Saturday, October 15, 2005
The Virtue of Violence
It is a common belief that violence results from a breakdown in reasoning, that it is an emotional response rather than a logical decision. I'm pretty sure that the man who authored that statement could not fight. I have found in my life that a good left hook to the jaw is often the most effective and expedient manner to rid myself of a nuisance, eliminate a possible threat, or save myself long minutes of arguing with an idiot who would never see my side of things anyway. It was the most effective and efficient choice and therefore the most logical one. It is also a great deterrent against future violence and as such is an invaluable asset. True, in many cases violence is caused by one person's emotions running wild. Non-violence often has the same cause, one person's rampant emotions, namely fear. Non-violence is not always the most logical choice and sometimes not knocking the shit out of some asshole who deserves it is about the dumbest thing you can do.
For a few years during my tumultuous adolescence I tried to live my life as a pacifist. I had one rule, you could say whatever you wanted to me. You could threaten and insult me all you like, just do not put your hands on me. The ghetto was perhaps not the best place to attempt this experiment. My experiment in non-violence led me to be the most picked on and harassed kid in my school which led to more physical confrontations than when I was eagerly seeking trouble. I stuck to this ideology from age eleven through age thirteen and had close to two hundred fights a year during this time. I gave the experiment up at age fourteen and had five fights that entire year. The first kid who insulted me that year got his leg broke. Months went by before anyone insulted me again. The next kid who insulted me got smacked in the face with a Chemistry book. And the next kid got kicked in the side of the head and knocked unconscious. I used them as examples and the message was delivered loud and clear, "Do not mess with Wrath." I fought less and less every year thereafter (excluding one violent summer when I was heartbroken and traveled to other neighborhoods seeking out fights to cheer myself up.)
Sometimes avoiding fights is both stupid and dangerous. I was working at a nightclub once when a guy who was upset because we wouldn't let him into the club threatened to shoot me. He went on and on about how he was going to "hollow out my chest" for almost five minutes. I should have knocked him out right then, but I did not. Then he left and came back with his hand in his pocket like he had a gun. He continued threatening to "Put two in my head" until I finally told him that one more threat and I would knock his ass out. He threatened me once more and I caught him on the chin with a beautiful straight right. As he fell to the pavement a nickel-plated nine-millimeter fell out of his pocket. It was cocked and loaded. Seeing how close I had come to not being here speaking with you today I vowed after that to always take threats like that seriously. I only had two other people threaten to shoot me after that and I knocked both of them unconscious long before they could go back to their cars and retrieve a weapon. I made citizen's arrests in both cases and both of them spent the weekend in jail.
Another time when I was in Hong Kong filming a movie I went into this dance club in Lan Kwai Fong to hang out in between shooting and maybe pick up a little female companionship. The British Navy was also in town and there were quite a few of them in the nightclub. I had a premonition of how the night would end. I could not see a personality like mine mixing well with a bunch of drunken English sailors. I went in anyway. It turned out that they were all pretty cool. There was one guy however who seemed intent on picking a fight with them, a big steroid enhanced Mexican from New Mexico. I watched with very little interest. I was determined not to get involved, but I had to pass this altercation in order to get to the men's room. The club, like all clubs in Asia it seems, was extremely small and so I had to squeeze past this big Mexican in order to get to the men's room. So now he turns his attention towards me. As improbable as it may seem, I somehow found myself in a room full of British sailors in Hong Kong about to get into a fight with a Mexican. Go figure that one out. I try to diffuse the situation by pointing out to him that we are probably the only two Americans in the place and we shouldn't be fighting with each other. He doesn't care. He wants a fight. Realizing that a physical confrontation is inevitable I start looking for the fastest means of egress once I knock this fool out. I had no desire to enjoy the hospitality of a Chinese jail. Then the Brits intercede and offer to buy the guy a drink. I continue on past and use the restroom, watching my back the whole time in case the guy runs up behind me. When I'm back in the club I take a beautiful young Scottish stewardess out onto the dancefloor while still keeping my eyes on the Mexican guy who is now moving towards the dancefloor. He leans against a column that is tiled with mirrors and just stands there watching me while I'm dancing with this girl. I keep my eyes on him waiting to see what he is up to and then my better instincts kick in. Something i had learned on the streets long ago. Never wait to see what a guy who has already expressed hostile intentions is going to do. Eliminate the problem. I dance over towards him, pretending not to notice him and then smash him in the jaw with an elbow, shattering the mirror in back of him and dropping him like a stone. Then me and the young Scottish flight attendant quickly exit. A day later at a different night club I run into those same sailors and they tell me that the Mexican guy I had knocked out had said he was going to stab me just before he had walked over to where I was dancing. I don't know if the guy had a knife or not. I'm glad I didn't wait to find out.
So okay, I'm sure you'd conceed that it is logical for me to defend myself, but you might believe the illogic comes on the part of the person who initiates the violence. I'll give you that one in most cases, except sometimes we aren't talking about someone physically attacking me or threatening me with bodily harm. Sometimes it is just a verbal disagreement. My theory on when to use violence is the same as my theory on corporal punishment. Do it before you get mad because if you try to hold it in until you snap and then you go after somebody you will probably hurt them a lot worse than if you had just knocked the hell out of them when you were calm and collected. Example:
I was in Tokyo with a fighter I was cornering for. The fight didn't go well so I took him down to this area of town called Ropungi (One of my favorite places on earth) to cheer him up and get his mind off his troubles. We picked up a couple strippers at a club called Seventh Heaven (and it truly is) and were hanging out with them at a bar called Gas Panic where a lot of Americans and Europeans hang out in Tokyo. A large Arab guy, nearly my size but more fat than muscle, comes up to me and offers to buy me a drink. I decline respectfully. I don't drink. He asks me again and this time he grabs me by the arm. I decline again and he starts getting angry. "Look, I'm no pussy! I ain't no pussy!" He yells at me while still tugging on my arm. I look at my friend Mike, then at the two strippers, then I looked to see where security was. Then I hit the guy square on the jaw with a straight right, turned my back on him and continued talking to Mike and our two female companions. As the guy fell he knocked over a couple of other people and they called security. Thinking he had passed out drunk, security scooped him up off the floor and tossed him out of the club. I never broke a sweat and my blood pressure didn't spike any higher than it would walking from one side of the room to the other. One of the girls remarked that if she hadn't seen it she would have never known that I had just hit somebody judging from my body language, my expression and my demeanor. I enjoyed the rest of the night unencumbered by drunken assholes and without causing any serious harm to the guy I hit. If I had sat there trying to reason and argue with the guy who knows how mad he might have gotten me and what I might have done to him then.
Perhaps the greatest virtue of violence is that it tends to make people nicer to one another. The threat of a possible ass kicking will turn even the most intolerable asshole into a perfect gentleman unless he just doesn't care and is looking to get his ass-kicked which is thankfully rare. I often said that the difference between New York and LA is that I can walk down a crowded street in New York without one person bumping into me or stepping on my feet without an immediate apology. The same is true of Philadelphia. Why? Because rudeness like that In Philly or New York will get your ass kicked or worse. In LA, San Francisco, and even here in Vegas, people do not expect that bad manners will lead to them getting into a physical confrontation so they take a lot less care with how they speak to people or how they behave around them. I think the rudest people on earth live in LA because they think everything is cool. "Don't trip, man. It's all good." No one expects anyone to get upset and so they think they can say or do any ignorant shit that comes to mind without repercussions. Once they realize that a guy like me will knock the hell out of them for wagging their tongues too freely their entire demeanor changes. Example:
I was dating this beautiful Jamaican girl when I lived in LA. She worked for the college newspaper which was a legitimate job that paid real money, not a volunteer thing like in highschool. Her boss was a tyrant who thought it was okay to curse at and belittle his employees. She was talking to me in the hallway one day outside of her work when the door bangs open and this asshole steps out into the hall and screams at her to get her ass back in there. My jaw dropped. I could not believe what I was hearing. Then, when she turns to give me a goodbye kiss he screams at the top of his lungs, "I said, NOW!" I turned and started running down the hall towards him with my girlfriend holding on to me and yelling for her boss to get back in his office and shut the door. The guy stood there looking confused and only complied once he saw the look on my face. He slammed his door and then seemed to have a second thought and opened it again just as my back was turned and said, "Hey, Wrath. I didn't mean anything by that. It's nothing personal. She's just an employee." Just an employee? I went after him again and this time he shut the door and bolted it. After that my girlfriend reported that he spoke to her with nothing but respect.
When I first started my current job, which I have now been working at for six years, I was attending my first corporate meeting when they asked me to rise and introduce myself. I was supposed to stand up in front of my two bosses and ten other co-workers and give my name and some of my professional and personal background as well as one important thing to know about me. So I told them how long I'd worked in construction, that I lived with my son, my wife, and my then recently adopted nephew, and then I told them that the one important thing to know about me was to never ever raise your voice to me. "We can disagree. You can reprimand me and correct me if and when I screw up. But do it in civil tones. Talk to me like a man and everything is fine. But never ever raise your voice to me." The entire room got quite as I took my seat. My boss at the time was well-known for losing his temper. This was a fortune five-hundred company but it was still construction and so there were many people working there who still had that old construction attitude despite the high-gloss corporate surroundings. He was one of them. It was nothing to hear him fly off the handle and cuss someone out for some relatively minor infraction. However, the entire time I worked under him he never once did that to me. In fact, with all the hot heads in the company, most of them good-ole-boys who'd worked their way up through the trenches and now wore white collars over their rednecks, not one of them ever said a word to me in anger. And these were not polite people. I was perhaps the only exception in the way they treated thier employees and I doubt it was because of my good looks.
When I was growing up in Philadelphia a lot of importance was placed on reputation. Your reputation in the street was like a fighter's record. It told everyone around you how tough you were and helped them to decide whether or not it was a good idea to mess with you. But it did much more than that. It helped you survive. You wore your rep like a bulletproof vest and walking the streets without one was the most dangerous thing you could do around my way.
After I moved out of my mother's house I moved in with a woman named Renee' who'd grown up in a place called New Hope, Pennsylvania where everyone had the same haircut and there were only about a dozen different last names in the entire town. She'd lived in Philly for almost five years when I met her and she considered herself to be pretty street savvy for a German girl from a town filled with Quakers and Mennonites. She still could not understand the whole big deal about rep. In her mind it was just some bullshit Macho thing. One day we were going back to my old neighborhood to visit my Mom. When we got there I noticed that everyone was acting real funny around me and nobody would look me in the eyes. My mother wasn't home and my sister kept telling me to ask my Mom about it when she got home. She didn't want to tell me because she didn't want me to do anything stupid. My boys on the corner gave me the same cryptic response. I went to my best friend Rick's house and I finally got the story out of him. Somebody had snatched my mother's purse the other day.
"But it's cool. Your Mom handled that shit. Old Flo ain't slow!" he joked, but I wasn't in a laughing mood. I was furious.
"What happened and who do I have to kill?"
"I told you, your mom handled that shit."
"What do you mean she handled it?"
"She was getting into her car the other day right in front of Pratt's store when she dropped her purse. She went to pick it up and you know Brent? Well, he snatched it and ran and your mom chased that nigga all the way to his crib. She ran into his house tackled him on the floor and kicked his ass 'til she got her money back. Then, when she was in there handling Brent, your sister was still out by the car arguing with this dude named Tank who was with Brent. Well, your sister ain't used to taking shit from nobody because you've always been around to protect her. So, she walks right up to this big dude and slaps the shit out of him. He raises his hand to hit her back just as your mom is coming back around the corner. Your mom tackles Tank too and has him in a headlock choking the shit out of him. He's turning blue and shit and we all run over and try to talk her out of killing him. I kept telling her that he wasn't worth going to jail over and finally she let him go."
"Why didn't you niggas help her?"
"She ain't need no help! I tole you. Ole Flo ain't slow."
I got back in the car with Renee' and she drove me around the corner where this dude Brent who I had known most of my life stood on the corner a day after snatching my mother's purse, laughing and joking with his homies. I beat the hell out of him. Renee' asked me afterwards why I had to do that when my mother had already taken care of it and I explained to her about what rep meant on the street. If I didn't kick his ass like that and let everyone know what happens to someone who messes with my family then none of them would ever be safe. In the ghetto a reputation is more than just some macho thing. My mother can sleep at night without worrying about someone breaking into the house because of my rep. My grandmother can walk to the bank without worrying about getting mugged for her social security check because of my rep. My sister can go out at night without worrying about being dragged into an alley and raped because of my rep. My rep at that time was a blanket that protected everyone from my mother to my aunts to my cousins, nieces and nephews. If I let one thing slide then they'd all be in danger. She understood. Sometimes violence prevents violence.
Years later after I had moved to the West Coast, this white dude my mom had been dating moved in with her, into my old neighborhood. One day he caught somebody trying to steal his car and he ran the guy off. The guy came back with half the thugs in the neighborhood knocking on my mother's door looking for the White dude with all the attitude. He opened the door and asked them if they knew who's house this was. They shook their heads. "Do you know who Wrath is? Well, this is his Mom's house. I'm her boyfriend." They all left. My reputation saved his ass too. Funny, because he was another person who never understood why I reacted so violently whenever anyone in that neighborhood disrespected me in any way. I think he finally got it that day. Sometimes kicking ass is the only way to maintain the peace.
My son has been learning to fight since he could stand. It is amazing to watch him. He can box, kickbox, wrestle, and is well-versed in submissions (choke holds, arm locks, leg locks, and ankle locks.) He has never lived in a ghetto. I have made sure that he has a better life than I have had. He is a quiet boy, very friendly, very smart, popular, honor roll student, even tempered. He doesn't look for trouble and never starts fights. In fact, he has had only one unsupervised unsanctioned fight in his entire life and that was against three boys who were teasing him. One of them tripped him and Sultan took the kid down and threw a knee to the kid's stomach. The kid doubled over and started crying. The other two kids ran off and nobody has messed with him since. Sultan understands my feelings on violence and he shares them. To quote Malcolm X:
“Be careful, be courteous, obey the laws, respect everyone, but if someone puts his hands on you, send him to the cemetery."
My daughter will learn how to fight when she is old enough as well. Neither of my children will grow up afraid. They will grow up prepared. Neither of them will be bullies. Yet, neither will they be victims. They will learn to respect themselves and others and they will learn when the time for rational conversation has come to an end and you have to do what you have to do. They will learn the ideology of peace and non-violence and they will learn the realities of this very violent world we live in and they will be prepared to respond to it appropriately.