Creative non-fiction is a passion of mine; the art of storytelling is both central to our everyday lives and so very hard to define. What works as a storytelling method for someone may not work for another, and vice versa across different types of media. In short, a story is perhaps defined more by its intangibles than in the concrete details contained therein.

With that in mind, I present “YOLO: Seizing the Carps!”, a story told about a story being told with a story present in the subtext of the story. 😉


You Only Live Once: Seizing the Carps!

by Fletcher McDonald

“So Jim is a marine, right? Ex-marine. He’s retired. He told me this story about this one night in Tijuana.”

I’m not sure how Tijuana came up. Earlier we were talking about bar fights or something like that. I don’t remember how we got on this tangent – oh yeah, we drove past a Krav Maga place. No, not that; we know this former Israeli soldier, and Krav Maga is their defense martial art. Their national martial art. Ok. That’s how.

Right now we’re driving to Illegal Pete’s over on Sunnyside. Denver has changed a lot over the years. Sunnyside wasn’t so sunny; Sunnyside was a barrio, an old Mexican neighborhood, long since gentrified or at least quite far along the process. I used to live downtown and there had been only one Illegal Pete’s, off of 16th and Blake that mainly serviced the downtown lunch crowd and the late night party crowd; they had good burritos, from what I remember, and we all just finished working out for, oh, I don’t know, four hours?

Of the many choices you can make when you have free time on a Saturday, this may be one of them. There are many others; the car is filled with former and current athletes and that is what we chose to do this particular weekend.

Matt Lloyd is driving us – I should probably explain a little more and I’ll start with our driver; Matt is a professional climber and owns Mountain Strong, a crossfit and climbing gym in Denver. Mountain Strong is hosting an athletic movement seminar this weekend, led by a student of Ido Portal; Ido Portal, for those who aren’t familiar, is the movement coach of Connor McGregor. The coach is a former Israeli soldier by the name of Omri, who also coaches Muay Thai, works with some high level UFC fighters, and who is visiting Colorado.

The tone and timbre of the workouts may or may not have taken a competitive edge colored by the background of the individual running it and the backgrounds of its participants.

So we worked out for four hours, pushed and driven by a former Israeli soldier, and now Matt is driving us to Illegal Pete’s and we’re talking about Krav Maga and how dick punching and eye gouging are accepted practices.

In Krav Maga, not in life.

“Dick punching is not so effective,” Matt says knowingly, “because it just makes the guy angry.” Matt is a rabid extrovert and he looks at me as he says this, and while he’s driving. I’m not a backseat driver, mostly because I’m sitting shotgun; but as he looks over, he swerves ever so slightly.

My stomach lurches a bit.

Matt is being a good host, making eye contact as he talks to the few passengers in his SUV, myself included. There aren’t any cars on the road right now, so whatever.

“Eye-gouging though,” he says.

Eye gouging works in everything, I think. I vaguely remember bringing a spare pair of contacts to rugby games and grappling tournaments because fingers and thumbs would “accidentally” slide near or into contact with my eyes. Accidentally, I muse, recalling the very same. Not very likely.

The left side of my brain, logical and cold, connects the idea of the relatively thin portion of the skull behind the rather fragile and vulnerable eyeball with the whole area being very vulnerable to attack.

“Eye gouging works in everything,” I state as a matter-of-fact, agreeing. Widely accepted practices are generally effective for some reason or another. A few nods and exclamations of surprise and we go on.

“So Jim,” Matt speaks quickly, excitedly, “Jim was this guy who used to come to the gym. He told me this story about being in Tijuana.”

I blink hard as we drift into the other lane ever so slightly. Now, there’s oncoming traffic. A white sedan followed by a rather imposing semi. I nod and swallow hard.

“Uh huh,” I say. Matt seems to follow my terrified gaze and corrects our course.

The conversation pauses and for the moment, I breathe more easily.

“He’d been in a few bar fights, here and there,” Matt continues, “I mean, he’s a marine.” Matt stresses the last word and it needs no explanation.

There’s a large truck in the left lane. Matt notices it’s a hundred feet away or so and turns around, talking over his shoulder.

I miss a few words as I ponder my unborn children growing up without their father. I think about their twin pairs of hands, their twin pairs of feet. Their twin pairs of eyes, will they look like mine or my wife’s?

Eye-gouging, someone mentions.

Matt whips his head around in time to correct our wayward course.

“- and he punches this guy in the face. But here’s the kicker, the guy doesn’t even react. He doesn’t even blink. And the look on his face,” Matt looks at the rear view mirror, into the eyes of the passengers in the backseat, then at me. He’s more expressive than most, and a great story teller. We’re hanging on every word. I’m at the edge of my seat.

We pass the truck and I see the off-white cab, dirty tires and hubs covered in brake dust, the chipping paint and slightly corroded metal of the trailer. Then it’s gone.

“Jim can tell the guy is like, in full on murder mode. I mean, they’re in Tijuana, there’s gangs. There’s no laws.”

We’re on a bridge now, and a few more cars are heading our way. This causes me some momentary concern but we’ve made it this far – two full blocks from the gym, so far. Only a few more to go.

“Jim sees this, right? And he doesn’t know what to do. He just punched the guy in the face as hard as he could. And he can punch.” Matt pantomimes a blow and the car swerves. I hold my breath and my right hand instinctively reaches for the grab handle above the window while my legs splay forward into the interior under the dash, bracing myself.

I throw up a little in my mouth. I relax, remembering from EMT training and classroom slides that most people who brace in car accidents end up with fractures and worse injuries.

“So back to eye-gouging. In the Marines, in part of the basic combatives. So Jim is freaking out,” Matt’s eyes are as wide as mine, “and he just goes back to instinct. He just reaches forward,” Matt pantomimes again with his thumb, experience or natural showmanship leading him to demonstrate where we all can see – conveniently near the front dash. He turns the wheel just a tiny bit and a green van slips past us on the narrow bridge we are traversing.

Matt gives us a moment to think about it, excitedly making eye contact with each of us. There is raw fear in my eyes, I know it, I feel it in the pit of my belly. Easy to mistake for excitement.

Matt grins.

“He said there was a lot of resistance, but he kept pushing, and it was hard, hard, then soft.”

“Ewww,” I exclaim at the same time as the other passengers, danger momentarily forgotten. A mental image forms, of a thumb pushing past a cross-section of the orbital of the skull’s frontal bone.

“He pushed, and there was a lot of resistance, and then it was soft,” Matt emphasizes again.

“There’s some guy walking around Tijuana with an eyepatch looking for Jim,” someone quips.

I shake my head and laugh for a few different reasons.

The road has widened into two lanes with a turn lane in the middle. We’re out of danger, as far as I’m concerned. A hundred feet ahead is a roundabout, put in to slow down traffic. Illegal Pete’s is just a short distance away. I remember that I’m hungry, reminded of this by my growling stomach.

The roundabout ahead was placed to slow traffic and most likely make it difficult for semi’s and large trucks to make their way into the surrounding area, but it’s at an interstate exit and busy. I let go of the grab handle then sink down into my seat, breathing a little easier because I know Matt will have to slow down and take care on this leg of the journey to Illegal Pete’s.

“I drive this way all the time from my house to the gym,” He says.

We’re moving at a pretty good pace and he hasn’t braked yet, which I find odd.

He looks me in the eyes and a wide grin spreads across his face.

“Most of the time I just YOLO through the roundabout.”


Author’s note: names have been changed.

YOLO, an acronym, stands for “You Only Live Once” and was very much in vogue a few years ago, which goes to show how far behind the times I am. It’s considered similar to the Latin phrase, “carpe diem,” or, “seize the day,” which refers to how every single day is filled with chances and opportunities for those willing to take them. 

So go ahead; take those chances, make the most of those opportunities, seize those carps!

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