Thursday, September 29, 2005

knuckleburger and fries

Boys will be boys. Vive la difference. A woman's touch. All catch-phrases that are used to signify how each gender just plain doesn’t get the other.

It has taken me this long to realise that there are certain things about women and their behaviour that I will never, ever understand.

Now before the “sexist” taunts start flying in my direction, I need to make it clear that I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with the differences between sexes by any means. Although I’m not against “political correctness” per se, I don’t see why we should always conduct ourselves in a manner whereby we need to pretend we are all equal in every respect when clearly we’re not.

And so, while I will never grasp why many women wouldn’t consider going outside the front door without make-up or why so many feel they have nothing to wear while their wardrobe is literally full to the brim with options, I would have to concede that there must be also aspects of the male psyche that are equally puzzling to them.

One of these quirks is a particular rite-of-passage that I believe is very important for boys and men to go through, and is one that they will find invaluable in their future existence in the male world.

As much as I am opposed to violence, I fully believe that every man in particular should find out, usually the hard way, whether or not they are able to take a punch in the face.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not planning to provide a “Fist For Hire” service, though no doubt someone out there one day will, and having an eight year old son of my own, I would hardly be praying that one day he takes a beating, far from it.

It’s just that in this world of intimidation and thuggery in which we live, I feel it’s important that the more civilized among us have the ability to stand up to it and not be willing to give in to the fear that pervades our society.

I was inspired to write this Lifeslice story by the movie “Green Street Hooligans” which stars Elijah “Frodo” Wood who plays an American student at Harvard who through a bizarre set of circumstances finds himself involved with a group of English football thugs.

After his first scrap, he observes that (to para-phrase) “once I realised that my jaw wasn’t made of glass after all, I knew I could at least stand up for myself and be able to get past my fear”. I recommend it as a movie by the way, even if there are a few dodgy cockney accents among the leading characters.

Anyway – I’d better get to my story. I’ll start at my friend John Hyland’s stag (aka bachelor party) weekend. It was in a town called Castlecomer in County Kilkenny, which is about 90 minutes' drive from Dublin city, and is his hometown. He had been working in the capital for a good few years, and I went along to this drinking session as a part of the three-strong Dublin contingent, which included our friends Des Winter and Sam Mulligan.

When we got to the town, of course we headed straight for the pub. John’s boyhood buddies were already there in full force on the Saturday afternoon, and he was quickly swamped by them at the bar counter. The three of us chose to look on from afar for a bit while he got re-acquainted, and we each brought a pint over to a table in the corner.

We must have stood out like sore thumbs, or perhaps I should say sore jaws. A few drinks later, one of the locals brought his drink over to us and sat down.

“So, you’re John’s mates from Dublin are ye?”, is how his booming Irish country accent broke indeed smashed the ice at the table into tiny pieces.

“Yup, I’m Jeff, and this is Des and Sam – and you are…”

“Carl’s me name sir, nice to meet ye!”, and as much hearty handshaking ensued, he added, “so, should be a good night tonight lads!”

“Yep, we’re lookin forward to it!”

“Well, just to let ye know, we’re either goin to Carlow or Kilkenny town, and you’d better hope it’s Kilkenny, cos if we go ta the other place there’s bound to be fights!”

“F-fights?” Sam rose to the bait all too easily.

“Ah, yeah, sure they don’t like us (Castle)’comer lads invadin their turf, don’t ya know. Of course, even if we do go to the (Kilkenny) town, that doesn’t mean there won’t be any Carlow lads startin fights there either!”

I knew that a fear-induced silence from us was exactly what he wanted, so I said –

“Either way, bring it on!!!”

Carl looked at me a bit puzzled, and then sized me up, and started a loud booming laugh.

“Jaysis lads, sure ye are all right! What are ye havin – three pints, is it?”

As he went to the bar, the other two looked at me as if to say “Bring it on??? Are you mad???”

“Aw, come on, lads," I said to them, “He was just trying to get a rise out of us. I reckon the only fights he gets into are with his mammy over when his washing’s done! Don’t mind him!”

The boys laughed, but I could tell by their faces they were still a bit nervous.

Even though I had been wrapped up in cotton wool by my suburban upbringing as much as they had been, I had one experience to draw on which at very least made me less anxious about an all-out brawl than my colleagues.

It was San Francisco, 1993. After our wedding, MyX and I went there as part of what was meant to be a four or five year stint travelling the world. I was working at a sports store on Market St downtown, and she had come to meet me after my shift so we could go for a few drinks nearby.

On the way home, we chose to stop off in McDonalds to satisfy the beer munchies. She sat at a table while I went up to get our order.

Anyone who knows San Francisco will tell you that Market Street is not exactly the safest part of the city to be in after dark. In fact, the direct route to my mother’s apartment lead right through the red-light “tenderloin” district of the city, so we would always go via Union Square which had the big posh hotels and would thus be much safer.

This “Mickey D’s” however was right at Powell and Market, where the famous cable car turntable is located, so there were people of ill repute everywhere to be seen.

As I was waiting at the counter, I heard a commotion behind me. These five kids of seemingly Latino origin had come in and were causing havoc. One of them started eating the fries off of someone’s tray, another was taking empty trays off the trash can and dropping them on the ground, while the others came up to the counter and started verbally abusing the staff.

Now this is male behaviour even I will never ever comprehend. My experience has led me to believe that boys should be kept away from each other from the ages of eight to eighteen on the strength of this pseudo-bravado they frequently display. It really gets my goat.

And so, armed with Dutch courage (it really was Dutch I'm a committed Heineken drinker) and what I thought was a superior intellect, I chose to speak up, since nobody working at the restaurant seemed to be doing it.

“Why don’t you guys just fuck off and let us all eat our food in peace?” is more or lest the gist of my opening line.

Not surprisingly, it was the smallest among them that chose to square up to me. As he muttered some kind of spiel that was a concoction of gangsta rap and Hispanic jargon, he was throwing shapes straight out of a Run DMC video.

I couldn’t resist. Since I had no idea what he said, I chose to mock the shapes, and carried out a perfect re-enactment of them along with the phrase,

“Aw come on, what’s all this shit supposed to be about?”

And before I could say “driveby shooting”, I felt a sensation in my nose, and next thing I knew could see them all running through the door.

“What the fuck?”

One of the kids who had his food taken filled me in.

“Dude! You didn’t even flinch!”


I noticed there was a trickle of blood passing my upper lip as I spoke.

“He popped you GOOD and your head didn’t even move! Hell, I wouldn’t mess wit you!”

His girlfriend then added,

“Is that red-haired girl with you?”

“Eh, yeah, she is.”

“Well you should know that she walked out when you started talking to those guys.”

Sure enough, she was no longer at the table.

And so, out of the restaurant I went. She was about a block away, and still walking. I had to call her name three times to get her back.

“I can’t believe you started a fight with those fools! That’s so unlike you!”

“Never mind THAT – why did you walk away?”

“I hoped that you would choose to come after me rather than get into a fight.”

“Listen – whatever happens, I am NOT gonna let those punks stop me from having my food! Can we at least go back in and eat?”

She reluctantly agreed, though despite the fact that by way of thanks the restaurant only charged us for one of our two Big Mac meals, she did not speak to me for the rest of the night.

I know I shouldn’t have, but yes, I let her make me feel guilty. It took me a good few years to realize that I wasn’t such a fool that night after all; in fact, why the hell didn’t she even ask me if I was ok?

Now I know why. She just doesn’t understand men. Well you know what, we have emotions, we have thought patterns, we have instincts, and we should not be ashamed of them.

Sure, they could have pulled a knife on me, but they didn’t. Sure, I could have ended up in a police cell, but I didn’t. It’s fear that has gives these scum license to act like they do, and if you can take that out of the equation, you are left with insecure little boys every time.

It’s just as well we didn’t get into any fights in Kilkenny town on the night in the end, at least for Carl’s sake. Sure the man was so drunk he could barely stand up on his own without taking a slap into the bargain.

Now that I think of it, maybe I should have slugged him one back in the pub that afternoon; it would have probably been his first!

Fist For Hire … maybe I’m onto something there …

Click here for a full list of the "Lifeslice" stories


shandi said...

Just yesterday, my 12 year old son got into a fight at school. I've always told him not to start fights, but to finish them. Of course, I had to nod my head in approval while the Principal lectured my son for fighting.

On the way home my son asked me why he and his male friends have this uncontrollable need to throw fists at eachother (whether play fighting or not). I told him that because of puberty, he has a sudden increase of testosterone in his system... the same reason girls cry during puberty what with estrogen suddenly entering the picture.

He wanted to know if I have ever gotten into a fight. While I thought this would be the perfect discussion for he and his father to have rather than me... I proceeded to tell him about the one and only scrap I had ever gotten into which resulted in a 3 day suspension.

I still maintain that you defend yourself and not back down from a bully.
You did the right thing JL. Great story!

teri said...

I get so made that I want to fight but I don't like I cry. I think men have this same thing going on but they're not going to cry and so...they fight.(Maybe) And yes I have been in a fight. Usually if you step up to a girl, they will step down.