Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Narrow Escape


I'd found thirty dollars on the ground over the course of a couple days and decided to do some drinking. On the second night I was laying in my ditch in a semi-coherent stupor, when it occurred to me that I should take a stroll up to the hill to see if there were any fresh paintings and/or drugs on the ground that required my attention. It's so close to my camp that getting there was no problem despite my inebriated state, and I was pleasantly surprised to find the place entirely deserted.

Now, this was the second weekend of the Austin City Limits festival, so the absence of tourists could mean only one thing: that the police had been there recently and chased everyone away. This possibility intrigued me, for the wise scavenger knows that drugs tend to materialize on the ground in the wake of police activity, particularly in places where art lovers dwell. Nausea not withstanding, and heedless of the danger, I began staggering up the hill.

Upon reaching the zenith it was only a few short minutes before I found what I was looking for. Through the dark of night I saw a crumpled plastic baggie gleaming in the grass. Bending over to pick it up, the smell was so strong that I knew what I had found before even seeing it. Sure enough, it was a good two grams of dank nuggets, lying in wait of a new owner. At moments like this, I'll admit, I'm sometimes dumbfounded. How can I be so consistently lucky? I stood for several minutes staring at the bag, wondering what it all means. (Aliens)

So deep was my astonishment that I almost didn't notice another man, a big metal-head dude with long hair and a beard, climbing up the hill. He was carrying a bicycle, and didn't seem to be familiar with the terrain, ignoring the easy routs and blundering forth oafishly through rocks and shrubs. When he reached the level nearest the top, I said, “Hey man, if you're trying to get up here, there's a path behind that wall right there.”

“It's all good. I'll get up one way or another.” he said. Then, to my surprise, he reared back and flung his bicycle up to the top level next to where I was standing. He then jumped and grabbed hold of the ledge, and struggled for just a second before hoisting himself up. “Haha! Well, that's one way to do it.” I said.

I'm not usually all that social, but partly because I was drunk, and also because I was stoked about my score, I said, “That was pretty impressive, buddy. Hey, I just scored some killer weed. You feel like burning one?”

“Hell yeah.” he said. I could tell he was a smoker, if only because he was there. Who else would come to the hill at that hour of the night? “Do you have a paper?” I asked.

“No, I don't. And I lost my pipe earlier today.”

“It's no problem, I'll just make one out of a beer can.” I picked up one of the cans that lay scattered on the ground and poked holes in all the necessary places using a safety pin I keep affixed to my shirt for this very purpose. “There, that ought to work nicely. I'm Mad Mike, by the way.”

“Dangerous Dave.” he said, reaching out to shake hands.

We sat down on the ledge as I loaded a liberal dose of weed into the pipe, took a toke, and passed it to Dave, who I now realized was just as drunk as I. His conversation was rambling and hard to follow, and, rather than taking a hit and passing back the can, he sat it down beside him as he continued to talk. I can't recall exactly what he was saying, but I remember that I started to get annoyed with him and finally said, “Hey, why don't you hit that pipe?”

“Hey, why don't you just ask me for it instead of telling me what to do?” He reached over to grab the can, but his movements were uncoordinated, and he ended up swatting it off the ledge down to the bushes below.

“Jesus Christ,” I said wearily, “So much for that. Good work dude.”

“You got plenty of weed. Just go get the can and load another bowl.” he slurred, in a tone that veered way too close to command for my liking.

“Nah, I'm not feeling your vibes anyway. I'm out of here.” I said, getting up to leave. Even under the best circumstances I have little tolerance for the foolishness of strangers, less so when I've been drinking.

“Fuck that, you think you're just going to talk shit and walk away? You're not going anywhere.” He stood up, staggered drunkenly, and pulled out a long camping knife, opening it with an audible click. I've had guns pulled on me before, but this was my first knife. Though I did feel fear it was strangely distant, as though I was listening to it on the radio or something. I jumped back and said, “Whoa, chill out now, buddy. Just stay back.”

“You were trying to make me feel stupid, weren't you? With your tone of voice? Like I'm some kind of idiot because I dropped your weed.”

“No, not at all,” I said “I can tell you're a really smart guy. Just chill out man, no need to get violent.” As I was talking to him I walked slowly backwards, occasionally making like I was about to try and run passed him. Each time I did, he would move to block my path as he continued to advance forward with the knife. This was misdirection on my part, however, as my real plan was to make it to the far end of the park and jump down from the wall onto the path below. It's not obvious from the top of the hill that there's a path behind the wall, and I was betting that Dave was only aware of the one I'd told him about, back when we were friends. (The wall I'm referring to can be seen at the top of my cover photo on Facebook.)

“Oh, it's gonna get violent.” said Dave, obviously relishing what he perceived to be his control of the situation. I kept walking backwards towards the wall, apparently cornering myself. If that had been the case, would Dave really have stabbed me? It's hard to say. More likely he would have beaten me while using the knife for intimidation, a cowardly ploy.

He didn't get the chance, though, because as soon as I made it to the wall I jumped down to the concrete ledge below and then four feet down to the narrow, rocky path. I ran down the hill, and was safely at the bottom within seconds.

You may be wondering why he didn't just follow me down the hill and stab me at the bottom. The simple fact is that it was very dark, and the path down is treacherous and steep. Dave would have no trouble climbing down, but it would put him at a tactical disadvantage, as I could be hiding in the shadows below, waiting to bash his head in with a rock.

Which is exactly what I was doing. I lurked in the darkness at the base of the hill and made ready to brain him with a cantaloupe sized stone the moment he set foot into the light. I waited for maybe three minutes, though it seemed much longer. Suddenly, I had a psychedelic epiphany in which I realized that I didn't need to be doing what I was doing. I had options. There was no compelling reason to lurk in the dark, waiting to fight a knife wielding lunatic to the death, and all kinds of compelling reasons to avoid that scenario. Besides, who wants to be remembered as the guy who brought a rock to a knife fight?

I put down my weapon and walked out to the front of the hill, looking up towards the top. Dave was perched on his bike, peering down like the predator he is, “Hey, you're just gonna run away? What kind of pussy shit is that?”

“I don't have a knife. Throw away the knife and I'll whip your ass.”

“It takes balls to talk shit from fifty yards away.”

“It takes balls to pull a blade on an unarmed man? You're just another sick fuck on a power trip. I'm lucky I'm not a girl.”

Just then I heard sirens in the distance. I knew they probably weren't for us, but decided to improvise, “Hey, you hear that, asshole? They're on their way. Just keep talking shit for a few more minutes.”

I saw immediately that my ruse had worked. Dave was visibly panicked, and started riding towards the gate. (There are roads leading away at both the top, and the bottom of the hill.) “You called the police, you fucker? Why don't you just man up and fight me?”

“It's too late for that Dave. Just keep talking.”

Fearing the approach of predators even more dire than himself, Dave fled the scene, cursing me a last time as he rode out of sight. I waited for a few minutes to make sure he wasn't riding around to the base of the hill, then climbed up to retrieve my pipe. With the help of the flashlight app, I was even able to salvage a tiny nug of the weed that Dave had dropped. I went over to a hidden nook, loaded a bowl, and sat smoking for maybe an hour before finally walking home.

It had been an unsettling experience, and I was somewhat rattled. It was freaky how quick things had gotten out of hand. It's true that my reaction to Dave's mistake was not as sensitive as it could have been, but I would argue that he lost any claim to just grievance when he introduced a deadly weapon to the situation. If I had been in his position, feeling slighted by a stranger, I would voice my opinion, possibly in strident fashion, but would only resort to violence if I felt threatened. I can be a dick sometimes, but there are lines I don't cross. It's baffling to me that so many people do.

The story would have ended there, and I might not have bothered to tell it, but for an odd epilogue that occurred yesterday. I was making my morning rounds on the top level of the hill and, looking down, I happened to notice something orange underneath a bush. I reached in, and saw that it was the very same knife that Dave had pulled on me eight days earlier. Even as he was brandishing it at my head, I couldn't help but admire the quality. “I'm about to get stabbed with a really nice knife.” I thought. Dave must have truly believed the police were coming for him, and figured he'd better get rid of the evidence. He threw the knife under that bush, and there it sat unnoticed for some time, lying in wait of a new owner.

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