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.


Lisa said...

oh, the Ryan of yester year. Also, sorry I watch so much bad tv but I suppose I could have worse habits...

Anonymous said...

We need another fantastic listening session post when you get a chance.

Try to heed your own advice and give us something relevant to the post 1989 era--Radiohead? Beck? White Stripes, anyone?

"But I think we’re running the risk of developing into a society of Harold Blooms, little Hobbit like creatures who believe the best art is already behind us, if you believe popular music can be art, which I do."