Tis A Far, Far Better Thing





            Whoever  came up with that ‘tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’ line was full of crap. Having surgery for a failing heart is better than dying for lack of the surgery. When you’re lost in the woods and have an arm turning black, it’s better to cut the sucker off than to die alone.  If you hear your child crying for help in the middle of a roaring house fire,  watching your skin turn crispy isn’t that bad a deal if you can rescue them to live beyond you.

            But loving, truly loving and losing the one you love for no good reason you will ever understand serves no purpose  at all. No Good purpose. It does provide a learning experience, but unfortunately, the lesson you learn is never worth what it costs you.

            For myself, I’d much rather have skipped the enlightenment, but I wasn’t given that option.

            It all started years ago in the middle of a wild bar room brawl. Not my usual scene. Bars, I’m familiar with, but bar room brawls complete with flying beer bottles and hurtling chairs and overturned tables and screaming women and angry men engaged in a violent ballet are not what I expected when I walked into a big bar called O’Brien’s on Jacksonville’s Westside.

            It was a Friday night and a couple of friends had invited me out for drinks.  I’d been out of town for a month, which wasn’t too unusual for me and the few friends I’d kept from high school tried to stay connected.




            Gary Wells was an emergency room physician at University Shands for nearly 10 years and he could long ago have moved into private practice and doubled his income. But he said he loved the chaos, the insanity, the challenge and the chance once in a while to change lives. I was glad to see him smiling and joking.

            There was a time around the turn of the century when I thought I‘d never see him smile again.   Kevin Butler and I had done our best to keep taking him out and getting him drunk. We’d managed to get him laid from time to time. I have a fair amount of money, I’m not too bad looking and I had a fat little black book.

            Kevin was married, but he wasn’t bad looking and he worked in television advertising which meant he met a lot of attractive, moving up and free-thinking females and he’d kept a lot of the numbers, although I was pretty sure he hadn’t been calling anyone. Guys talk.

            Anyway, for a couple of years we had worried about Gary. It helped that a prosecutor named Maitland had sent the three dirt bags who’d kidnapped, raped and murdered his wife to Death Row in Raiford. Of course, they probably would have lived out their lives in reasonable comfort because even in Florida few scumbags are executed – ever.

            But within a year, one of them had suffered a shank to the eye and the impromptu brain surgery left him a vegetable for the four days he lingered.


            The second scumbag was a big tough guy and made it a point to beat the crap out of a few gang leaders to make the point that it would be a bad idea to mess with him. They found him in a laundry room with the sharpened end of a broom handle shoved up his anus so far the sharpened end came out through his throat.

            The third scumbag’s body was found on his bunk in solitary with his detached head shoved down into a toilet.

            Maitland always insisted that he had nothing to do with  their fates, but Gary said there were a lot of people in Raiford and on the outside that despite being on opposite sides with Maitland liked and respected him. All he would have to do was utter a word, but he swore he never had.

            In any case, Gary seemed to recover his peace of mind and it didn’t surprise his friends that within a year he had met Gloriana, a single mother nurse with two small children. And he started smiling again. And he was married after a  respectable period of mourning.

            Kevin had been a happy go lucky bachelor until he’d been caught in the honey trap and wound up marrying a young cutie, Amy. He’d lost her for a time and went through his own dark period, including being suspected by police of having killed her and disposed of her body. But he came out the other side with two daughters and a teenage stepson

            So I was the remaining champion of bachelor-hood. I had just come back into town after a few months cleaning up a failing small grocery chain that had just been swallowed up by a bigger grocery chain. I was the Clean-Up Man. I fired people, demoted people, promoted people, closed beloved community icons that been serving their communities for generations, but which had been bleeding money for the last decade. I was very good at winnowing out the chaff and dead weight and leaving leaner, more profitable companies in my wake.





            So they swapped married stories and pumped me for details of the wild hedonistic life style I enjoyed.

            “So how many maidens did you deflower on this tour of duty, Gregg?”

            “Oddly enough, not a single one, you perverted bastards. You’re both getting some every night – I hope – and you get off on stories of my sexual exploits? You must lead very dull lives in the bedroom.”

            Kevin grinned and said, “Sometimes I pretend to be you and Amy pretends to be your latest seduction target. Spices up our game playing.”

            “You are one sick, twisted bastard, “  Gary and I said in unison.

            “I still have someone to go home to every night.  So does Gary.  What’s  the longest you’ve ever been with anyone?”

            I pretended to think real hard.

            “A month..no, two months, wait, there was Amelia. I think we were together three months.”

            Gary took a swig of his beer and said, “I’m torn between being envious as hell, and feeling sorry for you.”

            “Sorry for me? I could have three women a night if I hit the right trifecta.  You two wake up beside the same woman every night. FOR. THE.REST.OF.YOUR. LIVES. And you’re sorry for me?”

            “You’ve never been in love, Gregg, have you?”

            “You mean, have I ever temporarily lost my mind due to a biochemical, hormonal accident? Actually no.”

            “That explains a lot,” said Gary.

“Such as?”

“The fact that you go through women like Kleenex, the fact that they’re pretty much all interchangeable, the fact that you’re so oblivious that you never tumble to the fact that they’re cheating on you until you walk in on them fucking a guy …or in the case of Amelia, two girls. I guess it’s good you don’t have a jealous bone in your body. But don’t you EVER get suspicious when you can’t find the love of your life over a weekend, or a strange male voice answers their cell phone? Or guys call your phone and hang up?”

“Why should I? I’m straight with all of them. I’m not promising them anything except a good time when we’re together. They all know they can walk away anytime they want. “   

            Kevin just shook his head.

            “It’s a good thing that you’ve got a ton of money and are good looking to boot. With that going for you, you don’t need brains and you still get the women.”

            “But,” Gary said, “ you’re hitting 30. You’ve got a sweet life now, but someday it’s going to come back to bite you?”




I listened with half of my mind on what he was saying. The other half was focused on three women at one of the  pool tables. One was a lean, trim athletic type in jeans. Her friends, who were shorter and rounder, wore  tops for various football teams and tennis shoes. They were drinking beer out of the bottle, laughing at each other’s jokes, and gently but firmly declining a lot of offers for free drinks or new players at the table.

            The tall one was wearing a Florida Gators team shirt and my eyes kept drifting back to her. She had a little up top, but breasts had never been my main turn on. On the other hand, when she leaned over to make a shot, she displayed an ass in those tight jeans that should have made me want to howl like a lovesick coyote.

            Gary noticed where I was staring.

            “They’re probably lesbians.”

            “I hope not. It would be a tremendous waste.”

            “Anyway,” Gary said, “before you got distracted I was going to lay some wisdom on you.”

            “I can always use more wisdom,” I said, but I kept my eyes on UF’s ass as it worked its way around the table.

            “I worry about you, Gregg. We’ve known each other a long time and Kevin and I have gone through our heartbreaks. We’ve both been dumped and hurt, picked ourselves up and went on. But you…It’s like getting mumps or measles or chicken pox when you’re a kid. You get it and get over it. But you catch any of those as an adult, it can be bad. It can kill you.”

            “So you are worried that I’ll die of a broken heart?”

            “Don’t be a drama queen. I’m just saying it’s not normal to get into your 30s and NEVER have had any kind of emotional entanglement, Even guys that play the field start thinking of family and permanence and kids when they hit their 30s. We’re both afraid you’re going to get your heart broken somewhere and we won’t be able to help you pick up the pieces. Or, that you’ll fall for the wrong woman and having your heart broken will not be nearly as bad as getting snared in a really bad marriage.”

            “I am touched,” I said, still concentrating  more on the UF ass than his words.  She had leaned back from the table which made it possible to tell that while they weren’t big, she definitely was not flat chested. Her hair was a shade between red and brown that’s beautiful but hard to put into words. It was cut into a kind of shag that didn’t quite make it down to her shoulders.

            She was rubbing full lips when she turned her head to look back toward the bar. Our eyes locked for an instant. She was surprised but her gaze lingered an instant longer than necessary before she looked back at the table.

            She wasn’t conventionally beautiful. Her nose had a bump in it that looked like it had been broken once and her face was a little too thin for those lips. But I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. She talked to one of her friends and they both looked back at me. I was still staring at her. I smiled. She started to smile when her friend spun her back to the table.

            Gary had followed my eyes.

            “Really. I thought this was a guy’s night out.”

            Kevin  added, “and there are three of them. Two of us are out of action.”

            ‘It’d be a challenge, but I think I could handle it.”


            “Optimist, ” I replied with a grin. I really hadn’t been planning on trolling but suddenly it seemed like a good idea. And these assholes had dumped me and each other growing up for one girl or another.




            That’s when the riot broke out.

            We heard the screams first and the pool playing girls looked over to the far end of the area of the tables. A dark haired guy was beating the crap of a dirtbag while around him bottles were flying, fists were flying, chairs were being knocked over. Without thinking I moved toward the table where the girls had gathered together protectively, holding their pool cues out.

            Before I made it to their table, two large men locked in a whirling death embrace hit the group like a pair of bears hurtling through a flock of chickens, or more precisely a bevy of long necked swans.

            The girls went in all directions, UF straight backwards at  me. I tried to catch her but she hit me too hard and I wasn’t set for her. I want stumbling backward and fall on my back with her on top. She rolled almost as soon as we hit the floor and  went up on her knees looking down at me.

            “What –“

            “Sorry, but I figured you’d rather land on me than on the floor.”

            “Ugh – thanks. Does this kind of thing happen often?”

            “You’re not a regular visitor.”

“I’ve been in here a couple of times, but it’s been a while. Never anything like this.”



She screamed and that scream bought my gaze up to see one of the girls who had apparently broken a cue stick over one of the brawlers’  back grabbed by the hair and a big fist poised to do some severe damage to her dentures.

I hit him low and took his feet out from under him, sending UF’s friend sprawling out of the danger zone. He rolled away from me and pushed himself to his feet. He probably had reason to be pissed. One eye was swollen almost shut, his face was already swollen and bleeding and he was snorting like a bull about to charge.




          I placed my hands out toward him, palms out, and started to try to calm him down, say something about the girls   weren’t fair game when guys got rolling, He brought a big fist up and toward my face and hit me with enough force to take me off my feet. He grinned and started toward Sarah who was scrambling to get away.

“Is that all you got, asshole.”

He stopped in midstride and looked back at me in disbelief as I got my feet under me, rubbed my chin and said, “Not as easy beating up on grown men, is it pussy? I’ve had girls hit me a lot harder. Let’s see how you like it.”         

Of course, he was at a little disadvantage because he didn’t know that I had a chin that one boxing coach in college had called pure concrete. Some guys have what’s called a glass jaw and you know what that is. I had guys who were known as knockout specialists and nobody ever put me down. Or out.

“Get the fuck out of here, dimwit, or I am going to hurt you. Bad.”

I had surprised him and I really thought he might get out of there. Instead he came in with a straight left and my face exploded. The force of the blow knocked me flat on my ass. I couldn’t breathe for a moment through a ruined nose.

In case of confusion, I have a concrete  jaw. The rest of me is all too human,  which is why I took up ballroom dancing instead of boxing as a less painful means of conditioning.

Despite the fact that I was having to gasp for air through my mouth and tears poured out of my eyes and blood ran down into my mouth, this stupid woman-beating Neanderthal was not going to put me down, especially in front of UF with the great ass.

I would have hurt him except that he kicked a field goal using my stomach and sent me rolling backwards. Despite the fact that I couldn’t breathe, I stopped my roll and rose to my hands and knees. Whereupon he buried the toe of his country shit-kicking boots so far up in my groin I said a silent instinctive prayer that he hadn’t reduced my dick and balls to a sticky paste.

UF and her two friends had balls- no pun intended as they cracked another pool cue across his back and when that failed they turns jumping on his back and trying to pull his hair out or gouge out his eyes. Unfortunately, maddened femininity was no match for his bull-like rage and he tossed them in all directions and went back to stomping on my ribs.





He turned his attention from reducing me to a red spot on the floor to look backwards and all I caught was a colored blur that sent him  staggering and then dropping to the floor. I looked up to see  Gary tossing a red cue ball up and down and then dropping it on the floor.

 He held his hand open and said, “You know I can’t afford to damage these.  Besides, I hit him just hard enough to stun him. But Kevin, now…”

I raised my head just high enough to see Kevin straddling the Neanderthal and pounding him, because he didn’t need to worry about saving his hands. After a moment, Gary grabbed Kevin by the shoulders and pulled him off, saying, “come on, man, don’t kill him. He’s not worth it.”

I noticed UF and her friends looking down at me and tried to say something cool, but I started throwing up instead.

We all heard sirens at the same time as combatants began to scramble to get out before the cops arrived.  Gary looked  up toward the main combat area and said, “Jesus Christ. Look at that.”

Between  hurling, bleeding, gasping, I managed to glance up and saw something most people will probably never see. A tall, dark haired guy who had been beating the crap out of the redneck had locked up with something that was probably human, or a humanoid gorilla a good eight feet tall – actually probably six ten or so – and was pushing him backward until the pair hit the glass front of the bar and the glass exploded in all directions. It sounded like a bomb.

The sirens were here, UF and her two friends looked to the front and UF said, “let’s get out of here. I have places to go and I don’t feel like trying to bond out of jail.”

She looked down at me, puking, bleeding and gasping, and said, “Wish we had more time. Later.”

Gary reached down to help me up and said, “Ditto, Gregg, let’s get the hell out of here.”

It was a struggle but Gary and Kevin helped me to my feet. It seemed the longer it took us to get to the front of the crowd, the harder it got to breathe. The first incoming wave of cops stopped us, but Gary had his wallet out.

“I’m an ER physician, Sergeant Hastings,” Gary said. The two men knew each other. “We were in here having a drink when the riot broke out.  My friend went to the aid of three women being attacked and got the hell kicked out of him. He’s having trouble breathing, which leads me to believe he has a rib or two puncturing his lungs. We really don’t have the time to waste talking to investigators and we didn’t see anything except flying bottles and fists.”

He took one look at me and motioned to the uniformed cops coming in.

“He’s a doctor and he’s got a seriously injured man. Let him through.”

I stayed mostly conscious on the 30 minute drive to Shands/University on Eighth Street. When I got in there were snapshots of gurneys and nurses pushing me  into a cubicle, tests and trips to rooms where people took what were apparently x-rays and and lots and lots of needles draining my precious bodily fluids.

I would have sworn I couldn’t possibly fall asleep, but at some point I must have. Gary was gently shaking me and Kevin stood beside him.

“Gregg, Gregg? You with us?”

“Yeah. What’s…happening.”

“We’re prepping you for surgery. You have a punctured lung, three cracked ribs and a spleen that’s been lacerated and needs to be removed…..immediately. And, we’re going to have to rebuild that pitiful excuse for a nose

“See what kind of trouble a pretty face can get you into?” Kevin said.

“If I could move I’d get up and kick your ass across this room.”

“By the time you wake up you’ll have forgotten all about that.”

I didn’t forget but by the time they released me from the hospital three days later I was too grateful to be pissed. My two friends, neither of whom are bar room brawlers, had waded in to save my ass after I’d gotten myself royally stomped trying to impress a pretty face.

Who had vanished without another word after her final good bye.

“I didn’t recognize any of them and I’ve talked to some people I know who were there that night, and nobody else can ID them,” Kevin said.  “I even talked to the bar owner, O’Brien, who might have recognized them if they were regulars and he said he thought it was the first time they’d ever been in there.”

I was lying on a couch in Gary’s den where he and his wife were letting me crash for a couple of days until I was completely back on my feet. Kevin and his wife, Amy, were in the den with us while their children and Gary’s children were in a bedroom watching television.

“It’s okay. I was just curious.  It really doesn’t matter who they were.  The one with the UF shirt had a great ass, but there are a lot of great asses out there in the wide world.  If I’d had time to think about it, I probably could have saved myself a lot of pain, but I probably would have dived in there anyway. I wasn’t raised to let guys pound on women and not do anything about it.”

All things considered, I’d come out of it fairly lightly. Of course, I’d have to live without a spleen which meant I’d have to be careful of things like pneumonia and other serious illnesses since they could be dangerous without the spleen. But at least, I didn’t have to take antibiotics every day of my life like children who lose a spleen are forced to do. I’d just have to be careful.

Both the wives gave me somewhat reproachful glances when I talked about UF’s fantastic ass, but just shook their head.  I might have been a boor, but I was their husbands’ boor and they both realized how we all felt about each other.

“Anyway, it was a brave thing to do, “ Mrs. Wells, Gloriana, said.

“That’s our knight errant. Always charging to the rescue of maidens with cute asses,” said Kevin.

“Well, if you have to charge to the rescue of maidens in distress, having a cute ass is one of the better reasons.”