I sit here with a towel on my mouth, ice cubes inside, in a vain attempt to subdue the old dusty inner tube that seems to be inflated in my lip. Just think! Less than two hours ago, I was heating myself up on the ass end exhaust of a parked bus, awaiting my ride home. In one of those “too weird to be coincidence” ways, I was thinking about how I really liked writing but that I couldn’t just write without some form of impetus. Some people have schedules that they stick to for writing… That sounds like a bunch of work to me! I have moments of inspiration, and when they strike, I try to write things down as quickly as I can before it disappears forever. Later, it gets structured in a half-hearted attempt to make it understandable. I was actually thinking to myself, “Stuff has to happen in order for me to write -- stuff usually happens when I’m out and about, but very, very rarely when I lock myself up in a box.” But buses give no quarter to pondering white boys huddled up near its business end, madly scribbling notes in a notebook. And since I like to stay out as late as public transit allows most nights, this was the last bus, the 12:20 AM -- so before it could get a chance to desert me, I jumped on and grabbed a seat near the front to wait out the short ride home.
I live in the ghetto according to most people who wear “outfits” to work. To me, though, the actual neighborhood I live in isn’t too terrible as it’s mainly two-bedroom homes with either single middle-classers or five- to ten-person families of lower income and hard-working, know-how-to-change-our-own-brake-drums type people. I haven’t ever had any problems nor heard of any in this neighborhood, short of a break-in here and there. I’ve been walking the mile or so from the bus stop to my house for about four or five months without a single attempted mugging, so I still don’t think it’s really a bad neighborhood. But I suppose by now you want to know about the lip.
Well, I and one other person, a female, got off of the bus and walked across to the other side of the street. I was looking down at the ground, thinking about this and that, when I looked up and noticed that there was another person walking besides the girl. Where did this guy come from? I censured myself for not paying attention to things, given the hour and my location, and made a determined effort to be aware of my surroundings.
That awareness brought me nothing other than this vivid description of what happened, but perhaps there’s something to say for that.
The female and her magical friend turned at a side street. I kept walking, right by a large entertainment complex called “Bronco Bowl” as I usually do on the way home. Walking along the sidewalk, I heard what I instantly recognized as the sound of a can of tennis balls being opened, a sort of hollow metallic popping sound with a hint of compressed air behind it. That was on odd sound to hear at 1 AM in this neighborhood, so my eyes moved towards it, and I noticed a streaking flash of white just a few feet from my face. Unfortunately, I was in no position to make decisions -- I was simply a spectator.
What was this white blur?
A list of things I’m glad it wasn’t: a golf ball, a blazing twelve-gauge shotgun round, a hammer dipped in white paint, a softball.
A list of things I wish it was: a ping pong ball, a piece of cotton, inspiration, a marshmallow.
Time moved very slowly... I’ve read about this but never experienced it until then.
I saw that the flash was gone. Then I noticed that my hand was over my mouth and someone was screaming, “Aggwhwh, my f***ing mouth!” I also saw someone hanging out of a slow-moving car in the street, and he was pulling back into the car what appeared to be a rifle.
They were moving on, though, so that was something. “Unable to feel lower half of face -- check for missing parts,” I instructed myself. Real time once again made its appearance, and I began thinking in a normal manner. I removed my hands from my stiff rubber face and saw white and red all over them... I remembered the sound I had heard earlier.
It was a paintball.
I had gotten shot in the mouth by a damn paintball gun -- and man, did it hurt like a bastard. I had heard of things like this before, but in no way had I ever expected to encounter it. I wasn’t angry at all, though. I just turned around and looked at the car, but by that time it was too late. I could only get an idea of what kind of car it was, but no plate numbers. I began spitting out blood and paint into an impromptu abstract sidewalk painting -- it was a new modern art exhibit: “Street Violence in America: There’s a meaning behind it. No really, there is.” I then made a 911 call while trying to wash away most of the blood and that awful paint taste with some water from my water bottle. I walked the rest of the distance home, my lips doing their best Angelina Jolie imitation they could muster, and I went ahead and went over the incident with the operator. I don’t know how much, if any, action I expect from the police… They are generally most interested in traffic tickets, drugs, and murder -- and usually in that order. I don’t really care what sort of punishment the paint-ballers receive, but I do hope that the cops stop them before they get anyone else or (with any luck) after seeing the true horror of a damaged body, the offenders went home and decided to never do it again.
I don’t feel like a victim or statistic, nor am I going to campaign against violence on TV or the movies -- though I feel that had some contribution to this. However, those kids made a decision to do this, so they had infinitely more of a contribution to do this, and that’s on them, not the movies. But wait a moment! That new movie released this weekend had a scene where kids go driving in a car and shoot a paint gun at people! But if violent movies and TV drive the violent culture of the United States, that would mean that people would be getting their behavior from other aspects of movies and TV as well, right? That’s pretty absurd! Then we would have people searching for their soul mates since they saw in a movie that they need someone else to “complete” them. We’d have people believing that drugs are wrong because they just saw a “Cops” episode where a drug dealer gets chased down by the cops. (Never mind that these cops and the viewers themselves consume a different drug, which is somehow not wrong.) We’d have people believing that the US is doing only good things since President Bush calls us “good” and other people “evil-doers.”
Oh, whoops... That is the way things are!
Obviously our culture affects our citizens, and I shouldn’t think that’s too hard to comprehend. But with the paintball scene in 8 Mile, it was displayed in a jovial and happy-go-lucky manner with no consequences. At least with Jackass, people know what they’re getting into because they get to see the consequences of emergency room visits, accidents, stitches, etc. While I wish that people who released mainstream movies would consider these things, in no way do I support a government organization imposing censorship on certain films, as it would be even worse when someone decides to interpret social and political action as “dangerous to other people.” So basically, how it works now isn’t all that good, but I don’t see a better solution, either.
So what did I learn, then? Well, if you walk around with enough asymmetrical lip volume for three people, you get a little lesson in how people react to physical appearance. They either avoid you or assume you’re an idiot and patronize you. Also, I measured the distance from the impact point to the nearest eyeball... two inches! Can you imagine the infinite variables involved in a moving vehicle transporting a human who is breathing in and out while attempting to level a rifle at another human -- who happens to be near the car and walking at such and such a pace and turning toward the opening of a can of tennis balls? Amazing!
So will I stop taking public transit and walking outside? Absolutely not -- though I might pick and choose where I walk a bit more carefully and be a bit more interested in passing cars and the status of their windows, i.e. rolled down with looming rifles or not.
Questions: If you got in a car wreck and were hurt, would you stop driving your car? Even that not withstanding, which is better -- a comfy average life with few surprises or one of ups and downs? Is living the comfy flat-line life not a risk as well? Is it better to live out in the world for a day or in a prison for a year? For which is the odds greater -- dying in a fatal car accident or dying as a victim of street violence? How much do statistics actually matter to a single human being trying to figure out what the best path in his or her life is?
If I had the night to do over, I don’t know that I would change anything, except perhaps to duck. But had I ducked, the images would have never caught your eye, and you might never have read and considered this, nor I. Five years, heck, one week from now, I won’t care about the fact that I had a swollen lip for a while -- but now you and I have got something to think about for quite a while.