affluence had left a a chip on our shoulder. So we kept trying to knock it off. Or at least to appear that way. In reality we had as little common sense as street smarts. We weren't tough at all. We were just kids. Unschooled in life's bleak realities. Unaware of the danger that lurked around corners. But there were appearances to keep up. So we walked tall. Strutted even. But rarely dealt with the consequences.
I was nineteen. Inebriated. And home from college. My buddies and I had left the apartment at midnight for fast food. It was a quick walk. Ten minutes through empty downtown streets. We arrived just before closing. We scarfed down our burgers even though there was no particular rush. We loitered until they eventually kicked us out of the empty restaurant.
As we walked back we entered a particularly isolated area where lighting was sparse. My two buddies were carrying on as I listened closely. Behind me in the distance I could here a car screech to a stop. Then doors slammed as multiple feet hit the pavement. I crossed the street as my friends obliviously followed. I didn't dare turn around.
Then as I heard the footsteps gaining rapidly I zig-zagged back to the other side of the street. My friend at my side looked up towards me. Where the hell are you going?. But there was no time. The foot steps were coming too quickly. I broke into a sprint and turned only after putting a few hundred yards between us.
One of my friends was wise to what was happening and ran in the other direction. But our third buddy hadn't quite figured it out. I say "buddy" loosely because actually I barely knew the guy. I met him for the first time earlier that night.
But there he was alone. Surrounded by three tall men who were starting to grab at him. Give me your money...give me your money. They kept yelling but he didn't respond. His genteel upbringing and sheltered existence were crashing in around him. He stared blankly with the look of a lost puppy dog.
As I slowly walked back towards the group I felt none of the toughness I had tried so hard to portray at my suburban high school with my suburban friends. I was just a typical rich snot head. Inexperienced and weak! Wearing a beat up brown leather bomber jacket hoping that others would think that I too was gritty and tough and bruised but durable on the inside.
Wordlessly I pushed my way into the center of the fray as the men grabbed my jacket. I clipped there arms under my shoulder and broke my friend loose. The shortest of the bunch reached into his coat pocket and held his hand in place. I have a gun...Don't make me use it....give me all your money. My buddy had awoken from his reverie and I pushed him towards freedom. Yah...well if you have a gun pull it out and I'll give you everything!.
No gun appeared. I wrestled myself free and we all ran to safety. There wasn't any pursuit.
As we returned to the apartment and rejoined the rest of our group my two friends told a tall tale barely resembling what had actually occured. They left out the fact that our three pursuers weighed in total about 200 pounds and that they were likely cracked up and harmless. They forgot to mention that at precisely the most important moment they both froze.
But I didn't correct them. After all was I any better. Hadn't I struggled with the same chip on my shoulder? Let them have there moment.
Maybe toughness was overrated. Maybe what I was really looking for all those years was something that is much more important. Something that I'm still struggling with today: