Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How I could just kill a man

I began stand-up comedy before I could legally drink, so there were occasions when comedy clubs kept me out. Being underage also hindered me when I was allowed in comedy rooms, as most of my joke-telling mates wanted to hit bars when the show ended. One night I was allowed inside a comedy club and a bar, and it was in that bar I came close to killing a man.

My friends and I were seated by the bar, discussing our favorite songs. I wasn’t drinking.

I was in the middle of a sentence--probably giving all within earshot the business on “Riders on the Storm”--when a stranger to my right sprayed me in the face with a squirt gun. I quickly turned and saw the Shooter scrambling to put the squirt gun away. He was at the corner of the bar, with two friends beside him. All three were staring off in the distance, trying not to laugh. None was doing a good job.

I had consumed no alcohol, and nothing unusual had occurred that night. Yet this minor offense, being sprayed by a squirt gun, completely scrubbed off my tendencies toward reason. I immediately puffed up with homicide-strength rage.

A little backstory: In addition to the regular angry young man testosterone one has at that age, I think I was a bit obsessed with the way frat-boy-types behaved in public. I literally could not understand their impulses to yell out during comedy shows, randomly accelerate in parking lots, stampede at concerts, bully waiters, etc. My friends and I spent HOURS analyzing the possible motivations behind these sick behaviors.

Some people are adept at drowning out meatheads. I'm not. I more or less swore off concerts at 19 because I couldn’t enjoy live music while surrounded by the scrapple of humanity.

I was also working in a deli at the time, and each day was shocked anew by the kind of aggressive and demeaning things people would say right to my face, as though I was a robot servant rather than a fellow human with feelings. It never seemed to dawn on them that I could retaliate. After all, I was holding A KNIFE. What did they think I was cutting their bread with? The idea that it might not be safe to shriek at a knife-wielding minimum wage earner over the number of olives on their turkey club didn’t appear to cross their mind. I was only a few feet away with blade in hand. I could have easily wounded them (or worse) before anyone realized what was happening.

I believe it was these factors, as well as the culprits’ poor attempt to hide themselves, that triggered something barbarous in me. My lateral orbitofrontal cortex professed that not only could I and the Shooter not share the same bar; we couldn’t share the same planet.

I believe I spent a few seconds growling to myself and staring at the Shooter before walking outside.

The weather was warm, so the bar had been opened out onto the sidewalk. This meant the only barrier between my enemies and I was my desire to remain a card-carrying non-murderer.

The Shooter and his friends had their backs to me, so I figured the element of surprise was on my side.

I kept pacing and muttering like a zombie looking for his car keys. How was I going to attack?

Then, like a scene from a bad western, I spotted an empty liquor bottle on the ground. Eureka. I would smash the bottle against a tree (I should have mentioned the bottle was under a tree), creep into the bar, and use the broken bottle to slash the Shooter’s jugular.

One of my friends, we'll call him Mr. Pseudonym, came outside and asked what I was doing. I calmly explained my plans. My recollection is that he just kept saying, “What are you doing? You’re not gonna do that. What are you doing?”

Some of my other pals came outside and watched my little war with myself. They also conveyed how senseless my intentions were, but I feel it was the rapid fire questions of Mr. Pseudonym that pulled me from my fog of fury. I also remember having visions of the great future in comedy I would be destroying if I cut up the Shooter. I dropped the bottle and returned to reality.

I’m not sure that is the angriest I have ever been, but it is certainly as close as I have come to primal, no turning back violence. Every so often my mind revisits that night, and at times I have been ambivalent about my decision not to attack. I often return to the notion that seeing their friend mauled would have traumatized the Shooter’s pals into behaving more civilly.

I am also reminded of that evening when I read about crimes of passion that actually have been carried out. Not even counting road rage, I would guess a sizable number of otherwise lucid individuals have a near-homicide in their past. I am not violent or tough, so I have to imagine that folks who are violent and tough have multiple near-homicides in their closet.

In 2008 I became severely ill, and multiple doctors speculated that my condition might be terminal. When it hit me that I might be facing the Big Adios, I had an unusual list of regrets. I didn’t dwell much on the women I wasn’t cool enough for or the countries I failed to visit. I did think A LOT about my decision not to slice the Shooter’s neck. The main reason for not attacking was my belief that I was headed for great things in comedy. By the time I became sick, that idea had been soundly debunked. So there I was, infirm and despondent, nursing a regret about an act of vengeance not taken.

The Shooter is lucky I had delusions of grandeur when I was a young man. Had I had any inkling that my future would turn out to be a big wet firecracker, it is quite possible he wouldn’t have heard me coming until it was too late.

Civilization is thinner than the frosting on a Pop-Tart. Every time you raise your voice to another person (let alone physically challenge them in some way, even if it is with a squirt gun), you are taking your life in your hands. The fact that the person you are humiliating is a waiter, cab driver, or hotel clerk changes nothing. Telling yourself you’re "fighting the good fight” is also 100% irrelevant to your potential safety. Unless you are attacked IN A POLICE STATION, the cops won’t get there in time. Chances are, no one will be able to save you. You could very well spend the rest of your righteous life in a coma, dreaming of the extra ketchup packets you felt entitled to demand.



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