I’d always thought that if I ever got in a physical brawl in New York City– and that is a huge “if”, because during this time I was a risk-averse corporate lawyer who could barely stand up to other risk-averse corporate lawyers at work– it would be with a girl.
And that I’d be in the right. Morally, I mean. Physically, I had no illusions that I’d be down on the ground, trying to keep my tenderest orifices covered.
But, as it turned out, not only was I wrong, I was also probably in the wrong.
Late one night, in my fourth year of living in New York, I head over to The Annex, a club in the Lower East Side. I am wearing four-inch heels, a miniature dress. A jacket bereft of any devices of closure. It is the middle of winter.
The nightclub, now closed, is a cramped, three floor affair. Mahogany paneling and tin ceilings, you know the drill. A DJ spins on a stage on the main floor and, in the narrow rectangular space in front of him, a throng of sweaty twenty-somethings bob rhythmically up and down.
I’m dancing with my back against the stage, having, to be completely honest, a lacklustre time, though I’m not ready to admit this to myself yet. Instead, between surreptitious glances at the crowd around me, I try to dance with greater… emphasis. Look, of course we’ve all had those wondrous magical nights on the dance floor when we felt like we were in a music video of our lives, but as the hard-partying girlfriend of a friend once put it, “I don’t really like going out, most of the time it sucks, but one out of ten times, it’s awesome, and that’s why I keep doing it –because if I stay in, I’ll end up wondering if tonight is that one in ten night, and I’m missing out.”
I know, I know. I’m really lame and even the girlfriends of my friends are lame.
Moving on, okay?
So I’m dancing and it’s crowded and there’s this one guy that’s standing in front of me, that I can see over the shoulder of my dance partner, and he’s maybe 5’10 with curly brown hair and this whiny, snobbish look all over his face. It wasn’t an upper-crust, born with a silver spoon in the mouth kind of snobbery. Rather, you could tell that he never had it easy with the whole self-esteem thing, always living in the shadow of more alpha males. Pretty early on, he’d given up on competing with his handsome older brother for his father’s approval, and had resorted to his pushover mother’s affection as a compensation prize. All the girlfriends he’s ever had were just like him, and they would eat poorly and unimaginatively, and he’d have sex with his socks on not because he was overtaken by passion, but more from a subconscious need to always be the one that gives less. He works in a predominantly female office (further avoidance of having to compete with alpha males) and basks in the indiscriminate glow of attention that such offices bestow on the lone male colleague. He struts, yes, between the printer and the coffee machine, but he never stands up straight.
And he’s getting too close. But not in a trying-to-dance-with-me way; he just isn’t respecting my space, you know? And he’s bobbing up and down. And that hair, the way it bobs up and down too. And his stupid glasses reflecting light all over the place.
Okay, I’ll admit it. I just didn’t like his face. That was all.
So here I am, the adverb for my dancing turning from emphatically into aggressively, into menacingly. I’m not having a good time. I’m not drunk enough, the music is not interesting enough, and I for shit sure am not lost in the kaleidoscope moment of my music video life. I stop looking at anyone else and focus in on the four-eyed idiot in front of me, and although my displeasure is targeted at a very specific individual, my mind is dull and blunt. There is no inner dialogue. At one point, when Sir Beta Male leans ever so slightly forward towards me, I shove him.
He immediately shoves me back. (I told you, he’s a hater!)
And then someone sees that he shoved a girl, and Sir Beta Male is toast. We look at each other with surprise as the distance between us grows. Turns out someone’s got a hold of him and he’s being pushed through the dance floor like a bulldozer. He gets pinned against the wall of the Annex, a large alpha male hand around his scrawny throat, the crowd, finally enlivened, darting all over the place to get a good view without getting hurt. And Sir Beta Male looks genuinely frightened, like the dastardly rat villain in a children’s novel who gets his comeuppance. If it was quieter, I’m sure we could heard him squealing.
Since he doesn’t put up a fight, he’s quickly dropped to the ground. The fight is over, clearly, but tell that to the three women he had come to the club with, because suddenly I am body-checked from behind by an angry white girl. I turn around to look at my attacker.
She’s the kind of girl that walks around the city with an unpleasant pucker on her face, reads about all of the “hot” places in the city assiduously, goes to them with her friends (carbon copies of herself), treats the waitstaff snidely, jabs and cuts at her food passive aggressively, tips poorly, and leaves the restaurant with a dour expression, but then writes in her online dating profile, “I love food and I love tasting all that the city has to offer!” And when she goes home to her Ohio suburb over Thanksgiving, she cannot shut her trap about how everything in New York is better, oh daddy, you have to come see the Whole Foods there, they have the best California rolls! When she eats sushi, she always demands the low-sodium soy sauce, and looks accusingly around the room as if the world is plotting to bloat her. She never orders the sea urchin. She waxes at a cheap salon in the Upper East Side, and if she were open to her sensual self (she isn’t), she would admit that she rather enjoys the pain of removal. Technically speaking, it is possible for her to be pretty, but an utter lack of joie de vivre prevents her from being warm, while a reflexive defensiveness precludes her from being cool –she is like a bad cup of tea, unpleasantly lukewarm. She wasn’t the pretty sister.
So, she fucking body slams me!
I am shocked and confused, but nonetheless have the sense to push her back. One unpleasant girl turns into three, and they are all going helter-skelter, ineffectively but very angrily punching and shoving me and anyone and everyone within reach. But it seems that all of us are rather weak-bodied and though there is a lot of vitriolic movement, none of us manage to hurt anyone. It’s like an ineffective mosh pit. And even though I am not a violent person (I swear!), I keep pushing back. I decide that I severely dislike Sir Beta Male and the Lukewarm Girls –not because they are perpetual losers who go through life licking wounds imaginary and real, but because they are the type of losers that make the people around them feel bad. They try to cover-up their closed-mindedness and middling intellect by living in a large city. They are the mean scowlers on your morning commute, making the world a worse place than it has to be.
Or maybe I just don’t like their faces.
Through the noise and confusion, I hear the whine of an emasculated male:
“I lost my glasses!”
Sir Beta Male is bent over on the dance floor, pathetically looking for his glasses. Good lord. Don’t get me wrong, I’m heartless and I’ll cut you, but I totally rely on my contact lenses and do not have the stomach to continue to brawl when there is a helpless blind person standing in the fray. I stop shoving the Lukewarm Girls and join in the search for dickface’s glasses, and without thinking twice about it, use my Blackberry as a flashlight. That was a mistake because the moment one of the angry white girls sees my PDA, she snorts, “Oh My God, a Blackberry!”
I am embarrassed at my oversight. I can’t believe I showed my Blackberry. This is like trying to be a gang leader in prison and then having your mom’s handwritten instructions for how to take your multi-vitamins read over the loudspeakers.
I am thankful that she did not say Blackberry any louder. The whole club could’ve turned against me. Not because I am the only white-collar worker there, but because most of us were, and most of us were at a place like The Annex trying to forget that fact.
In every fight, there is a winner and a loser. Luckily, the giant bouncers, the judge and jury of the nightclub scene, rule in my favor, and roughly escort Sir Beta Male and the Lukewarm Girls out the club. I imagine them shivering outside on the sidewalk, cursing me out even as their voices trembled in the cold, vowing of lawsuits and hired guns, and adding this event to their almanacs of personal defeat, yet another reason to keep being themselves.
Inside the club, the music is back on. I feel the niggling ambivalence of one who has done something crummy to crummy people. I smooth down my hair and my ridiculous miniature dress, and try to dance again.