Purple Hair (or Six-Foot Munchkins)…
I’m not sure why it happened or how exactly it happened. But it happened.
I had sat there, alcohol-less, watching the first few bands play — one was a female acoustic duo with an Indigo Girls sort of vibe, the second was a fabulous disaster of something disco-esque — and was now on the third act of the evening when I noticed a strange undercurrent generating around my end of the room. Due to the fact that I’ve basically lived in bars since I was a teenager, I’ve learned to be on the alert for this particular undercurrent. I’ve felt it many times before, so it was with a cautious alertness that I swiveled around my non-barstool to see if I could casually ascertain just where the fight was about to take place. I noticed that it was coming from near the stage area where stood the group of the punk-dressed kids. But they weren’t the problem. I later learned that they were actually some pretty nice kids. They weren’t the problem, but the problem was being directed at them. For coming at them was a group of guys who were, I don’t know, what should we call them? I suppose that the nicest, profanity-free thing to call them would be “thugs.”
Above the noise of a band named Six-Foot Munchkins, I could barely hear the lead thug as he shouted to a particular purple-haired young man, “you’re a freak! A good-for-nothing freak!”
So, here we go I suppose. Let me say for the record that I have never understood why men, young men especially, feel the need to solve their differences using testosterone. From the small-scale conflicts such as this, to large-scale, full-blown wars we as a gender seem never to learn that the expression “might makes right” is a complete load of shit.
The purple-haired young man seemed at a loss as to what to do. Obviously, he had been singled out because he was small and skinny. The troublemaker on the other hand was a “big strappin’ lad” as
they say. And like a typical bully, he had decided to pick on the weakest-looking kid in the joint. Not only did the purple-haired kid have to face this thug, but behind the thug was a group of his thuggy friends.
“You’re a fag aren’t you?” I heard the young thug yell. I couldn’t hear the purple-haired kid’s response but he was shaking his head in an obvious denial. “You are! You’re a fag! And you’re here with all your little fag friends. Look at you all dressed up like a bunch of freaks. You make me sick!”
This must have been the purple-haired kid’s first such confrontation (though if he continued to dress like that, it would surely not be his last) and he was obviously frightened and unsure as to what to do. I could tell that he seemed merely to be weakly protesting the homosexual label in what I would bet was a frightened tone of voice that gives bullies a thrill to hear.
As I said, I had felt the trouble before I had seen it, and now I was seeing the form that the trouble was taking. And the purple- haired kid was unfortunately playing into their hands. I wish that I could have told him the secret of such situations—although maybe he would learn it tonight—is that if you are going to be different, then be proud to be different. Be damned proud of your uniqueness. You have every right to dye your hair purple if you want to and if some thick-headed guy has a problem with it then you simply don’t care. Most of the time bullies are not actually looking to start a physical fight. They merely want for you to cower under so that they win by default. But if you act like they aren’t worth your time, the whole thing will often end right there. And if the person really is itching for a fistfight, then it will happen whether you cower under or not. So why cower under? As Mahatma Gandhi had learned, standing up for what you believe is right quite often means getting the shit kicked out of you. But no matter how badly you are beaten physically—even to the point of death—the bully never wins if you do not cower.
I really wish more people would read Gandhi. He actually was much more badass than most people realize.
Perhaps I should have said something to that effect to the purple-haired kid but there really wasn’t the time. And besides, I was hoping that it was a lesson that he would figure out on his own here in the next few minutes. But he didn’t.
The big guy was definitely coursing with testosterone and I couldn’t really tell if he was going to turn violent, or if he just wanted to rant. “Why don’t you people go get jobs?” the troublemaker screamed, obviously operating under a strange form of logic that assumed that anyone who looked different would never stoop to earning a living, “instead of hanging out here in your fruity clothes? You’re all a bunch of freaks!”
As he yelled the word “freaks” his fiery gaze happened to meet mine. I laughed and exhaled a puff of smoke.
He looked away.
“A bunch of freaks!” he shouted.
Just then a young woman with a shaved head chose to speak up
in her friend’s defense. I managed to hear her shrill voice proclaim, “We can dress however we want to. This is America.”
Nice line I thought, but the delivery was lacking. Her voice sounded too fearful and challenging. It was a matter of fact that this was America. And yes it was clear that choice of apparel is protected under the Constitution of the United States. If she had said so confidently and calmly, then she would have, I believe, gained the upper hand. But alas, she was whining and that simply does not work with bullies.
The bully just laughed and mimicked her whine, “We can dress however we waaaaant. Every time I drive down this street anymore, I have to see you faggots parading around outside this place like a bunch of…” he stalled, seemed unable to come up with another appropriately vile insult from his obviously extensive vocabulary, so finished his sentence with, “…faggots!”
Now up until this point everything was staying within the strict confines of the established bullying paradigm. There was shouting, there was cowering, and that was about it. And that was likely where it was destined to remain. However at that moment I
happened to notice the bass guitarist from Six-Foot Munchkins. As they were playing on the stage, and as this confrontation was taking place near the stage, the bass guitarist had noticed it going on. I could see in his eyes that he was on the side of the purple-haired kid, and I could also see in his eyes that he meant to do the absolute wrong thing about it.
At this new development I glanced toward the sound room to see if Samantha was aware of what was transpiring under her roof. She was deeply into the workings of the audio board and there was no way that she could have heard anything above the band.
I turned my attention back toward the bass guitarist and waited for what was to come. Because it was obviously coming.
The bass guitarist had worked his way to the edge of the stage and called out to the thug, “Hey Harris, you redneck piece of shit!”
As Harris turned toward the bass guitarist, the bass guitarist cocked his head back and then spat down into Harris’ face.
I don’t suppose that I need to tell you what happened next. Harris leapt up onto the stage and took a powerful swing at the bass guitarist. The bass guitarist apparently had good reflexes and turned his head away so that the blow just glanced the side of his nose. But Harris’ follow-up swing did connect, hard, and sent the bass guitarist cantilevering backward into the drum set, which abruptly ended the song.
The ending of a song in this fashion really is a strange thing. One moment you’ve got this huge noise blaring at you, then in an instant every member of the band hits a wrong note, the drummer’s cymbals crash, a short feedback screeches out and the song stops dead, leaving the voices of the humans in the audience exposed. It’s such a weird aural phenomenon that I wish that I could better explain it. It’s like the noise is just sucked out of the room.
At any rate, as the bass guitarist crashed into the drum set Harris rushed at him. And in that moment Harris the thug learned one lesson: when fighting with a musician, always remember that they are carrying weapons with them on-stage. Do you have any idea
how much a bass guitar weighs? As Harris rushed at him the bass guitarist swung his bass guitar. A loud “BONG” sound echoed out the speakers as the bass guitar made contact with Harris’ left arm. The follow-through swept him clear off the stage.
The rest of the troublemaking boys, at seeing their leader rebuffed leapt onto the stage with fists blazing. At this point a full- blown melee broke out. The whole place suddenly looked like something out of an old Western movie, with simply everybody fighting everybody else.
I stayed where I was, calmly smoking but keeping a lookout lest the fighting should migrate my way. I’m supposed to be a journalist after all, and we don’t get involved in things like this. We just watch. Have you ever seen a nature special in which the film crew stops the lion from eating the antelope? Doesn’t happen.
Now as with most fights, the whole thing was over almost as quickly as it had begun, but in a moment of panic someone had called the police. So after the place had already settled down, in rushed several carloads of police apparently expecting to face something like the L.A. riots.
Instead they spent the next hour or so asking questions and writing things down. They detained practically everybody except, of course, the thugs who had started it. As soon as the pause in the fighting had come the thugs had proudly marched out the door, hurling epithets behind them. But those suspicious-looking characters, i.e. the ones who had been picked on, were questioned extensively.
The odd thing is that I just sat there smoking at the bar-that- wasn’t-really-a-bar and nobody asked me a damn thing. Maybe it was because I was the only one who didn’t seem agitated by the situation. Perhaps they thought that I must have missed the whole thing if I was able to remain so calm.
In addition to the police I also saw some reporters crawling around asking questions, but not of me of course. I also saw a few TV camera crews. Terre Haute had a few television stations and I’m sure that nightclub riots made for big news in a place like this. I saw
camera crews getting shots of the whole club but I never saw them point a camera in my boring direction. Maybe I wasn’t really there. I laughed at the thought that maybe I had been killed in the confrontation but didn’t know it. So naturally nobody noticed me, although some may have gotten cold chills at the sight of a strange cloud hovering at the bar, as if an invisible person were smoking cigarettes.
The only person who did seem to see me was Samantha. After the police were done questioning her the reporters were eager to have a go at her. But for the moment the police were still restricting the reporters to a fairly small area. So Samantha ducked them and came over to me. I sensed a certain amount of anger coming from her as she said to me, “I need some advice.”
“Yeah. You’re a reporter, how do I avoid reporters?”
I smiled. “You don’t,” I said.
Samantha didn’t seem at all satisfied with that answer so I
continued, “Look, this is a big story for a place like Terre Haute. It’ll be the front-page story in the newspaper for at least a week, so you’ve just got to live with it. And since it happened in your establishment these reporters will not rest until they get you to talk. If you try to duck them they’ll take pictures of you ducking them, they’ll write about you in a bad light and you’ll be screwed.”
“Great. Thanks a lot for the help,” she said sharply as she started to walk away.
“Wait,” I called to her. She stopped. “What I’m saying is that if you duck them you lose by default. They’ll make you look like the scourge of Terre Haute. But if you go out there and talk to them then you have a chance. They might just screw you anyway, but they might not. It all depends on what you say to them. If you talk to them the right way you might come out of this looking all right. But if you go out there all pissed off then the result will be the same as if you ducked them. Maybe worse.”
She paused. I could see that mysterious quality of determination begin to assert itself. You could see it in her eyes. She was strong and she was going to make this work for her.
Damn, I admired this girl.
She asked, “so what’s the right way to talk to them?”
“Well,” I said, “First you need to sit down for a second and relax.
Because calm is the key. You go out there and talk to them calmly,” I said calmly, “You smile. Not a big grin like ‘ain’t this fun’ but a small smile that conveys that you have nothing to hide, and that this whole situation was not a big deal—although you absolutely don’t say that. Remember, you’re the one who’s responsible for this club. Your tone conveys that you are taking everything seriously but at the same time it is not something that should send the populace of Terre Haute fleeing the city.”
She stretched her arms and took a few calming breaths as she listened to me. “How,” she asked, “do I answer the questions?”
“Honestly,” I replied. “You didn’t do anything wrong. You have nothing to hide. Be honest. But speak in short, calm sentences. And above all, leave out the sarcasm. Try to imagine how the CEO of some giant company would answer hostile questions and you’ll be seen in that same sort of light—a mature person who is in control of the situation.”
“Right,” she murmured, “‘Mature.’ That sounds like the thing to me. I’m a business-owner. I’m a member of the Chamber of Commerce. I pay my taxes. I’m not some stupid kid.”
“Good plan,” I said as Steve handed her a bottle of water. She sat thinking, drinking her water and calming down considerably. When she finally got up and headed toward the reporters I knew that she was going to be all right out there.