I’m sitting down in my living room, watching last nites Jon Stewart show…and my doorbell rings. As I mute the DVR, there is now pounding on my door! I open it to discover an enraged man who is screaming at me. “Don’t you curse my wife! Who do you think you are? You got a problem, you come talk to me….!”
He is beside himself with rage, shaking, unable to stand still, the anger rolling off him in waves, like smoke. Probably 6’ 2”, maybe 210 or so, in his 30’s, white and a total stranger to me. “I don’t know your wife…” I begin. He never stops shouting, never stops pacing, flexing, twice feints throwing a punch at me, his fists clenched. I’ve closed my door behind me, I’m now trapped, surrounded on all three sides by patio and stucco walls. And he continues to rant and pace.
Flashback – maybe 20 minutes ago. 7 PM. I went out to get my mail and notice a woman walking a large dog – in the interior courtyard beside our jacuzzi, cedar chips decorating the ground. I pass her without comment, get my mail and return. She is still there. I can’t believe this. Finally I ask, “You’re not walking your dog in here, are you?” She has a hat pulled down over her eyes, really can’t see her face and almost embarrassed says, “He wouldn’t go outside…” I say to her, “You can’t walk him in here. We all live here.” I’m not shouting, I’m being incredibly reasonable, just stating an obvious truth.
She snaps as she pulls her dog away to exit, “Don’t talk to me like a child!” I then say, “Fine. I’ll talk to you like an adult. Don’t walk your fucking dog inside of our courtyards.” She goes entirely ballistic. “Don’t you curse at me! Don’t you shout at me!”… and continues to exit. I’m shaking my head in disbelief. I guess I’d better drop our condo president a note; clearly this is unacceptable.
I was condo president for 5 years, a board member for 10. I stepped down several years ago, exhausted, weary of mediating owner madness, selfishness, greed, suspicion. 68 units. 67 differing opinions about rules, money, conduct, investment, etc. It’s a thankless job…but someone has to do it. Since I no longer own three units, just my home now, I’m happy to let others do the heavy lifting of governing.
Back to the present. This angry man’s voice echos thru the courtyard. I’m standing in front my home of 18 years, being berated and threatened by a stranger. I don’t like that, still don’t like the idea, days later. I try several times to reason with him. “Look, I don’t know you, I don’t know where you live. How could I even approach you to discuss anything…?” At no time does he use profanity…and mercifully race never enters the equation. Mercifully.
I have lots of errant thoughts, throughout this. Hmmm. Maybe I should keep my Glock downstairs, rather than beside my bed. Don’t much like that thought, not even a little. I’m watching him very carefully. He comes closer and pulls back, constantly circling, his expression and posture suggests this inner monologue, “Jesus, I just want to punch the living shit out of you!”
My hands never clench, my arms rest comfortably at my side. I’m watching his weight shifts, the position of his arms and I know there is a magic line between us…and when he crosses that line, I’ll have to respond. And I will. I have no choice, I’m trapped. I think about asking him, “What are you thinking? I’m 68 years old. I have shrapnel inside of me, three bulging discs, a newly implanted corneal lens, bad knees, totally out of shape, I’ve smoked since ’61 and probably couldn’t run very far if it were possible to run away….” I say none of that aloud. I just watch him rant…waiting.
Now this is perhaps a technicality…but in my mind I never cursed his wife. I wouldn’t do that, it’s just not me. But I am unashamedly profane, without question. I’m a soldier and we curse, as matter of course. “Don’t walk your fucking dog in our courtyard.” I guess you could say that I cursed her dog…OK? I’ll cop to that. Anyway, he is having none of it. He’s still shouting but seems to be winding down…and is slowly revealing himself. “My dog doesn’t crap or pee inside our property!” When I pointed out that was exactly what his wife intended, he snapped, “Well, I can buy a bag of cedar chips!” His last words are telling. “Don’t you ever curse my wife! I live in a one-bedroom apartment! I’ve got nothing to lose!” And then he wheels and walks back to his apartment. Clearly they both know where I live. I have no idea where they live…but it’s entirely possible that at some point I encountered them and exchanged “hellos”….I just don’t remember. Hell, they may very well live right across the inner path from me, for all I know. We all have patio fences, he could be like that guy in “Home Improvement”, just a disembodied voice.
OK. He’s gone. I reopen my door and sit back down in wonder. The last guy that threw a punch at me was in 1966. I ended up driving him to the hospital for stitches. That was before Vietnam. No fights since. None…and there have been opportunities, thru the years. I was once afraid NOT to fight. I was bullied some as a kid, I took my lumps and I always stood up. Something changed after Vietnam. I had nothing more to prove; not to myself, not to anyone else. At least about what I had inside me.
It’s amusing and maybe a little flattering that some friends suggest I’d have a fair shot at winning such an encounter. That’s laughable. There are no winners when someone goes to the hospital and someone goes to jail. So while I may have once been a fairly dangerous opponent, physically, that time is long past and it ain’t coming back. I’ve always had surprising muscle memory…that memory now has Alzheimer’s The only just time to respond to force with force is when you have NO OTHER CHOICE.
Here’s the wonder part. I’ve always had a hair trigger temper. If I feel threatened, whenever my adrenaline kicks in, I can go from zero to ninety in a heartbeat! I know that surge of heat, that flame that makes everything slow down yet speed up, simultaneously. That didn’t happen Wednesday evening. I was ready…but I was always clear-headed. I knew he was dangerous to me but for whatever reasons, my chemistry didn’t push me into a place where a smart ass retort (and boy, were there opportunities:) an aggressive posture, a matching of my tone and volume to his could easily have taken this from an unpleasant encounter to something far more dangerous. It doesn’t take much in today’s world; everyone is stressed and pissed off about something… and your life can change for all time with one poor decision.
So within all this tsuris, there was a very small sense of success. I had handled myself well, appropriately. Perhaps because of my advanced years or my self-awareness or my PTSD medications or the joint I’d enjoyed minutes before he entered my life. I wasn’t baked…but my oven was surely turned on:) I’d have liked to have said, “Hey, come on in, let’s sit down, have a beer and talk about this like grown men.” But I didn’t.
For the next couple days, I was aware that I felt…less safe, less comfortable, fearful of BB’s safety, maybe awaiting another knock on my door. Don’t much like that. I’ve lived here for all these years because I truly love coming home, I LOVE living in my home. But perhaps this is a timely reminder that safe is always relative and safe is a state of mind. Nothing is certain…not life, not health, not security. BE HERE NOW
28 April 2012