dimanche, octobre 23, 2005

For Whom The Bell Tolls

I've told you about living across the street from "The Moose," aka "The Moosehead,” aka the bar that revels 'til dawn (and when the sun comes up at 7:30, that's saying something). Last night/this morning was particularly obnoxious. I was wide-awake until three something, and Dear Wife's intermittent sleep was ended around 5AM, to the sounds of singing and shouting and screaming. I've told you that the bar doesn't sound four stories down, it sounds right outside the window. Dear Wife finally gave in and rose at eight with some bitter words. I woke to this. And it seemed something had to be done.

I sit here writing this in bed, lappy on lap, a Ziploc bag of frozen peas applied to my neck (they've done all they can for the left orbit, thank you), the bells of Saint Sulpice ringing out densely from two blocks away, the sun bright, revealing a glorious day after yesterday's rains.

What happened?

Some guy let out a long yell, clearly enjoying himself. I jumped out of bed, looked down and saw four guys standing in the doorway of The Moose. Something had to be done. I went straight to the dresser (our dresser), put on jeans, a light sweater and my heaviest boots, the ones with the grippy soles, and told Dear Wife I'd be back. I didn't think. Instead of feeling rage I recalled being enraged about the noise, the endless American yelling and whooping, and now something had to be done.

Fortunately, the exit/entrance to our building is on a different street than The Moose. We come in and out on Rue St. Sulpice, which runs parallel to Rue ..., location of The Moose. Our apartment, in the back of our building (which, as you see, spans the girth of the block), looks out over this other street, the street of The Moose.

It was still dark out, but the first glow of dawn was coming. I rounded the corner onto Rue ..., and was alarmed to see a group of three big guys, one really big and with a military looking haircut, walking energetically toward The Moose. But they stopped one door before The Moose and went into a nightclub, an unmarked place with no windows that is only open on Friday and Saturday nights. More guys were standing out front, more in military haircuts. I saw no girls. They were all speaking French as I walked past, glowering. I wanted to find the guys at The Moose, the Americans (weren't they?), and tell 'em to shut up. But these guys had me a little unsettled. Are these the guys I've got a beef with?

At The Moose, one swarthy dude that looked like he had been out a long time stood near a girl in a fancy black party dress, who steadied herself against a wall with her head drooping, oblivious. From time to time the guy spoke quietly to her in French. I stood in front of them, looking into the bar. It appeared closed, all the chairs up on the tables, doors shut, Satellite TVs off, no personnel visible.

"Must be the guys at the club next door."

I went back. Two guys were standing out front: one youngish but tall, a friendly face. The other taller, an ugly, gaunt, hawk-like face and a military haircut, everything shaved except the platter of fuzz on top. A jarhead cut, here in the heart of Paris, the same style as his even bigger friend inside, whom I'd seen earlier. Were they in the military, the French military? It didn't look good, but I wasn't about to stop now.

I told them to shut up. I said it in English and I glowered. They looked at me. Neither seemed drunk, neither was being outrageously loud at that particular moment, but there was a general garrulousness in the air, though most of the revelers were inside right now. The two out front queried me in French. I repeated, "Shut up," said in a general way to let them know I disapproved of all the noise, and not just from the two of them, standing on the street.

The military haircut guy started getting angry.

The guy with the friendly face tried to look friendly and profess ignorance. He was to my left. I was concentrating on the hawkish jarhead, who stood maybe three inches taller than me. They were both speaking at me in French, laconically at first, then more insistently as I kept repeating my senseless complaint. I don't know what I wanted but I wanted to make it known I was pissed. I was trying to forget the unknown number of their compatriots inside (there were at least four more). I wanted to concentrate on the angry guy, the guy in front of me with his big water bottle, his totally alert features, his menacing tone. They didn't seem drunk, and this was bad, I knew—the crew cut in front of me was wild-eyed and agitated now. Now he was getting aggressive. What was my problem, they wanted to know in French. I wanted to tell them.

But I didn't know how to say this in French.

They got angrier, and I elevated my tone, still in English, but I was beginning to realize how ridiculous this was. I was standing there, glowering silently, not backing away, but my belief in my moral superiority was crumbling. "Dammit, this IS their country--and I can't even convey a simple message like, 'Shut up.' What the hell am I doing?"

Then he slapped me.

A girl suddenly appeared, she got between me and the jarhead (no disrespect to any military personnel, anywhere), and she was trying to speak some English to me. I don't remember what I said to her. She was between the military guy and me and maybe I tried to explain myself, maybe I didn't, but she was moved aside, and once these things start they have a way of running their course....

Dear Wife was upstairs still, oblivious of my intent, and heard a fracas. Then, from four stories above, she heard me loudly saying "Shut the fuck up!"

And then there was a fight.

When I came back upstairs she asked me excitedly, "Did you see the fight down there?!"

"Oh yeah."

The girl who spoke some English and tried to intervene was drunk, but she had stepped aside and I really didn't know how to respond to the slap—call my second and order some pistols? The guys inside the club had taken notice, but the guy next to me, with the friendly face, seemed neutral. I figured the friendly face wouldn’t sucker punch me as I argued with the jarhead, so I focused my attention on this guy who had slapped me. Some more words were said—maybe I said 'em. I know the crewcut threw an overhand right that I think skidded over my head as I moved in with a right forearm to his ribs, catching him fully, but not as hard as I hoped. I tried to plant my feet and turn my hips, to let my body do the work, but he was back at me so quickly I didn’t know if the shot had been worth a damn. I did feel the satisfying flexing of his ribs as my arm sunk into his torso, going for that exposed shelf beneath the pec. It landed perfectly. But he wasn’t down.

The rest is hazy.

The main danger, which I sensed from the core of my lizard brain to the tippy-top of whatever reasoning was still working, was the friends factor: namely, this guy had six guys on his side, and I had none. That math didn’t look good. So I fought the main fight with the jarhead sort of half-assed, constantly holding back, constantly watching for the intrusion of his buddies and worried about how to fend them off. Twice, when I had the advantage, his friends leapt in to jarhead’s aid, kicking and punching me from behind—but both times I managed to squirrel away and reset. So I was always trying to protect my flank.

Things that remain crystal clear, if inexplicable: I somehow had a hold of jarhead, and was driving him into a parked car, this after the first few blows, punches traded that I can’t remember at all, except my first. I remember running with him toward the car because I wondered, as we fell toward it, whether I should try to put his head through the passenger door window. It seemed very doable, but no, I shouldn’t—if I did something wildly violent like that, all of his friends would not hesitate to kick my ass with equal violence. And what about the car’s owner? He wouldn’t like a broken window. As I was deciding this, during what seemed the very slow action of moving toward the car, I remember seeing very clearly the looming car window, rolled down just a little, set in the chipped, black doorframe of a beater Toyota Tercel; "It looks like a Hyundai that was spray painted black," I think. Do they have Hyundai’s in France?

I settled for pinning the guy to the car, (which seemed miraculous, I have no idea how I’d gained the advantage through all this, it didn’t seem that even one of my punches after the first had landed, yet we were punching, not wrestling, and then I had grabbed hold and run him at this car), but as soon as I did, punches and kicks began to rain down on me from behind: his friends. They kicked hard, and they punched hard. One guy landed a good one right below the lower edge of my ribcage.

What would Tom Moon do?

As they were whaling on me I told myself don’t get knocked out, get away from their blows. The next thing I remember was seeing with penetrating clarity a metal post before me, one of the metal posts that line the edge of the sidewalks on these small streets, tall as a man's crotch and meant to protect pedestrians from cars—"Don't fall over that," I thought, spinning away; "Don't let 'em skewer you on that."

Then I remember my neck felt funny.

I got away from the guys pelting me from behind, and out into the narrow street. Luckily, the tall jarhead’s crew didn't want to end it, they wanted to see their buddy take me.

Maybe they’ll just intervene when I get a little too far ahead, I thought, but this thought suddenly sobered me, and I realized I could be in real danger here. “I’m on an empty, dark Paris street, surrounded by half a dozen French military guys wanting me to get my ass kicked….Keep it close," I thought, "But don’t give ‘em a reason to kill you."

This makes it sound like I knew what I was doing. In fact I was completely unsure what to do, and my actions were all reactive: he threw a punch, I tried to punch back—he rushed me, I tried to repel him and throw him somewhere else. Never does a strategy crystallize, except for, “Protect yr flank—don’t let his friends get involved—y're f'ed if they do."

I remember jarhead coming at me in a rage, leading with a fast right kick that pushed me back a bit, and opened me up for an overhand right. This sequence was repeated two more times, each time the kick is so fast it distracts me, and twice the punches connect, once on my orbit (zygomatic process), and once under my cheek, against the side of my jaw. After the first connects I think, "That didn't hurt so much;" after the second lands (again, a solid connection, but not too painful), I realize I’ve got to counter—but he’s so damn tall, his chin seems so far away, and I’m afraid of hitting his beaky nose by accident and breaking it and then really bringing everyone down on my ass.

The third time he tried this kick/punch combo, I countered (another right, I guess—it’s unclear—where was that left hook? Where was that defense?), and he seems surprised.

Then more punches between us, and I somehow get gain the upper hand again, getting him spun completely around me and driving him down, away from my punches and onto the front grille of another car that’s on the opposite side of the street from where we started. I remember holding back a little, not going all-out for fear of his pals—still, I connect with a few good, quick shots that get him laid out on the car’s hood, trying to defend himself. I remember feeling the pain in my neck and now on my jaw and wanting to repay him, but once I got him on the car and threw something decent (more rights, I'm sure), there were again blows from behind.

I figure that’s it, his friends have seen enough and now I’m going to get that almighty ass-kicking I’ve been avoiding all my life.

But no.

First a few smacks from behind, which become suddenly less vicious, all the steam going out of ‘em—then somebody grabbed me; it was the friendly faced guy, who just an instant before had been punching me half-heartedly (and kicking); I am pulled off of jarhead. And now a businessman is next to me, a sort of French Tom Bosley, Mr. Cunningham, carrying a briefcase, looking concerned, saying something and coming forward to break things up. All of jarhead’s friends are intermingling with us now, but not violently, and even as I try to see them, I can’t—it’s like my eyes will only identify jarhead, and anything totally unexpected, like the Tom Bosley figure—the friends won’t come into focus. They are just a dark mass crowding around jarhead.

As I was pulled away, I was already lamenting my woeful performance: "Did I even hit him?" I wondered. Wasn't I supposed to knock him out with a single, killing blow? But I couldn't say for certain if anything I'd done had worked. I remembered the blows HE landed, or at least felt ‘em. I didn't feel like I'd hit him at all--dammit, I blew it, I'm thinking to myself, watching jarhead struggle free from his buddies restraining him. I yell at the friendly faced guy holding me, who’s given me a quick clench as jarhead struggles free, “Don’t stop me, stop HIM, fer chrissakes!” Jarhead wanted to keep going.

But he never makes it to me. The old man is speaking to him, to all the French youths, and other people seem to be around now. The spell had been broken. I looked past the calm-voiced Tom Boeslée to the lights of the Gérard Mulot Patisserie on the corner, open now, a girl behind the counter staring back at me with a shocked expression.

Jarhead is too close to me, angry still. I squirm out from the grasp of the friendly-faced guy. Everyone’s talking in French, but it seems far away. They don’t sound too excited, except for crewcut, who’s shouting. He seems pissed. The sky is starting to get light. Is someone gonna call the cops? I turn away slowly, and without a look back walk down the street and around the corner, back to our place.

When Dear Wife, who was unsighted from our apartment and couldn’t see the fracas, learns I’ve been in a fight, she is completely shocked. This after she tells me she couldn’t see the fight from our bedroom window, but that the guy across the street came to his fifth floor window naked, holding his balls, and watched the whole thing. Being a public spectacle does have it gratifications, I guess. Dear Wife says she saw fighting, but it was a guy pushing down someone who worked at the mystery club and was carrying a box of empties out to the curb, that it was a tall guy who did the pushing, that he was raging at everyone, and seemed very pissed off until he was dragged inside by his friends.

That part was gratifying.