There was a sunset forming out over the Pacific, some kind of golden, glowing vision lighting up the clouds with gilded edges, as if they were gates to heaven. Even the weary day-after-Christmas Beleaguered Husband, who is not taken to homilies, commented, “Look! It looks like a manger all lit up.” And so it did.
In need of kitty litter, soup, and champagne, we stopped at the Vons on PCH after the long drive home from San Diego. The husband and daughter were going to make the run into the market while I stayed in the car so I could watch the bedazzling sky, although my eyes were still filled with the glorious daze and glow of the season.
It was as if I were looking through a Christmas kaleidoscope and I just wanted to sit alone for a moment and muse over the wonder and the terror of it all. I longed to sort through all that crumpled wrapping paper and find the moments to cherish. And they were there. I saw them, how I don’t know, but they shone even brighter than the gaudy tinsel that seemed to appear by magic all over our floors. I recalled my son’s goofy smile as he gave me the silly cat sculpture, my daughter’s face, now that of a young woman, as she watched with delight, a child singing “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” into a karaoke machine.
I remembered the sheen of one December moon and laughed, greatly amused at the indignity suffered by the already Beleaguered Husband when he was stopped outside of Bristol Farms for the suspected theft of a cheese (I’m happy to report, in this case he was innocent). I was grateful for the miracle of having found a parking space at the Northridge Mall. The miracle of having the tree that wouldn’t stand up, somehow still standing. And the miracle of our family and the cat being still together, in a house here in our Topanga, as the crazy world spins ‘round ever faster, into an impossible year called 2020.
Then my daughter’s voice broke my reverie. “Should I be afraid to get out of the car?” she asked, having quickly opened the door stepped out and then immediately back into the car.
I looked around to see the source of her concern. Two young guys wearing beanies were moving rapidly, almost running, across the Vons parking lot and yelling. One of them was sort of pushing the other but it didn’t seem to be in a threatening way, more like friends fooling around, so my daughter scurried after her father into the store.
Left alone, I turned again to the glory of the ethereal sunset but was distracted by the sound of loud, angry words. It was as if the Grinch had just entered the car and sat down beside me. A few people were trailing after the guys and some kind of argument was taking place. People from the market, staff, security, and customers gathered around the guys’ car. Insults were being traded. Accusations were flying. Some pushing was taking place. Passersby stopped to check out the scene. The customers at the outdoor Starbucks stood to get a better view. I, too, stepped from my car to witness the escalating calamity. The guys were African-Americans and were accusing the people from the market of racist behavior. One of them yelled, pointing at a rather petite lady, “That security woman attacked me first!”
A tall man standing next to the security woman yelled back, “I saw you strike her. The police are on the way!”
Soon everyone had their phones out and were recording the confrontation. One of the guys climbed up on top of his car, started ranting and called out, “You’re a stupid old white man.”
It was getting ugly fast. The guys were screaming, “Why are you attacking us? Get away from the car!”
“You’re not going anywhere,” someone responded.
Although no one was physically attacking the guys, or using any derogatory name calling, the surrounding crowd could almost be construed as a mob. I stood apart watching. Of course, I had some sympathy for the young men, in case, as with my husband, they had been wrongly accused of some transgression, but I didn’t know what had transpired inside the store. The way the guys were yelling and swearing at everyone seemed out of control and I just hoped in this current climate, there was not, from any faction, going to be a gun involved. No wonder there are wars, I thought.
“A security guard opened the bathroom door when I was peeing!” screamed one of the guys pointing at a man. “He violated my privacy. I’m going to sue you.”
More shouting, louder, and growing in intensity. My heart beat faster to see it.
“Where are the police?” I thought. “Why don’t they come? This isn’t good and someone might get really hurt.” I wanted to scream “Stop it!” but my voice wouldn’t be heard above the fray. The ugly scene played out. Sometimes there was a moment of silence, a sort of standoff, between the concerned parties, as if everyone had suddenly just run out of energy, but then the calamitous cacophony would start back up again. I couldn’t watch and returned to my car, sad to see what I was seeing. I wanted to turn on the radio because Christmas songs were still being played, but hate is strong and I was reminded of the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem:
“And in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth I said.
For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”
“Get away from the car!” yelled one of the guys getting into the driver’s seat. From my window I saw him start the engine and begin to back up. The car bumped directly into a man and woman who had been looking the other way at that moment. Then the yelling and screaming became intense. A man called out, “If you leave now it’s hit and run!”
A scuffle ensued; punches were thrown then the driver jumped back in his car demanding the crowd disperse so they could drive away. “You’re kidnapping us!” he shouted. Then he started the engine again as the group of people continued to surround his car. That’s when I stepped in.
I approached the guys from the front of their car. Making eye contact with one of them, I said calmly, as if we were friends, “Might not be the best time to get behind the wheel.”
“But we’re being attacked,” he answered me. “Why is everyone attacking us?”
I could sense the adrenaline coursing through his body, and he smelled of marijuana but then everyone does these days.
“I’m not attacking you,” I assured him. “I was just trying to watch the sunset, which, by the way, you’ve ruined for me.” Then he laughed.
The driver nodded and turned off the ignition. I got back into my car and in a minute my husband and daughter returned asking what was going on with the crowd of angry people? As we drove away I saw someone just sit down on the pavement in the parking lot, almost as if in protest of the violent, hate-filled spectacle. And maybe that’s what we all should have done, just sat down.
May peace and good will somehow prevail, Happy New Year.