Fuck or Fight

Stephen P. Conrad
13 min readJan 10, 2022

It just kind of sneaks up on you like a shadow on glass, there and gone, age and change that is. There really isn’t any warning. It’s just kind of happens while we’re not paying attention. We’re usually too busy doing not so important things to realize time is passing us by.

I’m pretty sure that aging is the universe’s way of getting even with us for all the aggravation we’ve caused it. Change is its way of shitting on us for having shit all over it. It seems the two like to tag team us while hiding in the same dark recesses of our mind at the most inopportune time. Age and change will steal take whatever it can get, not quite like a gangbang but close enough that you feel as though you’ve been unduly violated when it’s done with you.

The centuries old curiosity, ‘what’s it all about’ has been gnawing at me as of late. Shit, the truth is it’s always gnawed at me, way back ever since I was a kid. I have always been the inquisitive type. You know that kid sitting in the corner who knew just too much for his own good. Yeah, that was me.

Ever since I was a kid I’ve been an old man and had questions, all kind of questions, questions that no one ever seems to have answers to. I’ve always wanted to know where it all starts and where it all ends like it really matters anyway.

Still, I have questions for which it seems no one has ever had answers or maybe I’m just asking the wrong questions. It is possible the people I’m asking are just too fucking stupid to know the answers.

My aunt used to say I knew way too much for a little kid to know. She said I watched and listened and kept what I saw and heard close to me. She called me an old soul. An old soul with a lot of questions.

I find myself questioning a lot of things these days. Partly it’s since I recently returned home to put my old man in a nursing home. That one was a real bitch, no easy job. It’s hard watching a guy who was once a thick, strapping, rough kind of guy, who saw more than his share of fist-to-cuffs.

He is well read and of superior intelligence, now reduced to a mumbling shell of his former self. He is the kind of guy who loves you and truly believes he loves you for as long as it suits his needs at the time. Like a few of his siblings he is a bit of a sociopath. Not necessarily the kind of guy I could get close to or trust.

It’s just how it was between us. I always was okay with loving him from afar and never recall sharing anything of any importance with him as he was in the habit for throwing it back in your face whenever he felt it convenient.

A sad, uncomfortable yet inevitable, truth is he just couldn’t be alone to take care of himself anymore. After his wife passed away not long ago he was way past due for assisted living. Screwy as he was for sure, to her credit, it was she who held him together. But that was then.

Getting the late-night calls of him roaming the neighborhood and having unintelligible conversations with the neighbors was enough to know it was time. To me there wasn’t much abnormal about that kind of thing. He had always been that way as far as I could remember. A little off.

Another uncomfortable truth is, if it could happen to him, it will eventually happen to me. But we’ll get to that later. So of course, the nagging question, ‘what’s it all about’ naturally followed.

My mother, his long-ago ex-wife and the closest thing to a saint, flaws and all, I have ever known, to her credit, even after all the beatings he threw her, insisted I help my old man and do what I could as a son. She never inferred I owed him anything. She knew none of us did. Still, she wanted me to do it for me, so I had no regrets later in my life.

She knew a lot about life. She reminded me that he didn’t have to be a good father for me to be a good son. She might be quiet, but she was mighty and spoke her mind when she needed to. She was my Ma Barker, if you know what I mean. Nah, ma never knowingly broke a law in her life, she lived by the word of the Catholic Church. But she never had a problem protecting her kids from anyone cops included. She didn’t have much but she taught us well.

There comes a time in life when you must stop … and ask yourself, “just what the fuck am I doing here”. It’s a question that has no age limit on it.

Chances are you’re probably not going to get a response from the universe but ya gotta ask anyway. I mean hey, one would have to be brain dead or at very least socially retarded to not wonder what they are, what we are, what anyone is doing here stuck in the middle of this shit show of a deal called life.

Shit, if the universe has an asshole, we are directly right smack dab in the friggin’ middle of it. It’s time to put up or shut up. It’s come to Jesus’ time. Simply put its fuck or fight time.

‘Fuck or fight’, a saying that came from a time in my late teens when I sat in stir in the Cook County Jail for too long a period. It the kind of thing when two guys meet, alpha dog types, who look each other directly in the eyes, just not for too long, just as you never do a pit bull, they just kind of talk around each other only making eye contact when necessary. The only real time you stare each other down is when you’re either going to fuck or to fight. That’s that.

I’ve asked myself this very question on several occasions going all the way back to the ripe old age of who knows when. Admittedly, like my aunt said, I was an old soul from the start, generally more inquisitive than most of my peers owning a tendency to question everything around me, albeit on the down low, so naturally this was a question that came up early in life.

My overabundance of youthful inquisitiveness also seemed to cause me as well as those around me a great deal of grief. Yeah, I managed to get into a lot of trouble.

One episode is the time I got pinched trying to peel a back safe that was tossed into the gangway of a building between a bookstore and a bank. Yeah, I was just walking by minding my own business licking on my ice cream cone when, BAM, there it was, right in front of me staring at me like the pullout centerfold of a playboy magazine. Being the inquisitive kid I was, I stopped dead in my tracks while I slowly took licks from my ice cream cone and quizzically examined that safe.

There I stood in the five-foot-wide gangway and asked myself, self; why would any schmuck just leave a safe in a gangway for another schmuck to find? Now, at that young age I still I had no clue what a safe cracker was, even though I was raised around a few, well maybe I knew a little. I had been privy to the barroom chatter of my old man, uncles and their friends and I had a good idea of what safes were kept for and what was kept in them. I also knew that this must be my lucky day!

So, I set about to make a score before even really knowing what an actual ‘score’ was. After close examination and instinctually casing the surrounding area, I returned the following day after closing time with a myriad of tools, i.e . hammer, screwdriver, pick, wrench etc. intent on breaking down this ‘pete’ (another barroom term I had picked up in my youth).

The long and short of it; I spend two days and several hours wedged in that narrow gangway trying to peel that ‘pete’ only to get caught by some lowly bank security guard doing his rounds. Naturally he ratted me out to the bank officials, who by the way had no idea that the safe had been dumped there, who in turn ratted me out to the cops, who essentially laughed at me. The cops took it nowhere near as seriously as the suits at the bank did.

Finally, they opened to gangway safe to show me what all my blood, sweat and tears was for. You guessed it, a bunch of worthless outdated bank statements and miscellaneous paperwork. I felt bamboozled, robbed even. I mean who in their right mind leaves worthless papers in a safe sitting in a gangway? It’s just not fair.

What’s worse is that they left it in full view of an inquisitive kid such as myself. What kind of people were these anyway? Steal a kids hopes and dreams? Had they no ethics? These were bankers dammit! Now I understood what the adults meant by ‘damn bankers’ were the real crooks.

I felt an entrapment case brewing. But, in the end, they called my ma who picked me up from the bank, made a good show of it, then took me home and nothing more ever came of it except that she swiped the last of my cigarettes for herself. I may not have made a score that day, but I learned a valuable lesson, never leave your money in a bank they have no fucking idea what they’re doing.

It also opened my eyes to the possibilities of a whole new career. My current career, stuffing the weekend Chicago Sun-Times was getting old. I needed to spread my wings. Little did I know at the time, I was my own worst enemy. It seems everyone else but me knew this. I mean really, they could have let me in on their little secret. It might have changed a few things but probably not.

From the time we’re no more than the dribble that survived the big sperm race, all the way to becoming a miracle of life living long enough to talk about all the shit we’ve caused and got away with, or thought we got away with, we’re in a constant state of change even if we don’t notice it. Its life’s big fuck you! A laugh in our face as if we really believed we had something to say about our own past, present or future.

I’m from the school of thought that we don’t stray too far from the core of who we are on our journey through life. Meaning, we are who we are. We might tweak a thing here or a thing there, even have an epiphany or two that saves us from complete self-destruction. But at the end of the day, we are who we are at the core.

Change is the ultimate equalizer, which along with age as unwelcome as they may be, are two of this life’s guarantees. When they arrive at your door, they are neither gentle nor kind about their arrival. It’s kind of like an ex-lover giving you the bad news that she had the clap, didn’t know it and now you have it too. Yeah, I’ve been there and done that already you can keep that shit. Thankfully that’s what meds are for. Except you can’t take antibiotics to cure this shit.

Change and age make no mistake about letting you know they have arrived with a swift kick in the dick. The freeloaders that they are, stick around until they’ve extracted their revenge and caused you the damage you’ve caused them. Change ranges in pain from slightly uncomfortable to downright tear you a new asshole kind.

Then there is the kind of change that is ‘fuck me’ scary. The kind where the past and paths taken in one’s life intersect just where we wish they would not and at the worst time. Those paths of your life you never ever intended to cross at least not in a perfect world, which mine has never been. It’s a world of which I have had very little control over as much as I like to believe otherwise.

I’ve always had the fuck or fight mentality so I thought I would be ready for it; how wrong I was.

Sometimes life’s trajectory go astray and collides with the past and believe me, it ain’t funny and it ain’t pretty. It’s everything you can do to not eat the proverbial bullet. In some cases, the literal bullet.

You’re cast down with emotional pain and turmoil so intense you awake uncertain if you can make it through another day. You look for a place, someplace, any place to hide only to realize you’re fucked. I haven’t had a drink or drug in a few 24 hours so that obvious option is off the table. They don’t make a big enough bottle for me to hide in anymore.

Yes, there was a time I found my hiding place at the bottom of a bottle, nose at the receiving end of a straw and kept a pocketful of pills on hand for every occasion. I didn’t mind being poured out of a bottle so much, I didn’t even mind fucking my life off but at the end of the day, I wanted to stick around for some other people, people I loved and wanted to be there for when the time came. I suppose I figured if I stuck around long enough, I might even get to the point I wanted to stick around for myself.

You see, when I don’t drink and drug, I’ve too often had better relationships with a bottle of pills and a fifth of booze, I can be an all-right guy to hang out with. But when I do, at very best I am the guy your mother warned you about. My mind is a bad neighborhood to hang out in on a good day so imagine it like a street corner junk stop and soaked with booze. You get the picture.

The road to sanity is a long and winding one, I know, I’ve been on it for a long time now. Just when you think you may have found your direction, there’s another fork in the road leading right back to insanity. My life has always been somewhat insane and lived on the fly, a sort of gypsy’s life really.

Violence has precipitated most events in my young life so naturally violence is how I gauged life. Early on all the way back to my first memory I saw violence. From that moment on lived a life of the violent kind even talking, sleeping, breathing, eating and loving violent.

It seems that just when I thought I had beaten it back I find it at my doorstep again just in another form. Eventually it always turns on you. That said, I’ve never emotionally repaired in many ways, but I guess you have to work with what you have. I suppose that may be reason in part my writing has always been of the visceral kind.

Damaged goods is what I’ve always kind of seen myself as but I’m not gonna lie, I kind of like it that way. I tend to be drawn to those who are damaged goods too. I don’t so much mind people with a lot of baggage. If I help carry some of theirs, I figure it will somehow lighten my own load. Deep down I have also come to realize it’s all just part of the trip. Every day I open my eyes to the world knowing I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A large part of me addmitedly has always enjoyed the emotional, physical or spiritual pain, it tells me that I’m still breathing especially during those times when I have a hard time catching my breath. The kind of deep tear-at-what’s- left-of-your-soul pain, that if nothing else, reminds me that, fuckin’-A I’m still alive. Sometimes we need to be reminded of this, fortunately I constantly am.

Everyone has a story, good, bad or somewhere in-between it makes us who we are. It’s the “just what the fuck is it all about” episodes in our stories that make our lives interesting.

There are stories and then there are stories and great stories are usually born out of very bad choices. Making bad choices is something I’m pretty good at. For a long period of time that I exceled at it, so I have some pretty good stories.

I’ve seen a lot and learned a lot during my short time on this earth and have learned that everything is about choices, believe me I’ve made some bad ones. Good choices can be boring, but good for you, just ask me now-a-days. They can also keep you alive and out of jail, just ask me now-a-days.

From what little I know and believe me when I say “what little I know” I am giving myself more credit than I deserve. I know enough that I can say, I’m not sorry for a single choice I have made. What would be the point? Though it has definitely taken more time to live with some things than others. We all must decide for ourselves how much sin we can live with.

Now, I don’t know if I’ve had my fill just yet, but my glass is way more than half full. What would be the use of being sorry and what good purpose would it serve? I couldn’t change anything, nor would I want to because I have been fortunate to learn from every single choice I made. Not everybody gets to leave this life laying claim to that. It’s a goal I aspire to meet one day albeit a long, long time from now, is to say just that.

In a world often overcast by the gloom and doom and pessimism about the future force fed to us daily, I have made the choice to live my life with as much optimism and enthusiasm as I can possibly muster up every single morning when I crack open my peeps to enjoy another day. It’s that old fuck or fight mentality that I never parted ways with.

The kaleidoscope of life is amazing to look through once you stop and take the time to do it. And I’m not even high on acid, diluted by booze or stoned on coke or some other narcotic. I suppose it stopped mattering what it’s all about so much. I didn’t even notice that it had stopped mattering.

I woke up the other day, as I stared blankly up at the overhead ceiling fan spinning around it occurred to me. I’m a fifty-year old single guy who has a twenty-five-year-old daughter, several currently arrested addictions, a little bit of personal baggage, plenty of ex’s and a whole lot of life experience who lives between LA and Chicago not out of necessity but by design.

Fuck it, If that’s not enough to make me smile nothing is.



Stephen P. Conrad

A nomad, a gypsy at heart, writer, actor, artist, anti-sycophant, socially maladjusted and comfortably near complete insanity.