As an insecure man, I have been amassing an arsenal of verbal comebacks for those who will one day wrong me. I’ve been working on one-size-fits-all quips for years. I might be paranoid, but I am not reckless. I store my comebacks in a safe, of which I am the only one who knows the combination. I take them out every now and then (when no one is around) to clean them and aim them at paper targets in my mind…But I have never gotten the chance to fire them. Yet.

Most of the comebacks were inspired by specific people from my past. Old lovers, old friends, old enemies, old (and young) strangers, they have all hit me when I was at my weakest, when I was unarmed and had no comebacks with which to defend myself. Oh, if they had only attacked me minutes, or days, or weeks later! I’m talking POW! POW! POW!

Over the weekend I was at a park in Santa Monica. There was a pickup basketball game going on. I don’t play, but I like to watch pickup games. I prefer them to the NBA, in part because I like to see regular men on the verge of breaking, either physically or emotionally. I’m not interested in athleticism. Shit-talking is the real game I’m after, which is best played, I think, when there is an even ratio of black guys to not-black guys. Brothers talk the best shit—and if there’s a gangly white dude with bad kicks and knees ready to explode at any moment, the material is wonderful.

On this particular day, there was an older black guy playing. He was the slowest on the court, his hair was out of control (a taper that was evolving into a Cornell-West), and he had the most to say.

I really wished I was a baller then, because if it was me he was making that bullshit traveling call on, I would say,


“Man, just because you wasted eight bucks on those sweats, when you should’ve gotten yourself a fade, doesn’t mean you gotta take it out on me. Travel your ass over to the barber shop.”


And then I’d toss some change at his feet.[1] [2]


Here’s one comeback I have been perfecting for years, but have never used:

SITUATION: A man (or woman) turns to you and says, “What the fuck are you looking at?”

RESPONSE: “I’m sorry for staring. You just look like a friend of mine…who passed away. Today is the one-year anniversary.”

IMPORTANT: If you can will some tears, great. But whether you can or cannot, walk away immediately after delivering these lines. You must not hang around. Do not give the aggressor any opportunity to apologize (if they are even human enough for that). Let them sit. Let them think. Let them look in the mirror and ask their reflection, “What the fuck are you looking at?” Let them answer, “Someone’s dead friend… One day.”

[1] In my basketball fantasy I always play with change in my pockets. If I make you look like an idiot on the court (and I always do), I toss coins at your feet.

[2] Oh, also: in my basketball fantasies I am so good at basketball (and fighting) that I have a pass to use the N-word on the court.