Monday, September 19, 2005
The way someone treats a service worker is the clearest measure of their character. Anybody that snaps at a waiter, barks at a bartender, or shouts abuse at a cabdriver is on the short but all-too long list of clear assholes in my book.
The shouting escalated, and I thought I heard the English guy shove the cabbie. I stood there behind my open, ground-floor window with the blinds shut, listening hard for any signs of violence. I live in a decent neighborhood, but this is DC. Life is cheap here, and I'm not having anybody get shot if I can help it.
I called 911 and asked that the cops just drive by and break this up before it escalated too badly. "Just have them drive up with their lights flashing," I said, "and that should clear it off."
It always takes the cops too long to show. The shouting escalated further, and there was no other place to go but up. The English guy was louder and louder and the cabbie wasn't backing down.
You always hear about these murders that take place in the city, totally preventable in front of an apartment building. The neighbors don't want to get involved and then somebody's got to come peel a body up off the sidewalk. That's not happening in my neighborhood. No way.
I broke my silence by shouting out from behind the blinds, "hey SHUT UP! The cops are on the way!"
"You shut up, you cunt," the Englishman replied. "I'll shut up, but it's not going to stop the cops from coming! Just please go home," I replied, my voice rising in fear.
They stopped. I heard the cab door shut and the cab roared away, its engine grumbling its owner's indignance.
Then I heard footsteps, and a voice not six inches from my head, just the other side of my blinds said "Oh, by the way...now I know where you live, bitch."
Bumps leapt up on my arm and made all my body hair stand out like toilet brush bristles. "Is that a threat?" I asked. "No, not really," the man replied, and walked away.
Two hours later I was still wide awake in bed. I haven't been able to stop thinking about the incident since.
Then something else happened. I was at my neighbor's open house, chatting with the other residents on my floor about politics, New Orleans, babies and god knows what or why when the topic came around to strange behavior in the neighborhood. I started telling the story of the Englishman and the cabbie...one of the neighbors chimed in to say that she had heard that fight, and thought it was really scary.
Right before I mentioned that I was so scared I called the cops, another woman broke in. With a dismissive laugh and a roll of the eyes she said, "Oh, that was probably my husband. He's always getting into fights with cab drivers."
I could be wrong here, but you have to wonder: if a man will abuse a cab driving stranger, how does he treat his wife after a tough day?
"Wait a second," I said. "Does your husband have an English accent, by any chance?"
"He does," she replied.
Then the world went splitscreen. One second I saw my finger pointing, hovering in the air in front of my face like a weapon in Doom. It cut to a high crane shot of the open house, the camera aimed straight down at me pointing at this woman and raising my voice slightly, but with an uncontrollable edge. I was barely in control of my faculties, little more than the eye behind the camera at this point.
All of a sudden, in front of about ten strangers, I said "you tell that motherfucker the next time he sticks his head through my window to threaten me, I'm coming out there and taking him up on it."
I have absolutely no intention of doing that. What a stupid, empty, pseudo-John Wayne thing to say. Movies and television make us think that if you get off a good enough line, the scene will cut and we never have to live with the awkward consequences that come from saying any old fucked-up thing we can think of.
She sat there silently for a second while everybody in the room stared at me. Then she jumped up and said "I'm going to go...goodnight," and split fast.
So I ask you this, readers: If you have one man that abuses cabdrivers and threatens strangers through their windows, and another that makes a great big ugly scene in front of the first man's wife...in his absence, no less, and holds her responsible for his actions...who's the bigger asshole?