"Get a grip" 


As we went to press with this week's issue, the state commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans was headed for criminal court, charged with wielding a vigorous handshake that crossed the line into battery. According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, Douglas D. Dawson is accused of assaulting his second-in-command, Robert E. May, with a "death grip" that resembled an ordinary handshake, but sent May to the hospital with injuries that may have ranged from a bruised hand and twisted ankle to a cracked vertebra in the victim's back. The altercation, which took place inside the Palatka Holiday Inn, is thought to have stemmed from May's accusations that Dawson and his followers are attempting to help "hate groups" hijack the historically minded organization.

Robin Strickler, division chief of the State Attorney's Office in Palatka, told the Sentinel that the handshake case, though odd, is not without precedent. "If you saw all the different ways battery could be committed, you wouldn't wonder at this," Strickler said.

State of New York v. Davis (filed April 4, 1975, in 11th District Circuit Court, New Rochelle, N.Y.) – The defendant, one Josh "Nomad" Davis, was a charter member of the New Rochelle Star Trek Club. At the time of his arrest, he was locked in a power struggle with club treasurer Ian "Koloth" Hodges. The heart of their rivalry was a lingering dispute over Trek's pilot episode, "The Cage," which Davis said was superior in its initial, unaired form but Hodges considered better served by its subsequent conversion into the two-part episode "The Menagerie."

Their festering hostility came to a head in the grand ballroom of the New Rochelle Marriott hotel, during a Trek convention attended by several area fan collectives. Tensions exploded shortly around lunchtime, after witnesses had seen Hodges consume numerous bottles of mass-marketed "Saurian brandy" he failed to realize was nonalcoholic. From across the room, the carbonation-emboldened Hodges challenged Davis to join him in the death duel portrayed in the classic episode "Amok Time," appending the information that the victor would enjoy full and exclusive rights to engage in mating rituals with Davis' betrothed, T'Pring (actually Laura Rennie, a 24-year-old paralegal who had come along to sew some last-minute modifications on her boyfriend's Mugato costume in time for an afternoon contest).

After some exploratory circling of each other and emitting of the Klingon war whoop, Davis brought the confrontation to a swift end by performing the Vulcan death grip on the surprised Hodges, who had been under the impression that the move was prohibited under bylaws their group had adapted from the Articles of the Federation.

"He just stopped, looked heavenwards and sank to his knees in shock and pain," said eyewitness Todd "Sarek" Darden. "He looked exactly like Vic Tayback in 'A Piece of the Action.' The poor guy didn't have a chance."

When the case came to trial, Davis was cleared of all charges by a jury of Lost in Space fans who ruled that the whole thing was silly and beneath their attention.

No further incidents of Trek-related violence besmirched the New Rochelle legal calendar until seven years later, when two men outside a local movie theater that was showing The Wrath of Khan drew knives to decide if Capt. James T. Kirk had been justified in cheating on the Kobayashi Maru portion of his Starfleet evaluation. Both participants were found guilty of reckless endangerment and sentenced to 18 additional months of living in the spare rooms above their parents' garages.

State of Wisconsin v. English (filed Feb. 18., 1984, in 8th District Circuit Court, Valley View, Wis.) – One of the few incidents of rock-concert violence on the Wisconsin books that did not involve drugs, alcohol or an opening set by Krokus, this landmark case arose out of a timeless controversy: Who invented the "devil's horns" hand gesture that metalheads far and wide recognize as their most stirring show of solidarity?

If one were to ask Badger State music fan Larry English, the answer would have to be "Ronnie James Dio," English's idol ever since the day the latter inherited a cassette of Rainbow Rising from a brother bound for Grenada. The younger English's assurance that Dio's Italian-American heritage had inspired the mystical symbol may have found favor within the Knights of the Last in Line – an appreciation society English himself founded – but it caused him nothing but trouble when he attended a Feb. 11, 1984, concert by Quiet Riot and King Kobra at the Valley View Veterans' Memorial Arena.

During the break between bands, English became enraged when he observed a concertgoer in a KISS sports jersey flashing the twin-pronged hand sign to friends who were similarly attired. English knew that this troubling behavior reflected a common misconception: that KISS bassist Gene Simmons had invented the gesture sometime during that band's 1976 Destroyer tour of North America. Having devoted the better part of his junior year to poring over issues of Hit Parader (an activity that often involved the use of a highlighter), English knew this to be untrue. Shouting to make himself heard above the pretaped din of AC/DC's Back in Black, he urged the stranger to cease and desist.

Said stranger was one Rob Urbanowski, a sergeant-at-arms in the Ferndale, Wis., chapter of the KISS Army. Used to fielding such challenges from nonbelievers, Urbanowski was ready with a scathing but witty riposte that referenced English's mother and the defensive line of the Green Bay Packers.

The row that ensued can only be termed violent in a strictly one-sided sense. Urbanowski wasted no time in brandishing a small canister of Mace that the arena's security staff had failed to locate on his person during a cursory pat-down earlier in the evening. But English chose to invest his faith in the disputed hand symbol itself, thrusting forefinger and pinkie at Urbanowski in a frantic attempt to give him the evil eye.

No matter how sincere, English's quasi-religious line of attack could not compete with Urbanowski's store-bought survival tactics, and the former was soon writhing on the floor of the arena in teary torment.

The judge who heard the case found English guilty of promoting Satanic practices at a family-oriented event. Urbanowski later sued him in civil court, claiming emotional distress and the loss of a week's pay for landscaping services he was too traumatized to perform. A jury awarded him $5,000 and a new belt chain for his wallet, which had been damaged in the "fight."

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