This morning I spent some time in my writing studio downtown in the Vain building. I left around 9:30 and headed south on First, headphones on, head down under my umbrella in the rain. I crossed the street westbound at Virginia and, looking north up First Avenue, noticed that a bus was approaching, so walked up to wait at the southbound stop between Lenora and Virginia.
As I was crossing the street, I heard some guy yelling. It happens often enough that I wasn’t even listening, but I seem to recall something the effect of “You people are so fucking stupid!”
When I was across the street, I chanced a glance back. Surely he wasn’t talking to me? I thought I saw him standing in front of Tully’s — maybe selling Real Change, although I can’t sure that was him and most of the vendors on that block I know by sight. Whatever. A guy ranting on the street. Mark it, keep an eye on it, but it’s none of my business. Don’t let crazy set its sights on you.
I’m waiting at the stop a minute later when he stomps up First. Eyes locked on me. Keeps six feet between us, but he’s talking.
“People like you!” he said. Or something like it — this whole conversation is from memory, so is only as accurate as the source. He’s pissed off about something. The world has wronged him. Or, so it seems, I have.
He’s small. In his sixties. Has a mid-century workingman look to him. Bulbous nose, like a modest W.C. Fields. It’s red, either from gin blossoms or the cold. He’s got a cap on and he’s holding, what appear to be, Etymotic headphones in one hand, but they may have been in-ear knockoffs, because he certainly doesn’t look the part of the discerning audio consumer. I’ve got a character in one of my stories, a guy named Andy Walk. This guy is Andy Walk come to life.
“You think you’re so wonderful,” Andy says, derision and disgust spiking his tone. I’m taken aback.
“I didn’t do anything to you.” I said, after I realize that his particular brand of crazy has zeroed in on me and isn’t going to pass from ignoring it. No doubt I’m defensive in my tone. I leave my headphones in.
Maybe I did do something. Maybe I brushed past him, or dripped water from my umbrella, or any of the myriad of unknown social ungraces we all might inflict by accident on some poor soul on the street. Maybe he needs an apology, however disproportionate his response. I have no pride in this matter. I’d offer one, especially if the offense came from ignorance on my part.
“You think you’re so great. Let me tell you something, you’re nothing more than a pimple on the face of God!” he said. This man deeply hates me at this moment. Whatever I have done to him, no simple apology would de-escalate it.
“I’m not interested in talking to you,” I said. I calculated walking away from him. My guess was that he would follow, and I wouldn’t have time to make it to the next stop before the bus got there. Best option was to stand my ground and wait.
“Too bad! It’s a free country. I have every right to stand on this sidewalk and talk to you. You have to listen!”
“No,” I said, realizing as I was talking that engaging him in his argument was as foolish as engaging a child in theirs. His real argument was not his words but his tone of anger and outrage. That’s what I should have been addressing, calmly. But I didn’t. “You have every right to stand and talk,” I said, “but I don’t have to listen.”
I turned to the bus as it pulled up to the stop.
“That’s right,” he said. “Run away on the bus.” I believe here he was calling me a pussy. “Maybe I’ll just follow you.”
So I stood aside, and motioned that he should get on the bus first. At which point, I thought, I would walk down the street while he was caged on the moving vehicle. Let me now apologize to the poor commuters on that bus who would have been subject to his rage at being fooled had my plan worked.
But he’s too smart for that ruse. He motioned that no, I should get on the bus first. I turned to him and pointed my now collapsed umbrella “You gonna follow me?”
“You’re threatening me!” he said, suddenly the victim. Come to think of it, I’m sure he thought he was the victim all along. That’s the way these things work, right? We’re the righteous victim in our own heads, nearly every time we feel something negative about somebody else. Maybe, occasionally, it’s even justifiable, that feeling. The doors close, but he stays. He doesn’t follow.
I sat next to a woman on the bus, and my mind spun for a few minutes. I tried to soak it in. I remembered that I needed to stay calm. I needed to not engage. I needed to remember that the only way to avoid crazy is to walk away (which, is essentially what I did by getting on the bus) or never let get in its line-of-sight to begin with (unavoidable this time).
Somewhere up First Avenue is Andy Walk. We’ll see if he recognizes me the next time I pass him.
Just over a month after this incident, I saw Andy Walk again this morning. He was selling Real Change on the corner. I walked past him, looked at him. Was that him? Yes, yes, it was. No doubt about it.
He was younger than I remember, late 40s or mid 50s. All smiles. I decided that he wouldn’t remember me, and I wanted to test that theory under the idea that I acted in a very reactionary way when we last met since I wasn’t expecting him. This time, if he got angry I might be able to get to the bottom of what it was that triggered his reproach in a calm way, however rational or irrational his reasoning may be. Maybe a truce could be negotiated.
So I withdrew a dollar, approached and bought a copy of the paper. He smiled the whole time. Looked me in the eye. Shook my hand and told me two jokes. Wished me a Happy Thanksgiving. I did the same and walked off feeling more that whatever transpired that day last month probably had very little to do with me.
Or maybe it did, but the flare of anger that was triggered is now long gone and forgotten. Whatever the case, I’ll continue to buy the paper from him when I see him. If I have a preference in the matter, it would be that his memory of me is that of a customer, rather than that jerk on that rainy day who triggered an anger so deep that it took crossing the street and confronting me to assuage it.
Besides, I’ve since written one of my characters telling another that he is nothing more than a pimple on the face of god. I figure buying the paper from him is paying commission on the line. In that perspective, the whole thing was totally worth it.
Posted by: Martin McClellan
On the date of: October 23, 2009 12:37 PM