“He thinks just because I’m a skinny guy that he can push me around and get in a fight with me,” the bike guy said.
This wasn’t the way I had planned on getting friendly with bike guy, if, in fact, I had any plans to become friendly with him at all.
Isabella had been going to the playground at the Common every day this week, and I’d seen bike guy at least two other times during the week, and had become borderline fascinated by him. He usually had one kid with him who he’d deposit at the playground while he did laps on his bike with kid trailer attached around the half mile loop of the Common. After completing a lap, bike guy would stop at the edge of the playground, take off his oversized headphones, and yell something to his kid.
“Make sure you’re wearing your mask!”
“Don’t climb up the slide!”
“Watch out for the little kids!”
Basic parent playground banter. Except after shouting parental instructions, bike guy would put his oversized headphones back on and speed off for another lap around the park on his bike, zooming past the strolling senior citizens, dog walkers, and strolling-pushing families.
Friday, though, bike guy had a whole entourage with him. Near as I could figure after everything went down, he was with his girlfriend and her son, who was about Isabella’s age, and his two kids, who were maybe 2 and 8. I’m bad at kid ages if they aren’t my kids, but they were all somewhere in that general range. So bike guy did his usual gig, shout at the kids, do a lap, shout at the kids, etc., but at least the girlfriend was there to watch over the kids when they weren’t getting their five seconds of parenting every half mile. The kids were sweet, and the boy Isabella’s age came over to play with her, and I appreciated that he paid attention to the shouted mask-wearing entreaties. Got to admit, it was better Covid precautions than many of the parents who actually stay within sight of their kids were providing.
Everything is going pretty okay, the bike guy brood and Isabella found another masked youngster who wanted to play with them on the basketball court, taking turns sharing his bike. Of course, the boy also hornswoggled me into playing catch with him. And I also ended up making sure the bike guy kids were sharing properly with this child I had just met, because it is one of the 10 Commandments of my life that the oversight of all children under 10 in any public space will fall under my authority.
Then I hear a commotion on the Common path about 100 feet from the basketball court. Some F bombs and cliched male tough guy posturing. Take a second to direct the kids attention the other way before hearing:
“The fucking path is for everyone not just some asshole on a bike.”
“I yelled at you to get out of the way!”
Ahhhh, shit, bike guy is getting into it with some very much not skinny, not biking dude, and here I am broiling on the court top with my only child as well as apparently having temporary custody of the bike guy brood.
A bunch of things happen at once, which is pretty amazing for the piss poor quality of the five second “fight” I eventually catch out of the corner of my eye.
First, I speak calmly to Isabella, because fuck it, making sure my kid is safe and not freaking out comes first. Then again, she’s grown up in Salem and would be cool and not give it a second thought if a whole Twilight Werewolves versus Draculas West Side Story deal went down on the Common. Next, I see the smallest of the bike kids running toward me on the court crying. Apparently, the boy’s name is Caillou, which is a whole other issue I didn’t have to get into, and I try to calm the boy down and tell him it’s going to be okay and to stay over near me. Then, I start to dial 911 as the girlfriend has noticed the potential smackdown and headed to the basketball court. She’s also going to dial 911, but I tell her I’ll take care of it so she can handle the kids.
If it had been two random yahoos (even less random yahoos, I guess) making the Common bike path their personal Octagon, I probably would have walked away and let them work out their inner Joe Rogan issues. But since there were kids around, and since they seemed to be at least partly temporarily in my care, I figured I would call the cops before things got out of hand. Somehow I ended up placing about six calls simultaneously, about half to 911 and the other half to my house, for whatever reason, but I eventually got through to the operator.
As I’m laying out the basic facts, potential fight on the Common, not a huge deal, but there are kids around and such, just want to be safe, I catch the actual “fight” out of the corner of my eyes.
For the record, I am not a big fight person. I’ve never been in a fight. Closest I’ve come was in sixth grade when some undersized halfass bully put me in a headlock on the playground while I flailed helplessly around while a girl I knew watched. She was no help whatsoever, as everyone else circled around, she yelled out:
“It’s okay, he’s taking karate lessons at the Y!”
God fucking dammit. So far, the only thing I had learned at the Y was how to bow to my sensei, and how to throw a punch at the air really, really slow. I doubted either lesson was going to get the tiny angry bully to stop squeezing my head.
The few other fights I’ve seen as an adult have been pretty much along the same lines, grown men rolling around with each other with all the grace of drunken hippos, or slapping at each other like toddlers with ADD.
In this case, it was a quick version of the slap fight, even though bike guy set up in an initially impressive looking Bruce Lee Jean Claude Goddam MMA looking posture before letting loose with a slap that would have deeply disappointed that woman they built a statue of slapping a Nazi with her handbag. There may have been a half-hearted shove on not-slim guy’s side before the whole thing deflated and everyone went their separate ways.
And this is when I get to finally meet bike guy face to face. I explain that I called the cops, but wasn’t trying to get him in trouble, because honestly, fuck the cops for giving shit to someone who gets in a harmless slapfight giving everything going on these days. I was just worried that nothing would spill over into the kids being in danger. That’s when he goes into the skinny guy being picked on rap.
“Did you see him start it? I was trying to get by and yelled I AM TRYING TO GET BY YOU and then he thought he could fight me.”
I told him I didn’t really see what was happening and only saw the showdown and that I called the cops just to be safe with the kids around. Honestly, given the volume of his yelling at his kids on his pitstops around the Common, I could see where the not skinny guy might have been a little put out. I’m smart enough not to mention that lest I get slapped.
That’s how I made friends with bike guy. I know it is hard to make friends as an adult, still, this is not how I want to make friends as an adult.
Oh yeah, and after 10 minutes, a police cruiser (well, police SUV, because there are many, many mountains and offroad trails in Salem) finally circles the Salem Common without stopping. Guess if there’s no riot, they weren’t interested.