Ice Capades

It’s been cold lately and the sound of heavy car doors slamming in the night across the street, and V-8 engines idling outside in wintry air conspired to take me back… back to being sixteen and in the back of Glenn’s old yellow Mustang, four friends cruising around looking for fun or adventure in the bleak night outskirts of 70’s Chicago suburbs…

We pulled into the Wendy’s for god knows what reason, out of our usual area, not really knowing where we were or who we were mingling with, far from in our right minds.

These were days when life unrolled in the vivid gritty color of Scorsese’s Mean Streets.  Amongst us four friends, I was the little guy, scrappy enough—a self-declared existentialist bred of losses with an appreciation of the absurd and a soft-spot for nihilism—a kid with a bad attitude who truly could not have cared less.

Still, this did not make me eager to get hurt (or at least not interested in anyone other than myself taking the wheel in my romanticized penchant for potential destruction), and so I was alarmed to see most of the rival high school’s very large football starting line-up teaming toward us with angry faces.  To this day I’m not always razor-sharp on the uptake in catching every detail around me, and so I had missed it when one of my friends, in a moment of dull-witted insouciance, had elected to flip one of the rival footballers the finger.  Even he, fearless as he might have generally been, had not realized that it wasn’t just the four guys at that one table who he might rudely engage in social intercourse, but the two neighboring tables as well.

Now it might have been one of them that flipped the finger first, and maybe I did catch my friend flipping back out of the corner of my eye.  But I was crystal clear and doing fast math as we all seemed to stand and shuffle toward the door in some cotillion-like choreography that was all completely new to me, but apparently not to my friends or my new-found enemies.  The equation read:  four of us plus nine of them equaled I wish I had stayed home.

Standing for a brief moment in the bracing night air gave me a chance to appreciate how truly large these guys were, especially the linebacker.  Then, all at once, the fighting started.  Two guys summarily grabbed our chief finger-flipper while a third used his gut like a punching bag, evincing the courage of an ticked off Sinatra.  A general scuffle of five on two presently engaged my other pals to their rather sorry disadvantage.

The opposition’s littlest guy (picture an extra-annoying Ralph Macchio circa 1976) picked me out for safe showboating; backed up by they guys who had dispatched of our first man down.  Young Ralph was free to push me in the chest and taunt me, while I stood with arms at my sides, knowing that I could handle this guy (I did know a fair amount of Tae Kwan Do), but I knew it would look like bullying to his beefier brothers and thus a no-win proposition—unless I wanted a taste of what my first friend got served. 

Looking back, I might have been wise to take a shot at him for gratification, as my restraint did not pay off.  Instead, the linebacker-largest of them all happened to glance over at the two of us seeming to square off, and to him, in his too much time spent out in the hall brain, it looked like I was bullying his little friend—threatening their quasi mascot.

Apparently this was just the sort of justification linebacker-man was looking for as pretext to blow off a little steam.  He stood behind me, in my blind spot, and wound up like a major league pitcher, taking his sweet time unseen by myself, who was still saying useful things to rageful Ralph like, “I’m not going to fight you, man.”  El pugilist, meanwhile, clocked me with a round-house punch that lifted me off the ground, my tooth swiftly moving to meet his knuckles, barely stopped from reaching said knuckles by the insulating layer of my ever-after-scarred lip. 

Lying on the ice of the glaze-cooled blacktop, I struggled to shake off the punch.  Reaching for the tenacious refusal to simply lay down and quit, I began to barely stagger up from the frozen parking lot in the face-saving style of Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, yet I was hopeless against my hulking George Kennedy of an opponent who took this occasion to kick me in the head.  I saw the steel toe of his boot coming, as if in slow motion, a locomotive bearing down on my temple out of the inky black night.

When I awoke, the linebacker was hoisting me for a second time, this time back to my feet.  He walked me back and forth in the frozen lot, like a boxer’s manager between rounds trying to keep me in the fight that he had just knocked me out of.  He steered me to the door of the fast food joint, saying he thought I needed to clean up.  Through bleary eyes I watched as the manager met us at the door—only to lock it with a gesture mingling fear with disgust—an Edward Hopper nighthawk shuttering the place against the heathen beasts outside, of which I had now become one, outcast and refused service.

It was the nighthawk’s mawkish refusal that made me glance down at my orange ski parka to notice that it was soaked red with my own lurid Mean Streets blood. It was then that I noticed the warm flow of blood continuing to dribble down my face and chest and felt extra woozy.

The linebacker walked me back and forth again, mumbling about how he’d been afraid that he’d killed me, and going on about how he was sorry, although he did acknowledge that he had been in a particularly bad mood at the time of our fight because he’d been arrested earlier that day.  “For what?” I asked, curiosity bringing me out of my punch-drunk stupor and toward awareness the horrendous pain of a split lip and a concussed temple.  “For battery,” my linebacker tossed off without a hint of irony.


Ah, those were the days, my friends.  We washed up in the toilet of a filthy garage, cleaning blood with rough brown paper towels, and snuck into bed, hiding bloody clothes as best we could.

I relay this story partly in defense of why I never liked to eat at Wendy’s (even back when I would eat at equally bad fast food joints of other branding); but mostly I write this for insight into what a lot of young boys, and a fair number of girls, might be thinking and feeling when brutality rises up to meet them. 

I would be saddened and horrified if anything like this were to happen to my kids, and yet I had an unexpected take-away from this situation:  I lost my fear (at least of fights).  While I have had friends who liked to get in fights, I never was, nor did I ever become that guy.  However, for all my childhood I had feared getting into a real fight (not the schoolyard dust-up where maybe one punch is thrown followed by wrestling and someone getting pinned), and long-dreaded what it would be like. 

While I suppose that things have only gotten more dangerous, with kids more likely to have guns and weapons, and I am in no way saying that I think fights are good things.  It is more about raising awareness of how we are all connected together in one situation; there are ultimately no good or bad kids, whatever we ultimately are in aggregate, that too is what we are singly.

I realize that a kick to the temple could have had lethal implications; but I also realize that what got me back up on my feet was not my will, nor my resolve, it was the very same incomprehensible force that knocked me to the ground and then rendered me unconscious.  Maybe it’s just a fleeting micro-Stockholm syndrome or something, but I sense that when two forces touch in this way, their destinies become intertwined, even if at levels far below current consciousness.  I have always tended to float a bit, and forces like linebackers, plants, animals and earthy women all help me confront the fact that I have a body and must, or “get to” (depending on the day), live in it.  Who knows how being punched and kicked in the head might have affected my brain?  Yet I must admit that it was liberating to get my ass resoundingly kicked and to live to tell the tale. 

Much has changed in my life, and in my world-view, since those days.  I took my could-not-care-less attitude to New York, and then Hollywood, where it brought me little in return.  My cynicism was just no match for professionals whose deeper cynicism allowed them to run Wall Street and Film Studios; and so I eventually returned, often in the lamp-lit quiet of therapy, to my natural personality, the one I possessed at two and four, the one who actually does care, and always did.

Now I care about the linebacker who has probably aged poorly, likely done time in prison and who, I suspect, would have a heartbreaking tale to tell us if we bought him a beer.  I feel connected as well to the local bully in my neighborhood who never beat me up, but frequently intimidated and humiliated me in my scared days of elementary school—a poor soul who turned to pimping and dealing drugs, only to have a karma-gram in the form of a car literally flying off an overpass and landing on him as he passed below.  I think of him often, and fondly, imagining him freed from whatever lessons that life, as the youngest of eight or nine brothers who all beat him up, might have been about.  He had a beauty and grace about him too, a soulful look (far from dumb) combining young Matt Dillon with the Tim Riggins character from Friday Night Lights:  A perfect Shadow figure.

Over the years I have come to appreciate the mystery in which we dwell, bringing things we wish with all our hearts would not happen, blocking the way on things we wish with all our conscious ego-hearts to have, and eventually finding some way to come to terms with forces bigger than us.  While we are free to hate each other, and even to hate the source of ourselves (whatever it might be), we are also free to love it all, and this, I have found, through trial and tribulation, to be uncannily liberating.  I am deeply in favor of non-violence; and yet my children love their killing games and I have not forgotten what it was like to be a boy, relishing the “shoot ’em-up” movies I could bond with my father and brother over; maybe we have to make our way through greater consciousness of the violence within all of us before we are ready to live peacefully together—not in trite and simmering denial, but rather in knocked down and gotten back up tranquility.  As Chinese wisdom holds:  if we do not defend, we will not be attacked.  My experience at Wendy’s leads me to believe that “not defending” goes farther than not raising our hands up in a fight, it cuts to the core of what our hearts really hold, and there, I’m clear now of that vanished time, I was in a warrior stance of rage against the whole damn world.  The seemingly alien brute who materialized out of that dark night was no one other than my own Shadow self.

So, let’s dedicate today to relinquishing our fear, perhaps re-framing the ways in which life has kicked us in the teeth or in the temple, made us to taste dirt and humiliation, blocked the way on things we have wanted—and reclaim these experiences as perfect, as initiatory, illuminating, potentially freeing.  By embracing all that is we slip, paradoxically and non-intellectually, into a place of presence, acceptance, gratitude and happiness.  This benefits us, and it benefits all our collective children, because if we can somehow feel safe and happy, we are dramatically less likely to unconsciously hand our angst, negativity and clueless trouble-magnates off to our kids.

Namaste, Bruce

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7 Responses to “Ice Capades”

  1. Mwa Says:

    Seriously? And HOW?

  2. Laurie Says:

    Having a 10 year son and reading this made me shiver a bit. I get where you’re coming from but it still scares the heck out of my mother soul. Especially since I am looking at middle schools.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      My hope is two-fold: to give voice, and greater consciousness, to our Shadow aspects in the hope that for those of us who fall victim to violence, physical or psychic, we might also further our own individuation; but also the notion that if we grown-ups can hold more of the fear, as shivery and disturbing as it is, our kids, individually and collectively, might be less swamped by it and either fall prey to it or take it up and act it out.

  3. BigLittleWolf Says:

    Your tale is – to my female-mother self – horrifying, much in the same way, perhaps, as it is to Laurie. I can only remember the one time my little one – and truly little for his age – was jumped on in the playground and his brother threw himself into the fray, to the rescue. It was after school, I saw it happen – all so quickly – and no major physical injury resulted.

    But surely you aren’t suggesting that those little guys (or even big guys) who are singled out by bullies are in some way putting out vibes of violence?

    I remember my ex explaining his mode of attack (one of many) – telling our sons when they were little – if a bully ever comes after you, go after the little guy the bully hangs with, and take him down.

    My sons were so young when he said these things – and it is a language I did not understand 10 years ago and still do not. In other words, if A hurts you and A cares about B, destroy B if you wish to destroy A. A strange and manipulative chain of destruction.

    Certainly, most victims of random violence put out no psychic energy asking for harm.

    As for the violence in the world and the blind hatred that fuels it – again – I have difficulty understanding it even as I see it. I have no translation tool to comprehend its language.

  4. privilegeofparenting Says:

    I agree with what you say, and do not think victims invite the violence. My tales is horrifying to my own parental self, and still somewhat surreal to my kid self. Ultimately I do not have any answer at all on this, but the wish to be connected in the questions.

    Strategies, such as going after the bully’s sidekick, might be more about fathers trying to be in command of situations that scare all of us, including them. My dad’s advice was to hit any bully who taunted me, and this felt useless, like something from an old movie that didn’t look like the world I lived in. Over the years I could see that my dad’s attitude wasn’t even very good for himself.

    Our kids’ world is again different from our past, and so we struggle to know what to do to empower kids, keep them safe and cultivate empathy.

    The one thing I see, again and again, is the need to try to understand violence and hatred as related to something within ourselves. No one deserves to be hurt, but no one is above hurting others, given the wrong circumstances.

  5. Jack Says:

    That is quite a story.I always liked Cool Hand Luke, could even eat 61 eggs. 😉 Got to one up them.

    I have had more than one fist fight in my life, although it has been a while. In my experience it was more important to be willing to take the swing and give back as good as I received or better.

    That ultimately solved the problem. It doesn’t always make sense, but people don’t operate based upon logic and reason.

  6. Shadow Work « Privilegeofparenting’s Blog Says:

    […] swirled through my kaleidoscopic mind:  a nanno mano a mano duel at the side of the road; me beaten unconscious at a Wendy’s, Rodney King, Reginald Deny, Chinatown and Faye Dunaway’s dangling eyeball… and that long […]

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