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  • Fight, Bull
  • Steven Church (bio)

A friend of mine, a longhaired, bearded carpenter, told me a story about a time he boarded a city bus in Fresno, California, and nearly resorted to violence—the kind of violence they write stories about in the daily paper. Your memory isn't even working normally1. It could happen to you or to me. It could happen any day. The carpenter remembers climbing the steps into the air-conditioned bus, his eyes quickly scanning, surveying the space as he walked the narrow path to an empty seat.

The army had taught him to see, to be aware of danger, but I'm not sure he expected this. An overweight girl followed behind him, nobody he knew. Just a girl. A big girl he'd seen waiting at the bus stop. The two of them moved carefully, close together through the door. If you didn't know you might think they were a couple. And before either of them could find a seat, a noise rose up from the back of the bus, an unmistakable ruckus of sound. The carpenter couldn't miss it. Others must have noticed too. Three boys began to hoot and laugh, mocking the girl, mooing like a cow at her and slapping their thighs in hysterics. In a situation like this, your mind, you're in a combat situation. Your mind is functioning. You're not thinking in a normal way.

The carpenter found a seat near the girl. She tried to ignore them, but they kept going, kept mooing like cattle. They weren't happy with simple humiliation. This carpenter boiled and watched and listened to them, trying to tamp down his anger. It was wrong, what they were doing. The girl took their abuse for a few blocks, took it with her chin down, tucked to her chest. Eventually she moved to another open seat near the front of the bus. You are so hyped up. Your vision actually changes.

It's not long after this that the teens started in on my friend, the carpenter. At first he didn't understand, didn't realize they were calling him "Geico," and saying, "Hey, Geico? Geico?" in reference to the insurance commercials featuring hairy-faced cavemen. But eventually he too understood that they were mocking him for his appearance. He wore a full [End Page 147] beard and long hair, sometimes a vest and blue jeans. He wore functional glasses with black frames. They called him caveman.

Perhaps because there were three of them, they felt safer, stronger, more brazen. Perhaps they baited him because they hadn't seen this bearded carpenter, in an effort to defend his friend, grab a belligerent drunk at a party, slam him against a wall, and throw him to the ground, hadn't seen this carpenter deliver a swift, violent kick to the drunk's head, and certainly hadn't held him back from kicking again, caving in the drunk's skull. Would he have done it? I don't know. But I saw in his eyes that he could do it if he wanted to. When I'd held him back, my arm across his broad chest, my mouth whispering into his ear, "Easy, brother. Easy," I also knew that I was holding myself back too. How quickly we can cross over.

Your field of view changes. Your capabilities change. What you are capable of changes. You are under adrenaline, a drug called adrenaline. And you respond very quickly, and you think very quickly. They mocked him because they could, because this man, this bearded carpenter, was too smart to bite, because he had already turned the other cheek. He ignored them. Or tried to. That's all. You think! You think, you analyze, and you act. And in any situation, you just have to think more quickly than your opposition. That's all. You know. Speed is very important.

Even in that moment when the encounter went from offensive to threatening, as one boy came and sat down across from the carpenter, staring openly, daring him, taunting him openly, he didn't take the bait. The boy leaned over the...


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pp. 147-154
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