On the Impracticality of the Application of Newton’s Third Law to Human Behavior in a World Where Butterflies Sometimes Flap Their Wings
A man in an orange scarf and a tweed flat cap walks down a city street at three minutes past midnight toward an engagement for the evening, lost in pleasant thought about the possibilities of the night ahead. Another man, a rather burly working class sort with a bald head and brown teeth, walks in the opposite direction at the end of a long day of drinking in the pub. As they approach, the man in the scarf snaps-to just in time to meet the burly man’s eyes and offer a polite nod. Simultaneously, the burly man reaches out and brusquely knocks off the man in the scarf’s flat cap. He says something, but the man in the scarf does not catch it, only that it was intended as an insult.
“What’s that about?” the man in the orange scarf asks before he is even able to turn around. The two men face each other, the tweed flat cap a line drawn in the sand midway between them.
“Fucking wanker,” the man in the scarf says, sweeping his flat cap off the sidewalk in disgust.
“Whaddye call me, boy? A wanker, am I? Call me a wanker again and see what happens.” The burly man swells his chest. He’s three inches taller and 80 pounds heavier than the man in the orange scarf.
“No, no, you don’t seem to understand how this works,” the man in the scarf says. “You get the satisfaction of knocking me in the head for whatever reason suited your fancy. In return, I get to call you nasty things like wanker and asshole and douchebag. Then we go our separate ways. It’s the only fair and equitable resolution.”
The man in the scarf then turns on his heel and continues on his way to the evening’s engagement without further event.
The burly man stands stuck in place watching the man in the orange scarf go, stumped and bewildered by his unassailable logic. Later, at home, the burly man decides the man in the scarf was mocking him. He decides to give the man a good knock in the nose if he ever sees him again, or at the very least a knock to the next sort he comes across with the same irritating look about him.
The man in the orange scarf sweeps his flat cap off the ground in disgust. The burly man waits for his victim to either provoke him, in which case he will satisfy his desire to pummel this fellow with such an irritating look about him, or to cower away, in which case he will revel in exposing the man’s cowardice.
“The only sort of man who knocks another fellow’s cap off for no good reason other than to establish dominance like a mangy street dog is an extremely unhappy one,” the man in the scarf says.
“Am not,” says the burly man, unsure if he has been provoked to the level necessary to justify breaking the man in the scarf’s nose.
“Oh, I assure you, you are. Just look at you. You are a bully, which means no one loves you, not even your own mummy. You hate your father because he was mean, and you hate him more because he was still better than you. You have no real friends. You are unliked by your coworkers. You don’t even like yourself, which is why you smell so bad and don’t take care of your teeth. I’m sure your wife hates you because you are stupid, poor, mean, incapable of understanding her, and you think watching football over fish and chips at the pub is a form of foreplay. I’ll bet she’s cheating on you. Wait. She is, isn’t she?”
“I’ll … I’ll kill you. I’ll fucking kill you.” The burly man balls his fists as he says it, hushed almost to a whisper. He turns so red that the man in the scarf can see it even under the dim streetlight, tipping off his impending charge.
“I’ll kill you. I’ll fucking kill you,” he yells, chasing the man in the scarf down the street. But the man in the scarf is much faster and the burly man gives up the chase quickly.
The man in the orange scarf goes on to his evening’s engagement without any further event. The burly man returns home. His wife isn’t there again. He stares at a picture of her for two hours, then retrieves a shotgun and leaves a fair portion of his skull and brains painted against the living room wall. In the next day’s evening paper, the man in the scarf reads about the suicide, but not connecting the name to his assailant, merely laments the wretched condition of working class sorts.
The burly man waits for the man in the scarf to either provoke him, in which case he will satisfy his desire to pummel this fellow with such an irritating look about him, or to cower away, in which case he will revel in exposing the man’s cowardice.
“Fucking wanker,” the man in the orange scarf says, sweeping his flat cap off the sidewalk in disgust.
“Whaddye call me, boy? A wanker, am I? Call me a wanker again and see what happens.”
“You’re a fucking wanker. A douchebag asshole who bullies people to compensate for a small dick and a mild case of retardation.”
The burly man bulls toward the man in the orange scarf, loading up a devastating haymaker. The man in the scarf steps toward the bully, inside the sweeping blow, and efficiently thrusts the heel of his right hand upward into the man’s nose, disorienting him. A second thrust, fist to Adam’s apple, leaves the burly man choking. A straight kick to the burly man’s kneecap buckles his leg and renders him incapable of giving chase. The man in the orange scarf then looks from side to side and, seeing no witnesses, makes haste away to the evening’s engagement, which he enjoys despite a slightly swollen hand.
The burly man’s wife finds him in their bed, bruised and battered, the next morning upon returning home from a night of adultering. Two broken picture frames and an emotional rant later, she makes good on a promise to leave him if he got into another donnybrook at the pub. His leg is too injured to walk and his pride is too hurt besides so he doesn’t go to work. The burly man’s boss, who likes him not in the least, fires him as permitted by the union after three no call-no shows. Within a month, the burly man is on the street, abusing alcohol and heroin, mugging men and women in dark alleys.
“I’m serious. Explain to me why you would do something so asinine,” the man in the scarf says, sweeping his flat cap off the sidewalk in disgust.
“Cause I felt like it and I do whatever the hell I want,” the burly man says.
“Oh, come on then, there has to be more to it than that. You must have passed other lone men walking down the street, yet you chose to humiliate me. Why?”
“Because you’ve got an irritating look about you.”
“Well, now we’re getting somewhere. And why do I have an irritating look about me? Is it my clothes or has God just cursed me with an irksome face?”
“I don’t like you mugs with your prissy scarves and stupid caps. You’re all a bunch of college boys who thinks you is better than everybody else. Just looking at you makes me want to choke you with that pretty scarf right where you stand.”
“You will do nothing of the sort. My mother knit this scarf when she had cancer to cope with the pain. She died two days after she finished it.”
“I … I’m sorry. My old man died of the cancer.” The two men stand quietly in their place for several moments.
“Well, no use us standing out here in the cold facing off like enemies. Let me buy you a beer and see if we can’t understand each other. If you decide even then my sort is as irritating as you thought, you’ll at least get a free drink or two out of the deal.”
The burly man studies the man in the scarf, searching his face to find some hint of a trick. Finding none, he saw no reason to turn down a free beer. The two sit in a pub down the street discussing their lives and aspirations until the pub closes at one in the morning. The burly man evokes the man in the scarf’s empathy with tales of the cruelties done to him and his siblings by well-to-do children growing up in an old industrial town. The man in the scarf earns the burly man’s respect, if not his admiration, for listening to him fairly.
The man in the orange scarf then departs for a late arrival at the evening’s engagement. The burly man returns home without his old insecurities about the educated classes, which provides him a sense of self-respect that ostensibly ends his days of pub brawling, allows him to save his marriage and drastically improves his personal hygiene.
The man in the orange scarf holds the eyes of the burly man for a moment, then shakes his head, picking up his scarf in disgust. He turns on his heel without a word and continues on his way to the evening’s engagement. He thinks the man a brute, then tells himself not to consider the matter for another moment.
Exactly what I figured, the burly man thinks. Those types with that irritating sort of look are always cowards. He continues down the exact path he was on before the incident ever occurred. Wherever that may lead.