"It's the next-best thing to being there," Brant exclaimed when I agreed to watch the fights with him at the newly opened sports bar, formerly a JJ Muggs.
Arriving half an hour before the tournament in which the World Welterweight Championship would be decided, Brant used his many years of martial arts training to explain the rules of engagement basically, a mixed martial arts free-for-all. As far as the bar's events go, I would have preferred the beach barbeque and pig roast a week earlier or even the acoustic entertainment on Thursday nights, but this was my introduction to the west Lake Worth joint.
Our late arrival meant that all the tables in front of the 128-inch flat-screen TV were taken, and so were the high-tops directly behind them and all the seats at the bar. We spotted a friend, Chris, at a table way in the back. Actually, that was a good thing. From that vantage, I could size up the crowd and reflect on the ball cap as fashion accessory. And Chris and Brant could see the fight on more TV screens (the place has 20).
But first, there was important business to attend to: attitude and ambience adjustment. We ordered beers, and I unscrewed the glaring light bulb in the hanging lamp over our table. At least the surgical-quality lighting let me know the place was clean. That accomplished, I turned my attention to the menu. Spotting a PBSO burger, I assumed it was a reference to the sheriff's office. I took a guess: a bacon burger served on donut halves? Nope. The letters were just an acronym for peanut butter and sautéed onions. An Elvis delicacy? Yuck.
As the main event approached, the pre-fight hype became increasingly loud, so I ordered a Jäger bomb to help take the edge off my assailed senses.
"The louder you get, the louder the TV gets," the DJ reprimanded us as he patrolled the room with a cordless mic.
What? And stop Brant from weighing the merits of the contenders? Prevent Chris from loudly debating the supremacy of yellow versus white cheese (Goggles uses the former) on a Philly cheese steak? I hadn't even come up with an exit strategy or a backup plan. I was so cranky, I said no to the kid with the galvanized bucket full of raffle tickets.
When the first round began, so did the savagery. Blood spattered the canvas like it was a Jackson Pollock painting. A "piece of meat," as man's man announcer Joe Rogan (also the Fear Factor host) called it, was hanging from one guy's head. My stomach twinged and I turned away, covering my face with my hands. Time for another beer-and-Jäger combo.
"What are we? Fucking Romans?" I objected as the crowd enthusiastically cheered the bludgeoning.
Brant offered reassurances: "The referee will stop it when the guy can't intelligently defend himself."
Like when he's choked unconscious. Just a minute later, the guy lost "by submission," meaning he'd passed out when the blood stopped flowing to his brain. As I gazed into my beer as if its malted wisdom could tell me the difference between being civilized and being weak, I wondered: Why did the warrior instincts thrive in some and wither in others?
Chris and Brant delved deeper, questioning the alleged "high-def" of various monitors in the place.
"Maybe some of the TVs are fuzzy because you need beer goggles to see them correctly," Brant speculated.
Nothing like a seductive server with an enticing tray of glowing blue beakers to distract us. The tousled blond tart dropped shots of Jäger, shot glass and all, into beakers of blue energy drink. The combination began to smoke; this more dramatic and colorful version of a Jäger bomb lifted my spirits immediately.
I hardly minded the second match. In fact, Brant's use of such sexy terminology as "lay and pray" and "ground and pound" made me giggle like a middle schooler.
"Thank God you haven't seen the 'north and south' position," Brant joked.
That was my cue to take my beer outside. Among the smokers, I met a cute blond kid with plenty of jock charisma. His backward ball cap put a star logo in the middle of his forehead, like a modern twist on Dr. Seuss' star-bellied sneech. Six years as a martial arts instructor, Stephen was saying, hadn't prepared him for the consequences of hustling pool in another state. You can't hustle a hustler.
"Feel this," he said, pressing my fingers into his shoulder, which he rotated so it went pop, pop, grind.
"My buddy was down on money, so I was like 'I'll get it for you,'" Stephen recalled of his experience in North Carolina. His would-be victims showed him some country justice. "They taught me a lesson. You can't shoot if your shoulder is shot."
Good to know there was a lesson in there somewhere.
Actually, the 27-year-old disaster relief/hazmat cleanup worker wasn't the kid I'd taken him for. And he had met his match in Jeannette, a 25-year-old shoe store manager.
"It's great that his shoulder is fucked up like this because whenever I'm mad at him, I just push in here," she said, jabbing Stephen's deltoid with fingertips beneath long, blue-polished nails until he caved. "See?" she said with triumphant glee.
"On the plus side," he said, still cringing, "I can always tell you when it's gonna rain."
The noise inside escalated, rallying those outside back to their battle positions for match three, or what I will refer to as "Board Shorts Versus Man Panties," thanks to the opponents' apparel, and also "Night Rider Versus Jäger Bombs," thanks to my evening's drink of choice. It was also an opportunity to get to know people, since I wasn't actually watching the game.
"I guess I'm getting my Jack-and-Coke goggles," the cute guy at the bar said. "The bathroom was all backed up, so I didn't want to drink beer."
The men's room, that is. The women's room was empty: just one of the few benefits of this testosterone fest. The other benefit is that there were lots of single dudes, including Will, a strikingly good-looking guy in a blue bandanna. An Army veteran, he'd been stationed in Italy, where he met his now ex-wife before being sent to Iraq. Now, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
But it was his encounter with a recent ex-girlfriend that seemed to be his biggest concern. Sometime after the main event began, I got lost in his confusing story about her infidelity with someone against whom she claimed to have a restraining order.
"Needless to say, she's a psycho and a pathological liar," Will's friend Rocky concluded.
But Will's luck may be coming back: He'd just won a tank top in the free raffle. Rocky, however, was making his own luck.
"I made the top 50 on American Idol in '05," Rocky boasted. "I went to L.A. They started with 110,000 people, and only 50 made it."
Now he was parlaying that success into a karaoke business, which includes Tuesday nights at Beer Goggles. He was there this night because the main event contender, Matt Serra, was his niece's sensei.
"I don't even watch this stuff, but I promised her I would," Rocky explained.
Brant suddenly barged in. "Fuck! Fuck!" he exclaimed.
"What? What?" I replied.
"The underdog just won. TKO!"
Good news for Serra (and Rocky's niece) was also good news for me. With the pay-per-view show at its conclusion, we could turn our attention to a newly developing drama: Will had written a note to one of the waitresses.
"She's the niece of the guy with the 23-inch biceps," Will said with feigned concern, nodding in the direction of the owner, Gary Olsen, who'd opened the place in December and was evidently running a family business.
We didn't get to see what drama (if any) ensued after the note was delivered to the pretty brunet with the muscled uncle because we were ready to go.
So from my foray into martial arts as a spectator sport, I'd learned that an "arm bar" was something besides a bar within arm's reach (it's a position to dislocate your opponent's arm) and that a "Thai kick" was more than the effects of Asian cuisine. I was still foggy on what exactly a "rear naked choke" was; maybe Brant would show me later.
One thing was clear, however. "I'm sober," I said pouting, disappointed that my four hours of drinking reflected on my tab but not my body.
"Me too," Chris observed. He groped for an explanation. "They must have pumped pure oxygen in here."
Jäger bombs had almost always kicked my ass. But this time, like Matt Serra, I'd defeated the powerful favorite.
I almost felt like having one more shot to celebrate the victory.