Thursday, January 28, 2010

Somebody Needs To Fight Me

I've never been in a physical fight in my life. I've been kneed in the groin, and punched in the mouth (two separate occasions, but by the same individual) but I never struck back. If my life were a movie, I would've been taunted for my inaction, and I would've scurried away in shame to find a stereotypically Asian older man to teach me some martial arts and also, maybe, some important lessons about life. But in my both cases, I took my lumps, and then went on to enjoy the smug superiority of the pacifist.

There were many times, especially as a teenager, where I seemed eager to broker some kind of physical altercation. One Fourth of July, stuck in traffic following the local fireworks show, I got out of the car I was in and started bothering the people in the cars surrounding us, including one with tinted black windows, thumping bass, and pot smoke seeping out the cracked windows. I asked the occupants if they would be willing to take a survey of Russian literature, and they took this to be an insult to their intelligence (which, looking back, probably was) and they spilled out of their car and started threatening to fight everybody I was with. There were, inexplicably, two German exchange students with us, and this almost literally scared the piss out of them, five giant wanna-be gangstas (we were in Abington, after all) shaking the chassis of our car and demanding we stop "frontin'" and come out and fight them. The police intervened, and somehow I found myself uninvited to the party we were all headed to later that night.

My first girlfriend left me for a young man in lock-up, and when he was released, he thought it incumbent upon himself to kill me, or at least stab me. He'd show up places I was, including the front yard of the new girl I was seeing, and so I sent him a letter, typed, that read: "I know gonorrhea sucks, but stop taking it out on me. Love, Ryan." I took great amusement at this, especially the "love, Ryan" part, and dropped it into the mailbox. One of my friends, I don't remember exactly who, shook his head at this. "I think you're trying to get yourself killed." I never heard back from the hoodlum, so I wrote a song about him, called "George Has Got A Knife" which was really one elaborate "small penis" joke, and then with my band opened our show at our high school with it, in front of several of George's friends. "I think you're trying to get yourself killed," somebody in the band told me, and I had to wonder if they were right.

I had many near encounters with physical violence, but all came to not. I threw some coins at a drunken table who were singing loudly (they invited me to join them). I called the boyfriend of a girl I worked with a prick one night when I ended up going out with her and him and about six of his stooges and he tried to coerce their former high school teacher into buying them booze (The boyfriend seemed kowtowed that I stood up to him). I humiliated men in front of women they were trying to impress, I openly and notoriously attempted to court away girls from boyfriends who I shamelessly mocked. From the ages of 15 to 20, I was literally begging for somebody to hit me.

I don't know if I would know how to hit someone, and the last ten years I've worried what would ever happen if I was forced into a physical confrontation. When I was young and seemed to be inviting people to fight me, I don't ever really thought that I would prevail in a fight, but I don't think it ever occurred to me that I would totally embarrass myself. But I would. I'd probably get dropped in one punch.

I think I imagined that adrenaline would take over, that I wouldn't need to consciously think about how to hit someone or how hard I would need to do it. That something animal would turn on in my brain, and, even if I didn't win the fight, I'd at least get some good shots in. In all likelihood, I don't know if I ever actually thought that much about it. I don't think I ever thought the words "I want to get into a fight" but clearly my actions demonstrated that's what I was angling for.

I live a pretty safe life now. I spend my mornings writing and lounging around with my cats, I teach teenagers about how to graph rational expressions and write papers about Steinbeck, and then come home and sit beside my bride-to-be as she watches terrible television. I happened home a few days ago to catch a few minutes of MTV's Jersey Shore, and while I was simultaneously amused and mortified at the behavior of the cast of characters (especially mortified when Lisa informed me that some of them were 30) I also recognized something, far away and distant, in the way the men on the show seemed to invite and relish violence. In one sequence, one of them literally pleads with a drunken passerby who is taunting him, pleading to not make him fight him. I shook my head when he finally did start swinging. I thought about the times that I had been hit, and how I had walked away. But, in the split second after it was clear the fight was going to happen but before it started, I turned my attention to the drunken instigator, the one who was taunting the over-muscled and greased up Jersey Shore cast member. Shit, I thought. I think I know that guy.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Please, please, please let me get what I want

Just a few updates from Stately Tressel Manor:

If it seems like I've been a little less than active, well, that's probably true. There are a couple of reasons.

* I completed work on my new novel, "Immortallo" in early December, and I've spent the last few weeks working on prepping the manuscript for publication, hopefully in late February, early March. Right now things are in the hands of members of my design team, so things like jacket design are up in the air right now. As we get closer to the release date, I'll share some excerpts and artwork. I'm really proud of this one, and I hope people like it as well.

*I'm trying to save up some creative energy for next month's RPM challenge. This is a yearly competition in which entrants must write and record 10 original songs during the month of February. I entered the contest last year (the songs can be heard on my music site, primarily here, here and here )and I'm looking forward to taking part again this year. I'll post links to the songs once they start showing up.

*After that, hopefully the weather will start to warm up a bit, and I'll be in a better writing mood, at which point I'll start work on the next novel, tentatively titled "Harry Swan and the @#$*%#**!!" We'll see how it goes.

*Republican Scott Brown's victory Tuesday in his bid for the late Ted Kennedy's senate seat really put me in a fowl mood yesterday, one that I decided to try and alleviate by raising my snark level to 11. I had a devilish amount of fun deriding Mr.Brown's supporters online yesterday, but probably took it a bit too far. I still hope that most of the people who voted for Mr. Brown were unaware of his anti-gay, anti-woman voting track record when they cast their ballots, and am disappointed that the Democratic party opted to run a robotic and anti-charismatic candidate who was nearly impossible for anybody to get excited about. But as I woke up this morning, determined to post today (initially I was planning to do another Listening Party entry) I just felt I need to dial back on the snark--snark which I feel has been particularly pervasive recently. That could change tomorrow, if I find myself listening to a Paula Cole record or something.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


When you drop an old fashioned Coke glass, they bounce once and then shatter in mid-air. I know this because I have dropped at least a dozen old fashioned Coke glasses, and at least eleven of those were on purpose. I'm not sure when the statute of limitations on petty vandalism runs out, but it's been ten years, so I hereby confess to the Friendly's corporation: I broke those goddamn glasses on purpose just because I liked the way they broke.

I also facilitated the breaking of at least a dozen more, as during my very brief tenure as a Friendly's manager, I found that the best way to relieve an overly stressed employee (and at Friendly's most of the employees were teenage girls)was to invite them behind the restaurant and give them some Coke glasses to smash on the pavement. It always seemed to make everything feel better.

The first Coke glass broke by accident. I fell right from my hands, and I watched it fall in slow motion, the way things that you don't want to fall fall. Everytime thereafter, the glasses fell too fast. Gravity never lets you savor the fall when you're enjoying it.

It was a job I didn't want. It fell out of the sky. I had just left my last job after the general manager had tried to pull a "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" between me and the rest of the management staff over a missed place drop box, and my friend Keith and I went to the local Friendly's to flirt with the waitresses we knew there. And one of them--was it Rainee? Janine?--said it when they took away our ketchup stained plates. "Ryan, you should just come work here." And so I did.

About three minutes into my first shift I knew I was not a good fit. I think a person needs a certain temperament to work at a restaurant, and I don't think I had it. It was Pammy the fountain girl who made me promise not to quit. She made me pinky-swear on it. I was 20 years old, and she was 17. It wasn't as sordid as you think. So I stayed.

I wasn't really a very good manager. I don't think I succeeded in closing a night without some kind of food related mishap. There was a complicated series of steps for each food station, and I'd invariably forget one of them. I wouldn't cover up the cheese, or I'd forget to refresh the soft serve machine. These weren't really little things. I think everybody's fear when they go out to a place like Friendly's is that somebody left the cheese out all night, or that they let the mayonnaise spoil. Like I said, I was ill-suited for the job.

But I did a pretty good job at managing the restaurant itself. I was really good at making unsatisfied customers--those dads who threaten to walk out without paying for anything because the waitresses were too slow, their kids' food was served cold--calm down and stay. I was also really good at managing the staff, and when one of those 16-year old waitresses had been yelled at by a customer, and she would be crying in the back, begging me to drop off the bill for her, I'd tell her she needed to do it, that it would make her feel better and stronger if she went out there and faced those customers and showed those mean bastards that they hadn't broken her.

And I'd ask her, when she was crying, when she threatened to quit, what would be the worst thing that could happen? "Nobody's going to die," I'd say. And then I'd take her out back to smash old fashioned Coke glasses.

Only once did my direct boss, Tina the general manager, indicate to me that she suspected anything nefarious about the broken glasses. But I had learned at an early age the power of misdirecting someone without lying. "We dropped them," I'd told her, and that was 100% the truth. We did drop them. Over and over again. Until our sides hurt from laughing.

I knew that I was basically taking money away from the Friendly's corporation. I knew that the glasses cost money and would need to be replaced. But I figured that the glasses were in some way some kind of hazard pay. On a busy night--especially a busy night where we were short-staffed: a usual recipe for late-night glass smashing--the company made more money while we made exactly the same. It was a small form of profit sharing. It was a tiny workers' revolt.

I guess it would seem different if we'd been taking cash out of the register. But we weren't. That would be wrong. And this, this glass smashing? How could something that felt so right be wrong?

Nobody was going to die.

I'd already decided I was leaving, putting in my notice, the night that the Pisser showed up at the door. It had been a crazy busy night--so crazy and hectic and short-staffed that we didn't even have an opportunity to unwind with some glass smashing--and a man knocked at the front door after we had closed. He had a bad mustache, a silk dress shirt unbuttoned too far, black trenchcoat, and a curly mullet. "I need to use your bathroom," he said, standing at the glass door at the front of the restaurant.

I didn't open the door, just kind of yelled to him through the glass. I told him we were closed.

"I need to use the bathroom," he repeated.

Our Friendly's was literally surrounded by bars that were still open.
"Why don't you go use the restroom at Bob's?" I said, pointing to the local bar adjacent to us.

He told me he had had a problem with the bouncer there and couldn't go back in. I think I must've known he was drunk before this point, but this was where I really noticed how much he was swaying.

"I need to use your bathroom or I'm going to be sick," he told me. "I've got a condition."

I apologized and told him I couldn't let him into the restaurant after we had closed.
He closed his eyes for a second, like he had fallen asleep standing up, then reopened them slowly.

"Remember this face," he said, pointing to his bad mustache. "Remember this face."
His fist came out of nowhere. "BECAUSE THIS IS THE FACE OF THE MAN WHO IS GOING TO F*** YOU UP!" he yelled as he shattered the glass door with his fist. I instinctively fell backwards as the glass rained down onto the floor. He ran off into the night.

He wasn't a very adept criminal. The police caught him an hour or two later. I had to go to the police station at 1:45am to make an ID. He was sitting in a room, virtually passed out, his fist wrapped in bloody bandages, his mullet and mustache still intact.

"That's him," I told the officer.

"Are you sure?" he asked me.

I nodded. "He told me to remember his face."

It was a good line, one I couldn't wait to repeat at his trial, which I later received two summons for. I imagined leaning into the microphone at the moment when his defense attorney asked me the question. "Are you sure this is the man you saw that night?"

Dramatic pause. "Yes. He told me to remember his face."

I ended up sitting in Brockton superior court on two separate mornings just to listen to his lawyer ask for a continuance. I only found out months later, after I'd stopped working at Friendly's, that he eventually plead guilty and had to send Friendly's $20/a month until he had paid for the repair to the door. I never got my moment in court.

Some other stuff happened that night--some real Keystone Cops moments with the Bridgewater PD, trying to explain the situation to the night cleaning crew who only spoke Portuguese. An old acquaintance showed up at some point while I was waiting for the police, having taken some bad acid and in need of someone to talk her through it.

I spent a lot of time that night on the phone with the general and regional managers, filling them in on what had happened. It was late at night, I imagine I had woken both of them up, but they didn't seem to grasp what my biggest concern was. We had no front door. The whole door was glass, with the exception of a metal bar across the middle for pulling and pushing the door open, and all that glass was lying in the entrance way.

"Just hang a sign on the door," Tina said.

I tried to explain that there was no way to keep anybody--or any animals--from just walking into the restaurant by just climbing either under or over that center bar.
"Just hang a sign on the door," she repeated.

I think I worked there for another month. I thought about just never going back, but I had pinky-sworn to stay, and so I did.

A day or two later I went to work and the glass had been replaced. I guess there would have been some dramatic irony in me being there the day they replaced the front glass door--representing, perhaps, all the glass I myself had broken--but I wasn't. Like I said, it wasn't a job I was really that invested in.