Something's always happening in Venice.
They battle over jet noise, street vendors, boardwalk activists, topless sunbathing, skateboarding, wild bicycling, littering and ugly tattoos.
Peace activists come to blows over how best to protect the world from violence. Skinny professors of Chaucerian literature challenge muscle-bound dolts who kick sand on them, just like in old Charles Atlas ads.
But the latest incident tops them all. People who live along the boardwalk, angered by the presence of young toughs, have developed a new method of dealing with their annoyances. What they don't like, they smash.
This has to do with a group of residents who one night took sledgehammers to four concrete picnic tables along the beach and beat them, not into plowshares, but into dust.
No wild-eyed survivalists in camouflaged uniforms mounted the attack. From what I hear, old ladies smashed tables alongside CPAs in designer running suits. Children clapped. Bystanders cheered.
An anonymous participant explained later that the tables were destroyed because they were the meeting place of kids who fought and raised hell at night, keeping everyone awake.
Makes sense to me. Didn't the Romans finally win the Punic wars by sneaking into Carthage after dark and wrecking \o7 their \f7 picnic tables? Rome ruled the world for about another 300 years after that.
If, however, smashing tables doesn't scatter the Venice toughs, the next step might be to form a posse, hunt 'em down, find an oak tree and hang them.
What we have here, you see, is vigilantism, and there are many who feel it isn't such a bad idea. They're like the people who cheered Bernard Goetz a few years back for shooting four kids who hassled him in a New York subway.
Goetz became an instant folk hero and was probably, in part, the basis for a movie called "Falling Down," in which Michael Douglas beat, smashed and shot his way through L.A. in the name of civic serenity and human decency.
My first reaction to the Venice incident was outrage. Vigilantism is a violent and lawless way of dealing with one's problems, and those who participate should be held to answer.
Others in my small group of friends agreed. Taking the law into one's hands is not the hallmark of an orderly society. If there is to be violence and cruelty, it should be left up to those appointed to carry it out. Is this America or what?
But then I began hearing from people in the bleachers. They left messages on my answering machine that amounted to lusty cheers. I could see them rising in sequence, doing the wave for those with the sledgehammers, and leaving in contentment when the score flashed on the screen: Vigilantes 1, Young Toughs 0.
I got the feeling as I listened to the messages and talked to people on the beach later that it was indeed a kind of game to them. They were fans of a new sport played without rules that pitted good guys against bad guys, and, by God, they'd won.
But what they don't realize is this: The game isn't over yet.
A rematch is in the air. Already some of the toughs are swarming through an apartment building on the boardwalk, pounding on doors and demanding to face the, well, team members who pulverized their tables.
The kids who fight and yell and deal dope and sometimes kill each other are outraged at the violence committed by the vigilantes. They demand redress, and, I'm told, are getting ready for the next encounter.
That's bad news. If the vigilantes are to keep the lead in the game they've created, they'll just have to do a little more smashing. A few picnic tables pounded into sand won't put 'em in the record books.
The kind of preemptive strike we used to talk about during the Cold War is called for here. Don't wait for trouble this time. Hit first.
Make it big. Find out where the toughs live. Then smash up their sofas, their television sets, their dining room tables, their lamps, their women, their babies and their dogs.
If that doesn't teach the hoodlums a lesson they'll never forget, the way Dallas taught Buffalo in the last two Super Bowls, then rent a bulldozer and turn their houses into kindling.
What's that you say? The toughs are still out there, still forming, still yelling, still spoiling for a fight? Not to worry. The vigilantes will be ready too. A game played like this just goes on and on.
There's only one salvation. It's also bound to get bloodier. And someday even those who cheer in the bleachers may discover that violent delights meet violent ends. Then maybe it won't seem like such fun after all.