“You don’t know me, this isn’t church, and don’t wave your hand at me.” This was the pointedly aggressive response from the man in the wine bar (I don’t know his name, but let’s call him Dick) at whom I had dared make a wincing expression and a hand gesture intended to convey a polite request that he be less loud.
The staircase wit is that, actually, it is sort of church, but I did have the presence to tell Dick, “I kinda do know you – you’ve been screaming into your phone.” Apparently there had been a work fiasco that necessitated a protracted rant in an otherwise quiet establishment that seats fewer than twenty people.
Rage seems to be all the rage, with Twitter the preferred contemporary method of spleen-venting for everyone from the pretender-in-chief to the woman evicted from her book group. Dick reminded me that even with the wonders of the internet there is still a place, in physical space, for the primitive chest-thumping that people employ to demonstrate an illusion of their dominance. The phone ranter is on daily display on the sidewalks of New York, and while Dick’s choice of locale for his performance was less common, it was a similar hijacking of our collective environment for his personal grievance. That the staff was reluctant to shut him down (or up) says something about the discomfort we experience when witnessing one-sided rage. A stranger unglued is unsettling, and without the presence of his target he makes us feel almost as if we are intruding on him instead of the other way around.
I fled the lingering negative energy of Dick’s tantrum, and by coincidence passed an actual church on my way home, its doors open and its empty quietness coaxing me in. There were five or six other people scattered inside, each having a private moment. As I sat near the front of the nave, studying the 19th century neo-Gothic architecture, the only sound breaking the silence was the voice of a man out on the sidewalk having an argument on his phone.