Has something like this ever happened to you? You are walking on a crowded city sidewalk in a pretty good mood, just minding your own business, when someone walking in the opposite direction bumps into you and knocks you off balance for a moment. But instead of apologizing to you or asking you if you're all right, he turns back and says, "Get the fuck out of the way, asshole."
Or this? You are waiting in line at the QuickChek and someone a foot taller than you blatantly cuts right in front of you with his beer just as you were about to step up to the cashier. You think of saying something to the guy but he looks like a thug, so you just keep your mouth shut and stand there with your half-gallon of milk.
In both cases your urge to react in a forceful way is suppressed by the consideration of what the consequences might be if you did. You might be injured. Hell, you might be killed. You might be arrested and charged with assault. You might have a lawsuit on your hands.
So you stand there and take it. But you soothe your anger by thinking this thought: "Someday that guy is gonna meet the wrong guy." The wrong guy is not you, so you let it pass. But you know he's out there somewhere and it's just a matter of time before he evens the score with this sub-human who was just so incredibly rude to you.
It was the "wrong guy" who got into my cab that night in 1999. I had taken a fare out to Jackson Heights in Queens at midnight on a Saturday night and was heading back toward Manhattan on Northern Boulevard. Suddenly a man came running to the street waving his hand at me. I stopped the cab, he got in, and we drove off.
The first thing I noticed about him were his physical characteristics. He was short - maybe 5 feet, seven inches - thickset, muscular, probably close to fifty years old. He appeared to be Hispanic-American and spoke without an accent.
The next thing I noticed was that he was in a state of extreme agitation. Without any prior conversation these alarming words came shooting out of his mouth: "FUCKING BASTARD! DAMN FUCKING BASTARD!"
"What's the matter?" I asked.
His answer startled me again. Not only because of what he said, but the way he said it. He actually started to cry.
"Oh my god," he sobbed in a lowered voice, "I hope I didn't kill him."
"What happened?" I asked.
"THAT STUPID FUCKING BASTARD!" he screamed. "WHO THE FUCK DOES HE THINK HE'S TALKING TO? I WAS IN NAM, I DON'T HAVE TO PUT UP WITH THIS SHIT!"
My passenger began crying again. "I think I killed him," he blurted out as he covered his face in his hands. "Oh, God, I hope I didn't kill him."
To say that this guy was "upset" would be an understatement. He was riding on a wave of emotion that went up to anger and down to grief like a yo-yo, back and forth. He was literally inconsolable. It took the full ten minutes of the ride for me to piece together what had happened.
He'd been sitting in a bar, alone, minding his own business. Just having a couple of drinks and brooding to himself about his own troubles. Three rowdy guys entered the bar and sat nearby. One of these guys decided it would be a good time to have some fun at my passenger's expense. He began making belittling comments at him while his buddies laughed. He wouldn't let up and it led to a brawl.
The fight was no shoving match. It was an outright slugfest which ended with the rude guy collapsing on the floor from a chop to his neck which may have crushed his windpipe. He gasped desperately for air before slumping over, unconscious, possibly dying. My passenger ran out of the bar to the street looking for a taxi. My cab became his getaway car.
What the sack of shit didn't know when he decided to forget his manners was that he had finally met "the wrong guy". His object of ridicule was an ex-Marine who knew martial arts and was in no mood to take crap from some punk.
When we arrived at his destination, I advised him not to talk to anyone else about this incident other than a priest. Not to let his feelings of guilt put him into a jail cell. He thanked me and disappeared into the night. I never learned any further information about what may or may not have happened that night.
I found it interesting to observe that, although he may have just killed someone, I felt no fear in being alone with him in my cab. He wasn't my wrong guy. I don't have a wrong guy because I don't go around intentionally insulting strangers.
But we've all met people who do. And it was fascinating to meet the guy they will eventually run into.