I'm not a tough guy. I don't go looking for fights. However, I am blessed with size, an impulsive character and a strong lack of rationality that makes me well-equipped for physical confrontation whenever it arises. There's nothing inherently glamorous about fighting. It's ugly, stupid and childish. But everyone fights because sometimes you have to.
You have to understand why people love fighting. It's visceral. It's honest. A punch can't be misinterpreted like the complexities of speech and language. We love the directness of physicality. We're mesmerized by animals enacting Darwinism because it's not legal or acceptable for humans to do the same on such a primal level. But that fight always lives within us. There would be a lot more fights if there was anarchy—if civilization found itself in some type of Lord of the Flies situation. I believe in love and compassion between humans, but when the circumstances are dire enough, life becomes a game of kill or be killed, every man for himself. Instinct kicks in and fights are a brief reversion to our most basic nature.
Physical confrontation can be high art. It paints a clearer picture of humanity and vulnerability and strength and dominance and ego than nearly anything else. I punched a guy in the face on the train a few weeks ago and I'm still fascinated by the logistics of that confrontation. It really isn't about bravado or any of that posturing, machismo bullshit. Like I said, I'm not a tough guy, not in the canonical sense. That hooting-and-hollering-taking-your-shirt-off-drunk-dickhead-instigating-always-trying-to-scrap-buffoon-shit is exactly what I'm saying that I'm not. There's nothing interesting or cool about it. But sometimes you're put in situations where you're forced to resort to physical blows and it can be beautiful if you let it.
As per the aforementioned train incident, some fucking idiot finance bros squeezed onto the 4 Train after a Yankees game against the Red Sox in early September: The one where Chase Headley hit a walk-off homer to win it. I'm going to cut out most of the details and just say that this dude and his boy were being douchebags and picking on this Indian intern kid who was with his co-workers and talking about how much money they had in this really obnoxious way and my girlfriend, who was being a decent human being, told them that they were rude and that their clothes were wack and they should shut up. I'm down to let women fight their own battles. I'm not the boyfriend who needs to step into every fucking situation, trying to be a savior, so I was keeping it pretty neutral and off to the side peeping the scenario as it transpired, but mostly because I was reading this fire book. Then, I got offended because this fuccboi started mocking the fact that my girlfriend was sticking up for this kid and telling her to "keep it real" in this like fake ass hip-hop, urban voice, so I just told this dude, "Don't fucking say 'keep it real' to her. I know what you're trying to do."
I forget what he said exactly, but it was some bullshit and I told him that I'd punch him in his fucking face and he said "do it" and I called his bluff and punched him right in his fucking face. He thew an angry, entitled white man tantrum, but didn't do shit and looked like an idiot with his baggy collared shirt and square-toed shoes and messenger bag, trying to act aggressive while his entire face was leaking so badly that it looked like some shit from The Walking Dead. Everyone else on the train kind of cheered me on once it was clear I wasn't just a violent black guy punching a random bro for no reason, which I'm sure was their first thought, and everyone made the racist asshole get off the train before it even crossed back into Manhattan.
There's something remarkable about the fact that we all have the capacity to humble someone with our bare hands, but it's a power that you have to wield carefully. When fights are useful and not reckless, they have meaning. They're a commentary on how well-intentioned violence can ruin a brute opponent. It's an indisputable statement on where the cards lie in any situation.
I do not, and never will, condone violence that has zero purpose. Even though hurting a fuccboi feels great, that's never really what it's all about.
On two separate occasions this year I've had to choke out guys in the club who were talking shit and harassing people that I was with. I wasn't being the asshole in those situations. I was just letting them know that what they were doing was unacceptable and that you don't fucking act rude to women at a bar and, if you do, and a real motherfucker is in the vicinity, you will suffer the consequences.
Sometimes, someone puts their hands on you and threatens your entire existence and you have to lay them out on the sidewalk. It gets the job done, but there's also a thrill in it and makes you feel alive in the stereotypical page out of Fight Club sense. Most of my schoolyard fights growing up were over dumb shit like someone saying something about my mother back when the rule was that you had to throw hands over that, but some of them were really necessary and important and crucial to my development as a person.
One time at a basketball game, after my team played and we had to watch the eighth graders, I was arguing with some classmates about dumb shit the way that seventh graders tend to do. For some reason, this poor fucking idiot kid, Mike McGuiness, who wasn't even really involved in the argument in the first place, stood up from the bleachers and socked me square in the face. To this day, I still don't know why he hit me, but I retaliated and didn't even get a good hit in before being wrapped up in his skirmish until our coach came to break it up. Like Tommy in Goodfellas, I learned that there are consequences for fighting and got suspended from school for a week and got kicked off the basketball team and student council and couldn't go to any dances or school events for the rest of the year and basically failed in every way that the predominately white student body and administration at my middle school probably expected me to. That episode only served as motivation to come back the next year and stunt on motherfuckers even harder. I was eventually elected student council president and delivered our graduation speech. I was winning and it all stemmed from that fight.
A couple of years later at my terrible high school, these fucking lame ass gangbanger types who were repping the "4 Corner Hustlers," would always try to start shit with me in gym class, literally for no reason. I mean, in retrospect, I guess it was because I was suburban and not lying about where I came from, had white friends, listened to rock and wore pink Polo sweaters and shit, so they thought that they could test me and bully me and that shit was always laughable because I didn't give a fuck about anything they had to say and wore my weird, preppy clothes and always had a smart comeback for a hater. I didn't explicitly invite violence, but you can only avoid that shit for so long.
It got to the point where I had to punch a motherfucker in his mouth in the locker room and, I can't lie, it was dope. It made me a better man and helped me establish that no one can or should fuck with me and, if they wanted to try, I wouldn't let them. After I finally shut it down, I got my respect and the dude who was fucking with me even tried to be cool with me. I never paid his bitch ass any attention, but it taught me an invaluable lesson about human politics and interaction.
Again, I'm not some vicious, fighting psycho. I've been in maybe, like, 10 fights my entire life. I've never been arrested and the last thing that I want in the world is to catch a charge or something. That shit is for losers. The few times that I have fought, it was necessary and it meant a lot. Sometimes, if a motherfucker won't listen, you need to beat his ass and shut him the fuck up. Morally, it's the right thing to do. Sometimes, you have no choice but to run up on the enemy and handle business. I do not, and never will, condone violence that has zero purpose. Even though hurting a fuccboi feels great, that's never really what it's all about.
When fighting, you shouldn't focus on the harm that's being done to someone else. Don't take sick, sadistic pleasure in injuring others. That's for savages. The art of physical confrontation is in the message that you send. It's in those extreme moments, when fighting is the only way to successfully administer justice, that your fists hold the power.
Ernest Baker is a writer living in New York. Follow him on Twitter here.