I had just walked past the police station in my neighbourhood. As I approached an opening to a laneway I noticed that several pigeons scrambled out onto the sidewalk clearly avoiding some danger. I stopped just as I cleared the building to my right as a car came barreling through. It nearly sideswiped me and I was within inches of the driver who did not stop or even slow down as he drove down the ramp and entered the street. As he passed he did not even notice me while he continued an animated discussion on his cell phone which was balanced between his ear and shoulder.
I let out a customary "what the f#@k". This got his attention, he slowed down and gave me a dirty look like I did something wrong. This angered me some more and I let out what was probably another few choice words. He flipped something at me which was not quite his finger but perhaps his whole hand. I walked over to his passenger side window to explain that he had nearly run over my foot and that he needed to stop before driving over a sidewalk and entering the street. He didn't roll down his window and continued to shrug me away while swearing back at which point a feeling came over me with which I am somewhat familiar. It is accompanied by several tell-tale signs: flaring of the nostrils, a deep inhalation that expands the chest, a general tightening of the muscles as the eyes open wide and a growl that begins to be vocalized.
I used to have feelings like this more often in the past. But they have been very infrequent since I've given up caffeine and sugar and aged a little bit. These days their rare emergences can only be induced by the most severe traffic indiscretions, by instances of tortured logic, or by dishonesty. When such madness grips me it is usually in the privacy of my car or in the privacy of my audience with someone very close to me. But today was different. I was on the street in the middle of the afternoon, in full view of the world. Divided by a barrier of glass between me and my desire to communicate to this jerk why I was angry with him, his refusal to allow me my peace lit a match that set the fuse in motion. I clenched my fist and drew back my right hand. Once fully loaded at the apex the spring let loose and a forward motion began a collision course for my fist towards the passenger window of the car directly in front of me.
All of this happens in a fraction of a second and sometime soon after the spring is set off I notice that another familiar but altogether different feeling is taking hold of me: embarrassment. The rage is stopped in its tracks and I am able to pull back the punch. I think this must have emboldened him because he proceeded to get out of the car. He came over to me and we started an exchange that must have looked like one of Billy Martin's run-ins with an umpire. We didn't have enough dust on the street to kick at each others feet but something else occurred. He lifted both of his hands and he slapped them against my chest pushing me back a few inches. He had an advantage of at least 5 years and 50 pounds on me but that didn't play into it at all. I only consider the heft of an opponent to be a disadvantage that will only slow him down. I wasn't scared but my embarrassment was beginning to grow. I had a flash image of us, two grown men, fighting on the street like kids and instead of hitting back I bounced back forward into his face and laughed a little.
He encouraged me to go ahead and hit him back but he was somewhat puzzled by my amusement. Face to face and close enough to guess what we had eaten for lunch I noted the logo of his employer which was emblazoned on his shirt and his windbreaker. I said the following to him: "We're fifty feet from a police station, there are witnesses watching us right now and after nearly running me over you decide it's a good idea to assault me? I also have your license plate number and know where you work. You're one stupid mo#$@%f@3ker". Silence followed as his eyes darted around and he seemed to get an inventory of his surroundings.
Despite having trained in the boxing ring with heavyweights and studied Muy Thai and Jeet Kune Do I have not laid a hand on another human in anger since the 6th grade and my record is still intact. Over those years I have been in dozens of altercations. In each of these cases I would become a frothing menacing tyrant and in every case the other guy would invariably back down. This leaves me wondering what happened today. Why did he take it further and push me like that? Did he sense a weakness from my embarrassment and mistook it for fear? Or am I just getting old and the young lions can sense this and aren't naturally intimidated by me?
The incident deescalated greatly at this point and became somewhat bizarre. He hung his head and agreed it was pretty stupid but claimed plaintively that I had "scared him by coming out of nowhere and swearing at him". I reiterated what he did wrong and asked him why I shouldn't walk into the police station and report the assault, to which he replied that he was having a really bad day. We stood there in silence for probably a good minute. I broke the silence by saying how embarrassing this all was to which he voiced his agreement. I told him I would have hit him back hard if I wasn't so embarrassed. Then I shook my head and walked away.