Monday. 8 a.m. Mostly sunny. I am walking my yellow lab on the town trail when I see a man raise a stick and yank his dog so violently off the paved path that I pick up my pace and break hard into the wet grass off the other side. My lab and me, we make the widest possible circle. We start to jog, then full-run. Music blares in my headphones. I do not look back. My dog does not look back. Running feels like escape, like maybe this is not really happening, until we are at the end of the trail and pass the man and his dog in the parking lot. I’ve turned off my headphones and I’m putting my dog in the car as the man’s playful dog pulls towards my playful dog and the man starts dragging hard on the leash and screaming, screaming to stop it, to sit down, to sit sit sit, to knock it the hell off goddammit. He raises his hand. I see the stick. The blows come down and down again and his dog yelps and I’m getting in my car, getting away, and saying, oh my god what are you doing, stop, you’re hurting your dog, please stop. But it’s like I’m making it worse. And the blows keep coming.
I back out, pull onto the interstate. In the rearview all I can see is my own dog in the backseat, still panting from the run, happy. I turn the radio off. I put my hand over my mouth. I sob the 10 miles home.
This man is the first person I think of days later when I hear Secretary Clinton say “basket of deplorables” in the news. This bully on the trail beating his dog. Deplorable. I look up the word to make sure I’m using it right: deserving strong condemnation. No question this man belongs in the basket. In fact, I want to throw him in the basket. Hard. I want to make him hurt.
For the next days I listen as everyone from friend to family to neighbor to pundit rails about the use of the phrase “basket of deplorables” as being deplorable and insists Secretary Clinton might just be deplorable herself. I listen as people argue about who does or does not belong in the basket, and all I can conjure is the image of the bully on the trail. It occurs to me there are those who would dispute my case. He is not deplorable, they might say, it’s his own business, his dog, and what do you know, maybe the dog is dangerous and his beating his dog with that stick saved you and your dog from being attacked, did you ever once think about that?
Here’s what I haven’t told you yet about the man beating his dog. The man looks to be in his 70s. His dog is long-haired and black and weighs about 50 pounds. The dog is skinny with enormous feet, like a big bounding puppy. Like me, the man walks on the trail every morning with his wife and her tiny little dog, and when we pass he pulls his dog to the side and makes him sit. He looks like he’s training, so I always give wide berth and say, “Good morning, good dog.” I have never, until this day, seen him carry a stick. The day he started screaming and beating his dog, the wife continued on. Face forward. She most certainly heard him, heard the dog yelping in pain, must have heard me, a familiar stranger, saying oh my god what are you doing, stop, you’re hurting your dog, please stop. Yet the last thing I saw before I pulled on to the interstate was the wife and her tiny little dog moseying on down the trail, alone, as if nothing unusual had happened.
There are those who say Secretary Clinton was wrong to use such a word, such a high and mighty judgmental phrase. Basket of deplorables? What an elitist. Who in the hell does she think she is?
And yet aren’t there people, situations, actions that are—strictly by definition—deplorable?
A 70+ year old man, beating his young dog with a stick?
A posted photo of Secretary Clinton on the side of a KFC bucket that reads, “2 small breasts, 2 large thighs, and a bunch of left wings”?
Any white person’s use of the word “nigger”?
David Duke, the former grand wizard of the KKK?
A new law that allows convicted domestic abusers to legally carry a gun, no permit and no training required?
The sharing a photo of a baby monkey with the words, “Barack HUSSEIN Obama, born in Africa.” And even more deplorable, the bully on the campaign trail who began and stoked this false rumor for 5 years, a rumor which he knew all along to be false, for his own benefit?
I list these specifically because they each hold their own particular, sickening power.
The 70+ year old man righteous enough to beat his dog. In daylight. In public. Because he knows he can. Yes, I can call the police. Yes, the police will come talk to him. But then what? I am a woman alone on the trail with my dog. This man has the power, and he knows it. I can almost hear him laugh.
What does it mean for a girl to see her father/ grandfather / uncle / brother post a cartoon of the Secretary of State, an accomplished woman, poking fun at her small breasts, her fat thighs, her other way of thinking?
Why does a white man use the word nigger if not to remind himself and everyone within earshot that he is still superior, still the man?
There remain large groups of people in these United States who, in this 21st century, applaud and appreciate the work of David Duke. This is not a joke. I know some of them. Do you?
As if it is not already dangerous enough to be a victim of domestic abuse, now your abuser has the right, by law, to carry a gun. How much will this new law prevent women, already terrified of reporting their abusers, from asking for help?
“Barack HUSSEIN Obama, born in Africa.” Why the need to delegitimize the first African American President of the United States? You can disagree with his policies, that’s what makes this country great, but the message here? You can get yourself all the way to Harvard and be a law-abiding, contributing citizen and raise a family, but never ever forget your blackness. Never forget you do not belong. Never forget you are not one of us.
I have finally gone back to the town trail, and I am ashamed to admit I feel completely and totally powerless there. Vulnerable. In my life I am outgoing and outspoken and independent and I am a goddamn grown up 51 year old woman for god’s sake. And yet. There has been so much advice as to what to do.
Take his photo and send it to the police.
If he beats the dog again, pull out your phone and record it.
Walk right up to him, yank the stick out of his hand, and beat the living hell out of him with it!
Tell him you saw him beating his dog, that you understand his frustration, and ask if you can help.
Offer him a hug!
Give him the stare-down when you walk by, and make sure he knows that you know.
I talk to my son and he says, emphatically, “Do nothing. You don’t know this man, and you are a woman alone on the trail with your dog. He is obviously angry, who knows about what, and you live in a state where conceal and carry is the law. What if he shoots your dog? What if he shoots you?”
The first day is the hardest. A Thursday. 9 a.m. Sunny. Back at the trail, I see the man’s truck in the parking lot and consider turning for home, maybe stopping for breakfast, driving some new roads and looking for a new trail. He is here, but I do not know where exactly, which direction he is walking, or even if we will pass ways.
I decide to stay, to park where I always park, and my dog and I are barely past the first crosswalk when I see the man and his wife, their two dogs, coming our way. He is holding the stick, I can see it from here, in the same hand with the leash.
I step off the trail with my dog and wait.
Just wait, I think. Let him pass. Look at him. Stare. Don’t let him win, dammit. Stand your ground. But before I can feel solid my feet are moving and I turn back in the direction I came. My dog follows. There is a bully on the trail. I am right to be afraid. All of us are.
In a voice only I can hear I say, “Yeah, big deplorable man with a stick, I see you.”
And I run.