Friday, March 13, 2009

The Playground

Sparrow, Buzzy and I trudged across the Daley School playground. The space was a three acre patch of grass, dirt, and broken playground equipment liberally salted with glass bottles dashed to the ground by drunk teenagers in the dark nights after everyone else was asleep. We were technically teenagers too. But so new at it, all we could do was listen in awe of the wonders to come through the lies and exaggerations of the real teenagers who were already there. And though we thought we were, we were not tough yet. And we were not smart enough yet to be scared. Life at this point was new perspectives emerging out of odd desires and troubling images we could not quite yet get our minds around. We were well into making that transition from child to troublemaker.

Usual conversations passed between us as we strolled through our neighborhood school yard. Our feet moved in no special direction but never really stopped. It was as if our feet knew where they were going but had all the time in the world to get there. And we were happy to just go where ever they headed. Our only deadline, be home by dark.

The three of us were more intent on just sharing each others company than plotting evil deeds or chasing some great mystery. We might have talked of who had the last fight at the Bridge. Or the latest news any of us had on the trivial scandals in school. And all the while just wandering, putting worn sneakered feet down one in front of the other in that shoe scuffing irritating habit teenage boys use to wind up their parents.

Our aimless trek passed across the broken pavement of the basketball court. It had long been useless as a place for jump shots and lay ups. The backboards still stood, but the rims had been lost before our time. Over near Ashely Street an old man, a younger man, and a dog were passing through in the opposite direction. Sparrow stopped at one of the backboards. He was in the middle of a great tale of a baby sitting job his older sister had let get out of control. He began to swing around the pole in the ground holding up the wasted backboard. It began to shake and shimmy at it's cracked concrete base.

I turned to leave. Sparrow had finished his tale and well, we may not have had anywhere to go, but I just wanted to keep the feet moving. Behind I heard Sparrow yell, "What the Fuck man!" I turned and saw Buzzy on the ground with the younger man who had been passing by kicking him in the stomach and chest.

"I am tired of you fucking punks vandalizing this playground", he screamed. And whump! His foot caught Buzzy in the face this time snapping it back hard.

I was struck dumb. I remember this clearly. Standing there some twenty feet away from me was the biggest human I had ever seen lunatic mad in my life. The guy looked like the Hulk. Ban Lon shirt overfilled with muscle topped off with the classic bully buzz cut of a Marine Sargent. And in the meantime, the older man stood off in the distance calmly watching with his dog leash drooping to the neck of a dog busy digging in the dirt. Sparrow was still attached to the pole like he was glued there. His eyes looked like mine felt. All bulged out with fear and surprise.

It was surreal.

I began to holler. I began to scream. I let loose with every cuss worded expletive deleted my young mind could come up with. And then I went ape shit. I ran right at the huge jerk and tackled him. He was so big, he didn't go down. But he stopped kicking Buzzy and turned his attentions on me. It was not even a contest. I had no chance with my 120 pounds against someone over 200 pounds and a foot taller. But as I lay on the ground taking my lumps I never gave up. I spit at him. I scratched, I threw futile punches. And I laughed. A maniacal laugh, Buzzy and Sparrow told me later. Said it creeped them right out. But I don't remember much of it. The man beat the living shit out of me.

At some point, the older man with the dog came over and managed to get his son off of me. Again I don't really remember that part, but apparently I took some more thrashing when I began to verbally abuse the father for allowing his grown son to beat on children. Junior gave me a few more lumps and a couple of more kicks to make me shut up. I passed out.

At some point on the way home, I became aware again. The three of us were still shuffling, only now it was as fast as we could to get us home. When I seemed to come out of it, Buzzy and Sparrow stopped. I collected myself and enjoyed the first real rushes of pain through every part of my body. They filled me in on the fight.

Sparrow, who had come through this ordeal unscathed, said, "Man, I thought you were dead. Not just out but really dead. You didn't move for like fifteen minutes."

Buzzy looked at him in disgust and said, "Mike it was more like a minute or two. But you were definitely knocked cold."

"Who was that guy?" I asked. I was still the new kid. I had only been living there for a few months at that point.

Sparrow piped up, "Oh that's Freddy Hewitt. He's a whack job. Someone told me he was put away. Guess he's back. He's Jack Hewitt's older brother. Man, did he kick your ass."

"I guess so", was all I said and I fell silent until we all separated at Buzzy's house.

I didn't make it home before dark. Sporting torn clothes and thrashed face added to the heat I received from my mom. She had become used to seeing boys with black eyes. Raise three sons and I guess that's what happens. Empathy is lost to what it is going to cost to replace that shirt, those pants. My dad hardly even acknowledged me as I went upstairs to clean up. I was just as happy. I was not wanting to suffer the 3rd degree.

About Ten o'clock the door bell rang. I didn't hear it, I was too busy listening to tunes on the mono record player and reading.

"Mike!" Dad was using his military voice. It cut through the music like a knife. I knew something was wrong. I scampered downstairs. It was then my mom really noticed my face when the front hall light hit it. She gasped. I guess a couple of hours of fluids had built up and I was no longer the son she remembered. She just rolled her eyes towards the living room. I still had no clue.

There were so many people in the living room, it was worse than standing room only. My dad looking real disgusted. Two cops looking official. Buzzy and his Dad looking uncomfortable. And Old man Hewitt with that whack job who had kicked my ass earlier standing next to him with his head down. And he was in handcuffs.

My dad started things off. His thirty one years as an Air Force officer kicked in and he assumed command of the situation. "You were in a fight this afternoon. Did you start it? Were you vandalizing?" His eyes bore right through me.

When Dad put on his military hat, I knew it was formal time. Respect the elder time. Tell the truth time. Don't beat around the bush. My ole man could smell bullshit a mile away. He had been through 3 sons also.

"Yes sir I was in a fight with him. I lost. But I was not vandalizing. None of us were."

The one cop looked like he was going to smile. I must have looked like I was going to pee myself. He stepped forward as if on cue.

"Buzzy and Mr Morin have decided to press charges if you go along. They say and another witness at the playground backs them up that you boys did nothing to instigate the altercation. Your father says it is up to you about pressing charges. "Son, are you okay? You look awful. You should maybe head to the hospital. Buzzy says you were knocked unconcious. Is that right?" I nodded.

At that point, Old man Hewitt spoke up. "Freddy really regrets what he did to you and that young man over there. Freddy has some problems and we have been trying to get them worked out. Putting him back in jail I don't think will help."

It was too much. Standing there like I had done something wrong and now this spineless old man is groveling while his loser pyscho son just stands there. I said, "Tell Freddy to apologize. I want to hear him say it."

And Freddy raised his head. Our eyes met. I knew in that instant this man was one dangerously crazed individual. He apologized, but I knew he didn't mean it. Everyone in that room knew he did not mean it. I looked over at my dad hoping for some guidance. Nothing. His face was blank but his eyes were focused on me.

I looked at the floor and mumbled, "Yeah sure. I wasn't going to do anything anyway."

My dad spoke up. "Before I pass on this, I want assurances. Freddy stays away from my son. Look at him for Christ Sakes, he is huge. What the Hell were you thinking sir?" And he got right in Old Man Hewitt's face. "You made no attempt to keep your adult son from possibly killing my 13 year old son. I want your word, not Freddy's that you will control him from now on."

Nothing from Hewitt. Just downcast eyes. I immediately felt sorry for the old man. He had no control of his out of control son. Finally in a quiet voice, "You have my assurances." Freddy looked at his father and glared.

One of the cops moved quickly to separate my father from Hewitt and Freddy. "Okay calm down everyone. Calm down. We are going to leave now. But we have made a report and I will be checking up on Freddy."

Suddenly everyone was gone but me and my parents. The quiet in the room was louder than the previous crowded scene. Dad just sat. Mom puttered with stuff on the coffee table. I sat in the blue overstuff looking at my hands.

"Why didn't you tell us about the fight?"

"Uh, I don't know. Didn't seem important I guess."

"Goddammit Mike!" My father was up off his chair. "That animal could have killed you. What were you thinking? Ever hear of retreat? Dumb ass kids!" And he stomped out.

Mom was still fiddling with this and that on the coffee table. She stopped and looked at me. "You know your father was scared for your safety don't you? When we heard about the beating you took, we were shocked. Why didn't you run?"

I looked up from my hands, "I don't know Mom. Guess I was trying to get him off Buzzy."

Mom looked at me for a moment. She shook her head and sighed, "Let's go upstairs and check out those bruises."

(1929 / 5310)


Randal Graves said...

Fuck, man. I've been in scrapes when I was younger, won some, lost more, but nothing like that.

Some would say that it builds character, but I tend to side of that being bullshit.

BBC said...

That is quite a story, I got in some fights as a teen but avoided them if I could and never got beat that bad.

I pretty much just stuck to myself and a couple of other friends, seemed like the best thing to do in a retarded mining town.

Anyway, it's a good thing he didn't kill you, it's not likely he would have cared.

It's a nice sunny day, I'm putting the camper on the truck and going camping tomorrow.

MRMacrum said...

Randal - That was the first time I was handed an adult beating. The first of more than I care to remember. It may not have built character, but it was a sign of what would come into my life the next 5 or 6 years. I had anger issues.

BBC - I was in my late teens before I began to shy away from a fight. The military school I later went to taught me how to fight for keeps. At age 19 down at Fells Point in Baltimore I hurt someone like Freddy hurt me. And even though I did not start that fight, that's when I quit being so stupid. Some of us have to have the sense beaten into us. I will never say I was a badass. But I sure proved I could be a dumass.

Demeur said...

Ah the rites of passage. Went through similar times until I met and befriended John. He was my mentor. A bear of a guy who taught me judo and karate. He taught me well because I didn't have to fight after that.

BBC said...

Fond memories when things were not so messed up? Hahaha, that's pretty hilarious.

Just to you I guess because I had many great and carefree years until the last eleven.

I had a pretty carefree life, and still do, except in the respect that I haven't found the right mate since moving here.

But I've gotten wise enough to avoid those that want to much so I'm like, you know, pretty much debt free.

And if I want great sex I'll whack off (pretty much everyday), and if I want to talk to a great woman it's only about a 30 foot walk to her place.

MRMacrum said...

Demeur - That little set too was more than a rite of passage. Freddy fractured my cheek bone. My left eye didn't function decently for a month. I ended up with stitches in my elbow. More than a few ribs were cracked and severely bruised. I have never been beaten as I was that late afternoon. But it was worth it. You don't back down from bullies.

BBC - Most of us managed to have great times. I had more than my fair share, that's for sure. But that is not what you were saying I thought. It seemed you were comparing one era in a general way to another. And that is what my response was about.

Chef Cthulhu said...

Man, what a story. Never quite had a beatdown like that, though I gave and got my share.

I was always told to avoid physical violence unless you have no other choice but when you realize you're out of choices, hit first and hit hard. Even that is tough for a kid to sort out...and I gooned it up more than once.

Things are so different now than they were when I was a kid; or maybe they just seem that way. For my son in grade school right now it's "Dude, walk away. You don't know WHAT that other fucker has on him." But your point is also right - do not back down from a bully.


PipeTobacco said...


Damn. Not much more to say than that.

Do you think the "anger issues" you mentioned in the comments are a RESULT of this beating, or did you feel that sort of anger even before this beating?

Do you have any what happened to Freddy? I suspect he likely ended up back in jail for other crimes.


MRMacrum said...

Chef Cthulhu - Yeah things are different today in many respects. I think it is more dangerous to be a kid now. I am not sure with the attitude I had when I was a teen, would I have seen my 21st birthday? As it is, I know I was damn lucky I did back in the early 1970s.

Pipe Tobacco - I never ran into Freddy ( BTW not his real name, but he was definitely real) again. A year later I was shipped off to military school. The skinny was he enlisted and went to Nam. Just thinking about that scenario makes you think. Crazy and with a gun. Wow!

No, my anger issues were self inflicted. I could have avoided the beating. I chose to engage out of anger. I had a chip on my shoulder and it took some years to knock it off and keep it off. I was definitely my own worse enemy until I was into my mid twenties. I sit here what, 40 years later and I have trouble understanding just why I was so damn angry. I could blame my parents. I could blame the dog. But in reality, I need to look in the mirror if I want to blame anyone.

Kulkuri said...

I used to get in fights all the time in grade school usually with the town kids who thought their shit didn't stink. One day I decided there was no point in fighting anymore and more or less stopped fighting, usually just walked away.