He came in, a large, dark, somewhat pudgy man. He asked to use our phone, so I let him. He dialed a number, then proceeded to scream at the person he was calling.
He was screaming about how two Iranians had screwed him out of a lot of money. He was cursing wildly and was using a wide variety racial slurs. So I told him that if he wanted to use the phone, he'd have to stop using that language.
He paid no attention to me and then went on to say, "I'll tell you how we handle this in the Green Berets... I've got a fucking 9mm at home, and those two immigrants are fucking dead. I'll do what needs to be done."
At which point I told him to leave.
Instead of doing so, he slammed down the phone and proceeded to threaten
me for the next 20 minutes. He was carrying on about how he fought for my right
to have this bookstore
, he watched his buddies die
for my right to have this bookstore, he could do anything he damn well pleased
, and I'd better not dare fuck
with him. He kept on gesturing toward his pocket, which on closer inspection I noticed held a fairly large knife
The scary part about it was that he was so... maniacal. One second he'd be screaming at me, looking ready to lunge across the counter, and the next he'd be apologizing, perfectly calm, only to start up again. He was pretty drunk, but not enough to impair his movements. He was holding the phone, so I couldn't call for help, and my manager was out on errands.
By now most of the customers had left, except one. He came up to me that he was a Marine and asked if I needed help. I told him to hold that thought, just in case I couldn't talk the guy down.
I did manage, but only after letting him make another call, which he ended with, "But this pansy-assed pussy store owner (to clarify, I was only a clerk) wants me to leave. Guess I should teach him too, huh?" He then asked me to find a book for him, which we didn't have. So he yelled at me a little more, then staggered out.
At this point I decided having a nervous breakdown would be nice, so I went ahead and did so.
All right, so I get threatened and scared out of his wits. What does this have to do withanything? How is this at all important to anyone but me?
Well, if it hadn't been for one thing that he said, nothing. But there was one thing he kept on saying whenever I'd try to speak up. I wasn't trying to argue with him (I could tell from the beginning that wouldn't work and would only make him more upset), I was just trying to calm him. But he kept on cutting me off, saying, "No, you fucking listen! You've probably never listened to anyone like me your entire life. None of you do. But you're going to fucking listen right now!"
And the thing is, in his own way, he was right. How often do any of "us" listen to any of "them"?
No, I'm not talking about "us" and "them" in any of the terms you might think. Not racial, not economic, nothing you can put your finger on directly. It just isn't that simple.
But you know what I'm saying. You know what I mean when I say "us." Those who think as a hobby. Who talk about "them" in terms of what has to be done with "them." Who work in bookstores, in schools, in businesses, in the government, in the media. We only listen to each other, because "they" never have anything to say that's of use to "us." I'm not making any distinction between the liberals and conservatives here. We both claim to champion "them," because it makes us feel good, righteous.
Mind you, a lot of "us" are sincere about it. Sure, most of "us" can be more sincere when "they" are just numbers, statistics, recipients of such and such a program. And some of "us" even dedicate our lives to helping "them"; they become the social workers whom we avoid almost as much as "them."
And as for "them," well, "they" are the ones we make do things for "us," because "they" are not smart] enough to do things for themselves. Fight our wars, join our unions, vote our party, clear our path, thenleave "us" alone. Leave us alone to talk about how "we" would be so much better off without "them," and how "we" should let "them" destroy themselves.
It's not just about intelligence. It's where you are, what you have. If anything, it's about the words you use.
And his words were a mantra. "I did such and such so you could such and such." An almost thoughtless mantra, because he had only the slightest idea of what he was saying, and could barely grasp the full significance of his words. He understood that something wasn't right, but all he had was a belief, not an idea. This belief that the world had done injustice after injustice to him, after he had done so much.
And part of him understood that the person in front of him was related somehow, if in a distant fashion. Someone standing in his way, someone he could batter down. So all that came from his mouth was gibberish, with a kernel of truth that was almost completely drowned. Digging himself into the same hole he always has been, a hole where he is dangerous, but useful.
But there was that one kernel of truth. I would have never listened to him before. And I didn't really listen to anything else he said, because he was ignorant, violent, bigoted and drunk. For right or wrong, I shut him out because of it. He became one of "them," and there was no use listening.
But I listened to that one part, and I felt sick. Sick because I was so scared that he was going to hurt me. Sick because I was simultaneously aware of what this meant from my perspective, and what it meant in the broader picture. A broader picture which I couldn't move beyond no matter how hard I tried.
For me, it was a scary, ignorant drunk pushing me around.
For the world, it was another frightened intellectual cowering from "them." An intellectual who was afraid, because he couldn't break the cycle, or even begin to understand.