There’s a fine line line between prisons and schools. Students get told where to sit, when they can go to the bathroom, how long they can exercise, and when to eat. Prisoners have the same life including the opportunity to get an education. Prisons and schools also have hiding places where all sorts of nasty things can happen.
My high school was no different. Before the days of supermax high schools, we were allowed to roam the building as long as we didn’t act like idiots. Lunch was the time to move around and find the best places to hang out. Since the building didn’t have any windows, catching a little sunlight was important to me. That meant going outside and hanging with the smokers and tobacco spitting country boys or going into the locker area of school.
The lockers were my preference because I wasn’t down with smoke or spit, although many of my friends bordered on the country persuasion and were intent on packing a lip. I preferred the locker room because my locker was next to large windows and I usually could hang with my preppy country friend. David was a hunter, fisher, and all around L.L. Bean type when Bean was still about the outdoors and not suburban style. We had played on the same Little League team and remained friends in school, but we lived in separate parts of town. I really didn’t know many of the kids from his neighborhood, but there was one that I tried to avoid, Chris Gavigan.
In middle school, Chris was bigger than most of us. He was a year older, had a reputation for the illegal type of tobacco, and gave off a bad vibe. I was more on the preppy-athlete side of things which didn’t gel with his stoner-metal get up. The truth is that I was a little scared of this guy because there had always been a rumor that he sent a kid to the hospital. I bought it for all it was worth believing that he would tear me apart if I ever crossed him.
One sunny day, David and I were hanging by the lockers when Chris and his crony came around the corner. They didn’t pay much attention to me, but they were all about hassling David. He was holding his own, but it was only a matter of time before they used their numbers and jacked him up Oz style.
“Why don’t you guys leave him alone,” I said.
“What?” asked Chris’s tight pale blue T-shirt wearing surf boy. This kid was muscular for an eleventh grader. I wanted no part of that, but fear is the death of a prisoner, so I stood up.
“Leave us alone, nobody’s messing with you guys.”
Then Chris, the budding Ozzy spoke, “Maybe you’ll be next.”
“Bring it.” Once again I was speaking out of turn, but I wasn’t going to let them know that I was scared. I figured it was better to go down fighting than live with the knowledge that these guys could push me around without a fight.
It would never come to that.
Sports has a way of bringing people together. I was lucky to meet many people that circumstances might have kept me from meeting, but sports brought us together. My Pony League baseball team was tight. On this day just around the corner from Mr. Saunders’ office that closeness would prove that friends and alliances were just as important in a high school as in the bowels of a prison.
In a scene that was straight out of the The Warriors, my bold and stupid foray into being a man turned into full fledged cockiness. Standing at either end of the row of lockers were Rodney and Greg, two imposing teammates from the Sheldon Lumber Company, my Pony League team. Rodney was a huge man who happened to be a senior and Greg was also powerfully built and incredibly intense. I knew that they were super cool dudes, but I would never have wanted to cross either of them.
“What’s up, Hanny?” asked Rodney.
“Nothing, Rod, these guys were thinking they could push us around. It was about to get ugly.”
Greg laughed because he knew those guys would have beaten us up. Chris and pale blue shirt boy thought they were the ones getting laughed at, but instead of getting ballsy with Greg, they put their heads down. At that moment a big hand pulled me to the side and I lost sight of Chris and his surfer boy.
Rodney walked over to them and said, “They’re my friends. You are not. Got it?”
They did. In fact, they got it any time I saw them after that. Whether it was some field party or Paul’s Deli those guys stayed away from me. I ran into David a couple of years ago and both of us have changed quite a bit. He’s still cool, still hunting, fishing, and boating. I still attempt the sports thing, but the years are catching up to us.
Thank goodness we aren’t in prison or school…