Saturday I was at the tutoring center with the kids doing “the walk” down Skid Row.
“The walk” is when the tutors walk down San Pedro from 7th to 5th and pick up the kids at the Union Rescue Mission.
Normally the walk is very fine and safe, although you do see some wild stuff.
One time on the walk back, outside the Mission was an ambulance flashing their lights, people all in the streets, shouting… and there’s a man standing with his whole face and neck drenched in blood. The kids are trying to get closer, “Whoa, cool…”
One time, there were two guys beefing, yelling this and that at each other. The specifics are irrelevant. The essentials were there though, each one was upset and a fight was about to happen. One guy starts yelling, “You wanna go!? You wanna go”, and pulls a metal sword out of his pants. It was a katana, the kind that sits in the closet of a 15 year old nerd who thought THAT’S what he needs in his life. And, honest to God, the guy getting yelled at, with the sword pointing at his chest, gets that crazy, Denzel, calm before the storm type look, and he’s like, “Oh it’s like that? That’s how it’s gonna be? Okay. Okay… well I GOT A SWORD TOO”, and he pulls out a similar looking sword—AND THEY HAVE A SWORD FIGHT!! And the kids are all like, “Whoa, cool”, and it’s one of those moments as an adult where you want to stay and watch because it is cool, but you have to be “responsible”, and “get them to safety” from the sword fight.
This past weekend was one of the weirdest moments I’ve ever experienced on the walk though. While walking from the Mission to the tutoring center, I was taking the rear of the line, making sure no kids were behind me, and there’s a small group of girls at the back ages 6 to 12. We’re talking about going to see Black Panther later in the day when I notice rapid movement in my periphery. A homeless woman runs a Log-curve right at me, gets two inches from my face, and says, “I swear to god, you touch one of them girls, I will end you”, spittle comes off her lip. She’s pointing fiercely at me without touching me. The rage pours from her eyes and mouth, “I will end you”.
I said, “Ma’am, I would never harm them, and I will make sure no harm comes to them”. She held her finger up at me for a beat, the fire in her eyes dying. She stormed off as fast as she came.
This one girl, hiding in her hoodie, pulls her head out like a turtle, “Oooookay”.
“What’d she say to you Mr. Peter”, a girl in pink asks.
I had to think quick and careful since I knew the woman was most likely referring to sexual assault and didn’t feel the need to go down that road as a volunteer tutor, “She was just making sure your safety came first”, I said.
“You weren’t scared”, asks Hoodie.
“No, I’ve been in intense situations before”.
“Like what”, asks Pink.
“Well, I’ve had a gun in my back. I was in a store while it was being robbed. And I had a man try and choke me out when I stopped him from attacking a woman”.
A girl, with her hair in two poofs, goes, “I can’t believe you didn’t knock her out”.
“I should have knocked her out”?
“She got all up in your face like that. I didn’t know what she was doing, I would have hit her”, says Two Poofs.
“What good would that have done”?
“I don’t know”.
“Isn’t what just happened the best possible outcome? No one got hurt. Everyone is safe. Nothing mean was said…”
“But she disrespected you”, says Hoodie.
“She didn’t disrespect me. There’s something about my look, or the image of me with you kids that lit something inside her which lead to her compulsion to come and say that to me. She wasn’t angry at me specifically, she was angry at something in her past or in her mind and she was throwing her anger on to me”.
“I don’t know. I still think I’d have hit her”, Two Poofs says.
“Okay, let’s say I hit her. She would 100% begin attacking me back. Now we’re in a fight. One of us is bound to get hurt, they’d never have me back as a tutor, and worst of all, one of you might get hurt in the process. Aggression when met with aggression leads to aggression. Only when anger is met with a calm and controlled demeanor is when everyone wins. When someone jumps up to 10, you have to drop down to 10 to create the balance, and bring it back to zero. It’s really just math. The other scenario, where I hit her, nobody wins”, by this point we’re near the tutoring center’s door. “See? We’re already here, talking about what happened, when we could have been back there”, they look back, “fighting for no reason. We’re instead here”, I point my feet at the ground, “about to eat cereal. I say that was the best outcome”.
I hold the door open for them and think. I pause them right before I let them in, “In fact, my only regret is that I didn’t refer to her as ‘Miss’. Women her age hate being called ‘Ma’am’”.