The other day an angry guy got out of his truck and threatened to beat me up, which started me thinking about Filipino stick-fighting.
Texas has a lot of angry guys in trucks; I seem to cross paths with one every few hundred miles. I don’t know if the trucks make them angry or if their anger predisposes them to buy trucks, or what. It would be an interesting question to investigate at an auto dealership sometime.
This particular specimen hulks up behind me at a red light on my way home from work, and starts leaning on his horn. At first I can’t figure out what he wants. The light is red, there are pedestrians in the crosswalk; I can’t go anywhere even if I want to. Maybe, I think, he’s trying to get my attention to warn me about something. Are my brake lights malfunctioning? Are sparks emerging from my muffler? I twist around to look at him and see an open mouth and a fiercely gesticulating arm. I finally hit on it: He wants me to edge out into the intersection so he can get past the parked cars next to him and make a right turn on red. And he’s not asking; he’s demanding.
I’m not disposed to do this. I hate it when I’m on foot and have to edge past a car that’s rolled forward into the crosswalk, ready to jump the light. Plus I’m pretty sure it’s technically illegal to stop in the crosswalk. And if this guy had a more modestly-sized vehicle, he wouldn’t need me to get out of his way.
But OK, I figure, I might as well try to accommodate him. Maybe he’s got a friend in the truck who severed an artery and they are rushing to the hospital. Or maybe his dog ate some illegal fireworks and he needs to get to the vet (we had a dog that did this). Maybe his shirt’s on fire. Who knows. I figure I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I check for pedestrians and then ease forward enough to let him through. Curious about why he’s so pressed for time, I take a good look at him through the window as he passes. He’s doing the same thing to me.
And he’s still screaming at me, looking me right in the eye and shouting obscenities, which doesn’t strike me as something you would bother to do if you were racing to the ER or the vet on a mission of mercy. I can’t make out any words but I see a lot of teeth and his neck is all bulgy and red. That’s anger, all right, and it’s ugly and I really don’t appreciate it. I did him a favor, and I bent the law and became an obnoxious driver to do it. Without even thinking, I flip him off.
I admit, this is not very Zen of me. It’s not actually the kind of thing I do very often—not nearly as often as I want to. True, I’d be a better person if I never did it at all, but I’m human. At least I don’t go around honking and running cars off the road and screaming abuse at people who are smaller than me and possess what I consider to be inferior genitalia. I could be worse.
Still, flipping people off: Not a good de-escalation strategy.
Sure enough, now he’s really mad. He slams on his brakes in mid-turn and comes boiling out of his truck like a roach that’s been sprayed with Hot Shot—a big misogynist roach with a crew cut and a baseball cap. He continues to yell as he approaches my car and I watch him, mesmerized. Wow, I think, I have got to get a picture of this, and reach for my phone. Of course I can’t find it, and while I am pawing around in my bag searching for it, the roach apparently remembers what a big hurry he is in and gets back in his truck and makes his right turn. Well, hell. There goes a perfect YouTube moment. I briefly consider following him, but this time I think a little longer, and realize what a dumb idea that is. One of my first karate teachers, a black belt and a former Army MP, got into a knife fight with a guy (in a truck) who had traffic entitlement issues. I think she actually enjoyed it—she had a bigger knife—but she is a lot tougher than I am, and she doesn’t have kids. Also the battery in my phone, which I have finally located, is dead. So when the light turns green, I drive on. But now I’m upset. My heart rate is up and I have an ugly image in my head and I am not well disposed toward my fellow human beings. And why? Because Mr. Angry couldn’t get through his day without smearing some of his petty rage on me, a perfect stranger who had the nerve to be female, and in front of him.
When I get home I relate the incident to my husband, who wisely neither congratulates nor scolds me for flipping the bird. He suggests one possible reason the incident ended so abruptly: The guy might have thought, when I was digging through my bag, that I was looking for a gun. That interpretation hadn’t occurred to me. It would certainly explain why he went so quickly from full tantrum mode to a set of taillights in the distance. In my not inconsiderable experience, men who yell at women in public like to posture a little more before they strut off. People who are themselves violent naturally expect others to be violent too, so this guy may well have assumed I was about to point a gun at him.
Now I suppose there are some situations where I might shoot somebody, but I certainly wouldn’t shoot someone just because they were pissed off at me. I mean, I have that effect on a lot of people. Good heavens, if I went around shooting everyone who found me annoying, my trigger finger would be worn clean away.
But the fact is, I’m not interested in carrying a weapon at all. Concealed carry is legal where I live, but I’ve spent enough time practicing self-defense with make-believe weapons to know that I don’t want anything to do with real ones. In a realistic self-defense situation, one thing is abundantly clear: Any weapon I’m carrying is more dangerous to me than it is to my opponent.
For one thing, a fight involving a weapon quickly becomes a fight over the weapon, whereas I want any fight I’m in to be a fight about me getting my ass out of there. Then too, carrying a gun or a knife or even a canister of mace means having to worry about where the weapon is any time you’re not defending yourself with it, which if you’re lucky is one hundred percent of the time. A deadly weapon has to be under constant supervision; you have to always know where it is and who has access to it, if it’s loaded, if the safety’s on—it’s a massive amount of legal and ethical responsibility. I can’t even keep my damn cell phone charged, so there is no way I am going to carry a gun around. And I don’t care how much you love the Second Amendment, you don’t want me carrying one either.
But apart from that, I have also noticed that weapons tend to make me feel more powerful and safer than I really am, and so I don’t trust them. About a year into my karate training, when I could throw a pretty solid punch, engaging the lower body and maximizing my striking power, I was introduced to the Filipino martial art of Arnis. My instructor entrusted me with my first weapon: a rattan stick about two feet long. As a weapon, it wasn’t very dangerous-looking; it wasn’t heavy or even pointy. But when you’ve already learned to use your bare hands with devastating force, and then you pick up a stick, the power rush is dizzying. My god, you think, I am the most dangerous person in the world.
I imagine guns have a similar effect on people (something about guns certainly gets people excited). But this very subjective feeling isn’t a good way to judge how safe you actually are. It can make you over-confident, sending you into situations and places where common sense, unarmed, would keep you from going. A weapon makes you more dangerous; it doesn’t make you any smarter. And someone like me, who is already dumb enough to flip off a jerk in traffic, should not be carrying the power of life and death around in her glove box. My decision-making process doesn’t need complications like that. Nor should the general public have to worry about whether I’ve got a gun and the inclination to use it. Even unarmed, I’m pretty hard to put up with.
So now I almost feel bad for my angry truck driver. He wanted to intimidate me—obviously, he’s an asshole—but I didn’t mean to scare him. He’s a bully who gets his jollies by threatening people he thinks are weaker than him, and it would be nice if someone called him on that shit, but I didn’t intend to make the man fear for his life. I almost wish I could reassure him: Dude, seriously, I wasn’t planning to shoot you. I only wanted some humiliating video of you, acting like a big dumb monkey, which I could share online with thousands of people. That’s all.
A camera, as a weapon, suits my fighting style much better than a gun or knife or stick. It poses little threat to children or innocent bystanders. It’s difficult for even me to endanger myself with one. And cameras require no special training to use (I did have to ask my twelve-year-old to show me how my cell phone’s camera worked). Best of all, cameras force people to stop focusing on how their violent behavior is making them feel at the moment, and consider how it is making them look, to others. When your intended victim turns a camera on you, you’ve lost control of the fight. It’s not just the two of you anymore. Whether your tantrum shows up on YouTube or CNN or in a court of law, everyone is going to see you doing this. Can you explain it? Can you justify it? Do you think you’re going to get away with it? Perhaps it’s the mom in me that wants to confront attackers with these questions, rather than blowing holes in them.
Of course, it’s just as difficult to use a camera in a ticklish situation as it would be to use a gun. Weapons are all too likely to be out of reach, unloaded, or uncharged when you really need them. So while I’ll carry a camera, and I’d use any weapon I could lay my hands on if I needed it, the only weapons I bother training with seriously are the ones physically attached to me. I always know where they are, they don’t require batteries, and I can carry them without a permit.
If the guy who confronted me had tried to start an actual fight, I’m pretty sure these familiar weapons would have kept me safe. All I had to do was use my hands and feet to put the car in gear and drive away. I hope I would have been sensible enough to do that. But what I really hope is that angry guys like him try to calm down. Consider trading the truck in for a motorcycle. A Harley, maybe—chicks dig those, right?
Yeah, get a Harley. You’d look really good on one of those.