[This Commentary originally appeared in the January 27, 1990 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]
(The following is loosely based on a real life adventure as told by an eight year old.)
The Verdict: Accused, I stood before the Older Guys face hung low. “Kid,” Jimmy rendered in a solemn but professional tone, “We’re gonna hafta beat you up.” A silent hush fell upon all the kids at the School Bus Stop that cool winter morning. The sentence did not surprise me. With sad, martyred eyes, I looked up to face Jimmy and Danny.
As Older Guys, none came much stronger than Jimmy and Danny. For fourth-graders, they carried a lot of experience. Fighting presented them with the chance to come of age. Jimmy’s stubby arms and barrel chest had been conditioned well for bare fisted slaughter. His puffy face, bloated in part by the wind chill factor, showed the look of a seasoned middle-weight veteran. His mean disposition told the tale of his combative youth. He possessed a reputation of zero compassion and pure ruthlessness. His vocabulary seemed limited to upper cuts and jabs. He had a Cat-Fighter for a younger sister.
Danny, slightly more stringier in build, knew all the fighting words. He usually fattened up the prey for Jimmy. He also told all the dirty jokes at the School Bus Stop. Yet, for all his talk, Danny could be moved to sympathy. His younger sister was one of the Nice Girls.
As I stared into Jimmy’s angry eyes, stunned by the magnitude of the finality of the verdict, he snorted cold intimidating exhaust from his nostrils. He smiled, sensing delicious blood-lust, and menacingly pounded his clenched fist into his open hand. I thought momentarily about crying.
I turned to Danny, the boy I had played G.I. Joes with during our tenure as Little Kids. He could not face me, and his eyes averted to the ground. I knew in his heart he wished to spare me, but I knew the Creed of the Older Guys forbade such action. My creed demanded that I face up to the consequences of my deeds.
The Older Guys allowed me to look at the other kids one last time. The other kids encircled the Older Guys and me. I turned from Danny to the Cat-Fighters. They each had the same devilish smile as Jimmy. They felt the smell of flesh smashing against flesh. My mind began to rush. “There must be a way out,” I thought.
The Nice Girls, though, returned my gaze with empathy and sternness. Events had moved too quickly for them to successfully intervene. A genuine sadness filled their tender hearts. They liked me as a little brother full of promise, and now all that potential would be dashed away. Yet, they also realized, in attempting to outsmart the more practiced Older Guys, I had brought the whole episode on myself. My brain wrenched for a solution.
An anticipatory awe filled the naïve minds of the Little Kids. They had always heard about fights, but had never actually witnessed one. Now, like Indy 500 spectators who watch just to see an accident, they waited with excitement for this act to unfold. I continued thinking of options.
Close to the Little Kids stood my little brother and my best friend’s little brother. A mortal fear froze them. They wanted to rescue me, but knew they would be mere cannon fodder for the Older Guys. Feeling their fear, I knew I must take my beating with courage. Still, I tried to figure out how to reduce the impending physical damage. I looked up the Big Road at the Fire House, reassured by the nearness of the ambulance.
Lastly, my head turned to my best friend. Inside him I could see anger and strength. We peered into each other’s eyes. Instantly, almost telepathically, we both recalled the Blood Vow we made as Little Kids during one scary kindergarten day. We pledged then and always to stand by one another’s side – to come selflessly to the other’s aid, no matter the odds. His foot moved loyally into the arena.
I shook him off. No matter what his promise to me, I had an equal promise to him. I owned all the faults for the circumstances, and I could not allow him to take my licks. I moved from my best friend’s confused and sad face to take my stand against my tormentors.
The Fight: I took a step forward into the gallows. Around us, I detected the attentive eyes of the other kids. I looked again at the piercing smirk of Jimmy. His sanguine hunger permeated the air. I looked again at my former playmate Danny. His reluctant eyes could not move from the ground. Plagued between our old friendship and the Older Guy’s Creed, he knew he had to make the first decision.
He yielded, telling Jimmy to take the honor of the kill. Danny advised he would stand back and only prevent me from running away. Though now a one-on-one combat, Jimmy’s pure physical size still dominated me. I had only one move left. Jimmy neared, his tense fat hands forming club-like fists.
Out of chances, my only bid would be to let Jimmy beat me up and not fight back. I calculated he would fast grow bored – and maybe even a little embarrassed – if his quarry offered no defense. This gamble would lead to major hurts, but would likely shield me from ultimate harm.
Yet I could not enter the battle without one offensive maneuver. Suddenly, a strange thought struck me. Why engage solely in the physical realm? Could not an honorable battle also be fought on the mental field? I chose my last words carefully and precisely.
“Jimmy,” I said, “you can beat me up if you want to.” I knew such an appeal would not stop him, so I added a caveat. “But before you beat me up, you have to spell the word ‘Geography’.”
The bizarre request baffled the crowd. For a moment, the world stopped. Then all eyes turned to Jimmy. Their expectation: he would ignore my one condition and begin the onslaught. I tightened up and shut my eyes, waiting faithfully for the first blow. What occurred subsequently will live forever in the minds of all the kids at the School Bus Stop that day.
“G-E-A,… No! No!” stuttered Jimmy. “G-E-O-G-R-A-F-Y, there!” shouted a tentative Jimmy. My shocked eyes burst wide open. “Ha!” I thought to myself without speaking aloud, “Caught by the tricky P-H!”
Then I – and the other kids – suddenly realized Jimmy had actually tried to spell the word instead of just beating me up. At the same time, Jimmy could sense he misspelled the word. He grew red in anticipation of the crowd’s response.
Sensing anger from him, I conceded my last gambit had failed miserably. Jimmy would pummel me to Kingdom-Come whether I offered a defense or not. I looked at Jimmy and waited.
But he waited, too. His eyes shifted back and forth. He wondered if the other kids realized he misspelled the word. Quickly, all the other kids turned to the wise Nice Girls, for surely they knew how to spell “geography.”
It started softly, but soon became an audible giggle. Then all the Nice Girls laughed loudly. This prompted all the other kids to join in. Even Danny started laughing. Grossly ashamed, Jimmy just spun around from me and walked home.
I’ll never know if the kids laughed at Jimmy for failing to correctly spell “geography” or because he even attempted to spell it in the first place when he could have just began punching me. In the end, it doesn’t matter. I survived. And I learned two valuable lessons: First, no matter how good the odds look, don’t enter a bet you cannot afford to lose. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, no matter how small the odds, keep on thinking and don’t ever give up.
Last Week #43: Terror at the School Bus Stop – A True Life Story (Part II) (originally published January 18, 1990)
Next Week #45: Japan Inc. Buys the Moon (originally published February 1, 1990)
[What is this and why is here? See Interested in Discovering My Time Machine? for more details.]