I would like to return to the city of Glasgow one day. I want to see the Glasgow Art School, and the famous tearoom. I was there once before, nearly 60 years ago, hitchhiking with friends. We were coming down from the Isle of Skye. Glasgow seemed a fine idea for a Saturday layover.
At that time, I knew nothing of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and in a sense, Glasgow did little to help. His buildings were not being celebrated, there were no pamphlets celebrating the Willow Tearoom, nor the Hill House, nor any of his other influential projects. Mackintosh, for 20 years, soared through the 1890s and 1910s of this sleepy, salty Scottish port with his particular genius for color and space and form and invention, literally creating what would be known as The Glasgow Style, in a town that had little fame for style.
Josef Hoffmann contacted Mackintosh, to include him in the brilliant work being done in Vienna, to invite him to enter their exhibit. The British agents intercepted the correspondence, as possible espionage in a wartime climate, and nothing could come of it. By 1913, Mackintosh would leave Scotland, never to return. Mackintosh settled in the south of France. “Toshie has never been happier than doing watercolors by the seaside.”
I knew nothing pf Mackintosh but we needed something to do for a Saturday night in August. There were no signs for a Joni Mitchell concert, or for the Incredible String Band. We settled for the only billboard, Wrestling Match, announcing The Blind Giant versus the Three Dwarfs. We had no idea what it would be.
The match was near completely sold out, the arena, down by the train station, was alive with fans, whistling and cheering. The Blind Giant came out first and he knew precisely how to look — he scowled and pointed, his hair was a mess, his beard as well, his teeth as well, he was indeed a blind giant, with long black boots, a miserable black tee-shirt. No one liked him, his mother loved him, his niece, if there was a niece, looked away. He was a natural villain. And he would likely deserve whatever punishment could be inflicted on him.
The three dwarfs came out slowly, No one could imagine why they would tangle with this horror of a human, this Highland nightmare. But there they were, you could only consider they must desperately need the work. How could they possible get in the ring with this lunatic?
But of course, they did, and he treated them as he would any worthless opponent. This was a depravity beyond my Connecticut upbringing and I was not ready for it. He smashed each one of them into floor, like trying to break up a block of ice, he rammed their heads into the corner stanchions, and then into each other. He berated them, every bit of them, and screamed that they were not already dead.
No one was on the blind giant’s side but so what, no one had ever been on his side. He threw first one, then the other of dwarfs literally out of the ring, into the horrified audience. It was too much for me. I thought, I shall never return to Scotland.
But I had misjudged the land. This is not a new country, this the land of short people and knots and stubs and grit and stumps, or trees that will never grow but also never die, of Macbeth and a Loch Ness monster.
The blind, wicked Giant stood triumphant in the center of the ring. But, at one corner, and then at another, dwarfs crawled into the ring, unseen. And quietly, vengefully, they attacked that Giant. They circled and taunted him, they smashed the toes of his awful feet, they brought iron bars and attacked his Achilles, they brought him to his knees and then, they feasted on his awkwardness and sudden vulnerability. They did things I had not nor could have ever imagined. They operated on him, in the very worst sense.
And slowly, the audience could stand no more, Tony Galento, in Scottish. They had had enough, now we were past revenge and well into depravity. The giant stood, unsteady, but with heart. The audience cheered wildly as he grabbed, blindly of course, each dwarf and smacked them to their seat, about the ring. The fight was over, I was exhausted.
We went out for fish and chips afterward. It is an old, on-the-road saw, that the best fish and chips is the place with the longest line. We found that place, up around the corner, near our hostel and got in line. I was pleased to be out in the summer night air.
I looked around at the people in line and realized we were not out of trouble, here in old Glasgow. Half, perhaps more of the people in line, they were bleeding afresh from their forehead, blood running down, they would wipe it aside but what a mess. They were not an unruly lot but so many of them were bleeding, it was not a scene I had ever seen before, it was certainly not Old Saybrook.
We got our fish and chips, they were good, and headed back to the hostel. Later, 50 years later, I would tell this story to a Glasgow journalist and he laughed and said, that is what they call the Glasgow Kiss. When they fight, they head butt, and if you head butt well, the other will not be able to continue. The blood will simply make it impossible to see.