Despite the white hair, he looked dangerous. Kind of anyway. That was the intent. He had his shirt off, bad-ass fashion like you do on a hot day to show off your hard bod to the ladies, and he was wearing a biker bandana on his head, minus the bike of course. It looked like he had seen better days. I think he was likely headed for the Beer Store. He had the belligerant look in his eye, the “don’t mess with me” look that you have to cultivate when out and about. He was sending a message to anybody walking in his direction. Don’t even bother buddy, it ain’t worth it.
I know this because he is an older version of the kind of ethic I grew up in, otherwise known as scrap to survive.
Of course, only an idiot would want a scrap. What you really wanted was to telegraph the information invisibly, that you were tough enough to put up a fight, and therefore not worth picking on.
It begs the question, that if you have to consciously project the idea of being dangerous, you likely are not. You are probably the kind of person dogs growl at, and people too. Now that I am older, and less in need of being dangerous, I get it. I grew up in Peterborough which was largely Irish by descent. A large population fleeing the potato famine was settled there early on, and names like Donnelly, Kennedy, and O’Shea were common. So was fighting. As I understand on the unwind, it is part of an honour culture, and the Irish are an honour culture. Cross them and you will have to fight. It’s part of a hidden code of social ethics.
Even the teachers at school understood this as somehow necessary. Better to let a fight proceed than bottle it up and let tensions fester even further. A fight let off steam and both parties would likely shake hands afterwards, the worst casualties likely a bloody nose. It’s that strange equilibrium of life that you see even in nature where males of the species butt heads for dominance. It’s the Harry Potter sorting hat, it will find you out sooner or later.
Hence, the dangerous stance walking down the road. I remember growing up there was a fine art to all of this. The general costume was a lumber shirt, untucked, and construction boots with steel toes. The boots were carelessly unlaced and the steel toes were to kick your enemy in the head once he was down. Such a person approaching you on the street would eyeball you, and would walk with a wide exaggerated stance as if to occupy as much space as possible, claiming the right-of-way long before you crossed paths. Animals do this as a way of telegraphing dominance. It’s nature’s stare-down. Don’t stare too hard or you will be in a fight. Don’t look away too much or you are a wuss.
There are invisible rules to this kind of life-sorting that I still do not understand, but it is noted with some comedy by my kids that I still do not smile for photographs. It harks back to my high school yearbook photos, trying to look tough for the shot, to hide my baby face and all the invisibles that went with the ranking of someone who was born with a baby face.
I wished sometimes that I was six-foot-six and born with strong features and a gravelly voice, but this was not to be so. I am soft-voiced by nature, and soft perhaps by temperament as well. I am not sure whether this has served me well, but it is an odd fact of life that sometimes comes into conflict with Jesus’ injunction to allow your enemy to slap you on both cheeks. I don’t think that would have worked very well in Peterborough. You would have been hounded your entire way through high school. As it was, a fist fight in about every grade was necessary to keep the wolves at bay, to send out the message, to win some quarter.
I am tough. Well, not really. A lot of life after that has taught me that resilience and strength call for much more than you can picture at age sixteen when you are most concerned about body image and how big your biceps are. Unfortunately, I am not tough at home either. It’s the connundrum when your wife tells you off for not telling the kids off more, and what can a man say whose wife is telling him off? The story speaks for itself. I think I just decided at a certain point that trying to look like a hard-ass was something I could never pull off.
And so it is that I feel for the old guy trying to look tough. It can be a dangerous world. I get it. In another time and place we might have had a dust-up to establish who was who in the hierarchy of things. I think I only ever won in my life, because I was afraid to lose. I am not sure where that leaves me. I will give him the right-of-way and perhaps a nod on the way by. He may be happy, if a little confused.