15 Jun 2011

Why men will be boys

Like Newton and the apple, sometimes it takes a thump on the head to make you realize that you are after all -despite all efforts to ensure it does not happen, again -forever falling. Unlike Newton, my own epiphany happened in the aftermath of a bar brawl. The actual sequence of events is unclear in my mind, coated as they were with generous helpings of whiskey and weed. I do remember it was set off by my reversing into an Opel Corsa in the parking lot. I remember the almost silent crunch of a headlight cracking, the security guard gesturing wildly, the owner of the car cursing loudly.

They were in a big group - two cars and six middle-aged men, out for a night of banter and excess. I had stayed back till closing time in a desperate bid to hold on to a few more moments of solitude before the inevitable cacophony of parents and toddlers and news channels and telephones re-claimed ownership of my existence. Unfortunately, I had picked an unlikely setting for such a noble pursuit.

Men who drink only to get drunk, if granted the opportunity, will indulge in acts of incivility. If they're in a group, they will go looking for trouble. The sight of a younger man -smaller, well-dressed and harbinger of fender-benders - is about as irresistible to them as procasturbation is to unpublished writers. I didn't just back into the gentleman's car last night; I had rear-ended their collective masculinity. And collective rear-ending will always have consequences.

Bloody lip, three stitches to the back of the head and a police-complaint (filed by them, funnily enough) later, I can only think of the incident in terms of a general 21st century affliction - the "manchild". While Todd Phillips and Judd Apatow may well be responsible for making the phenomenon an accepted 'type' of our times, the concept itself is no stranger to popular culture dating from Joey Tribbiani and Kurt Cobain all the way back to Adolph Hitler, Sigmund  Freud and Epicurus in varying degrees.

The archetypal man-child is of course Jesus Christ: the son of "God" who turned water into wine, was never gainfully employed, befriended prostitutes, hung out with low-lives (whom he actively encouraged to quit their Mcjobs and stick it to the Man) and lived with his mother till he took off on a 'mission' to spread the Word- all classic symptoms of what we now know and love as the Mid-life Crisis.

What, I wonder, makes middle-aged men sport soul patches and flashy tee-shirts and shout racist chants at football games and incite drunken violence at Oasis concerts when they should be home with their women and children. Is it the white picket fence and warm meals that put them off growing up? Why do bearded, thirty-year-odd men spend large chunks of their lives playing videogames and surfing pornography? Is a world with traffic laws and pubic hair really that appalling?

I say this not in judgment, but because I'm faced with a similar crisis myself. At twenty-seven, I'm still clinging to fast-fading memories of student-life and freedom and lack of purpose. I find it impossible to distinguish between fact and fiction, youth and adulthood, to leave things behind. The realities of work and settling down and tax returns are just a little too real.

Sitting on the curb last night, sweaty, bloody and hung-over, I thought I caught a glimpse in their eyes of what it might be like to grow up. The celebratory air of a fight well-fought, the childish delight at having avenged the tarnishing of a favorite toy,  the joy of giving in to the feral demands of their domesticated bodies. They glowed with the satisfaction of a dog that has been let out for a walk and a piss in the open after a long day of confinement between the walls of its owner's home.

And in that moment, I knew. I knew what it must be like to be chained, to be tied down by marital and familial constraints and commitments. I almost felt a pride swell up inside me that I was in a small way responsible for their release, no matter how temporary. And I smiled as I watched the leader of the pack rub his shin where I had managed to land a weak kick just before the blows rained down on me.

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