The world has a way of testing a person. Sometimes they are pop quizzes.Sometimes they are mid terms that allow you to raise your grade a little.Then there are finals, which make up forty five percent of your grade.If you screw up the final, well, you might be a failure as a human being.
Along the way I have had my share of tests.I have had the daily "are you going to walk by the homeless person and give them a dollar" pop quiz, and usually gotten an A, if I have cash. I mean, how can you rationalize not slipping them a buck when they are lying on the sidewalk in a filthy sleeping bag surrounded by puddles of mystery liquid?
I have also had the end of the week surprise test where a transvestite customer forgot his bag, and I have to drive it the opposite way home to his apartment in a dangerous part of town at three a.m. I passed that one, reluctantly, but the bag had his whole persona inside-make up, brush, hair products. I got him drunk enough to forget his bag, and he tipped me handsomely.He did greet me at the door in a dressing gown and handed me a bag of hot popcorn for my drive home.
I had the challenging mid term test where a homeless woman gave me some starving ducks,which I have probably mentioned before. I was trying to find my car at the Convention Center parking lot after a catering job and came upon her and her shopping cart with a cage of ducks riding in the top.The ducks, one large and one small, were filthy and fighting over a piece of potato skin. I hesitated,thinking of the damage my enormous cat might do, but decided that they would probably end up on a makeshift spit in an alley somewhere soon if I didn't take them. I took them home, put them up in my bathroom and found a place for them the next day. It took a few tries to find the right rescue group, as I called amphibian rescue first and received a kind return phone call informing me that ducks are not,depite their webbed feet, amphibians. Sigh.All that private schooling.....
They took a bath, one peeping and the other quacking hysterically when they would lose sight of each other. They pooped all over the bathroom and eventually went to sleep nestled next to one another on a towel. They were taken to the ASPCA in the morning to await pick up by a local "bird lady",Diane, who had assured me on the phone that she wouldn't eat them. Got an A on that one, I think, and it was kind of an adventure. Ducks are really messy though.
I haven't had the final yet ,though I do hope I am ready.I really think that if a person is paying attention to their world as they go through it, they will pass the tests that come their way. I don't think it secures a spot for me in the afterlife, or makes Karma favor me, but it is simply the way we are supposed to live. We are not supposed to walk in fear.We are supposed to help each other out. Isn't society supposed to be the fabric that keeps it all together? Yeah, maybe it's a flammable polyester blend at best....
They did this show once where they set up a domestic situation in a public park right near some walking trails and had an actor play big guy berating his girlfriend in full view of passersby. It was set up to see if anyone would step in, take the challenge, get involved. I was shocked at how many people walked by and barely noticed his loud badgering and hostility toward her. He didn't outright hit her, but he did put his hands on her. Several women called out for him to stop but when they were met with the same hostility, they backed down.Only one older woman stood her ground long enough for them to stop the tape and explain what the deal was. She wasn't so thrilled that it was a set up because it kind of wasted her time.And I couldn't tell if it was creative editing or what, but no men got involved.Not one.
I just failed a similar test last weekend. We were strolling back from our local farmer's market at around ten a.m. Over the normal sidewalk din came the shrill tones of a man screaming. We looked around and spotted a slightly rumpled fortyish man on the corner,in chinos and blue pullover, ranting and pacing and shreiking at a plus size woman dressed in a green tunic, who calmly talked on her cell phone while she waited for the light to change. It was a bit surreal. Domestic issues rarely pop up on a lazy Sunday morning in our quaint neighborhood. We were pulling the pre-nap kids in their wagon and had a grumpy house guest along as well,all of whom were eager to get home. My husband and I stopped to watch and make sure it didn't get worse.The guy was screaming at the top of his lungs about being a team and asking her how she could treat him this way.She acted as if he simply wasn't there. There were at least fifty other people within ear shot of this scene,so, as we slowly made our way down the sidewalk and turned the corner toward home, I hoped that someone else would get involved. Little was screaming almost as loudly as the ranting man about some water spilled on her dress and I knew that if I went over to really get involved, we would soon have our own domestic scene to rival theirs. I also had a small concern about him becoming violent with me, especially in front of my kids.But I should have tried to help her,or at least ask her if she needed any help.
As we walked home, feeling kind of icky,I started thinking about all the times that I have been part of a public failure to prevent something bad from happening. The one that comes to mind occurred when I was just twenty one. I was living in Echo Park in a converted Victorian with a view of the downtown skyline. I used to run around the Echo Park Lake and go up the boulevard where it got hilly and run back down again. One afternoon,after a long run, I was waiting at the stop light to cross the busy intersection of Sunset and Echo Park Boulevard. It was just twilight and the street lights had just flickered on. I had just missed the light and so had a little boy who must have been about three and a half.He wasn't holding anyone's hand but was giggling furiously and making faces at his mother and older sister across the street.He was standing about three inches from my left hand. I wasn't really paying attention to him, but was noticing how pretty the light was, when he bolted across the street. Everything was suddenly in slow motion- his sister yelled "NO!".Everyone was watching him, hoping that he made it across safely. The collective energy was palpable. He made it to the middle of the intersection when a red sedan came through and hit him head on.Everything froze, except his body.It was like a scene from the Matrix.His body flew up into the air and landed about fifteen feet away in the gutter on the opposite side of the street. The car stopped about twenty feet past where his body had landed. Everything was eerily still for about ten seconds.He lifted up his head and let out a whimper and the intersection came alive.The man next to me burst into tears.His sister screamed and ran to him, his mother right behind. People rushed here and there. I stood where I had been standing, motionless and realized two things: 1. I could have prevented it from happening 2. I could offer nothing to help with my actor/waitress skills and broken Spanish.
I turned and walked toward home,feeling dazed and useless.As I passed the red sedan, I saw two women sitting in the car, frozen with fear.The Crown Heights Riot had happened the month before, and I am certain that the potential for a West Coast version was not lost on them, with their pale scared faces peering out at a sea of colors.I should have gone over to check on them, or given my information to be a witness.It wasn't really anyone's fault. Who knew he would run out into the street?
As I replayed the scene all the way home, I realized that, had I reached down and grabbed his hand, none of this would have happened. Now that I am a parent, I would have seen it all differently and immediately grabbed his hand. I would have assumed that he would run into the street, just as I would assume he would drink drain cleaner if he got his hands on it. Parental paranoia does keep kids alive, because it requires the keenest of anticipatory skills.
I know that there are worse failures that occur, like the people who watched an old man get repeatedly run over by cars on a busy street and did nothing.Or the woman who was forced to jump off a bridge to her death because no one got out of their car to stop her tire iron weilding assailant. I realize that accidents happen and that it wasn't as if I pushed the kid in front of the car.But it still felt like a failure on my part, as a citizen of the world. Had I been connected to the situation, the outcome might have been different for him.Maybe if had been unlucky enough in my past to have a partner who screamed at me, I might have felt comfortable intervening with the unhappy twosome on Sunday.
Perhaps I grapple with this issue because my secret wish is to be a super hero,like Bruce Willis in "Unbreakable",silently aiding those in need while simultaneously stepping on the neck of the evil. And then going home to make dinner and give the kids a bath.
I can dream of this as I walk away from future domestic altercations, for whatever reason works at the time, a wannabe with a red satin cape bulging out of my "slimming" Not Your Daughters Jeans, hoping one day to make good on my pledge to save the world.....just as soon as I get those breakfast dishes done......