As an overweight kid, PE was almost never a good time for me. If I had any constructive criticism in hindsight, it would be for teachers to find some physical activity each kid excels in, or at least one they enjoy, and let them pursue it. I probably would have loved weightlifting but I never got a chance to try it until I was an adult. I excelled at covering the goal in floor hockey, because I was so big. One time I delivered a shutout, which earned me one of the few genuine attaboys I ever received from a coach.
I usually ended up last man standing in double dodgeball because I was great at dodging but not too hot at catching or throwing. Inevitably, the weight of the world would fall on my shoulders while I faced off against two or three bullies across the line. The victorious squad was always made up of the guys who’d failed a grade or been held back a couple of times, and they seemed eight feet tall and/or 37 years old. This intimidated the shit out of me, which is funny because I probably outweighed them.
One day I’d finally had enough after I’d lost yet another game. I’d just been subjected to the groans of my defeated team behind me on the bleachers, and one of the smaller thirtysomething boys, a weasel-faced guy who delighted in tormenting me, called me a fatass. I lost it and let loose an awkward, feathery, glancing punch at his upper arm. He cocked back and popped me in my right ear, launching my eyeglasses across the gymnasium.
The PE coach shouted, “Hey!” and the battle of Central Elementary School was over. Dickhead McGee was dragged off to the Principal’s office where he was probably berated for at least 45 minutes, and I got away scot-free, which is nuts because the coach witnessed the entire affair. I can only assume that after she heard what he said and saw my pathetic attempt at reprisal, my pop in the ear had been deemed punishment enough. Obviously the bully had it coming, it being a gentle knuckle-shove in the bicep.
All I hear about is punching these days. The punch heard round the world, or the elbow to the head heard round Facebook, has taken on Harambe-like momentum. It’s not going anywhere, and I keep wondering why.
Last week, I looked up from the customer service desk computer and was faced with a big old dude in leather. His silver Schutzstaffel pin was right at eye level. He saw me pause and look at it before my eyes moved up to meet his. My balls sucked inside my body and made that “poit” sound from Looney Tunes when Bugs tricks Daffy into eating alum and his mouth disappears.
In my teenage years I had the fortune, or misfortune, of being invited into a biker bar a few times. The inside of the place was plastered with Confederate flags and Nazi memorabilia. As a young white boy from rural Arkansas, the Confederate stuff didn’t make me flinch. In those days I found it comforting. The swastikas, however, were always a bit weird. Even young, conflicted, Lynyrd Skynyrd white-boy-hippie me found it a bit extreme. I knew there was a motorcycle club tradition of using Nazi regalia, but I still didn’t think it was cool.
Back at the bookstore, I did my best to be friendly. He asked me if so-and-so was at work today. “Oh boy, he knows someone,” I thought. “This is wonderful.” Now I associate the other dude with motorcycle Neo-Nazis, but I shouldn’t be surprised. He’s the one who just couldn’t take Caitlyn Jenner being on the cover of any magazine without having to exclaim how disgusting he thought she was. Of course, he didn’t say she.
There’s something to the catharsis of watching one dude get elbowed in the ear while the entire world burns around us. Our leaders frequently, flagrantly ignore the law, and the only people who could stop them stand to profit too much from the system to tear it down. I understand now why we’re clinging to that imagery, be it a video with an amusing soundtrack edited in, a page from Captain America, or an Indiana Jones screenshot.
It’s something different, though, to walk the walk. One of my friends crudely suggested I stay on the side of the law during these troubling times or risk reenacting a prison scene from American History X. As an advocate of prison reform, I’m not too fired up about prison rape jokes, but it brings up an important point. How far are we willing to go to punch fascists, and if and when you’re prosecuted for such a thing, how do we think we will manage?
I’m a lover, not a fighter. I might be in the best shape of my life, but I don’t know how I’d fare at fisticuffs. I assume quite poorly. However, there’s something to this thing, which keeps boiling to the surface, I can’t ignore. If forced, I’d have to categorize it as more of a figurative ideology check than a literal set of marching orders. We can play pretend this thing is admirable while we recognize the inherent problems that come along with street violence.
If that’s fence riding, okay. I love this fence. This is the fence between civilization and anarchy, and I can see everything from up here. When it comes down to it, there may be a time for throwing an elbow, but it’s not something you talk about. That’s something the right does when they sit around and masturbatorily clean their guns while they post on forums about how they’d shoot an intruder. It makes you think they want an intruder.
No, when the time comes you just aim well, throw it, and hope the Principal understands why.