The violence inherent in our systems

Tonight my thoughts are turning to violence.

No, not that I desire to wreak any such thing on anyone, it’s just that there seems to be so much of it in the air. I mean, you’ve got Ben talking about being in tune with his Spidey-senses and calculating the most destructive way out of the scenario if the Girl Scouts in front of him on the street turn out to be a ninja hit squad in disguise (must be the weight-lifting and all the red meat he’s eating); you’ve got Gino talking about he and his sister standing back to back to teach some rowdies a lesson; and you’ve got KingDavid in turn reminiscing over getting his own adolescent male ya-yas out and ending up in the principal’s office.

I’m not dismayed or appalled. In fact, it all reminds me of a lesson my father taught me when he said, “You don’t have to win, but you do have to fight.”

And then I laugh as I remember the time somebody, and I can’t remember who, thought it was a good idea to give my brother and I boxing gloves for Christmas when I was in my early teens. These weren’t the big, pillowy 16-oz. gloves, either, where you had a better chance of suffocating from a punch in the face as being knocked out. No, these were 8-oz. demolition specials of bright red leather, packing a little padding and quite a wallop over the knuckles. I’m sure they were probably banned from toy stores about the same time as Jarts.

In those days we lived in a neighborhood full of boys and we marked the passing seasons by the games we played. Football in the fall, basketball all winter long (shoveling the snow off the asphalt driveways and turning our hands black in the dribbling), baseball or some mischief in the summer. One summer day of boredom and too many boys we remembered the gloves. Tired of whacking one another around, my brother and I brought them out for the group. It was actually pretty structured. We marked out the corners of the “ring” with lawn chairs in our back yard and matched opponents up by age and weight class. I was far from being the most graceful or athletic but I had a simple yet effective style: absorb the incoming shots as I waded into range and then, Whammo! The matches usually didn’t last very long.

One of the younger boys, a wiry and athletic sort who was one of the fastest runners in the neighborhood, and also the biggest trash talker, was offended by my pugilistic style, or lack thereof. His name was Albert. He may have preferred just “Al” or “Bert” but he was the type where we just had to hang the full name on him. Anyway, his own matches in his “weight class” were marked by fancy footwork and flashy flurries, and he’d roll his eyes at me from the sidelines and talk about the “sweet science” as I’d stagger another opponent. He kept talking about how useless I’d be against someone who knew what they were doing. I suggested that, perhaps, he was thinking of himself? He said that, well, as a matter of fact, yes.

“Oh, come off it, Albert. I’ve got two years and 25 pounds on you.”

“But you’re slow. You’d never touch me.”

And so it was on. Albert laced up and started circling, jumping in and out, throwing leather into my shoulders, or glancing off the top of my head. I turned as well, tracking him like the turret of a battleship surrounded by torpedo planes. A couple of my left jabs came back empty, touching only his laughter. He came in again, and this time I timed it and decided to see how the right hand might fare. Fairly well, actually, as my straight overhand going out met his forehead square as it was coming in. I could almost hear for myself the pinball bells that started ringing inside his head. His forward progress immediately reversed and he was flat on his back, somewhere in the middle of next week. And he wasn’t moving.

Ho. Ly. Crap.

Nothing to do for it in that case but to invoke the Diety, or in this case, my mom. Actually, both of my parents were home at the time and my brother ran in and brought them out, no doubt trying to gasp out the hyperventilated words, “boxing”, “Albert”, “dead”, and “It wasn’t my fault.” They came out briskly and with concern as Albert started to regain what little sense he had before he challenged me. I thought we were all going to get yelled at, but instead my parents were very concerned and solicitous of young Albert, touching his head, patting his shoulders, asking if he was all right, even bringing him a cold glass of lemonade. I’m sure they were thinking thoughts like, “We are going to be so sued,” and “I’m going to bury those boxing gloves, preferably with my kid still in them.”

Albert revived, and the last thing he wanted to do was let his parents know what happened. Actually, as far as he was concerned, the fewer people who learned what had happened the better. I like to think that it somehow made him a bit wiser, though he continued to be pretty much the same obnoxious kid as our sports seasons continued to turn. Maybe, just maybe though, it was a lesson that took a little time to reach the surface.

It was a valuable part of my education, I know that. Those scrambling episodes in boyhood gave me some useful and — in the grand scheme — not too painful lessons. I learned that life sometimes comes at you pretty fast, and that you’re going to have to take some shots, but if you keep your feet and keep moving in you’re eventually going to get your chance.

And when you do — Whammo!

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