Thursday, July 29, 2004

They Mean Well

I knew from the first glance that they were up to no good.   The crowd stomped right past me, and a small part of my
frightened soul was happy that I was not to be their victim, at least not tonight.  They were clearly making their way
towards another victim.  My heart went out to her, because I knew that there was nothing anyone could do.  This was
going to happen.

 There were probably eight or ten of them, quickly surrounding the startled woman, and yelling something at her. 
Well, it wasn't exactly yelling, but close to it, and stomping and clapping.  It was almost like the technique I'd seen used
to round up stray domestic animals, by confusing them and forcing them toward some sort of confinement. 

I'll never forget the looks on their faces.  Their plastic smiles stretched artificially widely over threateningly exposed
teeth, betrayed as grimaces rather than smiles when coupled with the dull lifelessness of their eyes.   They circled the
helpless woman,  clapping and chanting all the while, as  many stunned people looked on.

I couldn't bear it.  I wanted to jump up and save her somehow.  The assault was being witnessed by so many, and yet
not one of us made a move to help.  It was as if everyone had already made a silent cowardly vow not to interfere, lest
the crowd should notice us and descend on us instead.  I turned away from the spectacle too, determined not to
witness what I couldn't defend against, and instead stared at the stained glass lamp, getting lost in its many shapes and
colors.  It will be over soon, I consoled myself.

The part of it all that seemed the most perverse to me was that they did not seem to be enjoying what they were doing. 
While the frequency of these kinds of scenes would lead one to believe that the crowd was driven by their own will
towards this type of assault, one look at the resigned and sometimes pained expressions on their faces after such an
event made me believe that they were following the sadistic orders of another.  They seemed to be doing it just because
it was expected of them.  Perhaps some of them had even thought about disobeying orders and refusing to be part of
these assaults, but I'm sure that anyone who disagreed with orders was terminated in some sort of unpleasant fashion. 
In a way, we were both to be pitied, the victims and the crowd, caught up in a hideous cycle of tradition that no one
was willing to break.  

I noticed that my companions all seemed to have taken absolutely no notice of the assault taking place, except for one. 
The one that I had been suspicious of the entire evening.  She was casting none-too-subtle glances over toward the
crowd, and then began to shoot subtle looks in my direction as well.   Within moments, I could read her intentions all
over her face.   She, more than the others, had always been easy to read.  Yes, it was clear, she intended to inform
against me to the crowd. 

I caught her glancing at me and held her gaze, long enough for her to know that I was wise to her, and she looked away
quickly and her checks flushed, displaying her guilty conscience.  I had to nip this in the bud, let her know I was onto
her, and make it clear that she would not be able to go through with her plans, except over my dead body.  To let the
moment go would look weak, and I couldn't afford that strategic mistake.

Carrie:  "Don't even think about it."

Paula:  (Looking up.)  "What?"

Carrie:  "You know."

Paula:  (Small nervous laugh.)  "No really, I don't know."

Carrie:  "You are thinking about telling them, aren't you?"

Paula:  "No!  No, I wasn't.  I wouldn't do that to you."

Carrie:  "Really, don't.  I don't want that to happen to me.  It's horrible."

Paula:  "I won't, I promise." (An impish smile inadvertently crept across her face.)

Carrie:  "No, I mean it.  I will be watching you all night, and I'll see if you try to talk to them.  REALLY.  Don't do it."

Paula:  "Oh, you're no fun."  (Pouting.)

Carrie:  "  I knew it!  Listen, I appreciate the thought, but I really HATE that, what they're doing, hell, they even
hate what they're doing,  and I don't want that to happen to me.  Okay?"

Paula:  "Okay, okay.  Fine."

I allowed myself a glance over towards where the crowd had been, and noticed that they had dissipated after one last
burst of clapping and yelling.   I glanced at Paula, and at the rest of my companions.,   As quickly  as it started it was
over, and the general mood shifted back to the way it had been moments before the crowd formed. 

At least this would be one birthday dinner at a chain restaurant where the entire wait staff would NOT be yelling some
hateful original  "Happy Birthday" chant at me, much to the annoyance and embarrassment of both myself and the
other patrons.   I leaned back into the cushioned backing of the booth with a huge sense of relief, and continued my
assault on the blooming onion before me.

 

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