The background that you need to know to enjoy this fable is that I cross streets in New York City with impunity: if I have the right-of-way when crossing the street, I will confidently cross and make the cars stop to my right-of-way. Usually the cars will stop, but sometimes they’ll cut hard away from me so that they don’t have to be bothered to stop. Either way is fine with me, but if they do come within an arms-length of me I give them a little knock on their driver’s side window just to let them know how close they were getting to hitting a pedestrian. They drive away, and I never know if they received my subtle message.
On Saturday my message was certainly received. I’m crossing 31st Street and a car turning left comes fairly close to me, so I give my little tap-tap-tap on the window and keep walking…but…the car pulls over and the driver gets out to confront me. Not only is Dude literally twice my size (He weighs in at 350 easy.), Dude’s friend who is just as large gets out the passenger side door. I think about running, but then Becky’s advice on dealing with aggressors occurs to me: be assertive but not aggressive. I stand and wait for them to approach me. The conversation might be interesting, since I still can’t imagine why someone knocking on someone else’s window could possibly anger anyone.
“Did you just hit my car?”
“Well, actually your car almost hit me.”
“How about if I fuckin’ punch you in the face?”
The non sequitur of the question took me by surprise. I wasn’t really sure how to respond since punching me in the face had nothing to do with my knocking on his window. I decided to practice turning the other cheek.
“You can punch me if you want. I mean, I can’t really stop you.”
From this moment onward it felt like I was in a comic book. If you’re a geek imagine the one-finger flick that Spider-man gives weaker enemies to punch them out. Dude puts the tips of his fingers along my collar bone and and, with a movement so subtle I’d hardly call it a shove, flicks me so hard that my feet are off the ground and I land on my ass. The conversation continues from me on the ground.
“How do you like that?”
Perhaps I was too analytical in the moment, but again it didn’t seem to connect to his previous statement.
“You didn’t actually punch me; you just pushed me.”
“You’re a fuckin’ pussy!”
…again with the nonsequiturs…
“Wait…I’m a pussy because I wasn’t afraid to stand up to you?”
At which point he waved be off got into his car and drove away, probably getting ready to brag about how I tried to stand up to them and failed. I feel like I did stand up to them…even though I technically wasn’t standing.
“No, really. That doesn’t make any sense. A pussy would be afraid of you. How am I a pussy?”
Of course by now I’m talking to his taillights so posing any rational argument on fear was futile, but something occurred to me about fear when I was retelling the story to a friend of mine. Who was aghast at my behavior.
“Why didn’t you just run?”
“He didn’t have the right to cut me off like that, and I wanted to let him know that he can’t just bully people. I wanted to stand up to him to show him I wasn’t afraid of him.”
“Why didn’t you fight him then?”
This was a good question. It was less to do with the fact that it possibly could have been suicide and more to do with making my point to Dude.
“…because I wanted to show that I wasn’t afraid of him. Generally people fight others out of fear. Unless you’re a sadist and you enjoy hurting other people, you attack someone because you feel threatened. If you can’t deal with that fear you strike out at them.”
“So you’re saying that Dude was afraid of you?”
“I wouldn’t go that far…but…attacking someone is a sign of fear. You think they’re going to attack you, you’re afraid, so you hit them first. We don’t like what’s happening in Sudan, but we don’t attack them. Why? Because we’re not afraid of them. We’re terrified of the Middle East, so we’re bombing the hell out of Iraq. In that the terrorists are winning. They’ve terrorized us and transformed us into something malignant on the face of this earth. If we don’t want the terrorists to win, we simply have to show them that we are not afraid…which is not letting them transform our country into something we don’t want to be…which is afraid.”