Chapter 5

TWO SCREENS INTO my demo to Microsoft, I taste blood and have to start swallowing. My boss doesn't know the material, but he won't let me run the demo with a black eye and half my face swollen from the stitches inside my cheek. The stitches have come loose, and I can feel them with my tongue against the inside of my cheek. Picture snarled fishing line on the beach. I can picture them as the black stitches on a dog after it's been fixed, and I keep swallowing blood. My boss is making the presentation from my script, and I'm running the laptop projector so I'm off to one side of the room, in the dark.

More of my lips are sticky with blood as I try to lick the blood off, and when the lights come up, I will turn to consultants Ellen and Walter and Norbert and Linda from Microsoft and say, thank you for coming, my mouth shining with blood and blood climbing the cracks between my teeth.
You can swallow about a pint of blood before you're sick.
Fight club is tomorrow, and I'm not going to miss fight club.
Before the presentation, Walter from Microsoft smiles his steam shovel jaw like a marketing tool tanned the color of a barbecued potato chip. Walter with his signet ring shakes my hand, wrapped in his smooth soft hand and says, "I'd hate to see what happened to the other guy."
The first rule about fight club is you don't talk about fight club.
I tell Walter I fell.
I did this to myself.
Before the presentation, when I sat across from my boss, telling him where in the script each slide cues and when I wanted to run the video segment, my boss says, "What do you get yourself into every weekend?"
I just don't want to die without a few scars, I say. It's nothing anymore to have a beautiful stock body. You see those cars that are completely stock cherry, right out of a dealer's showroom in 1955, I always think, what a waste.
The second rule about fight club is you don't talk about fight club.
Maybe at lunch, the waiter comes to your table and the waiter has the two black eyes of a giant panda from fight club last weekend when you saw him get his head pinched between the concrete floor and the knee of a two-hundred pound stock boy who kept slamming a fist into the bridge of the waiter's nose again and again in flat hard packing sounds you could hear over all the yelling until the waiter caught enough breath and sprayed blood to say, stop.
You don't say anything because fight club exists only in the hours between when fight club starts and when fight club ends.
You saw the kid who works in the copy center, a month ago you saw this kid who can't remember to three-hole-punch an order or put colored slip sheets between the copy packets, but this kid was a god for ten minutes when you saw him kick the air out of an account representative twice his size then land on the man and pound him limp until the kid had to stop. That's the third rule in fight club, when someone says stop, or goes limp, even if he's just faking it, the fight is over. Every time you see this kid, you can't tell him what a great fight he had.
Only two guys to a fight. One fight at a time. They fight without shirts or shoes. The fights go on as long as they have to. Those are the other rules of fight club.
Who guys are in fight club is not who they are in the real world. Even if you told the kid in the copy center that he had a good fight, you wouldn't be talking to the same man.
Who I am in fight club is not someone my boss knows.
After a night in fight club, everything in the real world gets the volume turned down. Nothing can piss you off. Your word is law, and if other people break that law or question you, even that doesn't piss you off.
In the real world, I'm a recall campaign coordinator in a shirt and tie, sitting in the dark with a mouthful of blood and changing the overheads and slides as my boss tells Microsoft how he chose a particular shade of pale cornflower blue for an icon.
The first fight club was just Tyler and I pounding on each other.
It used to be enough that when I came home angry and knowing that my life wasn't toeing my five-year plan, I could clean my condominium or detail my car. Someday
I'd be dead without a scar and there would be a really nice condo and car. Really, really nice, until the dust settled or the next owner. Nothing is static. Even the Mona Lira is falling apart. Since fight club, I can wiggle half the teeth in my jaw.
Maybe self-improvement isn't the answer.
Tyler never knew his father.
Maybe self-destruction is the answer.
Tyler and I still go to fight club, together. Fight club is in the basement of a bar, now, after the bar closes on Saturday night, and every week you go and there's more guys there.

Tyler gets under the one light in the middle of the black concrete basement and he can see that light flickering back out of the dark in a hundred pairs of eyes. First thing Tyler yells is, "The first rule about fight club is you don't talk about fight club.
"The second rule about fight club," Tyler yells, "is you don't talk about fight club."
Me, I knew my dad for about six years, but I don't remember anything. My dad, he starts a new family in a new town about every six years. This isn't so much like a family as it's like he sets up a franchise.
What you see at fight club is a generation of men raised by women.
Tyler standing under the one light in the after-midnight blackness of a basement full of men, Tyler runs through the other rules: two men per fight, one fight at a time, no shoes no shirts, fights go on as long as they have to.
"And the seventh rule," Tyler yells, "is if this is your first night at fight club, you have to fight."
Fight club is not football on television. You aren't watching a bunch of men you don't know halfway around the world beating on each other live by satellite with a two-minute delay, commercials pitching beer every ten minutes, and a pause now for station identification. After you've been to fight club, watching football on television is watching pornography when you could be having great sex.
Fight club gets to be your reason for going to the gym and keeping your hair cut short and cutting your nails. The gyms you go to are crowded with guys trying to look like men, as if being a man means looking the way a sculptor or an art director says.
Like Tyler says, even a snuffle looks pumped.
My father never went to college so it was really important I go to college. After college, I called him long distance and said, now what?
My dad didn't know.
When I got a job and turned twenty-five, long distance, I said, now what? My dad didn't know, so he said, get married.
I'm a thirty-year-old boy, and I'm wondering if another woman is really the answer I need.
What happens at fight club doesn't happen in words. Some guys need a fight every week. This week, Tyler says it's the first fifty guys through the door and that's it. No more.
Last week, I tapped a guy and he and I got on the list for a fight. This guy must've had a bad week, got both my arms behind my head in a full nelson and rammed my face into the concrete floor until my teeth bit open the inside of my cheek and my eye was swollen shut and was bleeding, and after I said, stop, I could look down and there was a print of half my face in blood on the floor.
Tyler stood next to me, both of us looking down at the big O of my mouth with blood all around it and the little slit of my eye staring up at us from the floor, and Tyler says, "Cool."
I shake the guy's hand and say, good fight.
This guy, he says, "How about next week?"
I try to smile against all the swelling, and I say, look at me. How about next month?
You aren't alive anywhere like you're alive at fight club. When it's you and one other guy under that one light in the middle of all those watching. Fight club isn't about winning or losing fights. Fight club isn't about words. You see a guy come to fight club for the first time, and his ass is a loaf of white bread.
You see this same guy here six months later, and he looks carved out of wood. This guy trusts himself to handle anything. There's grunting and noise at fight club like at the gym, but fight club isn't about looking good. There's hysterical shouting in tongues like at church, and when you wake up Sunday afternoon you feel saved.
After my last fight, the guy who fought me mopped the floor while I called my insurance to pre-approve a visit to the emergency room. At the hospital, Tyler tells them I fell down.
Sometimes, Tyler speaks for me.
I did this to myself.
Outside, the sun was coming up.
You don't talk about fight club because except for five hours from two until seven on Sunday morning, fight club doesn't exist.
When we invented fight club, Tyler and I, neither of us had ever been in a fight before. If you've never been in a fight, you wonder. About getting hurt, about what you're capable of doing against another man. I was the first guy Tyler ever felt safe enough to ask, and we were both drunk in a bar where no one would care so Tyler said, "I want you to do me a favor. I want you to hit me as hard as you can."
I didn't want to, but Tyler explained it all, about not wanting to die without any scars, about being tired of watching only professionals fight, and wanting to know more about himself.
About self-destruction.
At the time, my life just seemed too complete, and maybe we have to break everything to make something better out of ourselves.
I looked around and said, okay. Okay, I say, but outside in the parking lot.
So we went outside, and I asked if Tyler wanted it in the face or in the stomach.
Tyler said, "Surprise me."
I said I had never hit anybody.
Tyler said, "So go crazy, man."
I said, close your eyes.
Tyler said, "No."
Like every guy on his first night in fight club, I breathed in and swung my fist in a roundhouse at Tyler's jaw like in every cowboy movie we'd ever seen, and me, my fist connected with the side of Tyler's neck.
Shit, I said, that didn't count. I want to try it again.
Tyler said, "Yeah it counted," and hit me, straight on, pox, just like a cartoon boxing glove on a spring on Saturday morning cartoons, right in the middle of my chest and I fell back against a car. We both stood there, Tyler rubbing the side of his neck and me holding a hand on my chest, both of us knowing we'd gotten somewhere we'd never been and like the cat and mouse in cartoons, we were still alive and wanted to see how far we could take this thing and still be alive.
Tyler said, "Cool."
I said, hit me again.
Tyler said, "No, you hit me."
So I hit him, a girl's wide roundhouse to right under his ear, and Tyler shoved me back and stomped the heel of his shoe in my stomach. What happened next and after that didn't happen in words, but the bar closed and people came out and shouted around us in the parking lot.
Instead of Tyler, I felt finally I could get my hands on everything in the world that didn't work, my cleaning that came back with the collar buttons broken, the bank that says I'm hundreds of dollars overdrawn. My job where my boss got on my computer and fiddled with my DOS execute commands. And Marla Singer, who stole the support groups from me.
Nothing was solved when the fight was over, but nothing mattered.
The first night we fought was a Sunday night, and Tyler hadn't shaved all weekend so my knuckles burned raw from his weekend beard. Lying on our backs in the parking lot, staring up at the one star that came through the streetlights, I asked Tyler what he'd been fighting.
Tyler said, his father.
Maybe we didn't need a father to complete ourselves. There's nothing personal about who you fight in fight club. You fight to fight. You're not supposed to talk about fight club, but we talked and for the next couple of weeks, guys met in that parking lot after the bar had closed, and by the time it got cold, another bar offered the basement where we meet now.
When fight club meets, Tyler gives the rules he and I decided. "Most of you," Tyler yells in the cone of light in the center of the basement full of men, "you're here because someone broke the rules. Somebody told you about fight club."
Tyler says, "Well, you better stop talking or you'd better start another fight club because next week you put your name on a list when you get here, and only the first fifty names on the list get in. If you get in, you set up your fight right away if you want a fight. If you don't want a fight, there are guys who do, so maybe you should just stay home.
"If this is your first night at fight club," Tyler yells, "you have to fight."
Most guys are at fight club because of something they're too scared to fight. After a few fights, you're afraid a lot less.
A lot of best friends meet for the first time at fight club. Now I go to meetings or conferences and see faces at conference tables, accountants and junior executives or attorneys with broken noses spreading out like an eggplant under the edges of bandages or they have a couple stitches under an eye or a jaw wired shut. These are the quiet young men who listen until it's time to decide.
We nod to each other.
Later, my boss will ask me how I know so many of these guys.
According to my boss, there are fewer and fewer gentlemen in business and more thugs.
The demo goes on.

Walter from Microsoft catches my eye. Here's a young guy with perfect teeth and clear skin and the kind of job you bother to write the alumni magazine about getting. You know he was too young to fight in any wars, and if his parents weren't divorced, his father was never home, and here he's looking at me with half my face clean shaved and half a leering bruise hidden in the dark. Blood shining on my lips. And maybe Walter's thinking about a meatless, painfree potluck he went to last weekend or the ozone or the Earth's desperate need to stop cruel product testing on animals, but probably he's not.

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