This week, Defector has chosen to curate a collection of writing inspired by two entities that have had an indelible effect on North America: the upper house of the United States Congress and Eugene Melnyk’s pro hockey team. This is Senators Week.
Surely you have at one point considered the following thought experiment: If you could travel back in time in order to be present at one particular event from history, where would you go? You could go back a few hundred million years to watch the first prehistoric fish crawl out of the ocean and begin colonizing the earth; you could watch Ali knock out Foreman in Zaire; you could watch Julius Caesar get stabbed a bunch. Me? I’m taking that time machine to Bowling Green, Kentucky, on the afternoon of Nov. 3, 2017.
I have chosen that date in history because I want to see, more than anything, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul get absolutely laid out by his teeny tiny neighbor and break six ribs. If you are anything like me, this is a moment in history that has dominated your thoughts on a semi-regular basis ever since it happened, and you are tormented by the fact that you didn’t get to see it.
Not long after the incident, GQ published a fairly definitive rundown of the particulars: While Rand Paul was finishing up mowing his lawn, his neighbor, a retired anesthesiologist named Rene Boucher, tackled him from behind. The tackle was delivered with enough force that it left Paul with six broken ribs and an accumulation of blood in his chest. There isn’t an agreed-upon reason why Boucher did this, but people from the neighborhood who spoke to GQ chalked it up to the culmination of a long-simmering and petty feud between the two men, who one neighbor described as “two little shits.”
There are two specific details from that GQ story that I have long held onto. The first is the fact that Boucher, who was 59 years old at the time of the spearing, is estimated to be about 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds. The second is this description of how the hit might have gone down:
According to The New York Times, [Paul] had just stepped off of his riding lawnmower when Boucher tackled him from behind. The senator apparently never heard Boucher coming because he was wearing “sound-muting earmuffs.” Describing the alleged attack, Paul’s spokesman, Sergio Gor, said his boss was “blindsided.”GQ
Jim Skaggs, who lives nearby (and is also one of the developers of the Rivergreen community), said that he thinks that Boucher charged at Paul from the street. From that direction, Paul’s yard slopes steeply downward, toward the lake at the rear of his property. Barreling downward about 30 degrees, this imagined path would increase the force of a running tackle, perhaps explaining how a man of Boucher’s diminutive stature—an acquaintance of the two men estimates that they both stand five-foot-six and weigh about 140 pounds—could do so much damage.
God, can you imagine being witness to that scene? There’s Rand Paul, hopping off his big-boy riding mower with his stupid little ear muffs, oblivious to the world around him. And then here comes Boucher, just charging down the hill, his short little legs eating up ground at a startlingly fast rate as his muscles let gravity do most of the hard, propulsive work. And then there’s the moment of impact—I imagine it happening right as Paul began to turn toward Boucher—in which Boucher surely delivered a crisp, violent form tackle, his shoulder nailing Paul right in the center of the rib cage. Imagine the sound that must have made! Imagine the feeble gasp of air that escaped Paul’s lungs mingling with the thud of his body hitting the grass. That I wasn’t there to see this happen is a travesty of historic proportions.
I’ve thought a lot about why I remain so fixated on wishing I could have witnessed this moment in history. Sure, yes, there is the satisfaction that would come with seeing an awful piece of crap like Rand Paul suffer physical harm, but if I’m being honest with myself, ideology doesn’t factor too heavily into my obsession. What’s really at play here is my desire to witness sublime moments of violence.
Like everyone else, I understand that it’s no longer appropriate to glorify the sort of brain damage-inducing tackles that were once packaged into shiny highlight reels on ESPN. And yet I still find myself occasionally seeking out a clip of Sheldon Brown running through Reggie Bush like a paper bag. The fact is that there are few sights as thrilling to me as a perfect, violent tackle, and what haunts me about what Boucher did to Paul is the possibility that he executed the greatest tackle in human history. That’s not hyperbole! The aforementioned GQ article cites a surgeon who described Paul’s injuries as those that would be consistent with falling down a flight of stairs, being in a car accident, or getting kicked by a horse. And yet none of those things happened to him. He was simply on the receiving end of a tackle from a very small, old man, who somehow authored an impossibly efficient and damaging act of violence. How could I be anything but crestfallen at not having been there to witness it?
If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that my absence from the scene where the Great Tackle occurred has allowed my imagination to fill in the blanks however I see fit. Sometimes I imagine Boucher, prior to the tackle, bursting out of his own front door and doing Brian Dawkins’s pregame routine. Then I’ll imagine Paul’s noise-cancelling headphones flying 30 feet through the air at the moment of impact and landing in a dumpster. If my mind palace is really going places, the whole scene ends with Boucher getting up and doing Shawne Merriman’s “lights out” dance. But who am I kidding? Even those fantasy scenarios probably don’t live up to the real thing.