Reasonable men can differ, even when they’re both from Chicago

In an e-mail a reader had called me “a coward of the worst variety” and challenged me to meet him face to face so he could see how tough I am. That’s how he put it. He also called me an ungrateful Bozo, which I find hard to argue about.

Why would I have coffee with someone who thinks I hate the United States and I live here only because I “don’t have the guts to leave”? His message ended with, “Let me know when and where you would like to meet, or just stay in your dark little cave and spew your hate until you need a brave soldier to cover your worthless, pitiful self. Call soon Mr. Big.” Would you want to meet him? Staying in my cave and spewing hate sounded like my best bet.

An impulse I thought had atrophied was to take him on, eye to eye, toe to toe if need be. Fortunately, that one made me laugh. He said I could still convince him that I’m “a brave ink jockey,” so I figured I’d stick to what I can actually do.

Part of my practice lately is asking myself before I commit to anything—even responding to e-mail—“What’s in it for me?” It’s my latest device and still seems deliciously indulgent. So a meeting could help me by answering my first question, “How did I come across as a pseudo tough guy and simultaneously an ungrateful, cowardly Bozo?”

My next question was, “Why does he care what I think?” This may have something to do with my being an only child, and I don’t care what you think either. Although I may yearn to know all about your inner life, I’m not attached to it. I don’t expect anyone to think as I do.

So I called him, twice. We agreed to meet in downtown Chico on Black Friday, which is pretty cool now that I think of it. He brought a friend. Bob Speer happened to be nearby, and he joined the three of us.

My questions were just a plan, and I abandoned them in favor of paying attention. As we talked, I began to see how reasonable men can differ so wildly, even though they’re both from Chicago, which we are.

I think the main difference between him and me is that he feels threatened by forces over which he has no control and fears for the safety of his loved ones. That I understand, and—although I disapprove of murder—if I felt like that I’d be sitting at the window with a rifle. Then I would decide whom to shoot—not a “superior,” not a politician, just me.