The piece you are about to read is kind of a puzzle. It isn’t a short story, or an essay, or a poem – yet in a way, I suppose it can be seen as being all three. There is a brief story I will tell you. There is definitely a point I’ll be trying to make as if I’m writing an essay, and as is true in the case in many poems, it may take some time for you to decipher what I’ve written. But if you don’t like puzzles, stop reading here. You will only be frustrated, and my aim is not to frustrate you.
It happened on a Saturday afternoon. It was in a Texas saloon. A tall man with an eyepatch entered the establishment and ambled toward the bar for a drink. There was a bald-headed man already sitting at the bar, nursing a beer. The man with the eyepatch whispered something into the bald man’s ear, and the bald man stood up. The bald man was irate, and he socked the guy in the jaw with all his might. The man with the eyepatch reeled backward and fell on the floor. Then he stood up and rubbed his jaw.
“Wow,” I said to no one in particular. “What did he say?”
“I can tell you what he said,” a first eyewitness said. “I know exactly what was said. I’ve seen the eyepatch guy in here before. The bald guy was sitting in his regular seat. My guess is that he asked the bald guy to move over to the next stool. It was a harmless enough request, if you ask me, wanting to sit in your regular spot, but, you know how some people these days have a big chip on their shoulder. He should’ve just moved.”
“No, no,” a second eyewitness said. “I’ve also seen the eyepatch guy before, but I’ve never seen the bald guy. I’ll bet they know each other. The way I figure it, the bald guy is the eyepatch guy’s supervisor at work, and the eyepatch guy doesn’t like the bald guy’s attitude. They’re always arguing and butting heads at work. The eyepatch guy probably whispered something like, ‘Look here, you son of a damn monkey, you may be my boss at work, but in here, you’re just another idiot who has no hair.’”
“You both have it wrong,” a third eyewitness said, laughing. “Oh, sure, I have seen the bald guy before too. But don’t you guys recognize him? He’s that washed up boxer who was always bragging on TV about how great he was. Sure, sure, and he’s the idiot who refused to come out of his corner in the middle of that championship fight because he didn’t like the way the champ kept throwing thumbs at his eyes. The eyepatch guy probably said a few words about him being a coward and a quitter.”
There was a TV opposite the bar so the patrons can watch sports and the news while they drink. The news was on. It was a story about a shooting in California where a disgruntled employee killed seven of his coworkers. “Christ,” the bartender said, “What is the world coming to?” An eyewitness to the shooting was interviewed on the TV, and he cleared things up. What they didn’t mention is that there are over 300 million citizens in the United States, and the vast majority of them behave themselves.
What does that have to do with the punch?
“Me?” another patron in the bar said. He must have noticed that I was now looking at him.
“I suppose you have a different explanation,” I said.
“Well, I’m not from these parts, and I don’t know anyone here. I just came on my way through town to wet my whistle and grab a bite. But I think all of you have it wrong. It happens all the time in Texas. The men are neighbors, and their kids are on the same high school football team. The bald guy’s kid is quarterback, and the other guy’s kid is the wide receiver. The eyepatch told the bald guy that his blindfolded ninety-year-old grandmother could throw the ball better than his son.”
The man with the eyepatch looked around at the other people in the bar, still rubbing his sore chin. “You can throw a punch,” he then said to the bald man. “I’ll give you that.”
“So, we’re even?” the bald man asked.
“I reckon we are,” said the man with the eyepatch.
The TV news was now running a segment about a terrorist attack that occurred in New York City. Thirty-six people were killed. Five of the people killed were the terrorists. One man in the bar said, “They’re animals. Every damn one of them. I don’t understand why we’re not rounding them all up and putting each of them in front of a firing squad. We had a coyote problem around here not too long ago. We all got together and shot most of them dead. Didn’t think twice about it. It was either us or them.”
Abraham Lincoln said, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” It’s worth thinking about. Do you suppose he was talking about Confederates? Terrorists? Coyotes?
A woman then walked into the bar. Everyone turned their heads to look at her. She appeared to be in her forties, and she was very attractive. She was wearing a cotton dress, but one of the shoulder straps was slightly torn. She was also wearing a pair of sunglasses. She removed the sunglasses as she approached the bar, and she ordered a drink. As she took off her sunglasses, she revealed a swollen black eye. “Let me guess,” the bartender said.
Are you guessing?
There were some other people in the Texas saloon that day. There were many who didn’t say anything, but you could hear the gears spinning in their heads. Have you ever heard of Erwin Knoll? He was a journalist and editor. Knoll is well-known in certain circles for concocting his Law of Media Accuracy, which says, “Everything you read in the newspapers is absolutely true – except for the rare story of which you happen to have firsthand knowledge.” Are you making a connection?
We like to think we know. We like to think we understand. We like to think we get it. We like to think we have it all wrapped up. But what actually is the truth – the whole truth and nothing but the truth? It comes from ourselves, doesn’t it? And it comes from our friends, lovers, enemies, acquaintances, and even from total strangers. It also comes from our books, newspapers, television sets, and the Internet. And all of it – and I do mean all of it – is, is, is…
That afternoon in the Texas bar was illuminating. So, what will I do the next time I see a man get punched in the jaw? Or the next time I hear about a horrible workplace shooting? Or the next time I hear about a terrorist attack? Or, yes, the next time I see a woman with a black eye? It’s like you’re told when you’re a child. Before you cross the street, be sure to look both ways. And don’t run! For God’s sake, listen to the voice that asks, “What’s your hurry?” Getting run down by a car is no fun at all.