I learned how to handle confrontation about six years ago. I worked delivery for a restaurant and through my two years at this job, I grew more and more annoyed with the mindless bullshit I had to face every day. People didn’t know their own address. People who ordered every single day had to be asked the same questions every single day. I once had a guy call his friends to come to the restaurant to kick my ass because I didn’t have change for his 100 dollar bill. Constantly shifting bullshit forced me out of my comfort zone and I gained the ability to say, “Wait, wait a second,” when something stupid was going on despite the inevitable pushback.
I carried this new skill with me as I moved to Los Angeles, which again brought along a sizeable helping of bullshit. Whether it was the DJ that lived below me which would crank his stereo to 1,000 at three in the morning, the neighbor who gathered dog shit from the grass and threw it into our apartment complex, or the woman at the sushi restaurant (and, well, the entire restaurant) I told to go fuck herself, I was able to hold my footing against the wave of inconsiderate people.
None of these confrontations have started maliciously. Basically, I expect people to recognize we’re living in a society, and we could all benefit from a little thoughtfulness. If we all lived by the basic rules of society and treated each other with respect, our world would suck a little bit less. Sure, there’d still be music you don’t like and it would still rain on your off-days once in a while, but at least you wouldn’t have to drive behind somebody going half the speed limit throwing Big Gulps out of their car window.
This has become my crusade. I don’t actively look for situations to extol these virtues but they happen to find me fairly often. When somebody does something against the idea of being thoughtful and respectful to the people around you and doesn’t get called out on it, it rewards their bad behavior ensuring they will repeat the mistake. It’s the same idea as how you shouldn’t give a dog a treat for taking a shit on your pillow. Nobody wants shit on their pillow, and you should work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Would you like an example? Okay, here you go:
A month or two or three ago I was in line at Walgreen’s. There was one person ahead of me before the person at the register. There were maybe four people behind me. Miraculously, the register directly to my right opened up. I yielded to the person in front of me because the new cashier said, “I can help who’s next,” and he was irrefutably next. He told me he would wait for the original register so I turned to claim my rightful spot, when the lady behind me jumped to the side and set her stuff down.
“Oh right,” I said. “That’s how a line works.” The cashier looked at me with an apologetic look, but the lady (who was probably in her sixties, so it’s not like this was her first time in line) didn’t turn around. She simply said:
“You were too slow.”
I had to concede she was correct, but speed was not the issue. “It’s not about who was fastest. She said Next not Whoever gets here first.”
“You were too slow,” she repeated.
She continued with the transaction and was unable to get her credit card to work because it’s really difficult to swipe it through the card reader. I glared at her, tapping my foot. Finally, she somehow figured it out, gathered her bags and muttered something as she walked away.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“You heard me.”
“Nope. No I didn’t. Otherwise I wouldn’t have said excuse me.”
“I said, I suppose you’re going to kick my ass now?!?” Except she didn’t just say it this time, she yelled it.
I really didn’t see that one coming. I looked at the person working the register who shrugged.
“Why would I kick your ass?”
“You talk too much!” And then she shuffled out. I looked to the line behind me and everyone had their eyebrows pulled back and lips tight in an expression that only means, Jesus Christ, what was that all about?
More examples? Sure, why not.
My wife also shares the ability to tell people to go fuck themselves for bad behavior and once in a while we get to tag team somebody. Here’s a quick one:
We were walking into the grocery store one morning when we came across a guy putting groceries into his car. He was parked in the space directly next to the handicap spot, so he was in the very front of the parking lot. The fun part was that he parked directly over the line of the adjoining space effectively giving himself two spaces.
“Nice parking job,” I said to the man as we walked past.
“What are you trying to say?” he asked. This is an interesting response because I can be dry to the point where sarcasm sounds the same as a heartfelt sentiment. However, he took it as a denigration which I think is a reflection of his guilty conscience; he knew right from the start he did something wrong.
“You parked like a fucking asshole,” said my wife, completing the verbal alley-oop.
“Y’all just a bunch of haters!” he yelled as we walked into the grocery store.
But the reason I sat down to write this whole thing in the first place happened this morning. I stood near the kitchen table, probably talking to myself, when I saw a person through the window next to me. This isn’t shocking in itself; I live in a city not a forest in the middle of nowhere. The weird part was that she was immediately outside of the window, almost close enough to high-five. She was crossing from the yard next to us into our yard. I moved to the window facing the front and watched as she led two leashed dogs, one of which was now crawling through our bushes.
Our house sits about thirty feet back from the road, so the only people that come this close are friends and the occasional city worker to read our water and/or electric meter. I immediately ran to the bedroom to put on pants (it’s my off day I wasn’t wearing pants big whoop), and walked outside.
“Excuse me,” I said to her as she stood next to my car parked in the driveway. “What are you doing?”
Confused, she said: “I’m walking my dogs.”
“Right, but you think it’s okay to just walk through people’s yards?”
“Yeah I do. There’s no sidewalk.”
And she’s right. There is no sidewalk. But this is a calm residential road where a car passes maybe once every ten minutes. I wasn’t mad she was in our grass. Our grass is mostly weeds anyways. It felt like an invasion of privacy for her to be close enough to my window that she could read my coffee mug. Not only that, who just walks through the deepest part of a neighborhood’s front lawn? I’m 33-years-old, and this was my first time coming across this. She looked at me like it was the most natural thing in the world.
“And you think it’s okay to just walk through the middle of someone’s front lawn? Don’t you think it’s a little weird to just walk onto somebody’s property like that?”
“I already told you, no I don’t think it’s weird.” She seemed to be mad that I wasn’t understanding her point of view while she was obviously not trying to see mine. I felt like an old man in a cartoon telling the teenaged main character to get off his lawn. And now here I was, playing the part of the petty, old man.
I told her to cut it out because it is, in fact, weird and she said, exasperated: “Don’t worry, I will.” It came across incredibly patronizing as if I had told her, for the twentieth time, she should floss more often.
“Oh yeah, like I’m the asshole.”
“You are,” she said as she walked to the end of the driveway and into road.
Now, if I were the asshole, wouldn’t she continue walking through the rest of the street’s front yards? If there was truly nothing wrong with her actions, why change them? If you’re afraid of the road because people drive like morons, I understand. It’s totally fine to walk off the road and in the grass, just do it reasonably. Think of where a sidewalk would be if this city actually gave a fuck about people’s well-being, and walk there. You don’t need thirty feet of clearance.
And that’s okay with me to come across as the asshole for her to alter her behavior and start acting more respectfully to others in the neighborhood. At the heart of it, that’s what pissed me off so much. The argument can easily be made that things could have gone much more smoothly if I kept my dumb mouth shut in all these instances. Sure, she was walking next to my house in the exact way someone would if they were trying to look inside for items to burgle or dicks to oogle, but also her feet aren’t going to injure the weeds I call a lawn. And who put me in charge of deciding who’s out of line and who isn’t?
Nobody. I bear this burden of my own volition and it pains me every day. How do I not tell a line of people to fuck off when they cross against the light, holding up traffic with the right of way? How do I not catch up to a truck on my bike at the next red light to tell them to fuck off after they yelled fuck you get out of the road even though it’s illegal for bicycles to be on the sidewalk?
The way I see it, not telling these people to fuck off would make society worse. It’s a calling. A duty. I see myself as a freedom fighter simply trying to let people know it’s not okay to shit on everyone’s proverbial pillows. Confrontation can be difficult. It’s uncomfortable. But if everyone would start calling out bullshit when they saw it, people wouldn’t be emboldened and say to themselves, “Fuck them, I need to do this right now and fuck all the haters,” before they slam on their brakes and slowly cross four lanes of traffic to make a left turn at an intersection when they are only ten feet away.