Conflict avoidance

When I got out of the subway and turned the corner, there was a fight happening in front of my destination, so I turned around and started walking in the other direction.

I would have to go to the 7-11 instead of the Rite Aid, I decided.

All I saw at first was a quick burst of isolated action among a loosely gathered crowd of people. I thought two kids were rough housing, joking and shoving. And people were always loitering on that block. I thought of maybe just making a wide arc around them to get to the front door. If I minded my business, they’d leave me alone.

But then I noticed one of them had his belt in his hand, doubled up, and as he backed away from the other guy, he took swipes at his head.

That’s when I decided to turn around.

Someone shouted something toward them from half a block away, an older man who may or may not have known one or both of them, but I had no idea what he said. Tryting to stop them? Egging them on? I had my headphones in my ears, and was glad to stay out of it. He was carrying a small boy in his arms. Their eyes were fixed on the proceedings.

In fact, the loose crowd was almost all people standing around watching. A girl who had been video recording the proceedings with her cell phone jogged away as the two young men, circling each other like two sparring lions, approached her, oblivious of her and likely anyone else in the audience. She looked over her shoulder and held the camera toward them the whole time during her retreat.

For a second, I hoped she would get caught up in the mess. Maybe they’d bump into her, knock her down, knock the phone out of her hand to shatter on the sidewalk. Oops. YouTube would have to wait. I was annoyed by the sudden and unwelcome change in plans. And I was annoyed by the girl and all the other people treating the fight as entertainment. But a moment later I had turned the corner and was heading toward the 7-11 a few blocks away.

Notably, I was doing nothing, either. But there’s an important difference, I think, between staying out of it and spectating.

I noticed a cop car, lights flashing, rounding the corner. At least it’ll get broken up soon, I thought, if it isn’t already.

Walking toward 7-11, I counted four more cop cars, blaring their horns to get traffic out of their way. I turned to watch them streaming down the street, throwing reflections and sharp, quick shadows against the buildings around us. And I saw at least one more car coming from the other direction, too.

Six cars, maybe more, to break up one fight.

I proceeded to the 7-11 to pick up some chicken soup, ginger ale, Kleenex, cat food and frozen pizza rolls. Jeff was sick and hungry, the cat needed provisions for the weekend, and I was anxious to tell the story.


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the untallied hours

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