The first time --- which I have written about --- I was on LSD and having a not-so-good trip, was massively paranoid, and was convinced, in the manner that only people high on LSD can be, that a total stranger on a BART platform was going to attack me, so I had to attack him first. I spent three hours in the custody of BART police, followed by a trip to Alta Bates Hospital to be shot full of Thorazine. No charges filed; the guy I punched figured someone as messed up as I was didn't need any more trouble in his life. A very generous act on his part.
The second time I was drunk, surly, and stupid. One of those "You lookin' at me, asshole?" attitudes. I swung and kind of connected, sort of, he swung and connected well. He "won" the fight by dint of the fact that all he had to do was push me and I'd nearly go down: I was really, REALLY hammered.
It was probably pretty funny to watch. I'd stagger towards him slurring "Imma fukk y' up," he'd simply push me, and I'd stagger backwards to where I started, often landing on my ass. After about three or four times of this, a couple of random guys guided me out the door saying soothing things like "Don't worry, he ain't gonna fuck with you any more, okay? Why don't you sit down out here and get some fresh air?" So I sat down against the wall and promptly passed out for two hours, until a cop woke me up. I explained that I'd "felt a little tired," and he let me head towards home.... Fortunately, only four blocks away.
The third time was an ALF protester, maybe twelve years ago. Before everybody had cameras on their phones, which was a good thing.
This would also be a good time to mention that my wife is a diabetic. You can probably see where this is going.
I was walking along the edge of Sproul Plaza in Berkeley --- Christ knows why, since I detest Sproul Plaza; I was probably on my way to meet a friend. Among the 78 or so of the usual political/protest groups that inhabit Sproul were about six shitheads from the Animal Liberation Front: waving signs, bleating into their Mr. Microphone, handing out pamphlets, the usual knobbery. One of the ones handing out pamphlets got up in my face while I was walking, trying to push his tract into my hand, loudly asking, "Do you know what the medical science labs are doing to animals!?"
I must have already been in a cranky mood that day. Normally I would have shouldered him out of my way and muttered "Fuck off," without even missing a step, as I do with all pests of his ilk: Sproul is like that scene from Airplane! where one of the characters is running a gauntlet of religious fanatics ("Jews for Jesus!" "Scientology!" "Hare Krishna!"), shoving and punching his way through.
Instead I bothered to answer:
"Yeah, they're using them to figure out how to make sick people well."
Click! On went full Self-Righteous mode on his part.
"No! They're torturing and murdering innocent living beings for their own sick experiments! They kill rats, mice, and rabbits at a rate of..." Blah blah blah. I got fed up very quickly.
"Man, shut the fuck up. My wife's a diabetic. If it weren't for animal experimentation, she'd be dead."
"I don't care if your wife dies!"
"Did you... Did you really just say what I heard you say?"
And he said, all smug-like, "Yes! I hope your wife dies!!"
. . . . . . T h a t ' s i t .
You know you've heard the phrase about "seeing red"? It's actually true. Also your ears start to ring a little and your tongue feels too big for your mouth and your temples throb but don't hurt, it feels really weird, and your limbs get a tiny bit numb and you breathe through your mouth but don't really notice it and like I said before, you see red, everything has a red tint to it, and God himself is not going to prevent you from destroying whatever is in front of you. Him. The ASSHOLE SCUMBAG DOG-FUCKER SHIT-SACK who just told me he wanted my wife to die. I've moved well past being angry, I've moved beyond the limits of even being human. It had to have been obvious to anyone looking at me that I had sacrificed my own humanity, that I was rage incarnate, an IED explosive shaped like a man.
Except for this guy. The person who had insulted my wife in one of the most vicious ways, and he's just standing there. He was a stupid, stupid man.
I grabbed him by the shirt and began punching him in the face, over and over. I wasn't really aiming, just changing angle and direction. I had blood all over my left arm from his nose, later I realized I had cuts on my knuckles and upper fingers: his teeth. In a weird, disconnected way I remember thinking, "Wow, eyes swell up pretty damn fast, I never knew that," like I was watching a boxing match on TV: nothing to do with me, just an observation.
And I kept hitting him, because there was a voice in my skull telling me, "It's not dead. Keep hitting it because it's not dead. It keeps making noise so you're not done yet, when it's dead you'll be done but not before then." Meanwhile his ALF compatriots are yelling, "Oh my god, what are you doing!? Stop it! Stop it! What are you doing!?"
What made me stop was catching out of the corner of my eye two fellow ALFers running for the doors of the Student Union. (Note that none of them jumped in to help their friend. Potentially six on one, and they couldn't be sussed to even try to tackle me. Losers.) I didn't need to guess why they were headed there... Although it took me a couple seconds to process: "They're going to go call the police. I wonder why they want the guy I've been punching arrested? Oh wait, it's ME they probably arrested. I should probably go." (And I still had that fucking voice calmly telling me, "You cannot leave yet, it's not dead. You're not finished. After it's dead, you'll be finished, and you can leave.")
So I dropped the guy --- me holding onto his shirt was the only thing keeping him upright --- and began booking down Telegraph Avenue at a high rate of speed, trying to process someplace which would be a good sanctuary. Fat Slice? Naw, it'll have at least a couple people inside who I know, and I don't feel like answering any questions. The coffee place? Nope, same problem. I'll try the head shop: Ginny will let me chill in the back room, I can get cleaned up, and she's cool enough to not ask questions until I feel like answering them. Keep in mind I'm pouring sweat, covered in someone else's blood, still so bloated with adrenaline my hands were shaking like an off-kilter washing machine, and that goddamned voice STILL wouldn't go away: "Why are you here? It's still alive, you didn't finish killing it. Why don't you go kill it and then you can come back here."
I was in luck. The store was empty, Ginny was there by herself; she stared at me unblinking for about five seconds then simply said, "Trouble?"
"Yeah, like you wouldn't believe. I don't believe it. I can't... How did I--- " And I started crying. Not hard, but definitely crying.
Ginny took me by the arm and walked me into the back room, and got me ensconced in a raggy old recliner they had. "So what's up? More importantly, is that your blood all over you?"
"No, it's not my blood, none of it. I just beat the shit out of a guy."
Ginny almost, but not quite, managed to stifle a laugh. "Wait, YOU beat someone up? Like, wrecked him?"
"Well... Who? How'd it come to that?"
"You know those animal rights protesters that hang at Sproul?"
"Yeah. Yeah, they're pests, but... What the fuck, Lenny, how'd they get you so pissed off?"
I explained about the dude saying what he did about my wife, and how I just snapped, no control.
Ginny stared at me for, like, two minutes straight --- long enough to make me uncomfortable, like she might throw me out of the store. Then she smiled and said what I needed to hear, which was, "You did right; what an asshole. Your wife is a fuckin' lucky woman, and you can tell her I said so."
"Heh. Well, maybe." Ginny laughed. (When we first got together, my wife had some jealousy issues on account of so many of my friends being girls. I'd come home from work and Kym would greet me with, "Some girl named Ginny (or Dixie, or Lana, or Jen, or...) called for you. Just who is she, anyway?")
"Anyway, go get cleaned up in the bathroom. I can't do anything about your pants---" I looked down, and damned if there weren't blood spatters on my pants. On my boots too, but that was easily remedied "--- but I'll find a shirt in the discount bin."
Fifteen minutes later, my boots were polished, my face and arms were washed, and I was wearing a Bauhaus (ugh!) t-shit from the $5 discount bin. That would help: the cops were looking for a sweaty blood-covered guy in a black Spitboy shirt, not a clean guy in a white Bauhaus shirt. I walked down Dwight, crossed Shattuck and down to MLK, then back up Bancroft to the BART station.
And I kept intermittently bursting into tears all the way to the El Cerrito Del Norte station. I had to sit in my car for ten minutes until I was finally done crying, at least long enough to get home.
All this is not about fighting. It's definitely not about being a tough guy, it's not about using physical violence against any slight, real or perceived. It's about rage, and uncontrolled rage at that.
When that scumbag said what he did about my wife, theoretically I could have simply told him, "Hey, fuck you, asshole," and kept walking. And if I wanted to do some sort of macho John Wayne routine, where you answer insults by boxing someone... Actually, I couldn't have, it's just not in my makeup. And a tough guy, the sort that gets a kick out of fighting, would have had fun trying to inflict damage on all the (male) ALF assholes, not just one.
No. I snapped. The rational, analytic part of my mind went Somewhere Else, leaving behind... What, exactly? Nothing I was terribly familiar with, certainly not to that degree. Something both subhuman and at the same time, beyond human. To call what I felt 'anger' or 'rage' don't feel like they do justice to how I felt, and my resultant actions. This is every bit as horrible as it sounds: if I'd had a gun with me, I'd have shot him where he stood, and kept shooting into his corpse, just... Because. And at the time, I would not only have felt no remorse, but I would have been confused as to why everyone around me was upset.
In a bizarre way, I take strange comfort that I am capable of what I did: drawing on emotionless, animalistic power when it's needed... All I needed was a catalyst. Protecting my wife, that's a good example. But at the same time, it was terrifying. I was out of control in so many different ways that almost immediately after it was over, sitting with Ginny in the head shop, I was a wreck, completely frightened... Of myself.
I hope to never feel like that again, as long as I live.