Thursday, December 09, 2004

Christmas Confrontations, Part Two

Tasmanian Devil

By the time I got to The Drag from my playtime with the frat rats, all the street vendors on Guadalupe Street were acting crazy, wondering if they'd really have to "fight" one another to get their spots back, the selling spots they'd been "squatting" on, night and day, for a week already. My friend Jack marked his spot—probably with something inconsequential, such as a blanket, that everyone used for such purposes—then turned away from it and helped me move my heavy wooden frame back onto my spot. When we turned around some new guy had kicked Jack's blanket aside and camped on his spot. An argument ensued, which I joined in and got so carried away I hollered more defenses of Jack's position than Jack did, informing the guy, who would not desist from insisting on his rights, that he was in the wrong and on the verge of getting his ass kicked! Something of that sort, at the top of my lungs. I had no reason to roar so, for Jack was strong and capable enough if it came to physical conflict. I had already been revved up in front of the frat house, remember. I was now so mad about this irritation, I was rabid! Jack and I weren't the only ones giving the fellow hell, though; almost all the rest of the street vendors were stirred up and either likewise being hostile to the newcomer or trying to gently reason with him.

The newcomer tried to defend himself and insist on his civil rights, but no one was buying it. No one believed he didn't know Jack had already claimed the spot. The stranger was a threat to everyone there, we told him. I suppose it was funny (well, it wasn't funny then!) that all these mild-mannered hippies had in this situation become, not only the establishment, but also the coercive establishment! There was no point in calling a policeman,we felt, for there was no certainty which way they would lean in a dispute. The "midnight rule" was brand-new that night, sprung on us without warning or explanation in the dark of night. As far as we knew, it wasn't a law, just a sudden City "rule" that a cop could rule on by sticking his thumb in the air. "Authority" was not a reasonable authority to be appealed to, we all knew that. Even the newcomer didn't suggest that.

The out of town hippie tried to argue, "Hey, you guys don't own these spots, do you?" And, "I didn't see anybody sitting on the damn spot!" I was ready to take him in the back alley. Do him in, dispose of him. It wasn't like he'd beaten Jack to the spot at all; he was a claim-jumper! A cattle rustler!

But eventually the stranger gave in. I think a group of vendors sweeter than I was had pulled him aside and agreed to move over just a little and allow him a modicum of space that night. After being threatened by others and me for 15 or 20 minutes, he was easier to convince than at first. But I don't recall him coming back after that night. Maybe he was just passing through to begin with and had never meant to stay very long. He certainly hadn't chosen a very good night to pass through or to meet me. There was little relaxed geniality on duty among the peace-loving hippies that night! Later Jack and his wife Jane, who'd known me several years, remarked with a smirk that they'd never seen me get so mad. Alton had just stood back with his mouth open. He hadn't known me very long, but he was still surprised. He probably wondered if he'd make a mistake about me being the nice guy he'd taken me for. Of course, none of them knew yet that they only knew the half of it; I hadn't had time to tell them about how riled up I'd gotten at the frat house disturbance yet.

How could I explain such anger to them? Or to you? Sometimes one just lands in a place where a Tasmanian devil is already pitching a fit and the fur flies. Sometimes the devil is you. Or, I could say, sometimes the moon is just in the right position for just such wrong and crazy things to transpire. In a phrase that became popular some years later: Shit happens.

The night WAS crazy, but nobody hit anybody.

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