Dave saw the drunk first as he careened about shouting belligerently on a downtown steet.
The drunk – let’s call him Ludwig – staggered over the curb, and fell to the pavement. We eyed him for signs of distress, as if there weren’t enough signs already of a protracted, continual, non-stop distress.
It may be due to Christmas, a season that can be rough for even the sober, but Ludwig’s pitch has risen this month. He’s gone from public nuisance to a one-man fright-night show. He clears city streets wherever he goes – an entire block of shoppers in our downtown district vacate when he shows up.
None of this is illegal. Public drinking is tolerated here, as is public intoxication.
Ludwig started rolling around, so medical assistance was not required, and we wavered on our course, deciding first to head back and take a long circuitous route, but then, seeing how the crowds responded nonchalantly to Ludwig, we guessed it was safe to pass, but with a wide berth. We were right next to him when three things happened in rapid succession.
Thing one: A bus stopped and a girl of about eight-years of age stepped out.
Thing two: Ludwig came to.
Thing three: Ludwig lunged at the girl, grabbing her full-on by the shoulders.
He pressed his squashed mug right into her face, leaving only the slenderest of air margins between him and her. These things really do happen in a flash. Dave, my evenly tempered, unassuming computer-wizard husband shouted, “Hey!” and darted in, grabbed Ludwig’s sleeve and gave him a quick shake.
These are moments I live to avoid. I was a crime reporter, and know too well how such interactions can quickly spiral into a life-changing stabbing, but at the same time I feared for Dave, I knew there only one thing to do and he did it.
Ludwig released the child who, as the cliché goes, ‘beat a hasty retreat,’ and fixed his waxen eyes on David. Then he staggered on to the bus, to what fate we do not know, but we can certainly guess that the passengers were in for a Christmas shopping day like none they had seen before.
That was Saturday. Sunday, Ludwig was not to be seen anywhere. We imagine his bus ride ended in arrest. We hope so, anyway. Christmas in the slammer is not a bad thing compared to what was going on on the street.