This is really easy to say, but sometimes wrath is wa-a-y beyond a soft answer.

Just ask anyone who’s trying to avoid a conflict with someone who’s frantically trying to provoke one. I affirmed this again Saturday just after the #MarchForOurLives rally in Sarasota, Florida. Our family ambled to the cars when the peace to our right was broken by the sound of someone shouting “F*^k this!” and “F^%k that”.

As everyone turned, we saw a pony-tailed man dressed only in jeans alighting from his bicycle and cursing a blue-streak. He was pursuing an older man wearing a straw hat about twenty yards away, near a small boat in the marina. Apparently, the older man hadn’t stayed where he had been told to stay by Ponytail.

As the scene played out, Ponytail kept leaving and returning to Strawhat, cursing throughout. At one point Ponytail pushed Strawhat, and a couple of bystanders tried to calm him down. They, too, were shoved. But shoving is a kid’s game and nothing gets hurt but pride. Punches or weapons are what I’m looking out for.

I’m Thinking of John Quiñones and the TV show, What Would You Do?

My step-son and I had been observing from about 10 yards away from Ponytail as he shoved the nearest person to us. My son yelled out, trying to calm Ponytail down, so this got Ponytail’s attention. That proved too much for my daughter-in-law carrying her 13-month daughter, so she got involved in the cacophony. I was still kind of looking for John Quiñones. Fortunately, my son was by now hustling his wife off to protect her and his daughter, so Ponytail rides off.

In my experience working in New York City for over twenty years, the crazies just keep to themselves as long as they are not provoked. Bullies tend to back off if you stand your ground, which I always do. Only once have I ever had to intercede. I turned a crazy over to two burly undercover cops charging into our building after him in Central Park. Even then, my soft answer defused the situation by convincing him that all would be well as I opened the inner door to the cops.

Well, Strawhat had by now parked himself on a bench to put shoes on. Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough for Ponytail, so he came back, now about twenty feet from me. I had decided to stay in order to watch out for Strawhat at this point, as my wife decides to call 911. She’s worried about me because we’re in a state where everyone has a gun.

Some People Just Can’t Leave a Good Thing Alone.

As Ponytail continues his tirade, it dawns on me that I don’t recall Strawhat saying one word during this entire episode. If anything, he looks confused. Ponytail finishes again and walks about five feet in the other direction then turns and walks back toward me. As he reaches Strawhat, he shouts and gestures at me, “What are you staring at? This is my father, so you need to just take a hike!” 

As unaccustomed as I am to taking any shouted orders, I simply stared back at him.

He takes another few steps in my direction and shouts even louder and pointing in the opposite direction, “Walk!!”

I said nothing and never took my eyes off his face. This tactic has served me well many times in the past.

Taking another couple of steps in my direction and getting even louder but still pointing in the opposite direction, “WALK!!”

One of us wasn’t getting the memo.

When the staredown was complete, he got on his bicycle and rode off.

Two Memos that Crossed in the Night

The memo he missed was that, in a situation like that, in my mind I am invincible and I will never back down. My five years of sporadic karate training has taught me that Rule #1 is to run away. I went past that since I was determined to protect Strawhat if it came down to it. Rule #2 is to understand that you’re going to get hit, so absorb it and quickly execute to completion. If you ever watch street fights between “normal” people, what you’ll see is two people more concerned with not getting hit. Not my problem.

The memo I missed was that this probably really was his father, who probably had some form of dementia and Ponytail had absolutely had enough. If I had thought faster, I probably could have defused the situation by introducing myself, and asking if Strawhat had dementia, and if I could help in some way because my mother has dementia also.

Damn, Ain’t Hindsight a Wonderful Thing?

I truly wish I had been able to help more, but then the fight-or-flight response is an involuntary thing. Ponytail, for all his apparent bad habits, needed a break and some help.