Fear for the World: A Drop in the Bucket

WARNING: EXPLICIT

the bucket fresno state

I had one of those moments this week. A moment where I snapped. On a total stranger.

This rarely happens to me. (Notice how I say happens to me? This shifts the blame off of myself and on to some unknown yet inferred entity.) I think I may have verbally snapped on, maybe, three strangers in my whole life. And I’m pretty old, so that’s not bad.  One time I know my verbal assault was aimed at a woman abusing her child in the middle of the grocery store. It was all too much under those fluorescent lights; I couldn’t stop myself.

But this time, I was in The Bucket–a little spot at Fresno State that serves food and beer. It’s right in the middle of campus, and is–surprisingly–a pretty good space to study if you are also hungry, because they have great fries. And sometimes a woman just needs to eat some fries on a cold day after a sleepless night with a night of study and class facing her.

I like the little tables, the near abundance of electrical outlets, and the steady hum of noise that is a cacophony of students talking, food order numbers being called out, and bad piped in pop music; it all blends together to make a sort of–if not white–perhaps a beige noise. I have been studying (and eating fries) there for years.

On this day I had a lovely window seat and a stack of essays to critique. Homework is often about creating an environment that you want to be in, so you’re less likely to bail. I’ve gotten pretty good at this after all these semesters. I’d only been sitting there a few minutes when a young man approached my table. He was a tallish, thinnish Caucasian guy with small plugs in his ears and a flyer in his hand.

“Excuse me, may I bother you a moment?” he asked.

I put my pencil down and looked at him. He was swaying a little and smelled pretty strongly of beer. Before I could answer him he held the flyer in front of me and said something about his fraternity and then asked if I eat Panda Express, because–and this part is a little fuzzy, because to be honest I had sort of stopped listening very carefully at this point, having zero desire to eat at Panda Express. But I know people who love that place so I smiled at him and said, “I’ll give it to someone who will use it. Thanks.”

He thanked me, went back to his table–which was just one table away from mine–and I went back to my essays. A couple of guys joined the guy with the plugs a few minutes later, and the noise level began to increase, which doesn’t bother me because I always have my earphones with me as backup. I was digging through my bag looking for them when my daughter sent me a text saying she’s on break at work, do I have time to talk? I decided I would relocate my studying to the library after my conversation with my daughter–walk a bit, breathe the outside air first.

So I was packing up my laptop and whatnot, not wearing my earphones, when the following conversation went down, very loudly, at a table maybe three feet to my left. The guy with the plugs was talking about some crew he had worked on over the summer. One of the guys asked if there were any women on the crew.

FYI: THIS IS WHERE IT GETS ICKY

“Hell yeah, we had ’em. And I mean that. {laughs} We really had em.”

{all the guys laugh}

“But yeah I mean the girls never made it longer than, like, three months. That was long enough to fuck ’em, though.”

{only the guy with the plugs laughs}

“We loved it when they were there, though. {laughs} Because they have pussies and titties. {laughs really loud} But that’s all they were good for.”

A lot of things in life are all about timing. At this particular moment I had just thrown my messenger bag over my coat, with all my books and notebooks tucked away; nothing was left on the desk but the flyer inviting me to support this guy’s fraternity. I picked it up, too hard, and walked over to the table where the guy with the plugs was sitting, leaned back in his chair, just those two back legs supporting all of his weight. I flashed on the sight of him falling straight backwards after I knocked those legs out from under his misogynistic ass. But I don’t really do that sort of thing. I never have. Too cowardly, I guess. I really don’t want to get hurt, so the fear of physical retaliation likely plays into it. I’m a small woman and I don’t know how to fight at all. I did kick some major ass in Indian Leg Wrestling once, but I think that was just about hip momentum, which I think is not all that helpful in street fighting.Or bar fighting, which technically applies here. Anyway, I’d probably feel so crappy later about doing it that it wouldn’t be worth that one glorious moment when the tile floor shut his mouth up but good.

What I did instead was slap his flyer down on the table in front of him and say, “Hey. Next time you want to raise money for your fraternity, you might wanna think about how you are talking about women.”

I know. It’s weak. But the element of surprise worked in my favor. All of the guys sort of froze and just looked at me. The guy with the plugs held his arms out wide, which almost caused his chair to tip back and my dream to come true all on its own. He was pretty drunk.

“Awwww maaaaan,” he bellowed out as his chair slammed down. “What the fuck?”

I was walking towards the door by this time. People were looking over at the guys, and at me. The guy with the plugs yelled out, “Yeah? So what I’m talking about women? What about it, huh? What about it?”

I whirled around to yell back at him: I’LL TELL YOU WHAT ABOUT IT –THE WAY YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT WOMEN IS HATEFUL AND DAMAGING AND IT’S HORRIFYING THAT YOU ARE ON THIS CAMPUS AND YOU ARE A STUDENT AND THAT YOU ARE A HUMAN BEING AND YOUR BRAIN STILL WORKS THIS WAY BECAUSE WE SHARE THE PLANET AND EVEN THIS INSTITUTION AND I DON’T WANT TO BELIEVE THAT PEOPLE WHO THINK LIKE THIS ARE JUST WALKING AROUND IN MY WORLD.

I didn’t say any of that, though. I just stood there for a moment and then turned and walked out. All of a sudden I saw myself standing in The Bucket confronting this young guy, a kid really, and I looked a little silly, honestly.I just wanted the moment to be over.

When I pulled out my phone to return my daughter’s call, my hands were shaking.  I sat in the sun and told her what had just happened. “Good for you, Mama,” she said.

But it wasn’t good for me. Because I don’t like the way that encounter made me feel. Lashing out isn’t nearly as fun as it ought to be, in my opinion. And sometimes I think I would just enjoy walloping someone, and I wonder what that says about me.

The library turned out to be a much better place to study that day. I found a quiet room with no one around and lost myself in reading–in ideas and words and thoughts. That night after class, when the campus was cold and nearly empty, with a mist settling around the lights of the library, I passed by The Bucket. I felt the anger start to rise up in me again as I remembered the guy’s words, and my brain went into hyperdrive as I imagined him raising a daughter someday or doing whatever he’s here attending college to learn how to do out there in the world and I realized my anger just comes from fear: fear for the world, and all of us who are in it together.

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