I was standing beside my car, a maroon Toyota sheened yellow by pollen from a long gone autumn and browned by a coat of winter dirt. The driver’s side door hung open, my hand resting on it as I waited for my roommate to come out of the apartment.
“The fuck you just say to me?” a woman screamed a block over. I looked. She dropped her bags and began walking back down the stoop towards a slow rolling Chevy—a big Silverado. Two mushy white faces sat behind the tinted windshield, eyes blurred into blacked-out hollows from their sunglasses. One was laughing.
I have an unfounded fear of being shot in a drive-by. In recurring nightmares, I’m running from a slow rolling window, from the side door that slides too fast. I don’t know why, aside from general paranoia. I grew up in semi-rural suburbia after a ’88 Sentra crashed into the side of my family’s Richmond apartment and my parents decided it was time to move. I was five.
As the Silverado rolled through the four-way stop at the end of my block, the hairs stood up on my neck. The passenger side window was rolled down. I wondered how fast I could dive into the car and shut the door. They were two cars away from me. From two or three feet, the door would stop certain small caliber bullets, but the window was essentially tissue paper at that range. Unless I ran right then, the likelihood of me catching one to twelve rounds in the body was pretty high. Unfortunately, I was too busy contemplating a highly unlikely drive-by shooting to do anything about said highly unlikely drive-by shooting.
I stood there mouth-breathing as a hand emerged from the window. Something grazed my leg. A wet thud sounded from inside the car. The Silverado picked up speed and I could hear the two men laughing. I turned.
A half-eaten banana lay smeared across the floorboard carpet of my car. Pulpy bits dangled from my leg hair. They threw a banana into my car, I thought. A banana. I started blinking at the back of the Silverado. Blinking blinking blinking because I read somewhere that heavy-blinking is like a camera shutter that cements your memory, and I was going to remember that license plate. Tennessee. Blink. Tennesee. Blink. Tennessee. The banana sloshed in my hand as I sat down in the car, jammed the key into the ignition and shifted into drive. My roommate opened the passenger side door.
“Get in.” I said.
“What?” he said
“What’s the rush, baby?” he craned his neck down so his head hung sideways into the car.
“Some assholes just threw this banana into my car.” I held up the mush in my off-hand.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“What are you going to do?”
“Give them their banana back," I said, adding a bit of Vin Diesel throat-gravel for effect.
He stuffed his long legs beneath the glove box, and I pulled from the spot before he shut the door. The Silverado was creeping along, two blocks down the street. I drove fast, rolled through two stop signs, and was right behind it before it reached the next block.
I rolled down the window.
I like to think that I grew out of unhinged temper tantrums somewhere around age sixteen or seventeen. I hadn’t lost it like this in years, and part of me was dimly aware that my better senses had been shouted down temporarily by something deeper. As I held the banana in my left hand, my off hand, I briefly contemplated why I was doing this. For a block or so, I considered why the man threw the banana into my car in the first place.
Was it that he didn’t have a role model to tell him that throwing bananas into other people’s cars was not how you treat them? Maybe he was high on some kind of judgment distorting substance. Better yet, he played guitar, and all he really wanted in life was to sing Conway Twittie-esque ballads, but after falling into a bad drug habit could barely manage to roll out of bed and make it to work at his landscaping job—menial labor that he hated. A badly sunburned neck can deeply alter a psyche. Or a failed marriage haunted him, and I looked just like his ex-wife’s new boyfriend. Or he was filthy rich. He probably thought he was above me. I was some thrift store flanneled bystander worthy only of half eaten banana mush. Or he was just an asshole.
Was I just an asshole? Some guy who cared too much about what another asshole thought about him? I should laugh it off. Nonviolence is your birthright. Look at your arms. Sticks. You’re 163 soaking wet pounds of pure fury. The meek will inherit. He’ll get his someday.
The Silverado slowed into a small lot beside a construction zone. Now. Throw it now. I told my off hand.
But honestly, what does it say about me if I throw this? I thought. If one person throws a banana at another, it is the responsibility of the recipient to break the cycle. Right? I don’t have to throw the banana.
Surely, if I don’t throw this banana, this man will continue to think that it is quite acceptable to throw bananas at strangers. He has to learn, the hard way, that throwing bananas is childish. It’s wrong. It’s unacceptable.
My left-hand throw is trash. I settled for the Silverado’s back window, He would see the error of his ways. My fruity retribution would spell the end of this insensate’s spree.
“I can end this here”, I said, probably aloud. The banana sweat syrup through my fingers.
“Throw it, man,” Cole said.
The Silverado was nearly to the edge of my range. You won’t make it.
Just throw it, you pussy.
The pussy word. Not pussy like Riot. Not pussy like cat. Pussy like coward, the dread monicker that all twelve year old pit stains bestow upon their victims. Suddenly, if I didn’t throw the banana, I was soft. Cole would see that I couldn’t follow through on my revenge. That I couldn’t stand up for myself. No one around here hails the man who shakes his head and forgets that a banana was ever thrown at him. No one. I am an American. I will pick up the banana, no matter how small, mushy, and inconsequential, and I will throw it right back. I will then purchase an entire ream of bananas, and throw those as well. I will then purchase more bananas—for safety. I slowed the car, Tennessee written in scrawling blue letters on the license plate flashed by my left elbow dangling out my driver’s side window. I zeroed in on the back window.
The man in the passenger seat had broad shoulders, dark and looming through the tinted glass—broad enough to be noted from behind the ample seat of the truck. He could kick my ass. He would kick my ass—if he caught me.
But he won’t catch me. I can run. Bob and weave, bob and weave. Serpentine. An impala dissolving in tall grass. My agility would save me.
No. No running. No retreat. Man up.
The thumping in my throat moved to my temples and the Tennessee lettering shrunk as the truck pulled away. I lobbed the banana. It fell short and slopped off the back bumper. The Silverado drove off behind a fence by the construction zone. They were gone.
My face pounded, a burning orb atop my shoulders.
“Dammit,” Cole said, “You missed, man.”
“No shit.” I said.