At the end of a barrel of a gun
If you have never been in any particular situation, it’s hard to imagine how you would react.
Back in the early 70’s when my wife and I were living in Athens, Georgia I worked for a chain convenience store there on a part time basis. The store was located just across the street from the public housing area on Baxter Street, and we had a lot of African American customers. Some of them gave me a hard time, some were very friendly.
I worked mostly at night and on the weekends. I had never thought much about being held up at gun point…until it happened one night.
There was a friendly, young African American boy inside the store browsing the comic books. I had just pulled the register down…that is, if you are unfamiliar with the way those things work, pulling all of the big bills out of the cash register drawer and putting them in under the drawer. Then in just a heartbeat, a white guy with long hair and a hunting rifle walked calmly into the store. He pointed the rifle at me, and said “give me all the money in a bag, or I’m going to blow your brains out” He noticed the boy over at the comic rack and told him to get behind the counter with me. “I’m not going to say it again,” he said “all your money, or I’ll kill both of you”
I tried to notice details, but my heart was pounding in my chest. Here I was, a twenty year old guy with very little “worldly” training, no military training, and I had a gun right in my face, and the guy had his finger right on the trigger. I honestly never thought about pulling a heroic act. Maybe I could have knocked the gun away and jumped over the counter and beat the crap out of his skinny ass. Maybe…
I put all the money out of the register drawer into a paper bag and gave it to him. He never asked to look under the drawer where I had just put most of the big money. He told me and the young black guy to get down on the floor. Now….was this the time to jump on him? No. It was down on the floor for us.
Then he was out the door and gone. I picked up the phone and dialed the police. They were there in five minutes or less. I had a good description of the guy, the direction he had gone, his rifle…pretty much everything they might need to get him. The boy in the store with me gave them about the same information as I did, not quite as detailed since he had been very scared. He never came back in anymore to browse the comic books. They never caught the guy.
About six months later, I was in another one of the same companies stores a little further up the hill about the same time of the day. A very well built black man walked in the store with a pistol already out in his hand, and a bandana on his face. “I want to kill you, but I won’t if you give me all the money in the register” Again, the same pounding heart and sweating palms. The same paper bag. “Under the register too!” he said knowing that little trick. I pulled the register up and put that money into the bag. He was out the door and gone before I could blink. I hadn’t had any time whatsoever to think about heroics, or trying to stop the perpetrator. It was so quick. This one could have just as easily shot me and ran if he had wanted.
Again, I called the police and gave them a much less detailed description. I hadn’t been as scared as the first time, but there had been no time to BE scared. They never caught this guy either.
A couple of weeks later the store manager came in one evening and fired me for “not pulling the drinks up in the cooler” which I had done only about an hour before he came into the store. That last robbery had been too much for the company I guess. I think they suspected I had taken the money and made up the story about being robbed. The police had checked me in both cases. They had checked my car too. There was nothing to find, because I was as honest then as I am now.
I went to work for Sears and Roebuck after that, selling shoes. I figured nobody would come in there with a gun and as far as I know, I was right.
I’ve never had guns pointed at my head since that early point in my life, but I remember it very well. I can still see the face of that first guy, etched in my memory. I could still pick him out of a line up. I hope he and the other guy straightened up and got their lives together after nearly scaring me to death.
When you are born, your brain is an empty slate.
As your grow, you soak up those things which you come in contact with like a dry sponge dropped into the ocean. Your parents and your immediate family are your first line of learning. You are affected for the rest of your life by the environment in which you are immersed during those first few formative years of your life. You are cast in a mold out of which it is hard to break.
As we age and begin to try and exert a modicum of indolence, our little “rebellions” are either quelled severely or tolerated and channeled, depending on the type of “raisings” to which we are exposed. At some point, an individual must decide which cultural, societal, political, religious and overall philosophical ways they are going to follow. Many choose to continue to follow the philosophical bent of those around them, some do not. Sometimes it takes longer to “break the mold” of what you have deemed to be “right”
John Stuart Mills said: “Where, not the person’s own character, but the traditions or customs of other people are the rule of conduct, there is wanting one of the principal ingredients of human happiness, and quite the chief ingredient of individual and social progress.”
If we sacrifice our own individuality on the altar of conformity for the sake of the lack of conflict, then we do everyone a disservice. I’ve been a non-conformist since I was 18 years old. My philosophical bent does not suite many. It really doesn’t suite much of anything that I was raised to believe for that matter. But, I’m more at peace with it now than I have ever been. I’ll remain who I am, and I will continue to attempt to “live and let live” be my creed.