A moment of violence

I was almost out the door, on my way to another day selling fish on the Avenue, when Jay stopped by and invited me to breakfast.

She's the boss and a friend and I could eat three breakfasts every day, but she's also a talker, and she's one of those people who dart around toward whatever intrigues them in the instant. The last time she took me to breakfast on a work day, I never got to work at all — we ate breakfast and talked and dawdled and ran a few Jay errands, and then the day was done.

Even if she buys the breakfast, I'm too broke for a breakfast like that. Can't afford a day that doesn't pay, so I said no thanks, and pushed the cart to Telegraph.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Being a reasonably nice guy, I'll usually wait at an intersection until traffic on my side of the street has passed. On a busy street without lights to stop the traffic, though, I'm not gonna stand there waiting until there's no traffic coming from either direction. I'd be standing there all day. 

So I looked left before stepping off the curb onto Shattuck Street, and then halfway across with my pushcart, I looked right before crossing the yellow line. I saw the pickup truck coming, but I'm not gonna stand and stop in the middle of the road, so onward I walked.

He was supposed to stop, or at least slow, but instead of yielding the driver of the pickup truck wailed on his horn and drove straight ahead at 30 mph, missing my cart by inches.

Just another arrogant prick behind the wheel — there are millions of them, and when I had a car sometimes one of them was me. I was too blue about missing a free breakfast, and too caffeine-deprived to be furious at the guy, so I simply looked him in the eye as he drove by gloating, and I smiled and waved at him.

I waved, damn it. Waved.

The pickup pulled a u-turn and screeched to a halt in the gravel in front of me, the driver climbed out, and he came almost-running at me and my cart.

I could've rammed the cart into his ankles and done him some serious damage, and the thought did occur to me, but Stallone in First Blood flashed across my mind — not the part  where he's blowing stuff up, but the line where he said Brian Dennehy had drawn first blood. My hand was on the mace in my pocket, but I didn't want to draw first blood.

He wasn't much more than a kid, maybe twenty, white, blond, and scrawny, and he screamed, "You flipped me off!" His voice was hoarse and flushed with fury. "You fucker, you fuckin' flipped me off." 

Well, shitfuck. I hadn't flipped him off, but even if I had, what loon would get so worked up over a finger? His hands were balled into mean little fists, and I was terrified. Oddly calm, but terrified. Seemed like a delicate situation, so I said nothing.

"You fuckin' flipped me off!" he shouted again, and came closer. Then he grabbed my shirt — the nice new flannel shirt Cy & Peter gave me for Christmas. A few buttons popped as he twisted the fabric, and to me, that was "first blood."

What I did in response was stupid. I should've simply maced him, but instead I put both my hands on his shoulders and pushed, hard. I'm a wimp, but he was skinny and there's almost 300 pounds of me, so I pushed him backwards ten steps until he banged into the front fender of his beater truck.

And then I wanted to punch him, but I don't even know how to throw a punch without probably breaking my knuckles, so instead I gave him one last, hard shove, and he slipped off the side of the truck and onto the gravel.

Jeez, it was crazy there for a moment. Living in the city, people yell and pose tough, and you hear about violence, people getting mugged or beaten up or shot, but the violence doesn't often involve me.

But there we were, him on his back in the gravel, me standing over him, and once the violence was underway I wanted more of it.

I wanted to kick him, pound him, bludgeon him with a lifetime's accumulated rage.

I wanted to stomp his head, kick at his groin, jump on his legs and hear them crack under my weight and enthusiasm.

I wanted to beat him with a baseball bat, and keep swinging it until my arms were too tired to hit another home run through his skull, and then after that I wanted to bend over and put my ear close enough to hear his last breath as he choked on his own blood and vomit.

Adrenaline is a scary monster, and I could've done all the above, and wanted to... 

But instead I only yelled. "I didn't flip you off, asshole! I waved," and I waved at him again, down there on the ground. "If I'd flipped you off, it would've looked like this:"

He scampered to his feet and around the hood of his truck, opened the door and stood leaning on it, catching his breath. "You're a dead man," he said, and then he got inside the truck, slammed the door, started the engine, flipped me off, and roared away, spinning gravel behind him.

Ooh, I'm so afraid. 

I'm so afraid that I wrote his license plate number on several pages of my little notebook, and handed them to a few people who'd been watching, asking them to call the cops if they heard about a murdered street vendor.

And same to you: If he's right and I'm a dead man, if I suddenly stop answering the mail, tell 'em it's a yellow Ford pickup, circa 1970 with California plates 418 VIJ.

♦ ♦ ♦  

And then, well, there's still rent to pay and movies to see, so I walked the rest of the way to Telegraph Ave, and sold fish all day in a shirt missing three buttons.

From Pathetic Life #21
Saturday, February 10, 1996 

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

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