Outside of the In-Crowd – “Be nice”: Everything I need to know about life, I learned from Patrick Swayze

Courtney Enlow

“If somebody gets in your face and calls you a cocksucker, I want you to be nice. Ask him to walk. Be nice. If he won’t walk, walk him. But be nice. If you can’t walk him, one of the others will help you, and you’ll both be nice. I want you to remember that it’s a job. It’s nothing personal.”

– Patrick Swayze as “Dalton” in Road House

I love Patrick Swayze. And I say this without the slightest hint of irony or exaggeration. I love this man with all my heart. And when the news broke last week that he’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I was deeply saddened. Like when you see your dad cry for the first time, finding out that The Swayz is not some kind of superhero was difficult.

He’s an easy target because of some of his films, so say what you will, but he’s one of the only actors of the last thirty years who made the tough-yet-sensitive role feel genuine. In all his movies, his toughness has never felt like a character, and his sweetness and gentle manner has never felt affected. It was just him being him. And that is what makes this news so painful to so many.

(He was also the first naked man-ass I ever saw in a movie. Thanks Road House.)

Your Loyal Writer took this chance to revisit her favorite Swayze films, drink a glass or two of wine (subsequent edit: a bottle and a half), and think of all she’s learned from this great man.

10. “Pain don’t hurt.”

Thus spake the zen of Swayze. Even while defending the Double Deuce from corrupt villains, drunken rapey idiots and fat guys who will later be near-crushed by stuffed polar bears, Dalton always had time to drop pearls of philosophical genius. The Tao of The Swayz is strong. Seriously, when you think about it, what if pain didn’t hurt? Go with me on this. This statement is about mind over matter. Maybe he is just trying to impress his blandly hot doctor, but that statement really means something. It’s deep. And hardcore. Swayze’s so core.

9. Not to get indelicate, but The Swayz knows how to love a woman.

Have you ever seen an actor get so intense in a love scene? His eyes are pressed shut as hard as they can be every time. Kelly Lynch, Jennifer Grey, Demi, these are three lucky bitches right here. He teases a bit with his lips at first, then goes in for the kill. He’s every Harlequin novel my mom used to hide embodied. And then there’s his firm muscular body. He actually makes me want to use the term “supple” and believe me, I rarely ever want to use the term “supple.” With each scene of intense Motown-soundtracked lovemaking, a new generation of girls became women, all of whom desired to be gently thrown into the fits of ecstasy of which Patrick Swayze seemed so effortlessly capable. * drifts off, staring into space for a moment, shiver * Anyway. Sorry. Whew. *fans self*

8. “This was never about the money, this was about us against the system. That system that kills the human spirit. We stand for something. We are here to show those guys that are inching their way on the freeways in their metal coffins that the human spirit is still alive.”

Fuck the man. That’s what Bodhi is trying to tell us here. Life’s an adventure, who cares if you’re being tailed by the FBI? Life’s too short and sweet to spend it falling in line. And while we shouldn’t necessarily spend it jumping out of planes or surfing 60 foot waves or, ya know, robbing banks, Bodhi was right. We shouldn’t just follow the rules for the sake of following the rules. Go your own way, before it’s too late. Because, as he also taught us, “life’s got a sick sense of humor.” And it can take us at any time. Which reminds me …

7. Let them know you love them.

I’ll let the man explain this one himself – a quote from Patrick Swayze as interviewed the Ghost DVD special features: “Ghost brought up a bunch of things for me, just in terms of confronting issues about death, and ‘is there an afterlife.’ It just made me re-look at my relationship, and make me re-fall in love with my wife, you know, before it’s too late. ‘Cause so many times we just don’t realize how deep our love goes until it’s too late.” While this message is most prevalent in Ghost, it’s really present in many of Swayze’s films. Anything can happen at any time. So do what you love for yourself, but more importantly, for those who you love even more than yourself.

6. God wouldn’t have given you maracas if he didn’t want you to shake ‘eeeeeemmmmmmmmm!

Okay, not Swayze, but a Swayze movie and still very important. Words to live by. P.S., speaking of Penny in Dirty Dancing, that might be the film that made me pro-choice. I mean the whole abortion subplot totally went over my head when I was younger (I have no idea what nine-year-old me thought was wrong with her, but I vaguely remember thinking she was miscarrying for the entire first half of the movie. I wasn’t quite sure just yet how that all worked.), but subconsciously I think that movie made me the bleeding heart I am today, totally shaping who I am as an adult.

5. You can be a macho ass-kicker AND a classically trained dancer.

Seriously, try to show me anything more masculine than Swayze, even in Dirty Dancing. Especially in Dirty Dancing. Textbook machismo. He runs into the staff quarters after ballroom dancing in front of elderly rich people to the applause of his peers, swigs a beer, then keeps on dancing, singlehandedly igniting the libido of at least one immaturely nicknamed pre-collegiate, and most probably that of Your Writer as well. Here’s the thing. Anyone who knows me knows I have this weird pseudo-phobia about guys who can dance well. It’s weird I know. To me, a guy who dances well is usually creepy (no offence, Baryshnikov). But not Swayze. He is genuinely the most masculine dancer I’ve ever seen, and it’s sexy. And if you know me, you know I also have a pseudo-phobia about the word “sexy.” But it’s the only word to describe him in that movie and it’s the only time you’ll ever even see me consider saying it. That’s saying something. P.S., for some reason, I never noticed until this present viewing that during the famous finale dance scene, just before the music picks up, he kisses her on the nose. That’s fucking precious.

4. “If you want the ultimate, you’ve got to be willing to pay the ultimate price. It’s not tragic to die doing what you love.”

I’m not talking death by surfing here really. This is about sacrificing to get what you want. If you really want it, you will do whatever it takes to get it, otherwise you don’t deserve it. What else do I need to say?

3. “You just put your pickle on everyone’s plate, College Boy, and leave the hard stuff to me.”

Street smarts win over Yale medical school and generic good looks every time. Peace Corps-bound Baby knew it. And so did the rest of us. And lest we forget, it was the lesser educated Johnny Castle who respected women so much that he was often used by them, and the hyper-educated rich asshole douchebags (before we even had the term) Robbie Gould and Neil Kellerman who treated women like shit. Johnny won in the end, and every girl watching knew what kind of man she wanted.

2. Anything for love, and love will concur all.

Not entirely unlike number four, but even more necessary. Death, socio-economic backgrounds, having to use Whoopi Goldberg as a host body in order to touch your lady, Det. Lenny Briscoe as a disapproving father, anything. If you love someone and they love you, you will overcome it. And if shit goes sour, never be sorry. Stand up for love. If you fight for nothing else, fight for this.

1. “Be nice … be nice until it’s time to not be nice.”

And thus brings us back to the start of this column. I’m almost shocked at how much I’ve learned from Road House (not the least of which being just how much Sam Elliot looks like Michael McDonald). Dalton was the nicest man ever to rip out another man’s throat before our very eyes. To “be nice” was his mantra, his Number One rule, and mine too. This rule is why to this day, I’m nice to everyone. I’m nice to every racist homophobe asshat former fratboy I meet, I’m nice to every slut who flirts with my boyfriend, I’m nice to everyone (Note: One only need be nice to another person’s face. Behind the back doesn’t count. True story.)

Swayze knew he had the ability in his hands to kill another human being (and did so. A couple of times.) But more often than not, he chose kindness. This is the truth of all humanity. Let’s face it. We could all, any one of us, really hurt another person if we wanted to. Rage, hate, anger, this lives inside all of us. But the want and the need to be nice trumps all of this. I’m just saying if we all thought a little more like Dalton, this world would be a happier place. Just like the Deuce when it got its nifty cursive neon sign.

I’ve preached many messages in this column. And you may take your pick of the one or 10 with which you shape your life. But my number one message, the one that wins all, is this: Fuck cancer. Fuck it hard. For all of us who have lost someone, who have watched someone we love go through it, who fear it every day, fuck cancer. In Road House, Dalton said no one ever wins a fight. But I call bullshit. Kick cancer’s ass, Swayze. Win this fight. Wolverines.

Courtney Enlow is a writer living in Chicago and working as a corporate shill to pay the bills. You can contact her at courtney@hobotrashcan.com.

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