This physical details of this story are true, though the interpretation is entirely my own. The names have been changed to protect the guilty. The very, very guitly. Enjoy.
Rupert always liked shocking 'mundanes,' members of that vast majority of people who sit home at night, every night, laughing it up over the scripted behavior of sitcoms. There was a time, we're told through textbooks of mosaics and vases of naked athletes, when actors were on par with beggars and con men, thought no higher than the urban campers that migrate through downtown Tempe by night and curl up on benches at the park just outside my flat, ogling the young Spanish mothers. But the ancient class of pretenders have become celebrities, usurping the role once held in our grandmother cultures by orators, warriors, politicians, and the beleaguered breed of poets. Rupert would not have considered himself any of these things. He once referred to himself as a "shockster," tagged with a chuckle, once when we split a bottle of wine on the roof of the Matthews Center. He chucked the bottle into orbit after we downed it, bursting like a star of broken glass on Cady Mall.
If he had more forethought, I would have called him a performance artist. Without his conversation, I would have debated his sanity. If he ever wrote his brain into a page, I would have described him as a writer of prophecies.
Unfortunately, Rupert was impulsive and hated writing. His life was built on spoken words and he could bullshit his way out of anything and often did. He once scored a one-night stand with a business sophomore after telling her she had nice teeth. He blasted epithets in the theater, not at the screen, but at other moviegoers, shouted across Mill Avenue to friends and foes alike, and was politely asked to leave various establishments under threat of calling the police. To know Rupert was to know an anarchist who hated anarchists, but wanted to throw a bit of chaos in the comfortable life of soccer marms and white-collar suburban middle-managers whose life goal was owning an SUV with 1.2% APR.
I can't remember how I met Rupert. Most of the players in my life slide up from the sides while I'm watching protagonist and heroine bicker center-stage. Pause. Sideline character becomes supporting actor, epigrammatic lines emerge into the venue, soaking into the brains of watchers, and the audience asks, "where did he come from?"
Rupert always stole his scenes.
Too much coffee in our systems while he paid the check. He always had money it seemed. Just enough cash to survive, I thought, but he always had a bill in the beat-up wallet I'm sure he lifted from some thrift store, more than likely with slight of hand than with a receipt. On our treks, we never stopped at a bank, and he job was fuzzy something or other, so I knew he was a dealer; coupled with the number of strangers that would stop him in bars or on the street to say hello.
Start parenthesis. Here I insert the fable of the stork among crows for those of you with a lofty moral compass and no dangerlove. I never dealt in any organized sense, but materials illegal fell my way from time to time, the floorscore of my acquaintances as it were, and I passed on the substances I wasn't into with a marginal profit.
Rupert though, always had a story about getting roughed up for one reason or another, and he could read tags, gang signs, and knew what areas of town to not head into looking for trouble. I was far more naive so he kept an eye out for me. End parenthesis
Too much coffee and he had finished more than a pack of Marlboroughs. I'm not one for cigarettes and can barely tell the difference between a filter and the other end; being the heir to a registered nurse can do that to a boy. The waitress had a smooth butt and a nice smile in a dull midwestern sense. One of those flat states that ends in a vowel that no one remembers driving through, despite gas station receipts proving otherwise. Rupert always overtipped for good service or a pretty face; he knew a serious waitress, like a poet, could make a ten dollars stretch a week.
The water glasses were just chunks of ice now, and Rupert and I sucked the sweat off the cubes like ants milking aphids.
"Wanna pick a fight?"
The room is half-packed. In a booth to the left are three kids, younger or older than us by a few months, suburban black kids in sweaters and baggy jeans cleaned and pressed by mothers or girlfriends or young wives, and they're not up for a friendly tussle with strangers. To the right is a family of four, Homer in a maroon polo, digital watch ticking down the seconds to his inevitable heart attack, Marge in her Friday "we're going out honey" blouse. Bart and Lisa pick off the remnants of the children's menu burgers with cute names aimed at the youngest youth market. College couples abound elsewhere in pairs or quads, but I'm not up for dropping soft-skinned science majors desperately trying to score subtlety with their newest virgin targets, or roughing up goofball boyfriends in front of girlfriends far too good and fine for them, but doomed to imitate the cartoon breeders to our right.
"Sure," I quietly say, thinking we'll head outside and spill drinks on thick-necked frat boys sauced on overpriced Long Islands.
Keep in mind, dear reader, that I am by no means a warrior, nor is Rupert, and I only fight back in self-defense. Rupert, conversely, saw confrontation as means to an end, if only that end is to pass the time with some shared excitement. There was no humor in a knockdown, drag-out fight where one party incurs a debt with their health insurance behemoth. It was always about the subtlety of the confrontation, the maneuvering, the drama. It was a chess game, Rupert said, to agitate a normal person into throwing the first punch, then getting the fuck out before the law arrived to ruin the experiment.
Rupert is instantly standing, his chair tumbling backward behind him toward the empty table behind us. Legs spring and he is suddenly airborne and our table is the deck of an aircraft carrier. He skids across it at full speed, wheels missing the non-existent tow cable and the ice cubes become frozen projectiles tumbling across the floor. His hands plant on my shoulders, taking me over in the chair to the floor. My torso topples back, my head does not, but locks halfway to floor, so my skull does not dribble across the court.
I distinctly remember hearing the one black kid facing us shout, "shit!" as I tumbled.
Rupert's knee is planted on my chest, fists wailing. He has a ten-year-olds smile, not at the thrill of assault, but the reaction of the crowd. Homer is dumbstruck; he's only seen shit like this on every single one of his 500 channels except PBS. Now in reality, he's unsure whether this is scripted or sports. Marge repeats the same two-word prayer over and over to her deity, while Bart and Lisa get to see R-rated violence for free.
Rupert's dive broke a glass he never did pay for.
Fists flying, his into me, mine into him, but he's pulling punches. (No permanent damage kiddo, not that pretty face). I'm returning body blows but have no momentum due to the floor. I block whatever else I can. The black kids have half-stood, unsure of the proper moment to intervene in what does not seem to be their affair. College couples have all turned their attention away from banal small talk and sexual pursuits to watch Rupert (apparently) beat the living daylights out of a me, pinned to the floor.
Later, Marge would be heard to remark: they seemed like two nice, quiet young gentlemen, before the recent unpleasantness.
Rupert lands an excellent shot across my jaw, jerking my face to the right into wet carpet. I start laughing uncontrollably, more out of shock than design; perhaps some long repressed survival tactic to distract opponents in a tense situation.
Rupert begins laughing too and his punches fall softer until they halt altogether.
By now, management and the cook staff have been alerted by the commotion and emerge into the dining room , appraising the scene. One of the black kids has emerged from the booth. Two college kids have split from their dates in moral outrage and to demonstrate their virility. Hormones flow. Adrenaline. Testosterone. Estrogen.
Rupert backs off me, grabbing me up by the arm in a single fluid motion. I stabilize. I glance at Bart, letting him see that the wounded hero is still alive after the commercial break, despite the cliffhanger postulated minutes before.
Rupert faces the stunned crowd, even more stunned that the scene ended so abruptly. He bows slightly, and shouts, "thank you, you've been great."
Afterwards, I informed him that when I told the story years later, I would remember him saying something humorous and dramatic. In reality, though, after he pulled me up, he shouted something far more lowbrow, like "fuck", or "run", or "now" and he bolted, halfhazardly dragging me with him, toward the waiting area.
Inbound customers hover like Vietnamese Hueys for the next hostess in the foyer as Rupert, then I, dash past. Rupert halts just long enough to grab a handful of peppermints from a basket on the hostess stand. Some fell out on the way, skidding across tile like carnival hockey pucks.
He slams shoulder-first through two doors and I followed, laughing hysterically the entire way.
We hauled toward Rupert's pickup. He took the helm, I leapt into the bed and we disappeared into the night, while bruises formed like medals in our skin.