Jeff Smith 6 p.m., Feb. 27
- Community Blog
Tundra # 18
Tundra and Mushroom were feline versions of aggressive and sometimes frightening people whom I’ve met and known in my life. Richie was one of these people. Richie was a friend of mine that I’d met in high school. He was tall, lanky, handsome, genuinely funny, and violent. Richie not only fought, he fought with the competitive enthusiasm usually reserved for professional athletes. “I can take that a--hole,” he’d say about someone he felt deserved his special attention. Then he’d approach the alleged a--hole with every intention of proving it.
Many times it’s possible to bluff your way out of a fight because, honestly, few of us want to be in the position where there’s the very real possibility of being badly hurt: broken teeth, cracked ribs, and ruptured eyeballs (my brother Jake was kicked full force in the eye five years ago during a bar fight, and he still suffers periodically from depth perception problems). “You’re not worth going to jail over,” you might say to an adversary during a confrontation. Your foe might then add, “If I wasn’t on probation, dude, you’d be on your way to the hospital right now.” Then your girlfriend and your opponent’s girlfriend would lead you both away while patting your shoulders and saying, “Don’t worry about it. Come on, baby, we’ll go get a beer, okay?” It’s then possible for both parties to walk away unscathed as if they were animals bluffing each other out in the wild.
But with Richie, and people like him, if there’s a confrontation, like it or not you’re going to fight, and, short of shedding tears and behaving like an unmitigated coward, there’s not a thing in the world you can do about it. I’d never actually seen anyone do this, but I’m sure if you were to embrace this defense, the aggressor would surely walk away in disgust. But so would all your cronies, and then the next day your girlfriend would probably even break up with you: “Uh, yeah, listen, I think we need a break from each other—forever.
Richie had three years of martial arts under his belt, and there’s nothing he liked better than approaching a rival and sweep kicking his ankles out from beneath him. While still in high school, sometimes, if Richie was feeling especially aggressive and there was no one around to fight, he’d go home and then goad his long-suffering stepfather, Scott, into a fight. While Richie was throwing roundhouse kicks at Scott’s head and trying to punch him in the throat with his hard, sharp knuckles, Scott would simply be trying to get Richie into a headlock so he could hold him there until he calmed down. Finally Scott would accomplish his goal and get Richie into a chokehold. “Okay, Scott,” Richie would say as his face was turning a deep shade of magenta and seconds before consciousness was able to slip away entirely, “I give up—this time ”
Violence didn’t always work in Richie’s favor. One afternoon, Richie had a dispute at a gas station with a man in a 30-foot RV. As they shouted at each other, the man in the RV said something that Richie found particularly offensive. Reaching up into the RV, Richie slapped the cigar from the man’s mouth. The man threw the RV into gear and rammed Richie’s car. The RV pushed the car aside with the ease of a lumbering bulldozer. The man then tried to make good his escape. The police were called and when the dust had settled Richie not only had a ruined car, but he was taken to jail for assault.
I was glad Richie was my friend and not my enemy. I consider myself fortunate that I never had to fistfight Richie or anyone else, for that matter, who fought for the pure enjoyment of it. Someone who wouldn’t quit until you or he was unconscious. Since reaching adulthood, I‘ve been in two fights. In both cases my foe and I were able to walk away with little more than some miscellaneous cuts and bruises; afterward, I felt, strangely, both exhilarated and a little bit uneasy.
Violence for most of us is remote and foreign. We’re Americans. We’re a civilized people. Realistically, violence rarely touches any one of us. It happens to other people in other lands in repetitive slow motion on TV. But when and if violence ever does find us, the ways in which we react to it seem disturbingly familiar.