“I feel weird,” I said as we neared Buck’s Bar.
“You are weird,” my friend Chase joked. “We’re all weird, dude. Haven’t you learned that yet?”
“I just feel funny,” I said.
“Couple a cold ones will take care of that, Eric, my man,” Chase said.
“Sure,” I said. “That’ll do the trick.”
But even after a few beers I couldn’t shake this funky feeling. After about the third or fourth brew, I tried to push my way through a throng of guys by the bar.
“Hey, dipshit,” a tough looking, flat-eyed guy yelled at me, “watch where you’re goin’.”
I ignored the flat-eyed guy and kept moving when all of a sudden: boom, he hit me. I don’t remember going down; the next thing I know I’m struggling to my feet and trying to swing at somebody – anybody. Chase was suddenly there, helping me get it together and I’m asking him what the hell happened.
“C’mon, Eric,” he said, directing me outside. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Thanks, man,” I said, out on the sidewalk in front of Buck’s, “somebody hit me.”
“Crazy bastard in there,” Chase said, holding onto me.
“Who was it?” I asked, pretty woozy still.
“Just some hostile dude, that’s all. Crazy,” Chase said.
“That don’t make no sense,” I said. “Let’s go back in there.”
“Oh, no, Eric” Chase said, shaking his head. “That ain’t a good idea.”
“No,” I countered, my head beginning to clear. “I want to know what that was.”
“It’s really not a good idea to go back in there,” Chase argued. “It’ll just be more trouble. Forget about it. It was a sucker punch. A cheap shot. Let it go. The guy’s a four-star jerk. To hell with him. We can hit another bar. One with friends in it maybe.”
“I’m goin’ in,” I said.
“I guess you’re goin’ in,” Chase sighed. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Back in Buck’s I went straight to where I saw the flat-eyed guy standing by the bar.
I’ve never understood why I did that. Maybe it was some absurd sense of meeting a challenge to my manhood. I don’t know. Maybe I still had just enough beer in me to make me brave – or stupid. Either way I went directly up to the guy and asked him the most ridiculous question you can imagine.
“Are you the dude that hit me awhile ago?”
“Yeah,” the guy said, turning towards me.
“Why did you...” I began.
The guy didn’t bother hearing the rest of my next question. He suddenly spun and started to throw a right hand at me. Instinctively, without thinking, I blocked his punch with my left hand and swung a right at him with all my might. Then another and another. At that point he disappeared from my sight somewhere into what turned out to be a crowd of his buddies and then all hell broke loose. The whole pack was on me.
With my back to the bar, I fought a war of attrition I could not win. Throwing right after right at the mob that attacked me – for some reason I never used my left – I took a pounding. Fists were hitting me everywhere, popping into my face in a steady barrage. I don’t know how long this went on, but without warning one of the bartenders decided to step in.
Occupied as I was, I had no idea he was coming over the bar behind me. Later, Chase told me – he was being held back all the time by others of the attackers – the bartender wielded a short, lead-filled club, a blackjack.
Although I never saw him do it, only felt it, he hit me twice with that sapper. The first hit whacked against the top of my head with a loud crack. My arms dropped and my knees buckled; I was stunned to immobility. Then the second one landed. This one put me out, dropped me to the floor, forced the involuntary release of my bowels.
I was only out for a matter of seconds, but when I came to on the floor of the bar – bloody eyes swollen almost shut, befouled and hurting, some small, wildly angry kid was astraddle of me, cursing and cuffing me repeatedly. I struggled against him, broke loose, got to my feet. I was completely sober now and scared to death.
“I quit,” I said to the small guy, and to the pack of the others around me. “You win.”
“Fuck you,” the little one snarled as he shoved me hard in the chest, pushing me across the bar, reeling, crashing into the jukebox.
I held up my hands in surrender. Somehow that stopped them for the moment, or something did. I looked around for an avenue of escape. To my immediate left was a short hallway leading past the bar’s kitchen. Straight through the hallway was the back door – a way out. While I stood there, indecisive, trembling, confused, filthy, the cook came bustling out.
“C’mon, man,” he called to me. “Get out of here. These people are tryin’ to kill you.”
He motioned to me and I went down the hallway, to the back door he held open, and out of the bar to safety. I don’t remember if I thanked him, I hope I did. Outside the bar in the night air, I ran. I ran as fast as I could back to my apartment, in my wild flight losing a heel off one of the old boots I wore. As I ran in terror, the full import of the fight began to sink in. I was lucky these guys hadn’t really seriously hurt me. They literally could have killed me.
Back at my place, I threw off my clothes, climbed into the shower and let the hot water cleanse me, felt it stinging my battered face, washing off the filth, the blood, the shame, the remaining fear.
I was drying myself off, feeling my almost closed eyes and swollen lips, and the gash on the back crown of my head from the bartender’s blackjack, when Chase came in. Like a good friend, he worried about my wounds, helped me get dressed. Then he drove me to a local infirmary. Never once did he say “I told you so” about my decision to go back into that bar.
I spent a painful, sleepless night in the infirmary, my head wrapped like a mummy for the concussion I’d received, my scalp stitched up (it only needed four), my face, mouth and teeth numb. Next morning I went home.
Sometime later that weekend, the local cops dropped by to see if I wanted to press charges, but that seemed foolish so I declined. Remarkably, by the middle of the next week my battered face was practically back to normal with just a little swelling remaining and some discoloration still around the eyes and mouth. I had dizzy spells for awhile and one tooth was dead after that.
Overall, the outside of me had healed pretty fast. It took a bit longer for the inside to do the same.
image Courtesy: Flickr