Troubling me lately: What is a punchable face? Besides being male, is there a certain, say, depression of the cheeks or pitch of the chin or height of the forehead that invites punching or denotes punchability? Is there a determined-at-birth facial expression that transcends facial features and that presents as an attitude toward the world that requires punching? If so, is this an expression that the person is stuck with, no matter his character, worthiness, or worldview? Or is a punchable face truly an expression of an inherently punchable turn of mind?

Punchable Does As Punchable Is: Jay Cutler

If a punchable face truly expresses a punchable character, well, OK, all seems just and symmetrical in the world. For example, former professional American football player Jay Cutler has one of the world’s preeminently punchable faces. This is not my conclusion alone, but the consensus of observers nationwide. And his demeanor suggests that his face’s punchability is, in fact, an outgrowth of his outlook on the world.

For a year or two, although I knew little about sports and cared less, I listened obsessively to local sports talk radio as I drove to and from work. At that time, I lived in the Chicago area, and Jay Cutler was quarterback for the intermittently promising and pathetic Bears team. Interspersed with the phenomenally rapid male barking of white male opinions coming through the radio, blasting away any other thoughts I could have (that was the idea), I heard numerous interview clips with Cutler. His monosyllabic, and usually belittling, responses indicated a breathtaking lack of consideration for the feelings of interviewer or audience. So, fine, he was a punchable guy with a punchable face. Until such a punch actually lands, we will all be in a mild state of suspense, like waiting for the final chord that resolves a symphony.

Making the Best of Punchability: Rupert Graves

However, if a punchable face is just a fluke of genetics producing a common inference of punchability with no causality—like seeing Jesus in a piece of toast—then I have a harder time reconciling my emotions to the effects wrought by the world. How, exactly, does a nice person, a kind person, a humble person who is cursed with a punchable face go through life? How does a punchable face have a career as, say, human rights trial attorney? Surely a person with such a face would be damned from the get-go: What client would be drawn to him for succor and strategy? What jury would warm to his description of his client’s plight?

Consider the case of British actor Rupert Graves. Handsome as a model and punchable as hell, Graves has played a succession of cads or, at best, schlemiels, on some terrific and successful television programs. For the sake of argument, I will assume that Graves is a top-notch fellow. And he has been able to make the vice of punchability into a virtue as an actor. Still, his career is constrained by his face (I know, I know, we should all have such problems).

And what about his personal life? I do not know if Graves has a romantic partner, but assuming he does, would that partner not, when Graves comes home in the evening, think, “What has that guy been up to?” And when, in the morning, seeing Graves, sleepy-eyed, scanning the refrigerator for jam, could his partner help but think, “What a dope”? Or when sitting on the couch together on an evening, sharing deeply held emotions to Graves, would not his partner glance at Graves’ face and think,, “That asshole is only pretending to listen”? I mean, what kind of relationship can withstand that? And what did Graves do to deserve it, except be born with a punchable, albeit handsome, face?

A Reflective Coda

On the first day at a new high school, I was approached by an athletic-looking guy who told me he was going to punch me in the face. We later discovered that he had mistaken me for another kid, someone I knew and whom I superficially resembled, and who had a highly punchable face and character. Yet I wonder. Why did the boy who threatened to punch me not recognize that, despite my having a punchable doppelganger, my own face was not punchable? And what is the significance of his not making that distinction? And what does that say about me and about how I have fared as I have made my way in the world?

Robert Fromberg has published prose in Hobart, Drunk Monkeys (forthcoming), Indiana Review, and many other journals. His book is Blue Skies (Floating Island). He taught writing for 17 years at Northwestern University.

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