at a McDonald’s in Pittsburgh 

A bunch of years back, I was sent to a class in downtown Pittsburgh to get trained in some software.

I was minding my own business, shoveling down “food” at a mostly empty McDonald’s. A man approached a woman who was eating alone. Let’s call the man Owen and the woman Penny. Owen said something to Penny but his voice wasn’t working properly. It sounded like he’d had some kind of stroke or developmental disability that rendered him mostly unintelligible.

Penny was dressed in a business suit and Owen was in the current “gangsta” fashion.

Penny explained that she couldn’t understand Owen and this seemed to make Owen upset. This went back and forth and escalated until Penny seemed to be near tears.

Owen was eventually able to convey that he wanted to borrow Penny’s cell phone. Penny was already flustered and feeling intimidated. She didn’t want to hand over her phone but was too rattled to say so.

I was getting pretty nervous as well. Should I jump up, get between the two of them and shout “Leave this poor woman alone! Can’t you see that you’re upsetting her?” I didn’t do that.

Then Owen laughed and said “Sorry. I’m just messing with you.”

When I’d digested what he said, I thought “What an a55hole.”

A few minutes later, the a55hole approached me and started the same routine with me. I said “I’m sorry. I don’t understand you when you talk like that.”

He said in a less incomprehensible voice “What’s wrong with my voice?” He looked offended.

I said “Nothing. I know there’s nothing wrong because I heard you speak quite clearly to the woman over there.”

He laughed again and left.

Looking back on this, I like to think that I was really just about to intervene when he backed away from Penny. I’m not entirely convinced though.

I am convinced that if I hadn’t been warned, I probably wouldn’t have done any better than Penny.

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