Saturday, my wife and I attended a memorial. A young man, son of a woman with whom my wife had been friends for a long time, passed away from complications secondary to surgery following an accident. We were on our way to another gathering immediately following that, and had to stop to refuel the car. We were tired, the memorial was one where we had to stand the whole time, in a room that was full of people and probably ninety degrees, no AC, no breeze. What we wanted to do was sit somewhere cool and have a drink. As I stood inside the minimart in an alcove off one side of the register, waiting for the pump to finish so I could pay for the petrol, a man came in and asked the clerk for cigarettes.
The neighborhood was not bars on every window, but only a step above that. While I was waiting, a woman came into the market, turned in several bottles, bought one can of beer, and left.
The new customer was a somewhat seedy-looking character who looked to be in his late forties or early fifties, and he mumbled something I couldn't make out when the clerk asked him what kind of cigarettes.
The smoker waved and pointed, mumbled, but all those were vague.
The clerk kept his gaze on the guy, asked again.
"Right there," the customer said, pointing.
In that moment, what I realized was that the customer wanted the clerk to turn around and look, and I knew–I was sure–that if the clerk turned his back to Mr. Seedy, he was going to grab something from the counter and haul ass.
The clerk knew it, too, and he absolutely was not going to turn around and give the guy his back. An urban stand-off.
Another query, then the customer shook his head and walked away, left the store.
Now, there was no way I could know what was going on in the customer's mind, nor in that of the clerk, but I believed that I did. Certainly enough to use the story here ...