When it came to unsanctioned pugilism, Freddy had been cheated.
Though he had not been taught hand-to-hand fighting skills, received any training in grappling strategies or a hint of competitive spirit for such an arena, he did have one quality to his name that could occasionally prove beneficial in physical confrontation.
Thanks to the irregular frustrated smacks from the burdened hands of his older brother, Freddy had developed a high threshold to pain. However, when he reached his terminus, he lost control of his pacifist (or pacified) temperament. He would become enraged, in a defensive tantrum, his arms flinging out at any opponent within his nine-year-old grasp. After experiencing several of these counterattacks, Gordon found that he could still easily tackle his younger brother to the ground and threaten to drool on him. As Gordon allowed a cord of saliva to creep from his mouth and descend to within scant inches of the boy’s writhing face, Freddy slowly regained his dominated composure. Not once did Gordon’s slime ever make contact.
In the fifth grade, Freddy had been challenged to meet Vince, a minor league player in the sport of bullying, in the yard after school. As he walked down a school hallway that had already been vacated of classmates wishing to ensure a good view of the match, Freddy was in a dream-like state of mind; the only after-school fights he’d seen were in after-school specials on the local ABC affiliate. He didn’t even know what had sprouted his conflict with Vince, who had set the stage with the threat, “You’re dead, kid. After school, you’re fucking dead.” Freddy seriously doubted whether Vince even knew his name.
Amidst a circle of sixty fellow students, the bully stood, cracking his knuckles, waiting for his prey. Freddy stood inside the school’s side door, looking through the thick wired glass at the group that awaited him beyond the domed climbing apparatus. And before he could change his mind, Freddy found that he had already emerged from the school and was standing in the middle of the mob. A synchronous chorus around him chanted, “Fight! Fight! Fight!”
With fists clenched in anger and the thought of his drunken father riding his subconscious, Vince came at Freddy – a boy effigy at which he could direct the strains of the domestic violence he’d incurred.
Fear stuck a dagger in Freddy’s heart and, for the life of him, he could neither raise forearm in defense nor turn and scamper in shame. Vince’s eyes gleamed on the verge of tears; his crooked teeth foamed; every freckle on his body raged as if it had just endured an afternoon of Antarctic sunlight. Freddy could but witness his ferocious attacker’s swift approach.
Then.. God… or something else that Freddy would never comprehend… intervened.
An unforeseeable bolt of lightning struck from a cloudless sky and quite suddenly there was another participant in the fray. Freddy had the best view of a seventh grader who had been unaffectionately nicknamed “Gus the Bus”. His robust figure surged with unprecedented vehemance, his wiry hair mussing in the gallop, his Mediterranean nose a bowsprit guiding him to the next port of call. Gus the Bus was the only student in the K-8 school who had the ability to grow a full moustache.
It seemed that Gus the Bus also had a bone to pick with Vince. He broke through the chain of spectators and with the cliché force of a Mack truck, tackled the farm leaguer to the hard yellow grass, circumventing by a mere half-second the bruisin’ for which Freddy had been cruisin’.
Freddy witnessed the sack with all the wonder of seeing a baby being born.
Though stunned at first, the blood-thirsty audience of eight- to thirteen-year-old’s quickly recovered from the switch-up and continued their chorus of “Fight! Fight! Fight!”
It occurred to Freddy that all they wanted was a fight, fight, fight. He looked down at Gus the Bus pummelling the shit out of his former sparring partner. And he could not help but feel cheated. His opportunity to atleast be placed somewhere on the ladder (if only at the bottom) had been whisked away. He turned, broke through the circle and walked home, wondering “How could this have happened to me?”
Freddy’s next opportunity came three years later, in the eighth grade, at a different school. This time, Freddy had been around the block long enough to acquire a few coaches in his corner. Whereas in his encounter with Vince, he’d simply been another nameless fall guy, he was now the underdog. For his competitor was the perennially malicious Eric Creighton. Though Freddy did not exactly have a large contigent of friends at school, Eric Creighton had a fundamental bridge-burning quality that verged on mad genius.
Despite crowd sentiment, Eric was almost eight inches taller than Freddy, his arm’s reach almost five inches longer. Freddy’s other, perhaps more primary, problem was that he still lacked basic skills in the art of the street fight.
He asked his bespeckled 13-year-old slacker friend, Leonard, “How do I make a proper fist? Do I put my thumb on the inside or outside?”
For a moment, Leonard wondered if Freddy was joking; then he stared at his trainee with concerned conviction. “No, man, if you put ’em on the inside, you’ll break your fuckin’ thumbs.”
“Okay, on the outside, thanks.”
A small crowd of spectators were sprinkled around the paved schoolyard outside one of the doorways. Eric was larger, stronger and dumber. Freddy was twelve-years-old and Gus the Bus had relocated to a juvenile hall in Sacramento, California.
“No hard feelings,” Eric said with as much sarcasm as he could muster.
Freddy took the first punch on the bone of his left cheek. A twinge of pain spread across his face. It shook his head, shocked the balancing liquids of his ears. He could no longer hear the cheers and jeers of the crowd; all he could hear was his own ventilation system.
Freddy shook off the impact and, testing his own punch against Eric’s chest, missed and stumbled to the left.
He took a breath – Creighton 1, Long nothing.
Freddy could see his trainer, on the other side of Eric; he didn’t hear the words that were being screamed at him, but he thought he might be able to read Leonard’s lips.
Eric took advantage of the distraction to lay a powerful blow to Freddy’s nose. It stunned him; he staggered backwards and tried to keep his legs from crumbling beneath him. The noise began to filter back into his ears —
“Kick him in the nuts, Freddy!!!” Leonard screamed.
Then, the others: “Punch him! Hit him! Get him!”
Freddy felt his nose and spots of blood appeared on his hand. His vision turned grainy. Spurred by the crimson drip of his olfactory cavity, Freddy quickly attained his emotional breaking point. With as much rage as he knew, his clenched fists flailing wildly, Freddy came at poor Eric, a non-stop pummelling which even startled the surveyors so much that some took a step back, afraid and amused. There was no concentration or talent in the barrage; it was punch, punch, punch, quickly, as quick as he could. Eyes, jaw, nose, ears – every feature became a target.
Then… Sweet Intrusia, the Goddess of Intervention, returned.
The whole fray came to an abrupt end when a large mitt of a hand (missing half of one finger and a smaller fraction of another) grabbed the back of Freddy’s collar and hoisted him away from his victim. It was Mr. Rose, the industrial arts teacher; trouble had heard the commotion and had come to investigate.
He kept hold of Freddy and grabbed Eric by the ear, instructing the mob to “Break it up! Go home! Or you’ll all be sent to detention!” He led Freddy by his neck and Eric by his ear (still stinging from one of Freddy’s blows) down to the Vice-Principal’s office.
Rose sat both boys down outside and went in to tell the Veep what had happened. A moment later, Rose emerged, grabbed Eric and yanked him into the office. As he awaited his own punishment, Freddy could hear the two adults inside berating poor Eric: “How could you let a little shrimp beat you up?! Don’t you have any guts?! You need to take a self-defense course! What the hell’s the matter with you?! You’re atleast a half foot taller!”
Then, finally, the Veep said, “Detention hall, room 203, Mrs. Burke is waiting for you, young man.” Eric emerged with Mr. Rose. The boy’s head was low with shame; Freddy averted eye contact as poor Eric was ushered off to the Satanic Mrs. Burke.
A moment later, the Veep popped his balding oversized head out of his office. “Young man, I don’t want to hear about any more fights with you. You should know better… Now go home.”
And once again, Freddy found himself walking home alone, wondering, “How could this have happened to me?” For the life of him, he couldn’t develop a bad reputation. That’s really the only kind, he thought; if you haven’t got a bad reputation, you haven’t got a reputation. The public showers more opinion upon the mean guy than the nice guy.