With the possible exception of reality TV, nothing illuminates the comic pathos of the human animal better than a bar fight.
I remember one I witnessed in a Boston dive in the '70s. It began with the usual slurred swearing and shoving. "Whaddaya gonna do about it?" said one drunk, and of course the other drunk replied, "What are you gonna do about it?" Finally, one guy threw a big roundhouse right that caught the other guy above the ear. There was a loud, painful cracking sound, then the puncher slumped to the filthy floor, wimpering and cradling his hand, which he'd broken on the punchee's cranium. The punchee slurped up his beer and swaggered out as if he were Muhammad Ali.
This nostalgic memory from my misspent youth was inspired by "Punch Drunk Love," Jonathan Miles's delightful comic essay on bar fights in the July "Beaches & Bars" issue of Men's Journal.
"The bar fight has a sublimity all its own," Miles writes. "Because it's fueled by alcohol, it's usually a rank amateur's game with all the unpredictability this implies, and . . . it's sometimes lacquered with a gloss of comedy."
To prove that point, Miles recounts the story of a fight he witnessed at a Wyoming bar that was holding a Hawaiian night. Both combatants were males wearing grass skirts. The winner was also wearing a bikini top made of coconut shells.
Almost as absurd was a brawl Miles fought in a Mississippi saloon. He and a pal were discussing how rotten Miles's old girlfriend was when the girlfriend suddenly appeared. When Miles tried to put the moves on her, his buddy started making funny faces. Soon, the two men were strangling each other and the woman was fleeing in disgust. Ah, love!
As Miles points out, most bar fights involve young males: Testosterone and alcohol make a powerful cocktail. But occasionally women will brawl -- a weird and wondrous sight that frequently includes savage hair-pulling and face-scratching.
"If you're accustomed to ladies of a genteel sort, there's a world-upside-down element to them," Miles writes, "and they can sometimes have the frightening appeal of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel."
After a brief history of the barroom brawl -- "the original bar fight surely happened within hours or days of the appearance of the first bar" -- Miles reveals the results of his unscientific survey of bartenders, bouncers and barflies about the main causes of these battles.
"Women, property lines and dogs," said one of those experts.
"Drunks, women and drunk women," said another.
Other causes include arguments over politics, sports and the songs played on the bar's jukebox. They may sound like dumb reasons for a fight but, as Miles points out, there's frequently more to the story.
"To the unschooled observer, a fight that breaks out in a bar because one guy took offense at the song another guy played on the jukebox might seem random and ridiculous," he writes. "If you'd known that the guy who played that song had stolen the other guy's girlfriend a half-decade before, and that the song he played was the Aerosmith ballad that had been on the radio when the poor fella first unsnapped her bra that night by the lake, it might make more sense."
Accompanying Miles's essay is a sidebar on how to win a bar brawl. His first bit of advice might have helped that poor fool I watched in Boston: "Never hit anyone in the head with a closed fist, unless you've taped your hands and are wearing boxing gloves."
Of course the best advice on bar fights is: Avoid them. Do what the high-class folks do -- drink at home and fight your loved ones, not common barroom riffraff.
Wimpsters don't fight in bars, and that's one of the problems with wimpsters, according to Bust, the magazine whose motto is: "For Women With Something to Get Off Their Chests."
What is a wimpster?
"Simply put: He is male. He is white. He is part hipster, part wimp and he's more dangerous than you think."
The wimpster, writes Rachel Elder, "is a man who has perfected his own male insecurity in an effort to manipulate women. He is a man who uses self-deprecation and vulnerability to prey upon a woman's need to nurture his massive ego."
At first, a wimpster seems appealing because he's sensitive and soft-spoken. "Initially," Elder writes, "these guys can seem super 'deep.' You'll probably receive a mixed tape or have song lyrics quoted to you during the initial courting sessions."
Soon, however, the wimpster reveals that his sensitivity is merely a ruse, clever camouflage for a "passive/aggressive stalker type." Common wimpster traits include "a caved-in chest, vitamin deficiency, chronic allergies, the soft scent of BO mixed with Tide."
As for sex with the wimpster -- don't even bother. Elder goes into far more detail than we can print in a family newspaper. But she does offer this G-rated summing up: "Having sex with a wimpster is like cramming an emo record into a knapsack on the bus."
I'm not sure what that means, but it doesn't sound good.
A sidebar story reveals which celebrities would constitute the "Wimpster Hall of Fame": Moby, John Cusack, Ethan Hawke and, yes, Al Gore.
If your average wimpster had a favorite magazine, it would probably be Details.
Details is a pathetic men's magazine -- or to be more accurate, a pathetic magazine for pathetic men. It is truly awful and, amazingly, it keeps getting worse.
The May issue contained an article called "The Nightmare of the Office Bowel Movement," which detailed the psychic horror of going to the bathroom in the company of your co-workers.
I thought that was about as low as a Conde Nast magazine could go. I was wrong.
The June-July issue contains an article called "The Agony of the Adult Pimple," which details the psychic horror of -- gasp! -- getting a zit.
To compound the absurdity, this zit story was written by Augusten Burroughs, author of two best-selling memoirs -- "Running With Scissors" and "Dry."
What advice does the great author have for the zit-afflicted?
"Do not pop a zit," he writes. Instead, he adds, "wash your face twice a day with a mild cleanser."
Hey, I don't want to go out on a limb here, but I think that, with a little practice, this guy could get a job at Seventeen or Tiger Beat.