Yoshi marched outside with me hot on his heels. We took our positions out in the middle of Hackensack Plank Road like Hamilton vs. Burr almost 2 centuries before, me facing north, with the actual dueling grounds maybe a half mile away to my right. Yoshi was uphill from me looking south towards “The Shades” neighborhood of Weehawken, always in afternoon shadow at the extreme southern end of the Palisade Cliffs.
Fists raised, we glared at each other.
“C’mon James, take your best shot!” Yoshi taunted, lowering his arms and motioning me to take a swing. We started circling around each other like boxers, ready to land or parry a blow.
I knew full well that I couldn’t throw the first punch; after all, I was not the aggressor here. My goal was, however, that if Yoshi started this party, I would at least land one punch and go down with honor. Dead or alive, I didn’t care anymore.
Yoshi, for his part, seemed to understand that he was in a predicament, too. He knew from his experience with cops that whoever wins a fight is also the one who gets collared. Which meant that this likely would not end well for him.
And thus we circled around each other on the plank road, like a festival of idiots. We both were oblivious to the small crowd of fellow employees who, overhearing the commotion, had assembled outside to watch the morning entertainment of two morons mawkishly egging the other to throw the first punch.
We continued to bark at and stare down each other for what seemed like an eternity, our fists still up like dueling pistols. The stalemate, however, dissipated the enmity, slowly but surely. Shortly, it became clear that there was no way to win this by actually coming to blows. Yoshi was, after all, sharply clever and cagey. He did not suffer from Burr’s poor judgement.
The barking taunts withered away into silence. Then Yoshi’s fists came down, this time not to invite punches, but to conclude our impasse as an acknowledged draw. It was a tie. Score: 1-1, no losers. “This is over,” he said by looking at me.
We were going back to work.
He offered his right hand to me as a handshake. I was surprised; an olive branch was the last thing I expected from him that morning. But I could see the impasse as clearly as Yoshi. It’s just that I never imagined it ending that way.Taking stock afterwards…
Years later, in recalling these events, I think the whole thing came down to respect. Somehow Yoshi felt that I had shown him some contempt. So he saw fit to return the insult. I took exception. We resolved to settle it by duel. Maybe I caught him off-guard by accepting his challenge. In any event, afterwards, he took to praising me occasionally for “having the guts to stand up to [him] and not by being a pussy like [insert name here].”
I was not used to being on the receiving end of such praise. I wouldn’t call it a bromance, but Yoshi and I were cool with each other forevermore. We had earned it from each other.
As for my Dad, however, I felt that a line had been crossed, and crossed badly. I noticed that he had joined the crowd outside to watch the spectacle. Maybe he would have called an end to it. I’ll never know. That’s probably wishful thinking on my part. I don’t think he really comprehended the entire situation. In any event, his unwillingness to step in on my behalf left a deep, enduring scar. My trust in him to do right by me suffered a staggering blow.
I always knew there was “SOMETHING ABOUT DAD.” At times, he could be alternatively everything or nothing. The periods of nothingness, like that day in February, carried the danger of enormous potential destruction. From that, I needed shelter.
If I couldn’t depend on my own father to come to my aid, could I trust him in any other lesser capacity to do the right thing?
What about the idea that Dad planned to let it rock this way for me to earn respect the hard way from the staff? True, he favored a chaotic management style whereby everybody reported to him while being pitted one against the other. Doesn’t that remind you of someplace today in the District of Columbia? If that doesn’t work in Washington, what makes you think that it would in Weehawken?
Such a management style strikes me as suitable to executives who feel the need to compensate for something, whether it be judgement, infirmity, excessive vanity, pee tapes, or whatever.
Aside from being just plain simply unprofessional, isn’t that a little bit too much in the horseplay-at-work category? It’s also too conspiratorial and fanciful for me to take seriously.
Sound advice, no? Even if you like a little horseplay…
The standard by which I judge this is, would I purposefully pit my own children against a similar Goliath? Are you kidding me? The words “misplaced zealotry” comes to mind. When I’m the boss, I am quite capable of setting standards of workplace conduct, clear lines of authority, and defending what I put in place, vigorously.
I couldn’t help feeling that my trust in my own father had been compromised irreparably.
But, as always, it’s not so clear. Everyone has different standards. Consider that, in that very same year, Dad bought an apartment for the exclusive use of my (or our) growing family – on a triple net basis, meaning that I was to cover all expenses. True, that apartment in Yorkville was in estate condition and was had for less than $200,000. All the same, it was a great place to live. After the partial renovation, my wife and I broom swept (and vacuumed) the place clean. We made that cluttered two bedroom feel like home and ended up raising two children there without stepping on each other more than five times. Of course, I was extremely grateful for Dad’s help.
On the other hand, as I wrote in “DEATH IN HONOLULU,” housing and feeding a dog doesn’t give you the right to mistreat it. That includes abandoning your puppy to its fates unattended on the plank road outside. Responsibility carries obligations and rewards for adults. I say, own them. Never wave them away.
It shouldn’t be hard to understand why I have such an innate empathy for any oppressed people. Life, and luck, are unfair. This deluge of events was profoundly distressing. However, worse was yet to come. Blues had come to live in my apartment; pain is no stranger to me.
Even after such events, I was determined not to let them wreck or run my life. I didn’t bring this crap back to pollute my home. Life continued nevertheless. You cope. Other things are happening.
I put this and other nonsense behind me to take my wife to see the Grateful Dead at the Nassau Coliseum the very next month, caching a great performance of “Deal” that night.
“Since it cost a lot to win
and even more to lose
You and me bound to spend some time
wondring what to choose”¹
And how is it again that my Aunt Minou came to write decades earlier that “my fists were always ready to defend” myself? She was probably just looking for something to write, wasn’t she?
Unless there was more to it than that.
¹ – Jerome J. Garcia, Robert C. Hunter