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Love Is a Punch in the Gut

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You're never too old to be a baby.

I'm holding a 42-year-old grudge against a boy in middle school who punched me in the gut for allegedly breaking his love beads.

I didn't break anyone's love beads. I was nowhere near his lousy love beads. I just happened to be in the wrong middle school gym at the wrong time. The enemy didn't care.

Jeff I've-hunted-you-on-Facebook (not his real last name) challenged me to a fight after school on the handball court. The honor of his love beads was at stake. For those too young to remember love beads, they were colorful beads painstakingly threaded on a necklace and worn by faux suburban hippies who thought Woodstock was just a Peanuts character.

Anyway, I remember the fight like it was 42 years ago.

Under a chippy South Florida sun, Jeff and I locked arms in a pro wrestling death grip. We grunted. We butted heads. Jeff, at 12, sported a Neanderthal beard comprised of barbed whiskers smelling faintly of Taco Bell. In our struggle, his facial hair clawed at my baby face. Having never been in a fight, I was unclear as to my next move. I had no plans to hit Jeff. That seemed extreme. I just hoped the fight would expire in a stalemate.

Then he hit me.

In the stomach.

My 12-year-old stomach was not unlike my 54-year-old stomach: flimsy, vulnerable to trendy viruses, and, above all, a pacifist. Jeff's blow sent me to the ground, where I struggled to breathe and struggled to reconcile the act of violence committed over an object of love. Was this irony? Coincidence? And would I be able to breathe without the aid of a machine?

Jeff smugly walked away, his ape-like arms dragging along the ground, his hairy, primal right paw flush with victory -- or maybe he apologized and rode off on his bike. I really don't remember. The point is I'm ready for my rematch.

Last year I bought an 80-pound Everlast heavy bag, a speed bag, boxing gloves and a bag stand combo. I started with one three-minute round, then busted my way up to eight three-minute rounds with one-minute intermissions. Since my training began, I have managed to injure my Achilles tendon, elbow tendon and right wrist -- without laying a glove on a single animate object. Every night, I lose to a stuffed, swinging bag.

Still, I asked my friend, a sportswriter who once trained with the great Roberto Duran, whether I should get in the ring against someone.

"Are you out of your mind?" he said, although he infused the question with colorful words used by real boxers.

"But I'm ready," I said.

"No, you're not."

I wanted to tell him about Jeff's love beads and how he punched me out on the handball court and how Jeff later served 15 years for assaulting a Taco Bell employee (I made that part up big-time) and how I will finally take my revenge. But I didn't. I felt a little silly, a grown man taking up boxing to redeem himself after 42 years. It's time to start acting my age.

It's time to take up professional wrestling.