We all know what we think we'll do until we actually have to do it.
Back in the day when winter still meant snow, the white rain fell for hours, and inside my local dive patrons secretly prayed to get snowed in. Then there’d be no last call because, well, Mr. Bartender, sir, we’d love to go elsewhere, but seven feet of snow is blocking the door. Guess the only option is another round? After all, it’s been the kind of evening one doesn’t want to end.
Granted, it isn’t the perfect night. That would mean a traveling burlesque freak show wandered in, and started performing. Tattooed ecdysiasts and chainsaw jugglers -- you get the picture. The point being, some places just can’t have perfect evenings. See, this is the kind of dive where lunatics self medicate, whiskey rather than lithium; school teachers follow their noses to cocaine overdoses; and white trash royalty drink twelve hours a day, nodding their heads in bemused approval of the antics of a drunk pregnant woman -- queen of the fools. Mainly, though, enough people have been stabbed at this location it's known among my friends as The Stabbin’ Factory.
But on this particular evening, smiles are spread wide and unguarded, some with teeth, many without. Every jukebox pick is a crowd pleaser. The toothless hillbillys aren’t in screaming blackouts, twisted on a mix of pills and tequila. The regular choir singing with the jukebox is magically on key for once. There’s cheeriness to the room, the warm inviting sense one sees in silver screen happy family Christmas parties.
Then a curvy Hispanic woman in purple pajamas burst through the front door. Running at top speed, she trips over her own feet, and falls flat on her face. The dozen or so patrons erupt into a frenzy of hyena laughter. A few slow claps start up.
“Nice one honey!”
My buddy says to me, “She on drugs?”
It almost seems like a rhetorical question. Outside the temperature is probably ten degrees, the snow is ankle deep. Someone’d have to be on something to be running around in just P.J.s. But then, almost as if to answer the question, into the bar walks a stick figure in khakis and a white t-shirt. He storms over to the prone woman, gets down, and starts beating her. Hammer slaps coming down like a drum player. The laughter dies down, though some are still giggling -- the reality hasn’t sunk in yet. The Skinny Man grabs her by the hair, slams her head into the floor. The laughter stops entirely.
Eyes of the patrons drift around looking to see who will do something. For some reason, although everyone is against what’s going on, no one wants to be the first to act.
The bartender shouts, “Hey! Don’t do that,” and finally the room springs into action by echoing the sentiment.
Immediately Skinny Man jumps up, “Fuck you. This is none of your business. You don’t know what’s going on. Fuck all y’all.”
No one is laughing at this point. That needs to be made clear because he then said, “Especially that motherfucker in the hat. Don’t laugh at me. This ain’t funny.”
Now, there were only two people in the room that night wearing hats, and since neither of them were laughing I felt it necessary to ask, “Which motherfucker in the hat?”
Perhaps due to the tension in the room, folks took it as a joke, and some started chuckling. Obviously they didn’t realize, Skinny Man did not like to be laughed at. So he ran over to me, pulled out a knife, and it seemed my time to be stabbed had arrived.
He slashed at me a few times – I can't say for certain how close he got, but when you can feel the air move because of the swipe, the blade is too close – but mostly he stood in place making these hesitant jerking jabs. He kept saying, “Come on, I’ll stab you. Come on.” As if it were somehow my responsibility to move closer to him. Perhaps that’s the way things work, I don’t know, this was my first knife fight, and frankly it was a bit unfair, I didn't have a knife. That said, I think maybe it started dawning on him how deep a hole he was digging. Because an expression flashed across his face, and slowly, he started backing out of the bar. Once outside he took off running, disappearing into the dark.
We locked all the doors, called the police. The cops did nothing, but that's a whole other story. As for the young lady, she was understandably shaken, but insisted on going home. I asked where she lived, she said Roger’s Park. She’d been picking her boyfriend up from work when they got into a fight in the car. He started beating on her while they were driving, she jumped out and ran.
As such, it was necessary to walk back to her vehicle several blocks away. I suggested this might not be a good idea, given that her armed and dangerous, asshole of a boyfriend was lurking somewhere in the neighborhood like a khaki clad Wendigo. But she remained adamant about leaving. So I volunteered to walk her to her car.
One of the regulars offered to join us. I figured why not? If shit goes down I can use him as a human shield. Oddly enough, en route to the car he said, “If shit goes down, use me as a human shield. I don’t care if I live anymore.” But we got to her car without incident, and she drove off.
Back at The Stabbin’ Factory, patrons were already revising events to make themselves sound more heroic:
“I was just about to knock that fucker out when he run outta here like a bitch.”
It’s the revisions that bother me the most. Even I’m guilty of it sometimes, not implying I was about to perform some action movie martial arts takedown, rather, telling the story fondly. But I suppose the bright side is preferable. I'd rather tell the tale with a smile instead of a tear, “Hey man, remember that time I almost got murdered?”