Fight! Fight! Fight!

...a brief note on writing and street fights.

Outside my neighborhood subway stop yesterday, two guys stood shouting at each other in what I hoped would turn into a street brawl. The smaller guy was pretty vocal, kept shouting, "You gonna die right here, homie! You don't wanna kill yourself! Touching me is suicide, playa!” (Some of his shit even rhymed.) The bigger guy mostly stood there. He occasionally inched closer while coolly smoking a cigarette and hissing, "Step on. What? Step on.” (Not a good fighting stance, the James Dean impression.) The little guy wore ragged Timberlands and cargo pants and had one of those hand-held fans—all ornament and delicate folds—that would fly open as he moved around, flashing the black and maroon pattern of an old saloon dress. Not a switchblade, a fan.

Nothing happened. No punches or broken jaws. Only the b-grade pantomime of Hollywood fight scenes they’d seen as kids. They rope-a-doped themselves into a stalemate while I stood there loving how everything in New York is wrapped in grandiose theatrics and verbal swordplay. There is gesture and mimicry, and then there is the poetics of direct movement, of contact. One is pretty and the other effective. Back home, the roughnecks and hired-hands wouldn’t have danced around in heated pirouettes or had time to pull dialogue out of the air. There’d only be muscles and bone and the sound of someone’s face caving in.

sidestep