Monday, September 2, 2019


You won’t believe what happened to me the other night.  On the other hand, if you’re a regular reader of this column, you probably will!  

I was on my way home from a friend’s house when I remembered I had to stop at a certain department store to return an item I’d bought a few days before that turned out to be damaged. Even though my bladder was protesting by then (and I absolutely hate public restrooms), I figured the errand would take only a few minutes, and then I could head home to use my own clean and non-odoriferous bathroom.

I parked the car and practically bolted into the store. To my relief, there was no line at the service desk...but the employee was on the phone. The look on her face told me she was confused about something.  She finally spotted another employee walking by and called out to her.

“Can you take this call?” she asked her. “This customer has a heavy accent and I can’t understand a word he’s saying. You’re a lot better at deciphering accents.”

The other employee grabbed the phone, listened carefully, then put the man on hold and started to giggle. “I think he wants to return some underpants he’s already worn!” she said.

“Eeeeeyuuw!” the first employee said. “I hope I’m not the one who has to touch them when he brings them back!”

“Well, just hope the customer before him is returning spaghetti tongs!” the other employee said, giggling even harder.

The two employees finally decided to turn the call over to the poor woman who worked in the men’s clothing (and underwear) department.  I then asked if I could swap the broken item I was returning for a new one.  They nodded and told me to just go run and get one and bring it back.

I quickly found the item and was heading back to the service desk in record time, when I came up with the brilliant idea of buying some reflector tape to stick on my walking shoes. With the days rapidly getting shorter, my daily walks sometimes are extending into darkness, and I thought it might be a good idea to make myself more visible to traffic.

I searched for the tape, but couldn’t find any, so I finally asked a clerk in the sporting-goods area.  He looked about 28, strongly built with short-cropped hair. To my surprise, he asked me for what reason I wanted reflector tape.  When I explained, his eyes narrowed.

“You walk after dark?” he repeated in a tone that made me feel as if I were committing some sort of a crime.

“Well, not if I can help it,” I said. “But sometimes I don’t even manage to get out of the house until dusk.”

“What if a car pulled up behind you and a guy jumped out and grabbed you from behind?” he asked.

“I’d use my pepper spray on him!” I said. “I always carry it with me on my walks.”

“Pepper spray? Ha!” He tilted back his head and laughed. “You could use a whole can of that stuff on me and it wouldn’t bother me a bit!  I’m so used to eating jalapeno peppers, I’m immune to pepper spray…and so are a lot of other guys!”

Before I could comment, he continued, “I’ll teach you how to protect yourself in just three easy steps.”  He bent down and pointed to my leg below the knee. “See this shin bone?  That’s a really hard bone.  When you kick a guy in the crotch, you use that part of your leg, not your knee or your foot!”

As I stood there, wondering how on earth I could angle my shin bone to connect with a guy’s crotch, he said, “And when you kick the creep, he’ll double over like this.”  He grasped his groin and bent over. “That’s when you come up under his chin with an uppercut!” 

He snapped his head back, as if he’d just been hit under the chin, then added, “Now, see how his stomach will be pushed out when his head is back like this?  That’s when you ball up your fist and sock him as hard as you can in the gut!  I guarantee you, that guy won’t be getting up to bother you again!”

For the first time in my life, I was speechless.

“And let me tell you,” he added, “if you carry a roll of quarters in your hand, you’ll have even more of an impact when you hit him!  Sure, you might bruise your knuckles, but that’s a lot better than what he might do to you.”

When I remained wide-eyed and silent, he said knowingly, “I can tell you’re thinking that you could never hit a guy hard enough to cause any real damage.  Well, all you have to do is think of every mean, rotten thing men have ever done to you, and then channel all of that anger and hostility into your fists.  You’ll be surprised how fierce a blow you can deliver when it’s backed with adrenaline!”

I honestly found myself scanning the racks, expecting the crew from one of those hidden-camera TV shows to leap out.

“Now,” the clerk said, “show me what you’ve learned.”

I hesitated, wondering if he really wanted me to sock him in the gut...or worse.

Fool that I was, I went through the steps, simulating the kicks and punches he’d just taught me, while he reacted as if he really were being hit, for effect.  Customers began to pause and stare, thinking I was assaulting an employee.  Before someone from security came rushing over and slapped the cuffs on me, I decided I’d better stop.

“Can you PLEASE show me where the reflector tape is?” I practically begged him, as my bladder cruelly reminded me that all of the kicking and bending I’d just done probably hadn’t been such a wise idea under the circumstances. “I’m really in a rush!”

“Only if you promise me you won’t walk after dark any more,” he said. “And if you do, that you’ll remember everything I just taught you.”

I would have promised him I’d walk on hot coals at that point, just to get my tape and get out of there.  Finally, he led me to it.  I grabbed two rolls and dashed back to the service desk.

“Sorry I took so long,” I said to the employee. “But Rambo in sporting goods insisted upon giving me a lesson in self-defense.”

She rolled her eyes and groaned. “Oh, God, he’s at it again!  You’ll have to excuse him. He just got out of the military and is having trouble adjusting to civilian life.”

By the time I got back out to the car, 30 minutes had passed. I happened to glance at myself in the rearview mirror and was embarrassed to see that my hair was sticking up in about five different directions. I looked as if I’d just gone a couple rounds with Hulk Hogan.

Unfortunately, about halfway home, I realized I had no choice but to stop at a public restroom – the only one being in a gas station where two guys who looked as if they’d just stepped out of a 1970s’ gang movie were hanging out.

Any other time, I’d have kept on driving right by, praying that I’d make it home in time. But not on this night.

Nope. I stopped at the gas station. All I had to do was remember the advice I’d just learned and channel my anger toward men to give myself an adrenaline rush of strength and courage. The first guy who popped into my head was George, the jerk who’d stood me up for my senior prom. I could feel my anger rapidly building and my shin bone transforming into a lethal, crotch-crushing weapon.

Luckily, neither that night nor any night since then, have I found the need to try out any of my newly acquired self-defense techniques. It’s a good thing, because I’m still trying to figure out how I’d manage to get my shin bone to make contact with  a guy’s crotch (unless he was standing with his legs spread wide apart).

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