This is no Time for Polite Analysis: Lessons from a Barroom Brawl

Aggression and violence are sweeping our country, moving into power. Politicians wag their fingers and speak in raised voices. Lawyers threaten to sue if law-breaking promises are kept. The media offer analysis, and millions of armchair critics chime in on social media. How did this happen? Why? What will happen next? Meanwhile, Trump and his henchmen are taking their positions.

I’ve got news for you, America: we’re about to get punched in the nose.

This election reminds me of a barroom brawl I once knew; I was at its center. I want to say I’m not the type, but maybe I am. That is, I am acquainted with violence. From my father’s belt, the palms of my mother’s hands, playground fist fights, and later from men, both strange and familiar, I know it. I know it well enough to react with all of my being when I see it coming. Maybe that’s why I haven’t slept through the night since the wee hours of November 9.

When I can’t sleep, the brawl is the kind of memory that plays in my mind. How does it relate to our situation? Bear with me.

I am sitting in a bar with my boyfriend, who in another story lives happily ever after to become my husband, but not yet. We are sharing a long, pub-style table with another male friend, the kind of gruff, woodsy intellectual who used to populate the town before the gentry arrived and civilized us.

I am drinking wine, my boyfriend and friend are drinking pints, and we are all feeling rosy. At the table behind us, two women are smoking.

Smoking in public spaces is forbidden, but these women are from out of town. They tell me so. One, a stately (read: large) brunette, leaning back with her legs crossed, casually puffing away, is from Canada (no province or city named) and the other, a Janis Joplin knock-off with frizzy locks and spectacles, is from Boston.

When we ask them to stop smoking, they refuse. My boyfriend gets up to buy another beer and report them to the bartender, but I, feeling the warmth of my second or third glass of wine, wave him down. “Don’t worry. I’ll just talk to them.”

I forget you can’t reason with belligerence.

I begin with the old, “when in Rome” speech, but they aren’t having it. They have so little of it, in fact, that before I’ve uttered more than a sentence or two the one with the spectacles is lunging at me over the table. I see her coming like a tidal wave, looming in mid air, about to engulf me. The table is ten feet long, but only two feet wide, so she will arrive at any moment.

Somehow, beyond my poorly reasoning mind, my body responds. In the time between act and action I am on my feet, reaching around her, my hand on her back, helping her in a downward arc to the floor. The table comes with her.

Now I am leaning over her, my hand still on her back, her glasses a tangle of bent wire, her hair splayed outward, and I am pressing gently so she cannot move from the wooden platform the table has made on the floor. The brunette is still sitting in her chair, smoking, oddly solitary now with nothing in front of her. I realize my situation could get worse, quickly.

I look around for my boyfriend, or my woodsy friend. I don’t see them. I summon my voice from somewhere in my chest, but it comes out weak. “Help! This woman attacked me! Help!” I worry I don’t sound convincing.

A sea of faces turns from the bar. Eyes focus slowly on me and the women. They stare. They don’t seem to recognize the danger. Our bodies form the letters of an unfamiliar language, and they can’t read it.

“Help! She attacked me!”

Finally, Alfred jumps to my aid. Alfred is from the Virgin Islands, and I have never understood why he chose our frigid New England town for his home. He is a dancer, full of power and grace, who wears sequins and miniskirts and powders his eyes with glitter.

He takes my position over the fallen woman and I extricate myself, retreating to a safe distance, but remaining watchful. The bartender comes around the bar to intervene. She is not the object of their wrath, so she is safe. I move to a far corner of the room.

A group of friends encircles me, their eyes wide. They are all men, of the gentlest sort: artists, writers — creative types who have become my community. They are nothing like the men of my youth. They have never trekked into frost covered woods before dawn, killed an animal, left its lungs and entrails steaming on the ground while they dragged it back to the road, and then filled a freezer with meat or adorned their walls with trophy.

“Mindy, what happened?”

They need to understand, to analyze.

Their bodies form a loose circle around me, their backs to the room, the door, and the women, so I can’t see beyond. I am stammering, struggling for an answer to their bottomless question, when the women appear and start throwing punches over and between them. I take a fist to the mouth and feel my lip split against my teeth.

I hear Alfred yell. “Enough!” He sweeps in and hugs one woman from behind, pinning her arms against her torso, and then heaves her in great, loping steps toward the door. My boyfriend steps in, grabs the other woman, and mimics the move. I press my fingers to my mouth to assess the damage.

I want to scream, at everyone, including my friends who surrounded me and rendered me defenseless, but I push through them and leave. My boyfriend follows at a distance as I storm home. I feel shame — horrible, stabbing shame — because violence demeans all who associate with it.

So how does this brawl relate to the “transfer of power” we are witnessing? We are making the same mistakes.

No matter how articulate, polite, or right we are, we cannot bargain with a bunch of bullies. Trump and his followers are blowing smoke in our faces, while we appeal to reason.

It’s time to stop analyzing, to stop searching for complex answers to simple questions. The urge for power through violence has always existed, and probably always will. We do not need to understand the how, the why, and the nuance of it.

There can be no peaceful transfer of power when the recipients have violent intent. We can hope someone with enough strength and influence will see these guys to the door; if our hero is clad in sequins and glitter, so much the better, but I don’t think Alfred will be able to handle this one alone. A Trump regime is looming dangerously on the horizon, and our only hope is to turn and fight it together.