Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Craig David. The Victorian state government has been spending a fair bit of time and effort trying to prevent people fighting on the street. The fact is, though, that the street can be a tension-filled space even when you're not drunk. If you're the sort of person who likes to have the last word (aka: "cocky" or "smart-arse") then you can also provoke a fight based on what you say.

Tonight I had two separate encounters to which my ultimate response was to walk away. We're always told that this is the best way to defuse conflict, but the trouble is that it's a passive move and it makes the walker-away feel disempowered, as though they've 'lost' the encounter.

The first incident was when a beggar approached me on Bourke Street. Unhappily, I was standing outside Nudel Bar perusing the menu in their window, so it didn't go down well when the man asked me for money for food, and I refused.

I don't really have a hard-and-fast policy about whether or not to give money to beggars; most of the time I refuse but sometimes I comply. The whole basis of begging is emotional manipulation; you give because you feel sorry for the beggar's poverty or because you feel uncomfortable about your own relative wealth. Socialists might even argue that beggars are offering a social service by forcing capitalists to personally confront the effects of capitalism, while others might conversely point out that begging is itself an industry which exploits its workers.

Anyway, this guy had a look about him that I found quite chilling, and so I think I said no and started walking, mainly to get away. However, he followed me down the street and started heckling me. I just kept walking, pausing only to say, "You could ask someone else."

When we were both waiting for the lights at Exhibition Street to change, he said, "Haven't you ever been in a position where you had to ask someone for help?"
My response was, "Like I said, you could always ask someone else."

I felt like a real dick after this encounter, and wished I had done something other than just walk away. Later on, I was walking home down Lygon Street. Usually I walk on the east side of the road with the tragic tourist restaurants and their touts, but tonight I walked down the west side and past the block of restaurants patronised largely by groups of young people just hanging out.

I was walking towards one of these groups of youngsters, sitting at an outside table, when I realised that one of them was mocking me. He was looking between me and his friends and wiggling his head, making silly faces and laughing. His friends were also darting glances at me and laughing.

I felt puzzled and oddly humiliated – was there something innately ridiculous about me? – and also quite annoyed, because if anyone was ridiculous it was this pack of fuckwits with their gelled hair and their absurd distressed T-shirts. There was a dull, self-satisfied quality to them that I found quite infuriating, because they would be unlikely to understand if I tried to explain to them how richly ironic it was that I was supposed to be the laughable one.

So instead, I decided to respond in their own language. I stopped dead, looked psychotically at the one who was mocking me and said levelly, "Have you got a problem?"

He went all innocent and was all, "Nooo," and his friends started laughing even more. I fixed my death-stare on the one closest to me and said, "Have you got a problem?"
This one said, "I haven't got a problem. Have you got a problem?" but as he was saying this the smile faltered from his face.
I looked thoughtfully at him and said, "Yeah, I think I do." But as I was saying this and feeling like Han Solo about to shoot Greedo in the Mos Eisley cantina, I began to realise the futility of this exercise in brain-dead bravado. I mean, what was next – me engaging one of these doofuses in hand-to-hand combat? Me pulling a knife and saying, "Yeah, baby, cut anything!"

So as soon as I had got that sentence out, I promptly turned on my heel and kept walking. They might have jeered at me behind my back, but I didn't hear anything as I had my iPod earphones in (as indeed they had been throughout this entire exchange), playing 'I Love You Always Forever' by Donna Lewis.

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