December 11, 1999



Being Rob Rummel-Hudson


So this afternoon I was in Home Base checking out the lighting aisle, looking for a timer to hook up to our Christmas lights, when I noticed a commotion coming down the aisle toward me. This commotion was made up of three people: a stocky middle-aged gentleman who was motoring down the aisle like a small tank, and two store employees who were practically hanging off of him as they skidded alongside trying to stop him.

Mister Tank Guy was trying to pull away from the employees as he said things like "I don't understand" and "What's going on" and "Leave me alone," as what seemed like a river of store merchandise spilled to the floor from inside his coat. I quickly put two and two together and figured either the clerks were big fans or they were trying to stop a shoplifter. Then I checked my math and ruled out fan club.

I turned to watch as Tank Guy motored my way, dragging the clerks with him. Just as they were about to come abreast of me, Tank Guy managed to jerk an arm free and gained half a step on his captors and started to break away entirely.

I didn't think, I just acted. I stepped forward into his path and put a shoulder into him, knocking him across the aisle and stopping his forward progress. The two clerks got fresh holds on him as I grabbed his right wrist, then they took him over to the side in a tackle and we all crashed to the floor. I pinned his arm down until the clerks had control and asked me to back off, then I let go and stepped out.

One of my first thoughts was of Rob's shoplifter story.

Actually, my first thought was of the irony of the situation. I had more than my share of run-ins with the law back in my feckless youth, and I'd been in Tank Guy's shoes on two occasions. I'm past all that now -- so far, in fact, that now I give back the extra when cashiers give me too much change -- but I had definitely been in those shoes before, so I was remembering being arrested myself as I went down to the floor with him. It lent a surrealistic air of reverse deja vu to the action.

My second thought, after the whole thing was over, was, "Oh, okay. So that's what I'd do. Good." So often you hear of situations where people watch something happen and don't do anything to help -- Harlan Ellison's short story The Whimper of Whipped Dogs and the Kitty Genovese murder that inspired it come to mind, for example -- and, if you're me, you sometimes wonder what you'd do. I've always liked to think of myself as someone who'd act when it's necessary, but that's been just theory up 'til now. Now I know: I'll act. That's comforting, somehow.

And then, yes, God help me because I'm a big old Net geek, my third thought was of Rob. In particular, I thought of what he yelled after his shoplifter ("If you ever come back ... you're a dead man!") because I had a few pithy comments of my own for my guy. As I blocked him to the side and grabbed his arm, I told him "You're going down, pal." Then, after he did indeed go down and I helped keep him there, I went off on a weird little monologue telling him he had to do what the clerks said to because "They work here. If they say to stop, you have to stop." Geek Boy speaks. I think half the reason the clerks asked me to step out was to shut me up.

After that, it was all over. They put the guy in handcuffs and led him away and that was it. Not even a "thank you" to me for helping put the guy down when he was about to get away. It was as though it had never happened. I didn't even get cuts in the checkout line when I was leaving.

That's when I knew that no matter how hard I try, I'll never be Rob.

Rob chases a shoplifter -- and lets him get away! harrumph! -- and he's a hero; I put my life on the line to take my guy in and I'm just another customer. Rob lives a fun-filled life full of travel from Texas to Kalamazoo to Detroit; I'm stuck in Los Angeles, where everyone else is from Texas or Kalamazoo or Detroit. Rob's moving to Connecticut; I can't spell Conneticut. Rob has touched Dana; I've only touched her monkey.

Life just isn't fair. But I take some small solace in knowing that if I can't be Rob, then maybe, just maybe, I can be his deputy. That might even be better because, you know, nobody shoots the deputy.