Friday, March 20, 2009

Fight Club

When I saw this item on the news wire this morning, I was amazed but not surprised.

I was amazed because I thought this sort of thing didn't happen any more. Then I thought about it for a moment, and I was not surprised because I know from experience that this sort of thing has been going on--at least here in Texas--since I was in high school.

In fact, I've been to several of these cage matches when I was attending junior high school in San Antonio. It's no excuse for the behavior, but there is a social context for it which bears some explanation. We lived in a very poor part of town and the school was, to say the least, a tough one.

Personally I never had a problem, but this is where I learned to keep my head down and stay out of the line of fire, so to speak. I passed quickly through the crowds in the parking lot on my way in and knew where to hang--or, more importantly, where not to hang--out during lunch. Gangs were a known quantity, not threatening but present. Conflicts were infrequent but unavoidable, and when a fight broke out during P.E. the coaches would 'settle it' with a cage match.

The first time this happened, I was appalled but, in a sort of typical male adolescent way, intrigued by the idea of seeing two thugs--whom I likely didn't like anyway--pound on each other, especially because they were not beating on me. So, after separating the two combatants on the dusty field, the coaches dragged them into the clubhouse and lined the rest of us up at the door for admittance to the spectacle. I lined up with everyone else. At first, I was uncertain as to why we had to line up and go in to the clubhouse one at a time, but as I got closer to the door I saw the reason.

The coaches were charging 'admission' to the fight of one 'lick' with the 'board of education'. Now, for those unfamiliar with it, this thing is a two and a half foot long 'paddle' that resembles nothing so much as a cricket bat with holes drilled into it to reduce the air resistance as it descends upon the ass of it's victim. The purpose of this 'tool' was ostensibly to enforce discipline, but in fact, no one that ever took a lick as punishment ever really minded it, while those of us who were mortified at the thought of being beaten with a bat would never place ourselves in harms way, so to speak, in the first place. I never did. That is, until that day.

Standing in line, watching the rest of the guys bend over and grab their ankles while the coach swatted their asses with the board, I was overcome with disgust and anxiety. It's not like the thought of being smacked with a wooden plank was so terrifying that I could not handle it, but the whole situation resembled nothing so much as a prison movie and as such had a surreal quality to it that I have never forgotten. I took the lick that day, and watched the fight with a still sore ass from on top of the lockers. Though they were given gloves, they two boys beat each other down pretty good. Both had bloody noses at the end. I wonder how they explained that to their parents, but then again, this was the sixties in Texas.

The next time a fight broke out, I set myself up for humiliation but comfort by refusing to take the lick and therefore entrance to the fight. Apparently no one had ever done this before, so at first, the coaches didn't know what to do with me. Eventually they settled on making me run laps around the track and sit in the bleachers while the rest of the class took their licks and presumably enjoyed the fight. In spite of the ridicule heaped upon me by my classmates at the end of class, I figured I'd made out alright.

After all, my intent then and there, as at other times and in other places in my life, was to avoid violence, whether given or received.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

attended school and played sports in san antonio schools in the 50s and grabbed ankles for many a lick from coaches - made me a better athlete! - mike