hatchet man

los angeles (los feliz)

I was milling around Skylight Books on Vermont last week waiting for traffic to die down on the 5. The ever-positive Google Maps guesstimated 30+ road-snarled minutes lay between me and my front door for a few mile journey. In truth, I’d have to be there till the store closed or after before traffic could be considered “manageable.” In LA, you have to just give in and turn the music up to deal with the crawl. Or just not go anywhere ever.

So here I was looking at books I couldn’t afford but filing away titles to check out later when once I did have money (and by which time said titles would most likely be out-of-print). I had just stepped into the Young Adult section when suddenly from nowhere approaches this older black man, 50s or 60s, stooped, graying beard stubble. He seemed to be staring at me and I looked his way.

On his face a scowl of the first-order and it seemed solidly directed at me. A look of grievance. His face was pinched as if a spotlight were pointed at him. I looked away assuming I had just caught him at the wrong moment.

I went back to ponder the book selection when I realized he had stopped and was still focused on me and his expression had not changed not one iota. I decided, ok, maybe he’s crazy. I could just leave.

Or, I could stay and enter the crazy arena.

I was fully accustomed to crazy by this point in my life. I had lived in Florida. I had biked throughout Boston and had the near-death experiences to prove it. And, most recently, I had just escaped from an unpleasant living situation in Ktown.

I returned his stare. Honestly, I was baffled by what I could possibly have done to him. Was it a past-life encounter maybe? A slight or insult in an earlier era that had ended in a duel?  Plus numero dos, I sure as hell wasn’t going to be intimidated out of the Young Adult area.

NOTE: There were no children present–except for yours truly of course.

Thus, there we were having our little stare-off in this hipster, indie, peace-abiding bookstore. What he may not have known was that I can actually out-stare any cat you place in front of me. It’s a hobby of mine really, one that very nearly makes it onto online dating profiles, but not quite.

This particular eye match must have lasted at least fifteen, painful seconds. Just as I was about to break the weirdness by asking him what ever was his dealio, suddenly the man raised his arm…


He raised the weapon to chop-off-arm position.

It seemed odd to me, a man carrying a hatchet into a bookstore, so I decided to take a closer look. Upon further scrutiny, I discovered that this particular hatchet was actually pretty tiny and had a bright red handle that gave off a plasticky sheen under the store lights. I followed the length of the little red handle and there, dangling from one end was…


I suddenly realized he was simply offering me the bathroom key. How thoughtful. His combative seeming attitude had certainly sent some mixed signals.

With this level of communication in our society, no wonder North Korea wants to blow us out of the water. Was I supposed to understand through all his glaring and intimidation that he assumed I’d been impatiently waiting for his slow ass to come on out of the john and give up the damn bathroom key already? Were I the kind of person who placed bets on people’s motives simply by their facial expressions, I’d have initially assumed that he saw me as a dark demon, lying in wait in the Young Adult section that night to exact the toll of his soul for foolhardily crossing my path.

In this case, though, restraint prevailed and I did not shove him into the children’s books and turn Thursday night into a knock-down, bookstore brawl. Rather, I simply shook my head and whispered no thanks. And that was it. With deadly seriousness, the man continued on toward the register with the hatchet.

I have to say, I was pretty relieved that our encounter had turned out so benign. There were certainly worse encounters I’d had with warped denizens of west coast cities, such as a stand-off in Portland that had resulted in a smashed giant-size bottle of aspirin. As we do in these circumstances, I chuckled to myself at the inanity of the whole moment.

Later, while stranded on the 5, I wondered about that magic moment when whichever Skylight employee decided to employ the use of that hatchet as its official bathroom key appendage. We definitely need more random acts of senses of humor in this world.

Whether there is a potential for resulting carnage or not.

Wanderings, Written