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I saw what happened here. I know why this planter, which sits in front of a building on 4th between Pike and Union, was harassed. Why flowers were on the ground mixed with sprays of clinging soil. I know because I saw it, while walking with some co-workers, to food one afternoon at lunch.
But imagine I didn't know. Or, better yet, imagine I won't tell you. We stumble on these little dramas every day in the city, places where a moment has taken place and we are witnessing only its aftermath.
This plant is but one small example of this. How many times have we seen the trashcan knocked over, the car on the sidewalk, the stripped bike frame locked to a pole, broken glass, tufts of weird fur, a spill or spray of blood. The city has stories, we know that. That's what this column is about. But sometimes, the city has moments, too.
I would define a moment as the peak of a story, or a peak in a story, maybe, since a story may have many peaks as it climbs towards resolution. That time where all the threads a writer has been pulling come together in a sharp shock. When the deceit and betrayal get played, when the pressure from all around rises to a fever pitch and a character just can't take it anymore, and something changes in an irrevocable moment of action. See, for reference, Chekov's Gun.
Life is full of such moments, but they're rarely as clean and simple as flowers on a sidewalk, obviously the victim of some kind of violence. The question I want to know is: what lead to it happening? What was the sharp rise before the moment. And if this given moment (flowers tossed on the sidewalk) is the same in each story, what was the buildup? What could have lead to it?
Let's try to explore what could have been.
"You're a total good boy," she said to him, smiling. They had gone downtown after school, the two of them. They ran in different crowds, but when the rest of the crew had split off, they were left together, and that suited both of them just fine. "What? No. I mean, what?" he said. "You get good grades. Don't hang out with losers. Want to, like, go to college. I dunno. You just seem kind of simple." She laughed at her own boldness. "What!?" he said, with faux anger. "I'm a total rebel." She laughed harder, and making like an ape, scratching his underarms, he went over to the planter and ripped flowers to throw at her, while she shrieked, shocked and delighted by his boldness.
The dress was as much as a down payment on a house. And the two words that Candy would not accept were "No returns." But there she was at the dress shop, and there was the calm clerk explaining to her that she just lost that money forever, invested in couture that, now, would never get its day. That never would walk an aisle. That never would be photographed. The cake, she canceled. The hall refunded her down payment. The caterer booked with someone else. But the dress shop? No returns on bespoke designer dresses. She was fucked. And storming out the front door, she saw those stupid potted flowers, and could only think of one visceral way to express her anger at this situation.
It mostly was in the corner of her eye. She couldn't see it when she looked directly at it, but she had been tracking it around downtown for hours. If it got away from her, if she couldn't catch it, then it could spell the end of the world as we knew it. She almost had it near Westlake, until a security guard started harassing her and she had to bide her time. She saw its silvery shimmer dive into a planter on the side of the road, and that is where she made her play, springing on it and grabbing it, and fist fulls of flower, in an attempt to end this once-and-for-all.
Joe dog, a terrier, was chill. Walking down the street was a nice thing, on his leash with his dad, just having a nice morning, enjoying the smells of the city. Then, right before you know it, he smelled it. Rat. A fat, ugly, stinky rat. Salivating, not from hunger but from desire, Joe went calm. Years of breeding told him he had to stay still and not project his move. The rat may have been aware of him, but it didn't know what he was capable of. And then, walking right by the planter, Joe made his move. His dad yelled "Joe, no!" as he lunged, pulling the leash with him. Going straight for the planter. But the rat was too quick for him, and Joe ended up, only, with a mouthful of flowers that he shook and cast all over the ground. His dad, embarrassed, grabbed his leash and pulled him away quickly. That rat, though, mocked him. Stood on the edge of the planter as he was pulled away and laughed. Next time, thought Joe. Next time.
There are so many angry men in this world, and he was but one. Men are angry for reasons. A song once said "an angry man needs attention," and that is true. Anger is about attention. It is disgust in not being recognized the way you want, and making a show so the world will correct itself and focus its attention on you. It is a selfish act, and it can be a violent act, because the man is crying out "I am so lonely that even if you give me fear, you are still giving me the attention I desire." The angry man can't see that his actions are damaging to the relationship. He would do better to be vulnerable, and to say to the people hurting him "I need your attention. I'm in pain, and I don't know what to do." Anyway, that's the story of the flowers. It was an angry man, yelling gender-specific insults at an unnamed woman. He was storming down the street, and stopped by the potted plant, ripping great fist fulls of flowers and dirt, raising them above his head like down-on-his-luck Thor, and throwing them with violence at the ground. He stormed off, all of us giving him a wide berth, and then he was gone and only the spill of flowers, as a testament to his emotions, lay behind for someone else to clean up.