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.