I’m not a superhero. I don’t take action before second guessing that action. Then I third guess it, and fourth guess it, in case I missed something. I’m an underdog and I’ve been one all my life. Maybe that fact isn’t always clear to others, but it’s always been clear to me, and that’s what counts.
I come from a culture of underdogs; all of us barking, and none of us biting. So much so, it’s become a cultural habit. We are all underdogs. Even the people with the guns and the badges and the ones with really platinum plated checkbooks, are underdogs. None of us can stand up to the myth of the true American. We can’t all have celebrity good looks, master of the universe business acumen and NBA prowess. We all fall short of the goals our culture has set for us.
In order for us to be Americans, we have to continuously fall short of the standard by which Americans are measured. It’s the cross we all bear, quietly; hoping nobody sees it in us, but knowing that they do. America is a nation of superheroes, inhabited by underdogs.
That’s what makes it tough for us to stand up. We have all been convinced that there will always be somebody more qualified to stand up, than us. We have all been convinced that the superheroes who run our country have got it all figured out. There’s no need for us to step up and there is no point. How can we underdogs face down the superheroes?
Last Monday, I coasted my bike up to the couple, arguing behind the bar. I wasn’t thinking about superheroes and underdogs. All I knew was that I was watching a large man assaulting a smaller woman. As I approached them, I hoped that I wasn’t making a mistake.
He was dressed in a hoody and jeans. She had long, black hair and pale skin. Her red scarf looked a lot like the Occupy bandanna that I like to wear. He had her backed into a corner behind the bar.
It felt wrong, invading their space. I’m sure it was a personal matter, and they didn’t have the skills to solve it. I circled in close enough so that they knew I was there, and then out toward the people who had gathered for the show.
Was I making a mistake? I looked for clues in the crowd. Why weren’t any of them intervening. Did they know something I didn’t?
As I circled and pondered, she darted out of the corner and around toward the front of the bar. He chased her and grabbed her by the arm. I pedaled to keep up. As I rolled past them, he let her arm go. “Stop backing away from me,” he told her, as she backed away from him.
I stopped my bike and set my foot on the ground. “She’s backing away because she feels threatened,” I said. If I had to defend myself, I realized, I would have to do it while straddling my bike.
The angry guy turned to me and barked, “I’ll threaten you!” For the moment, he forgot about her. “What would you do if your girlfriend told you she was going to fuck some other guy? Said she was going to get in his car…” I had his attention, and I really didn’t want it. She stood against the wall and watched us. “So why don’t you butt the fuck out?” he yelled at me.
That was all the energy he had for me. He turned back to her. “I can’t,” I answered, “because you’re threatening a woman.”
He was shorter than me, and rounder and angry. He took a step toward me with his hand in his pocket. He flipped his butterfly knife out and around, and it occurred to me: ‘oh yeah, I could get stabbed too.’
Isn’t that how it always is for us underdogs? He had a knife, and all I had were words and good intentions. That’s us, always outgunned; always facing superior force. As I watched him flip out his knife, and as I saw it coming toward me, I hadn’t realized yet, that he was an underdog too.