On Friday night, after drinking several thousand frozen margaritas—a very lady-like drink, by the way, for ladies who are sloppy, mean-spirited drunks—I joined an old, close friend for one last cocktail at a new, local bar. It was nice to be out and, after a while, we found ourselves engaged in a fairly intense conversation. (I've been having a lot of those lately. I am fairly intense and I make no apologies about it. I'm like Tom Sizemore. At the top of the conversation, before things approach the deadly point of no return, I usually allow people to prepare for the intensity of dialogue that is to follow by warning them to "buckle up!" Then I wait quietly while they fasten their various buckles. I hang out with a lot of Quakers.)
Suddenly, a young gentleman nuzzled up to the bar, standing within intimate range of my female friend. I watched him for a moment, and detected that he was alternating between eavesdropping on our conversation and trying to catch my friend's eye. Finally, after he paid for his drink order—a pint of Sexual Predator's Punch—he turned toward my friend and greeted her. It was friendly enough but it was clear he was making his "first contact." He was establishing dialogue. I honestly found it incredibly rude, in the way I think it's rude when someone at a funeral asks, "So, what are you doing later?" He had no idea what our relationship was, saw we were pretty intensely engaged in conversation—I was grabbing her shoulders and shaking her very hard, so hard in fact that she might have passed out were she not so thoroughly buckled in—and thought it would be cool to direct her attention from our conversation by flirting with her.
In the great interest of total honesty, I need to provide two caveats to the reliability of my narration. First, ordinarily I would have noticed this interaction the way I notice most human behavior—silently, passively, and probably too analytically—and let it go. But my emotions have been a bit high lately so this gentleman's decision to interrupt our conversation so he could hit on my friend seemed like a tremendous affront to me at the time. Also, my friend later confessed she had been staring at him earlier in the evening. It was because she neglected to wear her glasses and was just trying to bring the room into focus. She had no idea what he looked like until he got very close, but it's likely that he had decided she was somehow signalling him to approach. So there's that.
Their exchange at the bar was brief, then we resumed our conversation. Unfortuantely, a small part of me was secretly smoldering now. I had transformed into Adam Goldberg's character in the film Dazed and Confused, obsessing over his brief and humiliating confrontation with a townie/bully named Clint: "Dominant male monkey motherfucker!!" (His words, not mine.)
My consternation eventually subsided and, later, when we were readying ourselves to exit, I decided to take a quick stroll and survey the bar's great expanse. (It is a new bar, and a cavernous one, with separate upstairs-downstairs bars, indoor bocce courts, a brand-new livery and its own district court for the civil settling of disputes.) I left my friend on her stool and, as I made my way around the bar I thought, "I'll bet that fucker saw an opening and sidled right up the moment I walked away."
When I returned, there he was, leaning in close, his back to my stool, and a couple of his buddies standing off to the side, awaiting his return. I kind of snapped, shoving my way back into my stool. He apologized for being in my way, and I used the opportunity to consider his polite words and reply, "No you're not. You're a dick. You have no idea what our relationship is right now. We could be dating as far as you know. All you saw was two people, pretty seriously engaged in a conversation, and you assumed it would be totally cool to break in and hit on my friend."
He placed his face very close to mine, and I held, unblinking and seething. Then he began lecturing me on "assumptions," assuring me he had not assumed anything, and that he doesn't make assumptions. I hated his face, so close to mine. My eyes were darkening and I seriously thought, "even though this is a small misunderstanding I hate this person so much right now, and I can't tell whether it's because of his obvious insincerity or his repeated use of the word 'assume'."
Again, it's probably necessary for me to zoom out and disclose a few more significant details. The new shit. The shit you weren't privy to. First, I am not a physically imposing man. The only physical advantage I have is a naturally saddened and bearded face. That particular combination is often enough to keep people from messing with me because, at rest, my face telegraphs a pathological fatalism that could translate to reacting unpredictably if cornered. Also, I wear plastic dracula teeth everywhere I go.
And my adversary? Let me just say it's very rare when I think to myself, with complete confidence, "I could thrash this gentleman, handily." I could have thrashed this gentleman. Skinny and soft-bellied, with the an oversized head of a Peanuts character tottering on a pipe cleaner neck. Swollen cheeks framing a small mouth with an unfortunate overbite, and manner of speech that likely draws a lot of suspicion about his sexual orientation. There's a certain way of speaking that is very unintimidating. I think I have it, a bit. I hear it come out, with great shame, during stressful situations. He had it, too, and much worse. If you heard him scream the word, "motherfucker!!," you'd probably start giggling.
I am not easily moved to hostility or anger, though I think it quickly became obvious that this was an exception. My friend interceded by announcing, "let's go," grabbed my hand and led me out of the bar. But all I could think about then was how much I would have enjoyed cracking my forehead hard down against the bridge of his nose. I imagined that very specific scenario, in all its visceral detail. In the few days that have followed, I've continued to think about it here and there, though it's taken a distant back seat to other more significant thoughts.
The problem is when I play the dust-up out, beyond the initial head-butt, the fantasy mutates into a sad little reality. Because I have no frame of reference for successful street fighting, every time I picture myself fighting it's just an awkward and humiliating mess. So I saw us grappling at each other, pulling off very short, ineffectual punches at a very close range. No wind-ups or helicopter kicks. Just a couple of rhythmless jerks, crab wrestling on a bar room floor while the rest of the patrons laugh. I pictured myself pulling his shirt up over his head, hockey style, and exposing the furry pot belly hanging like an udder from his slight frame. I saw myself twisting him, and him twisting against me. Me trying to get a foot inside and sweep out one of his legs, then bringing him to the ground, losing my own balance, and toppling over with him. Suddenly, large, stronger hands pull me off him—a bartender? a bored patron?—and us restrained and divided, squirming, red-faced, scratched-up, torn shirts and screaming expletives at each other without even a trace of finesse: "Fuck you, you fucking asshole!" "I hate you so much you fucking bitch!" "I don't ASSUME!!!" And then being sent home separately, at five minute intervals, because it wasn't worth calling the cops.
I hate that fantasizing about rage is so tempered by a depressingly naturalistic likelihood, but it's probably healthier for me that way. The last time I felt hypnotically possessed by strength I was eleven years old and had just seen Rocky III. My brother and I shared a bedroom and, hours after seeing the movie, with the last flames of vicarious adrenaline coursing through my body, I insisted on demonstrating a pile driver administered to Rocky by Hulk "Thunderlips" Hogan during their charity exhibition match. I stood on my bed, bent at the knees, digging hard into the bedsprings, and launched myself toward the ceiling. At the crest of my leap, I kicked up my legs in front of me, looking more like a froglet than a trained athlete, then dropped down hard, an imaginary and upside-down Rocky Balboa cradled in my arms. When I hit the bed again I heard the crack of timber and realized, to my horror and my brother's delight, that I'd splintered one of the support beams beneath my mattress. My brother was lying in his bed, whispering, "oooh...I'm telling." I made him swear that he wouldn't—that we had to keep this a secret, no matter how difficult it made sleeping—and crawled into my broken bed with my first real taste of the man I was to become.