I’ve been punched in the face a lot in my life. My mouth has often made promises that my body wasn’t quite prepared to defend, but that my ego wouldn’t let me back out of either. A dangerous grouping those three, the mouth, body, and ego. They never seem to agree on anything. Not mine anyway, hence that punching in the face part.
I have a list a mile long of things I’ve done that I shouldn’t have, and that list is only slightly longer than the one of stuff I still do that I shouldn’t. None of the good stories have ever come from playing it safe. Not one, which is why I’ve always been so quick to leap into the fray haphazardly.
But those are the actions of the young and invincible, I tell myself. War should not be waged in the physical ways of my youth, but with intelligence and maturity now. A cleverly crafted phrase, I try to convince myself, is far more effective than a strong right cross.
And yet somehow, despite the best of intentions, I can’t quite shake my former tendencies.
Like that one night, when I may or may not have beat up a midget.
In my defense, the midget did start it. I was hanging out after a show late one Saturday night with my regular opening act on the road, a stocky black guy named Sam. The clinking of ice signaled that we were empty, and we ordered another round of James and Jack and got change for another five. He and I have had an ongoing competition for years now, feeding dollar after dollar into the mechanical punching bags that bars began installing once they realized that alcohol and testosterone were worth a fortune when combined.
Basically, for fifty cents, a little leather bag drops from the machine and registers how hard you punch it. It is mindless fun and a matter of bragging rights amongst the guys. With a healthy buzz, I fed another buck into the machine and swung. As I connected, I heard a voice behind me say, “You hit like a bitch!”
I immediately turned around. Maybe it was tunnel vision or maybe I simply didn’t look far enough down, but when I spun to look, no one was there. I turned back around to swing again, and I was interrupted mid-stride by the same high pitched voice. “You gonna hit it harder this time? Pussy.”
That’s when I saw him. Four foot tall on the dot, there stood the most confident midget I had ever seen in my life. I leaned forward with my hands on my knees and I looked down at him, squinting at him like I was trying to make out fine print.
“What, bitch?” he said, and threw his arms out to the side. The stubby limbs hung there, taunting me. Beckoning me. Challenging me.
“You can’t do it,” Sam said to me, shaking his head.
“You can’t beat up a midget. You won’t win.”
“You don’t think I can kick a midget’s ass?” I fired back.
“That’s not what I mean,” he said. “It’s just that even if you do win… you still kinda lose, man.”
“Brilliant,” I replied, suddenly happy to have been saved from the embarrassment of beating up a midget. “So what then?”
“You have to be the bigger man.”
“Did you seriously just say that?”
Sam laughed. “C’mon, man. Let’s go.”
As we turned for the door we pushed past the angry little dwarf, who wasn’t as content to let things slide as we were. He pushed his little midget shoulder into my leg and threw down the gauntlet. “Yeah, you better leave, motherfucker!” he yelled up at us.
“What?” I asked, cocking an eyebrow.
“You better leave before you get your ass kicked. Because- “
Now, this is probably where the night turned sideways. I couldn’t even begin to guess what this little creature’s explanation was going to be for how he planned to hurt me. His “because” seemed to hang in the air forever. The only thing I could imagine was that he was going to suddenly pull back a curtain and reveal an entire midget army armed for battle; a thousand tiny goblin soldiers poised to attack with spikes on the tips of their boots and their teeth filed into fangs, while David Bowie sang about a baby.
“Because why?” I asked.
“Because I’m in the UFC,” the midget finally said.
“Unless they paint a number on your chest and the ring girls hold you over their heads between rounds, you’re not in the fucking UFC,” I shot back.
“Now you’re allowed to fight him,” Sam said.
I lunged forward, and the midget shot for the door. I don’t know if you know this or not, because few people do, but midgets are supernaturally fast and they click when they run. Click click click click click. Like a beetle. Click click click. You can Google it.
“He’s getting away!” I shouted, and pushed my way through the crowd after him.
“Throw your shoe at it!” Sam yelled to me.
“Your shoe! You never saw Leprechaun?”
“The movie? With Jennifer Aniston? Whatever. If you throw a shoe at a leprechaun, they have to stop and polish it.”
Ridiculous, I thought. I wasn’t going to beat this thing with mythology. I didn’t need rumor and folklore; I needed fact. I had to find a way to do some real damage to this midget.
We made it out through the front door to find the little elf clicking off and away down the sidewalk. I took off after him on what was, in my drunken mind anyway, a straight line, but was more than likely one of those Jeffy’s dotted line moments from Family Circus. All I know for certain is that I eventually caught up with him. As I drew near he turned around and growled at me, little midget juice dripping from its fangs.
The midget’s claim to have a background in mixed martial arts was at least partially true. In MMA, when an attacker shoots in for a takedown, a standard defense is to “sprawl”, or flatten out forward so that your legs can’t be wrapped up and controlled. As I got to the little creature, it did just that, except I was in no way actually attempting a takedown. I just sort of stood there while he dove forward and landed on his bulbous skull like a weeble-wobble that didn’t make it all the way back up.
My gut told me to jump up and land on his head, because everyone knows if you do that gold coins come out. I remember reading that as a child somewhere. Maybe the Bible. Then, I remembered how lopsided and misshapen midget heads can be and thought better of it, lest I turn my ankle.
There’s honestly not a lot you can do with a fallen midget. It’s a sad truth, really. You can either watch as they try to pick themselves up, which is like watching an upside down turtle struggle, or you can attack. It seemed unfair to kick him so I dove on top, twisting his leg into an impossible lock. A leg lock might not sound that impressive, but consider first how hard it is to actually locate a midget’s knee, and the degree of difficulty becomes much more apparent.
By this point, the bouncers had arrived and begun to pull me away. As I turned to wrestle with them I saw Sam tee off with a vicious right uppercut to the side of the hobbit’s head, easily lifting him three feet off the ground and knocking him backwards. He landed with a thud and then, beyond all explanation, popped right back up and ran off.
Click click click.
The only explanation is magic. Midgets can do magic. Sam’s punch would have knocked a rhinoceros unconscious. A forty-eight inch man-child couldn’t have survived it, yet somehow he did. And as that mystical little man clickety-clacked off into the night, my only recourse, since I could no longer reach him physically, was to throw a final verbal blow.
“I hope-” I yelled after him, “I hope you get eaten by an owl!”
Sam and I shook the dust off and made our way back inside. “I can’t believe I let myself do that,” I said.
“What? Get in a fight?” he asked.
“Yeah. I thought I was grown up enough to walk away from it.”
“Well, look at it this way. At least your last shot wasn’t a physical one. You gotta start somewhere.”
“I didn’t think of it that way. Baby steps, right? Maybe I’m growing up after all.”
“Nah,” Sam said. “You did just beat up a midget.”
“Shut up and give me a dollar,” I said. “It’s my turn.”