A Failure of Enlightenment

I’m both proud and ashamed of myself this morning, because last night I did evil in the service of good, or so it seems to me.  It was my girlfriend’s company holiday party (usually well after the actual holidays for those of us in the Industry, for obvious reasons), and though I had a soccer match that kept me away for the first half, I tagged along for the latter part of the evening while she and her co-workers got silly and cut loose, as folks will do in such situations.  Having run for most of ninety minutes, I wasn’t in much of a mood to join in, and spent the evening on the fringes conversing with friends and watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon on the tv behind the bar.  I had a total of three drinks over the course of three hours.

Around 1am, it was decided that there should be karaoke, and the party absconded to the closest bar where karaoke was known to occur.  I shan’t say which, only that if there were a French Quarter for hipsters, this joint would be in the heart of it.  Garish, lurid, and loud as absolute fuck, though the staff was friendly and fun.

Except for the karaoke guy.

Now, one thing about my girl, she loves to sing her some karaoke.  And she absolutely kills it.  She’s got a beautiful voice, and inhabits the stage as if it were her natural environment (really, she’s one of the most charismatic people I’ve ever known personally).  So of course first thing she does when we get there is go try and sign up.  But karaoke guys blows her off.  She mentions it’s her company party, that she bartends around the corner.  Offers him fifty dollars cash.  He calls her a dumb bitch and tells her to fuck off.  He spat so much contempt into her psyche it nearly derailed the good feeling the whole party had going.

So I called him out.

There was no bravery involved.  This was not somebody with any real fight in him.  But I stood there at the edge of the stage and invited him outside.  I called his manhood into question in front of witnesses in no uncertain terms.  Did my absolute best to make him feel small and weak.  Demonstrated to him that whatever little power he felt he had, that he’d so callously exercised against my girl, it was nothing in the real game.  Then I walked away.

I wasn’t quite done, though.  I asked every staffer in the joint what the manager’s name was, and what the karaoke guy’s name was, too.  I made sure the bar staff knew what’d happened (they, of course, loved us, because bar staff love each other and treat each other very well), and I made sure karaoke guy knew that I knew his name on my way out the door.  Then I went outside and we all hung around saying our goodnights and I drove my girl safely and soberly home for the night.

What I regret most is my lack of eloquence, that I was too tired to explain in any detail to that little hipster douche just how stupidly douche-tastic he’d been.  Never mind the sexism and the bullshit hierarchical I’m-cooler-than-you-and-can-therefore-be-a-dick-with-impunity mindset (wrongheaded, in this case, as I’m pretty sure bartender outranks karaoke guy; but I digress).  Weak people abound, and they love to inhabit that headspace, and it usually sucks for the rest of us.  But the willful stupidity of alienating the entire staff of another bar just around the corner from the bar where you work is just baffling to me.  People ask bartenders where to go and where not to go all the time.  And even if she hadn’t been a bartender, trying to ruin your patrons’ good time is never good for business (especially when you aren’t even on staff, but are just some guy the bar pays to run karaoke a couple nights a week).  People go out to have a good time, not to be disrespected.

And that’s the nub, right there.  The reason I felt compelled to act.  He was disrespectful to my lady fair, an offense compounded by the superficial, laughable criteria from which he chose to condescend.  Given the power to say no gracefully, he chose to sneer, to rub my girl’s face in the fact of his power to decide whether or not she got to do what she really, really wanted to do just then.  It may be old-fashioned, but the way I was raised, that’s not something you let slide.  Perhaps were I more enlightened, I might have made another choice.  But I’m not, or I wasn’t last night.  I wanted that little worm to feel small and powerless, to remind him of the essential weakness that had led him to act the way he had in the first place.  I never touched or even reached for him, made no specific threats of bodily or professional harm.  There wasn’t any need, and much as I wanted him to feel what it was like to be peed on by a bigger animal, I am also an Industry professional who knows where the lines are, and the last thing I’m going to do is start some shit in somebody else’s joint.

Did I do the right thing?  Yes and no.  Yes because the code of honor in which I was raised demands satisfaction for such an offense.  Yes because my girl was genuinely surprised and upset by his treatment of her, which was nasty enough that it nearly derailed what had been until then a just fantastic evening getting to hang out with her co-workers without having to actually work.  Yes because I bet there’s not a single chance in the world he would have spoken that way to another man.  Yes because it is the duty of good men to stand up for those unable to stand up for themselves (my girl was too shocked and upset by his uncalled-for shittiness to respond effectively, and is not a confrontational person to begin with).  No because violence and the threat of violence rarely solve anything in any constructive way.  No because of the feminizing language I defaulted to in shaming him (seriously, my imagination and eloquence entirely failed me).  No because in the end it was as much about me as about defending my girl’s honor.  No because I knew he was weaker than I am, physically and psychologically, and all I was showing him was that being a dick will sometimes lead bigger dicks to come piss on you for your pretensions, which just reprises the cycle of dickishness.

After all, if the only thing keeping you from being a dick is that a bigger dick might come piss on you, you’re going to be more likely to be a dick when you think there aren’t any bigger dicks around and you can get away with it.

It’s possible that the incident will be a wake-up call for this kid, and that maybe he’ll think twice about his mouth writing checks his ass is unprepared to cash.  He may also get some inkling of what real power is, as opposed to the momentary situational advantage he mistook for an existential category.  Fear is certainly not the best teacher, but it is an effective one.

In the end I remain conflicted.  I do believe I did the right thing, standing up for my girl.  I hope I scared the piss out of that little worm, and that he’ll think twice about being so casually condescending and dickish again, with anybody.  But I could have done it better, and for better reasons.  I prefer, in general, to take the high road when possible, fail though I often do to do so.  Whether that would have worked with this particular smug twerp remains open to debate.  Often people who double down on being dicks need a bigger shock to their system to jar them out of their false consciousness.  At the time I was sure this was such a case, but this morning I wish I’d at least taken a crack at it, that even if it had come down to putting some fear in him to wipe the smirk off his face, I might have gotten there more elegantly.  That’s what really bothers me in the end, that my conscience bade me do things I find unconscionable, and I was all too happy to comply.  Gotta work on that.

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