By Dan Piraro
Reprinted with kind permission. See Bizarro.com for
If you had been walking down Corso Vittorio Emanuele
in Rome, Italy, on a sunny Sunday afternoon in early December of last
year, you would
have seen tourists ambling casually among the many exclusive shops. You
would have seen locals strolling casually with their dogs along the tree-lined
walkway. You may have been amused by the wide variety of adorable, little
cars traveling down the cobblestone street and parked along the curb.
And if you happened by the right spot at just the right moment, you might
have seen eight, middle-aged, well-dressed white people slugging, kicking
and wrestling each other on the sidewalk in front of a fur store.
Four of those people were my close friends Jenny and Doug, the founders
of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, my wife Ashley, and myself. We had
all traveled to Rome
a couple of weeks earlier to attend the wedding of some friends and had spent
the subsequent 12 days touring around Italy together on holiday. In spite of
it being the rainy season, we’d had a wonderful time driving aimlessly
around the countryside in a rental car attempting to play archeologists to Italy’s
hieroglyphic road signs. We marveled at paintings of naked fat women and Bible
heroes in museums, and did all we could to assist the natives with their ongoing
struggle to dispense with the copious amounts of red wine and pasta that the
country produces. All in all, it was a fabulous and relaxing vacation with good
One of the very few distasteful aspects of our trip, however, was the constant
presence of fur being worn by someone other than its original owner. As animal
advocates who live or have lived in New York City, we are all used to enduring
the throngs of fur-bedecked pedestrians that fill the sidewalks throughout the
winter months. New York seems particularly bad about this, but, if possible,
Italy is even worse.
For Italian women, especially the post-menopausal set, fur has always been an
important status symbol. My own Italian-American aunts, great aunts, and grandmother
were always covered in it, looking as though they’d been eaten by a bear,
not properly chewed, and were attempting to climb back out.
After two weeks of this fairly constant display of human arrogance, we were all
a bit close to our tipping point. But we were guests in another country, after
all, so we had maintained the decorum we deemed appropriate. Until our final
day abroad, a sunny Sunday afternoon.
As we strolled down Corso Vittorio Emanuele, we happened to pass a fur store
with particularly large window displays of dead things. This was perhaps the
hundredth such store we had seen in our nearly two-week journey, but this one
had an extra twist. Outside the front door, parked at the curb, was a station
wagon with its tailgate open. Inside the cargo space was a pile of fur garments
from floor to ceiling. The door of the shop was open and the family of four that
(presumably) owned the store was bringing the fur inside.
Appalled at the sight, we joked about what we’d like to do to the coats
in the back of the car. But we were only joking, of course. None of us is the
type to offer ourselves up to the Italian penal system for the sake of a few
urine-soaked coats. For the most part, we had resigned ourselves to walking past
quietly and shaking our heads. Until Ashley reached her boiling point.
The people loading the coats had all gone into the store when, thinking no one
would even see her, Ashley spat indignantly on the sidewalk in front of the store.
Following suit, Jenny, who had had a head cold for most of the trip and was at
no shortage of viscous projectiles, turned and did the same, with all the drama
of Sarah Bernhardt in her farewell performance. We giggled a bit and kept walking.
At this point, time as we know it changed and things began happening very quickly.
We heard a woman’s voice behind us, screaming in Italian what must have
been, judging by her tone, horrible obscenities. We spun around and saw her giving
us the cliché “Italian Salute”—one arm up in an “L” shape,
the other grasping the bicep. Jenny reciprocated with a single finger raised
to the heavens and by shouting back what must have been, judging by her tone
and my 40-some years of experience with English, horrible obscenities. The woman
charged her and the two charm school dropouts stood literally nose-to-nose, shouting
hysterically at each other in the language of their homelands.
Appropriately, Ashley, Doug and I rushed up behind Jenny to pull her away; the
other woman’s (presumed) family rushed up behind her (a man of about 40,
her husband we guessed, and an older couple of around 70, likely her parents)
to (presumably) pull her away as well. The old man got there first, but instead
of pulling his daughter away, he pushed her aside and delivered a fisted, roundhouse
blow to the side of Jenny’s head, knocking her over the hood of one of
those adorable, little parked cars.
Utterly unprepared for this, we all sprang into what can only be called “clumsy,
slapstick, stop-the-chaos-at-any-cost, flailing, WHAT THE FUCK?!, schoolyard
I grabbed The Old Man and he spun and caught me with a fist to the mouth, splitting
my lip and sending my glasses flying. The Husband grabbed me from behind and
threw me to the ground where The Old Man began kicking at me with all his might.
(Fortunately, “all his might” was approximately that of a corpse’s
involuntary reflexes as rigor mortis sets in.) As I struggled back to my feet,
Doug rushed to my defense by slamming his cheek into The Husband’s swinging
fist. Meanwhile, a few feet away, Jenny, Ashley, Screaming Woman, and Her Mom,
were all grappling, clawing, pushing and pulling one another, emitting a high-pitched
cacophony of bilingual profanity for all to enjoy. Once on my feet, The Old Man
charged me again, swinging his arms like Pete Townshend during an encore. I grabbed
him around the neck and bent him down, “noogy” style, and banged
his head a couple of times against a pole located conveniently nearby. Not wishing
to kill him and spend the rest of my life with non-English-speaking Italian Gestapo,
I let him go, hoping the lumps on his thick skull would slow him down. His skull
was even thicker than I had estimated, however, as he came at me again, at which
time I wrapped him up in my arms as tightly as possible and gave him a moment
to realize how tired he was. This tactic worked and he shouted, “Basta,
basta!” He’d had enough. We all had.
Within minutes, the gladiators shuffled off in opposite directions mumbling and
cursing as the fight had come to an end as abruptly as it had started. Not because
anyone had convinced anyone of their viewpoint nor because they had successfully
handed the other camp a humiliating defeat, but because we were eight, well-dressed,
middle-aged people on a sunny Sunday afternoon strolling through a chic shopping
district in Rome and were too exhausted and sore to hop back in the ring for
Of the large crowd of pedestrians and motorists who had stopped to watch the
smackdown, it is rumored that all wished they had had their video cameras. If
someone had, I would pay dearly to see the tape.
Three days after we were home, still reliving the story in our heads, Ashley
bolted upright one day and proclaimed, “Oh my god, I totally forgot! I
picked up that old lady’s fur hat and threw it into the street and a car
ran over it!”
We fight this battle one tiny victory at a time.
Dan Piraro is the creator of the comic strip Bizarro.