I could hear the three of them making fun of me as they started to get closer. I’m guessing they were teenagers, 17 or 18 years old. I was walking back home from a convenient store carrying a plastic bag full of grocery items.
“Hey, motherfucker, what’s in the bag?”
“You must have money on ya, old man.”
“Hey, man, what’s up with the cane?”
With nerve damage in my legs (neuropathy), I couldn’t run. With me walking with a cane, the kids probably figured I was an easy target.
I thought with any kind of luck, they would simply steal my groceries and the little bit of money I had on me. If I didn’t have such luck, they would also beat me up or kill me in broad daylight.
With them only a few paces behind me, I turned around quickly to face them.
“I’m an undercover cop,” I said, in the deepest voice I could muster. “If I were you, I wouldn’t go looking for trouble.”
What I said was lame, but maybe these hoodlums — these mean-spirited kids — are stupid. My words worked. They backed off and just stood there on the sidewalk as I turned back around, showing no fear and continued to walk home.
Showing no fear was, of course, a pretense. I was actually scared as hell.
This incident happened back in the early summer. I never told anybody about it until now as I didn’t want to worry my family or friends. I didn’t want anyone to think I was vulnerable. Reality is that’s a silly notion. Probably all of us, at some points in our lives, have felt unprotected from those who want to do us harm, from those who want to promote meanness.
I don’t know if it’s the economy, the state of the world in general or my age that makes me believe people are getting meaner. Kindness and understanding is getting harder and harder to come by.
Last week, while waiting for a bus at Fourth and Main downtown, a younger guy was hanging around the bus stop. He was thin, had on a Reds jacket and appeared to be normal. When he sat down next to me on the bench, I found out he wasn’t normal at all.
He started talking about all the children he has fathered — around a million — and then started to sing loudly.
“And we’ll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home.”
I sat there and smiled. He talked some more about his powerful sperm count and sexual activities. I sat there and listened. He quickly tired of me and moved on to the person sitting on the bench to my left. The older man sitting there had no tolerance at all.
“You fuckin’ asshole, get out of my face,” the older man said, shoving the younger man who fell down backwards on the sidewalk.
“Get up if you don’t want to get kicked,” the man said.
The mentally disturbed younger man got up and ran away. I was thankful my bus was pulling up. It was too much drama too early in the morning for me.
Meanness and drama happened later in the day, too. That afternoon, I had some errands to run downtown. Walking up Main Street, I was approached by a panhandler.
This was no ordinary panhandler. He was over 6 feet tall and had to weigh at least 300 pounds. He was all muscle. In fact, he was wearing a muscle shirt. I was wearing a polo shirt and, well, walking with a cane.
“I need four bucks,” he said, looking down at me with fierce eyes.
“I don’t have four bucks,” I replied.
“Yeah, you probably got more than that.”
Remembering my encounter with those kids from early summer, I found myself getting angry.
“Get away from me!” I practically yelled, drawing attention from others walking down the sidewalk. The muscled panhandler didn’t like that and walked away. Victory was mine, but not for long.
Shortly after that experience, I went to the CVS Pharmacy on Race Street to pick up a few things. Trying on some reading glasses, I put my cane down for a minute to look them over. When I got ready to retrieve the cane, it was gone. Somebody had stolen it.
I managed to get home without the cane but it was a struggle. Walking without it, I didn’t feel vulnerable this time around, I felt pissed off.
How low, how mean can a person get than to steal a man’s walking cane? What is this idiot going to do with it — sell it on eBay?
I don’t have a fear of dying, but I do have a fear as to how it happens. I want to die of natural causes. I don’t want to die at the hands of a bully or someone being mean. I take steps against this.
You’ll never find me in bars at night hanging around mean drunks. I don’t take walks after dark. I also try to remember those positive people experiences I have, like yesterday on Vine Street around Skyline Chili. Waiting for a light to change, I overheard a conversation.
A man holding a homeless sign approached a gentleman for money. This passerby had a heart.
“Let’s go into Skyline and I’ll buy you lunch,” the man said. “You can get anything you want and I’ll pay for it.”
Kindness, not meanness — that’s what keeps me going.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: [email protected]