I had an interesting experience today while grading papers the coffee shop, some closure to an incident that I’ve thought about on many occasions in the last few months. This is what I wrote about it when it first occurred back in April:
Yesterday afternoon while working in the coffee shop, two motorcycle riders, a male and a female, walked in. I glanced up at them briefly and then went back to work. Since there was no music playing in the shop, I heard them order their drinks and probably glanced up another time or two from the corner of the room where I was sitting. A few minutes later, as I was looking at my computer, the man walked over to me and snarled in a low tone, “I don’t know what you were looking at, you fucking homo, but you’d better look somewhere else.” Surprised, I responded, “I wasn’t looking at anything. I was actually looking at the bikes…,” but before I’d even started my second sentence, he’d already walked back to the counter to pick up his drink and walk outside.
I was only there for about fifteen more minutes and they were still sitting outside when I left. I was overly conscious of where I was looking, and when I got to my car and glanced up at the man from 30 yards away or so, he was glaring at me.
I could probably count on one hand the number of times a situation like that has happened to me in my life, and most of those were as a teenager. I’ve replayed the scenario nearly constantly in the twenty-four hours since it happened and its baffling to me. There really is no explanation for it. Sure, the guy probably has some serious issues. He was noticeably smaller than his female companion, so I don’t know if he has some sort of complex about it or what. I replayed a variety of my responses, from jumping up out my chair without saying a word and beating him to a bloody pulp on the coffee shop floor to verbally confronting him. My mind has run wild with the innumerable responses I could have given, all which seem preferable to the one I did give. Would it have made a difference? I don’t know. I haven’t been in enough of those situations to know for sure.
I feel like I brood over this kind of thing more than most, but I could be wrong. It does reiterate to me the impact that verbally assaulting someone can have, especially out of the blue. I don’t think I’ve ever done that to anyone in my life, but I’ve seen people do it to others, and my experience makes me feel like I should be much less tolerant when I see it happening, whether in a commercial transaction or not. It’s funny that we might label the situation as someone being out of control, but at the same time it is obviously a method to regain control, to deny that the world is not one of our making. I’m curious to know how that guy responded to the situation. Was it out of his brain as soon as I left, like it would be for an instinctual animal, or did he think about the situation repeatedly as I did, brooding over the fact that someone looked at him or his friend in a strange way as he walked into a coffee shop. I’m inclined to think the former, but that’s only because I want to rectify the situation by rendering him deficient. The truth of his humanity is certainly much more complex.
Back to the present: As I drove to the coffee shop today, I found myself thinking, “I wonder what I would do if that guy was there today.” Of course I’ve wondered that many times between then and now, but this time he and his partner did ride up about ten minutes after I arrived. They hung around for about a half-hour outside drinking their coffees as I periodically thought if I should approach him and how I would do so. He came inside to return a plate and I intercepted him as he was heading out the door. The conversation went something like this:
“Hey, can I ask you a question? I was in here a few months ago, sitting over there, and you came up to me and called me a fucking homo…”
“Oh, you’re that guy.”
“Yeah, I wanted to know, what was the deal with that?”
“Well, I don’t know. I came in here and you were all looking and laughing and snickering…”
“I was just listening to music.”
“Well…” as he turned to leave.
“Well that certainly wasn’t my intention, so I want to apologize.”
“Well then I apologize too.”
“It’s been bugging me for a while.”
“It’s been bugging me too.”
“Alright then. What’s your name?”
“My name’s Matt.” Shake hands. “Have a good one.”
“Alright.” Walks out.
It would have been much more satisfying, dramatic, and movie-like to just walk up and punch him in the face. My alternative certainly wasn’t as immediately gratifying. We’ll see if it grows on me over time. It is interesting how that conversation probably made both of us a little more human in each others’ eyes. To think that he had reflected back on the situation on occasion, as I have, was something I had not been willing to consider, since I had judged him clearly in the wrong. In discovering the incident affected him as well, it reminded me that we are all just as unsure and uncertain of our place in the world, despite how much we tell ourselves otherwise.