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Mule to Mule
Well, I had to put Charlie Wynn in jail yesterday. And I just met the fellow.
But he picked the wrong damned day to tell me, in my parking lot, that "no woman was going to tell him what to do." Actually, I don't think there's a right day to do that, but most days it doesn't send you to jail.
And I wouldn't have called Scott and the other officers in if Charlie hadn't told me that he'd be back, over and over again, just like he had been this past two weeks, because I'd made him mad and I'd told him what to do, and there just wasn't anything for it but for him to show me what was what.
Charlie staggered around awhile, delivering this lecture, and all the while escalating into that moment when his eyes were straight into mine and it was all he could do to keep from punching me, as I was telling him firmly, pushing myself into that place that was taller than he was, to contain it because he was in my space, and I was going to tell him to leave, and he wasn't going to tell me to stop - and man, I think I was in the same place he was, and no man was going to tell *me* what to do, either.
I could feel the ego of it - the edge that rose in him the moment I wouldn't let him finish his plaintive repetitive slurring "I'm just a musician, ma'am, trying to make it through the course of a hard, hard, life, an' I don't mean anyone no harm, and I love you, all of you..."; the edge that rose in me the moment I told him he'd crossed my line and there was no negotiating any of it, and the moment right after that he looked at me and smiled.
The very first hour, 2 weeks ago, was fine enough. I was in the parking lot, in the pouring rain, wrapping the evergreen boughs I'd cut earlier that day up the river, to hang in the store.
Curry had just swung by, dropping off some holly because he liked the idea that I was decorating the store. I told him it was a good thing to do for the kids, because it would help short circuit the longing later in life that would come if they didn't get enough bright lights and smiles in their early days, and we both knew that was the longing that all the junk dealers would tell them one day how that longing could be filled, and where to buy the junk that would fill it. Any kind of junk..
We've had our fill of junk in this neighborhood.
Charlie and another musical friend came up and set up, only slightly in the way of people's flow, and Charlie was playing just fine for a fellow that doesn't pay any attention to what he's playing. It grew a bit loud after awhile, and I caught the first wind of his pattern, how quickly he ignites and explodes, with just a tiny spark from some passerby. He started accosting customers and I had to interrupt his evening and tell him to leave.
Curry hung around a bit, but I've been doing this for twelve years, and Curry's the kind of guy who'll pay a woman the supreme compliment of leaving her alone when he sees she's got an altercation with a fellow well under control, so he took off.
I halfway like that. I halfway don't. I don't like it when I'm tired, and especially when I'm tired of doing it all alone. Sometimes it's just those little courtesies that men do for us that lift the burdens enough to help us feel you're also in the fabric of things, holding up your part of the quilt.
Sometimes it's a bit bigger, as in the times when there are death threats, and windows shot out, and the store set on fire, and no one steps up because everyone thinks you've got it under control, because you always have in the past. But that's another story...
I like being left to handle something I'm responsible for, if I'm not asking for help, because I don't like having my power usurped (except when I have to change a flat on the truck...) and -
Oh, god, can I admit it? I actually like the spar with someone - the wit and story that gets shot around, if they're not too drunk - the wonderful dance of negotiating the space, the terms of occupation of this parking lot, this free venue that a musician moving through town can busk his way through and not get run off of right away.
I run this impromptu stage at the corner of 4th and Blair, and each player negotiates the rate with me - the fee is always respect. I charge respect. I give it, and I charge it. And if someone can't pay in respect, if they can't be respectful, and they don't look full of respect (and I know what respect looks like), then they can't play on my stage.
Charlie has been a little overdrawn in the respect department. His biggest problem - no, his second biggest problem - is that he *thinks* he's being respectful. He thinks that words of respect are all it takes, and that actions don't have to follow the words. His biggest problem is that he can get drunk on one Schlitz Malt Tall, and just can't hold his liquor for beans.
We exchanged about 3 sentences on the topic of respect for customers, and moved quickly onto respect for me - or, onto his missing the concept rather completely, as the heat in him started rising.
It's actually an interesting thing to watch. I wonder if guys get to see it more. This sight of an ego rising, its waking up, and flicking into consciousness, is very curious to me, for it seems to imply, somehow, that something was asleep, or not present in the conversation, and suddenly feels the need - as a result of seeing some part of me -to make itself seen.
His friend cooled him down and pulled him on, and that night ended without further incident. Seven times in the following days he came back. The first time was re-negotiated, for his excuse of "I was drunk. I'm sorry," still had some exchange value.
Customer harassment caused his deficit to balloon. The next few days - each with its own command performance - brought an end to the so-called music, and soon it had distilled down to settling into the parking lot until he saw me approach and then we'd just cut straight to the chase.
Yesterday we got there the fastest.
There was a moment when I thought he was going to lose it, when he came at me - and he's not big, but he's not small, and I am. I flinched inside - I don't know if it showed - and I got mad at myself for flinching and came back at him even harder with that "field thing" that dogs and guys (and, I suppose, gals) who have their tails up do.
Was this what I learned under the fists of other men? Is this what we're supposed to come to understand, and respond to, and with?
He kept turning away, as if he was controlling himself, and then he'd spin back toward me, and pull his arm back like he was going to punch me. I'd look him in the face and tell him to contain it, and he'd start to punch me again, and I'd tell him to contain it again, louder.
It was only right to tell him to control himself - there was nothing else to say, but the one thing that he also knew he should do.
My heart doesn't even beat fast at this sort of thing any more. Is this normal for a woman with spiritual aspirations?
He sat back down, picked up his guitar, and began to play some more music. I went inside and called Scott. Sometimes it just has to come down to this, I suppose. If it had been my granny, she would have hit him over the head with a frying pan - actually, no, she would have shot him. She wouldn't have wanted to hear his yelling. And she wouldn't want him coming back.
She'd at least have gone and brought out her gun - for what is one to do when it all gets reduced to this sort of thing? When mule meets mule, and the big one tells the little one what to do?
The littler ones, and the practical ones, band together, and - since we don't pull guns on each other any more (though granny carried hers for a long time, and had bullets wrapped in a lace hankie tucked into her bra til nearly the day she died). Instead we now buy the time of people like Scott, who then come over and very politely, very kindly, very nicely take Charlie to a free hotel for the weekend.
So Charlie's in jail, because he said he was just going to keep coming back and "No woman was going to tell him what to do." I just didn't have time for the aggravation of it all. Besides, it's the weekend. He needed to straighten up. He really needed a bath. The food over there is a lot better than what he's been getting, and maybe something will break loose for him.
Yep, the rationale comes quick and clean, and I don't know how I'll hold it in the hindsight of it all. And yet I find myself thinking of him today. I hope they didn't let him out too soon, because he really did need to sober up. I think it all through. I reframe it. I use this moment of reflection - rare enough - to get to the meat of it. Considering the whole of it, I hope the right choices were made.
But how can one ever know the deepest economies at play in the equations we find ourselves caught in? And what do we rightly do when the variables stacked on either side of the equals sign show little relationship to the world we feel that we know?
I've been doing this a long time. I don't easily see the equals sign any longer. And it's not a simple matter to stand on one piece of ground. It's not a simple thing at all.
PLUR. Remember PLUR
-- Anonymous, December 21, 2001