I'm telling you, it's a big deal.
One of the things I find fascinating about that day is how quickly people can adjust themselves to a new reality. Some guy is walking around dressed up as a pack of cigarettes and some girl is crossing the street in a bumblebee outfit and nobody looks twice at them. Because it's Halloween. I think if suddenly the accepted fashion became wearing a red ball over your nose like a clown it would seem perfectly normal within just a few days.
Anyway, now that I'm blogging I thought I would take pictures of all the people in my cab who were wearing costumes
like these guys
and this guy
and maybe have a best-costume-in-my-cab contest. But an incident occurred at around 2 AM of the first Halloween night (Saturday) that took away all my enthusiasm for taking pictures of people dressed up like draculas, batmen, and wicked witches of the easts. And for a couple of days I was in a rare funk, hardly communicating with anyone at all.
Disturbing incidents almost always breeze right over my shoulders and glide on out into the universe. After 29 years of taxi-driving I have developed an immunity to them. I even look at the occasional jerk who gets in my cab as being a part of the Parade of Humanity and try to find something about him that interests me. But this particular jerk on Saturday night... this guy... he must have slipped in through a crack in the floorboard. He really got to me.
Even so, the truth is I wouldn't choose to write about it if I didn't have a point to make. And the point is this: the thing we call "civilization" is held together with a glue called "restraint". Here's what happened...
I picked up three thirty-something people - two girls and a guy - coming out of one of the trendy clubs on 27th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. They were all in costumes. The guy wore a red, white, and blue jumpsuit which I thought was supposed to be some kind of super-hero thing like Captain America, but it turned out to be an Evel Knievel (a famous motorcycle stuntman) outfit. In fact, the guy even looked like a young Evel Knievel. The girls - I don't know what they were supposed to be, but they were wearing fishnet stockings. Their destination was Murray Street in lower Manhattan.
I thought I would strike up a conversation with this group as I was interested in taking their picture at the end of the ride. But it was one of those fares in which the passengers were just into themselves and had set up a mental barrier to keep the cab driver out of their world. And most likely they'd been drinking or were on drugs. I asked the guy early in the ride if he was Captain America and got a reply not from him, but from one of the girls, that he was Evel Knievel.
But other than that there was no communication between us during the ride. I had already decided against asking them to pose for a picture and just drove along listening to the radio and wasn't paying much further attention to them, except to notice that the guy and one of the girls, who I assumed was his girlfriend, were bantering with each other and it was souding like an unpleasant, low-level argument.
It was when we arrived at their luxury high-rise on Murray Street that things suddenly got ugly.
The meter was $11 and the guy tells me he has to go into his building to get the money. This is bad taxi etiquette because he has waited until the end of the ride to make the announcement. If he'd been by himself the immediate suspicion would be that he's trying to beat the fare. But since he was with the two girls, it was no big deal. The girls wait in the cab with the meter running until he gets back with the money. Happens all the time. As long as he doesn't take too long, it's not an issue.
But then, without any explanation to me, he orders the girls out of the cab, telling them to wait on the sidewalk until he gets back.
In all my years, no one had ever done this. It struck me immediately as being completely out of bounds and I turned around in my seat a bit to tell them that normal procedure was for the girls to remain in the cab until the money arrived. I had to raise my voice slightly to be heard as I was being ignored. Then, quite out of nowhere, Mr. Knievel went ballistic on me.
Now I am not one to repeat vile profanity, but if I was, this is what I would tell you he screamed at me:
"No, they are getting out of the cab, you fucking piece of shit. They're getting out of the cab, asshole."
Needless to say, I was stunned. If anyone ever talks to me that way, which is never, I would probably know what had provoked it. But this came out of the blue. He ushered the girls out of the cab and told them to wait right there and then started walking toward his building.
"What do you think I'm going to do, drive away with them?" I said to him before he was out of earshot. Some sarcasm was the best I could come up with.
"That's exactly what I think you're going to do, you fucking piece of shit," he called back, and then walked into his building and was out of sight.
It's one thing if some moron is a semi-coherent drunk and throws an insult in your face. You know he's drunk and can be tolerated. But Evel wasn't semi-coherent. Evel was evil. The suddeness of his verbal assault and the perception that he knowingly wanted to humiliate, belittle, and degrade me restimulated an anger that was powerful enough to make my hands tremble. It's the kind of anger that can immediately escalate into violence, with the point to be made being, "You can't talk to me like that!" It's the kind of anger that brings you right to the precipice - the desire to strike back vs. the consequences of striking back suddenly becoming a monumental struggle. It's the stuff that manslaughter is made of.
The two girls who were now standing on the sidewalk up to this point had not said a word. I vented some of my anger by telling them their friend was the most insulting person I'd ever met and wasn't a candidate to live a long life. And then one of them shed some light on the situation. She told me that the other girl standing there had been in a taxi a couple of weeks ago and passed out in the back seat. She woke up to find her driver molesting her.
Okay, that was terrible and I told her I was sorry that happened. But it didn't excuse his acting like an asshole as, obviously, I wasn't that guy. And I told her that. Which maybe wasn't the right thing to say as now she felt a need to be defensive on his behalf and so she starts to critcize me for being mad at him. I was becoming numb with rage and realized I'd be better off just getting the hell out of there, so I told her to tell Evel Knievel he could keep his fucking eleven dollars and I shifted the car into "drive" with the intention of leaving.
But she wanted to keep the game going. She leaned her body against the side of my cab and latched onto my side-view mirror, making it impossible to drive away without knocking her over. And then she said something which turned out to be fascinating: "He can pay the fare and he can buy your cab, too, if he wants to, asshole. He's a plastic surgeon and makes plenty of money."
At this point Evel - "Doctor Evil", the plastic surgeon - returned with the money. He came up to me on the side of the cab, taking the space where the girl had just been. Now, in retrospect, you would have thought the guy might have cooled off and possibly might have even been apologetic for the way he'd spoken to me or would have at least offered an explanation for his incredibly bad manners. But instead he just continued where he'd left off.
"How much is the fare, you fucking piece of shit?"
A crisis point had been reached. My desire to strike back at this guy, to see him lying on his back in agony as my foot stomped down on his nose (requiring plastic surgery) had reached a crescendo. It wasn't really his words that infuriated me. It was the unmitigated evil I perceived in him. I wanted to hurt this guy very badly. But before I tell you what happened, I'm going to step out of this scene for a moment and do a bit of reflection.
Whenever I've had the misfortune to run into somebody like this, it has always amazed me how they could live past the age of, say, twenty-five. Because the odds are against it. You go around insulting total strangers - somewhere down the road you're going to meet "the wrong guy". And that guy is going to kill you, Charlie. Just like that. It's sort of a filtering process that the human race has installed upon itself.
Consider this: I am a total unknown to Dr. Evil. He has no idea what my tolerance for being insulted happens to be. He has no idea that, although it is illegal for taxi drivers in New York City to carry weapons, various objects that are associated with the operation of the vehicle, such as a tire iron, for example, can be used as weapons. And that I have just such an object at my fingertips. He has no idea that, although I am not a big guy, I have the ability to put him in either a hospital or a hole in the ground within seconds. And he is basically begging me to do it.
So... what did I do?
I drove away without saying another word and without accepting his money.
And, as I said, I was in a funk for about two days. You didn't really want to be in my cab during that time. Not that I was rude to anyone, I just wasn't my usual semi-cheerful self and certainly didn't want to have a conversation with you. I was too busy playing and re-playing every detail of the incident in my mind. But the mental mass associated with the episode finally did move away, and I was glad I had come away from it losing only some pride and not facing charges of aggravated assault or murder.
Plus I did have an insight that I'd like to share with you.
In reviewing this guy's behavior, you might think, yeah, well, he was just upset because one of the girls he was with had been assaulted by a cab driver. But it doesn't ring true. Obviously, one person in a profession is not another person in the same profession. And this guy wasn't lacking an ability to distinguish that. What he was doing was seizing an opportunity to dramatize some kind of transgression that he himself was guilty of while trying to make himself look righteous in the eyes of his friends. His behavior was a facade.
How many times have we seen it turn out that the righteous person on a crusade against evil-doers was himself guilty of the same crimes he rails against? I had inadvertently learned that this guy was a plastic surgeon. Isn't that someone who might find himself in a position to molest unconscious females?
Dr. Evil would be wise to wear a sign around his neck that says, "The reason I'm insulting you is because I have committed crimes I don't want you to know about". That way, when he meets "the wrong guy" - as he will - perhaps his life will be spared.