The First Rule

Christmas, 2002 / No. 9
Art by Ian Phillips
Ian Phillips

Of course, now that the movie’s out, everyone’s an armchair fight clubber. It’s so au courant. Jesus.

It didn’t used to be like that, you know. In fact, back when I first joined fight club (it wasn’t capitalized back then), all of you windmill-punching wannabes wouldn’t have even recognized it.

The rules were totally different, for one.

I remember being huddled up in that dark basement with the guys when Brad Pitt first pulled out a stained piece of paper and told us all to gather round. This would have been around January, because I remember I could see my breath, and I’d led a little calisthenics routine on the guys a few minutes previous. To get the blood moving.

Brad took centre stage, pacing like the coiffed jungle animal he most certainly thought he was. Brad, man. I tell you. But more on Brad later.

“Now,” he began, “a couple of you guys have been coming up to me in private lately—with concerns.” He nodded at me and a few other faces before returning his concentration to the scrap of paper.

I nodded back in acknowledgement. Me and a few other guys had, in fact, chatted Brad up earlier in the day concerning the addition of a few rules to the club charter. For safety concerns, you understand. Chad had gotten wailed on pretty bad the week before, on account of that big prick farmer down from New York state stomping a boot print in his face with that immense army-issue shoe of his. I mean, I was all for a rules-free environment as much as the next guy, but a no-shirt-no-shoes policy was clearly needed. So we’d brought the issue to Brad.

But back to Brad’s little paper reading. A few of the guys shot me looks from across the room. These, then, would be the rules we’d motioned for earlier. There was a palpable fear in the room as we awaited what Brad had managed to think up for us.

Brad wasn’t terribly bright, you understand. Anything you told him on a given day would usually come back to you in a horribly mangled, bong-fuelled state some hours later, like a one-man game of telephone gone horribly wrong. Sometimes it was funny to watch, but usually only if it was some other poor guy trying to get something out of Brad: his watch back, a promise from him to stop hitting on his girlfriend, five dollars, whatever. The point was, it was time-consuming and fraught with idiocy. No one liked it when it was their turn.

But I’m digressing too much: the paper reading. Brad couldn’t read very well (i.e., hardly at all), making the moment even more suspenseful. It required most of his concentration, as well as the silent movement of his lips, to execute properly. He sauntered on gamely.

“And so,” he said finally, “in the interest of these concerns, I’ve made up some rules.” He coughed.

“The only rule of fight club—is that there are no rules!” He threw the paper up in the air with a nihilistic flourish, happy to be free of reading for another day, and cheerfully dragged one of us from the mob to beat the blood-soaked stuffing out of him on the cardboard we’d thoughtfully laid out.

Brad, man. I tell you.

I pulled him aside later and explained to him that the whole “no rules” thing wasn’t quite what the fellows and I had had in mind. In fact, one could go as far as to say it was the exact opposite. I felt a mild headache coming on at this point, mainly in anticipation of the most assuredly painful conversation I knew would take place. Trying to argue with Brad was always like urinating directly into a gust of wind. You only did it once, and you ended up with piss on your face.

“You don’t understand,” he said, staring at me with a fierceness that I was certain he practiced nightly in the mirror. (Brad was kind of full of himself.) “Fight club is an extension of pain. Rules are for the Ikea culture. You are not a beautiful snowflake. You are the all-loving, all-dancing shit of the world.”

Christ. This again.

“Yes, yes,” I cooed. “That’s great, Brad. But I still wanted to throw a few ideas at you.” I couldn’t stand it when he started spouting that pseudo-deep catchphrase garbage at me. I mean, I liked fight club. It was great exercise and the people seemed clever and friendly when they weren’t dancing around me planning to punch my face, neck, and genitals the first opportunity they saw. But the philosophy Brad could keep. I had a hard time taking advice on the direction of my life from a guy I saw whispering to himself that “the rabbit goes around the tree” when he tied up his sneakers. Anyway, I had the sneaking suspicion that Brad wrote most of his “you are not a beautiful snowflake” horseshit while higher than Christ. It didn’t matter much to me either way, since I secretly held the belief that the only people buying into Brad Pitt’s brain dribblings were in a bit of a heightened state themselves. Still, the guys and I had come to him specifically with the intention of putting rules in the damn club. This “there are no rules” crap was just another way of Brad’s to fuck something up in his usual well-intentioned-yet-still-profoundly-retarded way.

I pulled him aside and tried again, speaking slowly and accentuating my points with hand gestures.

“I’m one hundred per cent behind the no-beautiful-snowflake clause, Brad, that’s some sensible thinking. Still,” and I put my arm over his shoulder, “a few of the lads and I were hoping to get a few other rules laid down. Like shoes. I’ve got no problems with throwing a few punches around with the guys, but when I have to go to work the next day with half a boot heel embedded in my forehead, I think it’s time to institute a shirt and shoes policy.”

Usually, I would have to play verbal games with him, making him think it’d been him who’d thought up the idea, not me. It made him feel pretty sharp, and it was only due to this flattery offensive that we now had a Coke machine and snack table down at fight club. But I really didn’t have the time for it today.

“But the only rule of fight club is there are no rules, Jay,” he said, like I was an idiot and needed it explained again. His eyes were clenched up in confusion.

I sighed.

“Yes, Brad. So I was thinking maybe we could amend it, to something like, ‘The only rule of fight club is there are no rules—except maybe if you could take your shoes off before fighting, hey, no problems there, sports fan.’” Brad stared at me.

“I dunno, Jay…,” he said. His face was starting to twist up in confusion again, and I could tell that, as usual, I’d managed to leave him twelve blocks behind me. I backed up and tried again.

“Brad—it’s not even like the slogan makes sense. Yes, it sounds cool. Yes, we’re—” I saw him open his mouth to speak and intercepted him. “—and yes, we’re all not beautiful snowflakes, Brad.” Brad went wide-eyed, no doubt wondering if I had psychic powers or something. I plowed on. “But if we have one rule, Brad, and that rule is that there are no rules—” I was using my balled-up fists to represent the different parts of the argument. I knew the next hurdle was going to be tough. “—then we do, in fact, have a rule. Do you see, Brad? ”

Brad had his finger in the side of his mouth and was sucking on it. Christ, I thought, this would be so much easier if I could just talk to the Edward Norton side of him.

“Obviously. Yeah, I know. Totally,” he said. I could tell it had flown so far over his head it was in a new time zone by now. I tried once again, using word substitution. This had worked in the past with Brad. “Say, for instance, Brad, that the only peach is that there are no peaches.”

This went on for hours. By the time dawn broke, I was fairly sure I’d managed to sink it into that thick lead-encased skull of his. He promised me that he would amend the rules for the next meeting. I should have known better. Brad gathered us together the following week and, once again, pulled a frayed scrap of paper from his pocket.

“The first rule of fight club is that you don’t talk about peaches. The second rule of peach club is that you don’t fight.” Confused stares were traded amongst the mob, but rules were rules. Luckily someone had brought a deck of cards.

That long and boring Friday night, the first rule of old maid club was to pass to your right, and the second rule was that, for the time being, the joker would represent the old maid. The guys unanimously voted that I go and have another talk with Brad, since I’d had the most luck in the past, and they were all at the ends of their ropes about the whole new “no fighting” fight club rule. Besides—peach club? There was talk of retracting membership. Either that, or making some preserves and delicious jams, and no one seemed to know where to start with that.

“You have to go talk to him, man.”

But I was having none of it. That night I just drafted up the rules my damn self and mailed them anonymously to Brad. Sure enough, the next week they were in the amended club charter. I noted with regret that Brad had also taken the time to add in two more of his typically opaque, meaningless rules to the list I’d helpfully prepared. Now there was some stupid caveat that we weren’t even allowed to talk about fight club. I hadn’t written that. The second rule was the same as the first. No, I mean it was the exact same rule. I can’t even begin to imagine how insanely stoned he would’ve had to have been to write out the same rule twice but, in classic Brad fashion, he soldiered on like he’d written it twice on purpose.

One of the guys leaned over to me. “Isn’t he breaking the rule just by telling us about the—? ”

“It’s probably best not to think about it,” I said.

That night, I plowed into some accounting executive with an uppercut, busting his jaw open and feeling more alive than I had in ages. I was