I watched a documentary the other night about a gym teacher who made a pilgrimage to Iceland to carry a stone in a circle. The stone is called the Kviahellan Pen Slab, and it weighs four hundred eighteen awkwardly shaped pounds. The object of the game is to pick up the stone to chest level, walk it fifty yards around the perimeter of an ancient goat pen, then set it back down where you found it. The ability to do so, according to Icelandic saga, grants one the coveted "Full Strong" designation.
"Dude," I said to Clint, "if this guy can't get that thing around the pen in one trip, how the fuck did people do it a thousand years ago? I mean, they didn't have this kind of training back then. They didn't have gyms, and supplements, and steroids. That guy's a fucking monster, and he trained for a long time to carry that thing around, and he still could barely even lift it up."
"The Vikings did it because they had to," he replied. "They didn't need weights. Whoever needed to pen the goats in was able to fit that stone into the wall because he did it all the time. It was part of life back then. You think lifting weights in a gym three days a week compares to that?"
"When you think about it," he continued, "the guy who set up that goat pen would take a look at where society is today, and he'd wonder how we even have the strength to get out of bed in the morning the way everything's done for us. Look around, man. You see anyone around here carrying rocks around? Building their own houses? Hauling their own loads? Growing their own food?"
"Fuck no. I mean, you've got builders, and contractors, and all that other Ayn Rand 'engine that moves the world' shit, but it's hardly the same thing. It's not nearly as immediate."
"Being a man isn't the same thing nowadays. Those guys fought because they had to, otherwise they died. The Romans fought all kinds of Barbarians because they wanted to keep their society going. You didn't have a choice. You went to war with a sword and some armor, and you had to go at it with some dude, because if you didn't he was gonna rape your wife, kill your kids, and steal your way of life. Putting yourself on the line like that, practically every day, was a job for those guys, and trust me dude, creatine wouldn't have salvaged the Roman Empire."
"You know I say the same thing all the time," I said, "when you compare the shit people do in New York to what's going on at the same time in, say, Iraq, you know? I mean, what the fuck kinds of problems do people really have that they have to try and act tough when the country's involved in a war?"
"It's a fucking joke, but that's now, and that's New York."
"I write about it on the blog all the time. About how pointless it all is, but they still fucking do it, every day, everywhere you go, and I always want to tell them, 'Let's take your ass over to Baghdad and see how tough you really are.'"
"And that," he said, "is gonna fall on deaf ears until the end of time, because everyone's stuck in their own reality, which for most people is delusion, especially in a shithole like New York."
"What I hate about it is that it's all so artificial. All these motherfuckers strutting around like the cock-of-the-fucking-walk. What's the point? First off, there's no reason for it, because it's not like they're defending anything except their own misguided measure of how tough they actually are. And the thing of it is, as you and I both know perfectly well, is that no matter what you do, there's always some guy out there who can beat your ass like a drum, so why bother trying to broadcast that crap?"
"And it's all a load of shit, because it's so unnecessary. What I want to do, when I see these people acting like cocksuckers, is to tell them how good they have it. I wouldn't have the fucking nerve, dude. I wouldn't have the fucking audacity to stand up in public and say some dude's wronged me by stepping on my foot, or some such bullshit, when people my age are dying in a war."
"They don't care," he said.
"I know they don't care, because that's not a part of their reality. It's not a part of anyone's reality around here. I mean, I get mad sometimes..."
"Haha...right. Fine. All the time. But the thing you have to do, if you're someone who's actually seen a little bit of violence in your life, is you have to step back and figure out if there's a point to what you're doing. Am I protecting myself? Am I protecting my family? My home? My friends? Because if you're not, you're just being a self-serving prick who needs attention, and you're making a goddamned mess that someone else is gonna be obligated to clean up after you. And it's bullshit."
"Yeah," said Clint, "but you're never gonna be able to get away from that shit. Those people will always be out there. The only way to do it is to remove yourself as much as possible from situations where you have to deal with them."
"And how the fuck am I supposed to do that?" I asked.
"Right. With money. And that brings up even more complicated cockfights with even bigger pricks."
"Sure, but what you're complaining about is people acting on a completely banal level. If you step on some rich guy's foot, things are bound to get a lot more interesting. He's not gonna rip off his shirt, yell at you to come into the street, and tell you all about all the guns he has in his trunk. If I know you, and I think I do, I think you want things to be a little more complex than all that, and that's what you find objectionable. Make yourself a little money, and the unwashed won't get to you like they do."
"Sure," I said, "and then the first time some rich dude calls in a team of lawyers, I'm gonna be pining away for the days when I could solve my problems by flipping over the table and choking somebody."
"Is that before or after you 'step back' and figure out whether those problems are real or not?"
"It's usually well before, as you know better than anyone, but I get what you're saying. It's the visceral nature of all this shit that gets to me the most, as if these people have something to protect in the fucking twenty-first century. All they have is their own bullshit, because we're at a point where nobody cares a lick what the fuck you do. When you think about it, those rich guys you're talking about have more to protect than anyone else."
"Yeah," he said. "And you know why they're rich?"
"Because they're better equipped to protect what's theirs than the Guido ripping his shirt off out in the street. That guy just doesn't want to get embarrassed, but what he doesn't realize, when he's all fucked up, is what you said. That nobody cares. That if he backs down, and realizes he's being a dick and goes home, that it's not gonna matter to his life, his family, or his bottom line, because he doesn't need to do what he's trying to do. We've all got our pride, but there's no need to go down swinging in modern society. When you're dealing in artifice like that, there's always a tomorrow."