How to Clean your Conscience Chapter 6: I’m not your Buddy, Bud!

Feature Image by Alden Skeie on Unsplash

July 22nd, 2016. 11:00 PM

By signing this I am held responsible for any and all injuries sustained while riding the mechanical bull.

I understand that riding the mechanical bull may cause symptoms such as dizziness, vertigo, and upset stomach.

I am responsible for any cleanup fees up to $250.00 if vomiting occurs at any point while riding the mechanical bull.

I hereby forfeit my right to take any legal action against Dirty Little Roddy’s Bar for damages incurred while riding the mechanical bull…

The list went on for another page and a half.  Paragraphs merged and sentences blurred to form a single block of illegible characters, repeating themselves over and over again.  My body swayed and my head grew dizzy.  Who am I?  What am I doing?  I looked back, the pores on my forehead pushing out fresh droplets of sweat, desperate for answers.

There were sculpted bodies, several of them crowding this dark, manmade cavern somewhere in the underbelly of downtown Boise.  Maneuvering between them had been difficult, the close proximity of bulging flesh only providing the most narrow of corridors for navigation.  Acrid pheromones secreted from each formation, their combination of sweat and cheap cologne working in concord with the destabilizing effects of country music, a constant blare that echoed between the canyon walls… walls that doubled each time I blinked.  Josh seemed to fit right in.

Through a slice in the canyon were two figures, their blonde hair and similar profiles drawing familiarity, holding a countenance of alacrity while pushing forward with the back of their hands; a gesture of encouragement.  “Go on,” they beckoned.  I took a deep breath, filtering out the salty fragments of air saturating this less-than-ideal establishment of which we had stumbled upon, and continued.

In my hand was a card containing a set of special instructions.  Though indecipherable, having been written in a style that resembled ancient hieroglyphics, this card held power, influence—admittance to the next stage.  People would kill for such a precious artifact; there was a reason it was in my possession.  I remember…  Yes, I remember!  These girls have guided me here… on a mission.  To conquer a beast… Yes, it’s all coming back to me!  They sent me here with this… key.  Like a Mega Man or… a Mega Mills and a Gr… a Gre… a… I took another look back, my face squeezing in on itself.  “Gary?”

“HEY!” I whipped my head back.  A bouncer stood before me, drawing his beady eyes through mine with a mean mug that held firm.  “I don’t got all night.  Either sign the form or get out of the way!”  His words struck me like a bolt of lightning.  I stared forward, my body quivering.  Where the hell am I?

He changed his approach, speaking to me as a mall Santa stuck with a kid that doesn’t know what he wants for Christmas.  “Do you want to ride the bull or not?”  I didn’t answer.  Yet, I nodded my head and my hand moved back and forth, driven by fear and absent of logic, scribbling a connection of lines across the width of the page in what was interpreted as a signature.  “That’ll be 10 bucks.”

10 dollars?  Ha!  A king’s ransom!  10 dollars, I did not have.  Yet, I had something more.  A golden ticket, a rare token whose value could not be measured in dollars and cents, given to me so I could complete my journey; to be cashed in at a special moment, a moment such as this.

The bouncer studied the card with no signs of increased enthusiasm.  “Good for one free ride on the mechanical bull at Dirty Little Roddy’s.” I waited patiently, senses prevailing. No way he’d turn this down.  It’s fate. He lifted his head, affording me a moment of eye contact, then nodded to his right.  “You’re up.”

I followed his nod. Before me erected a boxing ring, dark and desolate, the air drawing colder as I ducked under the ropes. Reluctance slowed my entrance, roaming towards the middle like a trek through a congested swamp, imminent danger merely a step away.  The foam-covered floor hindered my motion further, each sinking step exhibiting the appearance that I’d been marching across the city of Boise hopped up on few doses of ethers.  Mounted atop a long, steel post and clothed in a leather saddle stood my foe, full and in the flesh.

Instinct finally reeled itself in: God had given up on this place a long time ago.

Pride kept me moving forward, knowing full well Josh was lurking about, waiting for me to cower as I stood in front of the bull, size and skill now on full display.  Duty drove me to climb atop.  I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.

I was alone now, all but for this fiend I had chosen to ride.  A bright light shined down on me, blotting the entirety of this God-forsaken place from sight.  No help from the outside world; this task was mine, and mine alone to complete; a promise I had made to Megan Mills and Gretch from what seemed to be ages ago—hold on just a second, why the hell am I on this stupid Bull?  Because Gretch and Josh got Megan Mills to yell at me?  Oh, the insolence!  I unload her stupid kegs, she made me ride down with Josh—OH NO, MY RUNNING SHOES!

A sharp, winding pitch pierced my eardrums, and without warning, the bull thrusted forward.  My eyes widened and my head jerked.  As fast as it flew forward, it snapped back, thrashing my body about like a string of spaghetti.  Barely a half of a second passed and already I’d been nearly tossed twice from the raging animal.  No longer was pride on my mind.  No longer was I driven by duty, or the embarrassment felt from Josh’s berating. Survival was the only motive now.

Round 2:  The bull gave a twist and another jolt forward. My knuckles turned white while I grasped at the saddle for dear life, my only countermeasure to keep me upright.  It whipped again, this time backward and counterclockwise.  My body flung over the side, using a combination of a pull-up and a Xenia Onatopp thigh thrust to climb back to neutral.  The gears whirled, the bull dipped, and I braced myself for round 3, wondering how my simple presence could make such a beast so incensed.

The bull took an accelerated spin clockwise, pressing the newly formed calluses on my hands to a tear. A spike in G forces gave homage to the Gravitron as I had become the premiere carnival act on display, spinning round and around, forced away from the saddle.  The ring ropes conjoined together to become one, continuous string of red, quickly fading into a solid gradient with blue foam and white lights. Then, there was nothing…  nothing but black and the sensation of ripped skin from the palms.

Holding true to her incessant nature, she refused to yield, twisting and turning faster and faster, the Laws of Physics demonstrating once again they shall not be defied.  I swung to the side, losing grip on the saddle squeeze, left with only my weary fingers as a last line of defense.  One by one they broke off, first the index, then the middle.  Off slipped the ring; only a dangling pinky and a ferocious scream was left to carry the weight.  “NOOOOOOOOOO!”

I flew, long and far, sailing through the air with an aerodynamic velocity before hitting the mat.  I met the ground with heavy impact, skidding across its surface like a rock skipping on water.  Dazed and disoriented, I staggered up, unsure of which direction to go, and stumbled about the ring, my arms waving about in a frenzy to find the ropes and exit without further casualties.  The odds were heavily favored against me.

It was about at disgraceful as these guys!

If my goal was to do an impersonation of Rhonda Rousey after a fight, I would’ve knocked it out of the park.

On the other side of the ring stood Megan Mills, her face glowing against the reflection of her phone screen as if she were in possession of a winning lottery ticket.  “Oh, my God.  This is gold!”  I took a peak over her shoulder to see what the buzz was about.

“What in the…” I blurted. A clip of a figure swaying back and forth on top of a mechanical bull repeated itself on her phone.  A closer examination revealed the man’s gauche technique, clinging for dear life in desperation to stay atop the bull; a wide-eyed dingus bobbing back and forth, his body thrashed about by the slightest of directional changes… a dingus that looked a lot like… me.  Great.  I’m already on Snapchat.

“Thanks Zack,” said Gretch, putting her arm around my shoulder.  “I’ve been trying to get rid of that free bull-ride card for years!”  Oh really?! “And don’t worry, I put your shoes in Josh’s car.  I knew you’d forget em’, and I couldn’t have those ugly things tainting my car any longer.

“Gee, thanks Gretch,” I replied, unable to showcase an appropriate response that included enthusiasm. “I think I’m gonna need a beer.”

The bull ride was a difficult endeavor.  The path to the bar was no easier.  A mass of hulks converged to the bartender like an ugly tumor, her short jean shorts, midriff shirt and possible Daisy Duke ancestry being the most logical explanations for their attraction.  The rate their bodies pressed against each other had the likings of an efficiently run meat packing plant, where only the most skilled and determined could walk away unscathed.  Bill was nowhere in sight.  I feared the worst, that he had taken the risk and been forever lost, shipped away as the ham in a man sandwich.  Not even worth it.

I turned back around. “Ah man Zack, you sucked, big time!” No… please—not Josh.  “That bull totally owned you.  I could’ve held on at least twice as long, one handed, with a beer in my hand.  You should be embarrassed—I’m embarrassed!  I can’t believe you could only—“

“Screw it.”  I turned back and squeezed my way to the bar, disregarding the layer of man-sweat I’d accumulate.

“Hello, what IPA’s do you have on tap?” I asked the bartender, my head bulging from the meat market like a turtle’s from his shell.

“What?”

“I said, what’s your best IPA on tap,” I yelled, my attempt to overpower the loud combination of ambience and country music.

“Did you say Coors Light?”

“No, what type of IPA’s do you have?”

“You mean Bud Light? We have Bud Light.”

“No, I’m talking about draft beer,” I said, this time slowing my words and using acute punctuation in my speech.   “Beer that comes out of the keg.  You pull the lever and it drains from the spigot.  Aka, beer that’s not in a can or a bottle…  What type of beer do you have on draft?”

“So, a Bud Light then?” I give up!

“…Yes.  Yes, I’ll have a Bud Light.”

Miss Daisy twisted off the top of a 16-ounce single and handed me the bottle.  “5 dollars please.”  5 dollars for a Bud Light—did I hear that right?

“5 dollars, huh?” I replied with a chuckle.  Quick, make a run for it!  I turned my head ever so slyly to surveille the room, leaking a grin to hide my intentions.  She wouldn’t notice.  …I’m surrounded.  Man flesh—several walls thick, in all directions…  I’ll never make it.  I turned back.  Miss Daisy leaned over the bar, her gaze intoxicating, holding a sweet and innocent smile, pheromones and attributes in full bloom.  Babes… ughz.  I slapped a 5-dollar bill on the table, completed the transaction, and braced myself for another journey through the meat caverns, this time with a precious can of Roddy’s finest IPA on draft.

“Hey, check it out,” said Josh, nodding his head across the bar.  In the corner was a punching bag hanging at the end of a machine; flashing lights, scoreboard, money feeder and all.  I’d seen these types of games scattered about arcades before, a manhood test for those who require reassurance over their insecurities.  I never took much interest.  More so, I was drawn to other forms of competition that relied on strategy—games that tested skill, hand-eye coordination, and mental fortitude, like Street Fighter II. “You and me, right now.  Let’s go.”  Josh’s interests seem to bait him otherwise.  

“I don’t know Josh, those games are a waste of time, and money.  They’re hardly accurate, and you don’t get a good—“

“What’s the matter, you scared I’ll win?”

“Don’t even care to tell you the truth—“

“C’mon, let’s do it… I’ll pay.”

Well, if he’s willing to waste his money…  “Sure, why not,” I complied, acquiesce overcoming.

“Losers up first,” said Josh as he fed two dollars into the machine.  It was a well-known tactic Josh liked to use in competition—anything to gain an edge.  He’d study his opponent, count the reps, measure their speed and strength, then determine the amount needed to best the challenger, or forfeit altogether.  Most notably was the infamous Moscow push-up contest of 2009.

The trick to a good punch is in the hips.  It’s where the bulk of your power comes from, and a well-timed twist of the hips could deliver a jab fast and effectively, leaving your target beside itself before being hit with a reverse punch immediately after.  Ah, yes, the reverse punch,the most powerful standing punch in the style of Shotokan…  With one seamless motion, I’d pull my left fist back, thrust my right fist forward with a semi-circle revolution and ram it right through the bag, using a sudden and fierce rotation of the hips to produce an optimal strike.

The reverse punch… That would be my approach.

I set up in zenkutsu-dachi, aka “front stance” for those not trained in the art of karate: front leg bent, leaning forward and driving most of the weight; back leg straight at a diagonal, stabilized and waiting for its call to action.  My right hand sat at the side of my hip, clenched, twisted upward, ready for execution, ready to—Strike!

I sent my fist forward, threw my hips, and blasted straight through the bag.  It banged against the top of the machine, sending a fury of red numbers flickering across the scoreboard.  They increased rapidly at first.  1,000, 2,000, 3,000.  The numbers began to slow as it hit 4,000, settling as it reached its limit.  4,500.  I shrugged and stepped aside.

“Pff, 4,500 points? Pathetic, Zack.  My sister could score higher than that.”  It was a terrible insult.  Josh knew just as well as I did that his sister, aka “Big Red,” could beat the crap out of both of us at the same time, let alone punch harder. Still, he seemed a bit too giddy, as if he were all too familiar with the scoring system on this particular machine… as if he’d been waiting for this moment for a long time, investing vast amounts of time and money into the device.  And now, after months of practice, he finally had the chance to show off his progress.

Josh cocked back, sent me a smug nod, and stepped into his swing.  Disgraceful.  A haymaker, wild and untamed was delivered, a swing administered only during acts of desperation, orby the truly inexperienced of fighters.  The machine rattled upon contact, sending the scoreboard glittering with numbers.  2,000, 3,000, 4,000…  Oh c’mon, don’t go up any further… 5,000, 6,000…  Great.  Just great.  The score finally began to settle at the 7,000-point mark.

“Hold on a second, I’m not quite sure I can read that correctly.  Can you tell me what the score is, Zack?”  Josh’s stupid grin blew the cover on his poor eyesight lie.  “… I couldn’t quite hear you… what was that?” I refused to speak.  “C’mon, Zack, don’t be a poor sport.”

“…7,300 points Josh. You happy?”

“Actually, it’s more like 7,340 points, but no need to gloat.  Wait, what was your score again?”  Really, you’re going to pull this stupid routine?  “4,500? Bill, are you seeing this?”  Bill was still nowhere to be found.  “Taylor, Megan Mills, do you see the score?”

“Congratulations Josh. I’m impressed,” said Gretch, jumping into the conversation with predictable timing.  “I kind of figured you were stronger than Zack.”

“You heard her. Gretch doesn’t lie.  I’m the strongest.”

“Yep, you got me this time.  You beat me at a silly punching game.”

“Silly?”

“Josh, you know as well as I do that a game such as this isn’t a good measure of how well you punch. As an engineer, you should know better.”

“Go ahead then, explain away Mr. Smarty Pants.”

“Well, most fighters are taught to strike through your target with a punch that comes from your center of gravity.  Much more effective, quick, and doesn’t leave you as vulnerable to taking a swing. Now, from how the game’s engineered—“

“You see, already making excuses.  I see how it is, can’t admit that I’m the best.  You know, I didn’t expect you to be so bitter about the whole thing.  You talk a big game, but when it comes down to it, you just can’t accept defeat…”  Josh continued to talk, his words drowning out in the fashion like the waning voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher.  “I can’t even think of a single person who’d act this way.  Danny Dahl?  Nope, he’d be humble about it.  Kyle Scott? Please.  That kid would bow down with respect.  And Mike Gibson?  He’d be wildly disappointed with you right now.”  Oh, the nerve!  Don’t even bring Gibson into this!  “Look around, Zack.  You’re acting like a poor sport in front of Megan Mills!  All because I’m a better puncher.  Believe me when I say that we’re all disappointed.  Very disappointed…”

Within me, a prayer began to develop.  A prayer most likely built around the virtues of selfishness and desperation, but a prayer nonetheless, the words formulating inside without cognizant thought, as if the holy spirit itself were flowing through me, speaking in tongues.  God… I know I haven’t been the best Christian lately, but please, make Josh shut up.  I… I’m desperate.  I have nowhere else to go, and he won’t stop.  He’ll never stop…  Oh, the humanity!  I’ll do anything… I’m begging you, Jesus.  I’ll give to the poor, I’ll start going to church again.  Anything, please…

“…Hey Gretch, check out these puny arms on Zack,” continued Josh, squeezing my biceps and jiggling the loose sides with his thumb and index finger.  “A toddler wouldn’t even be scared of him!  And to think we were going to hang out with a bunch of babes tonight.  Fat chance, not when you’re around.  Not with—“

Ok! Ok God.  I’ll do it!  I’ll vote for Trump.  Just please, for the love of everything holy, stop this madness!  “The thing is Zack, I was even going to offer you a few pointers here and there, but because of your attitude, I’m not sure I want to now—wait, what’s that?  You gonna cry?  You gonna cry?  Ah, don’t cry…  Don’t cry—“

A loud pop came from the machine.  Both Josh’s and my heads whipped around, staring with wonder, with apprehension… with contempt.  I can’t quite say for sure what caused Josh to freeze up the way he did.  Was it the preppy attitude?  The Ben Woodward-like stature, the fact that he still wasn’t able to grow facial hair?  Perhaps a combination of the three.  But If I had to guess, I would say it was the lime green Polo that pissed him off the most. And as the final score settled, Josh couldn’t help but sit back in shock—no, with horror as the kid strutted away from the machine, akin to one of the Nazi’s in Indiana Jones after opening the Ark of the Covenant.  7,800 points.

“No.  Way.”

“Well would you look at that.  7,800 points! I think that’s a new high score, am I right, Josh… Josh?”  No answer. Josh had already found his way back to the machine, feeding another round of dollars into it.  I sat back and watched the spectacle unfold in ebullience. Man, I haven’t seen God come through this fast on a prayer since Super Bowl 49 when Malcolm Butler interceptedRussel Wilson at the two-yard line!

“Hey kid, you and me. Let’s go!”  Josh didn’t give him any time to answer, only opting to step up to the machine, forcing his opponent to answer, or be shamed.  His fail-proof strategy of striking last had been thrown out the window in his irascible fit of rage, all too eager to deliver another dose of pain to a punching bag that had long ago reached its daily quota for unjust abuse.  He set into position, took a deep breath, and delivered unto the punching bag a mighty swing. He wasn’t playing around this time. Failure was not an option.

“8,300 points. Beat that!”  said Josh with a hint of arrogance.  And who could blame him?  8,300 was a pretty good score, besting the kid’s previous one by 500.  I hate to say it, the kid is good, but no way he’s going to beat Josh, not this time. That’s barely any setup time, and that follow through?  What are you thinking?  He isn’t going to—What in the…  No way!

The kid stepped back from his punch as 8,500 points lit up on the scoreboard.  Without hesitation, Josh ran back to insert two more dollars into the machine, feeding into his personal, automated heroin dealer. “Best two out of three.”

“I guess this was worth the trip down here, don’t you think Gretch?”  I waited a brief moment for a response.  My words had no effect.  Her face was stern, holding its position as if it were a solid piece of stone; her gaze locked into position like the Death Star ray, waiting on standby to obliterate her target, a preppy looking, smug smirk wearing, lime green Polo boy from existence.  “…Never mind.”

Josh cocked back, his power fueled by an intractable fury, a strong and freshly developed penchant for embarrassing this conceited little pipsqueak who had the audacity—the audacity to challenge his dominance!  This time, he was angry, he was determined, he was to blast this punching bag into shreds with one, monolithic strike; scoring a record, prodigious score of… 7,500 points???

His face turned beat red. Rapid iterations, inhalation and exhalation, cycled through his lungs, loud and obnoxious, like the gregarious individual on the airplane who insists on speaking to you; in through the nose and out through the mouth. Steam lifted and evaporated from his head, an atomic bomb mere seconds from detonation.  I could’ve easily thrown an insult his way and gotten the reaction I’d been waiting for all my life; there was no need.

Before the lime green Polo kid threw a punch, Josh was already back at the money feeder jamming the last of his dollar bills, attempting to satisfy his insatiable fix.

Josh jumped in front of the machine, intent on pulverizing the bag.  He cocked back, took a deep breath, and… wait.  Pure focus.  For the moment, Josh had settled.

With a clear head, he knew he’d jumped the gun last round, believing wholeheartedly he could win purely on intensity, instinct… determination.  Wrong.  That’s when you slip up.  He knew intelligence was part of the game, and say what you want about Josh Ulrich, but even the most despising among us can’t deny the fact that he’s capable of showing off flashes of intellect more times than not.  He’s an engineer after all, and whether I like it or not, give the man respect where it’s due—Engineering brothers.

Set in his stance, he took one, final deep breath, and meditated his thoughts.  The art of climbing was within him, where every square inch of muscle from the legs to the finger was utilized to propel your body up the mountain.  It was essential for survival.  The same philosophy would be used now: every muscle working in sequence to deliver the ultimate blow, beginning with the legs.  Get a good step into the punch. The hips and body: solid rotation.  And finally, the arms: send the fist forward in unison with a high arcing motion, contact the bag with maximum force, and create the maximum moment possible.  

POP! The bag slammed against the top of the machine.  Each of us watched in silence as the scoreboard increased, our hearts pounding against our chest cavity.  1,000, 2,000, 3,000…  It continued, no signs of slowing.  4,000, 5,000, 6,000…  Son of a B.  He might actually pull it off…  7,000, 8,000.  The numbers slowed, still ascending at a rapid rate, though nearing the top of the peak. 8,200, 8,300, 8,400…  “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon,” mouthed Josh.  The numbers came to a crawl, but they wouldn’t quit climbing, wouldn’t let go of that anticipation that it had helped build so well with the final ticks.  8,570, 8,580, 8,590…  8,600 points!

“YES!” screamed Gretch with shameless delight.  Exotic fist pumps mixed with thunderous applause followed.  “WOO!  That’s what I’m talking about!”

Josh strutted back with a smirk rolling and his palms facing upward, in what had promulgated over the span of his lifetime into what was known as his “Alpha Male,” stance.  “let’s see you beat that.”  The kid strutted forward with a complete mimic.

The kid gave the bag a nice wallop and stepped back as he had done each previous time—nothing special. Josh’s face drooped and his body sank several inches.  None of us could believe it.  8,750 points.

It turns out, God makes good on his promises from time to time, even in the most spiritually deserted of climates.

“Good game,” said the green Polo kid, sticking out his hand for a shake.  Josh’s emotions screamed inside, burning in a fiery oven, begging for their release.  In front of him he saw nothing but a punching bag, brazen and abashing, tempting him to take a free shot; every logical instinct advised him to fire away.  Yet, that would only further the vindication so desired by too many of his peers.  He couldn’t give in—he wouldn’t give in… the Joker cannot win.  Mustering as much humility as he could gather from his wounded soul, Josh abated every pernicious urge within him, looked his foe straight in the eye, and met his hand halfway.  “Good game.”

I sat back, stunned.  “Wow…”

The Polo kid reached around mid-shake to embrace in a bro-hug.  Josh stood firm, steadily shaking his head left to right, never breaking eye-contact.  “I don’t hug.”  There was a special kind of terror in his voice, one that brought Megan Mills, Taylor, myself—even Gretch to a simultaneous gasp, having just witnessed a daddy hit mommy type of moment.  The kid had overplayed his hand—opened the flood gates!  We feared for the next move.  An escalation of events was inevitable.

“Dude, don’t be a douche bag,” said the green Polo kid, trying to act casual in his reproach.

“Who are you calling douche bag, douche bag?”  Josh shot back, no parse for words.

“You’re the one that’s wearing a douchy Patagonia shirt!”

“Pff.  Look at you, and your douchy Green polo!”  Judging by the reaction, Josh’s latest insult seemed to strike quite the nerve.

“Oh yea, Let’s go man! Right here, right now, for reals! C’mon, I’ll give you one free shot!” The kid stuck out his mug and pointed to his chin.  “Let’s go. Right here, right in the face!”

“I’d destroy you!”

“Not with those punches—“

“Dude… I don’t want to get blood on your nice lime green Polo.”

“Yea, that’s what I thought, you’re too afraid to fight…”

Between the repetitive use of the word “douche bag” and other forms of harsh invective, I took notice at the Polo kid’s posse, standing in the corner, each possessing a look of concern.  Someone has to bridge the gap between the two parties. I took matters into my own hands. “Well, that escalated quickly…”

“Dude, I think your friend is a little out of control.”

“What are you talking about?  They’re just a little heated, that’s all.  Neither one of them will do anything.  Trust me, I’ve seen this played out many times before.  Just let them—“

“No, look at her, man. She’s acting like an animal!”

“Wait, what do you mean her—Oh, no!”

Gretch had thrust herself between them with a fist full of lime-green Polo, grasped and twisted at the collar.  I turn my back for ONE second!

“Watch it, buddy!” She said, her eyes burning.

“I’m not—your buddy!” He replied with almost an equal amount of sass.

“Then watch it, bud!”

“Bill, quick, I think she’s back on the Steel Reserve again—Bill?”  I turned my head.  He had reemerged, somehow released from the savage grasp the meat packers had once possessed.  “You’re alive?”

Bill lifted his phone to face level, positioning it for the golden shot.  “There’s no way I’m missing this!”

Bill was rendered useless.  Not that I could blame him, but as long as a sober portion of my conscience remained, I couldn’t let this become ground zero Boise.  I looked to the Polo kid, trying to mask his fear with a straight face.  I looked back at Gretch—Pure, blackout rage. Oh my God, she’s literally going to punch him in the face—ah hell!

I jumped in and pushed the kid away from the scene.  He stumbled back, trying not to break eye-contact, then contested.  “What’s the big idea!”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa—hey… I think every-body needs to cool… h-out!

“She tried to punch me!”

“She’s not going to punch you.”  Technically, I could’ve been lying.

“What are you talking about—look at her!”  I refused. I knew better.  “She’s an animal—“

“Is there a problem here?”  Both of us turned to a deep voice that commanded our attention.  Taylor towered over us, his stature menacing, and a purse thrown over his arm… confusing?

“Um… yea, I think we’re good.”  I directed my attention to the Polo kid.  “We good?”

He nodded his head. “…yea, we’re cool.”

“Good,” replied Taylor. He turned and strutted away, the purse waving across his back with each stride.  The Polo kid and I stared for a moment, then mutually addressed each other once more.

“Hey man, I’m not going to punch your girl.”  Ok, now we’re making progress.

“Don’t worry about my friends, they’re good people, they just get a little competitive every now and then, and sometimes egos get bruised, that’s all.”

“All I did was punch the bag, and he got mad—”

“I know, I know, it’s ok. It’s going to be ok.”

“You mean it?”

“I’ll tell you what. How about we all take a shot and forget this whole thing happened.”

“Ah, man…”  He thought about the offer.  “We were heading out anyway, but thanks man.”  Cardinal error.  You never refuse a shot, no matter how hammered you are.  For the sake of the meat packing plant however, I let it slide. “Your friends are lucky to have a guy like you around.”

“You’re gonna be alright.”

“Yea man, you too…”

A minute of unnecessary, back and forth compliments, a handshake, and a goodbye later, I made my way back to our table.  Josh, Gretch, and Megan Mills stood, their bodies battered and souls haggard, looking to have just walked 10 miles after a battle of which neither side was victorious. I can’t say I was very far off. Bill stood next to me, assessing the situation.  “What the hell just happened,” he asked.

I opened my mouth to explain; words fell short.  “I…  I actually have no idea.”  I threw my head down for a moment.  To my side was an open container of Bud Light.  I grabbed it and took a swig.  “Please tell me you got a good shot of Gretch…”

Bill whipped out his phone and swiped through a couple of shots.  “This is all I got…”   Two blurry, unrecognizable figures filled the width of his screen.

“God, what a shame.” I lifted my head and gave the bar one final peruse: the punching bag game, our wounded warriors, the wild, mechanical beast swinging another hapless soul through the ring, and then to the jungle, still rampant with ravaging meat packers; one last arduous trek to freedom. I took a swig of the Bud Light, Dirty Little Roddy’s finest IPA on draft, and cringed.  What a cryin’ shame.

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