I admit, watching people trip over the cobblestones near The Battery is one of my favorite pastimes. No matter how many times I witness this event, I am forced to turn away and stifle my laughter as though nothing happened. Everyone does. Well, at least most people politely pretend to have not seen anything.
I was having lunch in a little cafe on East Bay Street when I looked to my right and suddenly, I was conflicted. The woman at the next table had a pinto bean completely blacking out one of her front teeth. It was as if she intentionally slid the casing of the bean over her tooth and left it as a dental accessory. She looked like Captain Jack. And so my dilemma: Do I tell her?
One night, while asleep upstairs in my King Street apartment, I was abruptly awakened by an alarming scream. I sat up and listened. Again, I heard a girl’s voice shouting for help. “I’ll save you!” I thought as I rummaged in the dark for my shoes. Once I found my kicky sandals, I realized it was probably just some drunken college kids out goofing around.
It was a true moment of intense mental conflict before I decided that I wasn’t going down there. So I did what any normal person would do. I watched from the safety of my kitchen window. Turns out it was just some kids having fun, though I became so entertained watching them from my perch that by the time I went to bed I was down one bag of popcorn and an hour of sleep.
Despite the insignificance of that night’s “scare,” I now live in constant fear of having to exercise bravery or decision-making or of witnessing crime. I am the kind of skittish person who won’t tell the lady that she tucked her skirt into her underwear. It’s not that I don’t want to tell her. I do. More than anything! But unfortunately, I physically feel people’s reactions.
My stomach wrenches, my heart races and I blush just from watching other people receive objectionable news. It’s the impending reaction of the victim that makes me run and hide. What if she doesn’t laugh? What if I tell her and she gets mad? I hate causing scenes. I’d rather let the thief run away with my wallet than to yell and alert people to my predicament. “Shhh! Take it! Just go!”
My fear was intensified upon discovering a hidden camera show that intentionally put people in these situations. While my friends laughed, I stared in horror.
A man would steal someone’s computer from a coffee shop, and the previously jovial coffee drinkers, all settled in their cozy chairs, are suddenly on edge. Some brave souls would get right up and confront the guy. Others would alert an employee. I would have pretended not to notice; my heart racing, tunnel vision, waiting for the person to come back and realize they had been robbed. I would have fled the scene.
I’m not mean-hearted. I’m not particularly self-centered. Can I argue that my extreme awareness of other people is what makes me afraid of them? It is because of this horrific theory that I have approximately four friends. It is the act of being a humane citizen that keeps me from social situations.
I know I’m not alone. I see people every day step over that pile of papers someone just dropped or not point out that one missing piece of the cellphone that just shattered on the floor. Why do we get so panicky about other people’s situations? “It’s not actually your problem,” I remind myself when I see someone tracking toilet paper through Charleston Place hotel.
And so I live, turning a blind eye to other people’s embarrassing moments, only stepping in when I foresee physical harm coming. As of my most recent atrocity involving banana taffy and an eye patch, I have vowed to find discreet ways in which to inform people of their own personal tragedies. After all, if I left a restaurant sporting greens, I would want someone to tell me.
Laura Union is a disgruntled college student held captive by her schoolwork. She grew up in Charleston writing humorous accounts of everyday experiences.