Monday, September 26, 2005
Through a Glass, Angrily
Portrait of the Blahger as a Young Man
Saturday night I drove Sylvia down to Julio's Barrio on Whyte Avenue for her friend Norma's birthday party. As I was preparing to turn right onto Whyte from Calgary Trail South, I heard a distant banging from my left. Sylvia was talking, so I was distracted, trying to pay attention to what she was saying while also figuring out what was making the noise.
I glanced to my left and saw a young guy in his early twenties sitting in the front passenger seat of an old, grey subcompact; it had "4 Sale" signs crudely painted all over its surface, including the windows. The young man was banging on his window, and he was looking right at me with an intensely angry expression on his face. I was confused, looked away to answer a question from Sylvia, all the while trying to focus on my driving.
The banging got louder and I looked over again; the young man was practically foaming at the mouth with rage, his face twisted and bright red. I reached for the button that would have rolled my window down, but the light turned green and the car sped off, and I was free to make my turn onto Whyte. I found a spot to park, escorted Sylvia to the restaurant, and returned to my car to ponder over what, exactly, had happened to spark the other man's rage. Finding no answers, I drove home.
The incident reminded me of a similar case of unprovoked aggression, one that happened to me a couple of years ago. It was Canada Day, and I decided to check out the fireworks show, parking my vehicle on Jasper Avenue and walking down to Ezio Farone park. The fireworks were fine, and I started the walk back to my car, along with thousands of other people.
But shortly after I began my return journey, a dark-haired young man started taunting me with insults too base to justify repeating here. He was accompanied by a small cluster of like-minded friends, who pitched in on the abuse to varying degrees. They definitely wanted to start a fight, but I was too disgusted and angry to rise to the bait; I just told them that their behaviour was appalling, and that they should know better.
Looking back, I think I should have been scared, but there were plenty of people around; I could have called for help if I really needed it. But I wasn't even thinking in those terms; I was offended.
They followed me for a few blocks, trying out various forms of insult, and I started to feel very sad and sorry for them. An awful attitude, I know, to feel superior, but in that moment I did, and I immediately started to feel guilty about it. I tried to empathize, to understand the vulnerability that would lead someone to hurl abuse at a stranger.
Maybe I did begin to understand at the end, because by the time the crowd thinned out and we were alone, the ringleader shook my hand and told me "no hard feelings." Maybe it was his turn to feel superior; who knows?
Like many kids, I was a victim of bullying, though thankfully those days are far in the past. Those experiences left a powerful impression on me. What drives someone to attack a stranger, when the violence isn't in the cause of sheer survival? I can't imagine the kind of mentality it takes to behave that way. Is it a form of mental illness? Or are some people simply badly socialized?
I don't know. But I wish I could have made the guy in the car feel better.