The last time I got into a real fight was in 6th grade. I can’t remember what caused it, but I’m pretty sure I started it. It was a new student named Tien and he pushed all the wrong buttons in me. I just couldn’t stand him– and for no reason at all. After one of many fights with him, I came home looking like I’d been dragged through the mud (I was), and he went home with the mark of my tennis shoe stamped on his face. The next day, they found the culprit by examining everyone’s shoes, and I was dumb enough to wear the same shoes.
In retrospect, I realize I was a big bully. I mean, I was scrawny and skinny, but I made up with some serious verbal abuse. It was a big problem; not so much any more, but something I’ve worked on over the years.
Years later I understand, that it was not that he pushed my buttons, but it was that I pushed all the wrong buttons in him. Tien was a genuinely nice guy: new in school and just trying to fit in. I was a bully, and got into verbal fights that tended to escalate until one day my dad said that if he got called one more time into the principal’s office that we were moving, or at the very least I was getting home schooled. That was incentive enough… I never got in a fight again, well… until today.
I don’t know if anyone remembers the movie “My cousin Vinny”. There’s this scene when Vinny, played by Joe Pesci, is having just one of those days. The usual bully comes up to him with some promised money in order to fight him– something he’d been avoiding for weeks. But this day, instinct took over, patience was thin, and he just punched the guy: end of story.
I’m usually quite tame. My friend Roy usually complains that I’m a push over, and I never fight back, but more often than not, it’s just not worth it. Life is a lot simpler when you just stay cool. Today was not one of those days…
I went to lunch with my parents in a quaint little town, filled with drunken tourists that were walking around with a wine glass in one hand and a Prada bag, or whatever bag it is people walk around with in high end places.
As we’re walking back from the restaurant to the car, a guy holding a coffee cup in one hand while riding a cruiser bike almost runs into my parents– while we have the right of way, and in the cross walk no less. I’m trying to steer my aging parents out of way (don’t mention I said aging), and the guy slows down enough to look us in the eye, and say “you fucking morons, get out of the fucking way”. He then proceeds to continue the insult fest, while I’m standing dumbfounded, and my mom is nervously maneuvering to the safety of the side-walk.
I don’t know what hit me, but I just lost it. Instinct took over. I felt the rush of feelings to my head and I got shaky. “You better pedal hard, because I’m coming after you”– I screamed. He looks back, flips me off, and mumbles some more insults. “Oh, you better go really fast”, I retorted.
Meanwhile my mom is nervous, my dad is boiling, and I start running down the road, thinking I can run faster than the average middle aged man on a bike. Call it a momentary lapse of reason. I chase him down, get in his way, and he stops, ready to start the cussing once again, until I cut him off and snap, “do you WANT to fix this? Because we could fix this right now, just get off the damn bike, bitch.” I don’t know… I must’ve seen it on TV. Blame it on Satan. I don’t care.
At this point I don’t know what I was expecting. I do weigh 145 pounds to his 200. It was like having a chihuahua chasing down a rottweiler and barking at him. I had a dog like that once, a chihuahua no less, and he won the great majority of fights against dobermans and rottweilers, except his last one (a valiant and heroic death no less). I guess I was secretly hoping he’d back down and I wouldn’t have to share Beethoven’s fate. I angrily blurted: “you just touch me once”.
I had no plan B. I was out of my league; merely infuriated in my insanity to save my mother’s honor, I guess. As we were standing nose to nose, me ready to let him have all 145 pounds of bones of me, I hear an out of breath voice behind me. It was the same voice that lulled me to sleep each night as a child. It was the voice that cheered me when I made a basket, and the one that whispered behind me as I learned to ride a bike “just keep pedaling; I’ve got you”. The same voice that corrected me when I misbehaved and the one I dreaded after my mom said “your dad will talk to you when he comes back”. All it said was “sir, you just get off the bike”.
I looked back, and there, 9 feet tall, with arms as strong as mountains, and with a stern look, stood my dad– gray haired and old, but as imposing as ever. He nods at me with the slightest hint of a smirk, and I swear I could read his face “don’t worry, I’ve got your back”.
I turn into the guy on the bike, who promptly drops his coffee, gets on his bike, and drives off, mouth wide shut. I nervously walk back to the car, where my mom is less than amused, and I ask my dad “do you think that guy will ever bully people like that again?”. He smiles and says “I don’t know, but I’m sure he’ll think twice before doing so.”
I have no excuse, and hopefully I won’t be as stupid ever again. I don’t know what happened today, but I do hope that if I ever get into a fight, I have my dad looking over my back.