Self Conscious, the J Eric Miller blog

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Fight Club. A Sport and a Pastime. A Brave Man.

--Friend and colleague LD comes into the office visibly upset, having obviously steeled himself. He closes the door, my door, an act of aggression.

I want to have a word with you, he says.

I know this is no good.

You want to see that I'm a brave man? he asks. Then stand up.

I stand.

I don’t like it. This all feels wrong. Not just the violence that’s about to come down—perhaps, in fact, that will be the cleanest part of it. But the mess of grapevine and misunderstanding that must have lead him here, this all makes me tired.

Even makes me a little sad.

And it comes to me, this blog.

I square up and try to think of what it was I wrote that brought this on.

It is easy to be misunderstood or too well understood.

--In the other part of my mind there is that distance that comes before the fight, when you see it like a spectator, like a guy playing a video game, when you acknowledge the things in the room and the space between, when you mark out exactly over what the other person can be caused to trip backwards or forward; when you decide if you will aim to pummel or pull forward; when in thisonesecond you try to guess your opponent’s plans and step ahead of them.

There’s the dull pre-fight thrill, like drums far away, excited and exciting but muted.

--You can’t afford to think about it from anything but a distance.
The way that while you’re in it, you can’t afford to think of an accident from anything but a distance, lest panic deliver you up.

--And I’m still thinking in some other part of my mind: this sucks.
Thinking: aren’t you done making enemies yet?

Thinking: haven’t you settled yourself?
Accepted in lieu of real competition games of chess and occasional football afternoons?
Just the way you’ve mostly accepted slow and not always final seduction in lieu of that numbers game boys sport fucking?

Yet here you are, in the face of an enemy you don’t think you intended.
In some alpha male thing you meant to outgrow but haven’t outgrown.

--There’s nothing to do about it.

You remember how punches don't hurt when you’re fighting.
You remember that a punch never settles it anyway.
You remember that when you fight you go for the throat, the elbow, the incapacitation.

You think vaguely and briefly of the time in Beirut when there was a fight in the streets and all around you men were at each other and the one amongst them whose head was open and who kept trying to stand but wobbling back down and there was blood all about and there were bottles breaking and the soldiers had waded in outnumbered and slightly panicked and shoving with their rifles, and you did not move away from anyone or toward anyone but stood in the middle of it like the calm eye, miraculously unmolested, perhaps so far out of place in all that chaos that you were invisible.

You think of the thrill of it.
You think of all those primal things.

--And you think: haven’t I learned just to spectate?
Haven’t I outgrown all of these things?

--And his face breaks into a grin.
And he says: Got you.

--It’s healthy at best and interesting at least to be out of the real sense of things. Like in that moment between when someone leaps out to scare you and when you actually recognize it as a friend.

In that half second when there is absolutely no difference to your heart or your mind between this counterfeit emergency and one that was real, when there is no difference between the jokester and a killer with a knife.

--You try to know if you are a brave man or a coward.

--I think of the time at the subway station in San Francisco when four men had attacked another man. The man was beaten badly. He’d dropped his motorcycle helmet and his nose was broken in a way I’d have never believed, like Nichols Cage’s at the end of Wild at Heart.

I was a kid then, I’d grown up on violence, but I’d never seen it taken so far. I’d grown up on fights but never witnesses pure assault, never seen somebody bent on the act of destruction of another body.

It was that trip too that for the first time I stepped into a porno shop and saw all the video covers and magazines, not just the stuff I’d grown up on, but the hardcore reality of people doing everythingyoucanimagine and with cameras up close, and I realized: this stuff really exists; people do all these things.

People don’t just make out and make love and goof around; they go hard core and all down and what is left after that?

And violence.

In the subway station, where people weren’t just playing pecking order games but meaning to change someone’s life.

--They were telling him, get on the train.

He stood there wobbling, not getting on the train.

People had peeled away. My friend, DG, he went to the other side of the pole. Leave it alone, he said.

And they came forward and hit the man several times. He was bleeding worse now. They stepped back.

A man with a suit on and a girl beside him was watching, glad I suppose, that he’d not been chosen and feeling untouchable because of it.

One of the assailants asked him what the fuck he was looking at. He turned, taking the hand of the girl, and was safe.

The train door was open. The people were watching from inside of it.
I realized the man couldn’t get on the train.
They kept telling him too.
I don’t know why they were beating him, but I suppose maybe they wanted to stop and that’s why they wanted him on the train.
Maybe they knew if he didn’t get out of there they’d beat him until he was dead and they didn’t want that.

At that moment, I was brave.

I walked to him. I meant to take him to the train.

As I reached for him, one of the assailant came flying past, and landed a kick in the man’s chest. He stumbled back, onto the train, and as if it had been scripted and the choreographed, the doors closed.

I waited for something to happen to me, but nothing did.

--Years later, in my apartment with my wife in the late night I heard sudden explosions and went to the window.

I saw that in the parking below a man stood by the dumpster enclosure pointing a hand gun at somebody hidden by the enclosure but clearly on the ground.

It was a young man. There was a woman standing behind him, looking afraid.

It was my opportunity to be a hero.

I’d run down the steps and out the door and like a cat across the lawn and tackle down the shooter.

But I wasn’t brave that day.

I couldn’t move. My legs went soft. I gagged.

I was frozen and useless, no hero.

--And my eyes adjusted and I saw that what the man held was a pipe and that there was nobody on the ground but that he’d been beating on the side of the dumpster container with his pipe.

And the girl behind him, she wasn’t afraid. She was laughing.

--In my office, for those five seconds when I don’t know better, the question was not of courage or cowardice. It takes neither to fight.

The question is of fatigue.

The fear that no matter how you relate to another man, at the end of it all, he believes that you want to beat him at something.

The way that you fear that no matter how you relate to a woman, at the end of it all she believes you want to sleep with her.

The deeper fear, that thing that you purposefully doubt: maybe, at the end of it all, they’re right.

For those four or five seconds.

--And I think of LD now, the particular expression: You want to see that I’m a brave man?

Brave man.

And it takes courage to muster that even for a few seconds; not because of the threat of violence but because it is a kind of male confession, the one we always should be making, that we are concerned with how the world sees us, whether the world things we are brave men.

For he might have said anything to build his joke but he chose something honest—that he means to be considered a brave man.

He belied himself, and us all.

I like that about him.