What do you do when you realize the man standing in the parking lot yelling obscenities is screaming obscenities at you?
I saw the man behind my car as I backed toward the empty place beside him.
He was yelling something, so I stopped and put my window down.
“What’s going on?”
“You backed into my cart.”
“Sorry about that. Do I need to get out?”
His grocery cart was halfway into the empty parking place next to his car.
“Okay, hold on.”
I pulled my car forward, back into my parking space, and got out.
“I have a child in the backseat.”
“I don’t give an obscenities obscenities.”
“Listen,” I said, holding up my hands in a peaceful gesture, “calm down, okay.”
I can’t remember ever hearing these obscenities directed at me before. Not during sports, not in anger, not even an ex-wife. It was Martin Scorsese Quentin Tarantino obscenities.
“It’s just an accident,” I said quietly. “Haven’t you ever been in an accident before?”
He was older than 70 and cursing like a college freshman. “No,” he said before unleashing more obscenities.
“This is what insurance is for,” I calmly said. “Take it easy.”
“Look at my obscenities car, obscenities,” he said.
I didn’t see anything. He and his grocery cart seemed a few feet from his car.
Who does this? Who behaves this way? I looked around, and saw an African American couple watching the exchange. I did’t want to engage them and bring them into the situation. I didn’t want to engage with him anymore, either.
He wasn’t calming down and seemed committed to escalating the situation.
Too many recent headlines talk about exchanges like this ending in violence or shooting.
“Okay, listen,” I said, pulling my wallet out. “I have a child in the car, and I’m not going to stand here doing this.” People three or four cars away were paying attention to the exchange.
“Here’s my card,” I said, handing it to him. “You can call me at my office Tuesday morning.” I turned around and walked away. “I have a child in the car,” I repeated, as I approached my car.
It was only after I drove away, did I imagine the possibility of the man being armed.
His rage and ceaseless cursing was disproportionate to the situation. The entire incident was baffling. What did he expect to happen? What would have happened, if I had met him at his level of anger and cursing?
He was irrationally verbally abusive, and I’m a 6’2” 240 pound white man. What would he have said to a smaller person? A woman of color? An immigrant?
This sort of behavior is uncalled for in decent society but it is increasingly becoming the norm.
Incidents escalate to situations and situations become deadly.
The incident happened over a long holiday weekend, so I haven’t yet spoken to him.
I wonder how he’ll be on the phone. Will he have calmed down?
Will time and distance help him maintain civility?
When we do speak, I’ll remind him that his language was inappropriate, especially in proximity to a child. I’ll let him know that people in polite society don’t speak to one another the way he spoke to me. I’ll expect and will receive an apology. If he wishes to know the name of my insurance company, I will receive an apology.