June 9, 2010


It's half past midnight, and I wish my brain would shut off again. As I stated a few posts back, writing opens a door inside that allows the world to flood in, and regardless of what I want...

(which is to close my eyes and sleep, and if listening to Robin William's Weapons of Self-Destruction isn't helping anymore, I know I am in trouble... that usually gets me to sleep roughly 20 to 30 minutes in. I swear for a week I never got past "He's your former boss? Why? Were you fucking him?")

... the information just keeps on coming in. Getting analysed. Extrapolated. Weighed. Evaluated. A new study finds that young Muslim males in Germany are getting more violent the more religious they are. Not suprised. My own experience, some of it dangerously close to violence, indicated that years ago. Pack behaviour. Based on dangerously small dicks. And arrogance. Usually a bad combination.

Never understood pack behaviour, myself. To be in the need of something Germans call "Radfahrer Syndrom", which is to be submissive to one with the power to hurt you and at the same time kicking at the ones you have the power to hurt. I once came close to violence with seven of these types of people. I talked myself out of it. Which, considering that it was way past 2 AM on a slippery pedestrian bridge to the back of the Nuremberg castle, I still consider to have been a lucky break. The study's findings made me think of it again.

Pack behaviour always preys on the weak, or the ostensibly weak. And is usually led by somebody who is so insecure, so self-absorbed and stupid that he needs to play to the balcony. It's not just young Muslim males, though.

Oh, how I talked myself out of getting beaten the snot out of seven of these rather sad people?  Let's just say that I made a very convincing argument that they didn't really, no, they really didn't want to do this. That's the other thing about pack behaviour. The moment they realise the guy they want to bully is not the guy they thought he was... they back off.

In my case it was as simple as convincing that one guy, you know, the guy who is desperate to play to the balcony that he just might not survive a violent encounter. See, when your odds are 7-1, you cannot win. Don't let movies fool you. There is nothing fair about a fight at 7-1. And if you ever find yourself in a situation like this, if you can walk away, do so. Do it the fuck right away. Be apologetic, if need to be, but try to walk away.

The problem begins when you cannot walk away.

Then, start talking. Do it in a calm voice. Do not raise your voice. Do not ever raise your voice, unless you need to. Identify their leader. It's usually an easy thing to do. It's the guy with the swagger and the sneer. The kind who loves to hurt other people. There's always one. Talk to him. Be nice. Like, hey, nice night, isn't it? You know this club over there? Been hanging out? Yeah, I'm just on my way home. Keep it civil. Smile. Smiling helps. Civility helps. As long as it does.

Don't show them your fear. And you will be afraid. I know I was. I was pissing my pants, well, not literally, but I might as well have been. I had been at my friend Edo's place, I had had a good night with him and his wife and their friends, one of the very few good nights in the past ten years of my life, and believe it or not, my initial thought was, Oh come on, God, I had a good night. I think you owe me one damn good night every fucking ten years or so.

The guy in front of me didn't ask me for anything. It wasn't that they wanted my money or anything. No, they were just interested in beating the snot out of somebody. Somebody who walked the streets late at night. Somebody who they thought was weak.

This was not going to end well, I thought.

Why men have to prove their machismo in fights, or rather in trying to beat somebody up I never understood. Never will understand. You don't do fighting for show. Fighting is life and death. And what's worse, fighting is the acknowledgement that you failed. That you couldn't find another way, a better way to resolve a situation. Now, I am not a peaceful man, not by a long shot. I know over a dozen ways to kill a man. None of them are pretty. And none of them involve long slow-motion shots and dances that anybody would want to pay money for to see. Almost all of them are quick and dirty and involve a lot of blood.

I wish these days I didn't know.

And that is why I don't fight. Not for show, not for a girlfriend, not for anything than survival. If I fight, I will kill you. I will not stop at putting you in the hospital. I will kill you.

The pack's leader was talking to me. He was 17, maybe 18. Short-cropped hair. Oil slick. Gangsta Turk Wannabe. And I couldn't tell you what he was telling me. I was way too busy to assign values to his pack. Who was closest. Who was probably carrying switchblades. Who would run. Who would fight. That's the other thing with packs. The bigger they are, they more fragile is their social cohesion. You have three, four people tops who are really dangerous. The others are just along for the ride. Voyeurs. Getting off of being part of a stronger group.

I was still being apologetic. Trying to make my way through them. He bumped into me. I apologised. He wasn't very happy with my apology. Of course not.

"You looking for trouble?" he asked me. That I do remember. I told him I was looking for my bed. He laughed. The others followed suit. He pointed at what was in my hand. It was an umbrella. I often carry an umbrella. It's one of the few good memories I have from my time in Scotland, and it was an October night, after all.

"You think it might rain?" one asked me.

"It might," I replied.

"Yeah, it might," the leader said. "Guess we could use an umbrella like yours."

Now, if it hadn't been the umbrella, it would have been something else. This wasn't about anything other than humiliation. About provocation. Do not let yourself be provoked, boys and girls. Stay calm. As calm as that adrenaline and fear allows you to be.

"Why don't you give it to us?" the leader said.

"You don't really want to do this," I said.

"But we do," he said. The sneer. The eyes. Definitely the leader.

"No, you don't," I said. "Because here's the thing. You are seven. I am alone. Chances are you will beat me up, anyway. Or that's what you think. Seven to one, that's not really in my favour. If I were to play this your way. But I won't. I know I am not going to walk away from this, you won't allow me. And you think, hell, I have about fifteen years on you, I'm alone and I hold a stupid umbrella to your three or four switchblades."

"That's right."

"I will kill you first," I said. "You won't even see it coming. The next two I will put in a wheelchair for the rest of their lives. The other four of your little group, don't get me wrong, they will very likely get me, I will very likely die here, and the police will write a nice little report, there'll be some talk about youth crime and horrible this all is, but the thing is, you won't be around to see any of it, because you are dead."

And like I said, I was terrified. Anybody who tells you they are not scared in a situation like this is a liar. But I wasn't bluffing, either. Because here is the thing about an umbrella, or rather, an umbrella like the one I was carrying. It had a steel tip, roughly three inches long. Its handle was made out of solid wood, the shaft out of solid steel. If you know how to handle it, it's an excellent offensive and defensive weapon. And perfectly legal.

The leader wasn't smiling anymore. There were two of his group who stepped forward. As predicted. There are always three or four, tops. I heard the sound of a switchblade opening.

"So here's the thing you should be thinking about," I said, "are you really willing to die today? For this? To show your buddies how strong you are? I would like you to consider that, because I will not make the first move, all I want to do is go home and sleep and pretend that I met some nice gentlemen tonight. We had some laughs, we made some jokes, all will be good."

He looked at me. Wondered if I was bluffing.

I wasn't.

He could see that in my eyes.

And so we stood there. On that bridge. I don't know for how long. Likely just 30, maybe 40 seconds. It felt like it was forever.

"It was a joke," he finally said.

"Of course it was," I said. "I thought it was hilarious."

He let me through. Nodded to his little pack. And when i made my way through the castle gates, I could hear him say, "Old fucker wasn't worth it, anyway. Never would have been able to take me."

I made it home. I threw up. Twice. And it wasn't because I had made it through unharmed. It was because in my head – and this is how fighting really is – I had already killed him, I had known exactly how to do it, I had known, and that image is something that will never truly fade away. That's what violence is. Even if you didn't have to resort to it. The knowledge you have can never be undone. It stays with you. It soils you. It makes you less than human.

That was six and a half years ago.

I never talked about this. I am embarrassed and ashamed that I wasn't able to find a better way, and sometimes, I think about this night, how I could have done it differently, if I had only taken another route home, maybe, or perhaps not have had my head in my ass while I had been walking, so I would have seen them earlier, maybe avoided them altogether.

I'm ashamed about how dangerously close I came to failure.

I still have nightmares about that night.