When I was in High School, I was cruising around town with a group of Deaf friends in my car, looking for a good time. And we ended up at a fast food drive-thru. Because it was the good ol’ days when we thought GMO stood for something like General Manager Operations. And because that was how we had fun at night in suburbia in the 1990s.
(If you’re chortling right now, my iGen students, at the strange thought of how young ‘uns spent time back then, judge not lest ye click on this link.)
While waiting to order burgers and fries, we spotted a dude in his mid-20s walking a dog outside. He had greased up, slicked back hair and was wearing an off-white white shirt, tan Dickies pants, and flip-flops.
(How I remember inane stuff like the hairdo and clothes of a random stranger but forget where I put the car keys five minutes ago is beyond my wife.)
“Oh, what a cute pit bull,” my friend in the front seat exclaimed in delight. The rest of us in the car nodded in enthusiastic agreement, the particular sort of groupthink at which high schoolers have a prodigious talent.
Before we knew it, though, that guy started punching and kicking that pit bull. And he wouldn’t stop.
“Should we do something?” that friend in the front seat, who interestingly enough became a veterinary technician later in life, cried out.
It was not a question. I was in complete assent that it was my sacred responsibility to put an immediate end to the mindless, heartless, and gutless cruelty. And I was playing high school football at the time and, you know, had imagined myself as brave, valiant, heroic, etc.
So, I honked thrice, wagged my finger a la Dikembe Mutombo, and told him to stop.
Suffice it to say, the tough-looking dude was pissed off that a pimple-faced 16-year-old was telling him what to do. He responded by acting, well, even tougher. He sauntered his way over in his flip-flops with an angry mouthful of swear words that looked something like “Fuck you, motherfucker” on a continuous loop. (I was never a good lip-reader like Coach Bob Colbert.)
Before I knew it, he was standing right next to me by the driver’s side window, asking me to roll it down, with his other hand fumbling behind his back, acting as if he had something inside his tan Dickies to brandish.
It wasn’t cojones he was suggesting.
And I was scared. OK, I was terrified. I may have played a violent sport in High School, but there’s a good reason why I particularly enjoyed wearing that red jersey in practice.
My fingers immediately shot to my ears as I frantically moved my head to the left, then right, then left, then right again, repeating for effect, while mouthing, to the best of my limited ability, that “I’m deaf!”
Deaf! DEAF! D-E-A-F!
He eventually understood, slowly realizing the futility of asking teenagers, even pimple-faced motherfuckers straying out of their lane, to fight in spoken English if they could not converse in spoken English. He shook his head in disappointment and walked off with that adorable but frightened pooch.
We then drove away with our burgers and fries several minutes later.
Still to this day, twenty years later, that veterinary technician friend brings up what happened at every opportunity.
Never will I forget that night either.