Thursday, July 20, 2006

Over before it began

I remember it like it was twenty years ago. The day of the big fight. Cedric King, the reigning school bully. Against Billy Lansdell. The new kid. The transfer student.

Our middle school went from 4th to 7th grade. I was never sure why. Cedric had been terrorizing the halls and playgrounds all year. He wasn't that tall. And his eyes were not exactly straight, so it was impossible to tell if he was speaking to you. But he was built like a middleweight boxer.

Once I tripped him in PE while we were playing football. Everyone had always been afraid to tackle him. And I was sneaky like that. I was twelve. He was fifteen. His forearms were as big around as my legs. He got up and pushed me down and the PE teacher sent him to the office.

We laughed about it in the lunch line that day. He wasn't a bad guy, I don't think. Just a typical school bully compensating for shortcomings and insecurities.

Billy Lansdell was a big hulking figure. He was country strong. And shy. And still to this day, the only seventh grader in school history who legally drove a car to school. When you're 12 or 13, that seems cool.

Billy had transferred from a nearby school early that year. He never bullied anyone, far as I know. And always seemed a bit uncomfortable with the role into which he'd been thrust. Looking back, I don't think Billy ever really wanted to fight. It was everyone else who wanted him to. That year, he became our hope. Someone to stand up against the school bully. We left him no choice.

School was abuzz all that Friday. From the moment Billy arrived on campus, this day had seemed inevitable. Like two superpowers headed for a showdown. The atomic clock was about to strike midnight. And my seventh grade mind couldn't comprehend the magnitude of what might happen.

The fight was to take place in the schoolyard by the flagpole. My normal after school routine was to rush down to the 4th grade hall, and intentionally run into Keisha Cantrell. She was in my class, but would always leave that way to walk to the board of education, where her dad worked.

I lived for that blonde-haired girl to smile and tell me hi. But not today. I rushed out the main entrance and came upon a mob of students following Billy towards the flagpole. From across the schoolyard, an equally large mass of kids were approaching behind Cedric. This was it.

The two immovable objects met in the center of the school yard. Kids were yelling, cheering. This wasn't like your typical boys room fight where someone would inevitably step in and try to stop it. No one was about to stop this.

From my position, I couldn't hear what was said. And then. It was over.

All I could see was the crowd parting and Cedric and Billy walking away. Side by side. Smiling. Not a punch was thrown. What a letdown.

I never pondered why they didn't fight that day. Maybe they were both a little scared. Maybe some member of the faculty showed up and stopped it. Maybe neither of them really wanted to fight. Either way, Billy had stood toe to toe with him. That was a small victory.

I didn't stick around to think about it. Grabbed up my Trapper Keeper and ran down the sidewalk. The fight that never happened was over so quick that I knew there was a good chance I could still run into Keisha.

I don't recall seeing Billy or Cedric the next year when we made the jump to 8th grade and high school. Sometimes you wonder what happens to people like that.

"The angry boy, a bit too insane. Icing over a secret pain. You know you don't belong..."


  1. Billy Lansdell sounds like a bully name. I'd swear you made that name up if I didn't know better.

    How did I know you'd have a Trapper Keeper??? And it probably was meticulous all year long. Mine looked like crap about one month into school.

    I had a school yard fight once. I got punching in the face. She was a "head." I didn't have any backup. My friends kept walking and left me there to defend myself. My mom was really angry, called the principle and we all had a meeting in the principles office. She denied the whole thing. Still kinda makes me angry to this day when I think about it. So, I'm not gonna think about it anymore.

    Thanks for the story, it was a good one!

  2. Is this from the Mike & George fighting over the parking space while Jerry rushes in to watch the fight that didn't happen? Who was in that fight anyway? And I find it hard to believe that Elaine wanted to see the fight.

  3. What exactly does "country strong" mean? Good post. One we can all relate to. It's funny the things we think are so important and cool when we're little.

  4. great storytelling and one that I certainly can relate to from my jr. high days.

  5. Yeah, we are NOT getting her a regular bat. In fact after that, I would be suprised if she ever played again...she was extreemly upset that she hit me.

    It probably didn't help that I fell over, but I was worried about passing out and not having any control over it.

    Luckily I only have one black could have been two.

  6. Carnealian: Thanks, I tried hard to come up with that one. Didn't want to use real names.

    Renee: I'm not sure if they ever said who was fighting in that ep. I love the end where Mike says, "You're gonna have to go to work." And George says, "I don't have a job." And Mike says, "Neither do I."

    Krista: Country strong. What would you think it meant? :-)

    Sage: Thanks. I could say the same thing about your post. The great storytelling. Not the junior high days.

    Renee: Aww, poor Darly. That's some full-contact wiffle ball there.

  7. OMG! Trapper Keepers! I'd forgotten all about that.

    I had a bully showdown in 6th grade. I sat in Sissy's chair at the lunch table. She was a bit scary, but I was tired of being scared of her. Turns out, she wasn't all that. She kept asking everyone why I was mad at HER! (That's the girl version of your West Side Story playground fight)

  8. Ya know, I was in a fight once. Well, Rhianna Hudson made it known that she wanted to fight me at 3:00 by the big tree on the playground. This was probably 5th grade. She didn't show up. I automatically won. Come to find out, everyone was scared of me and my group of friends at this small private school. Hard to believe now huh?

  9. Really great story, Bone, each one gets better.

    I know that you can turn anything into a Seinfeld story, but as Seinfeld & co., never matured past age 11, think you would have to stick to middle school analogies. I can say that because I'm from Long Island like Seinfeld, live on the UWS, and have never matured.....

  10. Ah yes... the Trapper Keeper. That was the Holy Grail of notebooks back in the day. I remember the colored folders that fit inside that had the angle cut pockets... part of the whole Trapper Keeper "system".

    I also seem to recall that the shoes I work around that time would inflate. I think it was one of the Air Jordan iterations that would conform to your foot. Those were the days.

  11. Maybe he "chose NOT to race" um, fight. But maybe then he was dared to, even called a chicken, so then he jumped the gun when a car backfired about the same time and got a head start. It sounds as if you were so thrilled that you could hook up with your girl after the fight that never was, you could have knocked Elaine down in your excitement.

    This reminds me of the Scut Farcas affair. Well done.

  12. Carmen: I don't think boy bullies quite worked like that :)

    Groovie: Wow. Really? I'm a little scared of you now.

    Pia: There's something endearing about my immaturity at first. But after awhile, people usually tire of it.

    JMo: I wonder if they still have Trapper Keepers. If they do, I'm sure they're not nearly as popular as they were in 1985.

    Dorothy: Now that would have been funny. "I choose not to fight!"

    It wasn't so much a hook up as a drinking after her at the water fountain, exchanging "hi's" and then going our separate ways, me never knowing why I couldn't ever think of anything to say to her.

  13. Trapper Keeper! No way! HA! How long into the school year did the velcro wear out and the plastic spine break?

    The kids at our school fought at the "tennis courts" in a park across the street from our school.

  14. "Maybe my lips will touch the fountain where she accidentally leaned too far. It'll be like I kissed her cheek, or even her lips." "I'm touching the knob she just touched, and I felt that magic that only comes from knowing your soulmate has left an imprint on the drinking fountain"

    Ah, Jr. High.

  15. My mother never allowed me to have a trapper keeper because they were like 45 dollars. I feel like I missed out on a huge part of childhood.

  16. When I was in elementary and junior high school, I was the kid who always stuck up for the kids getting picked on by the bullies. Unless you deserved it. And then you were on your own. For some reason, the bullies never thought to go after me.

  17. I have to say I was always kinda disappointed that I never got into a single fight. I always wonder if I could have held my own. I am a very non-violent person but I wonder if something would have been unleashed. ha ha. Guess I will never know.

  18. I wonder what you're doing right now Bone,my morning feels so empty without you.I'm a bit worried about you.I guess I'll just have another big bowl of Frankenberries...mmmmmm

  19. update: Darly has not given up whiffle ball... but I am no longer allowed to be the catcher. Now DH has to be the catcher and I have to pitch. So at each swing DH flinches and covers his face while I try to not roll on the ground laughing.
    Darly lets about 5 good pitches go past her before swinging at the lousy pitch...typical.

  20. Lass: I don't remember the velcro wearing out. Not completely anyway. I just remember it being dirty, because the desks were too small to put your books in, so you put them on the floor.

    Dorothy: Um, how did you know about the water fountain?! OK, seriously. She'd always get a drink and I'd always go right after her. And had those exact thoughts. Or something very similar. Scary how you knew that.

    Heather: 45 dollars?! Well, I don't think they were that high back in the early 80's :)

    Xinh: Very noble of you.

    Z: I only got into a couple of three. Might have to write about those someday.

    Katie: I'm here! I'm OK. Just had sort of a tough week, and temporarily lost my ability to write anything interesting. Thanks for being concerned :)

    Renee: Sounds like you need to work on her strike-zone recognition.

    Hey, I have a question. The day she hit you, ya'll hadn't skipped someone's funeral so that you could play wiffle ball, had you?