Last Friday night was a rough one at the bar. It started off ugly, with a walk-in group of 12 British tourists, one of whom may have been one of the most spectacularly ugly-on-the-inside human beings I have ever encountered, the assimilation of whom into our seating availability presaged a busy, chaotic, full-moon-feeling kind of night, one I was glad to see the end of when my ten-hour stint was done. We had just locked up, the other bartender and I, and were chatting about the trials and tribulations as we stood outside the bookstore two doors down when a couple of guys came down the street walking bicycles. One of them wore dark clothes and a ballcap, the other an untucked tuxedo shirt and black pants. The second one’s face was covered in blood.
“You wanna give me money for bandaids?” he demanded, in such a way I was pretty sure that whatever had happened to his face, he’d done something to deserve it.
We both declined, and turned away, closing our conversational circle, but he just got more obnoxious, while his friend stood off to the side looking helpless and embarrassed. I put on my 86ing face and told him to fk off and he did.
But then he decided to come back. Things got physical, and I shoved him out into the street. I pulled a dirty soccer move and sent him sprawling face-first onto the asphalt, figuring he’d get the point. And it seemed like he did, because he left. But he just couldn’t let it go, and he was back just a few minutes later.
I remember lots of details, but not the exact sequence of events. I know he came at me three times, and every time I put him down or sent him away he came back harder. He kept trying to pull this dirty trick where I’d get him down or send him away and he’d offer his hand to make peace, and every time I gave him the benefit of the doubt he tried to use it to pull me off balance and get the upper hand. The last time he came at me he managed to clip me in the jaw with his flailing. I barely felt it at the time, though my jaw was sore for about a day after. I remember feeling very clear-headed, and deciding what I was going to do. I took him down and wrestled him into a headlock. I punched him twice in the face, just so he knew that I could, and then I stood over him, fist cocked, asking him if he wanted to bleed for real while he literally cowered beneath me. After that he finally left us alone.
It was the first real fight I’ve been in since middle school where I wasn’t on the clock and operating under the constraints that come with that. Even the guys who tried to mug me in Buenos Aires didn’t take things so far, and there were two of them. Totally random, just some asshole bit by the Imp of the Perverse, who decided to fk with me and who just had, when it didn’t go like he wanted, to play it all out to the end, for reasons I could only guess at the shape of.
It was a gift-wrapped opportunity to engage in the kind of violence I fantasize about almost daily.
I mean, seriously, how often do you get the chance to kick the ass of someone who totally deserves it, with all the justification anyone could ask for, and witnesses to back you up? To be given that kind, that depth of permission by random happenstance? It’s the kind of situation most men can only dream about. We long for that kind of permission, as men. Hell, as people. When I told my girlfriend about it she was jealous (she works in the Industry, too, and it’s not uncommon to find yourself wanting to punch somebody in the face, no matter what your gender). The guy practically did me a favor, gave me a present I would never think to ask for.
Men are built for violence. Evolutionarily speaking, it’s kind of our job. In a civilized world that capacity is curtailed, sublimated into the larger (violent) culture, managed and channeled in a thousand ways. But it’s there in most all of us, to some extent. It’s definitely in me.
I am not a violent person, never have been. I know that now for sure, because I did not lose my cool and go apeshit on that guy no matter how much he was asking for it. I met his every assault and defeated it on its own terms, and never escalated the level of violence. Even when he hit me in the face, I only hit him back twice, and that only so he would finally get the message that however he came at me it would end badly for him, and that he should leave, which I then let him do. I used my words much more than my fists, and in between threats and epithets explained exactly what an asshole he’d been and what I was doing and why. Given the situation, I feel pretty good about my level of self-restraint. And of course there’s the ego boost that comes from winning a fight, however unevenly matched. It’s powerful stuff, being a big strong man.
But the reason he kept coming back, that he couldn’t let it go, was because I decided to bark at him to make him go away in the first place, let him know I was bigger and stronger and more capable than he, and that he should fk off because I said so. I put him in his place and he didn’t like it, as I knew he would not. Whatever his daylight self might have done, drunk and already bleeding at three o’clock in the morning he couldn’t let it go, and I almost didn’t want him to, once it was on. The whole thing was pretty gratifying, both in the moment and since.
Being a man, I play the man game, and that capacity for violence on tap is a part of that. I call it my rage-nugget, a white hot core of anger and resolve that I cultivate in my center, that I let shine brightly enough to let predators know to look for easier prey. Most of the time that capacity is sublimated, and the closest I get to exercising it openly is playing soccer. Sometimes it isn’t, though. Sometimes the subtleties get brushed aside and the subtext brought to the fore, because at some base level of instinct that’s how we judge ourselves, and each other, as men. It probably says something about me that I like being good at the game, and that I liked handing this guy’s ass to him in front of his friend and how easy it was. I knew right away he might try something, just like I knew right away I could handle him (I’ve got a pretty good instinct for things like that after this many years behind the bar). I might even have been rid of him without a physical confrontation. It’s not like I don’t know how to manipulate people to get them to do what I want in these kinds of situations.
But I’m not going to lie. It felt good to let the beast out of his cage for a while, to make the best of the opportunity afforded me. Given my general disinclination to violence, it’s rare that I get a chance to.