UNITED STATES—I did something out of character when I saw the White man chase the Black man into the gutter and out of sight behind the regal truck cab. I broke into a run to see what was going on. Not out of morbid curiosity, mind you. My run was motivated by concern that a person here might be endangered or that my presence as an onlooker might serve to diffuse the brawl. There is something about the special period that is introducing me to a total stranger: my new self.

As a child I would have lurked behind the schoolyard mob and snarkily watched them pour, like an insect colony, toward the focus of a skirmish.

As I sprinted around the chrome and plum radiator grill of the truck I saw that the White guy had the Black kid pinned to the ground. What had caused such a ferocious chase, I wondered. The kid was very Black, Black as a starless night. He was not fighting back. I was jarred by the discovery that the lanky blond guy punching him was well known to me as an attendant of the dispensary.

I surmised that the kid had attempted a hold-up of edibles of CBD oil. The blond guy, a native of somewhere in that gargantuan land mass marked on my old wall map as the U.S.S.R. winced as he let the kid alone. He had just enough rage left to get a final fist to lightly connect with the kid’s collarbone, and then he saw me. He slammed the kid down to the ground one more time. When the sullen one started to make his way back to the dispensary, the kid was grinning and sprang up.

“Face it, honey,” he said sassily to the retreating figure of his attacker, “You still really want it.”

The Slavic guy was fuming and embarrassed. All the air went out of my lungs. The Slav just kind of stayed there like stuck. He glanced at the security guard. That guy was still chilling behind earbuds, oblivious to the fight that had just occurred under his nose. This was one mercy for my Slavic acquaintance.

I silently passed by like a ship in the night, but I know that I had been seen. That grinning kid with oily skin like a starless night, quickly drifted to the other side of the street, unwounded. He was OK. All these barbed feelings bubbled up in me like pinpricks in mineral water. I kept walking away from the smoke shop and stopped by the parking lot. I saw the smoke shop guy give a desultory gaze before turning back into the shop. A heaviness descended. Why me? Why did I have to be passing by, dawdling at the window of love and peace at this precise instant? All I wanted was my damn Mota grams and freaking edible cookie. It was a reliable source of temporary contentment, if not lasting happiness.

It had to be the guy I know, who always gives me a special deal. He always throws in a couple extra laced honey sticks or a Jasmin Dawn cookie. Here he was caught in a really embarrassing fix. The melee wasn’t a case of theft, but a case of unwanted love—something infinitely messier and less desirable than unrequited love. Love, love, love—yearn and pine for it to the heavens. Cry for it, decry it, and bellyache to your friends: before, during and after. When it’s coming from the wrong place, attraction turns to repulsion and loathing. It’s as if magnetic poles are reversed, and one wants to vomit it out, or mask it with laughter, this excessive if impudent gift.

Our Russian friend connected it to his feet and fists. Which was surely right by his upbringing. But my new self doesn’t care any more about upbringing or inherited mores.

And the Devil of it all. I was caught in my own fix. Too often we lie because we fear the truth. I stood by the edge of the parking lot, wondering just what to do. I have never felt a more fictional character in my life. Why me? Why did I have to see this at this time and it roiled a pleasant if expedient mundane relationship with the guy who gives me a break on Jasmine Dream cookies and throws in magic honey sticks.

I closed one eye. One must defer to a higher code. I had a choice, a simple choice to go back and buy the Jasmine Dawn cookies or go, leave the Russian to stew in his own atavistic juices, and thereby prove that I wasn’t hooked on ganja. I wanted to call one of my friends to whom I’ve outsourced my conscience. No, the answer was in me. Then and there I vowed to never to go back to the smoke shop with the green cross ever again.

To be continued…