Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Bar Brawl and The Car Crash

Today is December 21, 2006, the fifth anniversary of two fairly traumatic incidents in my life: the Bar Brawl and the Car Crash. Both helped to remind everyone involved why public intoxication is such a stupid idea.

The Bar Brawl
The setting: A cantina in the spaceport town of Mos Eisley. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker are at the bar. Suddenly Luke is confronted by the "walrus man" Ponda Baba and the malevolent Doctor Evazan...

OK, that's not exactly how it went. It was a Friday, our last day of work before the Christmas holidays, and a bunch of us had gone to a bar for a celebratory drink. It was not the bar we usually went to, but it was one suggested by a friend as a change of pace.

I got there late, as usual, and picked my way through the semi-darkness to find people whose faces I could recognize in the context of a work-related event. I spotted my friends near the end of the bar, not far from the door. At the end of the bar stood someone I had not seen in a few years. He used to work in our company, but had to leave after seriously injuring his back. He was quite drunk. I went up to him and talked with him for a few minutes. A strange woman who was sitting next to to my friends began shouting and throwing coins at us. I assumed the guy I was talking to knew her.

After a while I moved closer to my friends and ordered a beer. Some of my friends had stepped out for a moment, but had left their purses and jackets behind and asked us to keep an eye on them. I noticed one of my friends was talking to the strange coin-throwing woman. The woman suddenly began to shout and lean and poke at my friend. "Are you accusing me of stealing? Are you? 'Cause I think you are!"

Oh, boy. Here we freakin' go.

Bad things were brewing. My friend is small and not particularly well-equipped for handling violent confrontations. The woman who was accosting her was more wiry and weasel-like, with sharp painted claws and a sharp painted face. I, on the other hand, am quite large and particularly good at getting in the way.

I moved casully down the bar to a position between the two women. I then interposed myself between them with my back to the accoster (I know, I know) and my front to my friend.

"We should be leaving," I suggested. Did I mention that I sensed bad things were brewing?

"What are you doing getting in my wife's way?" a voice from behind me demanded.

The new face in the confrontation was also small and weasel-like and, like the woman he had just referred to as his wife, was quite visibly drunk.

The details of the next part are a little fuzzy. Calm explanations were met with drunken retorts. Apparently when my other friends had stepped out, one of the things they had left behind was a small pile of money on the bar to buy drinks. This pile was next to the strange drunk weasel-faced coin-throwing woman. My friend had - perhaps a bit naively - inquired as to whether the money the s.d.w.-f.c.-t. woman was throwing at various people in the bar (including me) was her own, or was coming from the pile of change our friend had left on the bar. This question was taken as an accusation of theft, and things went from there.

Eventually a consensus developed amongst the patrons in the bar - the bartender appeared to be about 18 and in no way prepared to deal with a confrontation. The consensus was that the drunken weasel-faced couple had had their fun for the night and perhaps should leave. Immediately.

Grudgingly, they got up from the bar, gathered their stuff, and began to leave. I cast a wary eye in their direction.

As the strange drunk weasel-faced woman walked past my friend, she grabbed her by the back of her head and tried to slam her face into the bar.

Other people have expressed to me the opinion that they would never strike a woman under any circumstances. I find that stupidly sexist. I have a body that is seemingly designed for violent confrontations, but I have no particular inclination to engage in them and actually avoid them wherever possible. Still, when violence is deemed necessary and unavoidable, gender is not an issue with me.

I rose to my full size of seven feet tall and four feet across.* My eyes glowed a golden red. Smoke curled from my nostrils. Fire shot from my fingertips. Electricity washed across my scalp. Titanium plates covered my skin.

Several years ago I was in a training session at work where we were asked to complete the sentence "If you want to see me angry..." My response was "mess with my friends."

I grabbed the woman by her shoulder and jerked her around to face me.


There exists a word of power that I know that I could have used in that situation to have initiated a violent melee. It is very powerful and is rarely spoken aloud in public. It is a dangerous weapon, for it often rains consequences on the speaker as well as the speaker's target. I chose not to use it. I formed my words slowly and carefully in a voice like a cyclops throwing boulders at Greek sailors.

"You. Do. Not. Do. That."

And there we were again. The weasel-faced woman's weasel-faced husband jumped right in, his chin coming nearly to the level of my chest. He pushed at me several times. His wife tried to attack my friend again. I remained immobile, blocking them from getting near my friends. Eventually others interposed themselves between us and once again convinced the weasel-faced couple to leave. By this point adrenaline was causing my muscles to twitch in anticipation of a fight that would not be happening.

And then my friends showed up again - the ones who had left their purses and coats and a pile of money for us to watch.

"We're getting out of here," I said, referring to myself, my friend who had been the victim of the attack, and a third friend who had been with us the whole while. Not that there was any danger at the bar anymore, as far as I knew. But I had had my fill of the place. I wanted to be anywhere else.

We left. But further adventures awaited us that night.

The Car Crash
We went across the street to, of all places, another bar.

It was a classier bar than the one we had just left, with more of our friends there. We told them the story of what had just happened. If I were the drinking type, I would have been looking for something strong to calm my nerves. But I am not, not really, and I knew I had a long drive home ahead of me.

My friend who had nearly had her faced smashed into a bar (it never actually made contact, but was close) had another party to go to - but a private party, so she would be leaving us shortly. My other friend and I decided we should also be going somewhere else, preferably somewhere non-barlike. We decided to go hang out at a Borders bookstore and relax a bit.

We went there. Spent about an hour. I picked up another copy of Alan Moore's Watchmen to give as a gift - my third, apparently, since I recently discovered that I have two copies for myself. I ran into some friends and we talked for a while. Eventually we elected to check out and leave.

My friend had driven us to the bookstore. My car was in our parking lot at work. To get back we had to leave the mall-ish area where the bookstore was located, drive along Main Avenue in Dickson City untill we reached "the Anchor", turn onto the main street of Olyphant, and then take a few connecting roads back to our building, our parking lot, and my car.

Main Avenue in Disckson City is long and sometimes straight, sometimes curvy. It has a few traffic lights on it. We approached one as it turned red. We were the third car in line.

I don't remember if we made small talk at that light. Some loss of memory is common with head injuries.

I do remember the noise. It was like the worst squealing belt I've ever heard. It was coming from behind us, quiet at first, then louder and louder. It was soon joined by a high-pitched noise from within the car - my friend screaming in frustration. We were about to get hit from behind.

Go stiff or go limp?, I asked myself. Stiff is most people's automatic choice when confronted with a fall or an impending collision, but it can cause serious muscle and joint injuries. Limp is recommended, but it means you're putting a lot of faith in your restraint system. Not that going stiff would at all help the restraint system.

I chose to go limp.

Being inside a car during a collision doesn't sound like the car-crash sond effects you hear on TV or in the movies. You usually get a slamming thunk accompanied by a deep crunching sound, since most car bodies are reinforced with plastic honeycomb structures or other similar stiffening bits of plastic that go crunch when they are crushed.

My friend's car lurched forward. She had kept her foot on the brake the whole while. This kept us from getting pushed into the car in fron of us, which then might have gotten pushed into the car in front of it, which would have resulted in lots of tedious insurance paperwork and possibly additional injuries.

My body lurched forward, stressing, straining, stretching to reach the windshield. It did not. Limp. Limp. The seat belt held. Then I snapped back into the seat, hard. Very hard.

"Son of a..." I reached into my pocket for my cell phone. I moved my head and felt something wet on the back of my neck. I reached back and touched it. It was bood. My blood.

"Awww, dammit..." I said. I fished in my pocket for my handkerchief while dialing 911 with my left hand. "I'd better get out and survey the damage."

Suddenly there was a squeal of tires from behind us. The car that had hit us was coming back to life. Even though we were in the rightmost lane with a line of parked cars to our right, he was going to try to pass us on the right. My side of the car.

He tore past us. If I had stepped out of the car he would have run me over. If I had opened the door he would have hit me.

I got his license plate number as he went by.

My friend tried to give chase, but her car was too messed up to travel. We managed to get it into a parking lot across the street, a parking lot of a strip mall that held a chicken wing place (open) and a medical supplies store (closed). I was on the phone with 911, using my (very poor) cell phone assigned by work. This meant that the call was fading in and out. I wanted to find a land line to call for help with more certainty that the people on the other end of the line would hear me.

I got out of the car and walked up to the doors of the place, talking all the while with a 911 operator who wanted me to stay on the line. She seemed to be particularly excited about the blood coming out of the top of my head. I was staunching the flow with a pocket handkerchief that I kept for just such occasions. I gave a mighty tug on the door. Stuck. I tugged harder. A new noise filled the air, a sound like a recess bell ringing in a schoolyard.

Some guys dressed like cooks came out of another door. "Do you need help?" they asked.

"No," I said. "I called it in. But I was afraid I was going to lose ..."

I caught a glimpse of the gathering crowd out of the corner of my eye. I spun around in a way that I do not recommend for anyone who is bleeding from the head. About two dozen people had appeared out of nowhere to stand in an arc around us and gawk.

"Hi," I said.

A car pulled up. Car? No Police? No Ambulance?

A woman got out of the car. "I got a report of an alarm here," she said.

"Ummm, I called 911...I think they're sending Police and an Ambulance."

"What? Why?" She said. She approached the set of doors I had tried to open. She had a key. She unlocked the door and turned off the alarm.

"Well, I..." The Police showed up at that moment, saving me the trouble of explaining that there was an obviously damged car in her parking lot, and that I was pretty sure I knew how the alarm got set off in her medical supplies store. The Police, however, did have to explain that they were not there because of her door alarm, but because of the obviously damaged car and the circumstances that had led up to it.

The ambulance showed up and they tended to me. They first had to convince me that pacing the parking lot while gesticulating and shouting into a phone was probably not a recommended treatment for a head injury. Before I returned to the (now twisted) passenger's seat of my friend's car, I noticed something shiny on the ground near me. A ring. "Hey, isn't this yours?" I said to my friend. It was.

The ambulance crew was made up of small, light people (including one barely legal girl wearing low-rise frayed-waist jeans and sparkly thomg underwear whose phone number I totally failed to get) - all together they might have outmassed me, but I doubt it. I assisted them in getting me into the ambulance for my trip to the hospital to get something for my bleeding scalp by pulling myself and the gurney I was strapped to up by the hand-hold bars that ran along the ceiling of the back compartment.

Once inside they began to test me for cognitive impairment.

"What day of the week is it?" they asked.

"Today is the 21st of December. Pearl Harbor Day was the 7th. Pearl Harbor Day was a Friday this year. It's been 14 days or exactly two weeks since then. So today must be Friday." (I wasn't showing off. That's how I remember things. It was the last day of work, sure, but it was the last day of work before a holiday, so I couldn't just assume it was a Friday.)

"Who is the President?"

Through gritted teeth I said "George W. Bush."

(Dammit. I should have said "Al Gore." Those wounds were still fresh on December 21, 2001.)

At the hospital they took my information, cleaned the slice across the top of my head, and put staples in my scalp. Four or five, I forget how many.

I started to go into shock a little later - chills, visual sparkles, general wobbliness - but didn't.

My friend called a friend who was able to pick us up and take us to my car. By the time he arrived I was OK to drive the 33 miles back home.

I wanted to go to bed. But first, I had to wash the blood off my coat.

The Car Crash: The Aftermath
My staples came out a week or so later. My head remained sore for a while. The cut, it turned out, was from a seam in the headrest - my scalp must have tried to force itself into the seam when I snapped back.

My friend's car was messed up pretty badly. The seat I was in was also seriously damaged, twisted out of shape. Everything was eventually repairable.

After several weeks of detective work and with the assistance of the license plate number from his car we were able to nail the guy who hit us. He was driving with a suspended license, which is a lot less effectve at keeping people off the streets than you might think. He also had several previous drunk-driving arrests. He was probably drunk the night that he hit us, coming from one of the many bars along Main Avenue in Dickson City. Confronted in court he pled Guilty. Whatever happened to him? I have no idea.

Eventually my friend moved away. Got married. Had a baby.

I don't go out to bars much with people from work anymore. Too many drunks on the roads on the last day of work. Also haven't been in any car crashes since that day - let's keep our fingers crossed on that one. You never know when a drunk driver is going to be coming up behind you at a red light.

*Slightly larger than actual size.


anne said...

Wow! What an exciting night! I'm glad to hear that they got the creep who hit you. Maybe he was on the run from the weasle-face couple.

And here the only exciting thing I ever did on Dec. 21 was to get married. Geez. I need to get out more. Except not to Dickson City.

Ashley said...

Goodness that was long. I started reading it but didn't have enough time to finish and I had to come back.

D.B. Echo said...

Anne, happy belated anniversary!

Ashley, that was so long that I actually fell asleep several times while writing it. I had to go back and make dozens of corrections the next morning!