Monday, May 03, 2021

Saved by Instict


A company has a problem if you remember the commercial very well, but not the product being advertised.  Such is the case with an ad going around television now days.  The premise of this commercial is the narrative of a spoof seminar/life coach who is teaching people how NOT to act like their aged parents.  If I say “The waiter does not need to know your name” it might spark a  recollection of that ad for you.  It is similar to a real life ongoing conversation I occasionally have with my youngest son. 
When I walk Harry the Wonder Dog I have a habit of saying “Hi” to people I pass in the neighborhood.  Some will wave back or say hello, some will ignore me and others have headphones on and never know that I said anything.  I admit it is more of a habit than a real interest in a friendly encounter.  The times my son has walked with me he will say, “That is not necessary, Pops, they do not care and they don’t want the intrusion, so why do you even bother?” 
He is right.  Rarely do people in the neighborhood say hello to me first, so why do I bother?  Like I said it is mostly an involuntary habit.  

While walking this morning I suddenly had an epiphany.  I might have come to the realization of why I have a habitual instinct to say hello to strangers.  

If Mr. Peabody will set the “way back” machine to sometime during the fall of 1974, we’ll start there.  Back then, Sandi and I worked for a supper club called Charlie’s Place.  Charlies Place was a club located in the basement of the Texas Hotel in Downtown Fort Worth, Texas.  It featured a variety show with dinner a couple of times a night, and if there was anyone left to watch, a “Good Night Show” which was a short choreographed medley of songs containing the words Good Night.  Of course we had to wait around till the beginning of that show before we were dismissed for the evening.  I would say it was a 70 percent chance we wouldn’t do a Good Night show on the week nights.  

The show changed every couple of months or so and for this particular show I did my guitar act, which involves my wrist watch and the guitar coming to life an taking over a song I was trying to sing.  Squeaky,  my main partner before Bob, was featured in the goodnight show.  It was my habit to take the guitar out to my car before the Goodnight Show so I didn’t have a double load at the end of the night.  
Downtown Fort Worth was at the time not a bustling metropolis after hours so it was usually very dead when I went to the car.  To save a dollar and a half we sometimes parked in a deserted alley a block away from the hotel which was the case this night. 

I remember my thoughts were a million miles away that night.  I had no sense of my surroundings as I walked the dark streets to the alley, I was remembering the show that particular night and doing a critique in my mind of the performance.  As I crossed the street to the spot I parked I suddenly became aware of something.  It might have been the acrid smell or the weird gutter mumblings of  the person sitting on a curb between me and my car that hooked my attention.  I made a halting step which caught the eye of the man on the curb. He was dressed in clothes that had clearly been worn for too long in too many dirty places.  His hair was tangled and ratted and the incoherent mumbling stopped abruptly as his reddened blurry eyes locked on mine.  I continued walking past him thinking that if I didn’t act completely at ease it might be seen as a threat.  His eyes narrowed as I got closer, and in a nervous reflex I said, “Hi. How you doin’” like we were old friends.  That seemed to work. He went back to his guttural mumblings and strange forward and backward rocking in his position on the curb.  

Trying not to stare but taking in every detail I could,  I saw that as he was rocking back and forth he was brushing a very large hunting knife up and down on the outside of his bent leg.   There was very little light on the street but the chrome blade of the knife flashed at the apex of each upward brush.  I was relieved  to get past him and to my car  twenty yards behind him in the dark alley.  I took out my keys and opened the trunk of my 2 door Plymouth Scamp.   As I placed the guitar into the trunk I heard the sound of shoes scraping the concrete behind me and got a whiff of that acrid smell again.   I felt the man behind me and shut my trunk  before turning around.  

He was 6 feet away from me in an aggressive posture with the knife pointed at my upper torso.  I was frozen with indecision. I had never been in a situation like this before nor felt this threatened.  I do not know exactly how long this stand off lasted.  His blurry reddened eyes narrowed.  It felt like this was the moment something was about to happen.  A strange glaze took over his eyes and he said,  “No.  NO. You are a good dude.”

His posture changed. The arm with the knife dropped to his side and he turned his back to me and shuffled away.  I carefully retraced my steps back to Charlies Place.  Safe in the bowels of the Texas Hotel I sat down in the green room.  One of my performing friends looked at me and said,  
“Oh my God are you okay? you are white as a ghost”.  
The color had drained from my face as reality set in.  I told the story to my wide eyed performing mates.  It was decided at that moment that a dollar fifty was not too much to pay for a safe place to park.

I don’t know much about what makes the human mind work, but I do know this.  I saw this would be mugger and thief make a decision standing in front of me.  Was he going to mug me, cut me, stab me, steal my car and the guitar or not?  I saw the indecision in his eyes as he contemplated his next move in that alley way.  He sized me up and the only thing he knew about me was that I said, Hello to him on the street just moments earlier.  I didn’t back away, I didn’t look at him in disgust or disapproval I just said hello and continued on my way.  He decided that I was a “Good Dude” based solely on a three second interaction.  Never mind that for me it was an instinctive knee jerk reaction to being suddenly startled, what came out was not threatening to him.  I will believe to this day that had my instincts been anything other than to say hello to a stranger on the street, this story would not have a positive ending. 

So why do I bother saying hi to people on the street?  I can make a case that at one time 40-odd years ago it could have potentially saved my life.  

As you were,
Jay

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