1. I suppose there’s no point in trying to find a relation between the two public fistfights I have had in which I wear lipstick. I’ve just always thought it made sense.
2. Do writers get in fights anymore? I mean, outside boxing rings, where Ivy League scribes do the proper thing and take part in the macho ritual. William Hazlitt calls boxing “the high and heroic state of man” I’m talking stupid, Cannonball Run fights, chair-broken-over-head–style fisticuffs.
3. I’m not sure if writers ever really did fight. I mean, we’re all pretty much a bunch of wussies.
3a, For my part, I’ve had two public fistfights, and on both occasions I wore lipstick, the surrounding circumstances I will describe here. Both ended with public embarrassments of the highest order.
4. The first lipstick fight happened when I was 13. It was a summer night in Maple Shade, NJ. I grabbed my sister’s make-up bag and pantomimed her dolled-up walks to the town’s main intersection, where she cavorted in the Wawa parking lot with her big-haired friends.
4. I hummed Bon Jovi, put on her white leather fringe jacket, then applied lipstick. I puckered in the mirror. My mother and her sisters clapped and I took a bow.
5. My lips were still silky-smooth when, later that night at the basketball court whem Bobby O’Rourke, an unemployed twentysomething who did road maintenance for the township, chucked a basketball at my balls.
5a. I fell to my knees. The ball left a crater in my pants, like from a Road Runner cartoon.
5b. I stood up and, without a thought, swung at this grown man who still slept in his mother’s basement at night and filled potholes by day.
5b. My left hook knocked his face around; his wire-rimmed glasses smacked on the concrete court.
5c. I froze. A rule had been broken: a child had hit a man.
6. Instead of trying to beat me up in turn, Bobby went home and dispatched his younger brother, David O’Rourke, after me. He arrived at the court minutes later.
6. David was in fact larger than his older brother. With orange shorts and biceps with large purple veins pulsing through them, he resembled a Big Jim doll, the kind that can flex its muscles and do karate chops.
7. For a young man to be worked over in a public space in the 1980s in a South Jersey blue collar town isn’t the height of public embarrassment. I’ll leave that to Anthony Weiner, or Abu Ghraib prisoners with wires on their balls. But to get a beat-down from a Big Jim doll with traces of one’s sister’s frosty magenta Wet ‘n Wild 505 still on one’s face, that must merit some kind of ranking.
8. I wish I could say this didn’t happen again, or when it did it wasn’t my fault. That I make some Gandhi pledge of lipstick non-violence, or imitate Saint Augustine, and abandon, as he writes, “all the empty hopes and lying frenzies of vain desires.”
9. I did not.
10. The date of my second time applying lipstick was May 28, 2004. It’s a book party for on the Lower East Side for a Successful Graduate School Friend. She’d gotten a big advance—rumored to be in the mid six figures—and had set up an open-bar affair for all her writer friends.
11. By this point in my writing life, I should have been able to attend party like this and say I was a writer with a straight face. Or at least a Prose Poet with a Dream.
11a. I was also a 36-year-old temp proofreader. I was not a good proofreader. At the midtown ad agency where I worked, I misread the fine print at the bottom of pharmaceutical ads for hours; I made mistakes not picking up others’ mistakes.
12. My wife had gone away for the weekend. I made plans to go to Successful Graduate School Friend’s party, get loaded at the open bar, then hop in a cab and catch a showing of the 1980 comedy Caddyshack at Brooklyn Academy of Music, where they are having a Bill Murray retrospective.
13. The first pint turned into a second, which turned into a fifth and a sixth. The new pills I was taking for anxiety and depression magnified the effect, and pretty soon I was the Friendliest Person in the Bar.
13a. The Prose Poet Friends I was with encouraged me. An Underwear Designer Woman dipped into her tube of Chanel Hydrabase No.78 Shanghai Red and smeared in on my hand.
14. I wipe it on my lips, remembering my technique from a stint on the high school make-up crew for Camden Catholic High School’s 1986 production of Mame. I looked at her compact mirror. I pouted. Another lipstick follies production ensued. I danced to mid-period Billy Joel.
14a. You may be right. (Point at friends.) I may be crazy. (High-five strangers.) But it just may be a loooo-natic you’re looking for. (Jazz hands.)
15. I confronted a Semi-Famous Writer who, among other things, had complained about the accommodations at my mother’s house after I drove her to a reading in Philadelphia, and later blogged about how negligent our mutual indie publisher was for failing to secure a German automaker’s sponsorship for her book tour.
15a. I still don’t remember the start of the conversation. But I do remember my last words to her. “You fucked up, honey,” I said, pivoted on my right heel, sashayed back inside.
16. I then overheard an Underwear Designer Woman talk about thongs. I told her I don’t care for thongs, how the string part smells like poop after a long day of thong-wearing. She never heard of such a thing. She was a disagreeable woman in her twenties with an annoying Texan accent. I then broke the fourth wall and said that, back in my dating days, I did, in fact, encounter many thong strings that smelled like poop, and hers probably smelled of poop, too.
16a. I will say that I come up with some great lines when I am excessively drunk. If only I could remember most of them.
17. And just then a beer tap explodes.
17a. And just then beer sprays all over the bar.
17b. And then here came some regular, a Jerry Garcia lookalike. He made like a windshield wiper with his arms, swiping the beer off the bar surface, which splashed beer on everyone.
17c. And then I asked who’s the fucking asshole who’s getting beer on all the girls’ dresses.
17d. And then Jerry Garcia came up to me and said that he was, in fact, the fucking asshole.
17e. He got in my face. And then I tell Jerry I’m gonna count to ten and if he didn’t get out of my face, I was gonna kick his hippie ass.
17f. When I got down to six I grabbed his neck. And then he grabbed mine.
17g. We fell the floor. The bouncer threw me out. Jerry Garcia got to stay inside.
18. I ended up across the street. People were pushing me back because I wanted to go in and get my messenger bag. It has my new iPod and writing pad.
19. Then I saw another bouncer outside.
19a. He smirked at me. That’s all it took.
19b. “Hey fuckface,” I said. Adrenaline from the tussle had just hit me, about five minutes too late. The happy pill-beer combo slowed me down, but by then I was completely amped.
19c. “What are you, the second-string bouncer? Bring the bigger guy outside, cos I’m going back in to get my bag.”
19d. I noticed the bartenders had Irish accents, so I figure this bouncer guy is, too.
19e. “You’re just gonna stay over there, eh?”
20. Wait a minute. I forgot to tell you about a second fight with David O’Rourke, the Big Jim doll lookalike younger brother. And as I do this I will use the opportunity to mention something my father did. My father, you see, was a militaristic sort, one with a fascination with eugenics and the German people. When I returned from the basketball court—bruised, black eyes, smudged lipstick on my cheeks—my father said that, in order to “regain my honor as an Aryan warrior,” I would need to beat up David O’Rourke. I attempted to do this two weeks later when, I spotted him in the baseball field behind our backyard.
20a, Before I hopped the fence to get him, my dad handed me a tube of pennies wrapped in black electrical tape. “Keep this in your hands when you punch,” he said. “It will make your hand stronger.” I snuck up on O’Rourke out in the dugout and leapt on his shoulders. Even with my fingers juiced up by what was essentially a roll of solid copper, nothing dented O’Rourke’s face. My dad and uncles came over to break up the fight, which ended in a draw.
21. So back to the writer party. I was still standing outside. Now I wanted to provoke him. I was angry and I was wearing lipstick and I want to provoke a bouncer, to regain my warrior honor. Or something.
21a. “C’mon over, you Irish piece of shit!” I shouted. “I’ve never beat up a midget leprechaun—you can be my first.”
21b. This angers the second-string bouncer. He stomped across the street. It’s all a haze, but I remember knowing it was inevitable: we were going to fight. For the first time since I was 13, I was wearing lipstick and was about to punch someone or be punched.
22. I meet him halfway and gave him a left hook. It fell square on his face. The punch, in fact, lifted him off his feet. He went into the air and landed on Broome Street.
22a. I stepped back to the curb, shaking my hand.
23. A Prose Poet Friend grabbed my right arm, said we need to go. I still don’t have my bag, but I needed to go.
23a. “Did ya see that?” I kept asking my friend. “I still got it!”
24. A cop van pulled up. The driver asked if I just got into a fight down the street. I said No sir I did not, but they picked me up anyway. I was so drunk I still wore the shit-eating, lipsticked grin as they put me in the back. They circled the van around Delancey, down Allen and then back to Broome for some kind of perp walk drive by the bar.
24a. Jerry Garcia pointed at me, laughs, gives me the finger. The second-string bouncer nursed what looks to be a black eye with a steak.
25. It finally hit me: I had gotten into another fight. In lipstick. Again. I was not taken downtown. I’m given a ticket for a Class C misdemeanor: unlawful assembly.
25a. I still don’t have my bag, so I spent the rest of the night and the next morning walking the streets of downtown Manhattan. The lipstick was gone. I didn’t have the keys to my apartment—my Prose Poet Drinking Friends had my bag and they don’t pick up their phone. No one picked up their phone. I left several voicemails to friends in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens. I went from diner to diner, sobering up, tightening my jaw in embarrassment.
25b. What the fuck did I do? Why did I fight two people? And why the fuck did I put on that lipstick?
26. When I finally get home, I called Successful Graduate School Friend to apologize. She laughs and says she feels bad, calls me “the Norman Mailer of the night.”
26a. I called my new therapist, the one who prescribed to me the pills who has been helping me. He told me he had noticed how I have been “acting out more lately.”
27. My wife is upset to hear about the fight when she gets home. I don’t tell her about the lipstick.
28. If I were a gender studies major, maybe I could piece all this together, all these conflicting signals of fists and lipstick, and turn it into some turning point.
28a. “Tomorrow I shall find it,” the Saint writes. “It will appear manifestly and I shall grasp it.”
29. I was my thirty-sixth year, “stuck in the same mires” as St. Augustine says, sober enough to say writers should never fight, and wise enough to say William Hazlitt was full of shit.