My last fistfight, if you can call it that, was during my sophomore year of high school. It was with Mike Stoudt, a fairly good friend and a classmate, and it happened after Mr. King’s typing class.
I haven’t the foggiest notion now what our tussle was about, but somehow we ended up in a shoving match in the hallway. One of us may have even tried to throw a punch. Mr. King emerged from behind rows of typewriters to break things up as other students looked on; Mike and I got dispatched to the principal’s office and spent an hour after classes ended picking up trash around the outside of our school building — chatting, as I recall, as if we’d not nearly come to blows hours earlier.
Definitely an “wasn’t that stupid?” type of vibe.
Boys have always been boys, but posturing and preening are at an altogether different level nowadays. My Instagram feed is peppered with videos illustrating proof of the erosion of civility, showing us what would have been hard to imagine 40 years ago: “Karens gone wild” (with apologies to our own sweet-natured Karen Pyrtle here at the newspaper), customers throwing fits (and furniture) in coffee shops or overturning displays in convenience stores, frightening incidents of road rage, and 3-year-olds dropping “f” bombs — near-standard fare in today’s culture, now featured on highlight reels in the palm of your hand.
What I’ve not seen are videos of brawls at Disney World.
Granted, I’ve not searched for them, but I nearly found myself starring in one.
My wife and I spent two pre-Thanksgiving days in Disney parks (Hollywood Studios, then EPCOT) in Orlando with our family (our three children, our two sons’ wives). We had a splendid time, despite our daughter Karis’ need to experience the magic from the seat of a motorized scooter — courtesy of an ACL tear in her right knee. She’s 25 now and got around fine on her own, but late on the second day, at EPCOT, Lee Ann and I hooked up with her to do a few things together before calling it a day.
It was Friday afternoon and the park was pretty crowded. We trailed behind Karis and her scooter. As Karis rolled along, a big guy staring at his cell phone was walking backward — from the side of the wide walkway, cutting across foot traffic without looking — from Karis’ right.
“Watch out!” my wife said.
It got his attention — Lee Ann’s emphatic orders always get my attention, too — and he stopped in his tracks. Thankfully, a collision was avoided.
We kept going, relieved. A moment or two later, though, we heard a bellowing voice: “Hey, are you tellin’ everyone to watch out? There’s 100,000 people here today!”
At first that didn’t register as being directed at us. Curious, I turned back. There the cell-phone man stood, with his wife and two young daughters nearby, glaring in our direction. “There’s 100,000 people here,” he yelled again.
Lee Ann — who’d by now had also turned around — and I just shrugged and kept going.
I admit a little confusion here: I wasn’t sure if he’d actually done a guest count and was in charge of informing those around him of the park’s attendance, or something else entirely.
Surely he couldn’t have been upset with us.
Then — loudly enough for us and probably 1,000 of those 100,000 people to hear — he said: “That’s right, that’s right. Keep going … you wouldn’t want any of this!”
This? By “this,” I wasn’t sure if he was talking about his bulk, or his penchant for numbers, or what. Maybe it was his older daughter’s Mickey Mouse ice cream bar — could he have been tempting me to take a bite?
Just to make sure, I turned around again.
“Hey big man,” he smirked. “You sure you want to do this?”
Actually, I was.
I had no vision of pounding him into submission — I didn’t mention this before, but Mike Stoudt wasn’t stout, but skinny as a rake, and our bout was a draw — and no intention of squaring off with him. But as someone who, in the words of my wife, has a “need to overexplain,” it was important to me that 1) he knew we’d simply been trying to keep him from being run over, and 2) he was made aware he was a jerk and a blowhard.
The next 30 or 40 seconds were a bit of a blur; I remember voices from others directed at us as I walked straight toward him. Then the wives got involved — his wife got in his face and said, “THAT’S ENOUGH!,” whilst Lee Ann stepped in front of me and used her patient mom/teacher explaining voice to admonish the dude for not fully grasping the intention of her “watch out!” warning.
With eyebrows raised and an open palm at a 45-degree angle to the ground (much like she uses to command our dog Atticus to “stay”), she leaned forward, made sure he was listening, and said, “Sir, it wasn’t an angry ‘watch out.’ I was trying to keep you from tripping over the scooter so no one would get hurt. That’s all it was.”
To his credit, his rage quickly turned to acquiescence. He apologized — score one for civility — and we rejoined Karis, who’d been watching all that from a safe distance.
Not filming with her iPhone, I might add.