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I was just passing through Madison, but I had some slack time, and I’d always been curious about the city, remembering the university there as a hotbed of radicalism in the Sixties. I parked in the back row of a truckstop north of town that evening, caught up my logbook, waved off a truckstop whore, unhooked from my trailer, and bobtailed into town.

I parked about three or four dark, deserted blocks from the Capitol building, and hiked past the Capitol to the thriving business district skirting the University of Wisconsin campus. After weeks of highway isolation I walked in love through the crowds of students, all those laughing pretty girls, and those happy loud boys, out for supper and an evening’s carouse. I claimed a table for two in a crowded bistro, where I ate a sandwich, and drank deeply from the loud music of their voices, above the clatter and clink. Whenever anyone brushed against me in the crowded space, my nerves stood on end for more. I was thirsty for human contact, but couldn’t reach out, couldn’t look anyone in the eye. Too many weeks on the highway. Back on the street I strolled the crowded sidewalks, aching for every shapely girl twisting past, and content just to ache, my pulse racing, my head spinning.

It was a pleasantly warm night, and a used bookstore with an open door drew me in. I’d been looking for a copy of “The Log Of A Cowboy” by Andy Adams, and, after a few satisfying minutes browsing the shelves, I found an early-edition copy in like-new condition, reasonably priced.

Book in hand, I hiked back past the Capitol, beyond which the sidewalks were deserted, and the buildings locked and dark. I saw another lone male figure walking toward me a block and a half up ahead. I didn’t know why, but I knew I didn’t want to pass this stranger, so I casually angled across the street. He did the same thing. I don’t know how I knew, but I knew this meant trouble.  When we arrived simultaneously at the sidewalk on the other side, we were about a half block apart. When we reached each other he lunged at me, grasping for my throat, and growled, “I’m gonna kill you.”

Before I could think to do it, I’d already forced both of my arms upward and outward between his, wedging his striving fingers away from my throat. Then, I drew my arm back, and with every ounce of strength in me, I jammed the spine of my book into his adam’s apple. The force of the blow should have collapsed his windpipe. But instead of falling to the ground and choking to death at my feet, he staggered backwards three steps. Then, for the first time, he actually looked at me. What he saw, there under our shared streetlight, was a man ready to fight.

I was facing him squarely, my hands down but away from my sides, and my right hand clutching the book, which he knew I knew how to use. I stared deeply into his eyes. I didn’t move as I waited for him to move toward me. I wasn’t afraid. I don’t know why.

 

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