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Who Was That Masked Man?

Monday November 28, 2016

“You lookin’ at me?” The question was sharply confrontational. The inquisitor was a fit-looking and obviously volatile young man. The setting was a dimly lit street outside of a bar in a small town in Wyoming, and I was out past my bedtime.

“No!” I replied, as emphatically and reassuringly as I could, while looking straight at him. It wasn’t a lie. It was the categorical answer to the real, unmistakable questions beneath his spoken one: “Are you challenging me? Will you back it up with your fists?” Hell, I was just waiting for a bus. Where had he gotten this idea?

Just seconds before, I heard the stranger’s voice asking directions. I turned, paused a moment to formulate an answer, and was suddenly on the brink of a beating. How had the evening gone so quickly from the mellow afterglow of an enjoyable concert to the prospect of imminent violence?

Call me paranoid, but I blame Parkinson’s Disease.

Blog Illo 33SI must have paused a second too long while cranking up my PD-delayed brain and organizing my thoughts. And while I was standing there mute, I was probably fixing him with my Parkinson’s-masked expression. An icicle stare that he took as less than friendly. A facial expression, or lack thereof, this man found uneighborly, probably hostile and contemptuous.

Before I could get my words out, his mind sounded a red-alert, His breath quickened, his heartbeat accelerated, his (and my) adrenaline spiked, and he leapt with the sure-footed power of a mighty pronghorn antelope… to the wrong conclusion. Namely that I, for some inexplicable reason, was dissing him.

Had it come to blows, I’m sure he would have felt bad about it later. I may have slept through that part when we covered it in school, but I don’t believe The Code of the West allows you to go around pounding  people with Parkinson’s. That just ain’t the cowboy way. Plus, I was wearing glasses, for the love of mud. But a cow poke can’t be too careful on the mean streets of Jackson. As this guy was proving.

Fortunately my quick denial sufficed as a flying of a white flag. The bellicose stranger found his honor satisfied, and fisticuffs were foregone. Also forgone was the helpful advice I was going to give him about how to find his way. My would-be assailant wandered off, and disappeared into the night. Meanwhile I tried to calm down and piece together what had just happened. Old black and white movie reels of saloon brawls danced in my head, with cowboys breaking chairs over one another, swinging from wagon-wheel chandeliers, and crashing through windows onto the street. None of which is a recommended activity for a person with Parkinson’s Disease, or anyone else, come to think of it.

“What was THAT about?” asked my cousin Jon, with whom I was traveling. But it was too complicated to explain. The bus came, and we returned to the safety of our hotel.

I’ve thought about this encounter over the weeks since it happened, and I can’t account for provoking his behavior in any other way than the mask of Parkinson’s theory. So here is one more symptom to add to the long and distressing list of effects of PD: not only can it make those that actually have it demented, it can drive other people crazy, too.

All of which leads me to this bit of free avice: whatever else you do when you’re out West, leave the masks to The Lone Ranger.

Peter Dunlap-ShohlPeter Dunlap-Shohl
NWPF Blogger

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