Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Lesson in Respect

As “Sara Smile” caressed the walls, a group of Sunolians (hicks that lived in Sunol, a small rural town adjacent to Pleasanton) wearing Wranglers and cowboys boots walked by. They stopped, looked at me and moved on. I didn’t think much about it.

Later in the day, when Kim arrived, the cowboys came back with more cowboys. They did the usual point and stare stuff, but didn’t move on like most eventually did. They sat outside of the store, leaned against the railing and loudly asked each other if they thought I was gay. Then it was the usually stuff: “Fag, Faggity Fag!” I ignored them, but Kim, like a good friend, told them to fuck off and leave or she was calling the cops. I tried to shush her because I knew how situations like this ended: with me getting beat up.

The cowboys approached the store and we called Mall Security, who kicked them out. Vowing to wait for me after work and kick my ass, they reluctantly left, repeating “Fag, Faggity Fag.” Mall Security said they would escort me to my car after my shift ended, but I politely declined. I would rather take a beating then admit weakness to a security cop. I was my dad’s son and I was punk.

Kim and I closed the store at 8pm and drove to the Diner, an all-night eatery across the street from Albertson’s on Hopyard. Even though neither of us would admit to being scared, we were both on guard while in the mall parking lot and were relieved the rednecks were not waiting for us.
The Diner, as we called it, was a reference to our favorite movie Diner, starring Mickey Rourke and Kevin Bacon. We adopted the Diner as our late-night headquarters. We would meet there around midnight and stay until early morning. We’d drink coffee, eat fries and revel in our misfit status. It was very Breakfast Club and tortured.

Kim and I were the first to arrive. We ordered coffee and a basket of fries. She walked to the jukebox and played “Stand Back” by Stevie Nicks. She knew I hated this song, but didn’t care. Our friends Ken and Michele filtered in, but nobody else. Attendance wasn’t mandatory, but we did like to keep a presence there every night. On Christmas Day we dragged in a portable TV and VCR and watched Diner. Needless to say, the waitresses didn’t understand us. Not many did.

It was a little after midnight and not much was happening. There were a few people scattered in booths and two or three singles at the counters. The wait staff was taking breaks. Stevie Nicks had finished singing about standing “in the middle of the room” and "Missing You" by John Waite was on deck.

Outside in the parking lot, a flatbed truck pulled up and parked on the west side of the Diner. Three cowboy types got out of the truck and walked to the entrance. I recognized them as the cowboys from the mall. I’m not sure if they followed us or if it was just a coincidence.
They opened the door and sat in a booth behind us. We brought Ken and Michele up to speed and braced for problems.

As expected, the verbal abuse started right away. They acknowledged our presence and said, “Well, if it isn’t the fag and his girlfriend,” which made no sense, but I wasn’t about to explain the contradiction. Their country drawl was slow, methodical and somewhat contrived. They were from California, after all. They sat down and talked loudly about “fag this,” “fag that” and “Polk Street faggot.” Kim bantered back and forth with them saying I was from San Francisco, taunting them and their intellect. I told my friends that they should leave. Ken and Michele took me up on the offer and promptly bolted.

Kim and I made a simple plan. She would leave first, start the car and wait for me. I would follow shortly thereafter, smacking one of them on the head with a ketchup bottle on my way out. I thought it was a good plan. The harassment was escalating, making everybody in the Diner uncomfortable, so there wasn’t much of a choice. We assumed they would follow us when we left either way. We might as well clock one and hope we could get away before they realized one of them was doused in ketchup…and blood.

Before the ketchup bottle flew, an innocuous looking man in his mid-thirties, dressed in jeans and a buttoned-up flannel, approached the cowboys’ table. He slowly reached down and ate one of their fries. In unison, all three cowboys rose. The man said, “Sit down, boys. I’m a cop.” He flashed his badge and then sat down, forcing them to all scoot over. We were completely ecstatic (despite the surreal feeling that we had left Diner and were now in Dirty Harry) and took the opportunity to leave as fast as possible.

On the way out, we overheard the cop saying, “I want to teach you a little something about respect.” He continued to eat their fries.

Kim and I ran through the parking lot and hopped in the car, giddy from being rescued. Before pulling away, I told Kim to wait. I jumped out and made my way to the cowboys' pickup truck, reaching in my pocket for a key to deflate one of their tires. It was slow going, but I persevered, flattening the back left tire with a loud hiss.

While scampering back to the car, Clint Eastwood was still lecturing the cowboys. As we triumphantly pulled away, Kim honked the horn and a wave of dread flowed over me. “Shit, they know where I work.”

(Image: Cowboy Fan Art)

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