Tuesday, December 8, 2009


I had a slightly rough weekend of not feeling so well, which made me miss not one but two parties that I'd been looking forward to for quite a while, so I'm a little bummed. And I've really got no real reason to be bummed, as I've got good and great things happening in my life that I will be sure to post on this blog later, but I won't today- today is a day for a little perspective. Let me tell you a true story from a couple years ago, okay?


It's my first year of being out of college, living on my own in LA for Christmas, and it's hard. I have three jobs that I work at seven days a week, one of which is holiday retail, and I'm barely making my bills and surviving off of ramen and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and lots of macaroni and cheese for dinner. One of the jobs I'm working is at an accounting firm as a file clerk/girl Friday, and I've been sent off, along with my best friend Stacey and her then-fiancee-now-husband Ben, to find authentic Mexican decorations for our company's Christmas party. And even though at the time I've been in LA for less than a year, I already know where to go: Olvera Street.

So off we go, the three of us, and Stacey wants us to take the Metro instead of driving. Okay, fine, whatever, we take the underground train, we get there, have dinner, shop for some party favors and leave fairly late at night. The train ride home is quiet, each of us resting and exhausted from the day, and the train stops, people board, and there's one girl in particular that grabs my attention: she is fairly intimidating in size, she is aggressive as hell, and she is obviously hopped up on something. Her friends provide her with an audience as she loudly berates and makes fun of every single passenger that makes eye contact with her. Nothing is off limits - their race, their clothes, they way they stand or sit - she aims to humiliate everyone who dares to cross her path. I ignore her and close my eyes, daydreaming of a sun-washed beach on a warm spring day.

An older man boards the train at the next stop and finds nowhere to sit, so he plants himself almost directly in front of me as he hangs on to the handle bars. In this tired, worn out man, the girl finds an easy target - his clothes are torn and faded, his hands grimy from a hard day of labor, his eyes cast down at the floor.

One stop goes by, and another, and then another as she continues to focus her taunts on this particular man. It's making the rest of us slightly uncomfortable now, as the man just stares up at her (she is almost twice his size) with confused and tired eyes. He shifts where he is standing, looks around the rest of the train at all the rest of the tired people who have spent the day holiday shopping in the cold and just want to get home. And as I have a perfect view of his backside, I am the only one who sees him pull out a knife from his back pocket.

It's one of those moments that you tell yourself, if that ever happened to me, if someone ever pulled out a knife and I happened to see it, I'd be totally cool, I'd be able to pretend like I never even saw it. Yeah, I could totally do that.

That's what I used to tell myself. Now I know better, because he turned ever so slightly towards me, to see if I'd seen it, and here I am, this barely out of college IDIOT, staring at the knife. I can't look away. I look at him. He looks at me. He looks at the knife. I look at the knife. We finally look back at each other.

His voice is quiet and tired and if I could put a voice to all of the exhaustion that I feel sometimes, it would sound like his.

"I work hard." he says, flicking the knife nervously. "I work hard and long hours and all I want to do is get home to my family and this is what I get?" He nods towards the girl, who has moved on to another unlucky subject and has yet to notice the knife. In fact, no one has noticed it except me, and I feel like I'm in a completely different universe from the rest of the oblivious passengers.

Think think think think think. Say something. Think. God, help me do this better. Think and THEN say something. Don't do it the other way around like you do all the freakin' time-

"I know," is what I end up saying. "I know you're tired. But you don't want to do this. It's not worth it. Your family needs you to come home tonight." I have no idea where I got those words, but I managed to choke them out.

He looks at me, and I look at him, and it has not even occurred to me for a second to be afraid of him. There simply isn't enough time. Years pass before he answers.

"Okay," he says, and that's it. He puts away the knife, the girl and her groupies get off at the next stop, and he gets off on the one after that. About three stops after that, I remember to start breathing again.

When someone asks me what I love most about the holiday season I have to admit that I don't say it's giving and getting the perfect present, which is what I used to say. The reason I love the holiday season so much is that for approximately one month, we remember that each and everyone of us is innocent. And as we see that innocence in each other, it is reflected back as our own innocence. We are all good people at heart, I really do believe that, just trying to get from one place to another, just trying to get home to our families at night, and even if we forget it the other 11 months out of the year, at this time of celebration we always remember how similar we all are, and how easy it is to love one another.


Jo said...

This was intense! For a second, as I read, I thought you were going to confront the girl! Wait....I think I just remembered to start breathing again! Wow! This would actually make a great short!!!! Seriously. Especially the ending....the way it made you feel. The way it made the reader (me) feel. I love it.

New England Girl said...

What an intense story! I absolutely despise people like the girl you mentioned. What joy do they get from harassing kind, non-assuming people who just want to go home peacefully? I hope she, at some point, got what she deserved... whatever that may be. Maybe a swift kick to the arse, something to cure her being a total idiot.
I'm glad of the ending though. I'm glad for this time of year and the way that people think. And I'm glad that man chose his family instead of a poor reaction to someone not worth it.

drollgirl said...

what a story. my captain obvious observations are:

a) that girl was awful. and i wish those types did not exist.
b) you helped de-escalate a situation that could have ended terribly. i am glad you did. but the punisher in me wants to stop that stupid girl from being the way she is.

and a dog name motley?!?! you just get better and better!

drollgirl said...

i meant CAT named motley. sorry!!!

Jenn said...

your story almost made me cry. i'm so glad you found those words to tell that man. some people can just be SO cruel, and it would have been incredibly sad for him to throw his life away on someone like her. you saved his life :)

B. Nagel said...

True story: you do go on. But it's a good going on.

Nice description of the working man.

If you want a challenge, there's a 100 word Christmas ghost-story challenge happening here. I think it'll be fun, and 100 words really isn't much. At all. This comment is over 50. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Another excellent post. I firmly believe that in stressful times we show our true colors and who we really are. You can definitely feel proud of yourself.


My heart was racing while reading this post... I'm so proud of you dear! Hope you are eating better now, but Ramen is yummm, especially when you add some hot sauce! Lovely evening beautiful!

Lira said...

Wow. That's like, from God's ears to your mouth!
You are a vessel.

Barbara said...

Absolutely terrifying story. Your caring, thinking response no doubt prevented a potential disaster for at least 2 people, if not more. My worry is for the man- he was at a breaking point. Why did he have the knife?
The taunting is something else again- something we have all seen time and again. Frankly, I don't know how to prevent attacks like that.
You can be immensely proud of yourself!

Scrap Cat and The Mr. Pillow said...

No, no, no...just when I feel it's safe to read your blog again, when I think I'm brave enough to enter the enchanted world you create with your words...you spill your thoughts and write another island with such beauty and strength, that it makes me doubt every word that I put to page...

This is sooo unfair!!!

Simply awesome...and engaging and human...

Angie Muresan said...

Wow! I am sitting on the edge of my seat, reading this. Love the answer you gave. It is the perfect one for the situation you were in. But, God! I can't imagine how scared you must have been.

Indigo said...

There is so much realism and beauty in this single post, it can easily make one almost believe in humanity again.

I had a friend once ask me, how can you be so trusting, compassionate with all you've lived through. Because some part of me realizes it's not all ugly or dark. There are hints of beauty that far outweigh the rest. And yes, this time of year brings out so much more of the humane.

I'm not surprised you found the right words to say, when you needed them the most. It speaks volumes about your character.

I'm so glad we found one another through our dear sweet Krista. (Hugs)Indigo

Darcy said...

What a great, well-told story--your words were so right for him at that moment.

Wine and Words said...

Great read! So glad you were able to see straight to the heart of the matter, cut to the gut. The thing he wanted most, is the thing he would not get if he let his anger and annoyance reign. It all could have turned out differently...if you had not SEEN HIM, more than just the knife.

krista said...

this story makes me want to talk in cliches and speak about fate.
it also reminds me that my 'unnatural' fear of public transportation is perhaps not all that unnatural after all. i mean, aggressive and large women don't berate me in my car and men with knives don't almost make a big mistake. i like my car.

Gwen said...

Girl God was definitely speaking through you that day!!! And you will always be a hero to that man's family! You helped bring him home that day. Thank you for being you!! Love you tons!! XOXO

Kristin Quinn said...

I've been waiting to hear this story :) You are brave Tracy Clifton!

Dionne said...

OH MY GOSH!!! You are the Queen of Calm! Wow, how did you keep your composure in all that? That mean girl is lucky - you saved her life!

Kris said...

Wow. I am pretty speechless! You really thought on your two feet, girl! While we would have all liked to have seen that girl's ass get kicked we all know that it wouldn't be right!

Gary Heller said...

That was a great story and i like your interpretation of the events as they unfolded. I think you handled it well and with style.
I used to think we are all good intentioned and good at heart but my experiences in life have led me to believe it is simply not the case. There are many out there that will take advantage of any opportunity even if it means totally destroying someone else. . . and have no conscious about it whatsoever. These are not people like yourself.
I alweays get a renewed positive outlook on life when i hear a story of someone upstanding and good natured as you.
Keep up the good stuff, and I also love cookie dough. . .

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