Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Clash of the Titans

NOTE: Names have been changed to protect the guilty!

I grew up a stone's throw from the grade school that we attended, Jesse LaSalle Elementary School. My parents, however, did not let us go up to the playground alone. That's where all the knuckleheads hung out. Instead, we played kickball, dodge ball, hide and seek, red light/green light (or “1-2-3 Red Light” as we called it), football and baseball in the alley behind my house. Home plate was a large crack in the pavement in the middle of the alley; first base was the connecting piece that joined two segments of the horizontal fence poles together; second base was a triangular-shaped tar spot in the middle of the alley and third base was the larger of two fence posts just opposite first base. We played with plastic bats and wiffle balls or tennis balls and no gloves.

On one particular day, we were playing baseball in the alley. It was late in the afternoon so, the heat of the summer sun had subsided a great deal and had begun to retreat from the sky as it bowed out of sight behind the row of houses on my block.

In the middle of our game, Maria (name changed to protect the guilty) and her sisters, the evil brood, casually strolled around the corner into our playing field. we were forced to stop and wait as they meandered along. obviously, they were trying to mess up our game. As they FINALLY made their way out of the field of play, a member of our neighborhood crew (we’ll call him Andy), uttered words that he would later regret allowing to pass his lips.

"Slow walkers!", Andy said as an after thought as he returned his attention to the game at hand. This caused the interlopers to stop and engage whomever it was that opened their mouths.

"Whatchu say, boy?!", was the response. I knew immediately that trouble was a-brewing.

Andy was a very likable kid. He was youngest of his family, which included a brother and sister who were our age and two much adult brothers. Andy was most known for his habit of easing up to whomever had the cookies, chips or candy (Most times, the candy was Now & Laters, pronounced Nowlatas.) and whispering “Can I have some?” in such a way as to convey that he was hungry, but falling short of alerting everyone of the presence of food. I guess he thought if everyone knew about the snack, they’d all ask and ruin it for everybody. Andy was the most outspoken of his amazing fact when you consider that one thing Andy was not was a fighter. he'd open his mouth, start some commotion and then high-tail it to the safety of his home.

Maria, the oldest of the crew and at least five years older than I was at the time, purposefully walked toward Andy. With each step that she took, her eyes got more I’m-gonna-beat-your-butt-like and Andy's eyes got more Lord-what-have-I-done-like.

"I'm gonna slap the black off you, boy!", said Maria.

In place of any verbal response from Andy was the chirping chorus of crickets. He was too busy looking at the ground and planning his escape to prepare an acceptable retort. Meanwhile, standing a scant ten feet away was Andy's sister. she was also noticeably silent. In other words, neither Andy nor his sister wanted any parts of Maria! We all stood there as these events unfolded. I remember feeling sorry for Andy and sister. Before I could really embrace my feelings of pity, the silence was shattered by the resounding sound of Maria's palm bouncing off of Andy's face. This sound was immediately followed by the sounds of Andy crying. That sound was immediately followed by the sounds of Andy's feet taking him home quick, fast and in a hurry. His sister was right behind him.

"You better run! Don't let me catch you on the street again!", hollered Maria through a combination scowl and smirk. – wanting to be intimidating, while at the same time, being very pleased with her handiwork.

With that, she turned and crossed Kennedy Street towards her house. When they reached the other side of the street, Maria's little sister (whose name i never knew so, i'll just call her Maria's little sister) threw a D-sized battery across the street towards us as if to add an exclamation point to the assault that had just taken place. I’m not sure if she found that battery on the street or she just carried them around to use to break up random baseball games. Already angered by the way they embarrassed my friend (and forgetting the fact that my brother, sister and I engaged in a yearly fight with Andy and his kin), the whole battery thing set me off. There’s just so much a man (or boy) is willing to take! I picked up that battery and launched it back at Maria's little sister. predictably, the crew stopped and made their way back across the street. This time, they wouldn't be facing an adversary who was unable and unwilling to stand up for himself. I was ready and willing to do battle. I was prepared to stand up for myself, for our retreated friends and for the honor of our alley and the baseball game held therein.

I could literally hear my heart pounding as i braced myself to "handle my bizness". before Maria violated my personal space, i managed to swallow my heart. Thank God it knew to take a left into my chest rather than proceed to my stomach! Who knows what kind of heartburn that would've caused!

so there we were, nose to forehead. You see, Maria was a good six inches taller than I was then. I gained a measure of confidence by the fact that Maria didn't launch into immediate attack mode on me as she had on poor, poor Andy. I wasn't so confident, however, to initiate the attack. Rather, we just stood there, glaring at each other.

Finally, the thirst for blood and the hunger for action got the best of Maria's little sister so she decided to speed things along. She grabbed Maria's hand and lightly touched my arm with it. Not wanting to be punked, i sent return fire by lightly tapping Maria's arm. With the speed of a lioness pouncing on an unsuspecting wildebeast, Maria sprung into action! As soon as the very tip of a hair on my hand came into contact with her skin, Maria had her left hand on my throat and was swinging wildly with her right. obviously, she had done this before. the heat of this strike burned away any fear or reservations that i may have felt. I was mad then! It was ON!

i cocked back with my right hand and pushed my little fist past her nose, through her face and towards the nether regions of the universe...or so it felt to me at the time. Maria, undaunted, continued her quantity-over-quality attack. I feared that the judges may have been swayed by Maria's sheer volume of punches and, fearing that the round was slipping away from me, stepped up my attack. I launched blow after blow and bounced right after right off Maria's forehead while my left hand tried to pry her claws off my throat!

I'm sure that the onlookers, both pro- and con-Milton were screaming and making a terrible fuss, but the only thing i could hear was my own heartbeat. i felt the adrenaline course through my 11-year-old body as the little voice in my head screamed "You're actually in a fight!".

I sensed that the tide was shifting in my favor and Maria's face echoed the same. Maria was starting to cry; trembling bottom lip and all! I had literally wiped the sneer off her face! just as i was basking in the glow of my victory and already spending the currency that is "street cred", everything came to a screeching halt.

"DEL (my nickname)! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! YOU KNOW YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO FIGHT A GIRL! GET BACK IN THIS YARD, BOY!", Daddy bellowed from the kitchen and throughout the entire neighborhood. His voice echoed off every house on the block and beyond. I’m sure there were “Dels” all over the city who ran in their yards at the hearing of Daddy’s command.

Just as quickly as this storm blew in, it had dissipated. now i had to explain to my father why i was fighting a girl.

Two things were accomplished on this day: Maria and her crew never interrupted our baseball game again and one more memory that will live forever in the family lore was created.

I can’t recall ever seeing Maria again. My guess is that she packed up her stuff and left town. Yeah, that’s it. I did, however, run into Maria’s little sister the very next fall at a Glee Club (our school’s choral group) rehearsal at school. I was forced to sit next to her during rehearsal. When we recognized each other, our little minds flashed back to the “Fight of the Century”…or “Fight of that Tuesday”, can’t remember which. We shared a smile and that was the end of the conflict. You see, I’ve never been one to hold a grudge. Though Maria never ventured onto our block again, if she had (after sufficient time had expired), I would’ve said “Hi” just to diffuse the animosity and let her know everything was cool.

By the way, if you run into Maria or her crew, don't listen to their side of the story. no doubt they were emotionally unprepared to handle such a crushing defeat at such tender ages and their recollection of the events would be compromised. :)

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