The Fear of God

I was walking up the street in Carroll Gardens when I saw the mother of my friend, who we will call Johnny Vongole, on the sidewalk, upset. She was talking excitedly to a man on the sidewalk. Suddenly Johnny came bursting out of their brownstone. "What's up?" I can't hear everything his mother said, but it ended with "And he called me an animal!"

"Which one?"

"Black shirt and shorts?" Mrs. Vongole points to someone about a block down the street. Johnny takes off running.

I spun around and followed. As I was walking, Mrs. V. passed me, walking at a very fast clip. Meanwhile, Johnny was catching up to the fellow, and was shouting at him. I could now see the guy had half-a-foot in height on Johnny, and fifty pounds in heft. He turned around, expecting to have a shouting match and a little show of bluster, and then be on his way.

Johnny cold cocked him directly in the face. The guy backed up in shock. Johnny came at him again, but his mom had just arrived, and stepped between the two men. The guy got out his cell phone.

Johnny and his mom came swiftly back up the street. He stopped for a second and said, "Hey Gene! I gotta go: the guy is calling the cops, and I gotta be out of sight when they arrive."


1) A very swift escalation into unexpected violence can make up for a lot of size disadvantage.

2) The mother's role was an integral part of the scenario. I described the event to my friend Frank, a neighborhood native, and he said, "Oh yeah, there's years of practice behind that. Her husband called it 'the fear of God.' The guy you hit has to believe you would kill him, except that some outside force intervened and saved your life. If Johnny's mother hadn't arrived, Johnny would have had no choice but to keep hitting the guy. The mother is needed to give him a way to stop without appearing rational."

Pete Leeson could probably write a nice paper on these tactics.


  1. Anonymous8:27 AM

    Moral of the story: don't F with a man's mother.

    This goes beyond culture and environment, this is almost engrained. Men will die for their mother's good name; of that there is no doubt. You could almost compare it to a religion, as you have. That makes perfect sense.


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