Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

It's Fight Time

SUMMER!Memorial Day, the unofficial beginning of summer, is on Monday, so we asked some folks to publish on that topic throughout the week. This is: Here Comes Summer!

It was summer, friends, when I was punched in the face by a complete stranger in Times Square. Summer, when a nice middle-aged lady from whom I apparently stole a much-coveted seat on the N train called me a "wretched little bitch" under her breath for several stops. Summer, when a man stole a cab from my mother and I responded, after a failed attempt to point out that we had been the ones to flag it and open its door ("well, I put my bags in it, so," is what this man said), by taking his Bed, Bath & Beyond shopping bags and tossing them back out onto the sidewalk! Summer, when I ended a call with my then-boyfriend by throwing my cell phone into the path of a city bus! Summer when I first joined Tumblr, and hoo boy, THAT. (Ask me about my opinions on prostitution! No, go on. ASK ME, MOTHERFUCKER.) It is summer, inevitably, when I hone my talents for bad behavior and taking major stands on minor issues, and put them to use in making people want to smack me harder than they have ever wanted to smack another person in their lives. And now, for me, the Fights of Summer have already begun.

Summer is the season of rage. Summer in New York City, particularly, is a disaster; it's in summer when the whole project of New York starts to seem untenable, when the flaws in the design become apparent. Like: Really? You're going to stick that many people where? And on top of each other? In apartments that are how small, again? And charge them how much for the experience?

The city is hot; the city is crowded; the city is constructed, for some God-awful reason, in such a way that streets become icy wind tunnels in winter and in summer prohibit the passing of even the mildest breeze. The city continually forces people into very close contact with each other, which is unfortunate, given that some time around July they all start to smell like hot dogs. The claustrophobic nature of the city — even when you're not in a building, you're surrounded by buildings; even when you're alone, you're surrounded by people — conflicts, by its very nature, with the expansive energy of summer, the restlessness fueled by sun and heat and frequently beer. That energy has nowhere to go, and, crucially, nowhere to cool itself off. Public pools are a catastrophe; the beaches are packed; the largest area of green space is Central Park, a peaceful and historic natural preserve known for being built over the razed homes of forcibly evicted black people and immigrants (YUP) and its high concentration of old dudes who can't see why they would want to keep their shirts on. Also, horse feces.

Summer in New York, I would argue, is a class issue. Granted, I would argue this primarily because I cannot really afford air conditioning. However, there are other factors at play! For example, there is some significance to the fact that the wealthy have an entire series of alternate towns, at the other end of Long Island, dedicated to the practice of getting the hell away from it. They know how bad it is; the rest of us, with our Governor's Island trips and city biking expeditions and Staten Island Ferry parties (HOW TO THROW A STATEN ISLAND FERRY PARTY: Get on the Staten Island Ferry. Buy some beer. Then run to see if you can claim a spot at the end of the boat, by the railing; it's really pretty, actually, at night) are just fooling ourselves. For inevitably, under the pressure of heat and noise and far too many crowds of people taking up far too much valuable space near the Staten Island Ferry railing, we turn to the poor man's entertainment: Fighting.

Murders peak during summer in New York. Saturdays, in particular, are very murdery; according to a 2009 New York Times article, more than two people are straight-up killed, on average, on Saturdays during summer. The urge to kill correlates more or less directly to the weather, too; there are more murders when it's hotter and sunnier, and fewer when it's cooler or raining. Granted, the real story of New York is how often people manage not to shoot each other in the face; two dead New Yorkers, out of more than eight million, is not a very large number. (Unless you've just been shot in the face, in which case it must seem like ONE TOO MANY.) I will readily admit that I myself have never murdered anyone. Nor have I been murdered; though that, really, just seems like luck, for it is inevitably during summer that I get into the most vicious, theatrical and bonkers fights of my life.

I started my first one of the season the Saturday before last, at a party some friends and I had planned for ladies what talk feminism on the Internet. We invited some ladies! Ladies invited other ladies! The whole lady situation got rapidly and severely out of control! Now, I don't know if you enjoy the sight of ladies fighting with each other — the gentlemen seem to have developed quite a body of cinematic work around the subject — but if you do, I have some suggestions for how to make it happen. My suggestions are: Get a bunch of women who share opinions for a living into the same room. Give them all a bunch of liquor. And then, around 3 a.m., when time and tequila have eliminated all but the hardiest, get someone to mention Sarah Palin.

I might have been the one who mentioned her! I fucked up, clearly! I do recall saying that some left-wing folks had been sexist in regard to her, and this other woman (whose name I honestly cannot remember; thank God) said that it didn't matter because Sarah Palin was so awful, and I said that it did matter because sexism was also awful, and then she interrupted me in the middle of a sentence to say something unkind about my tone and/or person — smug, sarcastic, hysterical, and unfunny, I believe, were her conclusions — and that, my friends, is when things got ugly.

Oh, the shouting! Oh, the insults! Oh, the many and various accusations, most of which, in recollection, make no sense whatsoever! I said she had internalized misogyny and cared more about protecting liberal party lines than about human decency; she said I had internalized classism and behaved "like a character from the movie Mean Girls;" I made fun of her for the Mean Girls reference, which didn't help, and at some point, long after the conversation had transcended the bounds of sense-making, she said that she wanted to talk about how terrible I was with my boyfriend, at which point I got out my phone and started yelling, "Let's call him! Let's call everyone I've ever fucked! Let's ask them how much I hate poor people!" And I would have called them, too ("So, we dated from December of 2007 to February of 2010. During that time, to the best of your recollection, how many hobos did I set on fire for kicks? WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT'S FOUR IN THE MORNING. THIS IS EXACTLY WHY WE DID NOT WORK OUT") but then I started crying, and the whole thing just went completely off the rails.

As I stood up and walked outside for a cigarette, at this point visibly sobbing, she called out, "I look forward to reading about this on wherever it is you blog."

Done and done, Madam! For the phenomenon of Summer Fighting must be addressed, before it claims another life and/or perfectly decent party.

The thing about Summer Fights is, nobody knows exactly how or why they happen. Most of the time, it is for no decent reason; or, rather, for only one reason, which is that we are just in the mood to fight. A summer fight is, in its purest form, the outward expression of a free-floating, peeved, trapped energy that can find no other outlet; a way of making the problems seem like they come from outside of oneself, from one specific source, rather than from the condition of being human in a mildly unpleasant world. It's hot, you're disgusting, everyone smells like hot dogs, and then you've thrown your phone under a bus. Or called someone a bitch for getting a seat on the subway. Or accused a fellow feminist blogger of sexism. OR SOMETHING. It doesn't ultimately matter. What matters is that you yelled. For about five seconds, it seemed like the most reasonable course of action. And now, there are the consequences. So, you know, whoops.

Sure, we can blame it on the heat — you stood in front of the fan too long, the air conditioning in the subway car was broken, you were my roommate and you purposefully bought an air conditioner and then hid it inside your bedroom where I could not benefit from its cooling powers and I only found out about it when I had to pay the bill — but what Summer Fights actually show is how quickly the social contract breaks down under the slightest bit of pressure. How readily, given one tiny bit of added unpleasantness or stress in our lives, we turn on each other. How hard it is for people to live around other people; how eager we all are to find something, or someone, to blame.

And while murders may spike, in New York specifically, during summer, people in general also kill each other slightly more often around Christmas — another time of enforced socialization, another time when we come face to face with our fellow human beings more often than usual and realize that there are some we cannot stand. People are social by design; we can't survive without each other. However, we also can't survive with each other, unless we're able to maintain some necessary distance. It's like that one U2 song, if that one U2 song had lyrics that went, "see the stone set in your eyes / see the thorn twist in your side / because I stuck it there / and you have a stupid face / and you never do the dishes / I hope you suffer."

Here, I suppose, is where I tell you how to deal with it. And my answer is: I have no idea. I myself am the survivor of countless self-improvement campaigns that have, thus far, only succeeded in making me slightly less likely to destroy my own property for the sake of making a point. I myself am terrible. But, here's the thing: So are you. We are all awful – selfish, greedy, inconsiderate, thoughtless, mean — at least some of the time. We're all people, and we behave as such. People do things that offend you; people inconvenience or hurt you; people find you insufferable, frequently, and given sufficient provocation they will write something to that effect on wherever it is they blog. Such is the human condition. It's just that, most of the time, we get to avoid it. We get to convince ourselves and each other that our faults are few and minor, that our fights are rare exceptions in a pattern of otherwise commendable behavior, that what we really are — what no one understands about us, what they should understand about us, what they would like us if only they understood — is nice.

But none of you are nice. I've read your Internet comments! I know! What you are is trapped in a social contract that has been hammered out over the last few millennia to help people co-exist without shooting each other. We still do shoot each other! And bomb each other, and discriminate against each other in our places of employment, and call each other names in YouTube comment sections. But we have rules, and manners, and religious or political philosophies of compassion and non-violence, and a sector of the population specially equipped with guns and handcuffs to haul us away if we are insufficiently persuaded by these things to keep our inherent lack of niceness within bounds. I'd recommend that you stick to the rules, basically, to the extent that you can manage it. Also: Recognize that there will come a time when you simply will not want to. Summer fights are painful, and humiliating, and leave us all feeling like assholes. In this way, they are a means of enlightenment. They help us to realize who we really are.

Sady Doyle is the honcho of Tiger Beatdown. She's really hot right now.

Photo by break.things on Flickr.

70 Comments / Post A Comment

Jim Behrle (#3,292)

I hope a bro comes along and ices that teddy bear

jetztinberlin (#392)

Oh, Sady, WORD.

Bittersweet (#765)

Sady, that was amazing. I might even like your U2 lyrics better.

(And not to start another big drunken yelley fight or anything, but I agree with you on the whole Sarah Palin deal.)

Miles Klee (#3,657)

probably most liberals would (agree on the palin thing) if they were being honest with themselves; i think most resistance to admit sexism in that case derives from the knowledge that she loves to play the victim for political points and base-pandering, and thus not wanting to acknowledge that she, like all people, has actually been a victim now and then

Sady Doyle (#4,619)

Yeah, that's the thing. She's so eager to co-opt "feminism" that it's hard to even level any feminist criticism of her critics without feeling like you are helping her out. And the sad thing is, there are so many ways to point out that she's disastrous and vile WITHOUT being sexist, BECAUSE SHE IS, but being sort of traditionally sexist about her is a big way to tap into people's hate centers and rile people up against her, which is why left-wing folks do it and defend it, so… you know, it's just a big disappointment, all around.

Courtney Barret (#5,152)


True story: I wrote about this Sunday!

Anyway, I think human nature is actually basically good. I know, I know: hippie, idealist, naive. say what you will, but in a society that is SO TERRIBLE the fact that people are genuinely happy and take care of each other so often is important. People have definitely gone out of there way to help me out at some point or another, and that's not really socialization because generally we are told to be mean to each other.

I think people are working on it, is what I'm saying, I guess. Anyway, thanks for the post. It was terrific, as all your internet work is :)

Next time you get into a fight, I would like Hamilton Nolan to cover it.

alannaofdoom (#4,512)

I don't care who it is, I've got $20 on Sady.

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

I hear you on air conditioning seeming like something only rich people have, but then one day I was at Atlantic Center and I saw PC Richards (?) had small AC units for like $100, and they were totally big enough to cool a tiny NYC bedroom. In August I would just get home from work and bring the TV into my bedroom and huddle in there all night, watching whatever was on PBS because I didn't want to pay for cable. Higher electricity bills are way more worth it than cable in the summer.

nicole (#2,443)

I have lived in nyc without AC since 97. The upswings of it are: you have a reason to look forward to going to work for once (AC!), and you don't get as sweaty and hot dog smelly as everyone else once you adjust to the heat.

and there are coping techniques: a friend of mine used to put her sheets in the freezer and take them out just before bed.

GiovanniGF (#224)

Okay, what ARE your opinions about prostitution?

Matt (#26)

Caught in a Mosh.

Sady Doyle (#4,619)


Sady Doyle (#4,619)


HiredGoons (#603)

You more eloquently expressed my feelings of New York City in the summer than I could ever.

(I think you left out Union Square subway platform smelling like piss mid-June through Labor Day)

On that note: I'm off to London, Paris, and the coast of Spain for two weeks in July (aka the peak of this shit show) – SEE YA BITCHES!!!

BadUncle (#153)

I have a shopping list. It begins and ends with some macaron.

Goons I beg to differ. There is no time of the year during which the any of the subway platforms do not smell like piss, urine, shit and feces.

HiredGoons (#603)

@kitten: True, though I would argue it goes from a 'gently wafting open sewer' in the spring to 'abandoned feral dog kennel' right about Memorial Day.

nicole (#2,443)

there is also the g station in cobble hill that ALWAYS smells like vomit.

MissaA (#4,724)

Isn't "piss, urine, shit and feces" redundant?

BadUncle (#153)

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. But you know, I still love summer. My niceness lathers up with a good schvitz.

TheAngrySwan (#5,144)

My preferred take on "nice," as presented by David Sedaris: "Nice is a mystery to me because while on some mundane level I aspire to it, it is the last thing I would want a table full of dullards saying about me."

And I agree with you re: Palin, too. :P

doubled277 (#2,783)

This was great. All of it. I get the feeling though that the whole point of this article (for you at least) was really, deep down, just to get that anecodote in about that insufferable sounding lady-feminnist you got in a fight with. Which, bravo.

Sady Doyle (#4,619)

Nooooo! I pitched an article about fighting! And then, I think, like 24 hours later, THIS HAPPENED, and she said the thing about blogging about it, and I was like, "wow. You know, I wouldn't normally, but in this case I think I actually will?"

doubled277 (#2,783)

Ah, I was hoping the whole thing was revenge-fueled. But, I'm glad you took her advice. If only you could remember her name…

doubled277 (#2,783)

Which, no, really, you should tell us all her name

nicole (#2,443)

this was great. And also, you could come take boxing. it's fun. you get to hit people and then they hit you back and mostly no one gets hurt too bad.

Complaining about the Union Square subway platform and then saying you're off to spend time in Europe's hot unairconditioned metros? Ha! Have fun with that!

(Just jealous)

Bittersweet (#765)

True. If NYC subway=dog shit, Paris Metro=out of control BO.

(Jealous, but consoling self with trips to Rockies, VT and Paradise, Canada this summer.)

amockingbird (#2,015)

I'm in LA, and it's not even gotten that hot yet, but I've had days recently where I just want to punch someone. No one in particular, I'd just like to pay someone $5 to let me punch him and get it out of my system.

roboloki (#1,724)

pick any hobo

doubled277 (#2,783)

I think allergies play a big role in that this time of year around L.A.

amockingbird (#2,015)

Wasn't that an episode of "Veronica Mars"?

I think there's a business plan in this. Outfit someone in one of those bulky self defense class suits, and charge $5 for five minutes of punching, kicking, and screaming obscenities.

How could anyone forget Bumfights?


Mindpowered (#948)

Reminds me of the Fireworks here in Vancouver. You get 500,000 people in a nice confined area and for 20 minutes the loud bangs sooth the masses. But after that the knifing, beating, swearing, it's a family event ing, begins. I've seen people lying bloody in the streets, swarmings, kids staring dully at their blood gushing from lacerated hands from windows they've just smashed.

And it's not even that hot out…

alannaofdoom (#4,512)

My own most memorable summer fight actually took place during the spring. (But right before finals – so that counts as summer for college students right? At least w/r/t summer rage?) My best friend and I completely melted down over something completely trivial, in the middle of dinner, in a packed dining hall. The whole fight was compressed into about 15 minutes and we made quite a scene, and then we started sobbing and hugged each other all, "Let's never fight again!" but my God it was like we were possessed or something. Mind-boggling.

Anyway, I loved this. Also, Staten Island Ferry parties: YES.

Mindpowered (#948)

I would totally go toe to toe with Sady on Prostitution.

But only if it ended up on her blog later.

deepomega (#1,720)

I do not think that is quite what Sady meant!

Christen (#5,146)

This post makes me wish it were nicer out today so I could throw a disastrous barbecue!

doubled277 (#2,783)

Those are fun!

minerva23 (#4,497)

God, for a moment I was back downtown 1978 watching a TV sail off the roof of an abandoned building and land six inches from a group of Nuyorican kids who then proceeded to run en masse across the street and inside said building, screaming the whole time in Spanglish.

My girfriend and I didn't wait around to see what would come off the roof next. We ducked down to the next street so we could sweat and make out in peace.

zidaane (#373)

You can be reasonably sure in the summer you are not going to encounter someone with large knives.
Also- I would not want to blow a knee out of my snowmobile suit.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

I think you people would be happier if you had central air. It is quite nice.

katiechasm (#163)

Or: Keep all your windows and blinds shut from about 7 or 8am on. When you get home, it is so chilly. Free air conditioning!

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

I don't know where you live, but clearly it is not on the fourth floor.

katiechasm (#163)

This is true. Your mileage may etc.

melis (#1,854)

On nights like that, every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen.

buzzorhowl (#992)

You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

lotsoftreble (#2,715)

I saw a woman at the supermarket today, the best way to describe her would be "possessed by demons". She's probably like that all the time, but after reading this, I am going to blame it on the heat.

Ziggy (#529)

Choire's photography is getting better and better.

(I read The Awl for the pictures, not for the articles.)

how about…fuck Sarah Palin. In 1970 she would have been totally anti-feminist. Blah blah blah, lipstick on a pig.

50 Cent has a chilling lyric about heat and violence.

Jeff Barea (#4,298)

Geez, you come off like such a little bitch in that post.

DainCurst (#3,377)

Wow, it must be so much fun to be such a brave internet warrior after everyone else has gone to bed. It must be so great to leave asinine comments on dead threads belonging to articles better written than anything you ever have.

Jeff Barea (#4,298)

Wait, are you saying black people aren't immigrants?

Or are you glossing over the fact that immigrants aren't always brown?

Either way you come off as such a racist.

Sady Doyle (#4,619)

Conceptual! I approve.

The immigrants were mostly Irish, as I understand it; in the early-to-mid 1800s, still a marginalized identity. Also, some Germans. The whole immigranty nature of NY was, then as now, a really hot-button issue, and it's speculated by some that the Christopher Columbus statue in the promenade was an assertion of "real American" (read: non-recent-immigrant) affiliation for the space, which is fun, when you consider whose kitchen formerly occupied it.


Jeff Barea (#4,298)

Fun fact (fuck you, I'll liveblog wherever I want to):

I learned what a break pedal was when my school bus decided it wanted to roll through the flimsy fucking chain and drown me.

Unionized, drunken school bus employees YAY!

Jeff Barea (#4,298)

Staten Island Ferry reference for the people from LIC

Jeff Barea (#4,298)

Ugh, feminism. Tuning out now.

Also, Know the easiest way not to get murdered in NYC in the Summer? Behave on the school bus trip and get to play Run Catch Kiss or figure out where the creak pedal is ahead of time – saves on a lot of yelling through the closed door with a drunk.

buzzorhowl (#992)

Damn you, Awl! Stop auto-refreshing when I'm in the middle of typing a comment!

buzzorhowl (#992)

Anyway, this is what I was gonna say:

You know, Sady, I've been reading your stuff for a while now, and I really enjoy it. But pretty soon after I started reading your writing, I definitely had a thought along the lines of, "You know, Sady's really awesome, but I have the feeling that if we ever met in person and hung out for more than 15 minutes or so, we'd get in a horrible argument about something or other. And I'd walk away from it feeling like a douche and use the entire incident as a way to guilt-trip myself for the next five years." Hopefully, that won't ever happen.

AmyGee (#2,788)

Some NYC friends of mine had a work/living space that was just a great big oven & they set up a tent in the middle of that with and AC Unit in the tent. It was their oasis of cool.

jolie (#16)

This is my favorite thing I have read on The Awl; I would like to buy Sady Doyle a drink and then go on about how much I loved this for just long enough to make things awkward.

nicole (#2,443)


Mindpowered (#948)

And then offer her a Lemon Square?

scroll_lock (#4,122)

Oh, Sady- now I'm all starry-eyed internet lady crushing on you. So good.

Bittersweet (#765)

You're a laydee? Time for a brain adjustment…

scroll_lock (#4,122)

Been one for quite awhile.

Brian Clarey (#5,153)

That was a really great piece. Maybe a little long but I hung in there until the end. Nice work.

Great piece, every word. I hate people (especially in summer), but Sady might be ok to hang with, in a large well-ventilated space, between the hours of seven and nine PM, on alternating Sundays. High praise indeed!

MissaA (#4,724)

If whoever-she-was is reading this, I'd just like to register my agreement with Doyle, re: Sarah Palin.

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