Tough love

I didn’t have a place to live.  Neither did my friend, Ted.  We were both twenty and attending school and, after tuition, didn’t have a cent to our name. In fact, we were living off of student loans and, until recently, I had been living with my live-in-her-apartment-girlfriend, Cheryl. Which is another great story.

Our professor of Something 101 started the class one day by asking if anyone knew of two, huge football players who would consider living rent free in a caretaker’s suite in a city park on the wrong side of town.  Seems Clark Park was the resident stomping ground of a gang of delinquent youth who had been running roughshod for so long the city had closed the caretaker’s suite and was considering selling the land to developers. The last two caretakers had been beaten severely and the cottage had been set on fire more than a few times.

Ted was 5’7″ in his mother’s heels.  Plus he spoke with a lisp and fancied himself a poet. Despite this, Ted was the toughest guy in his and our neighbourhood.  He was legendary after a half hour donnybrook at Wally’s drive-in on Kingsway one night.  He eventually walked away under his own power and his opponent, feared city wide,  had to be carried off.  KD was much older, much bigger than Ted and much more feared prior to his dethronement.  His reputation was such that he remained a major threat even after the loss to everyone except, of course, Ted.

We drove over to the park before saying anything and made a point to go on a Friday night when the gang was said to gather.  We met about a dozen teens in cut-off jean jackets over leather, sporting tattoos before it was fashionable and showing up for the Friday night debauchery in cars just stolen.  There was a lot of beer, a lot of dope and a lot of testosterone.  It was weird in a cheap B horror-cum-slasher flick kind of way but mostly because of the dark, the park setting, the still partially-burned cottage and cars strewn around the park beside trees, water fountains and even on the playing field.  The park was clearly their turf and it showed.  Not a cop in sight.

But, honestly?  Not one of the kids was as tough as I was and they would need six of them to take on Ted and they’d still lose.  After a bit of socializing, we told them that we were considering moving into the cottage, mostly because we had no place to live but, if we did, we’d have to act like caretakers and we might have a problem with them if they objected.  They assured us that there would be no problem.  They could just as easily park their temporary rides on the street for appearances sake and, so long as we didn’t disturb their gatherings, we’d all be fine.

We took the job, the cottage was repaired once again and we had to report monthly to Emery Barnes who was then the director of the community centre a few blocks away. Emery was about 6’6″, black, huge and had hands so big that when holding basketballs they looked like they were holding cantaloupes. He had been a pro football player with the BC Lions and eventually went on to become a member of parliament in Victoria. Emery was a great guy but he said, “Don’t take the job.  It’s too dangerous.  You’ll get hurt.”

That Emery would say that kind of sobered us up but free rent is a seductive concept and we would even be provided with $60 a month for food.  We really had no choice.

After we moved in we discovered that the gang was twice the size of the group we had met that first night.  The older guys only showed up after nine o’clock.  There were maybe a half dozen or so older than we were.  Just about everybody was bigger than Ted.

We patrolled the park every night.  Things seemed to go okay.  Stolen cars were left on the street. Citizens of the area started to walk through the park again, but still only in the daylight hours. We started to get comfortable.

But it was not a walk in the park for us.  Especially in the beginning. Within a few weeks of our arrival a large group came up to the cottage and the biggest, Jerry, called out my name.  Ted was not there.  I went out. “One of your rules is no broken beer bottles, right?”

“Yes, Jerry.  I don’t care that you drink or not. I just don’t want to clean up the mess.”

He looked at me, raised the half sack of bottles he was carrying and, with some drama, smashed the flimsy box and it’s contents onto the asphalt sidewalk he was standing on.

“Geez, Jerry.  Those bottles must have slipped from your hand.  You want a broom?”

“Nope.  And I want to know what you are going to do about it.”

“Jerry, I have no option but to beat you up.  You know that.  I suggest you reconsider and pick it all up.  It would be for the best.”

Jerry just took a battle ready stance and waved two hands at me inviting me to join him.

“OK, Jer, I’ll just be a sec.  I am going to put on my boxing gloves.  They are just so I don’t hurt you.  You don’t need a pair. You can do whatever you want.  Just a minute.”

I put on a pair of 10-12 oz gloves, the size I used when boxing.  We generally used bigger, softer gloves when sparring but the competitive matches were with slightly lighter, faster and harder gloves.  I went out and asked Jerry if he was ready.  He said that he was.  I said, “Now, before this begins, I need you to be absolutely ready not only to get hit but also to pick up the bottles afterwards.  Are you sure you are ready?”

He nodded, said yes and so I hit him.  Hard.  Right on the nose. When you know how to throw a punch and you know exactly the distance you can reach, a fast left jab can take down anyone the size of the person throwing it.  Bigger guys often aren’t affected so much but Jerry was about my weight and a couple of inches taller but he was also a few years younger. He was one of the young toughs.  Not one of the older ones.  He went down like he was dead.

But he wasn’t.  Just stunned.

I rolled him over on his stomach and sat on his shoulders facing the back of his feet.  And I did this like it was the most normal thing in the world.  It wasn’t.  I was making it up as I went along.  I proceeded to punch him on the bum as hard and as often as I could before I thought my arms might fall off.  Jerry got what came to be called by the ‘guys’ an East-side spanking. That was a lot of pummeling and, after the first few punches, Jerry yelled, “What the hell are you doing?  Get off me!”

I just pushed his face back down hard into the ground and kept it up.  He stayed quiet.

When I was done, I helped Jerry up, told him to go home and told a few of the other guys to help their friend out by cleaning up the bottles for him.  They did.

I never planned it.  I really had no idea what I was doing.  I just knew that I couldn’t hurt him.  Not in a bloody or broken way.  But I had to win that challenge or move out and the rest of it just fell into place.  I had no idea how effective it would be.

It turned out to be great.  Seems pounding on his butt, even with gloves on, bruised him considerably. So much so that he could hardly walk except stiff legged for a week and couldn’t sit for several days.  He walked in school and throughout the neighbourhood for a long time with a noticeably stiff-legged gait.  The ‘beating’ became public.  Jerry had been defeated.  The gang saw enforcement meted out fairly.  And everyone knew that Ted was even tougher.

We had very few face-offs after that.  None from the gang.  Occasionally some other idiot would come to the park looking for trouble but no one else ever got hit.  Usually such a confrontation got sorted by simply looking like you were prepared to fight and only once did it come down to me picking up a baseball bat.  And Ted standing beside the lead miscreant lisping warnings at him didn’t hurt the effect either. That little act of bravado proved intimidation enough for one guy and his friends to reconsider their plans for the evening.  They turned their motorcycles around and left the park.

Basically, it was all great for almost two years and Ted and I still have many friends from the old Clark Park gang.   Those that lived, anyway.  More than just a few stories, too.

….there was that time Death showed up at the door…………..

8 thoughts on “Tough love

  1. When we lived in Clark Park it was a fire under the front window that chased us out. We had cats and there was NO way out of that small little custodians tiny place except through the door. Everything else was metal screened blocked. We must have been seriously naive to live there but were never actually hurt, just very alert and pretty nervous. Getting off the bus to walk into the park was the toughest especially after dark. It was free (no rent) and we had the same no money/living on student loans incentive. I hope S remembers how we got the ‘job’ as custodians, I have certainly blocked that out of my memory bank.

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    • I must have been the connection because I recall the professor making the pitch in the classroom. And it must have been after Ted and I left (when we felt it was safe) because we had to ‘case it out’ for ourselves that first Friday night. On the other hand, the cottage HAD been burned so maybe you were first….? Mind you, they burned it before we were there and I am sure they burned it after we left. Funny how 47 years can blur the details, eh?

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      • Geez! Is this old home week? I lived right across the st from Clark Park in the early 1980’s. I had a motorcycle and didnt know ANYTHING about the Clark Park history when I moved there from Calgary. My coworkers were horrified when I told them where I lived. I rented a one bedroom ground floor apartment for $285/month. I had a coupla herion addicts living in the basement and thugs living above me.
        Never , ever had a problem. Except for the jehovahs that took it upon themselves to ruin every Sat morn sleep in….
        Clark Park. Nice place.

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      • Damn! Walking in footprints! I was there in 1969, 1970….ish…. KD and DEATH lived across the street. The place was an ashram by the 80’s. Peace, man. Love, not war.
        DC in BC along with DC in BC. Ten years or so but close cosmically speaking….space time continuum,…..twilight zone……

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  2. Lots of B&Es, kids going off to juvie, but mainly boredom. When I was there never saw any rigs lying around the way they are today. Few homeless people, no gang activity except very low level stuff. Some merchants had bad relationships with some local kids. I saw mostly petty stuff. Was crime an issue outside of the park? Yes! RG.

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