Last night while running down by the river I saw a Khmer man lean over and pick up something that looked like a stick, or a block of wood, or a partially-tree-like object, in any event, and I felt that familiar pain in my gut, the result of neither excess water nor the lingering soreness in my ribs from my tumble-to-the-ground of two days previous but, instead, a psychic reminder of the past that pops up every now and then to remind me to keep my eyes open at all times.
As I've sometimes mentioned on this blog, about four years ago, when I was living in Sagami-Ono, Japan, a crazy homeless fuck with a two-by-four whacked me in the stomach in broad daylight at my local train station while I was walking and reading the first volume of Robert Caro's brilliant biography of Lyndon Johnson.
(Jesus Christ, does that sound precious. Reading and walking and reading an award-winning biography. What a wanna-be intellectual geek you are, Spencer. But it's the truth! I sometimes read when I walk. Still.)
The man was an ethnic Korean; it was the time of the World Cup, and I was white (still am), and perhaps his anger at his own displaced, outsider status in Japan finally got the best of him.
I didn't see it coming. I was whacked -- not mafia-style, no, but whacked, nevertheless. I went down. He stood above me, waving that stick like the lunatic he was. Then he dropped it to the ground and went to take a seat by the escalators.
To make a long story short, I called the police, was taken down to the station, and the man was hauled into custody. At the risk of being repetitive, the translator asked me an extremely odd but apt question:
"Do you forgive him?"
I asked him to repeat the question. His English was good, more than good, but perhaps I'd misunderstood him, what with the accent and all.
"Do you forgive him?"
Apparently, in Japanese law, if the victim forgives the perpetrator, that holds some sway with the deciding judge.
I thought about it.
And I realized that I truly, sincerely did not blame the man. Why? Because he was, quite clearly, a fucking nut. Out of his gourd. Gone. He wasn't some punk Japanese kid who hated gaijin and wanted to get even; he was a loon.
"I don't know if I forgive him or not. I just don't want him there tomorrow, waiting to hit somebody else."
And that was that.
But here we are, three, four years later, and I still remember that body blow. It's my only real encounter with violence. It still stings. Not physically, no, but I'm telling you: violence is scary.
That may sound like an obvious assertion.
In a world where KILL BILL is held up as the pinnacle of cinematic art, I think that statement needs to be reiterated: Violence. Fucking. Hurts.
I'm not saying I don't like KILL BILL; I do, and I've liked a lot of violent films. They have their own aesthetic and purpose, like any other genre. (And, incidentally, I still believe NATURAL BORN KILLERS is one of the few films ever made that has maturely looked at what violence is and where it has come from, where it resides within us, and why -- albeit in a satiric, decidely unmature fashion. Hence its brilliance.)
All that bitching and moaning about us becoming desensitized to violence?
Real violence is bloody and messy and stupid and painful. I've seen two dead bodies here in Cambodia -- a moto driver laying in his own blood, and a little kid, a corpse, who'd been struck by a car. Both of them in embarrassingly awkward poses of death. In Japan, I was waiting to get off the train at my station when the doors opened, and the girl standing in front of me, young and pretty, simply fainted, and she did not put out her arms to stop her fall, and she landed on her face, and I can still hear the concrete-smack, and can still see the way the blood from her face splattered like a McDonald's ketchup packet being stepped on.
Real violence hurts. It's ugly and nasty and short and wounding.
I don't think about the dude who whacked me every day, or even every week.
But every month?
Yeah, I think I do.
Shuffling along on a late-winter day, the sun bright, in the safest country in the world. That was me. If the guy had whacked me in the face with his jagged wooden bat, I would have lost an eye, or worse. One blow to the head? I could have been killed.
I won't belabor it anymore.
The point is, yesterday I saw a Cambodian man reach for something solid on the side of the road.
That's it. Simple. An everyday act.
But it took me back, is what it did. Took me back to that random and sudden rush of pain and confusion.
I don't want to go back there any time soon.
But I'm keeping my eyes open.