Growing up, I was never a badass. Sometimes it took courage to not be a victim. Sometimes I was fury, sometimes one-step-ahead, or, out there paddling, trying to stay afloat. Maybe just like you? There were times when anger ruled my young life and people got out the damned way and I thought fear was power, for reasons, or, something else even better. A tool for conflict? In any case, I just wanted people to like me as I learned how to be in this world.
There is a difference between not being a badass and not being a chump, and growing up is hard. It helps if you’re a bit of a show-off, a little hammy – this gets your brain past the first step. Pro-Tip: Conflict occurs. It’s always worked best for me to disarm. Perspective is truth, remember, in our opportunistic fashion; you read the room.
Every kid needs to learn to stand up for themself. In my old neighborhood, also being the new kid, there were plenty of opportunities until it was no longer necessary. Every kid needs to know when, how, and to what level. Every kid will fail until they don’t, but you don’t accept the ‘wet noodle’ designation without a fight, as it were. You don’t just let the world call you a thing, or think you a way, that you know you are not, as an example. You can lose all day, that’s different, and, by ‘kid’ I mean a 6 or 73 year old. Sometimes it takes folks a while. This must be accomplished. It is never ending.
Many people find confrontation or conflict difficult. This makes life harder, I think. There was never a time where I sought to do-no-good, but there were so many times the world got up in my face and drew a line at my feet, in the sand – there were so many times the world had a different idea about what was to happen next. How does one ignore, or, run from that? How does one crumble, or choose to ‘not deal’? How does one not realize the incredible opportunity at their feet?
Mike Tyson said one time – everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the face. Sublime in its truth, a warning and invitation, both. You will get punched in the face. The world is asking what kind of person you are, if you’re worth the air it provides you. It’s about how you respond to the punch, and it’s about love. How much you love yourself, how much you love the world, and how much you love the opportunity. Love is a motherfucker. I just told you – you will be punched in the face.
Sometimes you’re early to the show and you and your pal are just getting high, wandering the abandoned train station, when, bam – there’s a whole line of motherfuckers standing in front of us – from outta nowhere, with weapons – gulp. Sometimes the big kids are trying to snatch your bike, run over your balls, sometimes that loud giant hateful person is trying for the same seat as you, sometimes someone just called you stupid right in front of everybody in a way that you didn’t get, because you may be stupid…Sometimes that squared-away, handsome, fit, charming, jerk just decided to step all over you to look good in front of a crowd – like that one time I was 15 at a burger king, standing in line behind him, with my friends.
He was a little bit loud and everything attention getting in a way people didn’t not like. He was charming and all the things and he decided to zoom right in on me, to ‘pick a fight’, to just be a twat. I didn’t know it at the time, but, I was a bit of competition to him in the same space. I got attention in crowds, too. Eeesh. Anyway, this guy decided to mock me, I don’t remember what he said, but I sure remember the sting, the moment, the line in the sand and the conflict I couldn’t ignore.
It was unexpected and it was awesome.
He got his order, a shake, and turned around to face me and I just smiled and put out my hand. He had no idea what was coming. I wish I was still this cool, fuk!! He took my hand, smiling, ready to decimate me, but before he knew it his shake was flying in the air and he was twisted up against the counter, wrist bent up, buried between his shoulder blades, helpless and wincing.
He groveled; 3 long seconds. Was such a moment for me, such a victory, that I showed my kids the move, loved them up with confidence, danced around in the happy. I didn’t tell them much of the story, I just showed them the move. They were probably too young.
I had that guy up against the counter in less than a breath, his shake a mess on the floor. Everybody saw. Everybody. I pushed his wrist up a little more. Point being made, I released him and stepped back away from him and threw 3 bucks on the counter, for his shake (ok, actually that is pretty badass). I said nothing. He backed up a couple paces, looked around, and made haste out of that burger king. At 15 I was the size I am now, sports, all that – I’d been in plenty of scraps and this guy had perfect hands so there was no way he was about to resort to any of that nonsense. I had picked my moment well. I was the man.
Some folks would see the story as a happy conclusion and stop here, but, it wasn’t all roses. Sure, the ‘world’ just saw some kid take on a grown-ass dickhead and emerge ‘victorious’, it saw some kid stand up for himself in a colorful way, even a little bit funny, but, my victory was a bit pyrrhic, to my shame. I was with 3 of my neighborhood friends, one of whom was a woman and a few years older than me, she could ‘buy’. She was a sister to one of the other friends with me. He was a year younger than I, as was the other kid. Stella (obvious fake name) was actually put off by my actions, even a little scared, she would later say. She didn’t even have to tell me because I saw it on her face, heard it in her voice as we were leaving. The ‘conflict’ I had just navigated begat further conflict of a different shade. Life is hard – WTF?! Didn’t that guy deserve it? Didn’t he call me out? Wasn’t I supposed to? Smiling mid-50’s me, writing this – to my kids, of course – knows that question never goes away.
There will always be conflict – get two people in a room – and you gotta be able to deal with it. The moral of this story is simple: there is a dichotomy to success and to failure. Sometimes you can ‘win’, but, you can’t make a notch. What have you won? Sometimes you stand before the world, arms raised high, and they are shouting for you, with you, and there is a fervor, and everybody is a fucking monster.