Monday, February 22, 2010

Showdown in Oaktown: Anatomy of a Beatdown

File under: Life Lessons

When this clip first came across The Desk a few days ago, I dismissed it. I am not a big fan of reality TV or of “young punks” abusing the elderly. Therefore, I do not know what impelled me to watch the follow-up interview with the hero/victim. Well, I was wrong about what the video clip would show. In the above clip, the young man thought he smelled easy prey; however, what he caught was the lingering scent of blood and napalm from 67-year old Marine and Vietnam veteran Thomas Bruso. Therefore, unbeknownst to him and to his great peril, he foolishly picked a fight with Chuck Norris’ father. Who knows for sure whether on any other day this young man would have delivered on his copious promises of bodily harm; unfortunately, for this young man however, Pappy had indeed eaten his spinach that fateful morning. One wonders was there an opportunity for this young man to avoid the tragedy that befell him. To find out we will break down the incident moment by fateful moment:

0:46       The First Opportunity
One can only presume, Bruso did not feel like sharing one of the cans of whoop-ass he fills his satchel with every morning, so he gets up and moves to the front of the bus. As a parting gift to the young man, Bruso instead offers a lollipop in the form of a golden piece of sagely advice: “Better pissed-off than pissed-on.” Apparently, the import of this wisdom was lost on the young man.

0:50       Divine Intervention
God (the Universe or whomever you subscribe to) in a display of infinite wisdom and undeserved kindness placed on that AC Transit bus the old-school sister – someone who was wise, observant, and possessed the perfect balance of nosiness and concern. The sister has witnessed quite a few beatdowns in her time, some she no doubt delivered, and some she might have received. She was the only person within earshot who could see, read, and interpret the handwriting on the wall. The oblivious music-listener in the purple tights certainly did not have a clue as to what was about to unfold.

For that young man, the sister was uniquely qualified to be the forecaster of a storm of pain and woe. Why? This kind stranger is old enough to have been an adult during the Vietnam War. To understand the significance of that fact you must understand the nature of men and war. Men build each other up by first tearing each other down; likewise does the military build soldiers by first tearing them down, stripping them of who they are, and leaving a blank slate with which to paint the perfect portrait of a soldier. The thought is that nature abhors a vacuum, so the soldier will fill his or her void with duty, honor, dedication, and all the other good soldierly qualities. However well that philosophy worked in the days of horse, sword, and formations, in modern warfare if you send an empty vessel into hell for a meeting with the Devil you cannot be sure with what it will returned filled. The sister saw in the eyes of Thomas Bruso the same look of barely restrained composure, ever-living horror, and fractured humanity that haunted the eyes of friends and family returning from Vietnam. Many of these men take medication to keep them just barely rooted in reality. Sometimes, these men forget to take this medication, as was the case with Thomas Bruso. The sister knew you do not make these men afraid, you do not threaten them, you do not assume an aggressive posture against them, you do not stand in their blind spots, and you do not make loud noises or sudden movements around them.

0:51       Warning Signs
In nature, a particularly dangerous creature or plant will adapt specialized markings, colorations, odors, sounds, or movements to signal to a would-be predator that it is better to look for a meal elsewhere. Scientists call these adaptations aposematism. In the human world, dangerous individuals have warning mechanisms as well. First, there is the “I am a Motherf*cker,” t-shirt. While most people have a drawer full of t-shirts proclaiming all manner of vulgarity, it says something about someone who not only possesses a custom-made t-shirt with his nickname and battle cry emblazoned on it, but also wears it in public. If a person is wearing a shirt that says, “I will beat you to death,” maybe you should err on the side of caution and leave him or her be. Also avoid t-shirts that say: Army, Hoorah!, Welcome to Sniper Country, or Semper Fi. Second, did the young man not see the Yukon Ax-Murderer full-beard? Dangerous men who do not care if you know they are dangerous wear full beards (see: Chuck Norris). Finally, if someone has three or four inches on you, outweighs you by about 50 pounds, informs you they are not afraid of you, and informs you in multiple ways that he or she will cause you bodily harm if you do not leave them alone – maybe you should leave that person alone.

1:16       “Be wise, my son” – Proverbs 27:11
The old-school sister is a truly good Samaritan. She goes beyond words of warning and actually extends a protective hand to hold back the young man from his terrible fate. However, fueled by the shouts of the peanut gallery, his misguided self-righteous anger, and his infernal pride he would not hold. Sadly, “little brother” ignored the plaintive admonition to “leave that man alone.”

1:26       Out of the Mouths of Dumbasses
Perhaps one of those in the peanut gallery had a momentary forward evolution in her normally poor judgment, because she actually tells the young man that whatever he is hoping to prove or gain by confronting this obviously unwell old man is not “worth it.”

1:38       The Beginning of the End
Maybe logic was beginning to overtake pride in the young man’s mind because he wisely goes back to his seat. However, the victory is short-lived as the young man returns to the front of the bus to confront Thomas once again. This time another young female passenger implores the young man to “stop it,” but alas, he still does not listen.

1:40       The Point of No Return
Pride finally wins the battle and everything begins to go really bad for the young man, really fast. Where did the young man go wrong? The short answer is: everywhere – but let us try to break it down. First, the young man tries to strike a seated person, from a standing position while in a moving vehicle. Bad move. I can only presume this young man missed the PSA on punching someone in the face. The first punch is the only one that matters unless you have the hands speed and strength of a professional boxer, even then you should always incapacitate your opponent with the first punch. That was by far the weakest, most telegraphed punch to the chest I have ever seen. Chest?!?! Who opens with a punch to the chest, especially when you have the high ground! The young man holding the vertical handrail no doubt necessitated this ineffectual, weak opening volley, which leads into his next problem – no guards. The old-one-handed-stiff-arm does not constitute a boxing guard or a good defense, and certainly is not a barrier against the hurricane of fists that followed the young man’s failed assault.

1:43       TKO
With the coach fully stopped, Thomas “Tom Slick” Bruso goes Super Saiyan on the young lad. In professional combat sports, the referee stops the fight when there are a certain number of unanswered punches, or one fighter is unable to offer a sufficient defense or offense. That was right about here – give or take a second.

1:51       “I told you not to F*ck with me!”
This segment only indirectly has anything to do with how this young man came to rest on the floor of a public transit bus with a broken, bloody nose and no street credibility, but it is interesting nonetheless. This is something you might see in a movie, but rarely after an actual fight. Most fights involve a few furious seconds of punches followed by much posturing and acting. In the days of yore, when two men would settle their differences in a duel, each party would nominate a “second” who saw to it the duel was fair and done according to the rules. Today, seconds still exist however now their job is damage control. Seconds (i.e. your “boys”) allow just enough fighting to happen so that you appear to have stood your ground, no one is overly embarrassed (by being pummeled), or criminally liable (for beating someone to death). Rarely would you see the kind of abject defeat and submission displayed by this young man because your seconds would have broken up the fight long before your opponent owned you this totally.

3:11       The Aftermath
So you are now stumbling around the bus, talking incoherently, still making empty threats. The kind older woman, who tried save you from humiliation and pain, is the only person on your side. Your companions (?) who are now laughing at you, chime in with their two cents. I certainly hope it was well worth it for you young man.

What this video does not show is the lead in to this altercation, which apparently involves some perceived racist statements by Mr. Bruso. Unfortunately, the only witnesses on record on the internet are the idiot with the camera, and Bruso who has obvious problems with reality and potentially a history of causing a public disturbance. It is also obvious from the verbal exchange that Bruso at minimum should update his lexicon of politically correct verbiage. In this situation, both parties were wrong in different ways for different reasons. Let us tackle Bruso first.

You might ask, with some degree of indignation, why was Thomas Bruso at fault here, he was only defending himself from a younger punk with a chip on his shoulder. First, Bruso is no saint or angel. He is a psychologically troubled man with a chip of his own on his shoulder. I have been unable to locate any information that corroborates his version of events; of course that does not mean it does not exist, it just has not surfaced, as one would expect it should. Bruso probably said something to incite this incident, and apparently provoked the conversation seen at the outset of the video clip. Secondly, while no one regardless of his or her age, ethnicity, orientation, or religion should have to fear at anytime his or her safety, security, and liberty is in danger. Anyone has the right to defend themselves or their ideas and to defend such with force if the situation requires it. So was Thomas Bruso wrong for defending himself? No. Is Thomas Bruso a hero? Not hardly. Did Thomas Bruso react inappropriately to the threat at hand? Probably. Is Thomas Bruso an unhinged, undercover bigot who has a problem relating to his fellow citizens in a socially acceptable manner? Quite possibly.

To everyone who thinks Thomas Bruso is a hero, this section is not what you think. The most obvious reason the young man was wrong was that he assaulted another person without just cause. For that lone, he deserved his comeuppance. We live is a society with rules, and people like this young man who believes they are above the rules and the rules do not apply to them – well yeah, society is weary of people like you. My problem with the young man, however, is not that he assaulted Thomas Bruso, but rather that he assaulted Thomas Bruso in the name of equality and civil rights. He presented a poor argument, in a poor fashion. Finally, to prove to Thomas Bruso and all the witnesses on the bus that the young man was not all the stereotypes that Bruso thought of him, he reduces his intellectual arguments to expletives and threats of violence; well, all the stereotypes with the exception of the stereotype about physical superiority. To the young man, you set Black people back several years by showing yourself to be a brutish thug with a complex. You have no real understanding of concepts of equality; you have no respect for the dignity and freedom of others, or any respect for your elders who made it possible for you to sit freely on a bus spouting vulgarity and nonsense.

The question remains: “Why does a brother have to spit shine your shoes?” Why do we still have these problems 40 years after the civil rights movement? Had Martin Luther King, Jr. been on that bus he might have asked instead, “Sir, why do you feel a black brother should be the person who shines your shoes?” The young man presumed that Bruso was referencing a black man, when he said “boy.” King did not make assumption. King also would not have excluded the white man, who possibly erred in his speech, from amongst the ranks of “brothers,” because in fact we are all brothers. Dr. King would have taken the opportunity to enlighten Bruso and those listening on the dangers of inconsiderate speech and the importance of assigning dignity equally to all persons. King would not have gotten angry, would not have raised his voice, would not have used profanity, and would not have resorted to violence when his message fell on unreceptive ears.

No one involved with the video clip will escape unscathed. To the young woman in the peanut gallery egging on the young man, you should be ashamed. To the second young man who shouted out a racial epithet as Bruso wailed on the first young man, you should be ashamed. To the bus operator who did not stop the bus, call for order, or radio the transit police, you should be ashamed. Finally, to the videographer, you are a liar and of dubious moral character – you should be ashamed.

These blog posts are supposed to have a moral theme, we are suppose to learn something. So what did we learn? Maybe we learned that wars like Vietnam and The Second Iraq war create human casualties long after we win or lose them. Perhaps we have learned that the Veteran’s Administration needs to implement a higher standard of qualitative care for veterans. Possibly, we have learned that despite or maybe because of a Black man sitting in the Oval Office, as a nation we still have much cultural unrest and bigotry. One could also glean from the clip that a general breakdown of fundamental values is the root cause of such gross disrespect for self and others in general and the elderly specifically. Is there any one overarching lesson we should walk away with? Yes. I think the lesson we should learn is simpler than all that, and summarized in the adage:

Old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill.” Every time.

After much intrapersonal debate and a very close competition for the lead-out video clip I decided to leave you on a light note. So...enjoy.

Mama Said Knock You Out! v1.0
Uploaded by TheWandering1. - More professional, college and classic sports videos.

Follow-up: For those of you who care, Michael, the recipient of this epic beatdown, goes on the record confirming that he is in fact a dumbass.

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