By Jeff Davis
I had a Halloween party epiphany this year. I told my wife that I’ll go as Captain America and she’ll go as Black Widow. With her beautiful red hair and porcelain skin, all she needs to look the part is the tight black suit. My wife muttered something about wishing she’d never bought me that Captain America outfit, but I love it. The cap is a little tight and the shield is made out of plastic, but I make it look good.
“Welcome to NashVegas!” I say every time we visit my sister-in-law and see the first sign for Nashville.
We turned on Ewing Avenue and when we got to Tennessee Brew House (TBH), I said “Check it out! executive parking spaces!” We were a little early, and we went for the closest parking spot next to the front of the building. The brewery is located on one side of a huge, circular turnaround below an underpass. As we were pulling in I noticed a homeless guy camped out against the wall on the opposite side of the underpass. I thought to myself, “Damn that’s a sad place to be on Halloween.”
There are three levels of pet-friendly, outside seating at TBH. We had a reserved table, thanks to my wife’s niece, Tonie, the Shift Leader. I order up the Hippies & Cowboys IPA to get the party started. Tonie suggested that I might want to move the car to the street or I’ll get penned in. No problem.
I backed out of the executive spot and started going counter-clockwise to park on the street on the other side of the overpass. I pulled out behind a Ryder moving truck and followed it around. As I pulled into the painted lines of my new parking spot, I saw the Ryder truck stop next to the homeless guy. As I’m putting it in park, the Ryder driver got out and ran over to the homeless guy. The Ryder driver started pointing his fingers and yelling at the guy on the ground. Then all of a sudden the Ryder driver reared back and kicked the homeless guy smack dab in the chest.
I thought to myself, “Oh my god, did that really just happen?” The Ryder guy looked around right at me and had to know I saw what happened. He ran and got back into his truck and floored it on the diesel engine and fled the scene.
For a split second I wondered if I should follow the truck and get Ryder guy’s license number. Instead I ran to the guy on the ground to make sure he was okay.
I was freaking out because he had a little bit of blood dripping out of the side of his mouth. I wondered if he swallowed any of it. I remembered the last time I tasted my own blood. Last fall I was trying to break a big stick into fireplace size by banging it on the concrete slab outside the front porch. A fireplace-size piece broke off all right, and it bounced up and into my maw, leaving a short but deep, bloody gash in my lower lip. I remember thinking the blood tasted nasty, terrible.
I said, “Hey man, are you okay? Did that guy just kick you?” He didn’t say anything. He managed to get himself up on his hands and knees, but he just groaned.
“Did you know him?” “Are you okay, man? What’s your name?”
He summoned enough breath to say “John.”
“Hey, John, I’m Jamie” I say. “I’m so sorry that happened. Do you want me to call an ambulance?” He shook his head no.
“Can I bring you something to eat or drink?” One more agonizing groan. “You hang on,” I said.
I said, “Is there anybody I can call for you?”
He shook his head no and groaned again.
I went back to our table and told everybody what I saw happen to John. Tonie got a to-go cup of ice water and a bag of chips for him. When I took it over to him, John looked like he wanted to say thanks, but then just laid his head down on a pillow made out of smashed cardboard boxes and closed his eyes.
I took a good look at his camp. He was covered up with one of those tarps that’s shiny silver on one side and brown on the other. The silver side was up. It looked like he used a spot behind a concrete vertical column for his bathroom. There were lots of empty coffee cups, to-go containers, and Jack Daniels mini-bottles. Lots of plastic bags and cardboard boxes. It looked to me like he’d been there a while.
While we noshed on Baja fish tacos and roasted red pepper hummus, I kept thinking about John. “Should we call an ambulance for him?” I said. “No, you don’t need to get involved,” my wife said.
By the time we ordered our second round of refreshing adult beverages, people had filled in the socially-distanced tables on the other two outdoor seating levels. Almost everybody was in costume, except Tonie. I said, “Hey Tonie, no costume?” She said, “Why would I want to cover up this?” as she waved a hand under her chin and took a little bow. I couldn’t disagree. Tonie had a big, beaming smile and long hair that was beautifully colored with shades of Titans blue, Titans red, and Titans silver.
My wife and I weren’t the only ones wearing Avengers-themed costumes. Another beautiful redhead was dressed as Wanda Maximus. “Zombie Titans Players” was the apparent theme for a party of four college-age looking dudes. Monica, my niece by marriage, was dolled up as Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games, complete with whiteface makeup and claret eyeliner, dress, and frou-frou hat. My sister-in-law, Janie, was dressed as Evil Nurse, with an authentic vintage nurse’s outfit riddled with jagged holes and simulated blood splatter. Tonie’s mom, Allie, in true method acting tradition, dressed as The Ultimate Titans Fan.
Soon the “safe trick-or-treat” buses and SUVs started lining up on the street in front of TBH. The kiddies got out of their cars in turn and paraded on the walkways on the three outdoor seating areas. There were lots of kids dressed as Harry Potter characters. The kids said their trick-or-treats and we rewarded them with clear plastic bags containing two or three packaged candies and treats.
I kept an eye on John. He hadn’t moved.
As the last of the trick-or-treaters made their way through, a new, un-costumed group of people arrived carrying gear to set up inside, where a live band was going to play. That’s when I heard it, the sound of that Ryder truck’s diesel engine.
Monica heard it, too. We watched as the truck followed the same path as the trick-or-treaters’ vehicles, counter-clockwise around the underpass. This time the Ryder truck stopped just past TBH.
I hopped up, and Allie grabbed my arm and said, “Don’t go down there.” I said, “Am I not my brother’s keeper?” In a flash I was down the steps, across the street, and standing guard in front of where John still lay on the ground, still moaning.
“I’m not letting this guy get near John again,” I thought to myself. I thought about the London Wing Chun Academy videos on YouTube. “Don’t cross your arms, don’t look weak!” I told myself. “Stand tall, wide stance, but don’t hold your head too high.” I thought it was funny I was thinking about YouTube videos when I’d put myself in the middle of a stupid and potentially dangerous situation.
As I was bracing myself and trying to breathe, I was hoping that Ryder guy didn’t have a gun. I looked over at John. His eyes were open. I said, “Don’t worry, John! That guy isn’t going to get anywhere near you.”
I saw that the Ryder guy had exited the vehicle and was standing on the sidewalk. He was wearing black-soled shoes, dark blue pants and a light blue shirt. There was a patch or something on his shirt. His ensemble made me think “mechanic.”
Ryder guy was gesticulating and yelling something and I realized that Monica has come down to the sidewalk and was engaging him. He seemed be a foot or two taller than Monica, but she was looking straight up into his eyes and wagging her finger in his face. She pointed over to where I was standing in front of John, still in Captain America costume, but sans mask. Ryder guy screamed something possibly intended for me. Monica got in her last word and wheeled on her red heels and went back to our table.
Then Ryder guy started screaming at me. I couldn’t quite make out what he was saying, but I remember thinking “I’m glad he’s staying put and not coming at me. I’m glad he doesn’t have a gun.”
I looked at him and said as loud as I could, “I don’t have any problem with you.” I held my arms out to my sides with palms up.
The dude screamed some other unintelligible thing, and I said again, “I don’t have any problem with you.” The line I was saving was “You’re not getting anywhere near this guy again.” Fortunately it turned out I didn’t need it.
After I told the guy for the third or fourth time I didn’t have any problem with him, he screamed something that sounded like “lucky you, man.” He hopped in the truck and took off, taking a different road off of the underpass than the one he’d come in on.
I sprinted back to the table, and Monica gave us the scoop. The name stitched on the guy’s shirt was Earl. Monica asked him what his problem was with the homeless guy. She said Earl told her that his brother was killed a few days ago in one of the homeless camps, and he was just asking that guy for information.
Monica asked, “Why’d you kick him?” She said that Earl starting cussing and denying. “We saw you do it” Monica said. That’s when Earl started losing it and directed his attention to me. He knew I was the one who saw him. Maybe that’s why he drove off.
We stuck around to listen to some of the band’s first set before we left. There was no sight or sound of the Ryder truck. As we drove by his little camp, John looked like he was sleeping. We checked into the Downtown Hyatt.
My wife decided to take a shower. I said, “I’m going to go check on John again and take him some hot food this time.” She told me to be careful.
I was still wearing my costume but nobody noticed or cared. It was party time in NashVegas!
When I got to John’s camp, he didn’t answer or groan when I called his name. He didn’t move when I uncovered him. John was gone.
As I was processing this reality and feeling racked with guilt for not taking him to the emergency room myself earlier, I heard a familiar sound. It was the Ryder truck. It was making the circle around the underpass.
In a moment that felt like an eternity, I debated what to do. Run and hide? Stand and fight?
I clutched the plastic shield in my right hand and laid down under the tarp, right next to John. My theory was that by taking John’s place under the tarp I could surprise old Earl.
I thought to myself, “What if I get John’s blood on my costume?” Then a voice in my head said, “A maniac named Earl is coming to kill you, and you’re being spooned by a dead guy.” Funny the things you think about when you’re in an actual life or death situation.
The truck stopped right where it had earlier when Earl attacked John the first time. It took a while, but he finally got out of the truck and I could see him coming through a hole in the tarp. Earl kept looking around as if he didn’t want to be seen twice in one day literally kicking a man while he’s down.
With each step Earl took, I took a deep breath, pursed my lips, and gently exhaled, focusing on my plan and staying in the moment. My heart was racing. “This is stupid” I thought. “What if he has a gun? I have a plastic shield.”
When he got within three feet or so, I recognized what looked like a field goal kicker’s approach. I realized that my head was playing the part of the football.
Earl took one big, hard step with his left leg and lunged forward on the right. He took one harder step with the left leg and his right leg wound up behind him like he was attempting a 67-yard field goal.
I thought about how big this dude was. How he towered over Monica.
As he kicked toward what he thought was John’s head under the tarp, I pushed myself up on the right side, raised my left elbow up for cover, and swung the shield latched to my right wrist as hard as I could at Earl’s right foot. It worked! I blocked the kick! I tried to follow-up with a hard punch to the knee or groin, but Earl did a 180-degree turn to keep from falling.
“That’s enough, Earl!” I screamed as loud as I could as I stood up. “You killed this guy, for crying out loud!”
I don’t remember if he said anything like “You’re next,” but he came at me swinging. I used the plastic shield to block most of his swings, but one of his looping haymakers clipped me in the left temple. For a moment I saw lights that reminded me of a starship going to warp speed and I wobbled. As the bright light faded, I realized that Earl was holding me around the neck with his left arm and was about to start beating me with his right fist.
My mind raced decades ago to when I was in Army basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I remembered the sergeant who taught hand-to-hand combat say, “If you run out of ammo, use your rife as a weapon. If you lose your rifle, pick up a Big Freaking Rock (BFR). If you get into hand-to-hand battle with the enemy and you’re losing, remember this: It only takes eight pounds of pressure to remove a man’s ear from his head.”
I tucked my chin down and went for it. I got my right hand on Earl’s left ear and squeezed and pulled down and away as hard as I could. I could feel and hear the connective tissues ripping. It popped as it came off and there was blood spraying on my hand. I held on tightly to the ear.
Earl let go of me and was holding one hand to the hole where his ear was and his other arm was winding up for another whack upside my head. I inadvertently touched my right hand to my lips and tasted Earl’s blood. In that moment, time stood still. It occurred to me that Earl’s blood didn’t taste terrible or horrible. It was like nothing I’d ever tasted before. I felt a rush, a buzz like I’d just drunk a thousand cups of coffee.
I screamed “Enough already!” and with the plastic shield held over my head, I ducked and lunged as hard as I could shield-first into Earl’s waist. I dug in with my legs, pushing and driving like an inside guard making a hole for a quarterback sneak and the winning touchdown.
Earl swung at my head but hit the shield. I gave him one more big shove, and he tripped over John’s body. When he landed, there was a huge thud as Earl’s gigantic back and shoulders hit the ground. Then there was a loud pop as his head hit the pavement. I was standing there, still holding the plastic Captain America shield in front of my face, when Earl made a sound that reminded me of what you hear when a dolphin or a whale surfaces to exhale.
I got back to the hotel and my wife asked how it went. I said, “John was pretty out of it, but I think he appreciated the food.” She went to sleep, and I took a shower.
ONE YEAR LATER
“Welcome to NashVegas!” My wife reminded me I need some new material. I said, “Hey I got a new costume.” She said, “I still don’t know who the hell Geralt of Rivia is.”
As we took the last exit before we get to my sister-in-law’s house, my mind wandered to last Halloween. I wondered what the people thought when they found Earl’s body next to John’s. Then I thought about what a good job I’d done preserving Earl’s ear.
I wondered if anybody would be sleeping in John’s spot in that underpass this year. I wondered if I’d run into another bully. I wondered what that guy’s blood will taste like.
Jeff Davis is an enterprise risk manager for a financial institution. He wrote for The Cobb Group and TechRepublic.com. Find out more from Jeff on Facebook.