"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Loud Mouth

When I was younger I used to day dream about being the good samaritan hero. I’d save an old lady from being hit by a car, or take a bullet for my girlfriend. Then I’d be in the papers and I would be humble. It spoke to my sense of insecurity. I felt that if I could be a hero, if I could prove myself, people would recognize me as a good guy. They would appreciate me.

A spell of Indian Summer hit New York yesterday. This morning, the humidity covered the autumn chill like a heavy wet blanket. The sun was shining. I walked out of my apartment building, a block away to 238th street, and turned right. 238th street is a narrow block that runs downhill. I looked up and saw the fat bearded man that I see every morning on the far end of the block with his three small children waiting for the school bus. Today, he was in the middle of the block, having just walked out of his apartment building.

He walked to the curb and then crossed the street. His kids trailed behind him but didn’t go across the street. The smallest son, maybe five or six years old, was closest behind him. The boy wore a blue yarmulke that covered his head; he was weighed down from behind by his backpack. The boy stopped at the curb and watched his father. I was about thirty or forty feet away, looking downhill at them. I absent-mindedly watched the father and wondered what he was doing on the other side of the street.

The second son, taller, though not by much, than his brother, watched his father too but didn’t stop at the curb.  Out of the corner of my left eye, I saw a car coming down the hill. The boy didn’t stop so I shouted. I don’t remember what I said but I said it loudly enough for the boy to stop dead in his tracks. The car came to a halt too. And everything was quiet. It was like pressing pause on a VCR. It was about to happen and then it didn’t.

Everyone was awake now.

The father, standing on the other side of the street, looked at me and then at his son. “What is the matter with you,” he said in a thick accent that I couldn’t place. ”I said to stay there.”

I looked at the driver of the car, a metallic-blue sedan. She was in her forties I guessed. She looked back at me, a flat expression on her face. I looked down and exhaled. I thought of the boy, seeing me tomorrow, and every day after that, mortified at my presence, a reminder of his carelessness. Then again, maybe he’d already forgotten about me.

I apologized to the boy. And then, to the father, “I just wanted to get his attention.” The father said something back but I don’t remember what it was. I looked at the driver again, she turned back ahead and the car rolled away.

She would have hit the boy if I hadn’t said anything. I thought about the anxiety that parents must live with every day and I started to sweat as I walked away. I imagined the impact, the reaction on the father’s face, the blood, screaming. I thought of the boy in rehab learning to walk again, a funeral.

I didn’t feel special. I felt unsure and insignificant. I had a thought to walk back home, wake up my wife and hug her but I kept walking down the hill. I thought about how safe and small my life is and how everything can change in a moment. I didn’t speak but I could feel my voice going away, like water down the drain.

I didn’t feel heroic. I felt like I was going to be sick.

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33 comments

1 RagingTartabull   ~  Sep 24, 2009 10:44 am

I didn’t feel heroic. I felt like I was going to be sick.

did you get the Belly Bomber at River Deli for breakfast? Because it tends to do that.

j/k, great story.

2 Just Fair   ~  Sep 24, 2009 10:48 am

Holy Shite. That's crazy. We often are given subtle or not too subtle reminders that life can change in a heartbeat. Dwelling on it would drive a person nuts, though. Be glad you were there and that the litle kid was unharmed.
I too used to imagine always doing heroic things when I was a kid. And that I would somehow get hurt and be bedridden so that all the neigborhood kids would have to visit me. Weird. Normal. Who knows?

3 rbj   ~  Sep 24, 2009 10:48 am

Whatever the social embarrassment, you probably saved the kid's life. That's much more important.

I did stop a friend from crossing the street in Portland (Or) years ago. There was only one car on the street, and it was headed for the same spot & same time as him. I don't feel like a hero for having done that, just a person watching out for others.

We are all going to have lapses in judgment from time to time, that is normal.

4 Sliced Bread   ~  Sep 24, 2009 10:56 am

As the father of three boys who don't always do what they're told (Wait here!) stories like this terrify me.

I'm not sure how how you should feel. Heroic or sick to your stomach seem appropriate. More than anything I thik I would feel thankful that I was there to stop a tragedy from happening. I would thank God. I would also thank myself for whatever seemingly random decisions I made that put me in that moment, and allowed me to make the right decision (YELL SOMETHING) in that window of opportunity. You were a split second away from feeling helpless and something far worse. You, the boy, his father, the driver and everybody else in their lives can feel thankful that this beautiful morning turned out 100% better than it could have.

5 Raf   ~  Sep 24, 2009 11:01 am

Saw a guy get rolled in Seattle this past weekend. Couldn't do anything about it, unfortunately. I tried to help, but they were too far ahead of me.

6 Shaun P.   ~  Sep 24, 2009 11:05 am

[4] As the father of two young kids who seem to be stuck on 5-second delay ("STOP!" (5 seconds pass) kid stops), ditto on the terrify part.

[0] Alex, as sick as you might have felt or still feel, if that was my kid, as the dad, I'd be eternally grateful to you and thank God that you were there and had the presence of mind to act as you did. At some point the dad is going to feel that, if he hasn't already. And while you didn't see the kid's mother, I'll bet she never forgets you, and she'll probably thank you in her head and heart many times over the years. Take comfort! You done good.

And saved the driver's ass, too.

7 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 24, 2009 11:06 am

Thanks, guys. Yeah, it's just so strange. I feel like the older I get the more scared I am that shit can go wrong. LOL

8 boslaw   ~  Sep 24, 2009 11:09 am

if you have that feeling now, wait until you have kids. Take that feeling and multiply by 10 million. It's crazy what having a kid can do to you.

9 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Sep 24, 2009 11:11 am

Wow. Thank you, Alex. Thank you. I'm honored that you share so much with us.
And nice job, hero. :)

10 Sliced Bread   ~  Sep 24, 2009 11:15 am

[7] yup. Invincibility is definitley a kid's game. I'm surprised Parker Bros. didn't capitalize on that concept. Unless they or some other game maker already has...

11 Yankee Mama   ~  Sep 24, 2009 11:28 am

It's true. I was unconcerned until I had kids. Now, I have to hold my scared thoughts back. I have a son who is careful and a daughter who is impulsive. As if the mother/daughter thing wasn't hard enough....

I wish I knew you were going to recount a story like this. I wouldn't have put on mascara.

It's nasueating, but you did a mitzvah. You cared for another today without conditions.

12 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 24, 2009 11:30 am

The funny thing is I felt self conscious about mentioning it at all on the blog, as if I was doing that to make myself look good. Ah, the meanderings of a neurotic mind. But then I said, hell with it, I share stuff that happens to me with you guys and it makes me feel better to express myself in some way. Self-serving, yes. But it helps keep me going. Thanks for being there, dudes.

13 krad   ~  Sep 24, 2009 11:31 am

If it's the part of 238th I think you mean (near the post office), I'm honestly stunned that doesn't happen more often. That street's a nightmare to drive or walk on.....

14 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 24, 2009 11:35 am

Just up the block from the post office, yup that's the spot.

15 Shaun P.   ~  Sep 24, 2009 11:43 am

[12] Sure thing. The least we can do, for all you give us (and the venting about the Yanks you let each of us do here!).

16 williamnyy23   ~  Sep 24, 2009 12:16 pm

Didn't Arod also save a child from a car accident in Toronto recently? Must be the first name?

17 RIYank   ~  Sep 24, 2009 12:47 pm

Yeah, I can't tell from my personal experience whether the passing of the feeling of invulnerability is due to parenthood or just plain aging. Maybe both. It happens so fast, from a kind of confident sense of immortality to the opposite sense of extreme fragility. Stark reminders of fragility can be incredibly jarring. But it's always there.

18 Bama Yankee   ~  Sep 24, 2009 12:53 pm

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Alex. You're a hero in my book, good job.

[4] & [6] Put me in the terrified parent column as well. Last summer my son (who was four at the time) was riding his bike on a gravel road at the campground. There is not much traffic and the cars do a good job of watching out for kids on their bikes, but since I'm overprotective, I was following along behind him just in case. I had told him that if I yelled stop that he must stop immediately. Well, sure enough, when he go to an intersection and I yelled stop...he didn't. There was a truck coming (going very slow, but I was not sure if they saw him). I broke into a full spring that would make Brett Gardner look like Jose Molina. When I got to him I just grabbed him off the bike and hugged him thinking of what could have happened. I was furious and scared, but that was overcome by my relief that everything was okay. As the truck drove by, the lady on the passenger's side rolled down the window and said: "Good job, dad" (I guess her first thought was that I was going to yell at him for not stopping). I knew there would be time for discipline later (parking the bike for the rest of the day and a stern warning about what can happen when you don't listen to dad got the message across nicely, he has stopped perfectly ever since). At the time all I could think about was how quickly things can happen...even when you are right there.

19 FreddySez   ~  Sep 24, 2009 1:50 pm

When my two nephews were little, they'd drop what they were doing and sprint to my side when I appeared. I'd often wake up in a sweat, terrified about what would happen if one of them spotted me across a busy street. Imagined myself shouting... running out to stop them... terrible.

Now they're teenagers -- not only wiser, but way too cool to greet me that way. But now my own daughter is four. And the sweats return.

So I'll join the chorus of prematurely greying parents: Alex, no matter what you shouted, it was the right thing. Your apology was a normal impulse but an unnecessary gesture. And I'd like to think the father was not rude, but shell-shocked. I'd be curious to hear what happens the next time you cross paths.

20 Patrick   ~  Sep 24, 2009 1:59 pm

You're a good guy, Alex.

Patrick

21 Chyll Will   ~  Sep 24, 2009 2:29 pm

Good for you, Alex. It's very easy for careless situations to turn into tragedy; it's not easy to react before it happens. Many people would either still be processing the situation in their minds or just too self-conscious to respond. You did the right thing. The sickness comes with the job, but I choose feeling sick after helping to avert disaster over any other sick all day.

22 Diane Firstman   ~  Sep 24, 2009 2:52 pm

Heck Alex .... I do that to *adults* who are seemingly oblivious to the traffic around them. They're not looking ... on their Blackberrys .... etc.

I would hope someone would alert ME if the situation presented itself.

23 Ben   ~  Sep 24, 2009 3:03 pm

Welp, I think you nailed the heavy-side of fatherhood/adulthood. You use words or tones of voice that you know are upsetting to children, because you are convinced they are necessary in a larger light. So you yell at a child for nearly walking into the street because a 3 year old won't understand logic, he'll understand the serious boundary conveyed in your reprimand. And you give hard consequences when you'd really like to explain and convince.

My psycho-babble take on the sickening feeling is this: You've got this hero fantasy. Then you do the right thing, the heroic thing, and you help avert an accident. Then what? Where's the Daily News, right? POP! There goes that fantasy. Shit the Dad didn't even thank you and the kid might hate you! And Pfffttt goes your equilibrium as you once again grow out of childhood fantasies and into adult reality.

It's so cool of you to post this kind of story. I bet you a bzillion dollars that ball players go through this kind of thing all the time. I wonder who they tell their stories to?

24 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 24, 2009 3:09 pm

Thanks B. Yeah, I think you are right. The hero stuff doesn't mean anything. It's a superficial fantasy. The only thing that matters is that the kid was okay. Or that he might have been hurt.

25 Ben   ~  Sep 24, 2009 3:24 pm

Just cause it was a fantasy doesn't mean it was superficial, i don't think. That stuff is hard to challenge. Even harder to talk about in such an easy way. Enough to make anyone a little quesy.

I swear Kennedy was working through this stuff last night. He comes all the way back. It's the fantasy. And he's making crafty pitches, except, they're all balls!. He gets it straight and throws some strikes. Looks like a million dollars for the second out. Then the next batter, makes two nice pitches. Close but both balls. This ain't the minor leagues, Jack!. Then hits the up and outside corner with a regular fastball, the Angel lifts a lazy fly ball to left. Inning over. Not so special. Not so hard though either. POP! PFFFFT!

26 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Sep 24, 2009 5:32 pm

[18] That's terrible, Bama. I once thought my kid had fallen into the sea forever more. We were at Mystic Village or whatever it's called and he was roaming about unattended, about 4yo, probably, just old enough to extend him independence, just young enough for us still to be worried. Anyway, he disappeared, wouldn't answer when we called him and we looked all over, frantically, realizing that there was a dock nearby and what if he just fell into the sea and that was that? Agony for however long it lasted, until the kid leapt out from the bushes, "SURPRISE!"

Must have shaved at least a year off my life. Would that were the only such moment of terror.

Parenthood.

27 Bama Yankee   ~  Sep 24, 2009 6:16 pm

[26] Wow. That had to be tough. I could see my son doing something like that as well. Although, when we play hide-and-seek and I don't find him right away he starts to giggle and gives himself away.

I heard a story the other day about a father who had his two-year-old ripped from his arms by flood waters over in Georgia. Listening to the father describe the tragedy was heartbreaking... It made me think about how we sometimes take the time we have with our kids for granted and how we should enjoy every moment (even those times when they drive us crazy).

28 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Sep 24, 2009 6:48 pm

Great job Alex. Da' Mayor done a good thing.. :)

29 edoubletrouble   ~  Sep 24, 2009 6:59 pm

you the man Al Belt

30 The Hawk   ~  Sep 24, 2009 6:59 pm

I wondered if I should even mention this, cause I'm fairly certain every single person on here disagrees with me, but maybe it will be of interest: I didn't much care for this piece.

I can't quite put my finger on why, but the tone of it made me slightly uncomfortable. I feel like it's somewhat maudlin - not that the roots of the story and the emotions aren't real, it just comes across a little pretentious in the sense that there's a bit of a put-on at work, not the artsy-fartsy sense. [12] goes a way toward explaining this, or at least it does in theory. Something about being self-conscious or embarrassed to share I think discolored the execution. I get the sense that in this piece somehow you held back and laid it on a bit thick, if that's possible.

Maybe this a Thumper moment and if so, I apologize.

31 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Sep 24, 2009 7:03 pm

[27] Oh, sweet Jesus. There are no words. (I taught the Iliad today, and actually, it reminds me of something one might find in Homer, so maybe there are words, but I don't have them.)

32 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Sep 24, 2009 7:05 pm

[28] Da Mayor! Totally!

33 Raf   ~  Sep 25, 2009 10:50 am

[32] Why, because he did the right thing? :)

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver