The life of the American male is marked with multiple rights of passage. Riding a bike. Tying your shoes. Bedding a woman. Buried within these milestones is a controversial occasion that has been both commended and condemned.
I’m talking about punching another man in the face. Or, having another man punch you.
A fistfight is one of those reluctant accomplishments. Your father may beam with pride when he recalls the time he laid a bastard out who long had it coming, or he may regrettably reveal his own defeat for your preventative benefit. Generally, the 21st century view on violence is that it tends to drop off as you grow older and wiser. (Though not always the case, especially if you become a professional hit man. Or Ninja). I remember the few skirmishes I had in high school and they were delightfully pathetic. Some “come at me, Bro” baiting followed by a fleeting exchange of paltry blows until either sides’ boys, lax teammates or even impartial teen club security broke it up. Injuries rarely extended beyond a black eye and beefs were often deaded with a handshake by Monday morning. Regardless of the outcome, you were left with some unwarranted sense of self-confidence, as if your barely-connecting left jab solidified your status as a real man.
That changed quickly.
In college, I bore witness to some legitimate brawls; replete with fractured skulls and costly litigation, not to mention the palpable shunning of those involved by family and friends. I saw lives irrevocably altered because of soured drug deals and squabbles over sorority sisters. Thankfully, I was never directly involved. But I did learn first hand that when it came to scrapping, the ends rarely justified the means.
Unfortunately, I’ve been forced to reexamine that lesson many times.
I live in New York City, where it is necessary to engage in close-quartered interactions with people of different origins, worldviews, anger issues, levels of self-control and degrees of sobriety on a constant basis. Naturally, conflict is bound to occur. And it has. My buddy Aaron told me a story that made me cringe not at the choices he made, but because I know I would have made the exact same ones. He was waiting to use the urinal at some bar, when a drunken ex-frat star pushed his way ahead. Aaron piped up “Hey man. I was waiting here”. “So? What the f*ck are you gonna do about it?” If this were a few years earlier, Aaron would have slammed this schmuck’s head into the porcelain. But what could he do? He’s 24 years old. Is he going to show up to his desk job with a split chin? Explain to potential clients that he had to lay someone out? What if it didn’t go the way he wanted to? What if the frat boy was there with seven of his buddies, all sexually frustrated and ready to pop off? What if he wasn’t a frat boy at all, but a crazy motherf*cker who carried a gun? The variables were innumerable. So Aaron stood there in silence; humbled, emasculated, and egregiously disrespected. Still, why did Aaron’s right choice feel so wrong?
We are naturally combative creatures, imbued with genetic code that has been guiding us for 200,000 years to hold our own and protect those we cherish. The world we live has decidedly put a halt to these feelings of physicality. Thus, it is only expected that we will feel like sh*t when these instincts are suppressed. Being the bigger man is far more difficult for a very scientific reason. And yet, I shudder when I remember my own experience with backing down. I was walking down 3rd Avenue with my girlfriend when a man recklessly shoulder checked me.
“Watch it.” I said, and continued walking.
We were nearly on the next block when I felt a tap on the same shoulder.
“You wanna go?” He lowered himself into a football stance, bouncing ever so slightly.
“What? I’m not gonna fight you.” I said, pulling my lady close.
And then a smirk rose from his lips.
“I’m gonna f*ck her”.
At that point, I would have been entirely justified in throwing myself upon this human garbage. But between her pleadings to not engage and my recollection of Aaron’s variables, I declined and we left the man to his brown paper bag of booze and cigarette.
It was the right choice. And it felt horrible.
The worst part is that despite her vocalized relief that I didn’t lose it, I felt as if my girlfriend was secretly disappointed. So while we can all acknowledge that violence isn’t the answer, we can all admit that abstaining from it, in a moment that feels so warranted, absolutely sucks.
That about wraps it up. Any stories about your experiences in fisticuffs? Share ‘em in the comments section!
Krum is an NYC based comedian and you can follow him on Twitter @KrumLifeDotCom