Butter Rum Cartoon

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Monday, February 18, 2008


Although I've been beaten up a few times when young, I've never actually been in a genuine fight. My biggest worry in such an activity is dental damage, although now, at 58 years of age, it probably wouldn't make that much difference to my teeth.

When I was little and getting beat up, I would often pretend to be hurt worse than I was, so my assailant would stop. Then, after he was out of sight, I'd smile and go about my business. A neighbor boy, Larry, older and bigger than I, once stopped me in an alley and slugged me in the stomach. It didn't hurt; he was wimpy; but I bent over and pretended to be crying, and Larry strutted away smug and happy. Years later he was seen by others at a gay bar in Seattle. Told you he was wimpy.

Once an enemy of mine came and knocked on our front door. When my Mom opened it, he asked if Dale could come out to play. I went with him to the playground a block away, and while I was swinging on the swing, he asked, "Do you know why I wanted you to come with me?"

"Yes," I said.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because you want to beat me up," I said, matter-of-factly.

And he said, "That's right," and he did.

Later on, in high school, when fighting was more frequent, more brutal, and more serious, I usually talked my way out of it, saying something like, "Why do you want to fight me? For sure you'd win the fight, so what's the point?" It took the wind out of their sails. I used to think that the reason I was picked on so much was because I was a preacher's kid; but now, thinking back, I think it had more to do with my being so obnoxious and irritating. My worst memory in high school is of the time I was walking out of the cafeteria in Burlington and two guys were waiting for me outside the doorway. They each grabbed onto an arm and held me as a third guy came running across the hall and kicked me in the groin. I fell to the floor and rocked back and forth in agony, as a crowd watched, many laughing.

But there were times, too, when I was the bad guy. Back in grade school, in Blaine, I was wondering how accurate that sound was on TV when one man socked another man in the jaw. You know the sound. Well, walking down the street, I happened upon a smaller fellow I had never seen before, and socked him in the jaw to find out. He fell to the ground, and looked at me in bewilderment. The sound was identical. I was impressed.

My brother, Paul, was in the Army around this time. I practically idolized him, and missed him greatly. One day I was sitting in my neighbor's yard, visiting with my friend, who was much bigger and taller than I. At one point, he pretended to pull a hand-grenade pin out with his teeth and throw the imaginary grenade. I said, "My brother is in the Army, and he says you'd bust your teeth if you tried to use them to pull out a grenade pin." My friend said, "Well your brother's a fart." I went berserk and leaped at him and began pounding him with my fists. He stood up, picked me up and threw me down, and went into his house. I was so furious that I began throwing rocks at his house, and his mother telephoned my parents to complain about me. My Dad, a minister, was upset and came charging out of the parsonage next door as I was trudging angrily home. I told him the story, but instead of saying "fart," a no-no word, I spelled it out, saying, "He called Paul an F.A.R.T." Dad punished me only by sending me to my room, and later I overheard him quietly telling Mom, "He even spelled it."

And when I was in high school, in Sultan, a bigger fellow, Mike, who sat behind me in class, was pinging my ear with his finger. It hurt, and I was not in the mood. I turned around and viciously whispered, "Stop it." But as soon as I turned back, he did it again, and so I whirled around and stabbed my pencil into his arm. I didn't mean for it really to puncture him, but it went in deep, leaving a huge black hole that didn't even bleed, that I saw. Mike stared at his arm in disbelief, then looked up at me and muttered, "I'll get you for this. Wait 'til after school."

I worried the rest of the day, but when Mike did meet up with me after school, he didn't do anything to me but say mean things. He no doubt thought I was insane, and didn't want any more punctures. Strangely enough, he eventually befriended me, and when we saw each other years after graduating, it was a reunion of good buddies.

Bo Campbell
All this I've written so far is just an introduction to what I really want to tell you about--the fight in the Army. Now when a fight in the Army comes along, it can be very serious, possibly even crippling or fatal. And when a Hispanic soldier got mad enough at me to challenge me to a fight in the barracks at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, I wished he hadn't. He was very proud of and concerned about his machismo, and once he challenged me to a fight, it was impossible for him to change his mind, and I knew my technique of talking him out of it wouldn't work. We had to fight, and I didn't want to. I thought back to the time, in high school in Burlington, when the
coach, Bo Campbell, highly respected, stopped me in the hall and asked me if I wanted to turn out for wrestling. I said no, and have ever since regretted it. Later, someone told me that Bo Campbell never approached anyone like that to ask him. Instead, guys would struggle to approach Bo, in hopes of being accepted. So I've always felt good about Bo Campbell and wondered what he saw in me. And thinking of this, I said to this angry soldier, "I hate the idea of us bloodying each other all up. Instead of that, why don't we have a good ol' high school wrestling match?" Surprisingly, he approved of the idea. That way we could still fight and he would keep his machismo intact.

It turned out to be a bigger deal than it would have been. We would have had a slug-out right in the hall in front of a few excited guys. But suddenly the word was out. There was going to be a wrestling match, in one of the barracks bays, and the building's whole population turned out to watch it. We had a huge audience. Guys were excited, happy and loud, and many were making bets. The two of us got down in a traditional high-school wrestling beginning pose; we had managed to acquire a referee, and we went at it. It was a wonderful event, and both of us were delighted to be entertaining the crowd, while seriously doing unbloody battle.

I won.

And my opponent accepted his loss. And the two of us were good friends after that, although enemies before. If only somehow we could all learn to and always succeed at making fights constructive instead of destructive.

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