Sunday, February 20, 2011

Adrenaline Response

Last night I had an unfortunate encounter. I was at a bar in Portland, enjoying some well-deserved time with six friends. My wife and I arrived later than the rest of our party. By the time we arrived, the crowd was rowdy and teeming with primitive energy. In spite of some unpleasant jostling with the inebriated throng, the stage show was lively and amusing, and my friends and I were genuinely having a good time.

An undercurrent of violence loomed, however. A drunken fool of a woman, looking to all the world like a surgically-enhanced cougar, who had been spilling her drinks on a couple of my friends and generally making a nuisance of herself, started waving her hand in my face. Perhaps all this jostling with the crowd had made me a little irritable, and I said, "please take your hand out of my face."

Suddenly her husband/boyfriend/lover/hookup appeared, pressing his chest against mine, admonishing me for having spoken to this woman. He was shorter than me, but stocky, formidable, and roaring drunk. Two of his friends also started shoving on me and calling me out. I was pretty much dumbstruck, and repeated my instruction that she keep her hands to herself. To be honest, I had a big smile on my face; I couldn't really believe this was happening.

He, his friends and I exchanged a few words; they were developing an un-sober treatise on a "kicking-my-ass" theme, while my words were mostly a collection of half-stammered questions whose sentiment could be boiled down to "...really?" My smile belied my true state, however: my heart was pounding and my adrenal gland had flooded my system with its potent hormone. Fight or flight? I took a few breaths and backed down. Did I really want to fight three dudes (and probably take a beating) over some hussy's behavior?

The tension seemed to lift for a moment, though I got a few more dirty looks from the woman and the man, and his two friends continued making an effort to provoke me. Whatever. I looked away. Then the woman actually made physical contact, slapping at me and flicking her fingers on my nose. What the hell? I made a gesture with my middle finger; a weak-minded response, I suppose, but I just couldn't completely drop it. I'm not that composed. My wife was upset; she had told me to let it be.

A kaleidoscope of activity: lines were drawn, threats were repeated, the bouncer appeared, our friends surrounded me, and my wife's most ferocious friend, all five-foot-two-inches of her, managed to get between me and the main aggressor. She had been the one who was getting the drink spilled on her, and she had been pushed to her limit by these fools as well.

Now, I hadn't had anything to drink, and to me it seemed obvious who had instigated this melee and why. I leaned in and offered the bouncer a brief summary. He did not seem interested in my account of our antagonists' drunken aggression, but I did learn that the bouncer had already paid at least two other visits to this group. He stood between us unmoved.

Our party was done - everyone wanted to leave. When our intentions were clear, the bouncer offered our group free shots as an apology. Great! A bar employee suggesting more alcohol in order to diffuse what was essentially a booze-fueled confrontation.

So here are my questions: how did I get into this? Where was my mistake? And what is a modern man to do?

I feel like I might have won some real admiration from my wife and our friends had I been able to talk my way out of this confrontation. I also feel like I would have found some self-respect and personal resolution had I simply driven my elbow into the man's throat. Heck, if all three of the men had jumped me and tried to beat me down, then there would have been little shame in turning tail and running like hell. But what happened was... nothing. I simply walked out with my group.

It felt like the weakest, most effete result. Here was my wife's diminutive friend, standing between me and my quarry, more effectively resolving the situation than the club's staff or anyone else. Here was the bar, watching idly while good and true patrons leave the establishment, rather than doing the difficult work of forcing out the people causing the disruption and who were likely to continue their campaign of abusive behavior. Here was the other party, openly and obnoxiously gloating that they had 'won' the altercation. Here were all my primal instincts, rebelling against my walk of shame: fight for your mate, your clan, your territory! Or if defeated, run! I felt awful.

Our primitive/physical selves are remarkably well-equipped to handle such situations: fight, kill, flee. But my intellectual/emotional self is woefully undeveloped. I was completely beholden to my instincts, unable to summon the faculties to talk my way into a more satisfying resolution, and yet hidebound by civilized convention to avoid violence. It was a very personal defeat.


J G-W said...

I would have tried "Diplomacy," then "Bluff." Unfortunately, you would have taken -8 on your "Intimidate" check, -4 for the effects of the liquor on your targets, and -4 for their superior numbers.

And unless you have "Weapon Focus: Fists" or any classes in "Monk," my guess is resorting to violence would have resulted in the loss of 3d6+6 points of subduing damage, in addition 1d6+2 of real damage.

Don't beat yourself up for walking away... In so doing, you won that encounter. DM's award is +150 XP to each member of your party.

As the inimitable Mr. Koonz is fond of saying: The only way to win is not to play at all.

(We missed you at gaming.)

Knight of Nothing said...

Ha! Of all the responses I could have anticipated, this wasn't one of them. Very creative!

To carry the metaphor further, in fact I do have some levels in monk. But I didn't really know what level my opponent was; there is no DM organizing my encounters in such a way that I can be reasonably sure of a decent chance to win my way out of it through martial contest.

I'd be curious to learn whether there are studies that address the effects of adrenaline on the body and/or mind when no physical exertion takes place. This experience leads me to believe that it is probably a stressor.

J G-W said...

I dunno... Interesting question.

I was on the number 5 bus a week or two ago, and I saw a similar situation play out. Some guy got pushed or knocked by some woman, and it turned into name calling and shouting between the guy and the woman, and then the woman's boyfriend got involved, and it turned into a pissing match royale that was threatening to turn into a great big brawl.

What made this really fun was that my bus seat was literally right in between the would-be combatants, so I was literally ducking to avoid the insults (and potential flying fists). The bus driver basically ignored the situation (and his duty). What made it all the more surreal was that the person who ultimately stepped in to try to calm things down was a tiny, little, elderly granny in a red coat (she had to be in her 80s, for real!)! At the point where the boyfriend said something like "I should cap your motherf***ing ass" (or similar), she physically interposed herself between them, and started shouting, "Hey, there's a grandma on this bus. No bad language and no fighting in front of grandma!"

I actually came away from the situation also feeling a bit chicken shit for not having at least as much courage as the little granny in the read coat and trying to calm both sides down... Though part of me realized that there was nothing I could really do in that situation. Even granny wasn't ultimately effective.

What finally put it to an end was a chorus of other riders shouting at the bus driver and telling him to do his job and either call the cops or make the aggressors get off the bus... Which he finally did after it had gone on way, way too long...

Moral of this story... In these situations, the real winner is indeed the one who walks away.

You did the right thing, dude.

Knight of Nothing said...

Thanks John, you're probably right :-)

Your story (added to mine) made me remember a nature show I saw a while back in which females and their young surround a male chimpanzee, the father/partner, being issued a challenge from another male in the clan. Maybe the resolutions we experienced are natural.