In April of 1964 I witnessed a fistfight between two men, both dwarves, outside a bar on the Boulevard de la Motte-Picquet in Paris. It had never occurred to me until today that dwarf-tossing might have been involved.
I spent the whole month of April, including my twenty-first birthday late in the month, in Paris that year. Everything about that time was memorable and extraordinary, but nothing more strange than the dwarves’ fistfight. My friend Pat and I were usually out in the evenings, bar-hopping, finding a good cheap restaurant in the student quarter, or just enjoying the passing scene. That night we were walking past a bar near where he lived in the 7th arrondissement, when two dwarves tumbled out of the door, got up, and proceeded to slug each other. After the surprise, my reaction—and I think it was shared by a number of those around me—was what do we do? I wouldn’t have felt any hesitation stepping, with some help, into a fight between ordinary-sized people if I thought it needed stopping. Fights that are unequal or in places where others might get hurt often have people separating the combatants. But we were all strangely frozen as spectators. Would these two appreciate such a gesture from big people? A delicate question was how it struck me. Of course some were enjoying it. After a short, fierce engagement, the two stopped fighting; one went back in the bar and the other down the boulevard.
I’d almost forgotten this incident until today. Listening to an economist talking about strange economic arrangements that some people want to ban even though they might benefit the participants, I heard him mention in passing, dwarf-tossing as an amusement in bars. Of course I had to look that one up. Apparently one of the places dwarf-tossing used to be popular was Paris. (It was banned in Florida in 1989 and in New York a year later, but Paris was the place I was interested in.) Though a community in the suburbs banned dwarf-tossing, and had its ban upheld by an appeals court in 2002, dwarf-tossing is probably still legal in metropolitan Paris.
Did the fisticuffs on la Motte-Picquet have something to do with dwarf-tossing? One of the additional strange things about the fighting dwarves is that they were dressed up—they were wearing suits and ties. The bar from which they had emerged did not look at all an up-tone place (how I wish now I had gone in to look around), and it occurs to me they might have been dressed for an act, or, perhaps, dressed to go out somewhere after taking off other costumes; dwarf-tossing sometimes involves padded costumes or, more bizarrely, Velcro-costume clad dwarves who are thrown at Velcro-covered walls. And since I’m so wildly speculating, were they fighting about the act? Turf, technique, or the esthetics of the thing? I’ll never be able to find out what was behind that little people’s mêlée in that memorable Paris spring.