I would like to preface this story by noting that I didn’t actually think the frat bros were dangerous, and anyway I couldn’t have beaten two of them up with a stick, even if it was approximately quarterstaff-sized.
See, the other day, by my careful count some 43 million days into quarantine, I went for a sunset stroll around the neighborhood. I still had enough daylight to cover plenty of distance, so I took myself up the hill to the abandoned amphitheater called the Glade, a place that has been claimed by vines and deer. I brought my phone, a key, and a healthy dose of unjustified confidence.
I didn’t have any particular objective, so I took my sweet time going up the hill and nodded to joggers on the other side of the street. As is my custom, I picked the most difficult available path to get to the amphitheater, clambering over some kind of concrete drainage structure and machete-ing through the woods with my house key until I arrived “backstage”. As I hoisted myself onto the low stone wall at the back of the stage, I was pondering the multitude of exciting ways I could prepare my remaining bag of frozen vegetables when I saw a flash of T-shirt in the corner of my eye. I looked up to see what it was and froze.
At the other end of the amphitheater, maybe 50 yards away – maybe 200. I’m not good with estimates – two of them were climbing into the sound booth. We looked at each other the way you look at an unexpected wild animal. Nobody moved. Then I pretended not to have seen them and made a show of intently examining the trees to my left.
I don’t know how long I sat on the stone wall, but it wasn’t quite long enough to successfully pretend nonchalance. I could see the boys – men? Everyone my age seems like a child. One wore his hat backwards. Guys? Bros? – I could see the bros clowning around in the sound booth. The hatless one wore a neon pink shirt that told me he wasn’t afraid of anything, or at least wanted people to think so. With this in mind, I checked my phone (I didn’t have a watch to conspicuously check) and rolled off the wall to make my exit.
There was no reason to be afraid of the bros, apart from that they were bros and they were there. I kept up my nonchalant charade as I strolled down the gravel path. What a lovely day for a stroll. So many interesting things around me. Why, what’s this over here? A large fallen branch? How fun! Perhaps I’ll pick it up and play with it for a while.
I feel I should state here that, again, I did not seriously think I would take on the bros with this branch. Nor did I really believe the few weeks of quarterstaff training I’d had as part of my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree would translate to mastery with this termite-ridden stick. And of course, I didn’t actually suppose I would need to defend myself from the bros, whose gravel-crunching footsteps were still a good distance behind me – hundreds of feet, or maybe fifty. Well, it felt like ten. Who can say?
I paraded my branch all the way down the path, taking care to make a couple of well-placed side stops to look with conspicuous fascination at several identical trees. Why was I doing this? I’ll tell you exactly why: I didn’t want them to think they had chased me away. I was leaving on my merry way because I wanted to, not because I was afraid. And why didn’t I want them to know I was afraid? I thought that if they could tell, then I really would be. When you see a bear at a distance, you are not supposed to run. You are supposed to sing a song and walk calmly away.
The thing was, I didn’t know anything about these bros, Hat Boy and Pink Shirt. I bet they were perfectly nice. I bet they were wonderful people who volunteered at animal shelters and hung out in the woods for some quality bro time. I bet if I had gone up and introduced myself, we would have hit it off right away and become the very best of friends, bonding over our shared love of nature. I hoped, even as I tried to slow my footsteps to an unhurried-seeming pace, that all of that was true. But I didn’t know.
An hour later – well, maybe three minutes – I arrived at the end of the gravel path, where it met the road. I couldn’t hear the footsteps behind me anymore. Nonetheless, it was time to go. I returned my stick to its home on the ground – my pretend weapon against an imaginary foe – and walked very calmly home.