(Read part one here.)
We stand in a well-lit basement, the members of my fledgling fight club and I. Detailed cities and countrysides surround us, all condensed and shrunken down to stand no taller than chest-level. Through it all runs tracks and bridges and tunnels, complete with several miniature trains. They are in constant motion. Little puffs of steam come out of them. For effect only.
Greg shows us around, wearing his black Not of This World t-shirt. His excitement is palpable as he points out each little detail of his meticulous constructions. He presses a button on a remote and one of the trains toots its tiny horn. It is shrill like a rape whistle.
Rugo pokes at a replica of the Seattle Space Needle with his meaty fingers. He says, “So you actually collect model trains, huh?”
Greg says, “Yeah. Why?”
“Oh, nothing. I just didn’t know people actually did that. I thought it was only a Mr. Rogers thing.”
“Oh yeah, tons of people are into them actually. There’s a lot of community online now, so if you go to some train forums then- Hey, can you please not touch? This is all quite delicate.”
Rugo stares at Greg for a moment, the edges of his mouth twitching upward like he can’t decide whether or not to smile. Finally he pulls his hand back from the building he has been flicking. A moment of silence passes.
I shoot Rugo a look. We need to tread carefully here. After all, we have not been entirely truthful with Greg about our intentions with his basement. This whole setting up a fight club thing, I mean.
Greg says, “So do you guys want a drink or anything?”
Joaquin speaks up for the first time, “Yeah, please. What kind of beer do you have?”
Greg sucks air through his teeth. “Oh, we don’t have beer here. Karen and I, you know, we don’t drink.” His eyes flash toward one of at least four crucifixes hanging in the basement. “But I have coffee and tea if you guys want any. I know it’s late in the afternoon, but I for one am going to need it. For some reason reading puts me right to sleep.”
The longest of the trains chugs its way past a prominent display of a nativity scene. The proportions of the different model sets are so off that it makes Baby Jesus a giant next to the train. He would barely fit in one of the locomotive’s cargo containers.
“I put some chairs over here in the corner,” says Greg. “It’s not a lot of room, but you guys insisted that you wanted to do the book club in the basement.”
He walks us past a colorful re-creation of rolling hills, little train tracks snaking across them. In a corner of the basement are four wooden chairs, all facing each other in a circle. Greg takes a seat and pulls out a paperback copy of Fight Club. The rest of us stay standing.
He looks between us. “Hey, you guys didn’t bring books. Do you have electronic copies or something? I think I can download a Kindle app on my phone if that’s what we’re gonna do in the future. Or are we doing this based on memory? I don’t know if I can remember everything in the story without my highlights.”
Joaquin rubs his good hand over the green felt that covers the miniature hills. He keeps his stump wrist buried in the pocket of his jeans. Rugo lets out a pointed cough in my direction.
I say, “Look, Greg, we were actually thinking we would do something a little different with our book club here. Um…”
“Greg, sweetheart, can I talk to you for a quick sec?” It is Greg’s wife, poking her head through the basement door. She beams at the rest of us. “Hi fellas!”
Our collective mumble passes off as a returned greeting.
Greg says, “Hang on guys, I’ll be right back.”
Rugo digs around in his back pocket as Greg climbs the stairs. When the door shuts behind him Rugo produces a shiny metal hip flask. He takes a long swig and holds it out to Joaquin.
“Here man, I came prepared.”
Joaquin nods his gratitude and upends the flask into his mouth.
Rugo turns to me, “So when are you going to tell him? I’m getting pretty antsy to punch a motherfucker here.”
“We have to ease into it,” I say. “If we just start walloping each other then Greg is going to freak out and kick us out of his house. We need this basement, unless you have another option you’d like to volunteer.”
Rugo harrumphs. “Hate to be a pessimist, but there’s no way you’re gonna talk him into hosting an actual fight club here. He’s got all these trains and Christian shit taking up space. Combine that with the beautiful white family upstairs and the ‘no alcohol’ policy. This guy is about as counter-counterculture as you could get.”
I blow a soft raspberry. Rugo is right, of course. I had hoped there might be some kind of primal desire simmering below Greg’s domesticated demeanor that would be amendable to the goals of our fight club exploration project. Alas, it seems we will have to try less civilized methods.
I say, “What if we get into a fight? You and I, Rugo. We’ll stage it.”
Rugo nods. “That might work, actually.”
Joaquin takes a drink from the flask.
I say, “We will have to let it develop organically, of course. Build up some kind of argument and then ad lib it into actual fisticuffs. If we keep it light and emerge on the other side in good spirits, maybe that will convince Greg that fighting is not such a bad thing. That it is an outlet for expression.”
Rugo says, “I don’t see how this could possibly go wrong.”
When the door opens again we are all sitting in our designated chairs. Greg emerges. His wife stands next to him.
Greg says, “Hey, do you guys mind if Karen joins us? She really liked Brad Pitt in the Fight Club movie, so I think she’ll get a kick out of discussing the book.”
“No,” I say, perhaps a little too quickly. “Guys only in here, Greg. Sorry.”
He frowns. “What? Why? That seems a bit exclusionary doesn’t it?”
Karen holds her cheerful expression perhaps a bit too rigidly. “No, it’s okay, sweetheart. I understand. You boys have fun!”
Joaquin sneaks another drink off the flask as Greg clomps down the stairs. He moves through his sprawling model landscape and reaches our group. His eyes flick upwards to the closed door. He opens his mouth like he is going to say something, then decides against it.
I say, “Well Greg, are you ready to get started?”
He sighs, then nods. “I have to say, you guys sure did pick an interesting first book. A lot more violence and cursing than I’m used to, that’s for sure.” He plops down onto the vacant chair and opens his book. “So where do you guys want to start? The narrator’s mental illness? The underlying theme of nihilism in the modern world? Maybe one of the metaphors for-”
Greg almost drops the book as Rugo slams his fist onto his chair.
“You know what?” Rugo says. “I don’t want to discuss this book at all. Let’s do something else.”
He winks at me. It is pretty blatant, but I do not think Greg notices it.
Greg says, “Wait, why? We all agreed we’re starting with Fight Club. We can do something next week, can’t we?”
“Yeah, Rugo, what is your problem?” I puff my chest out, like people seem to do when they act tough. “You have a better book in mind?”
I blink. “What?”
Rugo stands. “I want to discuss Little Women. It’s way better than Fight Club, and I will kick your ass if you try to debate me on this.”
I also get to my feet. It is then that I realize how big Rugo really is. He stands only a couple inches taller than me, but the difference feels like miles. It occurs to me that I have never been in a fight before. And yet here I am, standing against this Corinthian column of muscle and sinew.
I find myself saying, “We’ll see about that, won’t we?”
Greg holds his palms out. “Whoa, guys, cool it. Come on, this isn’t really that big of a deal, is it?”
Rugo points at him. “Greg, shut up or I’m going to Godzilla through your little train-Tokyo here.”
Joaquin chimes in, “Yeah Greg, fuck off. Let men be men.” He’s slurring his words, wobbling in his chair. Oh boy. How much of that flask has he slurped down?
Rugo takes a step toward me, a hurricane in each of his eyes. If we had not planned this out beforehand, I might think that he is genuinely about to murder me. “I want to read Little Women, shithammer. Beth is my goddamn spirit animal and I demand that we discuss her scarlet fever in detail!”
It is a little late to back out now. I take a deep breath and hold my ground. “Little Women is a book for underdeveloped children, Rugo. If you are unable to see that then I am afraid I must challenge you to a duel.” I put up my dukes, like they do in movies. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
Greg tries to intervene and hold us apart. “Guys, this is insane! What are you even doing?!”
Rugo pushes him back. Joaquin jumps in to take over, poking Greg over and over in the kidneys. “Come on Greg, fight me! Don’t be a bitch!”
I am starting to think this is a bad idea. We have yet to establish any ground rules, any parameters. In Fight Club one of the main rules is that there are only two guys to a fight. This is supposed to be Rugo and I, but Joaquin is over here badgering Greg.
“Joaquin! Knock it off,” I hiss.
Joaquin is swaying like a rubber flagpole.
“I’m going upstairs, Greg,” he says. “Find me that pretty wife of yours and sock her in the teeth. Then maybe I’ll fight your daughters at the same time. I know the odds are against me but they’re young so I think I can take ’em.”
He starts up the steps and Greg hops after him, yelping various obscenities.
Rugo says, “So you’re willing to die rather than read a down-home classic about the female experience in Civil War era America, huh?”
I pause. This is not going well at all. All this adrenaline. All this testosterone. It has gotten out of hand. I need to break off the fight, to sober up Joaquin and reassure Greg. Before everything gets out of hand.
I say, “Rugo, look, I think we need to-”
His fist hits my face like a meat train.
The punch reverberates through my entire skull, sending shockwaves throughout the rest of my body. I feel my knees buckle and I fall backwards. The chair behind me upsets my center of balance and I fall to the ground. But not before crashing through one of Greg’s detailed cityscapes. Little pieces of wood and plastic explode around me. One of the trains careens off the edge of the broken tracks and lands on my crotch. Greg screams like he is hurt worse than I am.
I lie flat on my back, my ability to breathe stripped from me, when I feel a huge weight settle on my chest.
I grab the first thing I can wrap my fingers around. It is the Seattle Space Needle. I swing it up and stab it into Rugo’s shoulder. It sticks straight out, embedded into his flesh. He doesn’t even seem to notice. The white spire wobbles back and forth as he continues to pummel me.
I remember him hitting me twice more, maybe three times. Then everything is blackness. I am later told that he hits me long after I fall unconscious.
When I wake up I have the face of a mummy. Or at least that is how it feels. There are enough bandages and gauze to cover the majority of my skin. When I try to pull at them a nurse slaps my hand away. Nobody in the hospital is willing to bring me a mirror.
All in all, this is a tumultuous yet exciting start for my fight club. I feel more invigorated about this idea than ever, despite the internal bleeding. I was not exactly expecting to be Angel Faced on the very first fight, but what can I do? At the risk of sounding overly corny, I have to just roll with the punches. From here forward I just need to establish some simple ground rules and we will be well on our way to a functioning fight club. With the exception of Greg, our little group clearly has the spirit for this endeavor. All they need is a little bit of guidance.
Guidance I am more than happy to provide, once I am allowed to walk again.