While cable television, Netflix and YouTube are all very well and good, sometimes the most compelling drama plays itself out in the alley next to my house. A very popular pedestrian throughway, it terminates a few blocks west of my property where it runs into a brick wall that is attached to a popular national pharmacy chain. Among the procession of shoppers, there are recurring characters that frequently shuffle by, like a gentleman who puffs on a cigarette with his right hand while carrying a case of Busch beer in his left. By my estimation, this gentleman regularly “heads for the mountains” every couple of days or so. Undistracted by the activities of the neighborhood, his stare is always fixed at a point far in the distance, like he’s sizing up some far away summit.
One day, from my kitchen window, I see a man in the back alley engaged in a heated exchange with a stop sign. Struggling to keep his feet underneath his swaying torso, the man is pointing at the sign and threatening to violently disassemble it. This particular stop sign normally minds its own business, so it is unclear why the man has such a beef with it. I’m busy working on the dishes and allow my attention to wander away from the tense standoff for a brief moment. When I again look up, it seems that in the interim the stop sign has performed some lightning-fast Karate move, leaving the belligerent fellow laying face down in a heap in the alley.
One drawback to viewing this live drama is that you cannot pause and rewind, so I’ll never know how that sign bully was brought to his knees by this normally docile stop sign. Anyway, the man lay there incapacitated and munching on gravel for quite some time. Still, from that unflattering position, he continued to curse loudly and issue violent threats. However, it appeared his arms had stopped working, because he was unable to push himself up off the ground and back onto his feet. After the thrashing he had just taken, I began to wonder whether he was in need of medical attention.
Just then, a police cruiser turned into the alley and slowly crept up on the scene. By now, three cars had driven around the dude without diverting his attention from the finer details of the asphalt on which his face now rested, but let a police car creep into the vicinity and old boy was on his feet faster than you can say “lickety-split.” The amount of time it took for this guy to go from crumpled heap to bolt upright could be measured in nanoseconds.
There must remain in modern man some primitive holdover operating independent of our five senses that can intuitively perceive a threat and generate an instantaneous physical reaction. Where it once may have perceived wild animals or enemy tribesmen, it now seems to zero in on law enforcement or killer clowns. Whatever fight or flight evolutionary forces got this guy on his feet, they were also now enabling the man, who until moments earlier was arguing with signs and lampposts, to communicate coherently enough with law enforcement that they allowed him to go on his merry way.
The officers grilled him for quite some time and undoubtedly concluded that he was drunk as hell. But since he wasn’t driving and he seemed more or less capable of walking, if not in a straight line in the general direction of his home, and since whatever grievance he had with the stop sign seemed to have resolved itself, the officers let him totter out of the alley a free man.
Much respect, “dude in the alley,’” you may never win an Oscar or even a Daytime Emmy, but, when it mattered, you gave the performance of a lifetime.