The Manly Art | Our Town | Chicago Reader

The Manly Art 

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I never saw her face during the entire time--not more than an hour, though it seemed much longer--that she was being insulted and baited by her husband. We were sitting in Ditka's waiting for women's boxing to begin. Chris Kreuz, a feisty local, would be defending her title against a New York challenger. The warm-up bouts, however, featured males flailing and weaving about the makeshift ring that had been constructed in the middle of the bar.

It was during one of these matches that the man in front of me, a tall, handsome type in Italian threads, began chanting "Bring on the women. Bring on the women," clapping his hands and stomping his feet in a heavy rhythm. Next to him, directly in front of me, his wife let loose a deep sigh and shook her head.

Her husband stopped and looked at her with more than a little annoyance.

"What's your problem?"

"This is stupid."

"Oh, that's real smart, babe. Very, very insightful."

Then, leaning over her to the couple next to them, the guy said, "I just wanted to let you two know that Kathy [I'm changing the names here] thinks this is stupid."

Kathy sighed and folded her arms. The other couple reacted as diplomatically as possible: the woman, who was sitting next to her, patted Kathy's knee in reassurance; the man ignored the situation completely, gazing at the boxers in feigned interest.

A flurry of fists momentarily brought some noise from the crowd, but in the ensuing lull the guy again began talking to the other couple.

"My ex-girlfriend could really fight. One time this guy tried to steal her purse, and she wouldn't let go. Finally took off one of her high heels and began chopping up his face."

He looked from his friends to his wife. Then, nudging her with his elbow, he wondered loudly, "Do you think you'd have the guts to do that?"

His wife's friend quickly cut in. "Michael, stop being a jerk," she scolded, slapping him on the knee. "You're always talking about what a bitch your ex-girlfriend was, and now you're going to tell us she was a great fighter?"

"No, I'm not saying she wasn't a bitch. I'm just saying she had a lot of spunk."

"Kathy has a lot of spunk--don't you Kathy?"

"She's got nothing," Michael replied coldly, as if he were talking about a crippled horse.

"Michael! What would you do if you hadn't gotten married?"

"If I hadn't gotten married? To her? I'd only drink three days a week instead of seven."

The other woman turned to her own husband and began complaining in a half-mocking, half-serious way, "Would you say something to him? Would you go over and hit him? He's being a big asshole."

"Hey," Michael told her sharply, "he knows what I'm talking about. Just because he isn't saying anything doesn't mean he doesn't know what I'm talking about. Before I got married, I adored women. Now, as far as I'm concerned, they're the enemy. I can't stand them."

Through all this his wife sat in ferocious silence. On the back of her neck the short blond hairs seemed to be bristling. When the woman whispered in her ear, Kathy didn't move a muscle.

The woman turned to her own husband and again urged him to intervene. But he was leaning forward in his seat, looking straight ahead at the bout, hands clasped tensely.

When one of the women boxers walked past, Michael knifed an elbow into his wife's ribs again. "Maybe that's what I ought to do. Fatten you up, put you out there, and let you get beat up."

His wife jumped to her feet, grabbing her purse and coat.

"I'd like that better than getting it from you every night," she countered furiously and headed for the exit, the other woman in pursuit.

A stunned minute passed before Michael glanced cautiously over at his buddy, who was still staring into the ring even though it was now empty of fighters.

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