Every couple of years I almost get into a fight.
So far I have always walked away unscathed, but these incidents get my heart racing and
invariably, I wish I had just kept my mouth shut. I wish it could be like the movies, where people who
are rude and deserve to be told off are told off in no uncertain terms, and if they don't like it, they get their
ass kicked. In the real world, the teller-offer is too often the ass-kickee.
For example, at a movie in early 2001 I asked a woman behind me to be
quiet. (She had just taken a one minute call on her cell phone.) I was relatively snotty about it,
I have to say. An older biker guy
to her right, who I hadn't noticed, said loudly back to me, "Shut the fuck up."
Right there in the theater--the movie was Nurse Betty, and there were maybe
50 people in there. I had Arthur and
Roger with me so I was feeling brave, so I stood up and told him, "East
s---, needledick." At this point he started to lunge for me, but thought
better of it. He said loudly, "Outside," and left the theater. I
didn't follow. Awkward seconds passed like minutes. After a time the
cell phone woman left too. When the movie ended the three of us left the
auditorium--and I half expected the guy to still be there. But he wasn't.
But that's no way to watch a movie, wondering if a biker is waiting outside to
cave your face in. Was the woman rude to talk on a cell phone during a
movie? Yes. Was it worth it, telling her off? No.
Another time I was jogging on West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz. This is probably 1994. A
kid on a bike coming up behind me brushes me going by on my right. I said something to him
(if a bike hits you from behind, how can it be the pedestrian's fault?),
and pretty soon he was ranting in my face from about two feet away. We exchanged shouting and cursing
right there on the bike trail. People were staring. At one
point he realized I was 20 years older than him. He said something like "You're
so old. I'll destroy you, you old fuck." No punches were exchanged, mostly
because I backed down. I wanted to kick his ass and throw his ratty
bike over the cliff, and then him after it. But I didn't. This event
sticks in my craw to this day. Getting punched a couple of times out there on West Cliff would be better than
feeling like a chicken for seven years. Wouldn't it? Of those
choices, maybe the answer is yes. But the best choice would have been to
shrug off a minor bump in a public place and get on with my run.
One morning in Houston I had a battle with a guy who was using my
neighborhood--my street--as a commute shortcut. That used to really piss me off. I backed out
of my driveway very slowly, blocking his path. He got pissed (that was the
point) and honked his horn. I went nuts. I was even in my city car,
a white Dodge Aspen--I'd zoom up on his bumper, he'd slam on his brakes,
exchanges of The Finger, the whole
scene. Now that I'm in my 40s, I just don't get that mad about car stuff
Around that same time I flamed-on because I thought a car cut me off in the Ella Blvd.
Jack-in-the-Box drive-through line. This time I got out of my car, went to
the driver's side window and yelled at him. He had a date in his car,
rolled down the window, and said something
like, "Why are you hassling me, man?" Why indeed.
A recent incident occurred in June, 2001. I was walking on Pacific
Avenue with Robbin and three visiting in-laws.
I was a little grouchy from an afternoon nap. At one point I had to negotiate my way around
a pack of homeless
teens* that were blocking most of the sidewalk--sitting and panhandling--and under my breath
said something like, "Get out of the way."
Nothing happened right away. Two blocks later as we're crossing the
street, a 45 year old man in gypsy attire catches up with me and starts telling me how
sometimes his "ministry" to street kids involves blocking the sidewalk a little
bit, and how sometimes you can't walk three abreast on a sidewalk. I
waited for Robbin and her family to get inside the ice cream store and then told
the guy off. He told me he was a "druid priest" and
a mason, and then gave me a hex sign with his walking stick on the sidewalk.
He was really hot. Had it come to blows, this is one fight I wouldn't have
walked away from. But it would have been better for all concerned if I had
just silently walked around the group blocking the sidewalk in the first
When will I learn?
* Santa Cruz, California. World Headquarters of the
Homeless Begging Teen Association.