I still remember my first fight. Though raised in a God-fearing home that took the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth seriously, my folks were convinced of the “two cheeks” rule. That is, after having been smitten on the one, the Christian may oblige an assailant to double up on the second, but after that it’s our turn to commence smiting hip and thigh.
I couldn’t have been more than 10 when I entered into my first bout of fisticuffs. A friend and I had hitched a ride with his older brother to a Friday night football game. Our hometown team was playing their biggest rival, the team from the next town over. Such games are high energy affairs in small towns where there is little else to do besides shoot up stop signs or play well-orchestrated games of “ring and run.”
Joseph, my best friend, said that we should sit with the seniors over by the band because “that’s where all the action is,” and this proved prophetic. There are all kinds of people who go to local football games. There are the parents and students of course, but then there are the old men with championship rings who come back every Friday in the Fall to relive their glory days, local politicians who feel they need to be seen showing civic pride, and more than a few wild-eyed fellas who are just the sort that never surprise you when they decide to take off their shirts or start pissing in their igloo coolers. It was largely amongst that latter that we found a spot on the cold metal bleachers.
Sometime during the third quarter, one of the barbacked gentlemen made some passing remark to one of the men wearing rival colors. I don’t know exactly what he said, but I do remember hearing something about “retards” and “tiddies.” Now, I am not sure if it was because of the anatomical remark or the fact that the other team was down by three touchdowns, but the guy supporting the other side decided to take offense.
The next thing we knew, the two men were on their feet right there on the third row pushing and cussing each other. Then, a loud large woman, presumably she of the “tiddies”, started slapping the mouthy man all around the neck and ears. She proceeded in her attempt to concuss the hometown fan, he defended himself with a full bottle of Grape Nehi. After a few minutes, they have stumbled or tumbled down the stairs and into that coliseum beneath the bleachers where all true brawls are meant to take place.
Since we were winning the game handily, and since this was more entertaining anyway, Broseph and I followed the action down to ground level. That’s when we discovered that the fighters had kids. Big ones. And they weren’t keen on the idea of us taking pleasure at their parents’ misfortune.
Soon, Joseph and I were standing back to back staring down three well-fed teenagers. The parents were still going at it. And the older boys were yelling and describing the various ways in which they were going to inflict bodily injury upon us. I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, but I did know that the Sermon on the Mount wasn’t going to figure into it much.
This was going to be my first real fight. (I don’t count the time I knocked Jessie Newman backwards from his chair in kindergarten because he tried to steal my bag of Doritos). So in flights of mental fury, I was trying to dredge up every available resource I could recall. That’s when I learned that Mr. Miyagi’s crane technique was all high-flying nonsense. When I kicked, this big ugly kid grabbed my leg like it was a lever and slammed me down hard on my butt. Joseph was having a little more luck with moves he’d gleaned from Mike Tyson’s Punchout. I decided against Sir Roger Moore’s judo chop and went instead with the Monday Night Raw approach.
I screamed blue murder and lept through the air on top of Big Ugly, knocking him to the ground. Then I punched him in the face a few good times, scraping my tender knuckles across his teeth until I wasn’t sure exactly whose blood was on me. He managed to land a blow to my nose. But my own blood proved to be an ally since it landed on his face and allowed me another lick or two atop his noggin before I rolled off.
By this time, Joseph isn’t having to do much fighting against the other two kids because he has opted for the Hulk tactic. He’s running around like a crazed animal and slobbering all over the front of his shirt. It was impressive. Those boys were too psyched out to even fool with him.
Next thing we know, the parents are grabbing their kinds by the shirt collars and dragging them towards their cars. I suppose they had settled their differences while we were otherwise engaged. But I remember with some measure of satisfaction hearing Big Ugly’s father say to him as he jerked him away from us, “I can’t believe you let that boy whip you. He ain’t even half your size.”
Now, I don’t think that young men ought to go around looking for fights. But fights will find you. And as my granddaddy taught me, when all that cheek-turning is done, you’d better be ready to leave your mark. Because if you don’t leave your mark, you will become one.