MIDLAND: RECENTLY I watched a small group of drunks on the pavement across from the Midland library swinging punches at each other. There were four of them standing in a circle, each giving voice to slurred phrases that I understood to be insults only because of the gruff musicality with which they flew from the mouth. One, a fellow in his sixties and too well-dressed to be a street-dweller, drew my attention. He had a certain dignity about him. I admired him as he stood tall, tilted his chin and challenged the man opposite. But then he swung his fist in a fast, wide arc, and the passionate force of it was all too much for him. He lost his balance and landed with a loud slap, flat on the grey cement pavement. The punch hadn’t come within an inch of the other man, who stood tottering and looking as if he might fall over of his own accord at any moment. I wanted to laugh at this impromptu, weekday-afternoon slapstick: the grand, proud swing of the empty punch, the comical self-inflicted damage done by the fall. Part of me wanted to stay and watch the rest of the show, but my initial smile passed quickly.
There was suddenly something about the scene that was not at all funny. I bowed my head to climb into the car. As I started the engine, I took one last look at my man, still spreadeagled on the ground and moaning. No doubt he’d hurt himself. All that pride and energy in the swing, I thought, and for what? The street rang out with the futility of it.
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