For the five people who read this column regularly – my mother, my girlfriend, my best friend and two copy editors – you already know about my talent and passion for pissing people off. It’s easy to write this phenomenon off as yet another one of my uncomely quirks, but sometimes it can be beneficial. And hilarious.
Last weekend I went to Ted’s for libations and to chat casually with my peers over the low, throbbing roar that comes from pop music and having too many people in one place. We were having fun. A few female friends of mine showed up after their stint at Huskies. One of them was being creeped on hard by a muscular dude in a white t-shirt.
Now, before I break down what happened next, I should contextualize. On my high school basketball team, I was known for being a pain in the ass. Even as an underclassman, I would get into scraps in practice whether you were a benchwarmer or a star. I’m not afraid of talking, and no matter how many elbows are thrown or hard box outs are executed, in my experience, what triggers people the most are words.
One particular drill went by the name of “Carolina Rebounding.” The idea was two teams of two would compete against each other to get a rebound. If the offensive team grabbed it, they would keep trying to score until the defensive team at last secured the board. Near the basket, the defensive team waited for the offensive team to come crashing in for the rebound once the coach put up a mock shot. This was the most physical drill of any practice (some players even wondered at the legality of it). I once bit off a portion of my tongue because a 6 foot 6 inch, 250 pound, future D-1 tight end drove his shoulder into my jaw when going up for a shot.
Despite widespread distaste among my teammates for the drill, I was naturally drawn to it. I took on the best players on the team, angering them in the process, as if they were incensed to be challenged at all, but my feistiness ultimately endeared me to them and my coaches.
I remember being subbed into a win-or-go-home state tournament game against a team with a temperamental tank for a center. He was their leading scorer and a dominant presence in the paint. My directive was to “go bother him.” So I did. By the time I was taken out of the game, I had succeeded in getting into his head and bringing him in there with me. Smiling when he first saw it was I – a 5 foot 11 inch, unintimidating white boy – who intended to guard him, he was yelling in my face and about to head butt me, forcing the referees to separate us, before I reassumed my seat on the bench.
Back to Ted’s. This young man was quite intoxicated and sort of stood silently behind my friend for five minutes, looking at her. Then he started trying to touch her. When I saw this, I placed myself in-between them. My hope was that this would be enough for him to walk away. On the contrary: he started pushing me, grabbing my waist and telling me to leave.
Then I did what I do best.
Directly adjacent to us was a bouncer who had been watching this unfold. I looked to him and asked, “Are you seeing this?” and he nodded.
“He’s on thin ice,” he responded.
The kid didn’t quiet down. I said something to him about not being sure how he was admitted into the bar, considering the fact he’s a freshman (the freshman thing always gets them for some reason). He said something back, so I told the tough guy we could go outside if he wanted to lose a fistfight, and some other throwaway lines, and he was boiling, but he was afraid of the bouncer, so he acted as if he was going to punch me, then began walking away. I gave him an affable pat on the shoulder, saying, “Good decision on your part, little guy.”
He swung around and pushed me in the chest, following through and coming inches from my face, sputtering indecipherable phrases as loud as he could once he had my full attention. I pointed to the bouncer and he nodded. “He’s gone,” the hero said. I started clapping as the bouncer descended from his perch, yelling “T him up!” “You’re done!” and the like. The drunkard was escorted off the premises.
Competition can lead to flared tempers, which means the winner is the one who can stay cool. I’ll admit that’s hard for me to do sometimes. What’s easy, though, is pissing people off. Kevin Garnett would say some heinous things to opposing players to mess with them, and, ironically, the victim would be slapped with a technical foul because of an understandable reaction to someone insulting your mother.
Speaking of mothers, hi mom. I’m sorry for the masculine posturing in today’s column. I hope you’re proud, though, that I avoided a fight and found a way to win.
Sten Spinella is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.