This week’s “Remember the Time” writing theme is about rivalries – a time when I was involved in a sibling or some other type of rivalries. So I got to thinking about this topic and decided that for the most part, girls have rivalries and boys take more assertive action. We like order and we like knowing what our place is in the pecking order (read me). Whether it be a display of superiority on the basketball court or football field or in war, we seem to have a natural tendency towards “settling the matter”. I’m not saying it’s the best policy – in fact the world would be a much safer place if we all just learned to be a little more introspective like my buddy Emily (read her) or more ‘live and let live’ like my buddy Kelly, (read her) but we boys are just wired differently than girls. In the following story I attempt to share a slice of my own experiences with rivalries and fighting while growing up.
On the 500 block of Prytania & Ridgelawn Avenue in Hamilton, Ohio we had 60 children ranging in ages from 1 to adult. (read me) In my baseball playing age range, we had 30 kids. One of the larger families was the Hinkles. Hinkles were one of the Catholic families and had 9 kids – one girl and 8 boys. Jeff was my age, Terry a year younger and Mike was 3 years younger than Terry. All the rest were older with a couple of them already grown and out on their own.
Judging from the way the Hinkle boys spoke to each other, I got the sense that there was a lot of sibling pressure to be more on the tough side, macho. Likely this started with their father. So by the time you got to Jeff, there were already 5 older brothers to take a ribbing from. Because of this, (I speculate), Jeff seemed to have had a need to come across to others as being just as tough as his older brothers.
In fifth grade, soon after I moved into The Alley, I once walked home with Jeff from school. He took the opportunity to tease another boy in his class, likely to show off for me. The kid’s name was Nick Hudson. Nick tried very hard to ignore Jeff, but Jeff kept after him. Finally, after Jeff got directly in front of Nick to stop his walking, Nick had had enough and snapped. He quickly reached out, grabbed Jeff’s throat and pushed Jeff up against a fence. Nick very clearly had more physical strength than Jeff and had made his point. After a few choking sounds and some coaxing from me to let Jeff go, Nick released his grip and allowed Jeff to walk away. I seriously doubt Nick ever had any further issues from Jeff.
In Bucking the Pecking Order (read me) I spoke of our ages representing the natural pecking order in The Alley – and it was. This pecking order was never spoken of, but it was strictly observed by us all. By observing this rule, we avoided useless fighting. Somehow we all knew that we had to just get along with each other or else it would be chaotic. The rule became tested on a couple of times when kids from outside our neighborhood would visit our rank and file.
Personally, I’m a lover, not a fighter. I’ve only had a real fist fight on one occasion and of course it was over something stupid. I had a two week steady in 9th grade with an 8th grader I can’t even remember the name of now (I keep trying, but am coming up blanks). Her ex boyfriend followed us on the way home one day and picked a fight with me after I had left her house. “Nice whore you have there” was what I heard.
I’ve always been capable of the quick one liner, so I hit him where I knew it would hurt (for a guy). “Nice whore you ‘had‘ there”. (Ha – take that!) Let me pause here for the lady readers and explain the male psyche. Because we’re essentially all immature babies, you might not be able to relate to or understand the banter taking place here. The objective here is very similar to your most nasty verbal fight with your spouse – you go for the jugular! So this kid called my girlfriend a whore thinking that the word “whore” would hurt my ego and cause me to want to fight. Had my girlfriend, (still can’t remember her damn name), been with me then I would have been obliged to play along and ‘defend her honor’ (her being the girl whose name I still cannot recall). But since she was not with me, this was ineffective….sticks and stones. My natural smart-ass tendency though was to sling one right back, but deeper. So my emphasis was on the word “had” – the inference being ‘you had her buddy and then I came along, I took her. I took her because I’m better than you, dude’. Ouch! I am so bad!
So he said “you want to get it on?” And then I said, “you’re not my type”. Yes, that’s what I said. I actually joked with him. He was angry and hurt that he no longer was going with old what’s-her-name and I was actually having fun, but he didn’t seem to enjoy the banter so he took a swing at me. I was thinking he was going to do that so I was ready and I merely stepped back a quick step out of his way. At that point, I didn’t see any way out of fighting so I put in two left jabs. I could be a pretty decent wrestler, but I had never fought in my life for real, but I had watched enough TV. 😉
You may laugh, (I am), but that’s what I was thinking about – watching boxers on television. I was going to keep jabbing with my left until I saw a good opening and that’s when I would bring around a hard right. The two quick jabs must have been unexpected because after the first swing, he hadn’t tried swinging back again. The other thing that could have been going on was that I was a year older than he was. We were about the same size but when you’re a kid, there’s always that tendency to allow age to dictate the natural pecking order. Luckily the local gym teacher, Mr. Smith, rolled up and broke us up. That was all there was to it as the guy never tried to bother me again. So fighting over old what’s-her-name was really the only fist fight I’ve had to engage in.
Anyway, back to Jeff. A couple of weeks after the Nick Hudson affair, I guess Jeff wanted to test out where he and I fit in the pecking order. It wasn’t important to me at all. Jeff started pushing me around one day in a basketball game. I wasn’t budging though and after I burned him a couple of times with a couple of Alley 3-pointers, he pushed me and so I grabbed hold of him and put him into a headlock. He tried to get out but I had him tight and I could tell that I was physically stronger. I guess he could tell too as he loosened up and I asked him if we were done. He said ‘yeah, I was just goofing around’. That’s usually how pecking order questions were decided – I don’t recall any fist fights within the ranks of our neighborhood.
And that was Jeff. He was an ok kid, just a lot of ‘big brother, be tough’ pressure I think going on in the household. Now let’s fast forward a couple of years to a pick up football game in the park. We had a good sized group on hand one day and a new player in the pack, Terry Kimble. Terry didn’t live on our block so he didn’t have a spot in our Alley’s pecking order. He lived just one block up on Ridgelawn right across from St. Pete’s church. Terry was the same age as Jeff and I, maybe a couple inches shorter, but very compact and strong. Once again, Jeff was in the mood to test the pecking order that day and Terry was the kid he had singled out – bad call Jeff.
Previous to this football game/bad decision by Jeff, Terry and I had hung out a little in sixth grade. He and I were recess area patrol guards together and everyday at lunchtime, Tim Crane and Steve Brown would go home for lunch. On the way, they’d take an opportunity to wrestle us around. Tim and Steve were one of the larger sixth graders that year at Stinkin’ Lincoln, but Terry held his ground pretty well with these two guys so I had an inkling then that he was pretty strong. A year later at First Baptist Church one night he and I were play wrestling Steve Wilson and a couple other kids. Steve was the largest in that church gang and Terry handled him pretty easily. One thing a class clown, (read me), learns very early in life is when to fight and when not to – I knew Jeff was going to come out on the short end if he kept pressing.
Pressing he did. He took one too many cheap shots during the football game and Terry had had enough of it. Terry called Jeff on it and warned him that if Jeff tried to stiff-arm him one more time, Terry was going to put Jeff on the ground. Jeff, always being the one to learn the hard way, of course attempted to knock Terry down on the very next play. Terry was ready for it. I still have this funny image of Jeff running with the football out of his way to run into Terry. Terry had planted himself, leaning forward and at the perfect moment thrust himself forward right into Jeff who quickly went backwards and hit the ground, complete with feet flying up into the air.
Now, any smart kid or man after getting tossed aside like that would instantly come to his senses and realize that perhaps he should cut his losses, pick himself up and compliment his opponent for a good play….but not Jeff. Jeff got the fight he had been asking for that day. He tried to coax Terry into a boxing match, but Terry, possibly sensing his natural advantage took Jeff to the ground. This occurred in less than 30 seconds. Terry got on top of Jeff and easily had him pinned down. Terry dished out a couple of punches to Jeff in the face and each time he did this, he’d give Jeff a chance to end it. He’d ask – are we done, have you had enough? And just like John Bender being quizzed by Mr. Vernon if he’d like to spend eternity in detention, Jeff kept refusing the opportunity to allow the fight to be over.
As much as I like to see bullies get some of their own medicine, I began feeling sorry for Jeff. At this point I think Jeff was taking a beating just to spite himself. I don’t know how else to explain it. I got Terry to look at me and told him – I think he’s had enough Terry, there won’t be any more problems. Then I said to Jeff – right Jeff? Bloodied lips and nose, he nodded and that was enough to allow Terry to let him up.
One of Jeff’s big brothers had been there and I have to think that had he not been, maybe there wouldn’t have even been a fight. One thing I’ll point out about our neighborhood too is that we didn’t fight unfairly. This fight was between Jeff and Terry. Big brothers would let things play out on their own. This is nothing any of us ever talked about, but it was an understanding; it was our way of letting the pecking order be established. With a clear pecking order and no gang activity or unfair fighting, life was predictable and fights like these were minimized. I can count on one hand the number of fist fights I saw there in The Alley.
We weren’t the strongest or toughest kids in Hamilton, Ohio. We weren’t the smartest, we weren’t the dumbest, the richest or the poorest. We had unwritten and unspoken rules and we all followed them. Most arguments were settled on the baseball field or the basketball court. Rivalries lasted only an hour. Understanding the pecking order and learning when to fight and when not to fight were lessons we taught ourselves and each other. We were a community and for the most part, we got along with each other.
- Article: PECKING ORDER (euzicasa.wordpress.com)