Dec. 17th, 2007

Working retail during the Christmas season would challenge the Dalai Lama's patience. But just when I'm about to give up on people altogether, someone comes along to tip the scales in the other direction.

Today, it was a boy in a teal shirt and beanie, and another with a beard and down jacket.

I was sitting in the creepy mural room at Memorial Union when a man in his mid-thirties came and sat at a table with a student. It soon became obvious that the man was on edge, probably on drugs, and if not dangerous, at least uncomfortably willing to invade personal space. The boy sitting at the table picked a moment when the man went to the bathroom to flee. When the man returned, he began harassing the next-nearest target--a girl studying nearby.

At first, I assumed that once she ignored him for a significantly long period of time, he would go away. However, he simply became more and more invasive, repeatedly touching her shoulder and moving her books and papers. She shrank back in her seat, and although I felt strongly for her, a giant part of me also has been raised not to become involved in escalating altercations. I've seen knives pulled on people who've done less. I was, however, pulling out my phone to call the police when a young man--the one in the teal shirt--rose from a nearby seat. He walked over to the girl and put himself between her and the man. "Hey, Sarah," he said. "How's it going?"

She looked at him. "Fine," she said, after enough of a pause to indicate that it wasn't her real name. The man looked at both of them for a long while, then recommenced his harassment. At this point, the boy left, presumably to alert Union security, and the girl was once again left to her own devices.

Seconds later, though, a second boy set down his backpack, pulled out a book, and sat across from her. "Ready to study?" he asked.

The man became sullen and edgier. He held out his hand to the boy, who accepted it and found himself trapped when the man wouldn't let go. "I need to study," said the boy. "I have finals."

"Fuck finals," said the man. "My tests were with life and death." He pointed at the juncture between the two hands, the sharp contrast in color. "You? You've got finals. You'll pass."

The boy nodded, doggedly keeping the man's attention until he tired of the game and moved to another room. Moments later, the campus police arrived, frisked him down, and kicked him out. The boy and girl introduced themselves, and left in separate directions. And I let out a breath I hadn't realized I was holding and turned back to my work.



May 2010


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