I walked along the busway in Wilkinsburg taking breakdown photos of murals, some of the best street art in the city. But peeling in places, impermanent in the elements. I ended up at a gazebo. I circled around taking photos of the mural on the walls surrounding it on three sides. There were three people sitting on the benches of the gazebo with their backs to me. A man and two women. Another man walked up, and the younger woman got up and walked to steps leading to the busway. The man who had just come hurled profanity at her and lewd words, the ones that always refer to the sex act in the way meant to insult. She said nothing and kept walking. He started then on the other woman sitting there. This time about race. Perhaps he knew her too. I couldn’t hear if she said anything back to him in defense. When I finished, I sat down. This angry man stood up a few minutes later saying he didn’t want to be in any pictures. He wasn’t talking to me, but about me. I called out that I wasn’t photographing him, feeling as if I needed to defend myself against untruth. He said something in response as he walked away. I didn’t catch it. The other woman mouthed words to me about him that I couldn’t read on her lips. The man now was above us standing along a fence still trash-talking an assault of complaints against people and things. The other woman left as I sat reading, waiting for the time to pass. The man returned to his seat, still angry. Then he telephoned someone to tell him about the people of Wilkinsburg. “So much drama to deal with,” he said. He swore against the ‘foreigner’ at the convenience store who dared tell him he couldn’t smoke outside their doors. After all, “this was America,” he reasoned. That ‘foreigner’ collecting government benefits that this angry man couldn’t even get dared tell him not to smoke. I couldn’t concentrate on my book because his loud voice was shoving its way into my head forcing me to listen. So I hid in the pages of the book. Then he walked away with his ugly words fading out and only into the head of the person at the other end of that call.
The man’s anger scared me. He came with it and left with it. Not even exhausted by his words. I’ve seen his face (not literally his) and listened as lewd words and profanity spill out incited by some random small event. And his reasons for anger reminded me of this country. Being told by some ‘foreigner’ where to smoke. That ‘foreigner’, that person who doesn’t belong collecting on the ‘American dream’. Groups or people getting the blame for all the wrongs of this country. It would all be so perfect if they would just go away, and we could turn back the clock.
And why didn’t I walk away? Because I was just simply in the path of an angry man looking to transfer or expel his anger. I hadn’t done anything to invoke his anger. I think he got only one thing right in his tirade. This is America.