Walking downtown on a dull, sunless morning I thought I saw a man having a heart attack. He was leaning with all his weight against the back of a truck with a pained look on his face, pulling off a pair of heavy work gloves, and clutching his chest. Sitting near his feet, almost asleep, was a German shepherd. The animal wore a tattered scarf around its neck and was tied to the side of the trailer with a short length of rope. I watched for a few seconds, wary of the dog, until I realized the guy was simply searching in his pockets for something.
Pulling out a piece of paper, probably an invoice, he straightened up and began counting the boxes he had piled on the ground. There were three or four stacks, all of them leaning precariously against the truck, one of the ugliest vehicles imaginable. Shot through with rust, it was whitewashed so badly that you could make out an enticing clue to one of its previous lives: the ghostly, smiling head of a fish leaping toward an equally ghostly, smiling worm on a hook. As the guy slid his hand truck under one of the stacks of boxes, a voice cut through the air.
"Hey, move that truck. I want to leave."
The tone meant no nonsense. It belonged to a guy in his early 30s, dressed in a long, cream-colored wool coat. His companion was a woman about the same age, with a mane of tousled hair that made her already narrow face look like a hatchet.
"Did you hear me? I'm telling you to move that truck," the guy repeated loudly.
The dog was on its feet, ready for action. Walking away, the trucker looked over his shoulder for a moment, paused, then shaking his head, continued wheeling the stack of boxes down the street.
"Do you believe this shit?" the guy exclaimed to the woman. She was waiting wordlessly to get into the car, a late-model Chrysler trapped in its spot by the truck. The guy watched the trucker make his way to the side door of a restaurant then return. The whole trip probably took a minute.
"You and I got a problem here," the guy started in as soon as the trucker was within earshot.
"I'll be out of here in less than five minutes, mister."
"You'll what?" The guy with the Chrysler fluttered his eyes in disbelief. "You'll what? I'm telling you for the last time to move this thing."
"Look," the trucker said in a low voice, ignoring the bumptious approach, "you're already parked in a loading zone..."
"No, let me tell you something," the guy interrupted. "First of all, I've got some weight around here. Second of all, you're going to move the truck."
"You're blocking the spot I could have parked in," said the trucker. "I tapped on the window of your car to ask the lady in the backseat how long you'd be, but she didn't answer."
"You tapped on the window?"
"Who do you think you are to go tapping on the window of my car."
"Oh for Christ's sake."
Aggravated, the trucker turned his back to the guy and resumed checking his invoice. By now, the dog was straining at the end of its rope. A hoarse, ominous growl seemed to be coming from the bottom of its stomach.
"I'm telling you for the last time to move your fucking truck!"
It was clear that the strong-arm approach wasn't going to work. The trucker was well past middle age; even his clothes looked like they should have been retired a long time ago. He had the tired, grudging movements of someone who'd been at the same job for too long. Easily long enough to have developed a strategy for confrontations like this. He wasn't going to argue. He wasn't going to fight. He just wasn't going to move his truck.
In the meantime, the guy with the Chrysler yanked open the door of his car. He leaned in, speaking to a woman in the backseat who I hadn't noticed before. She was elderly and seemed completely detached from the proceedings. The guy slammed the door and began walking in nervous circles. When his companion, who had gotten in the car, knocked on the window to get his attention, he ignored her. As the trucker returned, the guy reached into his pocket, pulled out a notebook, and began writing.
"You're in big trouble, pal," he began. "Real big trouble. You don't know who you're fucking with." He reached into his pocket again, pulling out his wallet. As he flashed something at the trucker,
he added, "You better check this out."
The trucker looked at what appeared to be a badge of some sort. "My kid used to have one of those when he was 12," the trucker responded, barely concealing a smirk. "He's about your age now." With that, he turned and wheeled the last stack of boxes down the street.
"That's it! I'm telling you for the last time to move this piece of shit!"
The guy lunged over to his car and took out a portable phone. Punching in a number, he strutted confidently a few feet out of reach of the growling shepherd. After mumbling a few sentences into the receiver, he finished up by loudly saying "Yeah, yeah, hurry it up." He slammed down the antenna, at the same time raising his eyes to the sky. Had he called for an air strike, I wondered?
The blasting of a horn shook the guy out of his reverie.
"Hey," his companion yelled, pointing through a window, "let's go."
He turned. The car behind his had pulled away, leaving him plenty of room to pull out. Without another word to the trucker, who had returned and was putting his hand truck away, the guy jumped into his car. Gunning the engine, he pulled sharply around the truck. Suddenly, there was a sickening, high-pitched shriek. The car lurched to a stop and the guy jumped out, his hands clawing the sides of his face.
"Oh my God! Oh my God!" he repeated over and over.
A long, jagged gash ran like a streak of lightning along the side of the Chrysler.
"Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!"
The trucker had already put the dog on the front seat and was getting ready to leave.
"Hey!" yelled the guy, running over to him. "Where do you think you're going?"
"To my next stop."
"No, you're not. Look what you did."
"What I did?"
The trucker walked reluctantly over to the side of the Chrysler. As he studied the damage, a small, faint look of satisfaction crossed his face.
"What are you going to do about this?"
"What am I going to do about it? Who hit who?" the trucker demanded.
"That's not the point."
"The point is, it's got nothing to do with me."
"It's got everything to do with you, pal," the guy countered. "Everything. You block me in, you upset my mother and girlfriend, your dog almost attacks me, and you fuck up my car. What do you say about that?"
The trucker was looking at the back of the trailer, slowly shaking his head in either exasperation or anger, I couldn't tell which. When he walked over to the driver's side of the truck, his antagonist followed.
"Where are you going?"
"To my next stop."
"I don't think so."
"Let me tell you something," the trucker replied. His voice was low and threatening as he moved toward the guy, fists clenched, until their faces were only inches apart. "It's your world, mister. I'm only trying to live in it. Understand?"
The guy understood. A few moments later, the truck rumbled down the street toward its next stop.