Half-descended from a nomadic people, and with the high, High, HIGH cost of rent in Austin(tatious), Texas, I tend to move around a lot. Realizing that would be my lot when I first returned here after surviving Y2K, I rented a mail box at the downtown post office. No matter where I was living (always within a five mile radius north or east), I figured it would also force me to hop on my bicycle and ride down to El Centro at least once a week. (“It’s ALL downtown, George,” said Jerry on Seinfeld.) It was on Guadalupe Street for many years, but a while back it moved to Congress Avenue. And anything named after that junction of dysfunction — Congress being the opposite of Progress — is bound to have problems. I saw one tonight.
First, I heard it. I had stopped to examine my correspondence. The fracas began with a yell or two coming from behind me. I didn’t think much of it until it because, well, it’s downtown, which has it’s collection of drunk tourists, drunk college students, drunk post-college people, and people without homes who are sometimes on all kinds of substances and/or having mental health issues.
As the altercation escalated, I looked back. There was a very fat man leaning on one of those walkers you can sit on. In front of the convenience store was an employee wearing the uniform shirt; I’d seen him before. The yelling became louder and back and forth. “You shut the f(*& up, you cracker!” said the latter, who happened to be Black. Then, “No, you go to hell, (n-word)” from the former, who happened to be, well, since I’m white*, I’m allowed to call him a cracker, too.
[*The word white is not capitalized here as small sign of solidarity with African Americans after 400 years of slavery and oppression that continue in the United States — especially in the South — to this day.]
“Cracker is always disparaging and offensive when used to refer to a poor white person in the South; the word in this sense often implies that the person is regarded as ignorant or uneducated. When used by Black people, cracker can refer to a Southern white racist, not necessarily poor or ruralTeachable moment brought to you by Dictionary.com
I didn’t sense a physical altercation forthcoming, since the Black guy was minding the store and the white guy was hobbling to his truck while leaning on his walker. The same red Ford pick-up I often see parked a few blocks north at the state capital. It has a bunch of anti-choice, pro-Trump propaganda on it. I thought, “What a hypocrite for a so-called Christian.” But then I didn’t know what their fight was about. It went on with threats like, “I’m gonna post a picture of your license plate on the internet and tell everybody about your dumb, bitch ass!” and “Well, why don’t you come try and do something about it (n-word)!”
The verbal jousting quickly grew repetitive and boring. The convenience store clerk made things a little more interesting by hoisting one of those rental scooters over his head and throwing it across the sidewalk. I don’t know why, and those things are heavy. Since I clearly did not have tickets to this sad excuse for a WWE fake wrestling event, I went on my way. Keep Austin Weird, I guess. I’d say we were all losers after this. But the stupid white racist had no choice but to scurry back to his vehicle, like the cockroach of a human he is. I’d be all in favor of his very late abortion even though he looked to be in his 60’s. Not really, but that guy should get a life.
On the positive side of human interactions, tonight when I biked to the post office, I encountered Rahim (not his real name). He’s a security guard for the commercial high-rise the post office is housed in. He has good posture, a low percentage of body fat, a shaved head, plus he remembers my name. Once we were chatting and I learned he’s an immigrant who left his country due to political turmoil. Like many, he is well-educated, of course speaks several languages well, and he happens to be a really nice guy. More than once he’s unlocked the post office for me to retrieve my mail when I arrived a minute or five late. (The old spot was never locked and had free parking; there’s more progress for you.)
I’d seen him the day before tonight’s racial tongue war. I was passing by the PO; I was really very hot on my way home from an afternoon meeting, so I wasn’t stopping for mail. I saw him walking with a woman I correctly guessed was his boss. I yelled out, “Hey, Rahim!” Is that your boss? To her I followed up : “You really need to give him a raise and a promotion!” So tonight when I saw him, I joked, “Did your boss give you that raise on account of me yet?” He chuckled.
Walking to the office with Sophie the Fairdale, we talked about his day. Earlier he had to deal with a homeless woman who gets disoriented and doesn’t know where she is. But she’s not allowed to hang out in the PO overnight. I asked about the skate punks I’d recently seen him trying to calmly reason with. “Sorry, but you just can’t use your boards on our building or property.” Turns out someone else had called the cops on them, but they thought it was him. Sounds like a hard job I wouldn’t want to have. I don’t know if he has a spiritual practice or religious faith, but he does seem kinda Zen.
When I was in high school biology, the teacher used to joke about dating the Rrhea twins. Most of us would get to know Dia, but we should really try to avoid Gono. For some reason the former (diarrhea) came up. I don’t know why I felt compelled to share that tidbit, but I did. (Like I am now again with you, Dear Reader.) Oh, I remember. It was part of my excuse to Rahim for being late to get my mail. Because it was a bonus side effect from my overexposure to the heat the day before. It hadn’t helped that I’d forgotten my water bottle and had to keep stopping for fluids. For some reason, my guts rebelled and have been punishing me on and off for the next day plus. I told him the anti-diarrheal liquid wasn’t helping enough, which makes it hard to go on a bike ride. Ever helpful, Rahim said, “You don’t need that stuff, just drink a lot more water.”
Rahim is no doctor, nor a bicyclist per se, though I’m sure he could ride one if he wanted to. He likes hiking, kayaking, anything outdoors. Which makes sense since he’s mostly stuck inside an office tower all day. Sometimes I don’t see him at all because he’s doing his rounds, or it’s not his shift, and I’m a little disappointed. He’s what sociologists call a bona fide: not a friend, but a regular character in your life. But when I do see him and we have a short chat, I always leave feeling a little better than before. He’s just that kind of guy whose positive vibes are contagious. It’s not overly Pollyanna-ish toxic positivity, but just a feeling that if all is not right with the world, it’s at least ok. It’s better that he’s in it, so if he’s talking to me, I must be somewhat ok, too.
I used to joke about a self-help book from the 1970’s titled I’m OK, You’re OK. I’d say it really should be called I’m Not OK, You’re Not OK, But That’s OK. Clearly those guys yelling at each other in front of the 7-Eleven were not OK. Nor is the woman OK who gets lost in the PO, in her own world. There are homeless people I recognize, just trying to survive the summer heat on the streets. Fearfully waiting for the City to start enforcing the public camping ban and putting them in jail. So far I’ve managed not to join their ranks; there but for fortune go your or I. While I’m sure Rahim has his bad days, as do I, and assume all humans do, too, I’m reminded of this phrase which I like a lot: “Everyone is waging a silent battle you know nothing about.”
The answers to these dilemmas about racial hatred, poverty, high housing costs, lack of access to mental health care and stigma that goes with it are complex. I’m just some dude who rides his bike then writes about it. Yeah, biking might help with some things, but not everything. Maybe we can start by being a little kinder to each other. Be like the bike rider who rang his bell at me, just because we were passing. (I rang back, of course.) Or the car driver who waited for me to pass through the intersection to turn instead of cutting me off and possibly causing a crash. The custodian at the grocery store who wished me a happy day when he didn’t have to. I wished I’d thanked him for his work.
It was 25 years ago this week when Patrick Sherrill walked into the post office he worked in Edmond, Oklahoma. He shot and killed 11 people, then himself.
The world is full of angst, conflict, misunderstanding, and lots more. People are blowing themselves up in Afghanistan to kill a bunch of civilians and retreating US troops. We’re hard on others, and we can be even harder on ourselves. The two are related. When I ride my bike, all that stuff fades away for a time, at least. Please be kind to cyclists as the bumper sticker says, and to yourselves. No promises, but I’ll try to do the same. Let’s try to do a little better, people, yeah?
War – what is it good for? Absolutely nuthin’ – Say it again.War, by Edwin Starr
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