With a fit build and a face that's equal parts Ryan O'Neal and Ralph Lauren model, Patrick Davis looks like a dude who'd play beach volleyball, or audition for "handsome" roles in TV commercials. Scratch the surface, though, and you'll find a fearless brawler who can transform in the blink of an eye from a mellow, endearingly spacey soul to a whirlwind of hard-swinging fists.
"It was never like someone would step on my shoe and I'd be, like, 'Let's fight, bro,' " says Davis, 42. "It was more like somebody would shove me in a bar, and I'd be, like, 'Hey, calm down.' And he'd be, like, 'What are you, Mr. Tough Guy?' "
As it turns out, he was Mr. Tough Guy. After about 35 street fights -- many in L.A. -- he was hit with the inspiration to combine his bloody, bare-knuckle hobby with his mostly deferred dream of being a writer. He self-published Fighteytown: An Auto-Fight-Ography, the self-deprecating story of an overprivileged underachiever told through the prism of his often ridiculous fights.
Davis now is adapting the book into a one-man show. "I was continuously broke and bewildered by my circumstances," he says. "And it made me angry."
He admits: "Maybe six or seven of [the fights] I should have had. The rest were mainly because of low self-esteem."
The initial inspiration came from Davis' younger sister, Anne. "She would say, 'Write about your fights.' At first I thought there's nothing more pretentious, odious or obvious than a guy writing about his fistfights." He goes into a Sherlock Holmes-meets-Gothic Batman narrator voice: "I prowled the streets at night, looking for victims."
Davis soon got past his apprehension. He started by writing about a fight he'd had with a homeless guy -- a rarity for a guy whose fighting code normally excludes the indigent. "I was outside McDonald's with this destitute bum all over me, scratching my face, his dirty fingers in my mouth, before I grabbed him by both hands around his stinky coat," he says. "And the crowd started cheering for me to smash him, like we were in the movie Gladiator."
Growing up in the leafy, affluent Chicago suburb of Glen Ellyn, Davis' predilection for toughness was revealed early. His father, a mild-mannered guy who looked a bit like Buddy Holly, had given the 6-year-old Davis boxing gloves. Dad got down on his knees to give an impromptu lesson.
"Right as he gave a look, like, 'Are you ready?' I roped him," Davis recalls. "I hit him so fucking hard in the face that it rattled him; he just got up and walked away and never brought up the subject again."
Even in the suburbs, Davis says, it was a rougher time. "Everybody there had money, but it came hard. Your grandparents might have been selling apples or pencils in the Depression. They didn't have time for fucking pussies. It was Irish, it was, 'You're gonna settle this man-to-man, fist-to-fist.' " Still, he acknowledges the majority of his Glen Ellyn peers became suburban professionals, while he's an undeniable black sheep.
His first momentous fight as an adult came when he was 19 and living with his girlfriend's parents, after his own had thrown him out. He was studying boxing and working at a Chicago car wash, where his co-workers had surreptitiously set him up -- he later found out -- to fight a hulking, 6-foot-8-inch guy who also worked there.
"I was terrified," Davis recounts. "I didn't want to fight this guy." But he did: "I was probably hitting a punching bag, like, 1,000 times a day then, and I hit this big dork maybe 12, 15 times square in the face, as hard as I could. The guy couldn't come back to work for a week."
But the writing life always held as much fascination for Davis as fighting. After dropping out of Chicago's Columbia College at age 20, he moved to Laguna Beach, scoring authorship of a cover story for O.C. Weekly and contributing to Details. Davis' Laguna Beach years were salty, hard-partying and self-destructive, and his move up to L.A. brought more of the same. A screenplay he wrote was optioned in 1999 for $10,000, enabling his move from a fleabag hotel in Hollywood to Venice, where he continued to find opportunities for random fisticuffs. (He's now essentially between places, crashing at the lower Baldwin Hills-adjacent apartment of an out-of-town friend.)
Instead of a sadist, Davis considers himself an avenger of bullies, a defender of the downtrodden. "One of my most righteous fights was with a guy who'd been terrorizing the homeless in my area of Venice. He was on the 'scumbag miracle diet' -- Cheez Whiz, Fluffernutter, minidonuts -- but he still thought he could take me."
The low point of Davis' fighting life involved a confrontation on the Venice boardwalk with a roommate's hostile boyfriend. The guy, a full-fledged gang member, stabbed Davis with a large kitchen knife. Davis' survival and subsequent near-perfect recovery were a miracle.
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Today, while Davis has not categorically sworn off fighting, he is living a generally more peaceful life, uplifted by authorship and the work of converting Fighteytown into a one-man show under the direction of TV action star Mark Valley, one of the book's fans. He gets around L.A. without owning a car, does carpentry and woodworking projects for money, and still enjoys his independent bachelor life and the bars, drinks and random women it entails.
As for fighting, while he realizes a lot of it stems from misery, he can't deny the upside.
"There's nothing more beautiful to me than that tide change," he says. "The beauty of watching the bully turn into the victim."