Two Dinosaurs

This guy in San Francisco got really pissed off at me once; he scared the hell out of me to tell the truth. He was a contractor I was working for briefly; about 20 years younger and in better shape, and one day in the garage of a building we were painting, he lost it. I have forgotten what set him off; maybe it was something about when he was going to pay me; but I think it started earlier than that, when he accidentally saw a pseudonym on a story I was writing.The pseudonym was "Lenin." I had been showing him some of my laptop writing while he drove the Embarcadero to work. Or maybe I back-talked him in the garage or something. I don't remember. 

We had finished the job in one day and thanks to my good, washed, and well-folded drop cloths we didn't have to move much around while doing some delicate oil painting on the decorative, galvanized filigree over carpeted halls and iron stairs: about five stories of them in a nice part of the city. It had been a fast and clean job, and he had corrected me only once when I raised a little dust. I thought we were getting along.

I have to go back to how I met this maniac. I had been working for another guy, and meanwhile living in my van in an fenced-but-open parking lot of the oldest and soon-to-be-bulldozed first supermarket of San Francisco; and I had been doing a bang-up job for him, because I learned a few tricks about painting fast and clean over the years. He had been overjoyed with me.

"Where have you been all my life!? " he had exclaimed when I thick-coated two 15-foot stone columns at the same time in less than 20 minutes. But the guy was an ex-convict, on parole from San Quentin Prison, with a thriving business; a real talker, and he looked like right tackle for the San Francisco Giants. "Macho" does not describe him. He must have snitched his way out of prison and into business.

"I am a dinosaur!" he would pronounce while lunging about moving 5-gallon buckets and setting up spray equipment. And he was, physically and mentally, like a tyrannosaurus on methamphetamine.

I don't remember why, it probably was over me getting my back up at his tone of voice sometimes, or  when he was going to pay me--it is expensive to live in a van--but one day he lost it too. We were beneath a three-story scaffold, partly shielded from the street, where a famous jazz club was nearby. It was a hot joint, one that I could not afford, full of big, black, well-dressed guys with white, petite girlfriends, but I got to hear the terrific music while lying in my sleeping bag about 50 feet away.

Anyway, for some reason he got in my face and put his brawny fist under my chin and said, "I will break you in half you you scrawny son-of-a-bitch, " in pure prison talk; and other painters were about, watching and listening.

I saw it all in a flash. Let the monster do his worst and put me in the hospital, and I would own him. I would own his company, his van, his sprayer, and anything else, because he was a felon on parole. Big Mouth had told me all about it twice. I could get rich from a good assault. I might even be able to sue the city or state for giving him a contractor's license. If I survived it that is.

I had looked him in the eye without a quiver and said, "Go ahead." There was no question that he could whip my butt or even kill me with his bare hands. I would not have stood a chance against this strong, white gorilla.

And then as luck would have it he had a flash of intelligence and backed off.

I cannot get a break.

He fired me of course. As I drove away, I told him, "I don't want to work for a dinosaur; I'd rather work for a human being." The next day I had to threaten to call the cops to make him pay up, so after the workday was over he had me follow him to a lonely road over an interstate to be paid, and I followed him there, and he paid me. That was the last I saw of the idiot; who must be dead by now or back in chains.

But that night I was fired up. I had stood him down. I had not even blinked. I had overcome fear and felt strong. I was in the Men's room of a bar on the Haight, an Irish bar, taking a leak, and this other guy had come in, and while washing up I had recounted the story to him, and he had laughed his ass off at my audacity and courage, and hired me on the spot for another painting job.

So things were clicking right along for a change. I had work. I had gas. I could eat in restaurants. The parking lot was safe for at least two more weeks before bulldozers showed up, and I could hear the music; hip modern jazz and blues. He was an intelligent person. He had good jobs from people with money. He had a nice van and good equipment, but a shortage of drop cloths. (I washed mine like laundry.) He lived alone in a well-kept home, and I liked him. Fortunately, I have forgotten his name.

He had a Catholic working class background, lived in the Sunset District near another cat I knew who was full-Irish (they knew one another), and things were looking cool. And then he had seen the pseudonym.

I had pseudo-named the piece because I was writing some angry, radical stuff. I mean, I felt the contempt of Lenin inspiring it. I forget now which war it was that I was so peeved about; it was one of those in the 90s. I don't even remember what year this happened.

But the use of "Lenin" as the author was meant to be ironic and temporary; because if I could work it into a publishable piece I would have put my own name on it; and because anybody who knows me knows that I despise the heartless Lenin for what he did, while recognizing the genius of his method.

God, don't get me started.

I'll let Lenin rest awhile, and assert that his secret formula (and revision of Marx) was only long division. It's not that hard to figure out, and it succeeds every time if you know how to apply and revise it for particular, cultural, and national conditions and customs. I hate--well not really--to tell you romantic and deluded new-age anarchist revolutionaries out there that there has only been one successful formula for revolution and it is called Marxism-Leninism. Your anarchist revolution is doomed; neither anarchist nor a revolution. Humanity will not be ready for you for another century or so.

The problem, once you understand it, is not so much how to make a revolution, but to control what happens after winning it.

Human beings of even the highest intelligence and sensibilities, it seems, have character flaws and personality defects. They mostly are greedy, fearful, selfish, vengeful, self-centered, petty, hypocritical, cowardly, and traitors nearly one and all. Which is why a real revolutionary leadership must be small, closer than kin, and as busy and disciplined as a hive of honeybees. And no matter how successful they are, they will establish another sort of tyranny--to someone.

Anyway, the second dude went off on me in the parking garage and threatened to beat the living shit out of me. He was so mad that he was throwing garbage cans and beating on stone walls and advancing on me like Hitler's army, calling me a "communist son-of-a-bitch!"

I saw that I could not match his fury or strength. So I did the only thing that made sense. I turned my back on him and put my hands against the stone wall as if I were to be frisked and handcuffed by a policeman. It was complete surrender. I did not even open my mouth.

He still came within a quarter-inch of slugging me in the jaw. But non-resistance cooled him.

Then the fucker took me back to the Sunset District, yelling at me so loudly that he injured my left eardrum. He even admitted that he knew he had lost it and had handled the situation very badly, but he kept yelling the whole way home.  I kept my mouth shut for the 20-minute ride, and when I got out, he paid me off from his window, and said to call him tomorrow.

"Sure," I said. You bet, I didn't say.

Never got my drop cloths back, though I left a message on his phone that I wanted them. Always wondered what he was paid for that expert job. I got about $100.

I hate to fight. It scares the shit out of me. The fear of having my only teeth broken (or in this case of having dentures punched down my throat), or bones broken, or having an eyeball busted open or pried out, or an ear torn off, or getting kicked in the balls, or knifed, has always terrified me. When I see a threat developing, I want to go out the bathroom window and drive away (and have.)

If someone actually attacks me, and this was not an uncommon occurrence as I look back, I can only fight defensively; warding off blows, even turning my back on the attacker and absorbing the blows, because I am more afraid than angry.

Once, as a 20-year old marine on Okinawa, I lost a fight to another drunken marine, because I could not bring myself to break his elbow--"easy as toast"--and I had let him up, thinking that he would see how merciful I had been, be grateful, and let it go; but he proceeded to stomp my butt. I could not see myself crippling a man for life; and he had no compunction.

The truth is that I cannot fight unless I am angry. The only thing that makes me angry is pain. (Even mental pain; I see now.) I get unreasonably angry even if I hit my finger with a badly-aimed hammer. But once that I am hurt, and I see that the guy really means to damage me; once you prove that you will cripple or kill me over nothing; I am coming for you motherfucker, and there ain't no rules in Marine Corps  hand-to-hand combat. You can hit me wherever you want, but I am coming for you. Fear is erased from the equation. You will get more than a scratch; unless you are some kind of gorilla.

Thank you, United States Marine Corps.

I have been knocked around plenty in my life. You have no idea. And I never wanted to hurt anyone.


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