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Back to School in the '70s: Fight!

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It's the beginning of September, and I'm happy.

September and October are my two favorite months. Not just for weather; college and pro football are starting, and baseball is headed towards the fall classic. Plus, just over a year ago, my first blog was published, another reason to celebrate. I couldn't help but go back and re-read it.

One of the main themes was bullies, and how I had to learn to stand up for myself. An old friend commented at the time that her children have never seen a fight, whether at school or on the street. That's good to hear -- I'm not condoning violence -- but back in the day, learning how to fight was part of growing up. If the other kids saw you bow down to a bully, it was a green light for them to try and take advantage of you, too.

In the early grammar school years, fights were mostly of the "tackle and pummel" variety. One kid gets the other on the ground, sits on top and punches the other until he "gives" or surrenders. I had been involved in a few of these, but will never forget the first time my Mom found out. She was angry, and said the dreaded words "Wait until your father gets home!"

I stayed outside, pacing nervously. When Dad pulled into the driveway, I ran up and started spilling my guts before he could could even get out of the car. I searched his face, and instead of anger or (worse) disappointment, I detected curiosity. His eyebrow shot up as he asked "Did you win?"

What neither of us knew was that my Mom was listening from the kitchen. She announced her presence with a tone that indicated she had something to discuss with my father. I'm sure I received a punishment, but feel it was reduced due to Dad's reaction.

In the fourth grade, I had the toughest teacher of my life: Ms. Daly. She wasn't physically imposing, or necessarily mean; she was smart, tough and didn't take any crap. She was going to teach us, and we were going to learn, come hell or high water. It's like she combined the roles of parent and teacher into one authority-figure superhero.

That year, I had my first proper fist fight. We were all outside, at either lunch or recess, playing some kind of competitive game. My friend Brian and I both had quick tempers, and had a major disagreement right at the end of the period. You know, something worth fighting over. Most of the kids had already gone back inside, but we squared off just outside the entrance, his back to the glass door. Brian was a faster, better boxer than I, so it took everything I had to block him and try to land my own punches.

Suddenly, just over Brian's shoulder, the face of the all-knowing Ms. Daly appeared. My jaw dropped, my hands came down and Brian punched me right in the face. I didn't see any cartoon bluebirds, but he definitely rang my bell. It wasn't his fault -- he had no idea she was behind him. It wasn't mine, either -- even today I'm not sure if I'd rather get punched in the face, or face the wrath of Ms. Daly.

After both school and home punishments, we realized fighting might not be the best way to settle if balls were fair or foul. Brian and I had no hard feelings. We learned it was better to avoid fights if possible, especially amongst friends, over stupid things. Unavoidable situations would arise, and those were enough.

One day, walking down the sidewalk, I spied a tough kid named Rock. Rock went to the Catholic school, and lived on another block. He must have jumped the backyard fences to cut through, and was approaching the house of my friend Dan. Dan was a year older than I, but also attended public school. He was sitting on his porch, looking at his baseball cards.

Out of the blue, Rock began hurling insults at Dan, clearly trying to provoke him. Dan was calm at first, then began to respond. His mom came to investigate. Rock shifted his attention to her, uttering words I heard for the first time. Infuriated, Dan started to stand up, and his mom tried to restrain him. Then the father came outside, and quickly assessed the situation. He quietly spoke to his wife, and gently released Dan from her grip. She disappeared into the house, unable to watch.

Rock, smiling, loudly proclaimed his plans to kick Dan's ass.

Dan calmly walked up to Rock, and punched the living daylights out of him.

To paraphrase Mike Tyson, "Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth."

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

Back To School, 70s Style
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