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Is there anything better than a fine cigar? Sex, obviously. Since Sam and I split up, cigars it is. At the moment I’m on Rocky Patel’s Decade (the 80s, judging from the hair style). I buy my smokes from a tony cigar shop in a chi-chi part of town. The guys sheltering in the tobacco-infused enclave hunker down in enormous leather chairs and don’t say boo to a goose. They take their cue from the owner, a man so taciturn he makes a Finnish accountant look like an Irish politician. So there I was, kicking back and talking maybe lecturing about armed self-defense when a tall black man walks in and says “Hey how you niggers doin’ sitting in here smoking your cigars?”

I don’t care if someone calls me a nigger. As a Sephardic Jew, hands-up on the whole sand nigger thing. Besides, I was under the impression that African Americans call each other niggers as a term of endearment. So when the black guy pronounced our not-so-merry band of OFWGs niggers, I felt hip and happening. Swear to God.

That said, there was a black customer smoking a stogie in the corner. A police detective no less. I checked his reaction. He seemed about as perturbed by the newcomer’s epithet as Stevie Wonder at a paisley tie. But OMG was the OFWG owner pissed off. He stood up and told his uninvited guest to “hit the bricks.”

The “intruder” tried to walk it down with some less incendiary trash-talk. The owner was having none of it. (I later learned they had history). The next thing I knew both men were standing by the open door screaming at each other, trading F-bombs like dueling drill sergeants.

At that point the cop figured he knew the best way to sort out two alphas fighting for dominance: add another alpha.

He jumped up, unfastened the thumb strap on his sidearm (I may have hallucinated that part) and ran up to the trespasser. Ein augenblick later the cop was no more than six inches from the owner’s antagonist. “Get the fuck out of here before I lock you up!”

I looked at the guy across from me (smoking a cigar the size and shape of a Narwal Class submarine). “There was no need to escalate the situation,” I pronounced. Me and my big mouth. I should have quickly and silently got up out of the chair and moved towards the back door. And out.

Luckily, the African American interloper took off. Nothing else of any consequence happened; I didn’t even get a parking ticket. But I learned four important lessons.

First, bad shit can happen anywhere anytime. If you think you only need to carry a gun in bad neighborhoods or late at night, places and times when you think the threat level is high, you’re wrong. There’s no telling where, when, how or why a threat will materialize. It just does.

Second, when bad shit happens, it goes down really fast. In my case, one second I’m sitting there puffing a quality cigar in an upmarket establishment prattling on about firearms. Twenty seconds later I’m fifteen feet from what could well become an extremely violent encounter.

Third, WAKE UP. I feel confident that I would have moved if the war of words escalated into a “real” war. But by then I would have been way behind the curve. The best time to react is immediately. If not before. Which brings me to my last lesson . . .

It’s OK to be paranoid. It’s OK to check the exits, sit in a strategic location, make sure my gun hand is free, view people with suspicion and all those other things that “normal” people don’t do. It’s OK to be alert from the git-go, and be ready to ratchet it up from there.

My cigar shop experience was a “come to John Moses” moment. I don’t want to be a deer caught in the headlights. As we armed Jews like to say, never again.

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    • Not in the least.

      The only thing worse as a bystander than an argument in which one party has a firearm is one in which both parties have firearms. Leather chairs may count as concealment, but not as cover. Part of the prepared (not paranoid) mindset is habitually having a plan to get out of wherever you just got into, be it a convenience store, a restaurant, a big-box store, your neighbor’s house or your own bathroom. Where are the doors, what’s in the way and if the lights go out which way do I go? Mental mapping is unconscious for most folks and the ability to react and move effectively when you need to is a good predictor of your ability to react to unforseen circumstances.

      Our Host didn’t say he was going to shoot anyone or even produce a firearm. Sounds like he was kicking himself retrospectively for not taking immediate steps to be able to vacate the area or otherwise extract himself from the situation. At a minimum, sitting down with the dominant hand holding a lit cigar is not the posture you would prefer to be in if things go sideways. Standing with cigar in off-hand is a much better opening move.

    • Do I wish that it was back in the day when two grown men could duke it out over matters large and small? Of course.

      Do I think that in the era of AIDS, litigiousness, the prison industrial complex, and MMA, that I am about to get into it with some dude? Absolutely not.

  1. I love the taste and smell of cigars, but only for the first few hours. Unfortunately that rich exotic smell has a half-life shorter than most Unobtainium medical isotopes, and within a few hours my clothes and breath just smell like a filthy tavern.

  2. I could have written the same story, assuming I could write, based on a situation in a Sam’s Club my wife and I were in. Some goofball apparently got hold of an alarm or something that made a loud siren noise, he activated the siren and yelled, really loud, “FREEZE!! ON THE GROUND!!” at his friend.

    This happened about 15 yards behind us and my wife tried to jump out of her skin, while it really didn’t even phase me. As the goofballs were having a good laugh I was, much like you, assessing my reaction, or rather the lack thereof.

    Did I just instantly know that a siren noise inside a Sam’s Club was nonsense and that these were just goofballs? No, I didn’t. Happened too fast for me to make such a call. I decided that I was not jumpy enough, not reactive enough. I was so nonchalant about it that I didn’t even turn around and LOOK at the goofballs until I saw how badly it had startled my wife.

    I make of myself the disappoint. Now need make of myself the jumpier. See? I have the bad write. You make the pretty write I like for the read.

  3. My come “to Josef and František Koucký moment” was last year, when a high school kid accosted me as I was filling up my car, asking me the directions to the next major cross street, about a mile away.

    That NEVER happens in the Phoenix metro area where everything is laid out on a nice, square grid. I realized after I got home what actually happened: The kid was staking me out as a possible victim, and for some reason, I didn’t look like easy pickin’s to him and he went away.

  4. I’m not sure what you SHOULD have done, though being READY to do something is important.

    Jumping up might have been a catalytic to an unfortunate escalation.

  5. Having the means and ability to do something doesn’t always mean you should have. Just like the gas station encounter for example. The fact that you did not immediately detect that kid’s likely intentions probably kept you from looking alarmed which may have been the exact key he was looking for. Bears, dogs, and aggressive people are sometimes backed down by a lack of alarm in our eyes. I can tell you this; if you do nothing else, do not look away. It is taken as weakness.

  6. Only as Devil’s Advocate for just a moment…

    Jumpy is typically sitting with your strong hand in your lap and either your wrist on your sidearm or thumb in that pocket keeping it in position for bringing the hand up for a quick draw. Should you have thought about the exit and probably been sitting with a clear avenue towards it? Yes. I always keep my front to as many entrances to the room that I’m in, especially the common one and if I don’t have clean egress I’m willing to hit a floor and make egress but with that tactic in mind take it from how I see it happening given how you described it…

    Two guys are yelling, a third starts yelling, a fourth falls on the floor with a heavy thud and scrambles out the back door. I would be more concerned with making a target out of myself at that moment if I couldn’t be stealthy (and a fool out of myself later if my friends decided to pick at me for fleeing) so…it’s hard to say what happened didn’t happen for the best this time.

  7. 1st of all, very good read gentlemen, alot of food for thought.

    My moment of clarity happened at a gas station on the other side of my hometown a few years ago. The situation was ..odd to say the least.

    Its 3:00am and I’ve stopped for a fuel up. I park the car and go in but there’s no cashier, door wide open and no signs of life. No biggie, the attendant’s got to take a piss and forgot to bolt up shop right? OK cool, I’ll pay at the pump…

    On the way out ,coming from my right side a guy, obviously walking, comes up and pauses at the door. I say “He’s not in”, talking about the attendant, and move to the gas handle on my truck. I began fueling, whistling as I often do when my spider-sense kicks in..

    The guy is still standing by the door and I’ve just hit the $30.00 dollar mark on the pump so I shift my stance as to where my right hand can hit that sweet spot of $35.00.

    Out of the corner of my eye I see movement, my glasses are slightly screwed so that at a proper angle I can see a reflection perfectly out of my left eye. Low and behold the guy isn’t alone.

    Seems his buddy was on the other side of the car and was going for a stickup move. Bullshit.

    I swing around grabbing the gas handle and hose about $5.00 worth of gas on the would-be attackers face while his buddy at the door stumbles on the awesome move I just pulled. Both haul ass into the night as I hop in my car having baby kittens all the way to the house. Best $36.00 I ever spent…

  8. 1: Wodehouse is good shit
    2: So are cigars
    3: There’s a psychological phenomenon classified as a symptom of PTSD known as hyper-awareness. It is not a mental disorder in and of itself, but it is indicative of some trauma. In order to be aware all the time, you need to bash a dent in your brain’s laziness. You have to sear into the animal part of the midbrain an overriding fear that trumps your higher-functioning rationalizations. You can do it with many small traumas (we call that training), or one big one (we call that a tragedy). Either way, normal people can’t spend the mental energy to be constantly on guard. It’s exhausting. Our brains take shortcuts. We operate on memory as much as sensory input. We operate in “condition white”. I don’t mean this to denigrate your “come to JMB” moment, but it’s likely that the memory of that will fade. That’s one experience, and while enough to start the adrenaline, it’s probably not enough to scar you into permanent watchfulness. But it does provide a useful framework, and hopefully you can use that to transition faster from white to yellow. It’s not realistic for a normal civilian (absent serious tragedy) to attain hyper-awareness, but it is possible and useful to train your mind to “ramp up” in such situations, recognize a threat and respond. It may be as simple as getting up and moving to one side, to provide a separate target and clear your backstop and field of view/fire. In any case, a neutral course of action that better prepares you for a possible conflict should be taken in any case where that conflict is possible.

        • Wodehouse is awesome- but I suggest that you go to your local library and get some of his stuff on disc (Jeeves and Wooster stories are always good). They are very British stories, and we Americans just can’t get the rhythm of them unless we hear them done by a native speaker.

  9. I had an incident at a convenience store that was worth noting.

    I was on my way into the store and a kid who was panhandling asked for some change. I said no rather firmly and continued on.

    Out of the corner of my eye I saw the kid get up and follow me into the store. I turned just enough to keep an eye on the kid, because there was no way I was going to allow the kid to get in behind me. It was almost comical to see the kid swerve away and take a sudden interest in the various packaged snack cakes on the shelf.

  10. Good SA noting the cop was in the gunfighter chair in the corner.
    And the need to confirm an alternate exit.

  11. Here is some useful “tradecraft.”

    Never sit with your back to an entrance.
    Choose a location where you can observe the maximum amount of space.
    Always know where the exits are.
    Identify cover and concealment.
    Preselect a primary and alternative escape route.
    Look for out of place behavior.

    And remember your weapon is your last resort.

  12. My close call came back in ’84, when I was stationed in San Diego. I parked downtown, late at night, and walked over to an ATM at the base of an office building to get some cash. As I walked from my ’68 Mustang across the sidewalk and up onto the plaza, I sensed movement and saw one guy, and then another coming from the opposite direction.

    They were flanking me, and I immediately reversed course and high-tailed it back to my car. I walked briskly — and they did, too. I finally sprinted and locked the doors; they faded back into the shadows, waiting for easier pickings.

    Today, older and wiser, I never use ATMs at night (if at all), and try to gas up during the day. Risk management, my friends.

  13. Inertia and inflection points.

    Two loudmouths trading words tend to remain two loudmouths trading words.

    But sometimes in those types of confrontations there is a moment when one of the loudmouths goes silent. That is when you know he is re-assessing his chosen tactic and there is then an increased chance he may transition to a more violent approach.

    That is your inflection point, and if you aren’t watching for it, you might miss it.

    Once you’ve missed that point there is a good chance you may become one of those people who get to say ‘I never saw it coming.’

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