Knocking, I stared intently at the porcine face behind the glass at it stuffed a sandwich into its slobbering maw. The dull eyes evoked the imagery of a certain humanoid Jim Woodring character, telling me immediately that I would not be dealing with a great deal of intelligence or subtlety. Indeed, the bright safety jacket enveloping the rotund body suggested that this creature was suitable only for uncomplicated manual labour. I’d had close encounters with his kind before during an uncomfortable cohabitation with my ex and her brother, someone who lent clarity to the term meathead.
With casual indifference the driver of the minivan shooed me away with a sweeping motion reserved for pestering undesirables beneath one’s station.
“You’re blocking the sidewalk! Move your van!”, I shouted. “There are people trying to get by!”
I pointed to the frail old woman clutching precariously to her walker as she tried to navigate her way around the vehicle. I heard her mumble something about not being able to handle the curb as she stepped gingerly into the path of oncoming traffic. Compounding the problem, the dolt had managed to park his van directly in the middle of a laneway so that the old woman was facing jeopardy from multiple directions as others veered around him.
He rolled down his window and began to bellow.
“You fucking shout at me one more time and I’ll knock your teeth out, tough guy!”
I felt the adrenaline immediately.
Getting into verbal exchanges under such conditions usually worries me; my heart pounds and my throat constricts to the point where I’m incoherently sputtering words. I worry that my rage will be misconstrued as fear, an emotion that savages like him pounce on to assert their perceived superiority. Might makes right. Violent domination affirms his righteousness in threatening anyone who gives him an askew sideways glance, let alone the impudence of demanding that he exhibit what is otherwise common courtesy.
Plus, I’d rather not have to park the wheelchair, ask Sarah to sit tight, and call the doctor to let him know we’re going to be late for that appointment while I engage in fisticuffs.
Despite this, however, the words flowed freely.
“Fuck you, asshole! Move your fucking van! People are trying to get by!”
He responded loudly by promising to step out and punch me in the face the next time I shouted at him.
So I did, interlacing my response with a number of expletives. I’m by no means a tough guy but I do spend a good portion of most days lifting and transporting another human being which gave me confidence that I’d be able to hold my own against his pudgy countenance.
At that point, what I’m assuming was his woman came running from somewhere out of sight and, having completed whatever business they had been there to conduct, hopped into the passenger side. She somehow managed to take no notice of the situation unfolding in front of her.
Brief montages of their domestic life flashed through my mind. I imagined him wearing, and giving fuller meaning to, the sleeveless undershirt known as a wife-beater. I envisioned his voluminous body spilling over the edges of an inflatable kiddy pool, canned beer perched atop a bulbous gut, providing him with respite on hot summer days. Meat, and plenty of it, would be the only acceptable meal at the end of a long day spent leaning on a shovel at the construction site. Did he have children, I wondered. God help them.
He wasn’t getting out and we were running short on time so I swung the wheelchair around and continued down the street, middle finger extended and a “fuck you!” shouted over my shoulder.
He caught up to us at the next intersection where he rolled down the passenger window and screamed past his still-oblivious partner.
“Hey, tough guy! Why don’t you come over here and fight me?! I’ll kick your ass! I’ll beat your face in!”
For a moment I noticed the startled look on my fellow pedestrians’ faces at seeing a ruddy-faced, rotund ruffian hurling threats at a guy pushing a wheelchair.
“I’m not going over there to fight you, idiot!”, I responded. He’d already taken up enough of our time and besides, I was supposed to go over there to make good on his threats?
I loudly suggested one last time that he copulate with himself and returned back to our original route.
At this he drove in the opposite direction and we didn’t see him again, but obviously the episode stuck with me.
On the sometimes-mean streets of Toronto it’s not unheard of for me to get involved in exchanging unpleasantries but they don’t usually ramp up so quickly. It’s rare that I’m threatened with violence. Most people respond with indolence or bored indifference and they have to be engaged in excessive assholery for the exchange to begin in the first place.
Clearly, though, there are exceptions.
It would be out of place for me to draw comparisons between the driver of the van and manual labourers in general. There’s a certain nobility to breaking a sweat, working with one’s hands, and being involved in constructing something substantive. I would be committing a gross injustice by lumping everyone who operates a backhoe or mans a forklift with the man I encountered the other day but I’ve experienced enough foul-mouthed, mulletted jerks and inebriated pickup drivers with flaming decals down the sides of their trucks to know that sometimes the stereotypes are entirely accurate.
And this guy was just a dick.