“Your skin is BURNED. You face looks like a lobster! The ladies love that I’m sure…”
“…yeah…” I muttered.
I was walking back from the convenience store, fetching some snacks for the buyer in between rounds of sign-holding outside. It was dead in the middle of summer, and I had to admit what the kid on the bike shouted at me… was correct. My fair skin wasn’t taking kindly to 7 daily hours of Colorado sun exposure, especially considering my eschewing of toxic sunscreens.
Up until this point, things were going well with my job. I derived some perverse enjoyment out of standing outside all day, listening to audios, drinking coffee, letting my mind wander, thinking about business… it was tranquil…
Until this kid on a bike began zipping by
Because I almost always had my headphones on, it was difficult for me to hear, but I noticed him saying things and looking at me.
Something about it rattled me. It didn’t help that he looked eerily similar to my childhood best friend.
For an inexplicable reason, I dwelled on the encounters. Sure, people constantly gave me the finger or shouted as they drove by. But this felt different.
A couple days later, he mocked my burned skin while I was leaving the convenience store… like he was following me around or something! Great, just the thing to ruin my workday.
I hated feeling like a sitting duck out there, rooted to one corner, while this kid biked around all day, bored, harassing me
Some days, he’d zoom up the sidewalk from behind. One time, he just barely avoided hitting me, skidding on his bike then turning around to mouth, “Fuck you.” Other days he’d slowly go past and wave like we were friends. What was going on?
I thought about the situation while doing a meditation. My mind ran through many different scenarios of us fighting, and things continuing to be miserable… and then all of a sudden I imagined talking with him like we were friends, and asking if he played football. I smiled. That one felt the most real. For some reason.
Days went by. At first I felt silly telling anyone about it. Sure, he was a big kid, but I doubted I was in any physical danger. He was just a jerk. And maybe the company I worked for wouldn’t appreciate the drama and putting time and energy towards my situation.
But finally I called my boss and explained
He was surprisingly supportive, at one point saying, “Heck when people flip you off…flip ‘em off right back, I say!” It felt wonderful for someone to have my back. But still, that didn’t exactly resolve things. I knew something had to change.
Then the day came.
The morning began with a 45-minute standing meditation. At one point, I vividly… yet vaguely… imagined the kid biking straight towards me. I focused on relaxing and maintaining my form and smiling into the image. Which was tough to do. When it was over, I had this odd feeling that I wasn’t done with the meditation.
Later, as I drove to work, I mused with the idea that the confrontation between us had already taken place and was resolved.
But would he even show up that day? For a couple hours, I didn’t know the answer.
Then I turned… and saw him… biking straight towards me
“Good,” I thought. “Game on, let’s do this.”
He biked closer and closer, waved to me (huh?!)… and then veered into the parking lot, to pull up just outside the entrance to the store. He walked in. What was going on? Was he going to complain about me? Well, there were two sides to this story! I left the street to walk in, and watched as he went to the counter… and handed the buyer his necklace.
Jeez, he was looking to sell something. This was so weird.
I came inside, walked right up to him, and said, “Can we talk? After you’re done?”
Looking a little dazed, he said, “Yeah.”
I went over to the set of couches on the other side of the room, sat, and waited
As the buyer looked at his necklace, the kid stole a few quick glances at me.
I wondered how I should handle this. Then, the moment he shuffled over to the couches, I realized what was going on. His vibe gave him away. He was just a kid who got caught misbehaving, and he felt bad for getting in trouble.
“Should I sit down?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied, “sit down here.”
I paused, and regally began, “The harassment… has to stop.”
Barely before I could finish my last word, he nodded and said, “Yeah, I know, I know.”
I realized the “bad cop” treatment wasn’t needed anymore, so I shifted gears, “Look, there are some crazy people out there – I don’t know what to expect while I’m standing outside there, you know what I mean?”
“Yeah, it’s just these kids on bikes, they hate you because you won’t move out of the way for them, so they made me do it.”
Now I understood the full picture
Maybe once, weeks ago, I was a little slow in stepping aside as a group of kids biked by… as if that were my responsibility, heh. But when you’ve got a group of teenage boys with nothing to do in the summer, it doesn’t take much to get them to cause trouble. This kid, though pretty darn big, was at the bottom of the social totem pole. So he did the dirty work of harassing me, for their amusement. Some friends. It also explained why his behavior switched so much. On the days he was nice and waved to me, his “friends” weren’t around to see it.
I just wanted my workday to be tranquil. And I wondered if him going back to his friends and saying I put my foot down, would cause more trouble. So I told him, “Hey – tell your friends that I’m sorry, okay? Sometimes I don’t see people in time when I’m out there, and that’s why I don’t move. But I’ll try to do so, if I see them.”
I imagined the kid going back to his friends victoriously, telling them how I apologized.
The whole exchange was so strange to me
At first I couldn’t quite put my finger on it… but then realized: I was the adult. For just about all of my life, I had been the kid. Now I was the adult in the room. Crazy.
We stood up and shook hands. Before he left, I asked him one last question: “You’re a big guy, you play football?”
“You must be a lineman or something. Offense or defense?”