It happened in Chicago, in the summer of 1966 or 1967. I, my second wife, Mary, and a friend had just come out of a restaurant after dinner and were strolling west on Chicago Avenue just north of Michigan Avenue. We were paying no attention to a seedy-looking guy walking toward us with his chin on his chest. But when he was right in front of us he suddenly took a big swing at Mary, hitting her a glancing blow in the chest.

The momentum of the swing carried him toward me, and without the slightest whisper of a thought, I grabbed him by the collar and belt and started running him down the street. When he realized that I was aiming his head at a big fat iron mailbox, he had the wit to go limp, and we both went down on the sidewalk. A cop car was at our side almost instantly.

They got our story, shoved the guy in the back, and took him away, and that was that. When I grabbed the guy, I fully intended to turn his head into mush on that mailbox. I didn’t think about it for a nanosecond; if I had, I wouldn’t have done it, because, after all, he didn’t pose any real threat and had barely touched my wife. It wasn’t a decision, it was a reaction as automatic as blinking your eye when a fly makes a pass at it—the autonomic nervous system working in high gear, completely beyond rational control, something I’d never experienced before and hope I never experience again. The guy was drunk, of course—but luckily (for both of us) sober enough to know when to duck.

ID: 530
posted: 15 Dec 2001
updated: 15 Dec 2001