Last Saturday I was in a townie bar watching my wife do her standup comedy routine. I didn’t like the tavern at all. When I went to get a beer the bartender, who seemed overwhelmed by the simplest of orders, gave me $11 in change after I paid for a Pabst Blue Ribbon with a twenty. Before I had a chance to complain she disappeared, leaving the waiting customers shaking with detoxification tremors. I did not leave a tip.

After watching my wife’s set, I floated towards the back and stood against the wall while listening to the second comedian wax comedically about her divorce. As I observed the other patrons I noted, that for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t the oldest guy in the place. But I wasn’t the youngest either.

“Hey motherfucker!” I heard a man shout. “What did you say to my girlfriend?”

“Whatcha gonna do about it, asshole?” a second male voice cackled. I turned and found two young guys bumping chests a scant four feet from me.

“Wanna take a shot, brah?” the second guy, said.

The guy who was defending his girlfriend’s honor was about thirty, drunk, in good shape and being held back by lady love. The second guy, however, worried me. About twenty-one and jacked with young muscle and aggression, he wasn’t drunk and his beady eyes glittered with malice. Judging from his cruel lopsided grin, I figured this boy made getting into bar fights a habit.  The first man didn’t stand a chance. The second kid wanted to hurt him.

“You’re bigger than this,” the first guy’s girlfriend said. “Let it go.”

“He can’t say that to you!”

As the two men jostled verbally I thought about taping the first guy on the shoulder and saying, “Walk away. Tomorrow you’ll wake up unhurt and not in jail,” but decided against it. My days getting involved in this stuff are over.

A few years ago, I was working psych when a psychotic young man decided he was going to hurt an eighty-year-old lady. Without thinking, I intervened and got two left hooks in the jaw for my troubles. But adrenaline is a funny thing, you can get slugged in the face and not feel anything.  So, the kid and I got into it. While I had the benefit of being unmedicated, sane, trained and having danced this dance before, I was not allowed to hurt him – which kind of puts a damper on fisticuff options. In the end, I subdued him but screwed up my back and ended up in physical therapy for a month. I prevailed but did not win. Translation? I’m too old for this kind of shit.

“Please,” the girlfriend pleaded, putting herself between the two men and holding on to her boyfriend arms. “It’s not worth it.”

I unconsciously put myself out of range of either men’s fists but didn’t retreat any further. I was interested in how things would turn out.  Looking at the potential combatants’ feet I noticed Beady Eyes was set up like a pro –  balanced on the balls of his feet, hands resting gently on his hips. The boyfriend was flatfooted and his hands were pinned by his girlfriend. He was going to get his ass kicked. Bar fights don’t follow Marquis of Queensbury rules.

If the balloon went up, I was going to skedaddle out the exit nearby. But I’d have to move past the fracas to get there. Knowing that innocent bystanders often get caught up in these things. I didn’t want my dental work ruined. That’s when the cold part of my brain kicked into gear. Beady Eye was the dangerous one. Elbow him in the nose and then, when he was surprised by the pain, kick him in the side of the knee and lever him face first into the bar – and then get stomped by all his friends! Fuck that. If these two guys were going to get in a fight, let them. I’d just get behind the bar, grab a cold one, and watch the main event.

One of Beady’s friends stepped up, holding out his hands. “Brother,” he said. “Let it go.”

“He was saying shit about my girlfriend!”

“I didn’t hear what he said,” the friend, said. “But we don’t want any trouble. Go home.”

We don’t want any trouble. That probably meant Beady’s friends were going to pile on. The boyfriend was being given a warning.

“Okay, okay,” the boyfriend, said, realizing the odds were against him. “We’re going.” Then he grabbed his girlfriend and exited stage right.

Party over, everyone went back to drinking themselves into a stupor. Beady stood by the phone booth getting clapped on the back by his friends. “Way to go, man!” one of them said. “You showed him.” The kid soaked up the adulation, his face a sly mix of brutishness and stupidity. I shook my head. One day he might understand the difference between prevailing and winning, but not yet. With his mouth, he’d probably end up picking on the wrong guy and end up in traction – or worse. Bar fights are scary.

“So,” my said when I rejoined her. “How’d I do?”

“You killed them, babe. Good job.”

“What was going on in the back?” Annie said. “I heard a commotion.”

“Nothing really. Two guys getting into it.”

“Oh dear.”

“I can’t wait until you pay Carnegie Hall, darling. Better class of people there.”

When the night wrapped up I walked my wife to her car – feeling older, wiser and sad.

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