Around 6 AM Saturday morning, I left the hospital and bought a pack of cigarettes so I could smoke while I waited for the bus. Late night hospital trips are never fun. Unless one is desperately looking for catharsis, being around the folks in an emergency room during the wee hours of the morning is not a great scene. In the room where they brought my friend DL, there were two drunks passed out on hospital beds and another guy who looked liked he just fell off a mountain and hit every rock on his way down. He was covered in dry blood and bruises and the hospital staff had to hold his legs while they gave him a shot. Comparatively, DL was in wonderful shape. He only needed a few stitches. This other guy, from the looks of him, needed a full body cast or, perhaps, cyborg organ and limb replacements a la Robocop.
My instincts tell me to feel bad for people who are in desperate need of medical attention, but at that time of night, it’s also a little bit hard not to feel as though the person probably in some way contributed to his or her own demise. I mean, random accidents generally don’t happen at 4 in the morning. These people were probably somewhere they’d be better off avoiding, doing something that was, at worst, self-destructive, or, at best, a little on the dumb side. These are the people who drank or fought or themselves off bridges and into their hospital beds. They’d likely arrived alone and would leave alone, and would probably end up alone in the same hospital bed a few months later as though their life was a sitcom having a rerun.
How did we end up there? Why was my friend waiting to get stitches next to his left eye, where there was a big gash that wouldn’t stop bleeding? One could say it was because we were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or, like “Cool Hand Luke,” because there had been a failure to communicate. In the grand scheme of things, it was really because some people seem to fashion their fate to lead to regrettable outbursts, the same way an alcoholic makes the choice to drink or a pyromaniac decides to buy a lighter.
Let me explain how it happened. I went out to Bupyeong to go drinking with friends. At Who’s Bar I saw lots of people I haven’t seen in a while and tried to get out of my little sickness funk by drinking lots of whisky. After a few hours of socializing, I headed over to N’s Pub with Kent and DL. There, we drank beer, smoked cigarettes and talked about things. I told them about how my marriage fell apart. We discussed how hard it is to be in a relationship and not wonder if there’s someone better out there. And then we talked about baseball. Glorious baseball. About the Red Sox and instant replay and the differences between a roto and a head-to-head fantasy league. We’d been going on about baseball for hours when suddenly the fight broke out.
It seemed to come out of nowhere. The bar was basically empty, just us and a table of Korean guys. We had barely noticed they were there. Then suddenly DL and the Korean guys were yelling at each other, as though the night was a movie and we’d cut from the baseball conversation to an entirely different scene. One of the Korean dudes – a guy wearing a suit and tie – was threatening to hit DL with an empty bottle of liquor. I can’t emphasize enough how quickly and randomly it began. One minute baseball, the next minute everybody is screaming and yelling and the Koreans are throwing things at us. I don’t remember exactly what they threw first. Before I could really grasp what was going on, DL and the Well Dressed Korean were punching each other on the floor. Kent and I found ourselves sort of holding back the other Koreans while the bar staff tried to break things up. I remember a little guy with glasses cursing and giving me the finger. I stood there and stared at him.
Things had gotten ugly. The Koreans threw chairs. They also threw the ice bucket their bottle of liquor came in. The dust settled, as it always seems to, and when it did, DL had blood on his face and everybody was confused as hell.
Bit by bit, the picture developed itself. The Koreans didn’t speak English. They heard us swearing and thought we were talking about Korean girls. Degrading them. They wouldn’t stand for it. Of course, as it was, we were talking about rotisserie fantasy baseball. Anyways, they began impersonating us and giving our table the middle finger. Kent and I were oblivious. DL noticed. He said something. They said something back. They stood up. He stood up. And that’s how it happened.
Afterwards, the bar staff seemed to be rather unimpressed with their people (we were in a Korean run bar). I believe they explained to them, in a scolding kind of way, that we weren’t talking about Korean girls at all. This caused Well Dressed Korean to suddenly become the most apologetic son-of-a-bitch on the face of the planet. He kept bowing and saying “I sorry” over and over again. It went on forever. Or maybe twenty minutes. At the time, it felt like he would never leave.
“I sorry, I sorry,” he said again, bowing, shaking our hands. His tie was loose around his neck. He’d thrown the bucket into DL’s face and caused the big cut. DL held a napkin against it so it wouldn’t bleed.
It would be easy to say that this all was a bizarre bit of culture clash and miscommunication. A peachy attitude towards the world would probably influence someone to say that if we could only have understood each other, spoken the same language, none of this would’ve happened and everybody would’ve gotten along like chums.
I don’t believe that to be the case, though. There are times when a person’s instincts take over and tell them what to do, and I believe that it was at this time that the real distinctions between us and them became apparent. In the heat of the moment, those guys threw basically everything they could get their hands on at DL. They picked up chairs and hurled them at him. They gave us the finger and screamed and shouted. They were perfectly willing, as it was, to hurt someone as badly as possible. But through all of this, not once did my brain go, “Hey, Bill, go get a pool stick and club someone with it. Or throw your beer glass. Or hit someone with an ash tray.” Never. Granted, I thought about that afterwards; at the time, however, none of it occurred to me.
That’s an instinctual difference, my friend. Not a cultural one. There are people all over this world like these guys, people who go for the chair in the middle of the fight, who legitimize paranoia, who think the folks at the table a few feet away are always saying something awful about them, who believe they are constantly being challenged, who always feel threatened, who carry guns to ‘protect themselves,’ who don’t exactly plan to shoot but end up doing it anyhow, who are too proud to run, who delude themselves with violent fantasies of heroics, who bow and apologize afterwards but will likely do it again, who are afraid, who cast themselves as victims, who end up in hospitals or police stations at six in the morning, having to explain it all and not really knowing how to.
Ah well. It wasn’t really that big of a deal. The police weren’t called and we were laughing in the cab on the way to the hospital. Whatever. A decent story and a few stitches.
In the history of our planet, not really wanting to fight has led to a whole lot worse.