things began to move in slow motion. More people were now involved. I felt myself turning invisible. An odd aura began invading my peripheral. Was I fainting? I had no idea, but suddenly I became aware of the Samaritan leaning over, looking me in the eyes, and speaking a one-word command.
I stared blankly back, like he was speaking a foreign language.
The bubble burst.
This time I understood. This time … I did not hesitate.
I turned on my heals and fell forward into an outright sprint.
I never looked back.
Fear, adrenaline, and anxiety fueled my pistons as I pushed my engine – faster, faster. Like a champion running back, I charged straight for thirty yards and then cut an immediate left into a well-lit alleyway. Faster, faster. I cleared the length of one block in no time flat. Police sirens suddenly blared from somewhere behind me. I rounded another corner and two guys and a girl stood directly in front of me, inadvertently blocking my path. I came to a halt.
They looked at me and then towards the direction of the police sirens and then back to me.
“I swear that’s not… I didn’t do…!!”
I attempted a protest-slash-reasoning, but quickly retorted to a “fuck it” and then juked around the three and continued my sprint to the end zone. Five more blocks, each one a bit more pastoral, a bit more full-time-residents-less-college-students, and a bit safer. I was now on East Patterson. One more block and then…
Touchdown. I was home.
For days afterwards, I daydreamed of going back over to the house and asking about what happened. Did the cops come before any punches were thrown? Did those jackasses get hauled off? And most importantly, what happened to the Good Samaritan who intervened just in time? I’d bet his pretty girl threw herself all over him that night … her hero. At least I had hoped that’s how it played out, as some sort of reward offered from the universe instead of a feeble “thanks” from me.
I wanted to go over there, but each time I chickened out.
Like I said before … I’m just not that brave.