On Tough Guys

I was terrorized by so-called tough guys for much of my younger life.

In my elementary school days, it was not a problem. I was with the same kids right from first grade. I had my little circle, and my idiosyncrasies were accepted by my classmates. But I was in a French immersion elementary program and decided not to keep that up in junior high school. So I switched programs and went into a new school without knowing anyone in my class. I was also late to hit puberty, so even in grade 8 I was one of the smallest kids in the school.

It was rough at first, but I figured out my survival techniques. I kept my head down and my mouth shut, and it was not too long before those kids that bring it all on themselves were soaking up most of the hits. Then I did my best to befriend the gentle giants; the biggest boys who were not bullies. I got through just fine.

In high school, I finally grew a bit. Also, my idiosyncrasies, and those of my crew, created a reputation that we were some kind of psychos. We were left the fuck alone. But my school was beefing with another bigger school, and boys were always getting jumped walking to and from school. Up to four guys, with bats sometimes, would hop out of cars, beat kids down, and then “boot fuck” them. It was a paranoid atmosphere and I got pretty good at slipping through danger zones on foot.

After high school, I went to work pumping gas at a 24 hour gas station and automotive shop. This was the real initiation to the shitshow. It had never occurred to me that adults could consider fist fighting an acceptable stage of human interaction. Those mechanics were fucking rough. When I sprayed dirt onto “The Badger’s” (that was his real nickname) toolbox with the pressure washer, I got a real education. He grabbed and shoved me into a work bench; I was completely physically dominated with a basic violent assault and the implicit threat of a much worse one if that shit ever happened again. “Now clean it fuckin up!”

The location of the gas station was less than ideal for physical safety. It was in a kind of buffer zone between the university’s bar strip and daytime yuppie shopping promenade, and a light-industrial, blue-collar neighborhood one quick bus ride from downtown skid row. Urban poor would come to beg money from the yuppies and then get their drink on, while all the breeder boys from towns all around would come to cruise for poon on the strip. When unsuccessful with women, packs of those feral assholes would rove around looking for guys to intimidate and beat up. “Fag!” Stabbings were fairly common.

I spent a couple years being thoroughly terrorized. When a skid-row, tough guy bully wants to get free stuff, he doesn’t necessarily need to rob places. If he comes around a business everyday, by slowly terrorizing some solitary staff member for a couple of weeks, he can simply start taking stuff without paying. “I don’t need to pay fer this, do I boss? No one’s gonna notice.” Chips, pop, smokes, and dignity all for the taking.

Then I just fuckin had it. Enough was enough. I started bringing a zippo to work (I pumped gas for a living, remember), harboring the fantasy of burning some of these fuckers alive.

Around that time, things got even worse in the neighborhood. Meth had moved in. Now we had street dealing right at our location, with meth-heads swarming all over the place. We started restricting the bathrooms to gas customers only, which created friction with the down and outs. I guess there were some serious confrontations involving some of my coworkers. I was working more graveyard shifts at that time too. One night a Native-American gang enforcer got me cornered (Native street gangs are a big thing in my home town), put a high-end prison shank down on the counter between us (shitty photoshop recreation pictured below), and spent some time explaining that “you don’t fuck with my people.”

“Good to know, man.”

Prison Shank

After that, I started carrying a knife. It was a legal flick knife: one of those raised thumb-stud jobbies that may as well be a switchblade. I carried it legally too; riding high on my back pocket where everyone could see it. I had a year of fencing in junior high school, and I spent time practicing my draw and stab into wooden posts, so I was good to go. The next time a sketchy as fuck piece of shit started trying to stare me down, I shifted my stance, met his eye, and got ready to go. One look at me and the guy melted.

I had learned a new thing. With these tough guy bullies, you don’t need to run faster than the bear; you just have to run faster than your friend. When I got mentally prepared to do what I had to do, I no longer needed to do it. They took in my attitude and wandered down to the next open business to try their luck there. My life got a lot easier.

Then, with the realization of the power of that attitude, I flipped the coin over and became something of a bully myself. I have some regrets about that time in my life. Be that as it may, my deep hatred of and intolerance to tough guys has remained. Those shells of men who need to intimidate in order to feel whole. I would love to cut all their throats. (I am aware of the irony in this.)

Around the time when I was graduating high school, the Vietnamese were making their presence felt. I don’t know if they were proper gangs at that time (they later would become so), but they were definitely asserting themselves. It quickly became common street knowledge that if you fought an East Asian, you would probably get stabbed.

Many of the white tough guys I was forced to listen to at that time would go on and on and on about how the “gooks” were such “pussies.” Like, what’s wrong with a fair fight, man? Why can’t they just have a fair fight?

Fair? Really? These primate assholes spend all their time pumping iron and practicing fighting, and then act like it’s fair when they force some Asian kid that’s half their size to “step outside” in order to save face. Try moving to a foreign land where everyone is huge and mostly hate you, and punching people in the face is considered entertainment. Maybe then you too will learn to embrace the liberating power of escalating violence.

What’s that? You don’t like me calling you an ignorant asshole? You want to step outside? Well, instead of that, why don’t I just take yer fuckin eyeball out with a screwdriver right fuckin now? How’s bout that?

If a line gets crossed, and someone need to go, then what the fuck does a fair fight have to do with it? Bullshit, made-up rules about “masculinity” are not relevant. But “tough guys” don’t like that. They don’t like it when someone calls their bluff and bluster. They want the whole world to play along with the rules they’ve created to keep them safe while they dominate those around them. So, for those who break their made-up rules of engagement, they trot out the worst insults they can imagine: “pussy” (woman), and “fag.” If these guys think that accepting penis into your body is the worst thing someone can do, then what does that tell you about their self-identity? I think they realize, on a deep psychological level, just how toxic they are.

I may be white, but I was small for most of my developmental years, sensitive, quirky, and liked geeky things like D&D. So I do understand all too well being the victim of manly white men’s notions of fair play (of course, not to the degree that others do; I’m not trying to lay claim to the full experience). Their “fairness” is a system of codes of conduct and even legal rules that exist to give them every advantage. Be they the social conventions surrounding stepping outside for a fair fight, or America’s conceal carry and stand your ground laws.

If you want to find out who’s tougher, then by all means, get into MMA or step into the ring or dojo. Or, if you’re really nuts, the rugby field. There is a place for that in society. But thinking that being tough should have any relevance in modern society, in any way, is completely fucked.

We say to young men: “there’s never a reason to hit a woman.” I disagree. I say that a reason to hit a man is also a reason to hit a woman, and that self defense is the only acceptable reason (outside of sports that involve hitting). Other than that, there is never an acceptable reason to hit anyone.

Thinking otherwise is precisely the kind of macho bullshit that helps makes the world the shitty place it is today.

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