This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
We got closer to the point where we were going to pass one another on the sidewalk. I was looking down right at his face watching his lips move when all of a sudden, he looked up and our eyes locked. It was just a fraction of a second but for the briefest of moments, we were staring at one another and each of us knew the other was looking back. In a distinct voice, loud enough that I could easily understand what he was articulating, he said to me the words, "Pig f**ker."
We passed one another; neither one of us broke our stride and continued on the sidewalk in opposite directions. This was one of those moments where you hear something and for whatever reason; you don’t quite comprehend what you have just heard. Your mind is scrambling trying to unravel the stream of words just uttered in your direction but somehow you don’t get it. Finally, you rewind the mental recording and you replay what you just heard to verify that what you think you heard is in fact what you actually heard.
I suddenly realised what the man had said to me. I cracked up laughing. This was absolutely absurd. A total stranger randomly meets somebody in the street and calls him something so patently vile. I had no idea who this man was; I never seen him before in my life. Why would he call me that? If he was criticising me or condemning me, why would he do so? I was a complete unknown to him. As I reflected on this still laughing quietly to myself, I had to conclude the man must be unstable, one of those loonies you sometimes see in the street talking to themselves while rallying against God, life or the aliens amongst us.
I stopped n the middle of the sidewalk and turned around. The man had disappeared into the crowd. He had not stopped but kept walking his stride unbroken by this momentary verbal exchange with yours truly. This underlined for me that I was not really the target of his criticism, I just happened by pure chance to be walking by at the moment when whatever thoughts were swirling around in his head manifested themselves as this profane expression of contempt for not me specifically, but for life in general or some other part of his life that remains a mystery to me these several decades later.
I chuckled again to myself, shook my head in mild disbelief then turned and headed on my way. I reflected on the times over the years where I had seen somebody talking out loud in the streets either walking around muttering or standing on a street corner exclaiming or even yelling about something or other. Who were these people? Where did they come from? What exactly was the life they were living?
I hope to become the balding virile type, you know, as opposed to, say, the distinguished gray, unless I’m neither of those two. Unless I’m one of those guys with saliva dribbling out of his mouth who wanders into a cafeteria with a shopping bag screaming about socialism.
– from the film Annie Hall by Woody Allen
At this particular epoch, I worked part-time at the post office. Every evening, 5 nights a week, from 6pm to midnight, I put in a shift at the Canada Post centre on Bay Street down where the Air Canada Centre is now located. I was sorting mail with a bunch of other people and usually I shared a spot with a guy named Dave. I recounted what had happened to me that day with this gentleman in the street calling me a porcine fornicator. Dave’s initial reaction though was not one of amused surprise; I remember him saying to me that he would have punched the guy’s lights out. For a moment, I was taken aback. "What? The guy was obviously nuts; why would you want to punch him out?"
Dave grumbled about disrespect or whatever but as I explained that normal people do not say such things to total strangers and doing so was probably indicative of some personality disorder or a mental problem, Dave slowly came around to the idea of just laughing it off. Nevertheless as the evening progressed and I recounted this latest personal funny story to various others working the shift, I became curious about the reactions I was getting. Some people immediately laughed; some people immediately reacted with anger as Dave did. But why?
In reflecting upon this so many years later, I don’t think I ever had enough data to emphatically determine a correlation but I was suspecting at the time that education may have had something to do with the differences in responses. Those who had less education may have been less sure of themselves and so may have been more prone to interpret such a profanity as a personal attack. Then again, it may not have always been education; it could have been a question of self-assurance. Maybe those who were more self-assured were less likely to react negatively.
This incident happened over 25 years ago but as you can see, it stayed with me. [chuckles] I don’t have random people say things to me very often in the street and I’ve certainly never again heard such a profane expression. I still wonder if that gentleman had ever picked the wrong person to diss in public like that and the person hauled off and slugged him. Certainly Dave would have liked to!