It’s been a while since I’ve done an On Fighting post, and I just recently had an interesting experience that got me thinking.
The whole thing took place at the retirement party of a guy who’d been a former lieutenant of mine, and it was being held at a very nice country estate. Me and several of the guys from my former team were going to surprise him by showing up.
We’re all pretty friendly guys and have never been the type to start anything with anybody else. Most of the time we are the ones soothing the hurt feelings and getting everyone to have a good time together. And, on this particular night, I was the designated driver and so I was maintaining a nominal level of sobriety (although I’d already made the mistake of driving my Chevy 2500 down the front walk of this very fine estate, observing to my passengers that these old-timey driveways were really freakin’ narrow).
So, we’re all there having a good time on the front porch of the estate house, taking a smoke break, when along comes this guy. I don’t recall his name. We’ll call him Chad.
Chad is one of those guys that, just at a glance, you can tell they think they’re King Shit. He’s wearing some paisley pattern shirt that is a size too small for him, the buttons open at the chest to reveal his manscaped pectorals. And normally this would not be cause for much eye-rolling on my part, except that it is about twenty degrees out and clearly someone (Chad) is far more willing to freeze to death than run the risk of people not knowing that he works out.
Chad also has an “Operator Beard,” which is when you grow your facial hair for the sole purpose of trying to convince everyone that you are fresh from a war zone where you were dropping bodies. The type of beard that is worn by the type of guy that claims he was a Navy SEAL, but after questioning concedes that he actually just worked with Navy SEALs, and after even further questioning admits that he actually just worked for a dive shop that occasionally filled their oxygen tanks (that’s a true story, by the way).
So, having scoped the crowd, as is my custom, I had already taken to thinking of Chad as “That Closet Navy SEAL Over There.”
Anyways, Chad approaches in his full regalia (open-chested, smedium shirt, manscaped, Operator Beard, just to review) and he interjects himself into our group conversation (quite rudely, I might add), and I’m sure nothing else would have come of it, except that he chose a very poor time to interject.
At that very moment, one of my friends is asking the other just how cold his beer is.
This is a well-worn exchange amongst us, and we all know what’s coming next, although, apparently Chad does not.
The traditional exchange goes a little like this:
“Mm. This beer is cold.”
“Oh yeah? How cold is it?”
“Well…it’s pretty cold.”
“If you were to try to quantify just how cold it was, how would you describe it?”
“Ooh, that’s tough. It’s…it’s really cold.”
“Just try. What word would you use to describe how cold it is?”
This can go on for quite some time, the beer-holder making a show of searching through his vast lexicon for just the right word to describe the frigidity of his beverage, but at some point, when the feeling is just right, the beer-holder must find the most unsuspecting person in the group and shout as loudly as possibly, “ICE COLD!”
Unfortunately, at the moment that Chad decides to join our group conversation, he is, in fact, the most unsuspecting person in the group.
He receives a bit of a jolt as my friend (we’ll call him John) leans over and shouts “ICE COLD!” at him.
Then things go downhill very quickly.
“The fuck was that?” Chad demands.
Poor John, expecting a laugh and not getting one, just smiles awkwardly.
“You got a fuckin’ problem or something?” Chad says, starting to huff.
“All I got’s an ice cold beer.” John tries.
Chad is pacing now. Flexing. Showing how massively swollen his lats are–so swollen that his arms can’t possibly hang naturally at his sides. The human equivalent of a bird fluffing its feathers to try to look big.
“Cause if you got some sorta fuckin problem with me,” Chad says, raising his voice and setting his beer down, “Then we can handle that shit right now.”
Realizing that he is not going to get a laugh, and that his joke has fallen as pearls before swine, John is now serious. Now, understand also that John is not a slouch in the physical realm, and I have no doubt he could have handled Chad most expeditiously, manscaped pectorals or no. But, being a gentleman by nature, John chooses to attempt to soothe Chad’s chapped hindquarters.
“It’s just a joke, man. Just somethin’ stupid we do.”
Chad’s not having any of it. “You can’t just shout in my ear like that! That’s fucked up! You wanna fuckin fight then we’ll fight! I just spent 90 days in the hospital because of a concussion grenade!”
This would become an oft-repeated refrain from Chad for the next five minutes of our time together, however, before you feel too bad for him, I’ll just go ahead and tell you that further questioning revealed this claim to be hyperbolized, if not a complete fabrication. Chad is an agent with DHS and had apparently been overseas at some point in time, but was never in combat of any sort. I don’t know where the concussion grenade thing came from.
Anyways, things are rapidly deteriorating, and John’s attempts at diplomacy are clearly not working. It seems that John is trying to be nice, and Chad thinks that means he can continue to be an ass, possibly believing that John is intimidated by his prodigious Operator Beard.
So I decide to lend a hand in bringing some closure to this situation.
I tell him that I’ll fight him, if he really wants to fight. I do it kindly, with a smile, as is my practice.
No, this is not my first proverbial rodeo.
Now, old Chad isn’t quite sure how to proceed at this point. He says “okay” and starts pacing around the front walk of this fine estate. It seems he doesn’t want to completely admit that he’s been bluffing, because that would be a blow to his pride, but I watch his eyes as they jag back and forth like he is searching for inspiration on how to extricate himself.
I try to reassure him. I tell him it will be fun. We’re just two guys that are gonna roll. It is totally okay. It’ll be a nice cap to the night. And yes, I truly do want to move forward with it. I don’t believe in bluffing. I understand that there is the possibility that Chad is going to whoop my ass–that’s always a possibility–and I’m okay with being whooped.
We get about halfway down the walk (presumably moving towards a place where our pugilistic proclivities will go unnoticed) before Chad’s tune begins to change.
“I mean,” he says, not shouting anymore. “Did I piss you off or something?”
I smile back at him. “No, brother. You didn’t piss me off. We’re just having some fun.”
“Cause if I pissed someone off, I’ll fuckin apologize.”
“No, of course not man. It’s not like that. It’s just so rare that I find someone else who really wants to fight, so this is gonna be fun. We got some bad energy that needs to be exercised, you know what I mean?”
We find a nice grassy spot. I’m looking forward to experiencing whatever comes next. Curious, you might say. Curious to see who I’m really dealing with.
“Why are y’all so mad at me?”
I try to assuage his fears. “I’m not mad at you, man. You wanted to fight. So we’re fighting.”
“Okay. I mean…I’ll fuckin fight.”
At this point in time I can see the Peacemaking Committee moving to interdict out of the corner of my eye–every group of guys has one, and on occasion I’ve been the chairman.
I’m a bit eager to get started, but Chad is standing with his hands in his pockets. He’s still on the sidewalk. I’m trying to coax him into the grass a bit more–don’t know if you’re ever gone to the ground on concrete, but it’s an experience I personally didn’t enjoy and don’t want to repeat.
“I mean…what’s happening?” he asks me.
I can see I’m losing him.
I can see the Peacemakers, only steps away, already holding up their hands to separate us, except that we’re not even touching. He still won’t take his hands out of his pockets. I lean forward and tell him it’s okay, we’re just gonna fight, and I put an arm on his shoulder to give it a friendly squeeze, at which point he finally removes a hand from his pocket, which he uses to bat my hand away, but that’s about the most aggression that comes out of him.
And then the Peacemakers are there, breaking up what never really began.
Chad looks momentarily relieved, and very confused. He blusters up a bit, like a fire that’s been stoked. But he doesn’t actually do anything. He seems convinced that we all hate him, when in fact, although I don’t care for the way he presents himself, he’s just a stranger to me, so how the hell could I possibly hate him? We all assure him that we don’t hate him.
I just wanted to fight him.
I try to explain this again, but the moment is lost.
He keeps repeating the concussion grenade thing. Absently now, like he barely believes it himself. However, my buddy from the Peacemaking Committee was a Marine with Fallujah under his belt, so he asks some probing questions and we quietly determine that Chad’s story is mostly bullshit. We don’t point this out to Chad, of course. He’s already humiliated. No need to rub it in.
Anyways, the moment is lost, we go have beers, there’s hugs all around.
That’s usually how these things end up.
Me, I’m left wondering what might have been.
Would he have knocked teeth down my throat?
Would I have choked him out?
I know I would have probably tried to triangle him.
But now we will never know.
Me and old Chad, we will never know each other like that.
I guess a fight is very revealing. When you go into that place with another human being, you learn a lot about each other. And I think that what I’ve learned, from this and a few other experiences, is that a lot of folks don’t want to be known. I think they’re afraid of coming up short, of having their inadequacies revealed.
I don’t know how that little tussle would have ended, but I know that there is a big difference between me and Chad.
The difference is, I was willing to find out.
And the fact that he wasn’t is going to eat at him.
And I feel bad for him because of that. Because he’s not even willing to explore the edges of his own map.
I never want to be afraid to be known.