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February 05, 2010

In Which I Tell A Story

Several years ago while visiting England, I discovered that I may be a bit of a bad-ass. I don't say this lightly or even all that happily. I've always seen myself as extremely mild-mannered and gentle. It is hard to get me riled up and I'm so uncomfortable with confrontation I've never been able to watch most reality shows and even sitcoms where the characters argue a lot (I'm not sure I've ever been able to watch an episode of All in the Family all the way through).

Nothing in my personal history gave me reason to believe I could be a bad-ass. For example, just out of high school I worked at a popular record store where one of our favorite past-times was catching shoplifters. I didn't catch them myself but I enjoyed watching my roommate and friends chase the kids down and getting back our merchandise. One time a young woman was caught shoplifting. She was in the back room waiting for police when she decided she wasn't going to wait around. She simply got up and started walking out the door. The store manager and several male employees jogged along trying to get her to stop but they were afraid to grab her or physically detain her. She was almost at the door and would have walked out.

In a panic I stepped in front of her blocking the front door. I looked her right in the eye and just tried to look calm and resolute. She looked at me and hesitated for a moment. Just a beat; a few seconds. But it was a face off and I was hoping desperately she wouldn't call my bluff. Inside my head I was thinking, "Oh God, oh God, please don't step forward because I will step aside and let you go. I don't know what to do!" She turned and walked into the back room with the store manager. I think my knees wobbled and I know my stomach was flip flopping nervously (as it is now just remembering this and writing it down).

I realized later that I must have presented quite an intimidating physical presence. I'm six feet tall and though I wasn't as "big" then as I am now (all right, fat) I have never been willowy. Even at my thinnest I look athletic and strong. I have a gigantic mass of red hair but I have dark eyes so I look more like a Scottish Highlander who might go on cattle raids rather than a whimsical Irish lass. I'm sure I looked like more than she wanted to handle. And if my poker face was any good I probably put up the appearance of a bad-ass.

But it wasn't until that visit to England that I discovered my bad-ass potential. I had talked the family, mother, step-father, and brother, into getting on a bus and just seeing where it took us. Neighborhoods started to look sketchy and when we hit Whitechapel (which I associate with Jack the Ripper) we decided we had better get off and find our way back.

My step-father, not always a savvy traveler, insisted on wearing a fanny pack even though he was always leaving it open. It was full of wads of cash and receipts but regardless of our lectures, he absent mindedly persisted in the habit. As we were coming up to a stop, he was standing near the door and I was on a seat facing him. We likely did not look like we were together. I observed a man standing next to my step-father pick-pocketing the fanny pack.

My reaction was immediate and fierce. I had such a rush of anger that I acted without thinking at all. I stood up and grabbed the man's wrist in a grip that probably hurt a lot. Luckily the pick-pocket was quite a slight man and I towered over him by at least a foot. My hand completely circumvented his wrist and he looked up at my face in surprise. I grabbed what he had taken and threw down his hand. I was so angry I wanted to hit him. In fact, at that moment I was struggling not to get more physical. I wanted to shove him and kick him. I was shaking with rage. Luckily for him the bus stopped at that moment and he scrambled off. (I look back and wonder if I looked a bit like the Hulk breathing heavy with eyes full of rage. OK, too much TV.)

My step-father, still oblivious, got off the bus and I followed. My brother had exited out a different door but I quickly told him what just happened. I saw the pickpocket scramble back on the bus and I decided to let him go. I'm sure he had a small accident in his pants when he saw me talking to my brother; who stands 6'4" and is built like a line backer with a shaved head and goatee and who immediately turned back around to face the bus with a scary look on his face.

I was absolutely shocked at my anger and immediate urge (instinct) to do someone physical harm. I honestly thought I didn't have it in me. But, it appears, I will protect my own. Even if it is just for a handful of receipts from a carelessly left open fanny pack.

Bad guys...be warned.