Friday, June 22, 2018

Fight Hard. Lose Well. Go Home.

Society seems to be more divided than ever, with strong feelings on every side of every issue, and very little middle ground. How do you deal with putting your views out there? Have you ever had to deal with a flame war?

Flame war? War, period.

I won't take the position I don't have the luxury of developing and maintaining a comfortable position outside the fray. I do. I live and work in a place where I'm free to be myself and think however I want. It's very blue here, so unless I dig deeper into the political dynamic and take positions with more granularity (schooling, policing, affordable housing and rent control, statutes and ordinances, ballot referendums on what grade of toilet paper is acceptable, the fight for/against plastic bags and flushable wipes,) I can keep it mellow. Just wait every four years for that big national election to get involved, same as how I don't follow the Cubs unless/until they make the playoffs. White Sox for life.

At this point, seems to be I'm built for the fight. Doesn't mean I go looking for it. I'm smart enough to avoid it. I know how to diffuse it. And yeah, if it comes down to fighting, I'll fight. Ain't no thing. Last thing in the world I'd want. And I can make it what gets me up in the morning. It's in the blood.

The purely American part of me comes from my black heritage. If one kept score, I’d cop to being black American via the migration which brought a Louisiana Creole into contact with a half-Sicilian/half-African American woman which produced my mama and her brothers, those wacky hot-headed blacks with the Italian first names. My pops had some Sicilian as well, and a lot of Irish. You knew how he felt when he put his fist through something fists normally shouldn't pass through. Dead silent all day, until he laughed so loudly it shook the house. One drink—only one, a sip of vodka or a can of Old Style—he was singing songs. You could pick his pocket. Kissing you all the time. Such ebb and flow from a big, young guy with a loud voice and a deceptively brilliant and articulate tongue. Levels and layers.

I'm packed with so many cultural influences from peoples known for their deep emotions. All that stuff simmered on the burner in the South before it arrived in Chicago. Like attracts like, so in the early aughts of the 1900s into the 20s, everyone is falling in love and having great sex and trying to forget the dark days of the Great Depression by producing mixed children with deep passions. The Midwest being all about propriety, everyone's packed with pressure and wrapped up tight. This grandmother was this, with a bit of that mixed in. This great-great someone or other had a father who was such and such. Who begat whom. It was all above board. We owned it all, even the rough edges. 

"So and so pulled a gun."

"You're kidding."

"Well, he has that (insert race here) in him."

"There it is. Hot-headed."

"Yep. In the blood. Y'all alright now?"

"Yeah. He came through for the Bulls game. Brought dip and brews."

If the cops came, and you told them whatever racial/cultural composition was responsible for the disturbance, you'd get a warning and time to cool off if they didn't have any warrants.

So let’s just say black, Irish, Italian, some Louisiana creole with deep farming ties, a bit of Choctaw Nation sprinkled in, and a big city consciousness where politics was life. Add to it the constant oppression—sometimes you can feel it, sometimes it sneaks up on you and you realize it—and it's going to be LOUD. Every woman I've ever been involved with thought I was crazy unless they were black, Irish, or Italian from the Midwest. Can't trust a guy who won't fight. Sure, she'll clutch the pearls and stand between you and the fight, demand you calm down or it's quits. And if you didn't drop your coat and put 'em up when her honor was challenged, she'd never talk to you again. It was wrong to want a fight, and it was wrong to avoid a fight that found you.

You learned to watch what the unions were doing. Cooperative covenants in organized labor meant that the old man may have to show support by picketing, even if the firefighters themselves had no beef. He could bring home a fight we as a family would have to support, even if it didn't mean anything for us directly. If the teacher's union bristled, there could be a strike, which would affect everything so my mother would have to check in with the school, other parents, the PTA, and still get herself to her own job in a career that was affected by Chicago politics: health care for the chronically sick, infirm, and elderly. A lot of nights, I saw my mother drinking and smoking, in tears, filling out paperwork over a patient who didn't make it. I could see her anger, and her sense of defeat, that someone she gave her heart to didn't live with the quantity and quality of life they deserved because of, yes, politics. I knew she'd be a hard taskmaster the following morning. I knew if my game wasn't tight getting to school, I'd be getting a smack, because of those bastards in this office, or at that agency. Some crooked alderman saw fit to wet his/her beak on the backs of a vulnerable community so now I'm making my own damned lunch or I don't eat that day and maybe your brother ate all your Twinkies, boy, folks are dying, Danny, go make your own damned lunch.

Purpose. Duty. Honor. Compassionate brawling.

"We may strike this year," Pop would say, and everyone at the dinner table knew that meant sinched belts, outdated fashions for my brothers, a new dynamic for me since schedules would shift and my smart kid school needs would be affected. You had to argue to get your damned street cleared of snow. Had to argue to get your neighborhood repaved, or policed appropriately. That one house on the block with the overgrown weeds, peeling paint and broken windows that Mrs. Hayden always complains about in the block club meeting? There go my parents, with a few other parents, standing on a doorstep, ringing a bell, holding paint cans, gassed lawn mower. You just gonna stand on someone's stoop, wait for them to come out, and tell them their house is bringing down the neighborhood so you're there to help, and you expect not to fight? Not to yell? Where I'm from, people argued, yelled, threw hands, out in the open.

To love each other. To save each other. To save ourselves.

Where I’m from, you had to fight. If you wanted something, even respect for your own authenticity, you had to humbug.

“Take it outside?”

“Shit, bet! Beat yo' ass, right quick.”

Everyone drops the video game controllers. If it's over sports, it was "Aight, at half-time." Marv Alpert is talking, everyone goes outside. "No face." See, face punching made it serious. Can't come back from that. Body punching only. Respect all calls for time-outs. If anyone falls, it's over. And before you’re thinking this is the most hyper-masculine affair ever, at The Crib, a girl/woman will ask if what you’re arguing about was important enough to you to take it outside. My mother would box a dude, no question. A girlfriend was expected to knuckle-up. You'd pass on a fight with a guy depending upon who his lady was, because you may be able to whip him, but you can't whip them both. My father taught me basic boxing, Marques of Queensbury-rules. My mother taught me how to streetfight. She once made me box an older, bigger cousin who pushed me down and took my toys. I was getting picked on because I was lighter than a paper bag and smaller. She had one of my brothers referee to keep it fair. You fight him, or you fight me, and she didn't play. 

Fight, with your cousin, for what's right. It'll hurt. You'll live. You need to do this. For yourself.

The first fight I lost, badly, was to a girl. The next summer, we were a thing. No one batted an eye. In Chicago, everyone fought. It's how we bonded. It's how we learned the other person was sturdy in the high winds of fate.

Ay, what that white boy say? I know he isn't talking at me like that. Take it outside. Slap box? Bet. Oh, hell. That white boy can fight. Shit. Aight, then. Convictions challenged, defended, respected. Bet, my fault. We good? We good. Shit, white boy had some technique. What he say his name was again? Mike (everyone in Chicago is Mike or Bob. Or Chuck.) A week later. "Mike! Ay, I got Mike's beer. 'sup, man. Y'all, this my homie White Boy Mike. Ay, whaddup, White Boy Mike. White boy can fight. Knows his sports. Cool as hell. In the electrician's union. Good people." 

By the summer, if White Boy Mike isn't holding up the end of the bar, it doesn't feel right. The playoff series against Cleveland is coming on. Someone call White Boy Mike to make sure he's coming to The Cove in Hyde Park for the game. Hey, how's it going with that lady you told us about? Getting serious? Naw, Mike. It's alright. Just buy me one the next game. See you Wednesday night? Okay, Friday then. Be safe getting home. My dawg, White Boy Mike.

"How'd you two meet?"

"He beat my ass."

"Whaaa?"

"Slap-boxin'."

"Aw. Aight. He cool?"

"The coolest. Good people."

Fighting is another form of love, but you have to leave room for the love to come through. You have to fight until the path is clear for loving. Can't be afraid of that. Just don't get too personal. Don't fight dirty. Don't call out and take down someone's family. Hug it out. Give up some dap. Back to baselines. Hard fighting. Good losing. Unless you were friends with real assholes with no honor, and the thuggiest thugs back then had honor, it was over. No need for grudges. We're all real people here. The Hawk is on its way. Soon, it'll be 40-below for everyone, regardless of positions. No agreeing to disagree. you agree to fight it out. Impressions made. Deep convictions exposed and respected. Days later, your worldview is altered slightly, as is the worldview of the new best friend you made from fighting. You moved on. And if you couldn't move on just yet, it was alright. You can always go back outside and settle it with them hands.

"No face."

"Aight, bet."


- dg



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5 comments:

Susan C Shea said...

"Fights with honor...unless you were friends with real assholes with no honor..." I fear the world you're describing is fast giving way to the universe of trolls, racists, and zenophobes for whom honor is a joke, a weakness. You can't take on the online bullies with fists, but I think you have some power to battle it with words. We need warriors!

RJ Harlick said...

Intriguing, but I can't help but think something terribly wrong here with all this fighting, if the only way to survive is through fighting.... I find it a very sad comment on what I'm not sure. Life?

Susan C Shea said...

RJ, I know! All that physical combat! And Danny can be such a lamb in company!

Danny Gardner said...

I believe it's partly Chicago's challenges and mainly Chicago's culture. I certainly was not one for fisticuffs, and yet my principles had me toe-to-toe an incredible amount of times in my life. I've had ten times the fights in my own home than most people I know their entire lives. It is terribly wrong, in general. Specifically, some folks live right next to you and live exponentially more dangerous/challenging lives that you could imagine. Playing the cards you've been dealt. That sort of thing. Kids sold a lot of wolf tickets to my kids during their teenage years but they didn't have to grow up fighting, at all. My childhood? I don't think I was allowed to play outside before I learned to defend myself. It wasn't just me. It was an entire city. Being good with your hands was a part of being well-rounded, believe it or not. The last thing I have to do now is fight. I'm free of situations that call for aggression. Yet I'm always prepared. Friends of mine who traveled, or who joined the military after school, told me stories about telling folks from other places they're from Chicago and the immediate respect. "Chicago people don't play." From a chessboard-level view, it all seems so ridiculous, but when I was a kid, fighting, posturing to fight, running for your life, these were weekly occurrences for me. Now I only hit bags and run on an elliptical machine. So weird.

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