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original street fighting man


Breaking up a street fight doesn’t take a street fighting man.

My reward for breaking up a street fight was a punch in the face.

Street fighting is a personal thing, apparently one you shouldn’t interfere with.

Except when it’s in your neighborhood. And it’s a man beating a woman.

Then it gets personal.

City living makes an entire district feel like your front yard. You’d end a fight out there?

Sure you would. Why should street fighting break your plants and gouge your lawn.

It was the same feeling outside Cinema 21 after watching the movie Personal Best.

Outside, a man worked over a woman at a bus stop, punching her in the gut with upper cuts while she said, “You can’t do this every time you’re drunk.”

Or sober. But it happens.

After I leaned in to yell at the guy, he clocked me.

The woman next to me saw a police car at the corner and whistled him over to give a description.

“The man was Hispanic, about 5′ 3″ and thin. The woman was a little taller and heavier.”

I stood beside her thinking five feet three inches is a foot shorter than me. How will I explain this one in any way that doesn’t make me look like a push over?

The idea was to stop a fight, not start another one. Mission accomplished, except it came with a cost.

My new glasses were ruined.

They weren’t your ordinary glasses.

street fighting man vision


Gold half-rim with photo-gray lenses costing about $300 lay on the cement along with the blood dripping off my nose from a the gash they cut after the punch.

A $300 punch from a five foot three guy for stopping a street fighting man.

Violence didn’t begat violence, but I needed something to happen to feel better.

The cop took down the details, then offered a ride home.

On the way he got a radio call from another cruiser saying they found the puncher and were holding him in Couch Street Park near the Metropolitan Learning Center.

My cop asked me to go along and identify they guy, so my ride home took a detour.

At the park I saw my little pal talking to police with about twelve others standing around.

The guys standing around were from the neighborhood, hard looking men wondering why their buddy was getting the business.

I recognized them from their time sitting on the raised wall near my apartment building. Mean looking guys, street fighting guys, not the homeless faces you see asking for spare change.

They looked like they’d take your change if they wanted it badly enough.

I’m only saying that because apartment dwellers on an Oregonian delivery route have their papers dropped out front.

My paper started disappearing around the same time I spotted this group reading the news on their wall.

Were they the paper thieves?

I canceled my subscription, they stopped reading.

Now I see they’re friends with my attacker so I asked the cop a favor before we left his car.

“I see these guys. We all live in the same neighborhood. The guy talking to the policeman is the hitter. I’ll point him out with my elbow, okay? I don’t need his pals watching me point him out.”

We all agreed and walked into the park for the formality of, “Do you see your attacker?”

“Yes, I do. That’s him right there,” I said, pointing with my elbow.

One of the cops brought the man in front of me and asked, “Is this who you mean?”

So much for my anonymous help.

I felt all eyes on me when the woman he’d beat rushed me. One of the cops restrained her.

“He was harassing me,” she said, “and my boyfriend protected me.”

Her words drew more attention from the gathered crowd.

Now I wasn’t just the guy pointing to their friend, I was a liar trying to score points with his babe.

Not a good combination. No one likes that guy.

The other cops took the hitter and left.

My policeman and I stood for a moment, me shaking my head.

Back in the cruiser I asked how these things usually turn out.

“Well, it’s Sunday. Tomorrow you need to press charges.”

Which I did.

“What about the other guys?” I asked.

“What other guys?”

“The group in the park.”

“The big black guys and Indians? Those guys?”

“Yes, those guys. Do you think I ought to worry about them?”

“Doing what?”

“We’re all here in the same neighborhood. I see them all the time. Now they’ve seen me.”

“Do you know how to take care of yourself?”

“I don’t know, officer. What do you think?”

“I think you need help.”


“Like personal protection?”

“Like a gun?”

“Something along those lines.”

My choices were get a gun, a knife, a dog, or move.

This wasn’t a good time for a dog in my life. I had guns but sold them, or traded them away.

A knife meant learning how to knife fight, which meant getting too close to an assailant.

And I wasn’t moving.

My solution was a thick, chain link, dog collar. Easy to carry and long enough to reach out and touch someone with force.

for a street fighting man


The next month I avoided my front door at the Burgess near 21st and Lovejoy. Instead I walked a block over to Marshall, cut through an alley, and came in the back.

Every time I walked home I took a different route. It felt more prudent than paranoid after the stink-eye I got in Couch Park.

Fast forward from 1983 to 2016 and driving with my wife when Sting’s Every Breath You Take plays on the radio.

“I love this song,” she said.

It was a hit during my days of sneaking around to avoid the park guys.

I told her my story. Again.

If you’ve ever had a song match your mood, a song that brings back memories, this is one for me.

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take

I’ll be watching you

Every single day
Every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay

I’ll be watching you

I watched for the puncher and his pals, ready to chain whip them down. At least that was the plan for a street fighting man.

And Sting sang my anthem.

Who was watching who?

Street fighting man at the scene

New glasses and Cinema 21

About David Gillaspie
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