I have roaches in my place. It’s gross. I know that an old apartment building in a large enough East Coast city is going to have some pests, but they’re still disgusting animals that shouldn’t be in my house. They live in and off of shit. That is, when they can’t get my food. Disgusting creatures I feel an instinctive need to kill whenever I see one.

When I’m sitting around eating a meal and I see a roach skitter out from under something and make a bee line (that phrase has lost some accuracy and intensity since I moved to Allston) for the nearest shelter, I feel like it reflects on me, my apartment, and our respective levels of cleanliness. The roach’s presence is a statement of my failure to kill it and my inability to cut it off from the food it needs to multiply, my failure to keep a clean house. I feel responsible.

I shouldn’t; I clean up after myself and the roach community was here before I moved in. I also didn’t make common roaches disgusting; evolution and centuries of survival on the fringes of human activity saw to that. Neither of those thoughts, though, do anything to quell the idea that I must kill every last shit-eating cockroach before I can feel comfortable with myself, my home, and my civic responsibility to Allston and the future tenants of my place. Let there be massive roach population die-offs in Allston due to modest changes in individual behavior, and let them begin with me.

I wrote the following Saturday night/Sunday morning after getting back from a house party:

So I’m at this party. In Boston. My friend who works with me at the bagel shop invited me. He called me after work. I was writing; didn’t think I wanted to go. I had nailed it down the night before. Drunk by anyone’s description at another house party. It was rough. I threw up. Like out of my mouth. Didn’t see it coming; had to run.

Anyways, I went. Started playing this word game with some kids outside. I forget the name; it might not have had one. The first player says a word. Any word. Proper name, place name, no matter. The next person has to say a word that has nothing to do with the word just said. Example: I say “tomato,” you say “Narnia.” You have to kill the entire thought process that arises from your natural reaction to words. The next word can’t have anything to do with direct surroundings, can’t be based off the previous word (or any words mentioned in the course of the game). It has to be totally independent. Dissociated from the context. Any word that can be traced back to a connection to the previous word or anything within eyesight is vetoed. It’s the polar opposite of “I Spy” or “Six Degrees” and it’s pretty cool.

Anyways, we’re at this party, playing this game. I have to bow out for a round to grab a beer. A beer turns into conversation, turns into a round of beer pong…I get caught up. There’s an older white dude in a black leather jacket right next to the keg talking about how his buddy shot someone. He’s older, probably late thirties with some grey hairs on the beard and the requisite “I’m balding so I’ll just shave it” Billy Corgan hairdo. He’s talking to some fucked-up waste case who isn’t paying much attention, telling him about how sweet Allston used to be back in the day, back in the late 90s before student money bought out the punk bars. Some kids that work down the street from my shop are there; I get into work-bitching with them. My friends are drunkenly, passively begging the female world to let them into her pants. It’s a college party, and I’m not in college anymore, which means all the drama and heartstrings and hormones are just funny to me now. Right?

I go out for another smoke and play a few more rounds of the word game with those dudes, who are still out there in T-shirts in below-freezing temperatures. As I’m walking back in, the black jacket dude is talking to some short scrubby-looking kids who’d just showed up. One kid’s in his face about something. Jacket-dude is clearly trying to explain his way out of a situation. He’s also drunk. He’s not as drunk as most people there, but he’s been hanging around the keg for hours talking to anyone who fills a cup and looks his way, humping the keg and his proximity to it for all they were worth. Now he’s chin-scrub to chin-scrub with some twentyish kid full of beer and piss who’s right up in his face, challenging him in language and posture. The kid had at least two friends with him, one Asian kid, one miscellaneous white, all of them eyeing black-jacket, waiting for him or their point man to do something provocative. I kept walking. Shit was going down, but why bother? Let ’em handle. I’m 24; I can’t get mixed up in the shit anymore. Right?

So I walk back in and make a few laps. I’m back in the kitchen, near the door to the outside, and I look up. The young dudes are punching the old dude on his back, over his head. They wrestle him down and somebody kicks him. Unplanned fistfights always look bizarre. The punches look weak, the fighters awkward. They’re never as shocking or exciting as you think they’re going to be. I just watched for a bit before I realized what was going on. It was three kids on one dude. They were drunk and he was drunk, so I guess even on that score. But three kids. One guy.

When I walked outside the kids had moved it out to the street and black-jacket was a bloody mess. They were still kicking him. Somebody got a shovel from god-knows-where and beat biker dude in the head with it. No one broke it up. The owner of the house came down and said some self-aggrandizing bullshit about the kind of behavior he does and does not accept in his home. Dudes kept kicking and their friends told the house owner to fuck off and get back inside. Eventually the kids got tired and black-jacket was just rolling around on the street. Everyone went back inside. Asian back-up man ran over and spit in his face. Just to be sure.

I asked around to see what had happened. The story, shaky and brittle as an autumn leaf, went like this: “He’s a fuckin’ neo-Nazi.” “Came over here and started sayin’ some white power shit.” “You see him? That fuckin’ skinhead faggot? Fuckin’ skinhead faggot; started sayin’ some neo-Nazi shit in front of three Jewish kids. Got lit up. Fuck ‘im.”

I don’t know what the dude said. Neither did most of the apparent witnesses. All I saw was three drunk kids jump one drunk asshole. I understand the whole Boston hardcore/FSU v. neo-Nazi backlash, and I’m sure that firm, principled anti-Nazi stance took a lot of soul-searching and all, but three on one is pussy odds on anyone’s scale. Though your outrage and compulsion toward direct action are admirable, nothing you accomplish in a brawl on North Beacon is going to change the effects of white American prejudice on minorities. If you want to make your point in a way as pointless and insubstantial as a drunken brawl at a house party, then go for it, I guess, but don’t advertise yourselves as cheap-shot artists.

Tonight I watched a fringe fight a fringe, weakly, in a manner that diminished the witnesses’ knowledge of what’s really up. Don’t confuse socio-political action with gangster-mentality hooliganism.

I’m sure I felt pretty cool about “gangster-mentality hooliganism” as a phrase at the time. It reads like a small-town editorial condemning the Seattle WTO riots. Whatevs.

After I thought about it, I realized instinctive, violent societal reaction to neo-Nazi ideas is not unlike my cockroach hunt. They represent a disgusting, resilient pest in the lean pantry of American thought. For many years, white supremacists could preach hatred and ignorance and intolerance without fear of retribution, often with the implicit support of law enforcement and elected officials. Multiracial groups of punks taking them on at shows and parties and driving entire Nazi subcultures into extinction might not be what, say, Dr. King had in mind, but it’s easier to defend than most violent outbursts.

That said, neo-Nazis are one thing while your average dumb-assed American white dude is quite another. Beyond “some neo-Nazi shit,” nobody even knew what the guy had said. Did he diss the Israeli flag or was he repping Aryan Brotherhood and expressing solidarity with his Czech brothers in their recent march on Pilsen? Did he call somebody a “macaca” or did he make a big dick joke?

Ultimately, I can’t answer those questions and neither could anybody else. More important to me, though, are the tactics. Forget spitting in the dude’s face while he’s bleeding in the street. Where I come from (“6th Safest Town In The Nation, Three Years Running!“), three-on-one is still cheap. I would fight someone if I had those numbers and I struggle arm-wrestling toddlers. A shovel? Seriously? What is this, Final Fight?

The weaker your methods, the weaker your message. No matter how worthy your stated cause, you’re not changing anything or anyone by jumping an already vulnerable target. And if all you’ve got is testosterone and beer farts, please: Take it to The Kells.