Biff America: Fist, fang and unity
I grew up around tough guys. Where I was from, at that point in time, being a ‘tough guy’ was a coveted designation. There was usually a recognized ‘toughest kid in your class,’ and ‘toughest kid in your school.’ Often the determination of these labels was earned by fist fights — often with spectators.
I grew up in a world when two guys would agree to meet after school to settle some real or imagined dispute. They would square off with no rules and no weapons, using hands and feet, would fight until one guy gave up or could not continue. On other occasions it would be a much more spontaneous occurrence, where some slight, immediate or in the recent past, would occur and someone would throw the first punch and the fight was on.
I probably was witness or participant in a dozen or more of these events.
Even after high school there were local tough guys; mechanics, cops, firemen, laborers, who had that reputation. To be clear, usually these were not bullies, just guys who lived by a particular code and were not to be trifled with.
Since I grew up around tough guys, I usually can recognize one. The guy sitting outside the liquor store in a small rural Nevada town looked like a tough guy. He was perched on the tailgate of an oil and gas truck on a late Friday afternoon drinking a can of beer. He had huge arms, shaved head, tattoos, scars. Contrasting my clean jeans and buttoned cotton shirt, he wore a dirty muscle-tee, work boots and overalls. Sitting next to him was a white pit bull.
We were heading back from California in our camper. Knowing we would be in Utah the next few days, where booze is as easy to find as a gay wedding chapel, I decided to stock up on bourbon. The package store was little more than a single wide with a neon sign.
I felt conspicuously white collar in my clean clothes and new truck with Colorado plates as I walked passed the working man. It was fairly early in the evening so I assumed he had done his job and was enjoying some refreshments before heading home. Though his looks were intimidating, I wasn’t concerned. He’d have no reason to engage me and I certainly wasn’t going to give him a reason.
I was about 10 feet from the door when we made eye contact and nodded. He was in the middle of taking a long pull of beer. In almost the blink of an eye his dog, a white pit bull mix, jumped off the back of his truck, landed in front of me and growled. I stopped, turned slightly and slowly lowered my hands to protect my legs and groin. (I’ll let you guess which part was my top priority.)
The tough guy didn’t just put his beer down, he dropped it and yelled, “Max, get your ass back here.” The dog didn’t even give me a second look but rather spun around, took two steps and leaped back up onto the truck exactly where he was before.
The guy bounded off his truck as nimbly as his dog did, “Holy crap man, I am so sorry, he has never done that to anyone — I’m so sorry. Can I give you a beer?” I told him, “No problem” and I admitted that, though I loved dogs, for some reason many of them react towards me as his dog did. Truth is, I don’t drink beer, but he was so apologetic (and scary) I told him I’d take one for the road after buying my bottle of whiskey.
As I came back out, bourbon in hand, he was waiting for me with a cold beer. He again apologized and repeated that his dog had never acted aggressive before. He then said, “Max come sit.” Max leaped off the back of the truck (about 4 feet high) and landed next to him and sat. I placed my hand for him to sniff, then scratched him behind his ear.
“That is a well-trained dog,” I said. The tough guy squatted down, grabbed Max by the scruff of the neck so their noses touched and said, “Max is the best dog in the whole wide world.” (Now just to be clear those were the exact words this tough guy used.) Max purred and licked his face.
As I walked away I heard over my shoulder, “Be careful with that open beer. The cops around here would like nothing better than to mess with some Colorado yuppies.” Some say this past election has demonstrated that we live in a divided nation. I’ve come to believe that we are not really divided … just different………
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book “Mind, Body, Soul.” is available at local shops and bookstores or http://shop.holpublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul
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