Stop, stand, and wait.

To break the boredom of perpetual lockdown, I walk around the neighborhood once daily, unless it snows. It didn't snow overnight, so here we go — six blocks north, one block west, six blocks south, one block east, and back to this recliner.

At the first corner, there used to be a newsbox, where I fed quarters into a machine to buy a newspaper. No quarters today, and no newspaper, no box.

At the next corner, there's a tavern, and across the street is my second-favorite diner in town, but both have been padlocked for the winter because of the pandemic. "For the winter" might be overly optimistic.

Along Humphrey Street there's a red, rickety, run-down house with four Trump signs still on the lawn, which gives me a schadenfreude smile.

The Lutheran Church has a Little Free Pantry on its lawn, offering canned foods free for the taking.

Two blocks further on my walk, there's a scrawny boy waiting for a bus. He's maybe 10, maybe 8, stick-thin and wearing glasses. I don't give him much thought until two bigger boys come along. They're saying something, and I'm not near enough to hear, but from half a block away, I recognize what's happening.

One of the big kids feigns a punch but doesn't make contact, just for the joy of watching the little kid flinch. The other one slaps at the scrawny boy's backpack. No damage has yet been done, except to the little guy's morning and mood and self-esteem.

As I come closer, I can hear what the big kids are saying, and the language of cruelty hasn't changed since I was bullied when I was a boy. "Dummy" and "Shit-head" and "Ya little asswipe" — all the classics. Then one of the big kids shoves the little one, but he keeps his footing, so far.

And then I'm too close for them to continue. In a few years they won't care about adults who aren't cops, but for now, for today, my presence is an interruption and they're on their best behavior.

I briefly daydream about it, but I don't smack either of them in the head. I don't feign a punch, just to watch them flinch. I don't even yell at them. I'm the grown-up here, sadly, so I simply stop, stand, and wait beside the little kid. He's looking down the street as the bus — his escape — approaches from a few blocks away.

The big boys aren't waiting for a bus. They probably don't even have the fare. Their purpose is only to taunt or bruise the little kid. Seeing me with my grumpy face, and the bus coming, they understand that they'll have no further opportunity to make him miserable, at least not at the moment, and they wander away.

The bus makes its hydraulic hissing sound as it pulls over. The door opens, and the little kid gets on, and I resume my daily walk. One more block east, and then back to my recliner.



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