Met some friends for breakfast (their treat, yay!!), and as always, a few hours of excellent conversation. When we get together, we discuss a lot of different theories, ideas, topical subjects, current events…and we like to draw one another out on those topics, sometimes playing devil’s advocate, sometimes playing the role of intellectual, and sometimes playing the “What If?” game. Topics vary widely, and often we’ll drift into meandering dialogues about things triggered by something someone else said. Sometimes we’re being funny, punny, or just plain silly.
The restaurant is a favorite haunt, and we know all the staff, and most of the other customers. Those others often get pulled into our lengthy discussions willingly, as the tables are fairly close in proximity to one another.
Sometimes, like today, we discuss more somber topics. For whatever reason, someone asked me what I thought really happened on September 11, 2001.
During the course of our discussion, new patrons moved in and out. When our discourse veered over to 9/11, a silver-haired man was seated by himself at the table next to us. As I said, “I don’t have any idea what truly happened during that time, because there have been so many theories — conspiracy and otherwise — that we may never know.”
One of the people at the table, a career military enlistee, who, at 42, just re-upped (after having fought in Afghanistan and other desert theaters), said that even she didn’t know what was what when it came to that travesty.
“The part that bugs me most,” she said, ” was why our military did not shoot even one of those planes out of the sky!”
I responded, “At one point, I’d heard that they were having (and here I provided air quotes) training exercises and we were told that our entire military thought it was that instead of an actual attack.”
At this point, the man seated next to us, red-faced, muttered something that I didn’t catch, but which my other companions said sounded like “…I’m a Baptist…”
Realizing he was agitated, I looked over at him and asked if he was okay.
“What’s your political leanings….Libertarian?” he asked, none too politely.
“I don’t have any political affiliations,” I said, wondering what the hell was wrong with this guy. I thought he was having an aneurysm, he was so apoplectic.
“People like…like YOU,” he sputtered, “Don’t DESERVE to have opinions.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You! You just maligned our entire military, our President…you’re nothing but UNAMERICAN TRASH!”
My friends stared gape-mouthed at his outburst, but somehow I managed not to engage with his drama. I stepped into a very balanced and centered place inside of myself (instead of going into total smartass mode), and calmly said, “If you’re going to come in at the middle of an ongoing conversation, and misunderstand what has been said, perhaps you shouldn’t involve yourself.”
I was tucking my iPad into my courier bag, for no particular reason.
“Good! Are you LEAVING?” he demanded.
By this time, all the patrons in the area were staring at him. He was dressed well, kind of roly-poly, and reminded me of a pastor or preacher. I still didn’t know that he’d begun his tirade with the word “Baptist.”
But now I’ve had enough. I said, “No, not leaving, but YOU’RE welcome to.”
“I will!” he said, spittle flying from his lips. “And you’re nothing but TRASH! YOU’RE A LIBERTARIAN CUNT!”
There were audible gasps from everywhere.
The man gathered his water glass, orange juice, and menu and stormed away. Everyone was too shocked to speak, but I immediately noticed he’d left his jacket on the floor beneath his table. So I leapt up, my friends clamoring for me not to hurt him (which I had no intention of, but I COULD be a better person than he by politely returning his jacket to him in spite of his vitriol). By this time, he’d realized he’d left without it, and turned on me, eyes bulging.
“You! LET GO OF MY COAT!”
He was ten feet away, and I was holding it in his direction by the collar. But at his words, I shrugged, and tossed it on the floor.
“You, sir, are a goat’s penis.” (My rapier-like wit, coming to the rescue)
“FUCK YOU!” He spit a wad of phlegm onto the floor. At that, the entire dining room burst out laughing. He waddled out the door, muttering vehemently under his breath.
After we pieced together everyone’s accounts of the situation, we still had no idea what triggered him. I can only imagine that (a) he was a member of the tea party; (b) that he had been severely bullied as a child; or (c) dropped on his soft spot as an infant.
Hours later, I’m still perplexed, but proud of myself for not reacting to him with anything other than faint amusement and a calm demeanor. It’s not often we get to see people make complete and utter jackasses of themselves in public. I said later that it had felt like one of the scenes from “What Would You Do?”
It wasn’t frightening to encounter such hatred and misplaced anger. I’ve witnessed too much of it in this lifetime. I hope for that man, whoever he was, to find peace with himself someday and to come to terms with whatever it was that set him off. Before he hurts someone other than himself.