As so often happens around holidays, I left home to go home -- a place laden with the land-mine memories of adolescence, and peopled with individuals who still presume to chastise you when they think you're driving too fast. Home offers the chance to get out of the cityscape where I now live, and recover from the deleterious effects of constant exposure to wailing sirens and other people.
But coming back to my small hometown from the city is dangerous business. It's far too easy to believe that I, fresh from the urban jungle, am a much bigger badass than any punk this stupid burg could spew up. I'm wearing a leather jacket that's almost a standard-issue uniform in my neighborhood, yet seems strangely stylized here, like I just stepped out the stage door of a local production of "West Side Story", where I'm playing "Second Jet". Still, eyeing the local toughs as I walk down the downtown pedestrian mall, I feel a distinct sense of tactical superiority. One young slacker slumps on a wooden bench. "Hey man, you got any change?" he asks me. I cast a cold eye: in his wide-bottomed jeans and fleecy jacket, he's the kind of person who gets asked for change where I live. "Why don't you ask your parents?" I sneer. He says nothing, and I walk on, a wolf padding stealthily through downtown Sheepville. The notion that my brief stint in Metropolis has toughened me up is completely laughable. I work in the live-and-let-live atmosphere of a non-profit organization. I reside a block from a police station; my neighbors complain less about the crime rate than they do about cop cars parked illegally in front of fire hydrants. It's true that from time to time someone gets murdered in the vicinity, but I tend to exaggerate the gory details to horrified friends and family who call from tamer parts of our great nation.
But at the moment, I can't be stopped. This town provided the setting for some very uncomfortable scenes in my early development, and I'm going to make it pay. On the trip home, I try out some of my newly learned aggressive city-driving tactics on my fellow motorists. The results are frighteningly satisfying. Unnerved drivers scatter before me like pigeons. I use my horn and watch in delight as the terrified whites of their eyes appear in their rear-view mirrors, flashing like the tails of fleeing deer.
This kind of thinking can get someone in a lot of trouble. In the city, one tends to ration expressions of anger. Since there's the distant (but compelling) possibility that a driver you flip off in traffic will pull out a handgun and extract total revenge, you tend to select people who are clearly weaker than you as targets for your abuse. There's a nice, organized food chain in the city. Aggression filters from strong to weak, down to anyone involved in the service industry, who are prohibited from throwing cups of scalding latte back in the smirking faces of their tormentors.
Back in my small hometown, I'm expressing my pent-up aggression indiscriminately, ignoring the local food chain. I'm like the American tourist who cheerfully violates the social decorum of the land in which he's traveling, simultaneously amused and appalled by the provincial habits of the locals.
This can really piss off the residents. There are people on this downtown pedestrian mall who, whether or not they really needed the change, would gladly pound my smart-ass leather-jacketed pseudo-street-smart self into the decorative bricks for telling them to ask their parents for the money. They wouldn't pause in concern that my years in a crime-ridden, crumbling urban center had made me a bloody-knuckled street brawler. They would see through that, to the quivering local boy underneath: someone pretending to have fallen a little further from our shared tree. Their blow would pass directly through my urban experience as if it didn't exist, and strike directly to the heart of the person I'll always be.