I was about 15, a bit soft and pudgy (those were my thin days) and I was a new kid (again) in another bad neighbourhood. I was walking down a street on my way to a new school-friend’s house when a guy came running up behind me and hit me hard on the head. I fell down. In fact, I fell down on to the lawn in front of my friend’s house so my arrival to his house was off by maybe 30 seconds. Those 30 seconds would result in my getting the crap kicked out of me. And they would change my life forever.
Barry (I found out who it was later) was a year or two older than I was, a few inches taller and ‘mature’ in the sense that he shaved, had muscles and looked butt-ugly. I did not shave and was still pretty damn cute with cheek-fuzz and lingering baby-fat. Barry was one of the school bullies and I was getting familiarized with my new role as a local victim. It was an inauspicious introduction to Vancouver’s eastside.
I was laying on the ground covering up my face while Barry waled on me. He punched, kicked and generally inflicted as much pain as possible but, as it continued, I guess he got a bit fatigued and so he then sat on me, straddled me, and continued the beating from the seated position. It seemed to me that he was saying, ‘I am settling in for the long haul.’
It was looking grim to say the least.
But, there is a God. Seems Barry had hay fever or was asthmatic. Or something. I don’t really know. I was busy thinking about other things at the time. But I heard him wheezing a bit and then I sensed that his blows were getting weaker. Pretty soon Barry was wheezing quite heavily, gasping for breath and then he rolled off of me in an attempt to recover. He was vulnerable. I was saved.
My first instinct was to run for the front door and get truly safe but, well, as I slowly stood up while Barry was still on the ground, wreaking a little revenge proved too tempting and so I jumped on him and proceeded to balance the books the best I could. I was not much of a fighter and I did little damage but, in the dynamics of the situation, I found some small empowerment. It turned out that I felt much better hitting the bad guy than I did being hit by the bad guy. It was a small revelation and a huge satisfaction all at the same time.
Mind you, it was a somewhat short-lived and only a partial victory. The more I struck Barry, the less he wheezed. The less he wheezed, the angrier he got. And it became clear to me that soon my retaliation time would be over and I would very likely end up back on the ground in my prior situation. I started to think of an escape plan.
Fortunately by then, Mrs. new-school friend came out of her front door and started screaming at us. She would have none of it! We were rotten boys and she was calling the police. RIGHT NOW! That was enough for Barry. He took off. I stood there, covered in blood and my school chum told his mother who I was and they took me in and cleaned me up. It was during that time that I learned about the local ‘bad’ boys and the two or three ‘baddest’ to avoid at all costs. Barry, it seems, was amongst the baddest.
That did not bode well for my future. But I put it out of my mind as best I could. It was not easy. Barry was everywhere and, when he could, he would cast angry glances and make threatening gestures. It was intimidating and there seemed an inevitability to it all. Barry intended to beat me up again sometime soon.
But Freddy Fuller (smaller than Barry or me) was at our school and he was the Golden Gloves champ for his age and weight group in all of Canada. The boxing club worked out at the local Boy’s Club. His father was the club’s boxing coach. I enrolled there to play chess and floor hockey but got to know Fred and we became friends. After awhile, I took up boxing.
I was also feeling keenness of teen testosterone and found myself entranced by teenage girls. I wanted ’em. But pudgy is NOT the way to winning a young girl’s heart and so I added weight training and Rugby and football to the hockey and boxing program and, as it turned out, my new part-time, after school job was loading furniture trucks for their next day deliveries. The furniture store was a couple of miles away from my school and so I ran that distance every day.
By the time I had been there a year, I was much fitter (although I always look like a bar of soap), Fred was using me as his sparring partner because I was 165 pounds and his fighting weight was 136. I was much like a live, always moving heavy bag for him and he did NOT pull his punches. But I had a lot more strength and I was getting much more confidence from all of that. Plus I had a very intimate girlfriend and there is nothing better than having a loving girlfriend when you are 16. Finally, there was a reason to live.
I was in the ring one day, shadow-boxing. It was before the session with the coach. I was alone. Barry and two friends came in and watched for a minute and then began to heap abuse. I replied with an invitation. “Why not join me in the ring, Barry?”
“I don’t have gloves.”
“You don’t need to wear ’em. I will wear them, though. Don’t want to hurt you too much. But you can wear whatever you like. I don’t care. Are you chicken, Barry?”
Barry climbed in the ring and gave it his best shot including trying to wrestle and kick. A few minutes later, his friends were helping him get off the floor and out of the ring. This time it was his face that was the worse for wear. I hadn’t even worked up much of a sweat. It was one of the best days of my life back then. It was the beginning of real confidence.
You’d think that would be the end of it but it was just the beginning. Barry and I engaged each other at least four or five more times before the end of high school but each of those times was just a quick flurry of fury and it was over. I think I came out better than he did but his eagerness to try again a few months later belied any sense of defeat. Barry was relentless.
There is a weird twist to all this. Even though we were never friends nor even ‘on speaking terms’, Barry and I played on several teams together. Rugby, Football and Floor-hockey. Twice during ugly floor hockey games the opposing team’s thug/enforcer would single me out for some punishment (I scored often) and I usually responded with some retaliatory force. A fight would then ensue and I was always the littler guy fighting the other team’s bully. If I fared alright, then it all ended quickly but, if I looked like I might lose, Barry would be the first to leap in to rescue me. One time, he came to my aid with two other guys. It took three of them to restrain that one brute and I remember distinctly hearing Barry yell, “Get out! Run! We’ll bring your stuff later.”
I took the advice.
Why tell you all that? Only because I alluded to street fights earlier and Barry was the first. Barry initiated me. I still hate the bastard but I am glad for the learning experience. It was needed and it proved useful many, many times later on. .