“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”
A multi-part series…
Do you believe in ley lines?
However I can observe that, for whatever reason, some places have proven to be “stickier” for me than others. When I say sticky, I mean that these places have a statistically abberrant presence in my life. They stick to me, or I stick to them, I don’t know which… In some cases the reasons for this are quite obvious, but in others the reasons remain a mystery. I have a few places like this. (If Google maps wasn’t such an absolute piece of shit, and I hadn’t spent the past hour trying to create something to share with you, well, then I’d share all of them with you… as it is, you will have to settle for live.com and just one place…)
That one place is, nearly exactly, right here. I’ve had 5 memorable experiences within streaking distance of this spot so far in my life. 3 of those events are the basis for stories which I tell now, and which I will likely be telling the day before I die. These stories are, in chronological order, “The Kegger on the Freeway”, “Strip Penny”, “Stranded”, “The Frogmen”, and “The Giant Dude with the Rake”. (I don’t tell “Kegger” and “Stranded” often because they aren’t really in the same class as the others. Pretty normal high school OMFGLOL.)
All of these stories – in fact nearly all of my stories – have particulars that I include or exclude, depending on the audience, to make them “age appropriate”, to protect people who haven’t given me permission to talk about their roles, or to try to keep from giving anyone any smart ideas. So if you know any of these stories, you may notice some slight changes or omissions, that’s why: The interwebz are forever.
This is the story of “Giant Dude with the Rake”.
It was a pleasant evening, about 10 PM, sometime in 2000 or 2001. I was driving from Broadmoor, out the back gate and heading to the Big White House on Capitol Hill. As I approached the intersection of Foster Island and Lake Washington, my internal alarm bells started going off. There was a small line of cars in front of me, and they didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Not the right time for a traffic jam… Beyond them, there seemed to be cars moving very slowly along Lake Washington Blvd. Hmmm. I thought “Accident?”, but there were no flashing lights, no aid cars, no cops.
Back up a little bit: I lean towards the “get involved” side of the engagement continuum. Okay, not just lean, kind of veer. I do like to be a hero, but I also know that there’s nothing more annoying than heroes looking for problems to solve. As it happens, at this exact time in my life I was trying to push the needle on my knight-in-shining-armor gauge more towards the “normal people” end of the spectrum. I was actively working on not stepping in…
Back up even more: I have lots of weird but, to me at least, interesting training and real world experience. I was involved with the Seattle chapter of Q-Patrol in the early 90’s, first as a recruit and later as a trainer. It was there that I learned, in some very hard-core and indispensable training as well as on patrol, how to be a good witness. I know what details to look for, to note when they happened sequentially as well as in relation to an unfolding series of events, so that I can recount them for anyone, including the police or in court.
In Q-Patrol we frequently role-played dozens, probably hundreds, of scenarios. A few people would be “mutants” (our code word for all bad guys), some victims, others just participants. The rest was patrol. Mutants would come up with a real-world based scenario together, something we’d seen in real life, and then they’d start acting it out. If it was a guy beating up his girlfriend, that’s what the mutant role players would start to do. There would be screaming, hair pulling, slapping. Bloody lips, noses, bruises, scratches, scrapes, all par for the course.
This sometimes (but not always) got very physical. It was always extremely intense. The goal was to make it so real that when someone vastly bigger than you gets in your face and says “fuck you, you fucking faggot”, you’ve done that before and you neither punch the guy nor do you start to cry.
This training is called “Force on Force” training now (to be clear, we don’t think we invented it!) and if you want to be good at dealing with real-world problems, I strongly suggest you find a way to do it. Seeing Q-Patrol train this way is what got me interesed in the first place – I ran into them training in Volunteer Park, and I was soon hooked.
Once we were training in Volunteer Park and a rookie cop, fresh out of the military with his hair still cut very short, drove up on the grass and drew on us because he thought he was interrupting a real gay bashing. About a dozen cop cars and lots of talking later, I heard him say “I just got out of the Marine Corps, and we never trained that hard! You guys are crazy!”
In addition to Q-Patrol, at that point in my life I’d studied, in some cases seriously, in others less so, a bunch of martial arts, including, but not limited to, fencing, medieval sword fighting and weapons, at least 3 flavors of jits (some seminars, some belted) and Cuong Nhu. I’ve done a bunch more stuff since rake-night, including adding guns to my repetoire and airsoft-based Force On Force (FoFAST).
Back to the Arboretum! (I think my old writing teacher Rick Mar would call that “foreshadowing”.) My immediate instinct, sitting in the car, stopped, a length or so behind this small traffic jam, was “something weird is going on, I should jump out and help!”, but I caught that before I acted on it. Remember, I was trying to be Less Involved.
To the right of the traffic and headlights and concentrated energy of “something” was the shoulder, and so I decided to pull into the shoulder, skirt the of backed up cars, to skip whatever was going on… to just head home. So I pulled over, and slowly drove in the shoulder, heading for the Montlake cut. As I pulled through, to my right there were about a half dozen people on the grass, at least one on a cel-phone, others talking to each other or just staring. (For you young whelps, this was before cel-phones had cameras. I wish someone had video running, it would have been really fun to watch later!) They were all staring, looking or pointing into the center of the traffic conflagration.
As I drove past them I could now see what they were looking at. I have a vivid memory of it, but I also know that we sometimes make terrible witnesses. On the flip side, I’ve actually studied being a good witness, and I’m kinda OCD about recording things in my head. Here’s what I vividly remember from that moment, as seen through my car window and then, as I got back onto the road driving away very slowly, out of the rearview mirror:
A man, very large. Probably 6 foot 5, 300 pounds. He was wearing a tank top or a t-shirt and shorts. Maybe flip flops on his feet? I want to say his shorts were red, but I’m not sure. He was holding a large landscaping rake, the kind that only the pros seem to have. The pic isn’t exactly right, but close.
He alternated holding onto the rake like a bat or a wand (like a conductor). Like a bat, he would pound on the hood of a stopped car he was nearly on top of, and as a conductor he’d wave traffic along past the stopped car with the rake. The ushering part was very poetic, actually, nearly graceful, even, especially as it was contrasted with the pounding. He had one leg braced against the stopped car, as if he was holding it back. He would pound on the car, then usher cars past with the rake, then maybe take a swing at one of the passing cars, then hit the stopped car again.
Okay, so. As I am occasionally prone to holler in paintball: “wudda we got?”
- Giant guy pounding on cars with a lansdcaper’s rake.
- Stopped car, which presumably could drive over him at any time, but which hasn’t yet.
- People watching, at least one of whom has a cel phone, presumably having called the cops.
- Lots of cars.
- No sign of cops.
I drove on. End of story! Ha ha ha.
Yeah right… I made it a little ways down the road, then I stopped and turned around. (It was easier to turn back then – they keep making it harder and harder to whip a youee around there.)
The stopped car was what bugged me – everything else was pretty much okay. No one was in visible jeopardy, they were just driving away, and the bystanders were young and fit looking and far enough away to run from the dude, and really, they chose to stop and watch… It did piss me off that they seemed so willing to look, but not do. That bothered me.
But that car? Why was it stopped? Maybe it was broken down? So I drove back and pulled over on the shoulder of the road beside the mutant with the rake and the stopped car. I was maybe about 30 or 40 feet away now.
I could now see the driver of the car, she was a little old lady, I swear to god, white hair, blue rinse, the works. Aunt May.
Olay, so, this guy is Aunt May’s grandson, and he’s throwing a tantrum. That would make sense and explain why she didn’t just run him over. My window was already rolled down, so I kind of leaned out and yelled to her, and she rolled down her window.
Me: “Do you know this guy?” (Smash, rake hits car.)
Aunt May: “NOOO! HELP ME! HE’S GOING TO KILL ME!!!!!!!!!”
Okay, so. Really, up to this point, I was totally rational about what I was doing. If she’d said “he’s my grandson!” I might have just been, okay, your family, you get to solve the problem. One thing Q-Patrol had drilled into my head is that you don’t get involved in family disputes if you can possibly avoid it.
Really, I swear, that’s what I was intending. This was a new me, a no-lycra-wearing normal guy, driving home.
I came up with a rule for what happened in this moment. It’s Peter Biddle’s “little old lady clause”. Most of us have things inside us that can cause us to do something that we wouldn’t otherwise do, events or circumstances that significantly alter our behaviors. Taking a look at the chart from the last “Thing” post, these things are manipulations which push us away from “do nothing” towards “do something”.
In this case, it wasn’t just the little old lady.
- I have a predispostion to heroic action and even specific training for it.
- In the immediate moment, I had bystanders standing around doing nothing (WTF????)
- a crazy mutant bad guy that is so bizarre he wouldn’t be believable in anything but real life
- a little old white haired lady pleading for her life.
Yeah, I was pretty much fucked. I was going to Do Something. <sigh> I can’t remember my own circumstance of 911 and the cops. Maybe I called them, maybe my batt was dead (that would be nothing new!) or maybe I forgot my cel? Don’t know. Help other than me didn’t seem to be immediately forthcoming, and in the “means, oppty, motive” equation, he:
- clearly had the means (the dude could have torn her in half with his bare hands)
- oppty, well, yeah, she’s just sitting there like 10 feet from him
- motivation? No clue, but clearly whatever it is, it’s allowing him past the general inhibitions that keep the rest of us from beating on cars with a rake.
- make sure that if you die, they can find your ID. So, out comes the wallet, it goes into the passenger seat.
- Then you want to make sure you can drive away later if you aren’t dead or in an ambulance, so the car keys go on the dash board.
- Keep the window rolled down so you don’t wind up locked out of your own car when it’s all done
- turn off the headlights so your battery doesn’t die.
- Empty your pockets of everything: change, money, pet frog, 3 loose bolts, stray busines cards from Japanese executives… the usual stuff you are carrying in your pockets.
You’ll note I didn’t have a knife, pepper spray, nor a gun. I did carry a knife back then but I started losing them to airport security a lot (they had savvied onto all my tricks!) and so there would be times I didn’t have them. Very annoying. Pepper spray and guns I didn’t ever have with me back then, that was when I was just a latent gun nut. Pepper spray might have been really nice.
Get out of the car. Put your hands up in front of you, palms outward, in a highly defensible, but also non-threatening manner, arms bent, appearing relaxed but alert. Smile confidently!
Start walking slowly. Say, and in your Voice of Command Authority: “HEY! WHAT’S GOING ON!” You do this to get his attention, to divert him from everything else. You want to see his eyes, to see if you can talk him out of this activity. This is something that most martial arts and self defense training miss – sometimes you can talk your way out of it. In fact, most times you can.
Your whole attitude is now that you two are having a relationship (whether he likes it or not) and in this relationship, it simply isn’t acceptable to be hitting cars with rakes and holding poor little old ladies hostage. It’s just not done.
He looked at me, and I saw his eys, and there wasn’t really a person there. Pupils the size of plates, he couldn’t even focus on my face, just sort of scanned past me, looking for whatever that annoying noise was. I think I actually snapped my fingers at that point, like you do when you are trying to take a picture of a fidgety toddler or a dog, and said “HEY! OVER HERE!”.
Nothing. Okay, he’s a particularly stupid dog. Not even a toddler. Not much to reason with. Crap!
Well, as I said, you’ve already decided that rake-assault is not an approrpriate behavior in this new relationship. You’ve given him a chance to talk things through, he’s, erm, declined… So if you can’t talk to him, then you need to get him away from the things he clearly wants to damage (cars) and the things he might decide to damage (little old ladies, damn them and their blue-rinse maniuplations!). Then maybe you can sort things out, have a cup of tea.
Keep walking, keep talking with your Voice of Command Authority.
What is this magic voice? It’s the voice you use, if you are dog owner, to make your dog sit. If you are a mom it’s the voice you save for when you use their entire name, including the middle names, in full. “MICHAEL PHILLIP SAMUEL SMITH! Come here RIGHT NOW.” If you are a dad it’s the voice you use when your kid is running towards the street… It’s NOT JUST YELLING!!!!!!!. In fact, it may even be somewhat quiet. It will usually be lower in tone, and always steady. It is your projection of power. I once watched a 110 pound young woman make a drunk and violently brawling guy at least twice her size sit on the sidewalk by pointing at him and saying “SIT!” and then pointing at the ground. (Julia, you rock!) He just sat.
For this to work, you have to really mean it, and you have to believe it yourself.
If you have kids, this voice is one of the most important first steps you can take to teach them to take of themselves. It’s extremely important. Dogs can really help with this. If the dog sits when you say “Sit!”, but not when the kid says “uhm, please sit?“, you need to teach your kid how to compel the dog to obey with her voice. Kids need to earn respect from dogs, dogs will naturally consider them to be part of the pack. If the dog only obeys them because of you, then the dog may still think they are second in command, rather than last, which is where they should be, behind you and all your kids. Your kids should be able to make the dog do anything you can make it do, even when you are 100 miles away.
As you approach the mutant, formulate a general plan. Mine went something like this:
- Avoid getting hit by the rake, punched by those ham-sized fists, or grabbed. (Later I had to add “bitten“. Those were situational tactics, rather than an over-arching strategy.)
- Control the mutant so you can keep him from hurting you too badly and so you can compel him to go away from the scene and towards somewhere else.
- Choose somewhere that won’t hurt as much when you fall down, possibly with 300 pounds of drugged out and/or insane whack-job on top of you. Real fights are sloppy and ugly, and it seemed quite possible that this might now be a real fight.
Note that I’m not saying take him out where he stands. I control this relationship, if were are going to conflict, I make it where I want it to happened. He picked this place, my next step in asserting my dominance over him will be to compel him to go somewhere else. Also, he’s Very Big, I am Not So Big, and pavement and cars are very hard and have sharp edges that will hurt if you hit them. So, those are bad.
Grass is nice and soft comparatively speaking. So grass is good! Fortunately, there was grass just beyond the mutant, pretty much in a straight line. The grass currently occupied by the Innocent Bystanders.
Well, they are just going to have to move off of your grass, because that’s what it is now. Yours.
First things first: negate the rake. As I got to him, I shot my hand out and put it over one of the hands he had on the rake. He hadn’t decided to smack me yet, that was nice. As soon as I grabbed the rake, he tried to smash me in the face with it, but that didn’t work, because I was on the rake too. It’s now our rake! We share, so nice. So the rakes negated for the moment.
Now, I want him on the grass, that’s behind him. He was just too big to actually carry there on my own, so I want him to want to head towards the grass, or away from me, and based on his total lack of humanity, I needed to rely on lizard-brain-stem responses. Choking should be good. Lizards will try to get away from choking. I took my other forearm, the one not attached to the hand attached to the hand attached to the rake, and I shoved it, hard, against his wind pipe, which was as high as my forearm would go. He was tall.
Then, you lean forward and shove as you walk. He’s choking, it’s unpleasant, so he pulls his head back. Now, if he doesn’t take some steps backawards, he’ll fall down on his ass, so he’ll take the steps. You, you just keep walking.
All this shoving and choking and controlling behavior will start to annoy him. He was having a perfectly fine time doing the rake thing, and here you are, RUINING EVERYTHING! Sooner or later he may decide that he’s not having anymore of it. He decided this in my case by trying to punch me in the face with his right fist right about when we got to the grass, and the Innocent Bystanders were moving out of the way.
It’s a big roundhouse, head under the punch, then head back up when it passses, now the back and side of my head are against his tricep and I push on him with the rake hand so he spins around. This actually works! So he’s now standing with his back to me. I want to choke him out, but there’s no way I can get an arm around his neck from behind him, so I need to be higher or he needs to be lower.
I take lower, so I reach around his face to find his nose so I can use that to tilt his head back, then I can drag him backwards onto his ass, but now he’s all riled up, and I barely have any control of him. He drops the rake, and is turning, when one of the Innocent Bystanders – one whose little old lady clause has now gone off and standing around is no longer an option for him – sees what I’m doing, so he runs up, bends down, grabs the guys ankles, and pulls. So I’m pulling back on the face, but his feet, while planted, aren’t moving anywhere.
I’m pulling back over the with the bridge of his nose, +1 dude is pulling in the opposite direction on his ankles, and down he goes. We are scrambling around on him now, me and the +1, when two more +1’s jump on. We now have a guy on each leg, one on his chest, and I’m on his right arm, and now he starts trying to bite me, I’m trying and failing to get an armbar while I’m avoiding his foaming mouth and his biting, and now he’s yelling, he actually speaks now, in English!
He yells “get off of me!” The guy on his chest, bless his heart, actually says “stop struggling and we’ll let you go!” I look at him and say something like “are you fucking crazy? we’re not letting this guy go until the cops get here!” At which point the dude on his chest, who seems to want to actually strangle the guy until I tell him to knock that off too, says “okay! we aren’t letting you go!” <sigh> Giant dude then tries to bite me more, and do stuff with his left, but we’ve pretty much got him pinned, all 4 of us.
Finally – and it was minutes on the ground, it felt like hours but I think the total elapsed time of the entire event was about an hour – a cop car shows up. We cheer. Yay, cops, woo hoo! FINALLY! Out of the cop car steps a single, 100 pound female cop. No partner. She shines her mag lite at us, shines it in the guys eyes, they don’t dilate. She steps back. The mutant now speaks: “Get these guys off of me!!!!!!!!!”. She says something into her radio, something like “please send about 20 really big guys to the arboretum” and then says to us “you guys doing okay?” we say sure. She says “Then I think we’ll wait for backup.”
A few minutes later, all of the SPD shows up. After some brief talking amongst themselves, one of them walks over and shines his light in the mutants eyes. Still no dilation. He says, in his Voice of Command Authority, and I swear to go he had this great NY accent: “Okay, here’s how this is going to work. On the count of three, these guys are going to let you go, and you are going to WALK over to that police car. If you do anything else, I’m going to have these guys kick your ass some more.”
Recall that there were many cops present now. He repeats these instructions, and as he does, like magic, the mutant starts to calm down. It’s amazing, he’s like a horse whisperer, a drugged-out-mutant-with-a-rake whisperer, and when he says three, we step away, and a small crowd of cops walks with him over to the car. It’s like he’s in a trance. But the trance breaks when he puts his hands on the hood of the car. He takes a swing at one of the cops, and then, of course, it’s all over for him. He goes down in a pig pile of blue.
We give our statements. The head cop, NY accent dude. says that calls to 911 about “someone running around the arboretum with a rake” aren’t given top priority. Calling back and saying the same thing doesn’t get their attention any faster. Calls that say something like “there’s a guy trying to kill an old lady with a rake” get more attention.
I drive away. No one ever calls me back, I don’t even know the names of the guys who were involved.
I really do think, if it hadn’t been for these things, I never would have gotten out of that car:
- The car just sitting there.
- Those do-nothing, just watching losers on the grass.
- The old lady’s cry for help, which by itself might well have done me in.
The thing that I really appreciate from all this, is that I now know that I HAVE a little old lady clause.
It’s not just little old ladies, it’s more than that. But I know a lot more about it now than I used to, and that means that when I find myself about to do things that I haven’t fully thought through, or that I may be about to undertake, things that aren’t clearly in my own best interest, I have more tools to examine myself and the situation, and I think that makes me at least more intentional and less prone to any manipluation that seeks to take advantage of my good nature.
Remember those 419s? They are all about finding our little old lady clauses. It turns out that some of them we all have – we are all at least a little bit greedy, for example.
But the personalization of them – eg making some Evangelical Christian – is all about trying to boost the chances of sinking a hook in, in exchange for a smaller audience. The more personalized a scam, the better the chances it will work, because it can be tailored to target very specific LOLCs.
If it is targetting ones that I, Peter N. Biddle, have, or better yet combinations of ones that are known to push me from a do nothing to a do something place, then the chances of them working are much higher.
A combination of things not making sense (car not moving), people not doing anything (The Innocent Bystanders) and real jeopardy (thanks little old lady!) were enough to get me involved in a stuation that could have gotten me really badly hurt, or even killed. If mutant dude had gotten the better of me, and the Innocent Bystanders didn’t step in (they only got involved in force when it was clear the danger to themselves was substantially reduced, AND when my actions had shrunk their balls to the size of peas), he could have put a world of hurt on me before the cops finally got there.
This is Really Important. In the next posting, I will try to make it All Make Sense.