I don’t know if this kind of stuff happens to everybody, or if I’m a magnet for nuts.
I’m sitting here at the window seat of this sports bar eating some french fries. This guy is sitting two seats down from me drinking a pitcher of beer. He’s seemingly normal-looking; neatly-dressed and neatly-groomed, a 6-foot white guy. Could pass for an up-and-coming 30-year-old business executive on his lunchbreak. But he keeps making these weird noises, so I’m slightly wary of him and keeping an eye on him out of the corner of my eye, just in case the situation escalates. Which it does.
Suddenly he lurches over towards me holding his pitcher of beer in the air and gesturing like he’s going to pour some beer into my cup of lemonade. “Care to join me?” he says.
“No thanks,” I say, “I’m drinking lemonade. But thanks.”
He returns to his seat. But then suddenly he lurches back at me and grabs a hand full of my french fries.
“HEY PUT THOSE BACK!” I shout. “KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF OF MY FOOD!!”
He puts the french fries back. But he keeps leering at me with this crazy smile on his face. And then he advances again towards my french fries.
“GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!!” I shout. “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM MY FOOD.”
But he’s not backing down. He keeps standing there like he’s considering making another grab at my french fries. So I jump up and confront him face to face.
“YOU DON’T TOUCH OTHER PEOPLE’S FOOD!! WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU!!” GET AWAY FROM ME!!” I am ready to fight to the death to protect my french fries (preferably his).
He makes another move towards me. “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME, MAN!!” I repeat. “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!!!” I generally like to keep a quiet low-profile in public. But now every person in the bar is staring at me. Sometimes you end up the star of the movie whether you want to be or not.
The bar security guy comes over to find out what the disturbance is all about. “THIS NUT KEEPS GRABBING AT MY FOOD!!” I explain. The security guard engages the nut in conversation, explains to him that he has to leave the premises. Finally the nut picks up his large duffel bag full of his stuff and heads on out the door. But he doesn’t leave, he stands there in the doorway for some time like he’s considering coming back in. The security guy goes back outside, chats with him further, and FINALLY he heads on down the road. No doubt in pursuit of bigger and better things.
I gave up a long time ago trying to figure out people like that. Some people are just a.) nuts, b.) assholes, c.) on drugs, or d.) some inexplicable combination of the three.
Gina is a long-time Berkeley street person. Completely bat crazy. Doesn’t so much talk in English but makes these weird animal sounds.
I remember one New Years Eve we’re all hanging out on the sidewalk outside Larry Blake’s right after midnight, ringing in the new year. Everybody buzzed and mellow. And Gina starts coming on to this guy, caressing him and hugging him. It’s New Years Eve and everybody’s getting a little loose after all. And suddenly she grabs hold of the guy by the hair and won’t let go and starts screaming “RAPE! RAPE! RAPE!” Ha ha. And for a second — as they’re violently grappling back and forth and he’s frantically trying to escape from Gina’s clutches — everybody thought she was fending off this guy who was trying to rape her. . . Fortunately — before people started beating the poor guy’s ass — people figured out what was going on.
One time I was hanging out at my vending table listening to the radio on my boom box. And the song “Angel is a Centerfold” by J. Geils came on — this song about this guy who’s dismayed to find out that his high school girlfriend had become a porno model. Gina happened to be passing by and when she heard that song she came charging over at me with a big crazy smile on her face: “THA’S MAH’ FAVORITE SONG!!” she said. And she stood there by the radio, singing/yelping along to the song and laughing like a loon.
Gina always made me a little nervous because she was so unpredictable. She was like a wild animal. She’s wasn’t a bad person really. Just really damaged and “out there.” She has some kind of brain damage, and most likely coupled with childhood trauma and abuse. You meet all kinds of unique and unusual people on the street scene, that’s for sure.
The most memorable moment of the Warriors – Cavs game?
End of the 3rd quarter I go into the restroom of the sports bar to urinate. As I’m urinating this guy sidles up to the urinal next to me.
“HOW YOU DOIN’ MY MAN??” he shouts.
“Fine,” I says. “How are you doing?”
“OK!!” he shouts. “I HAVENT SEEN YOU AROUND IN AWHILE!!”
“I’ve been around,” I says.
Evidently he knows me. I have no idea who he is. This happens to me often these days. Where some guy I don’t know, knows me. And I always wonder: Do they REALLY know who I am? Or are they just saying that for some reason??
“HOW DO YOU LIKE THE GAME SO FAR??” he shouts.
“Warriors looking good,” I says.
So now I’m making smalltalk with some stranger standing right next to me while I’m drunk and trying to urinate. One of my least favorite things to do. But what can I do? I’m trapped. I can’t stop urinating in mid-stream. So I’m stuck there.
“I HATE THE WARRIORS!!” he shouts, with a hard edge of anger in his voice.
“Oh really?” I says.
So now my attempt at dull banal “sports small-talk” has an added complication. He obviously has some kind of axe to grind. So now I have to think about what he’s saying. And I hate having to think when I’m drunk.
“ALL THESE PEOPLE OUT THERE WEARING THEIR WARRIORS JERSEYS!! WHERE WERE THEY WHEN THE WARRIORS WERE LOSING!!”
“I guess they’re just fair-weather fans,” I says.
“EXACTLY!!!” he shouts.
So I’ve at least managed to say something that would placate him. And we ended our urination on a pleasant note.
I zipped up my pants and went back out to my table and my pitcher of beer and watched the fourth quarter. The End.
Pappy’s was packed like sardines for game 7, Golden State Warriors vs Houston Rockets.
The highlight, the best play of the game, for me?
The young black couple that were sitting right in front of me decided to leave at halftime. This Asian woman who jumped in there to get their vacated seats noticed that they had left their wallet on the floor. She grabbed the wallet. Looked around. “They went that’away,” I said, pointing down the street. She ran outside and chased after them.
I just had a weird scene. I’m at this sports bar on the Ave watching the Warriors game minding my own business. And, for no discernible reason, this total stranger, this drunken lunatic, goes off on me and starts throwing punches at me. “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU??!!” I said, as I’m dodging the blows. To my credit, I didn’t spill a drop of the cup of beer in my hand as I’m rolling with the punches.
Then I go to the Park, I’m hanging out with the boys, telling them the story about this nut going off on me for no apparent reason. And then another stranger, this Asian college student, shows up and says: “HEY, I HAVE FOUR BOXES OF FRESH PIZZA IF ANYBODY IS HUNGRY.”
And that’s cool. But the confusing philosophical question is this: One stranger wants to fuck with me for no apparent reason. And another stranger wants to help me for no apparent reason. And neither of them makes any apparent sense. . . . Though I have to believe it all makes sense on some level. . . . I guess that’s my ultimate philosophical leap of faith: That this life makes sense. Even when it often doesn’t seem to.
* * *
The actual “fight” was surreal because it was so sudden and unexpected. Like a shark attack or something. The basketball game had just ended (Warriors lost to the Cavs — darn darn darn). I still had some of my pitcher of beer left, but I felt like splitting, so I poured the remaining beer into a to-go coffee cup for the road. Then I went down to the basement to take a quick piss in the men’s room. But there were all of these sketchy people milling around in there. And the place was a mess. Totally trashed-out. Some idiot had dumped the entire contents of the garbage can into the toilet. So I went to the next stall, but there’s an empty whiskey bottle in that toilet. Always a bad sign. People who slam straight whiskey are amongst the worst specimens in the grand pantheon of Bad Drunks.
Unlike, say, beer-drinkers, who generally aspire towards this slow, gradual progression to goofy, sloppy drunkenness, pounding straight whiskey is like slamming fire directly into your bloodstream. It is more like shooting speed where you get this immediate adrenaline rush right to your brain. Along with this fiendish, demented clarity. And this Dr. Jekkyl – Mr. Hyde transformation where this monstrous side of your personality is suddenly being released. In fact, that’s often precisely WHY the whiskey-binger drinks — as an excuse to release all of his pent-up repressions.
Anyways, I leave the men’s room in disgust without even taking a leak. This young Latino guy in a blue Warriors jersey immediately follows me out of the men’s room, pushes his chest into mine and angrily confronts me.
“DID YOU SPLASH ME??” he said
“No, I didn’t splash you,” I said. “What are you talking about?”
“YOU SPLASHED ME IN THERE!!” he said.
I made a bee-line back upstairs. Grabbed my backpack and started organizing myself for my departure. Then I noticed through the front window that the guy with the Warriors jersey was right outside on the sidewalk, pacing back and forth and glaring at me like he’s waiting for me to come out. What the fuck. How did I get myself in the middle of this? I killed a few minutes milling around with the people at the bar, figuring the guy would get distracted (whiskey-bingers usually have the attention-span of a flea) and go off in search of some other victim. Then I darted out the front door and headed up Telegraph Avenue in the opposite direction of the asshole.
I darted up Durant Street thinking I had escaped from the asshole. Only to realize, to my dismay, that the asshole had followed me and was running towards me shouting: “YOU SPLASHED ME!!”
I turned and confronted him: “No I didn’t splash you,” I said.
“Oh. OK,” he said. “I’m a nice guy.” That seemed to placate him. He turned and started walking back towards the bar.
“All right, cool cat,” I said. Thinking we had resolved the grievance. Whatever the hell the grievance had actually been.
Instead, he turned around and shouted at me: “WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY TO ME??!!”
Then he charged at me and started pummeling me with punches. I had my arms up protectimg my head, so even though he was flailing away at me, none of the punches did any damage, except for one that hit my knuckle (it was a little sore the next day). And hopefully the Asshole broke a few bones in his hands while he was flailing away.
“WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU??” I asked, in all sincerity.
Which seemed to strike a nerve with the Asshole. Probably because it’s a question he grapples with on a daily basis. So he turned and headed back to the bar. And the whole thing was over as quickly as it had started.
I walked over to People’s Park. And I started giving Hate Man a blow-by-blow account of this interaction. Mostly just trying to make sense of this weird and inexplicable intrusion into my evening. Off in the distance I could hear the sounds of police cars and ambulance sirens rushing off in the general direction of the bar. No doubt the third or fourth act (and hopefully the final act) of the Asshole’s melodrama for this evening. . .
Sometimes I think there’s something a little unmanly about me. Because I generally go out of my way to avoid getting in fights. Even when someone sincerely deserves to get their fucking ass beat. I guess I feel kind of squeamish about physical violence. I find all that “macho” stuff vaguely ridiculous. Even as I’m 6-foot, about 200 pounds, and could probably do some damage if somebody really pushed me. . . Every now and then someone will push me too far, and I’ll actually start throwing punches back at the asshole. But the problem is: After a minute or two, my rage will subside and I’ll feel like a fool dancing around in public throwing punches. I’ll complete lose interest in the fight. But I have to will myself to keep fighting, because you can’t just stop at the point, because the other guy is still flailing away. You can’t just stop dancing in the middle of a dance. Once you make that commitment you’ve got to play the whole stupid thing out to it’s conclusion.
I guess my attitude, re avoiding fights, is this: “It’s a big world. And the whole point is to occupy a part of it that doesn’t include the Asshole.” That attitude seems to make sense. So I’m sticking with it until further notice.