Frederick Blickenstaff may be some $7,000 poorer but a lot wiser after confronting another man in a traffic dispute a little over a week ago. According to an article by Sun reporter Amy L. Miller, Blickrude gesture" -- I think we're talking about a classic finger salute here -- as he went by.
Blickenstaff followed and flashed his lights. Both men stopped and argued, got back in their vehicles and drove off. Before too long they stopped and were at it again -- fighting with shovels. The man allegedly sprayed Blickenstaff with a "Mace-type chemical" and then set fire to his truck, causing $5,000 damage to the truck and $2,000 damage to some tools therein. This happened on the lot of the Twin Kiss restaurant, where the other man had stopped after he allegedly threw something at Blickenstaff's truck.
"Being the way guys are, I [pulled] in there as well," Blickenstaff admitted, in what must be one of the most candid confessions of macho stupidity ever to grace a news account. Blickenstaff said he has learned his lesson.
"From now on," Blickenstaff said, according to Miller's article, "if someone wants to give me the finger and give me a hard time, they can go on their way. Being 44, I had already lost a lot of that attitude I had when I was 20-something. What happened ... caused me to lose what was remaining."
I hereby nominate Blickenstaff for a new Cabinet post: the Department for Ending Macho Stupidity. Think it's not needed? Read journalist Fox Butterfield's latest book, All God's Children. He traces the history of violence in America, arguing that its causes are deeply rooted in our notions about honor, respect and some genuinely asinine ideas about masculinity.
Butterfield claims the macho stupidity disease that is a causal link of violence began in the South -- Edgefield County, S.C., to be specific, where descendants of Scotch-Irish settlers regularly had "rough and tumble" wrestling bouts in which eyes were gouged out and ears and noses bitten off. One judge expressed amazement at the number of one-eyed men in his court.
The notions of honor and respect eventually worked their way into Northern ghettos, taken there by blacks who migrated from the South. Blacks got the code from their white neighbors in the South, Butterfield says, and it is that notion of honor that is contributing to the terrifying homicide rate among young black men today.
I must confess to succumbing to fits of macho stupidity myself. Like Blickenstaff, I've been miffed by the action of some other driver -- one specifically, who tried to run me off the road when I wasn't exceeding the speed limit to his liking. I pulled up beside him and gestured for him to pull to the side of the road, challenging him to a fistfight. He didn't take me up on it, thank God, for at that very moment my other body parts sent a message to my brain to be passed on to my mouth.
"Dear brain," the other body parts said, "please advise the mouth that the rest of us are not as pugilistically proficient as the mouth is assuming." But the most frightening moment came in September 1972, as I walked to my apartment in downtown Lancaster, Pa., from Franklin and Marshall College with my roommate and his younger brother.
Four white guys parked in a car yelled the dreaded N-word. We went over to discuss the slur, and perhaps indulge in a little bit of attitude adjustment as well. Since all parties were deeply affected by the great American Macho Stupidity Culture, the discussion soon became physical: They tried to run us over with the car. We hurled bricks at the car, shattering the windshield. The incident was escalating and may have resulted in serious injury or death had not Lancaster police intervened and put an end to it. I've never been happier to see a cop in my life.
I insist that what happened that night was not racial. It was sheer, mindless macho stupidity run amok. The issue was gender. We -- men especially -- have long flailed the racial issues horse. We don't speak too much about the intragender issue of macho stupidity, mainly for two very good reasons.
The first is that we are simply having too much fun being macho idiots. The second is that if women get wind of this problem they may suggest that violence might best be curtailed by simply lobotomizing every third male child at birth.
But there's a way to avert that. I say Bill Clinton should appoint Fred Blickenstaff Secretary of Ending Macho Stupidity and have him on the job immediately. If statistics about male-on-male violence are any indicator, last week wouldn't be soon enough.
Gregory P. Kane's column appears Wednesdays and Saturdays.