LAST EDITED ON 02-20-13 AT 04:10 PM (EST)
There is nothing to see when you're stuck in traffic.
At night, you have the lights of the car in front of you, the glare from the one behind as it flashes high beams in the delusion that photons will shift your mass, and darkness to the sides. Or more cars, which isn't an improvement. Sometimes you look at those same things for hours. I'm convinced the electronic billboard was invented by someone who regularly takes the Belt, just from desire to shift the view. It's amazing that no one's taken it to full-scale movie trailers and TV show previews.
The main improvement during daylight is being able to spot the exact finger gestures.
Stuck -- but in an urban environment. It's a logical extension of GPS systems and live guide-arounds: two thousand people get the news of the backup plus how to use the Secret Shortcut to get around it at the same time, all of them use the Secret Shortcut, and said Secret Shortcut has just enough natural traffic flow to handle fifty vehicles. Throw in stoplights, turning cars, and school bus stops -- the recipe for disaster is complete, with no skipped steps. I've been on this block for twenty minutes and advanced one car length. My new car doesn't seem to mind yet. This comes from lack of experience.
But at least there's people to watch, if only a few: it's too cold for that many to be navigating the sidewalks. Most of those self-chosen few are in the road. This area features a gas station right next to a few homes whose lawn decor I've just about got memorized, and the gas station is hosting a one-day business. I don't know if this is something which only happens in and around large cities on holidays, the tendency to claim a hundred and fifty square feet of fuel lot and hang flower & teddy bear arrangements all over it. Fake flowers, cheap. Ill-made bears, dollar store scavenge priced at 1700% markup. Valentine's Daysperation stands, for when the 24-hour drugstore chain finally runs out of candy. The last resort of those about to have their gift thrown at them. This one hedges out most of the sidewalk, and those who can't get by on a five-inch strip step onto blacktop. It's not as if there's any risk.
The stand isn't doing well: it almost can't in this traffic, as cars can't quickly approach the gas station and hedging out can be an all-day affair. And they can't really rely on foot traffic. It's had all of five customers as I've watched for lack of anything else to do, and this approaching man is not going to be number six. Call him early twenties (and a 'just barely'), hair shaved close to the skull, a blue coat with the hood down on a cold day because he wants people to see his face, his sort-of hair, his attitude radiating several feet from the actual body. He's weaving a little, and that's on the clear patch of the approach. I'm guessing him as one of those who steps off the sidewalk into oncoming traffic because he thinks your having to swerve to avoid killing him represents power. There's more than a few of those in the area, and sooner or later, many of them find the wrong car. (Try to imagine what they're like in a social setting.)
No, this one will not be buying his girlfriend a last-minute present, or any present at all, because his existence in her life is all any women could ever want, except for his child, which will make him move onto the next girlfriend...
I have been in this traffic jam for so long that I'm either starting to judge on first sight (which I despise when people do to me) or I'm scripting him as a character. Either way, I still expect him to step into the road with the others -- but since the cars aren't moving, he'll just go between them and slap mirrors...
...wrong. He swerve-weaves the other way, skirting the edge of the bear-draped tent and its fuzzy wind chimes, bringing him onto the lawn of the neighboring house.
Oh, and right into the tree.
Understand: this was, at best, a glancing blow. This is one of those trees which really doesn't have that wide of a main trunk -- I think he could just about place his arms around it if there were no witnesses and no one within fifty miles could call him a tree hugger -- and the branches start low, spread fast, and get very narrow at the end as they separate into dozens of fingerlings to anchor future leaves. All that happened was that a few of those tiny far ends scratched against his face for a second: a little close to one eye, but no harm done. Most of us shrug it off, a few adjust makeup.
He curses. This is still in the realm of natural reaction: I don't think he ever saw the tree and when you're startled, vocabulary goes south. And sure, the cursing goes on well beyond a single surprised exclamation, but it was a little close to one eye and getting poked could have been bad. When he started addressing the tree by names usually reserved for humans, cats, and female body parts... well, okay, it's a little farther than usual, but...
I really wasn't expecting him to hit the trunk.
And when I say 'hit', I mean 'with his fist'.
Now when a man hits a tree -- well, this tree was relatively smooth-barked and didn't have spine-covered creepers parasiting on it, so splinters and slashes were out of the question. But the fact remains that he's just aimed his hand directly at wood, then brought the two together at full speed. The wood is going to get the best of it.
He jumps back, howling as he flutters his hand, that loose-boned flopping which makes it blur past the wrist and sends drops of blood flying in random directions. The scant pedestrians in the immediate vicinity see this and -- accelerate. This is not their affair, nor do they want to take a chance that it becomes so. I can't see what the stand operator is doing beyond raising his prices again. The cars are stuck.
So now he has a bleeding hand: split skin, probably stitches, could easily be bruised or broken bones. We started with, at most, a light scratch to the face. It's probably time to cut losses and leave.
Which he does -- to the next lawn over.
I do have the decor memorized. This lawn has what in summer is probably a very nice flower garden, bordered off from the normal grass by carefully-laid paving bricks. He grabs one --
-- no, he doesn't: that was the injured hand. Another howl, and he drops the brick.
On his foot.
Again, this started with the lightest of scratches to the skin. Possibly not even that.
Once the screaming and hopping around stops, he finally decides this is a momentary setback and goes for the brick again, this time using his off-hand. It is then slung at the tree trunk sidearm and misses it by a good five feet or so to the left. At a guess, he decides the problem is range, gets another brick, moves closer, and throws again. The miss goes a little farther this time, and if he keeps closing the distance, he's at risk of braining someone in the gas station lot: look, honey, I got you a last-minute emergency room bill! And I wish this jam would clear, because if his throws really go astray, we all have windshields and mine is new, along with everything else.
Traffic does not move.
He is developing a routine. Get brick. Limp closer to the tree. Throw brick. Miss. Limp back to the garden. Repeat, ranging closer to the tree each time. Many of the bricks are now on the wrong lawn. Isn't anyone home? Are they huddled inside, calling the police? Is anyone on their phone in another car doing the same? Instagram? Hey, who's uploading the video? Possibly no one. I can't be the only one watching, though. Can I?
The last brick misses from three feet and does skid up to the edge of the one-day ripoff, where it nudges a tent pole.
Probably the thing to do here, for the revenge-obsessed man on the stopped march, is grab one of the bricks and ram it into the trunk by hand. Or just break off the offending branch: I'm amazed that wasn't tried. But this is not for our hero. Not for him the conquering of weak outlying forces. He wants the heart. And so he departs from bricks and goes back to physical force, kicking the trunk.
Well, he did manage to hit it.
Guess which foot.
This, I think, is the one which jarred his brain into gear. Verbal interplay has led to a net of zilch. Ranged weapons are clearly not working. (I know he doesn't have a gun. The tree would have been shot on Round One.) Direct physical attacks are only having an effect on him. Therefore, he must go to the next weapon in his arsenal.
It takes me a few seconds to understand what this weapon is, mostly because I am now watching him kick off his shoes (with attendant cursing on that one foot). The fascination with that activity is brief, mostly because it's quickly overtaken by wondering why on Earth he's removing his pants.
The underwear quickly follows. (Briefs. The sort of white you'd expect when your idea of doing laundry is waiting two years and then buying a fresh package. Some details stick in the mind.)
So clearly he can only be up to one thing here: he's going to get revenge on the tree by urinating on it. (I did, for a split-second only, wonder if he was going to try -- well, there were no knotholes.) But this would just involve pulling pants and underwear down, right? Not off. And by the way, there is honking now from some of the cars, although that might be directed at the cars in front of them. I'm not looking around to check the spectator count. No blinds are moving on the windows of that house. No one is stopping him. You don't interfere with this unless you want to take a chance to being treated as a tree. His pants, shoes, socks, and let's not forget the underwear are discarded among the bricks.
He does not grasp himself and aim. He -- grabs the tree. And climbs.
Oh, right... can't do that with your pants around your ankles...
It is not an easy climb. He is not that coordinated (as proven) and is using an injured foot and hand, plus his lower body is scrapping wood in a way which has to exceed the original kinda-injury. The branches are not that wide at their bases. But he is making some progress and he's not going that high up. Maybe twelve feet.
I dearly wish traffic would move already.
And when he reaches his personally-chosen apex -- he gets between branches and trunk, as best he can. He tries to arrange his bare feet on a perch which really isn't suited for the purpose. And then -- he tries to squat.
There is just enough time to realize what he's up to. He wants to fully debase the tree. He's out to shame it beyond all recovery. This tree will be thrown out of its tree peer group and laughed at forever behind its trunk, if the trunk has a behind. He certainly does, and it's getting lower, with his facial expression one of total concentration. He is going to --
-- well, realistically, he's going to add a touch of fertilizer, but do you want to be the one who tells him?
This is not easy. Well, the positioning isn't. The upcoming act itself has much of his focus, and he has to be very careful about lining up a squat when his feet aren't spread, they're basically one in front of the other on a bad resting place and --
-- the good news, although I'm not sure anyone ever managed to explain it to him, is that he wasn't up that high. It was still enough space for his body to twist during the fall, looking much like a concussed cat, so that his head somehow wound up pointing somewhat away from the trunk and --
-- well... remember all those bricks?
So if you're still keeping count: that's one maybe-barely scratched face, one foot at least bruised with an outside chance at broken toes, definitively split skin on the one hand and breaks are more likely there, and now we add impact to the back (across a few bricks) and the rear of the skull (visibly bounced once).
He started to get up. I think he was trying to get up. One hand was reaching for a brick, and maybe closing his grip around it was just to push himself into a sitting position...
And that's when traffic started to move.
My last view in the mirror showed him sloped at about forty-five degrees. He was definitively bleeding from the back of his head: I could see the stain on the jacket.
He was bringing the brick back for the next throw.
I waited nearly a week to post this because I was convinced someone had gotten video...