Friday, June 11, 2010

"Taming the Tiger" - Chapter I, part I

Note to my loyal readers: From time to time, I will publish excerpts of my novel, "Taming the Tiger". Today, I post the first half of chapter one.

My grandfather used to tell me about how when he was a kid, when two guys got into a fight, they would settle it with their fists. No sticks. No knives. And certainly, no guns like so often happens these days.

And when the fight was over, the two boys would be friends. Some of his longest, closest friendships were with men that he fought with when they were boys.

When I was a kid in 1979, things weren’t as bad as they are now, with the guns. But they weren’t as good as my grandfather recalled his own childhood. When I was a kid, getting into a fight with someone was not the end of a situation. It was often the beginning of a lot of trouble. We didn’t use guns, but there were plenty of guys who thought nothing of using sticks, knives, or just getting some friends and ganging up on you.

Only one time, did I ever become friends with someone after I had a fight with him. That was from my fight with Albert Cheung in the 9th grade. Today, more than 30 years later, he still remains one of my good friends.

Al transferred to Hamden Jr. High in the middle of September 1979. He was a skinny kid, like me, and one of the few guys in the class who was shorter than me. In that inner-city school, the blacks and whites were more or less equal in numbers. Out of almost 500 students, there were only a couple of Asians. That alone would make Al stand out.

On one of Al’s first days at school, someone, pushed him into the wastepaper basket in the corner of homeroom, right next to the door. It was probably Derrick Adams who did it, but I’m not sure.

I helped him out and asked him if he was alright.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” said Al. “Thanks.”

“Good!” I said, shoving him back into the wastebasket. I was a cocky little shit in those days, so I let out a laugh as he fell in so deep he was actually stuck.

Al shifted his weight, falling sideways with the wastepaper basket still stuck around his butt. He wiggled free and sprang to his feet. I don’t know how he did it, but somehow, he got behind me.

I felt something hit the backs of my knees, making them buckle. I started to fall, but caught myself. The next thing I knew, Al gripped the back of my neck with those iron-hard fingers of his!

“Now you’re going in head first!” he said.

I struggled to get free, but it took all my strength to keep my face out of the trash can.

Our teacher, Mr. Scalzo, came in. He tried to pull him off my neck but couldn’t do it.

“Will someone get in here!” he yelled down the hall. “Charley’s fighting again! I need help!”

Another teacher and Mr. Edwards, our assistant principal, barely got through the door with everyone standing around and cheering, mostly for Al to get my head in the can.

I was busy trying to keep out of the trash can, break free so I could kick Al’s butt. It took the teachers and Edwards at least a minute to get through the door and pull us apart.

Eventually, Edwards got me in a full nelson, while the other teacher got Al in a headlock, and marched us down to Edwards’ office. Along the way, I could hear the other kids laughing that I got beat up, "by a chink.”

Once in the assistant principal's office, Edwards and the other teacher sat us down next to each other. Edwards took his seat behind his desk.

“I think you should get some of the other kids in here as witnesses and ask them what they saw,” Al said. “They’ll tell you he's the one who started it.”

I rolled my eyes. I could tell he’d never been taken to the main office for fighting.

“It doesn’t work that way,” I told him. “They don’t care who started…”

Edwards cut me off.

“Charley, I don’t want to hear another thing out of you!” he snapped. “The school year is only two weeks old and you’re back in here for fighting!

“And you, what’s your name?” he asked Al.

“Albert Cheung.”

I snickered. “Aaaallbert.”

“That’s enough out of you!” Edwards said, pointing at me.

“Well Mr. Cheung, I’ve never seen you in here before,” Edwards continued. “Am I going to
expect to see you in here often, like our friend Mr. Batchelor over here?”

“No,” Al replied.

“Good,” he said. “Since this is your first time, I’m letting you off easy with one day indoor suspension. Charley, you’re getting off lucky since you’re in here with him. You’re also getting indoor suspension even though you should be getting three days out-of-school suspension.

“You both report there tomorrow,” he said. “And this better be the last time I see either of you in here. Especially you, Mr. Batchelor. You came very close to expulsion last year. If this is what we can expect this year, I don’t see you making it through June.”

Personally, I thought indoor suspension was worse than out-of-school. For indoor suspension, we had to sit in a room with other guys who also got indoor. We had to be quiet and do the work that was sent down by our teachers. If we finished the work, we still had to sit and be quiet.

Of course, I still had some of the other punks in there pointing fingers and snickering. I could hear a couple of them talk about how I got my “ass kicked by a little chink.” before the teacher shut them up.

Anywhere or anytime else, I would have gotten up and thrown down with them. But Edwards’ warning about being expelled stuck with me. I could feel my face and ears turning red with rage over what they said. It also made me want to go after Al all the more. As far as I was concerned, he was the reason I was in here and he was the reason I was going to catch shit from the other kids over the fight in homeroom.

On our way out of school that day, I followed him out the front door, to the stairs leading to the bus stop.

“Hey chink! I’m fuckin’ talking to you!” I shouted. “We still have some unfinished business!”
Al started walking a little faster. I picked up speed, too.

“What’s a matter, you pussy?!” I said. “You only want to fight when Edwards is there to break it up?!”

Never slowing down, Al looked over his shoulder and said “Hey, I don’t want to have to hurt you! Just back off!”

I was never one to back off. No matter what the odds, no matter who I was fighting, I just couldn’t back off. Even if I knew I would get killed, I still kept fighting. It was a source of pride for me in those days. I didn’t win all the time. I probably got my butt kicked about half of the time. But at no time did I ever back down.

I caught up with him at the top of the stairs going down to the driveway. Grabbing him by the shoulder, I spun him around and punched him in the face.

Al turned his head, rolling with the punch. He then glared at me. He was angry and I was glad he was angry. I thought I could draw him into making a mistake. But the first mistake was mine.

“C’mon!” I said. “Take your best shot!”

Al’s left foot shot up from the ground. It was one of those times when something bad is going to happen, and everything seems to go in slow-motion, but you still can’t do anything about it. I could see the foot coming at me, but I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I couldn’t move or block fast enough to protect myself.

The instep of his foot nailed me right on the right side of my head and neck. I felt my neck stiffen as I fell to my left. I barely kept my balance, but I stayed on my feet as I staggered sideways down the stairs.

Halfway down, I stopped my fall. Looking up, I could still see Al glaring at me from the top of the steps. I shook it off, charged up the stairs, yelling and swearing at him.

“C’mon!” I shouted. “Try some more of that karate shit on me!”

The next thing I remember, I could feel the treads of a size 8 Puma running shoe scraping my face. I could see the sky and clouds. I felt my back hit the ground and the air hiss out of my mouth.

Then, everything went black!

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