The following is a fictionalized retelling of a street fight I witnessed once in Ottawa. The lead-up and quotations are imagined, but the fight itself is told more or less as I saw it.
By the time he stepped out of the club, the streets were teeming with people. Throngs of the shrink-wrapped masses pulsed as police corralled them onto the sidewalks to let taxis through.
He brushed past the bouncer and found a wall to lean against, taking stock of his own situation. Though he had mostly regained control of his body, his thoughts remained cloudy.
He pulled up his left sleeve, counting nine marks scrawled in marker. His face bunched up as he struggled to perform some mental arithmetic. By his count, he had spent nearly fifty dollars on drinks. He scratched his temple and dug into a back pocket, retrieving his wallet.
Nearly two hundred dollars greeted him. A pleasant surprise.
Folding up his wallet, he stepped out to the sidewalk, pushing past the crowd, all smoking and texting and exchanging numbers.
At the end of the street he rounded the corner of a shoddy brick building, the mortar cracked and loose. The three men there turned to face him, a flash of recognition in their eyes.
“Speak of the devil,” said the tallest of them. “We were just talking about you.”
“Is that so?”
“That’s right. Talking about how we oughta beat your sorry ass. ‘Bout how we oughta take back what’s ours.”
“And what’s yours, exactly?”
“The money, dipshit.”
A flash ran through his brain.
“I won that money, fair and square. Besides, there’s three of you and one of me. Where’s the honour in that?”
The tall one looked to his partners, snorting.
“Honour? If you think honour’s got a place in a fight, you’ve never been in one.”
Then they advanced on him, the partners grabbing his arms as the tall one laid in on his ribs. The strikes were clumsy but landed hard.
He tensed up his gut, trying to absorb the blows, but they shook him, his whole body writhing and his neck whipping back and forth. He wrenched his arms, loosening his captors’ grip. He kicked out in front of him, hitting the tall one in the right hip, knocking him back. He yanked his right arm away, and then his left, falling down on the sidewalk. He rolled over his shoulder, which gave way with a crack, and scrambled to his feet, running down the nearest alleyway.
The three assailants turned to each other, a look of satisfaction upon their reddened faces.
“Fuck. We didn’t get our fucking money back,” said the tall one.
“Whatever, man,” said a crony. “He won’t fuck with us again.”
A murmur of agreement.
Just then, the tall one caught a shadow in the corner of his eye. He turned to see it, and in a split second saw his victim. Saw him running. Saw him pushing off one leg, fist cocked behind him. Saw him swing down, all his body weight centred on one single motion. Saw his fist, larger, larger, until it struck him on the crown of the head, no time to react but for a helpless yelp.
The tall one crumpled to the sidewalk, head bleeding before it hit the ground, bouncing twice before coming to rest on the cold pavement. He looked up at the shadow that had struck him down.
“No honour, right? You said it, chump.”
And just as quickly as it had emerged, the shadow scurried back into the alley.
The tall one lay on the sidewalk, his skull leaking blood, the steadily growing puddle forming a kind of crimson halo. His friends gathered round, and their girlfriends, until now standing on the sidelines, came together, and they wrapped the wounded man’s broken head in a torn scrap of a cotton shirt.
I originally wrote this for Excalibur, but it didn’t end up getting published.
Broken bike got you down?
This month’s welcoming temperatures have brought many cyclists to the roads, but a lot of would-be pedalers find themselves chained down by an out-of-shape bike. Flat tires, low seat height, loose brakes, derailleur misalignment, bent wheel – there are a lot of problems that can be solved by a decent tune-up.
Tire pressure is the easiest piece of maintenance to get out of the way. All you need is a pump. Hopefully one with a gauge, but just about anything will do if you know what the right pressure feels like. Even when you can measure the pressure, there’s a fair bit of play between hard and soft in a tire’s given range. To some extent, tire pressure is a matter of preference. Hard tires are better for speed, but softer tires absorb shocks from torn-up roads (there are a lot in the GTA).
Flat tires are sometimes the result of long-term storage, but it could just as well be a tube puncture. Underneath your bike’s tires are the inner tubes, the delicate rubber balloons that actually hold the air. To patch a hole in a tube, the tire has to be removed, a job for tire levers. Other similarly flat and smooth sticks can be used in a pinch, but be wary of damaging the tube, or worse, the rim. Once the tube is free, it can be patched and carefully replaced.
Seat height is another easy fix that makes a big difference. Set right, a seat makes a bike an efficient and comfortable machine. Too low, you waste valuable energy from your legs. Too high, you wear your knees out. Many bikes have seats that are too low and need to be raised by quite a bit. Riding high might be a new feeling at first, but it quickly becomes comfortable and is worth it to save energy.
Brakes need to be able to stop your bike, and fast. Loose brakes don’t have adequate stopping power for emergencies. By adjusting the tension of your brake cables, you can change how long your brake pull is. While brake pull is partially up to preference, the brakes should never touch the handlebars. If they do, you’re losing out on braking power.
Any attempt to properly adjust brakes can be sabotaged by a bent wheel. The solution to a bent wheel is to true it. Truing a wheel is performed with a spoke wrench, either on a dedicated truing stand, or right on the bike. With tightly adjusted brakes, any out-of-true spots in the wheel will rub against the brake pads. Just adjust the spoke with the wrench until the wheel doesn’t rub, and move on to the next spot.
Derailleur adjustment is one of those things you don’t really notice until it has gone wrong. When set correctly, the derailleur shifts gears with ease, and a minimum of mechanical noise. On the contrary, when the derailleur is out of alignment, the bike starts spitting out obscene grinding sounds and making crazy decisions, like shifting the chain right off of the gears. This usually happens at really opportune times, like in the middle of a busy intersection, when an ambulance is coming.
As grim as they might come, not that many bicycles are really past the point of no repair. The ones that are, mostly end up chained to a post downtown, half their parts missing and a huge bend in the frame from the time they stared the wrong way at a drunken passerby.
A lot of bikes that might seem in rough shape really just need to be tuned up.
Short of catastrophic frame failure, most bicycle repair can be performed even by those of us unblessed with welding skills. It might just take a lot of replacement parts.
I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on fixing bikes, but I have the willingness to learn whatever it takes to keep my bike running. I’ve learned a few key things so far, hopefully enough to get you interested in fixing your own bike. There’s money to be saved, skills to be learned, and, ultimately, it’s just awesome to be able to take pride in keeping your bike running its best.
Working on the style guide has brought my eyes across some very interesting debates about usage and semantics.
The issue I’m currently grappling with is more pressing than ever, yet receives little attention: usage of the term ‘lesbian’ as a noun.
For years, using ‘gay’ as a noun — as in, “he’s a gay” — has ranged from the comical to the offensive. This usage has lost steam though, for one main reason. It reduces its subject to one word: ‘gay’. Rather than being a person with many traits — one of which is homosexuality — it whittles their identity down to one aspect.
The preferred usage of ‘gay’ is instead as an adjective — as in, “he’s a gay man”. The difference is subtle at first, but the changed meaning is important. Instead of talking about ‘gays’ as though they’re one big group of identical people, this usage presents us with a man, one of whose attributes happens to be his sexual orientation.
Think of it in the opposite case. We don’t talk about ‘straights’; we talk about straight men.
But, for some reason, homosexual women have never been afforded this semantic shift. They continue to be called ‘lesbians’ instead of ‘lesbian women’. This kind of usage leads to homosexual women being identified primarily by their sexuality. This is fine for some women, but I’m sure that just as I wouldn’t care to be reduced to merely being straight, there are a lot of women who don’t define themselves by who they’re attracted to.
Besides painting a one-dimensional picture its subject, noun usage of ‘lesbian’ also has a lot in common with the language of insults. Save a few exceptions — Shakespeare comes to mind — the most common insults consist of shouting a noun at someone, under the assumption that whatever you called them is insulting.
For psychological reasons unbeknownst to me, nouns hit a lot harder than adjectives. It’s why douchebags call somebody a ‘faggot’ instead of just ‘faggy’ or ‘gay’. Hell, I’m guilty of the same thing: ‘douchebags’ instead of ‘douchey guys’.
I want to move away from this reductionist use of insult-language. Gay men are no longer ‘gays’ or ‘fags’. Black people are no longer ‘blacks’ or ‘negroes’. Why are lesbian women treated differently?
For the past few weeks, I’ve been developing the style guide for the newspaper I work at. Rather than base it on the old guide, I’ve decided to start largely from scratch. The main factor leading to this was the format of guide.
Instead of being an easy-to-use guide to our preferred style, the old guide read like an addendum to the Canadian Press (CP) style book, from which we inherit many of our rules.
The problem with this implementation is that it hinges upon the user already being familiar with CP style. I can’t possibly pretend that our writers are whiling away their free time leafing through the CP book.
My guide will be — I hope — a standalone introduction not just to my paper’s in-house style, but to style guides in general. Our writers should be able to find within just about anything they need to know.