Minding my own business is something I’ve become reasonably adept at as someone who has absolutely zero intimidation factor. I’d even go as far as saying that if push came to shove I’d probably choose the third option: flee. I’m not a pacifist or anything but I’ve never thrown a punch at anyone I didn’t know like a brother. Not so much the mixed-martial-arts sorta guy. My idea of a violent rampage is to eat a blackened tofu wrap with my wife at an all-organic sandwich shop—without utensils—and then hit up an art museum and barely read any of the captions. The brutality is too much to bear for most onlookers. Sometimes we get really savage and do some gardening before seeing a movie. You can only imagine the wake of broken lives we leave behind.
A recent Saturday afternoon brought us to Earthly Delights where I snagged a fantastic Falafel and my wife rediscovered the joy of the bean burrito. We must have subconsciously decided to draw attention to ourselves while we ate our lunch on the porch, as halfway through our meal something (or rather, someone) caught my eye across the street at the Cumberland Farms. A lanky man in his late forties began to saunter, nay, stumble across the road toward us with a cigarette in one hand and the middle finger in the other as a car tried to make a left in front of him. “WATCH OUT!” he yelled with a vengeance, as though the driver had just put a bounty on him, “twenty points for the guy in the gray t-shirt standing in the middle of the road who looks like he just climbed out of bed but only because he left his front door open and a squirrel got in!”
One might describe him as quietly disheveled, but on more of an internal level, as though he was recovering from a head injury that took place right about when I ordered my lunch. A sort of zombie walk like the scene in “The Money Pit” where Tom Hanks’ character becomes the primary moving part in a Rube-Goldberg device three stories high and walks blindly with paint-covered rags on his head across collapsing scaffolds toward certain doom. I’ve figured out that Bay Road is the scaffold in that analogy, but I have no idea what constituted the paint-covered rags which lead this mean to believe I was a person of interest in the investigation of his own cloudy past.
“Awesome,” I thought to myself, “now I get to share my sandwich with this guy…my KNUCKLE sandwich.” In actuality the first thing that crossed my mind was, “Holy shit this guy is definitely walking right toward me.” And he was. Not just in my direction. I was his destination. I wish I could say I started to plan an ’80s movie escape ala Michael J. Fox in Back to The Future. Say…a witty exclamation like, “Hey is that Vanilla Ice?” followed immediately by a milkshake to the eyes, sliding under the table, and a jacket over the head. But no. A little voice in the back of my head said that a Strawberry-Mango smoothie, while having high stain-potential and being quite frosty, would only serve to make the would-be attacker upset.
Before these brilliant thoughts coalesced into a strategy of any kind the gentleman was standing six feet from me and started into his opening line, “I don’t mean to be ignorant but…” my mind reeled at the possibilities. Nothing good could follow such an utterance. I was convinced that I was about to be exposed to something not only ignorant, but perhaps mind-blowing. I was right on both counts.
“You remind of someone I was in a fight with once,” he said in a surprisingly coherent manner that almost had me convinced it was possible.
“Did you win?” my friend chimed in cheerily.
“Look at this guy,” he pointed at me and with his whole hand while he trailed off as if he was surprised I didn’t reach across the railing and the landscaping to shake it.
“Have you ever been in a UFC fight?” he asked me as he regained his clarity. I was dead in his sights. There was no avoiding the question but I tried silence for a moment anyway. He peered at me through squinted eyes the way someone sizes up a stranger who’s up to no good.
“No I’m afraid I’ve never been in a UFC fight.” I said, rather upset at myself that someone could get me to admit that I have no fighting skills just by accusing me of fighting them in the past. I was also upset I had no witty retort.
“Are you still into that stuff?” he asked.
My brain exploded. What the hell was he talking about? Where do you go from there? A man is having a conversation with you where you are not entirely a participant because in his mind you’re giving answers to his questions that sound an awful lot like the opposite of what you’re actually saying. And the truth of the situation is so far from what this man claims that you’re in shock that you actually have to explain it. What do you say to that? Do you actually break down the evidence? Rationality seems like a blunt weapon in a battle of this nature.
“He’s a big teddy bear!” my friend added happily.
But this did nothing dissuade the man. He had all the charm of a telephone pole that had just been struck by lightning; a dried bird’s nest on top, a precarious lean, smoke drifting out of several holes in it’s face.
“He’s an IT guy!” my wife added to try and shoo him.
I tried to stress that idea, perhaps hopelessly, “Yeah I’m into computers!”
He stared expectantly as he took a drag, clearly feeling as if giving me a moment to remember would cause it all to come rushing back to me. Like I was repressing the memories of my defeat to avoid embarrassing myself.
I don’t remember precisely what the next thing was that came out of this fellow’s mouth was besides smoke, but I do remember the general tone. It was the sound that a person would make if they thought you were going to laugh at them the moment they turned their back on you. A half-grunt half year-right sort of noise. After what felt like ten years of the most awkward staring contest in my entire life, he relented.
“All right. Take it easy.” He mumbled as he turned and started down the street towards his next victim.
“Yeah have a good one buddy, ” I said pleasantly.
As soon as the conversation ended I found myself asking why he couldn’t he have remember me for something positive? I was offended! Until I realized that in this instance I’d certainly rather be remembered as a fighter, and not a lover.