Monday, April 2, 2018
Bully in the Alley: Another Chicago Tale
This was back when I and my roommate Mary were living in a rental coach-house behind a rental residential house, in a working-class neighborhood off Halsted Avenue. Our house was backed up right on the alley, where we could see and hear everything that happened there.
One night while we were channel-surfing (remember, this was before cable TV), looking for something halfway decent on local TV, when we heard shouting coming from the alley. Naturally, we went to the alley-facing window and sneaked a peak through the curtains. There we saw a young couple dressed in Yuppie clothes, consisting of a tall medium-build man and a small willowy woman, halted under the alley's lone streetlamp, arguing...sort of. We couldn't work out what they were saying, but the man was doing all the outraged-tone shouting -- and waving his fists around in the air -- while the young woman looked and sounded apologetic, mollifying, taking the classic Submission Posture of the Chacma Baboon. Since the young man showed no sign of being mollified, but was clearly stoking his outrage -- working himself up to... something, we decided to stroll outside and provide witnesses.
Just as a precaution, I took along my sturdy 12-gauge pump-action shotgun.
So out the front door we went, over to the passageway between our house and the neighbor's garage, through the alley gate and out to the edge of the alley, where we stopped to watch. I held the shotgun by the grip, with the barrel hanging down along my leg where it wouldn't readily be seen. Bellowing Boy had gotten to the "She said you said I said" stage of the argument, and didn't notice. No sooner had we taken out position than a couple more neighbors quietly came out and joined us. I saw some neighbors come out of the houses on the opposite side of the alley and do the same. As we watched, still more neighbors came out and added to the lines, bending them into a circle that crossed the alley. None of them said or did anything; we just encircled the couple at a respectful -- 20 foot -- distance, and watched.
Eventually, even Bellowing Boy noticed the crowd. He stopped intimidating and yelling at his girlfriend, and looked around, going "Whuh...?"
Nobody said anything. We just looked at him.
He looked around the circle again, this time clearly calculating, looking for a weak spot. I could see as well as he could that all the other neighbors were men, of moderate to respectable size, with the usual working-class muscle. The only women in the circle were me and Mary, and Mary was maybe an inch taller than I was and easily 50 pounds heavier. In short, the smallest person in the circle was me.
Therefore it didn't surprise me at all that Bellowing Boy came stomping toward me, yelling curses and shaking his fists. Seeing what he'd displayed of his personality, I was the obvious choice.
I didn't flinch nor say a word. I only flipped up the muzzle of the shotgun, clamped my other hand firmly on the fore-stock, and pointed the muzzle toward his midsection.
Oboy, you never saw a bully screech to a halt and back-scramble so fast! He retreated to the center of the circle beside his girlfriend, who had gone silent and was looking around the circle too.
Finally she took a step toward the far end of the alley, intending to walk away. The neighbors at that end of the circle, seeing what she wanted, obligingly got out of the way. Seeing a clear path, Bellowing Boy reasserted his Mastery by saying, "C'mon, let's get out of here," and hurrying ahead of her so he could play the Leader.
As they walked past me, I couldn't help calling out: "Leave him, girl. You can do better."
The rest of the crowd chuckled quietly, and then took up the chant: "Leave him, girl. Leave him, girl." And repeated that chant after them all the way through their walk to the end of the alley and out to the street. Once they were gone, the neighbors dispersed and went back to their own houses and business. Nobody, as far as I know, even called the cops. And why should we? The crisis was past, none of us even knew the participants, and if the girl chose to continue mollifying Bellowing Boy, that was her choice.
No, we never saw Bellowing Bully-Boy again -- nor his mollifying girlfriend, as far as I know.
What I particularly remember about that incident was how effective simply displaying the shotgun was. Hoo-hah, did that ever deflate that bully fast! I was under the impression that bullies take a little more than that to make them back off. The second memorable thing about that incident was how obvious Bellowing Bully-Boy's personality was. How could anybody watch him for more than a few minutes and not know him for what he was? Why did that masochistic girl bother to stay with him that long? How naive could she have been?
But the third memorable thing was how the neighbors all responded to the noise, and the situation. They all showed up, did nothing to interfere but only watched, providing witnesses. The fact that nobody seemed surprised, or upset, when I flipped up my shotgun shows that they were quite willing to use vi-o-lence if Bellowing Bully-Boy had actually taken a real swing at his girlfriend with those wagging fists. The way they parted the line to let the girl through showed a wonderfully keen observation, and the way they took up my commentary as a chant shows a nice practical morality.
Now this was just a random collection of working-class Chicagoans, united by nothing more than geography and situation. I've seen similar remarkable performances in a Michigan winter, in the aftermath of the Loma Prieta earthquake in California, and minor crises here in Arizona. What they all show me is that the American masses are remarkably smart, level-headed and practical -- and share a common practical morality.
This shows why democracy works as well as it does -- which is way ahead of whatever is in second place.