A friend told me this story once. This friend is a nice guy, very amiable and easy-going. He also happens to be tall – very tall – 6 foot 5 inches. His height should be entirely incidental to any tale he might tell, except in the case of this one particular story he told me, it wasn’t.
So my very tall friend is at a bar in upstate New York and realises that he needs to use the facilities, as will happen when you drink a beer or two in a bar in upstate New York, or anywhere else for that matter. While standing at the urinal, doing his business, another gentleman enters and takes his place at the stall right next to my friend. This person, standing veryclose to my tall friend then breaks one of the great unwritten rules of men’s room etiquette. Instead of looking straight ahead, or straight down, as you’re meant to do when standing at urinals in men’s rooms around the world, he slowly and deliberately turns his head to the side and upwards, so he is looking directly up at my friend.
It is awkward, but my friend, being a polite sort of chap, pretends not to notice. But then the man breaks another one of the rules of restroom etiquette and starts speaking to him. In a slow, deliberate voice, loaded with menace, he says: “What? You think you’re big?”
This is how bar fights start.
Gentle reader, I don’t know if you’ve ever been a bar fight, but they follow a certain pattern. You are minding your own business, being your usual, reasonable self in a bar somewhere. This is what people like about you. You’re a nice person and you’re easy to get along with. But not everybody in the world is as agreeable as you and every once in a while you may encounter someone else who is intent on not being reasonable and not minding their own business, and this person may be drunk and looking for a fight.
They pick up on something different about you. You are too big. You are wearing the wrong kind of football shirt. Your skin is a different colour. You talk different. You ain’t from around here are you?
Bar fights are tribal pissing contests – which is why it was so apt that my friend was given a bar fight challenge while he was actually, you know – pissing.
If you are going to be involved in a bar fight, I want you to know that I’m on your side. I’ve already told you – I like you. You can trust me on this subject. I’ve won every bar fight I’ve never been in. No, that’s not a typo. Allow me to explain all about how to win a bar fight:
“I’m funny how? I mean funny like I’m a clown – I amuse you?”
Recognise bar fight protocol
The first thing you’ve got to know is that, as with the story about my friend, bar fights all begin with an unprompted challenge – to which there is never any good response. The initial step to winning a bar fight is recognising you’re about to be in one. Did my friend think he was big? Who does he think he is, to think he is so big? That’s a fight right there.
Or maybe my friend does not think he is so big. What are you saying? If you are bigger than me and you think that you are not so big then that must mean you are calling me small. That’s also a fight.
Every response, every scenario is designed to end in a fight. That’s how the type of person who has chosen to start a bar fight achieves his goal. He likes fighting and it doesn’t matter so much if he wins or loses. The fight itself is the victory.
Don’t fight. If you fight, you lose
So, the best way to win a bar fight is to not take part in any bar fights. That’s how I’ve always been so good at them – by giving them a miss entirely.
Otherwise, there’s just no percentage in it. Even if you’re big and strong and you punch really well, you’re still going to probably take some hits yourself. Is that what you want? Is it really such a triumph if you wind up with a black eye, just because some other fellow that you have never met before gets two black eyes out of the deal? Wouldn’t you rather just have a simple, enjoyable evening drinking beer in a bar in upstate New York with no black eyes at all?
Sometimes a fight is necessary, but you need to know the difference between sticking up for yourself and playing into the hands of some loathsome creep who is just looking for trouble for trouble’s sake. There’s no winning hand in that kind of scenario, it’s like throwing your own poo back at the monkeys at the zoo.
If you don’t want monkeys throwing poo at you, why did you go to the zoo in the first place?
“A strange game. The only winning move is to not play.”
Don’t hang out in bars
That brings me to my next point – and you’re not going to like this one. But if you don’t want to be in bar fights, you’ve got to mostly keep out of bars.
Yes, bar fights have a kind of unstoppable momentum once they start, but you can avoid all that by not being the sort of person who spends time in a lot of bars to begin with.
Take the example of Mr George Bernard Shaw. He was an Irish playwright who was famous for his wit – he frequently made the kinds of remarks that would earn someone else a punch in the head. Things like: “He who can does, he who can’t teaches,” and “The play was a great success, but the audience was a dismal failure” and also “The 100% American is 99% idiot.”
George Bernard Shaw was kind of a dick.
And yet – to the best of my knowledge – Mr Shaw never once took a sock to the cranium from any teachers, audience members or Americans. This is because he was a teetotaller who hung out in salons rather than saloons – and that makes all the difference.
None of this was any accident – Mr George Bernard Shaw knew how to avoid a bar fight, revealing his secret in another one of his famous witticisms: “I learned long ago never to wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”
“It was a rough place, the seediest dive on the wharf populated with every reject and cuthroat from Bombay to Calcutta. It was worse than Detroit.”
– Airplane (1980)
Most bar fights don’t take place in bars.
It may not seem like the most astonishing piece of wisdom to hear that the best way to win a bar fight is to avoid bars, but this advice takes on more weight when you start to understand that bar fights are phenomena that can take place outside of a bar – anywhere really that people go to engage in pointless, no-win conflicts.
noun: a place where people go to engage in pointless, no-win conflicts.
Most bar fighters have moved from the barrooms to the chat rooms. You’ll find no shortage of ‘pigs’ to wrestle with on the interwebs, all looking to provoke someone to get dirty with them. Once they’re online, we call them trolls rather than bar fighters, but they’re the same a-holes. Instead of commenting on how big you are, or how small, or your clothes, they’ll want to talk politics, or gender relations or race relations. Except it’s not really a talk.
What they really want is to start a fight with you about politics, gender relations or race relations. Or all three. They’ll hang about, posting fake news with their friends (the online equivalent of doing Jaegar shots together) until they see they can get a rise out of someone. They call it “owning the libs.”
I’ve embedded an example for you below. It’s a thread filled with right wing trolls / barfighters / miscreants all piling on to comment on a fake quote/meme supposedly from rising liberal star politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. There’s not a lick of sense in the whole thread. Trying to get in there and post something along the lines of “hey guys, did you ever think about maybe that this quote is fake and you’re all getting outraged over nothing?” would be the online equivalent of that time Pee Wee Herman tried to shut up a bar full of rowdy bikers so he could make a phone call. Trouble. Bar fight trouble. Pee Wee Herman versus bikers trouble.
Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez don’t have a clue where the money will come from to pay for all their free stuff. They will lead America to be another Venezuela where only the Elites feel they have a future #VoteRed2018 pic.twitter.com/VC6sWCwHXI
— Ken Jones (@sxdoc) July 30, 2018
And yet, on some level, you want to do it, don’t you? You want to tell those right wing morons off, let them know they can call you ‘libtard’ all they want, but that doesn’t make their fake news any less fake. After all, Pee Wee Herman survived his encounter with the bikers, right?
It’s tempting to try, but don’t do it. There are characters out there who are far more pernicious than Pee Wee Herman’s biker friends.
– Boris Johnson
Resist the temptation to try to administer justice
Which brings us to Boris Johnson, the chap to whom I have dedicated this blog post. You may know him as the one-time Mayor of London and former British Foreign Secretary. Those are all charade. Boris is a barfighter through and through. A political provocateur. A troll of the highest order. An opportunist. A man looking to scrap: With Barack Obama, with Theresa May, with Remainers/Remoaners. With you.
This is the man who claimed President Barack Obama couldn’t deal fairly with Britain because, as a black man with a Kenyan father, he had “an ancestral mistrust” of Britain. He once wrote a column referring to black people as “picaninnies” with “watermelon smiles.”
When British business leaders warned about the negative impact of a hard-Brexit, Johnson’s reply was simply “Fuck Business” – practically daring them to crash the economy. He’s insulted France, Myanmar, Turkey and China and has on several occasions compared the EU to Hitler’s Third Reich. Just recently, he’s been criticised for suggesting that Islamic women wearing niqabs resemble ‘letter boxes’ and ‘bank robbers.’
Boris Johnson is begging for a comeuppance and wants nothing more than for you to try to deliver one. It’s crucial that you don’t give in to the temptation.
He’s easy enough to find. He wants you to find him – he’s down at the pub. In fact, he has declared himself to be “the barkeep,” and moved behind the counter, but he’s only pulling pints for himself. He takes long, deep swigs from his mug, but somehow still manages to always keep his eye on the bartender he has displaced, just hoping and praying he’ll work up the nerve to try to chuck him out. He’s ready, with a small knife he keeps strapped to his ankle. Jacob Rees Mogg is there too – playing the fruit machine. Every time he loses, he shouts out – “Doesn’t matter, I could buy and sell everyone here!” Katie Hopkins is sat at a table, eating a tuna mayonnaise jacket potato using just her fingers, while reading the text from one of her newspaper columns out loud. After each paragraph, she pauses and looks around to see if anyone has been offended. She’s got a snub-nose .38 under her paper, at the ready. If nobody reacts, that’s fine -she can wait. In the meantime, she carefully and primly licks her fingers clean, then starts eating and reading aloud again.
That’s the sinister genius of these people – they know which buttons to push. They’re grotesque caricatures of real human beings. They’re practically begging for someone to step up to them. And you feel like you could take them – each and every one of them. After all, you’ve got facts on your side. You’ve got common sense on your side. You’ve got righteousness on your side.
But you don’t have the knife.
Boris has the knife.
And he’s only there because he wants to stab someone. Anyone. Everything else is theatre. He needs you to confront him, so he has a reason to start stabbing. He’s not even that good with his blade. He’s as likely to slash his own hand as cut you, but it doesn’t matter. The more blood that’s splashed about, the better. Bloody bar fights draw crowds, sometimes even chanting crowds. Boris feeds on the tumult and chaos, especially when he is at the centre. It gives him his power.
And that’s why you must not engage with him. Don’t even make eye contact. Go to a different pub. That’s how you beat him. Without the blood and the crowds and the chanting, Boris is just another sad old racist dude with a bad haircut. He might as well be a London black-cab driver.
What do you do if you have no choice but to fight?
You’ve done everything right. Stayed away from bars, nightclubs and cocktail lounges. You’re rarely on Twitter, and when you are, the only things you comment on are New Yorker cartoons and cat memes. Everywhere you go, you avoid confrontation before it even begins.
But still, somehow, one evening, at a casual dining restaurant where you’ve stopped out of hunger while on a road trip, you find yourself cornered by Fox Business Network anchor and noted author and radio host Lou Dobbs. Lou has been there drinking whiskey sours all night and he has just noticed your Black Lives Matter t-shirt. Without warning, he approaches and starts braying incoherently in your direction. It’s not clear what he’s saying, but you can just about make out the phrases ‘best economy ever’ and ‘born in Hawaii, my ass.’ He’s wearing a MAGA hat and holding one of those oversized salad serving forks in a threatening manner. He’s positioned himself between you and the door.
What then? It’s all very well and good for some anonymous blog writer to give you a bunch of tips on how to avoid a bar fight, but what good are any of those words when an angry, drunk Lou Dobbs is in front of you, determined to perforate your spleen?
You may have the instinct to call the police. After all, threatening someone with an oversized salad fork is a crime. But they’d never get there in time. No, in this scenario, you’re on your own and there’s only one option left.
When all else has failed, you must embrace the Patrick Swyaze Solution. It’s the only way. It’s the Road House way.
Doctor: Do you ever win a fight?
Swayze: Nobody ever wins a fight.
– Roadhouse (1989)
1989’s Road House is a master class in bar-fighting wisdom.
In this classic film, Patrick Swayze plays the world’s best bouncer, given the task of cleaning up a violent boozer, “the kind of place that they sweep up the eyeballs after closing.”
The movie is filled with philosophical insight:
Doc: Your file says you’ve got a degree from NYU. What in?
Doc: Any particular discipline?
Swayze: No. Not really. Man’s search for faith. That sort of shit.
Doc: Come up with any answers?
Swayze: Not too many.
Don’t be fooled. Patrick Swayze in Road House does have all the answers. He teaches his fellow bouncers how to stomach insults with a zen-like sangfroid and shows them how to identify potential bar fights and defuse them before they even begin. All of it is very aligned to the lessons I’ve taught you so far.*
*True story: I also studied philosophy at NYU.
But zen-master Swayze also teaches his followers that, if they are forced to fight, then they must win, by being as brutal as necessary. “Take the biggest guy in the world, shatter his knee and he’ll drop like a stone,” he tells his followers – and he’s right.
If you absolutely must fight, you must fight like your life depended on it. To take out Boris, you have to have a bigger Johnson than he does.
In Road House, Patrick Swayze is a force of nature. He shatters knees, breaks jaws and ultimately, when pushed too far, actually kills one of his opponents, by tearing out his larynx with some kind of crazy hand-claw move that I really don’t remember being taught in any of the philosophy classes I took at NYU.
But just to be clear, this sort of thing is very much a last-resort measure. Please, please don’t tear out Boris Johnson’s larynx with a hand claw move, unless you are absolutely sure that he is about to puncture your spleen and you have no other choice.
If you can’t escape, avoid or defuse your bar fight, then you must win it.
That’s about it. You’re ready. I wish you luck.
What’s that? You want to know whatever happened to that friend I was talking about in the beginning of this blog post? I almost forgot all about him. If I recall the story correctly, my tall friend wound up winning his bar fight in the only way anyone ever wins a bar fight: Sensing that a brawl was brewing, he finished his business, zipped up his trousers, walked out of the men’s room and kept walking – straight out of the bar, leaving his erstwhile challenger still standing there with his manhood in his hand.
Seems a bit anti-climactic doesn’t it?
Good. That’s the point. Winning a bar fight should be anti-climactic.
If you want to win at bar fights, you have to learn that any drama or conflict imposed upon you in these situations is not some kind of challenge that must be answered to maintain your honour. Rather, it is a burlesque designed to draw out your worst instincts, so you get tricked into getting dirty with some pig, losing your moral high ground and creating more dirty pigs, so everyone is a pig. You’re better than Boris Johnson. You don’t need to get involved in his petty little conflagrations. A proper bar fight has no stakes – it’s a fight for a fight’s sake.
Avoid the bars he hangs out in, the newspapers he writes columns for and the websites where he posts his inflammatory nonsense. Without a blood-speckled spotlight trained upon him, BoJo and his ilk wither and their threat diminishes. That’s how you win a bar fight with Boris Johnson.
Patrick Swayze wasn’t the only eminent mind who understood the real cost of fighting with losers. Another famous philosopher, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche also captured things really well:
“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
I think what Friedrich means in that quote is, that by deciding to fight Boris Johnson, you become a bit more Boris Johnson-like.
I’d rather get my larynx torn out by a hand claw move than face that fate.