It’s Who You Know

I seem to remember it this way…

Those guys lived across town, but they may as have been in different country. Even though we all lived in Williamsburg, the kids in York County went to Bruton High School. Those of us on the other side of town went to Lafayette High School. Most of the time, we had very little to do with each other. Sports, though, would bring us together, but once pony league and rec basketball were over that was it for hanging with the Bruton kids.

There was actually a crosstown rivalry between the two high schools. The games packed quite a bit of emotion because Lafayette was the big school while Bruton was the little school that always wanted to be big. In reality, Lafayette was barely a big school and more like Bruton than any of the Rams were willing to admit, so we carried an attitude that would deign an air of superiority.

I came to the Williamsburg schools through the York County, so I thought I might be able to pull of a Jimmy Carter and bring the two schools together. I reached down Penniman Road to some old classmates and opened a dialogue about any parties that might be happening in the area. My friends waited while I made the call.

“Steve, Brad Rust, how have you been?”

“Brad? From Lafayette?” he asked on the other end of the line

“Yeah, man, I’m looking for a party. Heard there might be something on Waller Mill Road. You going?”

“You’re not thinking of going, are you? It might get a little crazy,” he said.

“It’ll be cool. We won’t cause any problems and we’ll bring a little something for the house.”

That was enough for him to hear and he gave me directions. He also warned me that the king, Al Jefferson would be there. Al had a reputation of being a Lafayette hater who would take any Ram unlucky enough to be caught away from the heard. I wasn’t too worried about Al because he and I had played on the same baseball team for six years and we got along with each other then.

“We’re in fellas,” I said.

Rob, the cautious one in our group asked, “Are you sure we should go to this?”

“Sure, I don’t see why not,” said Chet, “Besides if it’s no good we can go back to the Carolyn Court. My dad is going to Gloucester.”

“I don’t know,” started Rob, “we never go to their parties. What if we get jumped or something?”

“No worries, Rob. We’ll know enough people that there won’t be a problem,” I said.

At 9:00, Rob, Chet, his brother Brett, and I headed out on our journey to the other county, which was nothing more than a ten minute drive. The party was in full swing with cars on both sides of the road. We decided it would be best to park at the end of the street just in case Rob was right and we did get jumped. His little Dodge Dart was not much on weight and we had once picked it up to fit in a tight parking, but if we were being chased by an angry mob, there would not have been enough time to get out of such an extreme parking job.

As we turned up the driveway to the party house, I turned back to the group and said, “Stick together and don’t cause any problems.” We went in and there was a moment where time sort of stopped. The music kept playing, but the conversation and card game took a break. I couldn’t tell whether they were surprised that we were there or if they had been expecting us. I saw Steve down the hall in the kitchen, so I headed straight for him.

“Steve,” I yelled out and reached to shake his hand.

The shake was lukewarm, like the house gift I handed him, but his advice could not have been more accurate. “Don’t stay long,” he said.

I dismissed his warning and headed back over to the table where a game of poker was being played. Our parties never had poker. The only games that I could think of at our parties were horseshoes and quarters. I recognized a couple of kids at the table, including one that I had played baseball with, so I gave them all a “What’s up?” and kept moving through the crowd. Occasionally, I would see someone I vaguely recognized from elementary school and we would catch up. All was going well, but then I had this strange feeling that I was alone. Where were Rob, Chet and Brett? They had been right behind me and now they were gone.

“Oh well, I’m having fun. They’ll be alright,” I thought.

In the time before cell phones and social media, I’m not sure how word spread so quickly, but one of my knucklehead friends must have called some of our other friends and they were all out in the front yard enjoying a dip. Unbeknownst to them, the poker game was changing to a game of checkers and Lafayette was about to get jumped.

Steve saw me sitting on the couch and quickly came over. “You guys better leave now. Trouble,” he said.

I knew this was a warning that could not be ignored, but it was too late. I got out of the house to find a crowd of Panthers circling a small heard of willing and severely outnumbered Rams. The worst of it was that the few extra kids that crossed the county line had much bigger egos than their fighting skills could protect. I gave the whole thing about five minutes before someone was going to lose a tooth.

I quickly followed the energy to the source and who did I find standing there? It was the king Lafayette hater himself, Al Jefferson. “What’s up, Al?” I asked.

He looked over and was super confused. He probably saw me in my little bumble bee yellow baseball jersey and not as one of the dudes he was about to have beaten to a pulp. He looked back to my flannel wearing friends and back to me, “What are you doing here?” he asked.

“Just having some fun, Al. We didn’t come over here to have any problems, even left something for the house in the fridge,” I said.

“You should’t be here. This is our party.”

“I know, Al, but we didn’t mean any disrespect. We can go, but man, you guys know how to party. I was having fun, but don’t want any trouble.”

He got that crazy look out his face like the time he tried to run Rodney Johnson over at home plate, which did not go well for Al since he gave up about a hundred and fifty pounds to Rodney. I was bracing for a mauling and using every bit of my drama class schooling to make it look like I wasn’t scared.

“Let ‘em go,” he said to the crowd. He turned to me and said, “Don’t come back.”

“Alright, thanks man. I’ve got to get something from the house.”

I turned and walked back into the party, past the vacant poker game, by the shocked gawkers, and straight to the refrigerator. There on the bottom shelf was our gift to the house that I grabbed before retracing my steps back through the angry mob. My friends were already gone and waiting for me in the car.

“See you around, fellas,” I said and walked down the street to Rob’s car.

We headed back to Chet and Bret’s hotel house. There was a lot of the bravado being spewed about how we could have whooped up on those “Bruton boys,” but I knew we had gotten lucky. I just listened to the guys talk their smack. Fortunately, King Al, was not as hard as his reputation, although, years later some unlucky soul would run into Al’s evil side, which landed the king in prison.