Lashing Out Blindly/The Need to Affiliate

Incident of April 18 th 2010

There’s an expression common to our family: “I’m not a mind reader.” From time to time my brother pulls the same crap my old man used to: He assumes. He thinks to communicate something; he plans to communicate something; he assumes he communicated something, but didn’t and doesn’t. Later on, when my response to any situation is somehow inappropriate, he (or they) would respond: “I told you about it yesterday” or “last week” or (fill in the blank).

No. No, you didn’t. And: “I’m not a mind reader.”

Including my parents, we had 11 people in our family, so informing everyone about everything was nearly impossible. In the Army they had a Company Bulletin Board and we were under a standing order to read the bulletin board “Twice Daily” – it would have helped immensely in our family.

So, in the evening I went to take out the garbage and spotted a stump standing in the yard next to the garage. It was a bark-covered cross-section of a tree trunk or a branch a foot in diameter and 18” tall.

I called my brother on the intercom and asked: “Do you know anything about the stump in the yard?” He replied: “No. But hold onto it.” (?)

Later on, I put on my jacket to go out and check the temperature and have a cigarette, as is my habit. I saw a large trailer parked on our property with some men standing around it. It was dark, Aldi’s was closed and I didn’t know what they were up to, so I went out to investigate, saying: “Guys. Guys. What’s going on?” I recognized our neighbor from down the block along with his friend. They were in the process of unhitching his trailer for overnight parking in our driveway. They were bracing the tongue of the trailer on the aforementioned tree stump. My neighbor explained that my brother and he had made arrangements so he could park the trailer by us overnight and leave early the next morning. This information had apparently escaped me.

As we were speaking I noticed a ruckus involving at least half a dozen people going on on both sides of 35 th Street and in the (closed) Aldi’s Food’s parking lot. I watched things unfold long enough to note that it was more than just a shouting match. I went in the house and called 911 to report the fight. I was disquieted by the idea that it took a couple of rings just for them to answer.

I went back outside and by that time our neighbor had driven his truck down the alley towards his place. Shouts were exchanged between two of the cars as they left and two guys who were left standing in the parking lot. With the alley parallel to the parking lot, my neighbor and his friend sitting in the truck near his garage, words were now being exchanged with the two guys standing in the parking lot. One of them started shouting and pounding on the truck. It’s called “lashing out”, as my neighbor and his friend had nothing to do with and didn’t even know any of these people. If you can’t attack the person you’re angry with, attack the nearest bystander. A ready willingness to fight or commit other acts of violence impresses your friends and elevates your social status in their eyes.

I was standing in the alley as these two guys walked by. One of them looked over at me and said:

“What are you looking at?”

I really and sincerely hate that expression – it is so very punk. What? Who are you to tell me where I can or cannot cast my gaze?

Hoping to get him to just move along I responded: “The police are on their way.”

That’s when he charged me. He threw several punches that I merely brushed off. He persisted and made a second charge. I realized I still had a lit cigarette tucked between my fingers. I proposed to stick it in his eye if he came at me again. Just as he charged I threw a punch aimed at his head and made contact. The ember of the cigarette exploded in a shower of sparks that engulfed us both. (Did I tell you it was dark out?) He backed off and we danced for a bit. He was quick but not very good. He stood wide open to a kick in the balls. Nah. Anyway…

He charged me a third time but to no avail. We stood there with our dukes up and he says (with an Hispanic accent): “I’ll kick your ass, old man.” He dropped his fists and took off West, down the alley, with his shadow friend. I watched them go and a block later they broke into a trot. I noted, after all that, he hadn’t so much as disturbed my bifocals.

With the crowd disbursed, the cars gone, and the neighborhood quiet once again, The Cavalry arrived just in time to receive my oral report.

He was about seventeen. He appeared to have a shaved head. He wore a hoodie, a multicolored jacket and a pair of saggy-baggy cargo shorts and an oversize pair of fashion/running shoes. I could only guess how tall he was as he crouched very low when he attacked me. He just might grow into his fathers’ clothes some day.

The whole idea behind this “look”… the shaved head, the tattoos, piercings and the way-oversize clothing is to appear a lot fiercer than these skinny little twerps really are. In other cultures you might think of it as warpaint. The intent is to instill fear.

I once wrote a paper in college about certain personality characteristics and their impact on test taking. One of the characteristics in the (statistical) study was called: “the need to affiliate”. I cannot say to what extent the need to affiliate is actually quantifiable; but in ancient times, all you needed to be was bigger and stronger and fiercer and quicker than anyone else in order to be designated as default leader. Even today studies reveal that corporate CEO’s tend to be taller than average. So, the need to affiliate depends mostly on the size of the man: the smaller the man, the greater the need to affiliate. Larger and more imposing men tend to fight alone and smaller men tend to fight in packs – like jackals. This was all well and good in ancient times when our ancestors fought mano-a-mano (hand-to-hand), but today size alone is hardly a characteristic of quality leadership. The first quality of leadership is knowing where you are going.

In considering the sad news about street gangs in America and including the troubles in Mexico, and adding my personal observation that most of my Hispanic neighbors are about 5′ 6”… and most of the graffiti is about them, I conclude that the smaller the man, the bigger the gang with which he’ll feel the need to affiliate. This is not racist, but a more global observation.

The colorful, crowing, Bantam Rooster is a smaller type of domesticated fowl but reputed to be fiercer than its larger counterparts; but it is, after all, just a chicken.

It’s all well and good to say: “If thou would have peace: be a man of peace.”

But what do you do when you’re attacked without provocation?

As for the little ones who stoned me and called me a shithead last year: I studiously ignored them and now they don’t even call after me anymore.

About The Twentieth Man

Age 69
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