The last few days have been exciting. It is nice to have some excitement in the humdrum life of a midwestern teenager otherwise known as me.
The good news is I made a new friend. He is not the kind of guy one would expect someone like me to pal around with. I'll get to him later on.
This week was the start of sophomore year at Jefferson felt better this year than last year. I'm still not as cool as a junior or senior but I'm not as uncool as a Freshman.
The first day of school is usually lame. The come down from summer vacation takes at least a week to wear off. Although it is not like my summer vacation was super exciting, working at Dad's Hardware store during the day and hanging out eight Potsie at night. It was still better than school.
This year we could not wait to get the day over with because it meant we could go to Arnolds for the first time. Sophomore year is typically the year when a person is considered old enough and cool enough to hang out at Arnolds after school.
You don't understand Arnold's is something every kid looks forward to as soon as they are old enough to figure out what is going on. It is even worse if you have an older brother that rubs in getting to go before you.
Potsie and I had been talking about this in anticipation for weeks. I was actually ALMOST looking forward to the first day of school because of it..
During the last period homeroom, Ms. Pratt WOULD NOT shut up. She was giving what she thought was an inspirational speech about a new year and new beginnings. I was not inspired. All I was thinking was "Shut your beak lady!"
FINALLY we were free from school. We rushed over in great anticipation. Strangely I felt a little nervous when we got there. What if I really wasn't cool enough to belong there? Potsie admonished me for overthinking things. He has known me since we were five. Yes, I have been overthinking things my ENTIRE life.
I got over my anxiety and we sauntered in there like we were the ginchiest guys in Milwaukee. It was worth the wait. There was a huge jukebox with a booming sound. The dance floor was packed with stacked girls moving and swaying to the music. It was a bit overwhelming seeing that many pretty girls in one place.
We made our way to a booth. It was trying to navigate the dance floor. We wanted to stop and stare at all or most of the girls. However, it only took a minute to realize it was either that or getting trampled. That would be a hard injury to explain the next day.
Things were about to get worse. I should have known it was too good to be true. A tough looking biker surrounded by his tough looking flunkies approached our booth. It turns out he was the leader of one of the toughest gangs around the Falcons. Naturally, he was approaching our table. My brilliant response was blurting out "Hi." in the tone of an over excited twelve year old. He looked back at me with a statue like face. OK.
My ever so loyal and trusty best friend just sat there frozen. Big help! I kept babbling and the lead Falcon kept staring at me. FINALLY one of them told us we could not sit there.
Now I look like a nice guy. Fortunately or unfortunately I AM a nice guy. However, when I know deep down that something is wrong, it lights a fire in me. I'm not afraid to stand up for what I believe in. I knew I could not live with myself If I let some low life gang members tell me where to sit. I have been looking forward to this day my whole life. These hoods were not gonna ruin it for me.
Apparently this booth is Falcon turf. Now that really inginited the flames within. They have no right to just decide public property belongs to them. I boldly said, "It's not turf! It's a booth!" I did not see any sign to indicate the booth was "reserved."
The leader's sidekick pointed out it was scratched into the wood. After squinting, I read the engraving, "This is Falcons turf." Oh, I was going down fast. I still was not gonna to give in though.
I refused to move and they said they were gonna punch us out. I declared that there is no way I was fighting over a booth. Potsie wanted to cancel our order and make tracks. I decided my rump was gonna stay planted in that booth. I knew that Potsie would not have the guts to leave without me. I told them with conviction that this whole situation was full of malarkey.
They asked me who my warlord was. I did not know what a warlord was but I knew it was not good. They explained that a warlord is someone who makes the arrangement for a flight but does not do the fighting. Ah!
So Potsie says, "I'll be his warlord." Some best friend! After several rounds of negotiation, they finally offered me Saturday at 10:00pm. My warlord had the courtesy to say, "Is that Ok with you Rich?" I guess he was taking his new appointment seriously.
Finally they left. Not only did he volunteer to be my warlord he was proud of it. He blurted out with Pride, "Hey! My first day at Arnolds and I'm a warlord." The only response that came to mind was "Sit on it Potsie!"
I have to say throughout this LONG week, I played mental ping pong. Do I show up and get creamed or do I not show up and give up the right to sit where I want at my new favorite hang out?
I decided to ask Dad's opinion. I pulled the famous teenage ploy "I know this guy…" I wonder if parents know we are talking about ourselves? If he does he never lets on. I told him the whole story about how the REALLY great guy that was told to give up his booth.
I respect his opinion. So my fear of pain and broken bones made me hope he would say it is not worth getting creamed. Of course he did not. He said that it was not right and if the nice guy believed it was wrong he NEEDED to fight for it Like son like father. This was getting scary.
I knew what I had to do. I could not have Dad and everyone else thinking I am a coward. I hoped my warlord would find the time to visit me in the hospital and bring me my homework.
Since I'm writing this, my arms were not broken. The "fight" did not turn out the way I thought it would have. I guess you could say the fight never happened at all.
I showed up at a little before 10:00pm. I was getting too antsy at home thinking of bruises, broken bones and contusions.
I was being brave but that did not mean I was not scared. I was so scared my legs were like noodles. Some stupid alley cat screeched and I went flying forward into a pile of garbage cans making a huge commotion. I thought I might actually get injured on my own before the fight. Oh I was in trouble.
I heard someone coming. However it was NOT the leader. It was my ever so diligent warlord. He came because he felt badly about arranging for me to get beat up. Despite my fear, it made me feel good that he was the loyal friend I knew.
Something about it did not feel right to me. Would it be a real fight if we ganged up on him two against one? Winning with an unfair advantage almost felt like cheating to me. We would be stooping to the level of The Falcons. I had to do this alone. I explained this to Pots.
I thought for a minute he would at least TRY and convince me to let him stay. Not Pots! His famous last words were, "OK see ya." as he made tracks and ran away faster than a windmill in a tornado.
At that point it was 10:00 pm. I figured maybe this guy was all talk and no action. After a split second he walked in and I knew I was dead meat. He seemed surprised when I showed up. It was not a good sign to me that most people were too chicken to show up.I wondered if I could call ahead now and just reserve my room at the hospital for later tonight
Was I crazy? Was a booth worth fighting over? I think it was. At that moment, I realized that a bruise would heal but not fighting for what is right I would always regret. Otherwise I would spend the rest of the year feeling like a stinky rat sitting in an inferior booth.
My fear took over the part of my brain that controls rational speech. It was like I was standing above watching myself and saying to myself, "I can't believe you just said that you dunderhead." The worst part was my mouth was not listening to me.
When he first saw me he said, "You showed?" I got extremely defensive and said, "Of course I showed! Why wouldn't I show. I'm prompt." Even writing it now is causing me to put my hand to my head in embarrassment. I might as well replace the J with an N on my letter sweater for NERD!
It got worse. When he mentioned that his last three fights did not show I with the authority of an old school teacher. "Well that would be rude." I might as well have turned to him and said, "Excuse me sir. May I ask you a favor? Please clobber me." Another chill going up my spine now.
What this guy was saying made so little sense that my outrage overtook my fear. I was fighting for what I believe is right but these knuckleheads beat people just for the sake of fighting. I asked the nature of his last three fights. I'm curious by nature.
Did you know that he took on a whole gang because someone bumped into "Monk" on a bus. Someone else looked at "leftys" girl. Another person got clobbered for reading a comic book. I was about to get beat up for sitting at a table.
What disturbed/disturbs me the most is that these people honestly believe that what they do is ok. This guy actually called them "good reasons."
He asked me if I have ever had a street fight before. Well, I don't think chasing some kid away in the third grade because he was being mean to Potsie qualifies as street fight. By the way, the kid out ran me and got away. I never got close enough to touch him.
I hate to admit this but I've never hit anyone except my older brother ONCE. He made me regret it. Hitting siblings does not count as long as the parents backs are turned.
I don't even know how this next move occurred to me. It happened in the mad adrenaline rush. Earlier he told me to show up without weapons because he does not need them. This sounds crazy but I held my hand in my pocket and pretended I had a gun. I was not sure if it would work or not. I was hoping to scare him and make a move when he was off guard. Either that or scare him into realizing that a fight over bumping, looking reading or sitting was not worth his life.
It worked. He was scared until I took my hand out of my pocket and made the sound of a gun. He said he knew I was kidding but I don't think that is true. himIt helps my ego to think I outmaneuvered him. He seemed defensive.
I pointed out to him that I was kidding THIS TIME. However, next time it could be someone with a real gun instead of some prompt kid with a quick finger. What happened next time when the police found him dead in an alley because somebody bumped Monk or looked at Lefty's girl?
I asked why he needed to be in a gang anyway. His response was, "Because I'm cool." I agree that HE is cool. I told him that all those people are cool because of him. He did not need those turkeys. I really believed what I was saying. He IS cool and those knuckleheads are cool because of him.
I was tired of talking. The anticipation of weather not I was going to the hospital or not was getting to me. At that moment, the anticipatory thoughts were worse than getting injured, recovering and getting on with my life. I took on a fighting stance and shuffled around telling him that I might not look tough but I'm scrappy. I had a feeling I was going to be the next scrappy guy on Milwaukee's disabled list.
The night took an interesting turn. He bumped my chin with his fist but in a slow way. Was he messing with me before a major blow or was he actually being friendly? He looked at me with respect and said, "Hey kid you got a lot of guts! I like that!" It was official. I was NOT going to be in a full body cast.
He offered to drive me home. By the way, "He" does have a name. He said I can call him the Fonz. I told him he can call me Richie. He said, "whoa." and made a face like he had just eaten a sour vegetable. Yes, I KNOW I have a very nerdy sounding name.
As The Fonz and I were about to leave. I noticed he forgot his Falcons jacket. I pointed that out and he left it on purpose. He is thinking of leaving the Falcons. I tried to take credit and he said, "Hey, I make my own decisions. I've been thinking about leaving for a while. Now just happens to be the right time." He gave me a look that dared me to challenge him. I conceded. However, I STILL think I was responsible for him deciding to leave the Falcons. I am not dumb enough to ever correct that fact though.
Before this happened I felt like just an average kid starting my sophomore year. Now, I'm starting the year with a super cool biker friend. I've got it made in the shade.