|©1999 by Spider Johnson||back to Essays|
Whipping someone's ass is a good feeling, regardless of doctrines to the contrary. As Conan the Barbarian said in the movie when asked "What is the best thing?", he replied, "To hear the cracking of your enemy's bones and the lamentations of his women!"
Not that I'm advocating fighting, by any means. Fighting for its own sake is foolish, dangerous and an increasing liability with age. It is inevitably accompanied by a malingering, omnipresent, low-grade fear that all males one encounters are potential combatants, and the associated adrenalin makes a man old before his time, edgy, ill-tempered and forever distracted away from any kind of otherwise worthwhile pursuit of happiness. It is a pox on humanity itself, a festering, throbbing pustule, yearning to be pricked and allow the venom to burst forth, giving a brief respite before it fills again and again, stalking for the next prey. I know, because I lived that life from adolescence until was 21 years old. Why would anyone ever advocate it?
When I was about 13 or 14, I went to a Saturday matinee with my pal Margo Mills, a long-time tomboy family friend whom I never regarded as a sweetheart, although she was by any standard a fine-looking lady. We had all kinds of fun together, and this particular movie-going occasion was no exception, particularly because it somewhat relieved the monotony of an otherwise dreary, windy and partly rainy late fall afternoon.
The movie had started, we were seated in the theater and I volunteered to go to the concession stand to get some popcorn, candy and drinks for us both. The concession was crowded, requiring the mostly-kids crowd to stand in lines. I was one kid away from the counter when a shorter, stouter, wise-cracking kid butted in front of me. "Hey! Don't butt in line," I told him immediately, pulling him by his arm as he smugly faced the counter, firmly shifting his weight foot-to-foot to resolutely establish his plundered ground.
He turned to me and threw an ineffective punch in my side, glowering as he said, "Aw, shuttup," then he faced the counter again, money in hand, ignoring me thereafter.
Outraged, hurt and embarrassed, I stepped out of line, whilch instantly halted the brief alarm our exchange had caused, then walked back toward the curtained doorway into the theater, scheming as I went. I knew what I had to do.
I was tall for my age, lanky and wiry, considerably tougher than I considered myself to be, for the most part a fun-loving, gregarious and peaceful kid. I was far from being one of the bullies that I had encountered in my neighborhood or at school or church, and I had always found a way out of a fight, either by getting whipped or running faster than they could (I shared being the fastest runner at my school) or by talking my way out of a fight. I was terrified by the idea of such violence, a terror that would haunt me for many years to follow. Now, at 13, I was an eighth-grader in a junior high school that was filled with tough guys from the opposite side of the school district I lived in, a part of town known for lower-income dropouts, a "class" of people my grandma characterized as "white trash." Their greasy, Elvis-styled hair, cocky manner and more mature bodies (many had repeated grades) intimidated me, suggesting that I was somehow inferior and hopelessly awkward, especially when around girls, because they seemed so confident and successful with them. It would not be until years later that I realized the shallow crudeness of their treatment and regard of women and the subsequent failure it produced in their relationships.
So, as a talisman of protection for myself, I carried with me in my boot a short piece of narrow, stiff sawblade I had found, like from a broken keyhole saw, pointed on one end and taped on the other to provide a makeshift handle and prevent me from being cut by the half-sharp teeth. Now, in the theater, I would wait just inside the doorway in the darkened theater with the weapon, and ambush the punk kid as he came through and was momentarily blinded. I waited like a hungry predator, calm in demeanor and intent in purpose as the adrenalin pumped throughout my body, and the minutes dragged on and on as I waited and waited, poised for attack each time the curtains parted. Then finally, the bully came through, arms laden with drinks and popcorn.
I pounced, grabbing him by his jacket lapels so powerfully and throwing him against the wall that he dropped his refreshments and inhaled loudly in astonishment. I held the blade up to his face with my right hand, his lapel by my left, growling, "You asshole, no one ever hits me in the side and gets away with it." His startled eyes wide, he pulls up his hands between mine and attempted to brush mine away, stuttering, "P-p-p-put that down!", causing me to drop the blade. I scrambled quickly for it on the carpeted, popcorn-and-ice littered floor, maintaining an unshakable grip on his jacket with my other hand.
After retrieving my blade and securing it back in my boot, I reached up and grabbed the frozen punk and threw him into the darker corner, away from the aisle where I first accosted him. There I began to send blow after blow into his soft body, raining anger and punishment on him, hardly noticing the passing little girl's exclamation as she entered and saw the donnybrook , then ran back out into the lobby. The kid began to whimper and cry, terrified by the thoroughness and strength of my sudden assault. Hopelessly countering my blows, he helplessly, futilely shielded himself as best he could as I pounded on with no thought except to annilhilate him.
The next thing I knew, strong hands grabbed me by my collar, lifting me up and away from the battle and dragged me out through the lobby toward the front door. The big summoned usher had both of us in hand and was summarily kicking us out of the movie house. I was thrown through the front door first, released from the iron grip, free to go anywhere except back into the theater, and I looked behind me to witness what happened next.
The punk was holding onto the door with both hands, feet dug in, latched so tightly the strong uniformed usher was halted in the act of evicting the boy. The kid was crying big tears now, pleading, "My momma's inside, I can't leave her, don't throw me out, please don't throw me out, please, please." My still-hot anger turned into contempt and pity at this whining momma's boy, the very picture of cowardice and defeat in that doorway. The usher relented, let the boy go and closed the door as I turned away and walked into the cold, misting rain, full of defiant satisfaction after the successful scrap. As I cooled off, I realized my friend Margo was waiting for me in the theater, so I walked across the street to the warmth inside a gas station and simply waited and watched the movie's doors. Sure enough, after a long while, Margo came out and found me, then I related the story to her understanding ears before we called her mom to pick us up and return to our routines.
As I have become older and realized the tragic loss of ancient tribal ways in the world, I notice how more lost in purpose societies have become. Our ancient tribal fathers were wiser in teaching their young, because they knew the value of pain as a teacher. They would initiate their adolescent men into their next phase of manhood with painful rituals designed to tame and teach at the same time. The body's memory of that pain would always associate whatever lesson the elders designated at the time. One lesson was paramount: as a warrior, you must protect the tribe, even with your life, if necessary. Protect the tribe from what or whom? From your enemies. There's something inside all males that remembers that ancient admonition, and that's what emerged for me in that theater with that punk, and the justice of it all, the feeling of thrill and abandon and finally, satisfaction, comes from those long-dead elders, and it is good and right. It is, in this age of all-reaching law and peace-mandated society, a valid part of the dark side of males which must be expressed appropriately or it will sicken and fester if left repressed in our souls, then erupt disastrously, perversely and with far greater consequences than some single ass-whipping or even a small tribal skirmish. Given current technology's extension of the arm, the whole world's fate could be at stake.
So, yes, there are times when whipping someone's ass is appropriate and the most useful means of resolving an issue. Sometimes, when a bully tries to dominate you, it is far more beneficial to the entire world to whip his ass immediately than to seek justice through litigation or even mediation, because the bully's commitment is not to peaceful co-existence or justice or anything except to see others bend under his authoritative thumb. An ass-whipping can remind him, through physical pain, of the ancient elders' admonition and perhaps pull him back within the due bounds of peaceful modern tribal co-existence. Litigation rarely succeeds to that end; litigation only entrenches his righteousness and resolve to "get even." He has to know, deeply, that he is not bigger than the tribe, and physical pain may be the only way. In very important and basic ways, we're not so far removed our our ancient ancestors as we'd like to think.
How can a man know when to fight, when not to? How can he avoid that life of "fighting for its own sake" which leads to obsession and suffering? I recall a Kung Fu Master's advice to a young student who asked the same question: "Seek always justice, never revenge." Was I motivated by revenge as a 13-year old kid in that theater? No. I simply, instinctively, responded to the unjust actions of a bully, a bully who may or may not have learned his life's lesson on how to treat his fellow humans, but he at least learned it that day with me, and I suspect it has lingered with him. In a way, I heard the sound of his bones crushing and the lamentations of his women as he whimpered and cried for his mother, and it was deeply satisfying to my sense of justice. And my lesson? That was the beginning of my letting go of that omnipresent fear of annihilation around all males, one that waxed and waned through many subsequent and more devastating fights until I let it go with a finality that freed my soul as much as any of the other great revelations I've had. I haven't been in a fight in almost thirty years, and I'm not looking for one. But I know that dark side is there, available, ready and waiting if I need to call upon it.
And I will, if I need to. And if I do, it will be satisfying, because more than ever, more than anything, I now know what justice is, and I know the satisfaction of hearing my enemy's bones crushing. And it will be right and good.
--©8/22/99, 11:52 AM by Spider Johnson