Peter Francis May

We Need a Hero

I had two stories tonight. One makes me look like a jerk. The other makes me look like a hero. I was going to let you decide which one you wanted to hear but I couldn’t bare the thought of a room full of people yelling “Jerk!” “Jerk!” So here’s a little hero story.

UW-Madison, mid 70’s, Lakeshore dorms, snowy winter evening. I’m in a really crappy mood after another fight with my new roommate who, because he was a total nutbag, had locked me out of my room for the third time in our first week together but that’s another story. I wanted a hamburger, an angry, fatty hamburger. I take the long way into the cafeteria because out front there are a dozen guys having a very roudy snowball fight and I don’t want to deal with their sophomoric crap. Inside I get my hamburger and sit down. Across from me, is a woman I’d seen many times in the cafeteria. She’s sitting alone too.

Anyway, suddenly, the outdoor snowball fight comes indoors. Three guys laughing and heaving snowballs left and right. One snowball hits this woman square in the face. Her glasses fly off, her soda spills, her meal is ruined and, like I said, I was already in a foul mood and I snapped.

I ran toward the three guys. They’re still laughing and running around.
I was kinda big and heavy even back then. Sort of a “Baby Huey” shape. I made contact with the first guy at a full sprint and the impact sent him flying, his back hit the wall and his feet shot straight out and he fell to the floor on his ass.

The second guy, went to run around me. I spun around and kinda redirected him headfirst into a big, gray garbage pail so just his feet were sticking out. At that point the third guy and I are standing about one foot apart. I was just tripping on adrenaline and I was not coherent, I think I just screamed. Ahhhhhhhhhh! He ran for the door followed by the other guy. The whole incident was over in less than thirty seconds.

There was a smattering of applause and some cheers. I walked back to my table shaking. I was going to see if the woman sitting across from me was alright but she was gone. Right away this other guy comes up and he was like, “Man, I was going to come help you but you didn’t look like you needed any help!” And I believed him because I choose to believe that everyone wants to help. Sometimes they just need a catalyst. After that two women walked over and thanked me but that was it. Pretty much over. Everyone went back to their meals.

That’s when I started thinking about the walk back to the dorm and wondering whether these guys would be waiting outside for me. The cafeteria was on a second level and you had to walk down a flight of stairs to the glass doors. Outside there were six of them and one of me. Do the math. Well, another thing about my bad moods. Not only do I get stupid, I can get suicidal.

I burst through the doors and walked right into their circle and I stood for five seconds looking around. Five seconds can seem like a very long time. One-one thousand, two-one thousand, three one-thousand, four one-thousand, five one thousand. Thinking back I probably looked crazy as hell. I might even have been counting out loud. Bottom line, none of them made a move so I just kept walking.

I’ll admit, I might not have jumped into action for all the right reasons but I believe I did the right thing and here, forty years later, I’m still kinda proud that I stood up.