I was out to dinner and overheard a conversation that irked me. I was having a late supper at a small cafe, just about an hour before the kitchen closed. When I say, “small,” I mean, there were just about 10 or so tables.
The only other patrons in the place at that hour was an older couple—who I could tell from the easy banter with the two wait staff were regulars—a guy at the teeny-tiny bar (4 bar stools), and another couple quietly chatting in a back corner.
At some point someone started talking about “…all these goddamned riots,” and then several others chimed in.
“You know, if she’d been caught beatin’ her kid like that, on any other day, in the street, like, the way she was goin at him, she’d be brought up on child abuse ‘n thrown in jail.”
“They said they’re boarding up windows on Friday. My friend said she got a notice that her garage is going to be closed and everything.”
“May Day and all those riots, like last year, and, ya know all those other years, like when they trashed the downtown? Place was a mess. Remember? They had to close that one place…”
“Goddamned kids. Makes me so angry.”
“It’s so horrible. I hate downtown. Such a mess. I hate going there.”
I couldn’t tell who was saying what. I was seated at a front table with my back to the place. I didn’t want to turn around, mostly because I didn’t want to be drawn into the conversation. But it went on and on in this vein: How pointless and how horrible all the rioting around the country was.
The next day I overheard practically the very same conversation at work. Everyone was in such an indignant state of mind over “those goddamned kids,” and “all these absolutely pointless, goddamned riots.”
Of course it’s all pointless to anyone who doesn’t want to understand why generations of people with bottled up anger are prone to want to violently vent. They haven’t walked a mile in the other guys’ moccasins. Hatfield and McCoys. Real or implied. It’s all happening, either way.
The kids and adults who are looting and deliberately destroying property may not know anything about, or even care about the tragedy of a man fatally assaulted by the police. But, what they do care about and completely understand is the general outrage of a group of people who feel oppressed and bullied. And, what they subconsciously glom onto is the implied permission by the mob mentality to behave in ways they might not otherwise do if left to their own devices.
While the rest of us might make verbal mincemeat every week of the poor grocery store clerk because we’ve been harboring years of anger and bitterness over a stale life, “these goddamned stupid kids” are acting out of a desperate sense of being cornered with no way out. And, prejudice. Theirs and “the other guy’s.”
Truth is, we are all angry. Truth is, there is not one person absolutely free of prejudicial indictment of anyone they think is against them, or different from themselves. And, the truth is, we all fall victim to mob mentality, from the little late-supper klatsch in the cafe the other night, to the throngs of people breaking storefront windows and setting cars on fire. We are all burdened with a dreadful sense of “us vs. them.” Misery loves company, and outrage needs an outlet.
So, it’s interesting to note that “May Day” is a sort of double entendre. The First of May is also the day we celebrate the lighter, brighter, and entirely lustier side of life, complete with flowers, dancing and frolicking…which is its own sort of mob mentality, I guess. We could be out tripping the light fantastic, casting out rose petals along our path as we go, instead of hurling rocks at policemen. It could be one way, this first day of May, or it could be the other.
I haven’t decided which May Day I will embrace. I could raise arms in righteous solidarity with the hordes of angry thugs against the injustices of the world, ready to beat people and property into a bloody pulp. Or I could throw my cares away and skip playfully in the bright sunshine, hand-in-hand with my bonny springtime lover, around a b’ribboned pole. I don’t know. Both sound so appealing.