Carlos shows up late, with Mattias, late and gladhanding, just when you thought all the pool stories that could be told had been told for the evening. Carlito is there, too, the young son, what is he, seven or eight, an intelligent and devious child with quick and sticky fingers, to be admired and loved but not trusted. Out of respect. And not pampered, for the same reason. He and I end up fighting and it gets misunderstood, as if I am some sort of bully.
There was also Phil, a new guy who was made to repeat his name many times before any of us could remember it, a fine collegey but not too collegey sort of fellow with an eager but not too eager temperament, friendly, expressive, but not desperately so, a steady mind and a sound instinct for what's funny and why. Good shooter. We were variously partners and enemies and at one point when neither of us was shooting he reached out his hand for a handshake and said it was nice playing with me.
"Oh, yeah, you too, you taking off?"
"No, I'm just saying it was nice playing with you."
Oh, right. What I'm saying is I was full of the milk of human kindness, to the point where it was overflowing and not only did I love everybody, all the men and women who are my brothers, but they loved me as well. So when a child appears in front of me and he tells me he has been practicing his low kicks, I am not about to patronize him. These are not times for the timid and the generationally disengaged.
I stand up and adopt the traditional Chinese kung fu "accepting the challenge" posture, beckoning to the lad to attack, inviting him to do his worst. So, he's been practicing. Let's see what he's got.
He has already announced his intention to hit me with a low kick, putting himself somewhat at a disadvantage, admittedly. All I have to do is relax in a totally ready way -- never as easy as it sounds -- and move in to catch his leg the moment he decides to launch his kick. Just after it's too late for him to stop, and before it approaches anything like might-hit-you status.
I'm able to do that, and he attacks a few more times, and I'm pretty well able to stifle all his attacks completely and put him on the defensive. There's no question that in a real fight, I would kick his ass. I'm about four times his size, and I've had a little training myself. He's only about eight, maybe seven, total beginner. We're having fun.
I first noticed the public discomfort while we were still near the pool table. We were playing kind of, how can I say it, not serious, obviously, but at the same time, I was pushing him a little bit. Out of respect. He's taking his skills seriously, as he should. Well he's going to learn a lot faster if everybody doesn't just wave him through matador-style and say oh aren't you a good little fighter. You see what I mean? It's disrespectful. And this kid, he's likely to make a try for your nuts if you try that shit. No, you make him try a little, show him it's no joke, you can't show up with a bunch of bullshit, come on, bring it to the table. That sort of thing.
And you sort of notice, well, a few people are feeling like it's all being taken a bit too seriously and I should lighten up because I'm a grown up and he's just a kid, except Carlito and me are having fun, which is obvious to us and I suppose most people. Carlos, for his part, doesn't even seem to notice. Anyway it spills out into the street.
I suppose the funny thing is when you see a grown-up guy in a more-or-less actual fighting stance, more-or-less actually fighting with a kid, play-fighting, but, for real, if you can get a sense of the sensibility there, not cutting him too much slack, just kind of half presuming a teacher-ish role and half just thinking it's funny to dominate a child in a fight, as long as it never even threatens to hint at anyone other than me possibly remotely being at any sort of risk of getting hurt -- not like when my Uncle Steve twisted my arm and made me cry when I was eight, not at all -- and I don't blame him for that at all incidentally -- anyway it's just constructive play really, and I shouldn't have to stress this point so much except that out on the sidewalk a young lefty hipster with some young women, all intelligent and attractive, he feels it necessary to tell me to cool it.
"Come on, cool it man," he says, and I look up, puzzled. "Come on, the kid's only nine years old." The women look at me with a certain amount of disgust.
"Nine?" I say. "He's not nine!"
He couldn't have been more than eight. I didn't really mean it as a joke but the women laughed so I came out ahead of the hipster there. Still, the fun was over at that point. He had made it all seem dirty and there was no going back. He fights me all the way down the block, won't quit, I tell him he wins, I give up, he won't stop until he really does win, which he can't. That's pretty good fighting spirit. I end up having to outpace him by physically running away, that's the only way to get him to give up without knocking him down.
I'm about ten minutes early for the bus, and I stand there patiently. Finally the old B24 pulls up, and it's the driver who hates passengers. He does everything to pretend he can't see anybody waiting, and he tries to pull away before anyone can get on, even though there are still two minutes to go and then he acts surprised. He mentions to a guy how the workers had it going but now the MTA has them by the fucking balls. He's pretty preoccupied.
"Ya gotta pick your battles," he says. Home by midnight.