I recently completed my last night of work at the local Pub where I’ve worked for nearly the past two years. To mark the occasion, my co-worker Ben and I decided to dress snappily in the old bartender/piano-player look: white dress shirt, black vest, black tie, black pants. We couldn’t find garters for our arms, but certain aspects must always be left to the audience’s imaginations.
Around 9:30 or 10, as the evening was creeping from very mellow towards decently busy, I noticed a guy standing at the end of the bar trying to get my attention. He was a good size bigger than me: probably 6’2″, pretty thick chested and stocky, but otherwise unremarkable in appearance. I approached him and asked what he needed, and he said that one of the pool tables was missing two balls. The tables at the Pub are free, and occasionally balls will get stuck in the wrong places. The simplest solution is to put the remaining balls down all the holes, and usually this dislodges the stuck balls and you’re back in business. I explained this to the guyâ€”sadly I never caught his name, and thus he will be known to posterity, or at least my version thereof, simply as Pool Ballsâ€”and though I found the concept rather simplistic and approachable, Pool Balls apparently did not, for he responded by stating, once again, “There’s two pool balls missing.” I explained the whole drop-the-pool-balls solution again, and once more he responded with, “There’s two pool balls missing.” I could detail the exact number of times this interaction repeated itself, but in the interest of brevity let’s simply say it was many. After the second round I caught his eye and noticed he was pretty drunk; by the fourth or fifth iteration, I realized Pool Balls was no longer looking at me, and was repeating his refrain in the direction of the floor. He’d grown increasingly loud with each repetition, and I wasn’t enjoying his silly reindeer game any more, and it was right then that I made a rather significant mistake: I touched him. It was nothing aggressive, a simple and gentle pat on his cheek, an attempt to raise his head up towards mine while I said, “Hey man, are paying any attention to me?,” but it turned out to be enough to spark a rather unfortunate series of events.
(Note: the contents of this posting, in specific reports on the exact language that was used, have been highly redacted so as to be suitable to small children, my mother and my grandmother. Once again, I leave the imaginative fodder in the reader’s able hands).
The question was rhetorical, but Pool Balls obviously had had negative experiences with that section of high school English class, for he responded by grabbing my shoulders aggressively, which was where he made his very significant mistake. I told him to get his hands off me; he told me he wasn’t trying to be a jerk, he just wanted the pool balls. I repeated myself, as did he, and this is the part where you can insert plenty of the sort of language that makes the Baby Jesus cry in his manger. At some point, I think as I was saying, “You don’t want to do this,” I noticed Ben coming around my left and passing behind the guy. The area near the bar can get rather congested and I’m plenty used to Ben passing behind me while we’re working, and I remember thinking, There goes Ben – he must be taking a drink to someone. But by the time I noticed Ben was carrying no drinks he had grabbed Pool Balls by the shoulders and said, “You’re outta here.” Being grabbed by Ben Pool Balls did the only thing available to him: he grabbed me tighter. Suddenly the three of us were moving, with Ben driving us from behind, quickly in the direction of the door. After a moment I realized that I should proactively participate in this process, and I partially snuck out of Pool Balls’s grip and attempted to grab him around the neck, all while Ben was continuing to push us forward.
We swerved near a table full of people who scattered like frightened gulls, and then Pool Balls and I were falling, the table was skidding, glasses were spilling and a chair was breaking. Pool Balls and I were on the floor, he still with a grip on me, and suddenly Ben was in front dragging us while Pools Balls struggled to resist. I got my feet under me and helped with the last couple inches of his departure. I heard fabric rip and Pool Balls, now laying on the sidewalk, was flailing, trying to kick and punch even though Ben and I were too far away to be touched.
The whole scuffle might have taken 20 seconds. Probably because neither of us wanted anything more to do with the situation Ben and I went back inside immediately, while our stalwart male friends – none of whom, inexplicably, had managed to get involved in the actual fight – guarded the door to make certain Pool Balls didn’t come back in. He fumed outside for a spell, threatening to call the police and continuing to whine about the missing balls, and then suddenly he was done. He politely asked someone to retrieve his sandals that had come off, and while he was waiting Pool Balls complimented one of my friends on his choice of eyeglasses and inquired as to where he had purchased his jeans.
There’s no easy transition after a fight: everyone in the bar was staring, confused, anxious, trying to figure out what had happened. It was one of those moments of awkward, fully-attentioned silence that I wish I’d been able to fill with some really intense, Dirty Harry-type response. I still don’t know what that would have been, but I’m certain no one who heard it would forget it.
In nearly two years of working at a bar, this was only the second time I’ve actually put hands on another person and escorted them – such as it was – off the premises. I’ve yelled people out, usually by relying on language unfit for reprinting (Grandma: if you’re reading this: of course I don’t talk that way… Remember, memory is a genre of fiction, which makes this simple posturing), but getting physical is something I’ve been fortunate to avoid. I say fortunate because the reality is that violence in-person is terrible and unappetizing, which is a weak metaphor in that it makes it sound like a dish that, if ordered at a restaurant, could simply be declaimed as distasteful and subsequently returned.
What upset me more than simply fighting over two missing pool ballsâ€”it’s stupid, sure, but I’ve gotten upset over less, and in some strange way can understand Pool Balls’ haphazard rageâ€”was the complete lack of control I felt. I didn’t choose to start this fight nor to participate in the ensuing violence: I was just one of the guys in the penguin get-up flailing along because it seemed the best choice. I don’t blame Ben: his intervention was appropriate, and he couldn’t have predicted that Pool Balls would’ve been so stubbornly resistive. And I don’t blame Pool Balls either: he was drunk and stupid, but I’ve been around enough sozzled idiots to know that’s simply par for the course of bar work. Luckily no one was hurt in any serious way, and perhaps that makes blame seem like an irrelevant category. I do wish it hadn’t happenedâ€”it was stupid and scary and completely unnecessary. But then again, if it’s your last night of work and you’re trying to go out with memorable bang, a bar fight ain’t a bad way to leave a mark. And for that, Pool Balls, I thank you, wherever you may be.
Sadly, there is no footage of the above related scrap. To those friends who were there: since you certainly weren’t helping Ben and me subdue Pool Balls and not one of you bothered taking any pictures or video of the brouhaha, I’m forced to ask: what the hell were you doing with yourselves?! Selfish, selfish drunkards. Thank goodness I brought my camera to catch some of the evening’s delights.