Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published November 14, 2002

You Wanna Fight?

I used to have a southern accent. I didn’t say “ya’ll” or anything like that because I was from Kansas . Still, I sounded different enough so that when my family moved to Minnesota the kids in my new junior high school called me “Reb.” This nickname was not bestowed in kindly condescension. 

All of the students in North Mankato Junior High had attended the same elementary school the previous year and I was the only new kid. The seventh grade’s social elite was already clearly established. One particular alpha male carried himself with an assurance that was guaranteed to keep popular girls hanging around his locker. This was John.

I happened to sit in front of John in English. A week or so after school started I turned around to collect the homework that our row was passing forward to turn in. I don’t think I did anything to provoke John while I waited for him to pass me the papers. Nonetheless, he narrowed his eyes and challenged me with cool arrogance. “You wanna fight me?”

“Sure,” I lied, hoping and praying that he was just pulling my leg. The code of junior high bravado required the answer I had given John. He wasn’t kidding. I took a mental gulp and asked him where and when we should meet. “At seven tonight. Under the traffic light at Range and Garfield .”

After dinner I casually told my Mother that I had to go. Puzzled, she asked me why. “Because I have to go fight a guy,” Mom didn’t argue with me and I don’t recall her asking me a lot of questions. I knew she felt helpless in the face of this adolescent stupidity. She couldn’t even defer to my Father for guidance. He was still working back in Kansas . And besides, her own father had been a war hero. We lived in the age of Gary Cooper and High Noon. A man must do what a man must do.

It was dusk when I rounded the corner heading for the light at the appointed intersection. A gang of nine or ten guys were chasing around under the light. I’d have to fight John with a crowd to cheer him on or maybe worse.

“Is John here?” I asked as I drew near.

“No,” one of the guys replied. “I think I saw him down by Range and Monroe .” Oh, I’d gotten the directions wrong. At least there wouldn’t be a crowd.

“OK, Thanks,” I replied, and began walking the two blocks toward the neighborhood store. But John wasn’t there either. He was just taking his sweet time.  I was sure that he would be back with the gang by the time I walked back.

“What do you want John for?” Wayne Schultz asked me after my return.

“John and I are supposed to have a fight.” I said as nonchalantly as I could.

“Well, you can fight me instead,” Wayne grinned. I swallowed my shock. “OK,” I replied.

Wayne and I began circling. In an instant the gang circled us in turn and began cheering for Wayne .

I was reluctant to throw a punch.  I’d never been in a real fight before. I knew about punch drunks whose brains had turned to mush in the boxing ring. I had no desire to do such damage to anybody. Fortunately, Wayne and I didn’t come to blows. Instead, Wayne and I closed on each other and locked our arms around each other’s head. We “wrassled.” (I was from Kansas remember) 

One of the gang, Donny, who would later be imprisoned for attempted rape, began kicking me in the butt while my upper body was otherwise engaged. I’m pretty sure he was aiming for something else. I did my best to keep my balance as Wayne and I grappled and danced for several furious minutes.

At some unspoken cue, Wayne and I unclenched while we were both still standing. Our “fight” was over. “Aw, you woulda beat John easy,” said Wayne , “Cause I can take him.”

Rarely have I felt such gratitude to anyone as I felt for Wayne Schultz that night. Neither of us were winners. Neither of us were losers. Wayne , as the local favorite, had helped me discharge my responsibility to manhood and left me with my dignity.

America hasn’t always been as generous after its own battles. There was little of Lincoln ’s “with malice toward none” following the Civil War. On the other hand America got a good look at European recriminations after the First World War and turned its back on the Old Country until their legacy of vengeance pulled us inexorably into the Second World War.

America was generous to Germany and Japan afterwards, perhaps to a fault. We needed a few of their scoundrels for the Cold War which followed. But more importantly we instituted the Marshall Plan. We are still collecting dividends from our magnanimity to this day.

I pray that if we should come to blows in Iraq we will remember the best lessons of our past. I am frankly nervous on this account. Our quick indifference to Afghanistan following our stunning victory there is not a good sign. I sure hope that we aren’t so caught up in our short term addiction to SUV’s and the good low-tax life to make a longer term investment in the future of these nations. I’d like them to remember us the same way I remember Wayne Schultz.

Harry Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com