Friday, July 23, 2004

A peek into Steve's skeleton closet

Plenty of stuff to tell, but something happened yesterday that has been on my mind all night.
I'm driving home from work, and I see some commotion by the side of the road. I slow down to take a look.

There's a little kid, maybe 11 years old, on rollerblades, stopped on a dusty, grassless patch of lawn. And there's a big fat kid twice his size punching him and screaming.

I stop the car.

The kid on the skates is terrified. His face is twisted up into a frightened grimace; his helmet is badly askew, covering his right eye and cheek.

"You OWE it to me!! YOU OWE IT TO ME!! GIVE ME MY MONEY!" The fat kid is yelling.

"I don't have it!" the kid sobs.

"Gimme my money NOW!" shouts the fat kid, who shoves the roller-blade boy with both hands. The boy flails his arms and legs wildly, then falls to the ground, swirling up a plume of light brown dust.

"HEY!" I shout, getting out of the car.

The boys' heads dart around to look at me.

"What are you doing?" I shout at the fat kid. "You could have really hurt him!"

"He promised me he would give me money. Now he WON'T DO IT!" the fat kid says, throwing a wild kick at the boy's head. He connects squarely with the helmet, making a loud THWACK! sound.   The little guy wails.

WTF?! Is this kid nuts?

I grab the fat kid by his shirt. "Are you trying to KILL him? Do you want to see him in a hospital bed with TUBES coming out of his head?!" I scream.

The fat kid starts crying. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" he says.

The front screen door slams open. A big, hulking fat guy comes jiggling out towards me.

"HEY! [cough, cough] What the FUCK do you think you're doing to my [cough, cough] fucking [cough] son?!"

I guess the guy has asthma. He's at least 6 feet tall, and 350 pounds, easy. But the walk out the door has clearly winded him.  He pulls out an inhaler and takes a few puffs.

"Your son just kicked that little kid in the HEAD. He could have seriously injured him." I'm conversational, not yelling. I can't let this escalate.

"That boy [cough] owes my son [cough] money!"

"So you KNOW about this? And you approve?!" I say, incredulous.

He shrugs. "If he doesn't want to get beat up, he should pay his debts."

"You have GOT to be kidding-" I begin.

"And YOU," he says, pointing at me, catching his wind. "I ought to strangle your rich Jew ass for assaulting my son! You ASSAULTED him! I ought to call the cops!"

"I'm Italian," I say, evenly, staring at him. My face is completely expressionless.

At this point, I can't take the guy seriously at all. I mean, if push came to shove, I could just run around the lawn for 30 seconds, and get him to chase me, and he'd probably die of a heart attack.

"I don't GIVE a fuck! Get the FUCK off my property!" He reaches for my shirt. I swat his hand away, hard. There's a loud SMACK! He rears back and tries to kick me. I step easily aside. He misses me by three feet.

You'd think that, with all this kicking, the family would lose some weight.

"You don't want to fuck with me, asshole," I say. "I know this kid," I continue, gesturing towards the boy. "And if I find out that your son fucked with him again, I'm coming to get YOU. And you're gonna need a hell of a lot more than an inhaler when I'M done with you." I can feel my face carved into a deep snarl.

So much for my poker face.

I help the boy up and back on his feet. The fat guy and his kid go back in the house, without another word.

I get the boy's name, just in case. Of course, I didn't know him from Adam. Maybe I'll check back with him, someday...

I don't like the way I acted there. My anger got the best of me. I usually don't let it happen. I know it was just for a second, really, but the whole thing just awakened a bad memory in me.....

I was 10 years old. I loved books. I especially loved books about planes. My favorite book was one called "Up, Up, and Away," or something like that, which had all kinds of great action shots of planes in it. I memorized every plane in it, and carried the book all around with me.

One day, while riding my bike home from a friend's house, book in one hand, handlebars in the other, two older boys cut me off and made me fall. I cut my knee pretty badly, and I was bleeding.

"Hey! Fatso's bleeding!" one of the boys, Chris, says.

"Cool! Lemme see!" The other boy, Erik, says.

They stand over me, admiring their handiwork. I am crying.

"Stop crying, you baby!! Hey, look! The fat baby's crying!" says Erik.

"Whatcha got there, fatty?" Chris says, snatching my book.

"NO!" I shout.

He opens the book. He starts reading aloud (at about a six-year-old level, incidentally): "THIS-BOOK-BE-LONGS-TO....It's blank!"

"Give it back!" I say.

"You didn't even write your name in it," says Chris. "Why didn't you write your name? Why didn't you write, 'Fatty' in there?  Hey, gimme a pen!"
Erik hands him one.
Chris starts writing, enunciating each letter out loud. "F.......A......."

"NO! NOOOOOOOOO!" I scream. I somehow untangle myself from the bike and throw it down. I grab Chris by the shirt collar. He's at least 6 inches taller than me. Chris breaks free and slams the book to the ground, stomping on it.

I'm running on pure adrenaline now. I bend my hand into a claw and grab a handful of Chris's face. I have no idea exactly what I'm doing, but it works.

"OOOOOWWWWW!" screams Chris. He sounds just like a girl.

I punch Chris with a meaty fist, right in the soft area under his chin. His teeth slam together with a sickening CLACK. He is howling.

I punch him in the stomach. He doubles over. I punch him in the ear. Over the eye. In the chest. He falls down; I punch him in the back.

"I'm gettin outta here," says Erik, who mounts his bike and takes off.

"Ow!A-ha-ha-ha-hawwwww! Stop! Stop it!!!" he cries. 
He staggers to his feet.  I grab him by the shirt and throw him violently to the ground.  He lands directly on one of those little cement squares that stick up out of the concrete, maybe as big as a box of CD's.

Now he is screaming in pain.

I am reaching back to punch him again, when suddenly I feel myself being lifted in the air. It's Mr. Abbate, my neighbor.

He's a kindly old man, maybe 75 or so. I had no idea he could lift a big fat blob like me.

"That's enough," says Mr. Abbate calmly, sounding like the Pepridge Farm bread guy from Maine. "Gowon home now.  You taught him his lesson. Now you get along and go home."

I pick up my book. It's covered in mud, ripped and tattered. He ruined my book! I cry all the way home.

It turns out Chris broke his rib on the cement block.
His mother calls my father to complain, and my father says, "Chris is older than Steve. And bigger. Chris was bullying my son. And you know what? I'm PROUD of Steve. I'm PROUD of him. Now, I spoke to my neighbor, Mr. Abbate, who saw the whole thing, and he knows that Chris, and his friend Erik, provoked Steve. Shall I call the juvenile authorities and speak to them about that?"

A few days later, Chris comes to my door with a new copy of "Up, Up, and Away!", paid for with his newspaper route money.
"I'm sorry I bullied you," says Chris.  "Can we please be friends?"
"Yeah," I say.  He shakes my hand.  He is crying.
I open the book, and inside the cover, where it says, "This book belongs to," Chris had written my name, in neat block letters. I still get a tear in my eye when I think about that.

So I guess it ended well. But some things you just don't forget.
I'll see you guys next week....