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May 27, 2024


By Peter Barbour

Jim steered his Mom's Ford Galaxie convertible, top down, onto the Pike. Pat rode shot gun, Doug and Skip sat in the back. The radio blasted as the cool evening summer air washed over them. In 1963, Saturday nights were for cruising; and the Pike was the ideal place to go, a main thoroughfare, with two lanes in each direction separated by a broad median strip, and a left turn lane at each light.

As the Ford Galaxie headed north, a black Corvair pulled up next to it in the left lane. A boy sitting in the back seat opened the window and leaned out. The wind slicked back his long matted hair as he waved a bottle of cheap wine at Jim's car. A girl, wearing a tight black top, her ashen face the color of death, laughing derisively in a most inappropriate and annoying way, leaned over and tried to pull the boy back. Doug, Skip, Pat, and Jim turned together, their attention drawn to the movement and shouting on their left. They stared in disbelief, puzzled, but undaunted by the display of threatening postures.

"Hey, you pussies!" The kid shouted as the Corvair swerved into Jim's lane, nearly hitting his car and causing him to jerk the steering wheel sharply. The Galaxie veered right avoiding a collision.

Skip looked at Doug, both aroused like bulls confronted by a red flag. There was no reason for the verbal attack, except to provoke, and provoke it did. This stretch of the Pike was in Hanford township, the kid was from Milton. This was not his home turf. Milton was three miles in the other direction, south. He was in Hanford where he didn't belong, especially if he was going to taunt the natives, territorial beasts.

There was the squeal of spinning tires as the black Corvair took off.

"No way." Jim said softly, as he hit the gas in hot pursuit.

They chased their tormenters without fear of getting stopped by the police. They felt just in their right to defend their chivalrous honor, subconsciously driven by the opportunity to flex their muscles and demonstrate their masculinity. At the first intersection, the Corvair swung wide around the median strip nearly hitting another car and turned south in a mad dash to get back to Milton, and safety. The Galaxie still headed north, when the other car passed it going in the opposite direction. Jim made the intersection as the traffic light was turning and nearly went up on two wheels as he made the turn. Once around the turn, he sped up, caring only about catching up; safety and reason no longer mattered. There weren't many other cars on the road, and Jim quickly began to close the gap. Doug, Skip, and Pat cheered Jim on as they cried, "Go, go." Jim sped on, first through one red traffic light, then another, caught up in the chase and thrilled by a taste for revenge.

Wine-reinforced bravery now led the tormenter to lean far out of the window of the Corvair to make mocking gestures at the pursuers. He waved his half-empty bottle of wine at Jim's car, then let it fly. Jim swerved skillfully but never slowed as the bottle failed to hit its mark and exploded on the street. The two cars continued down the Pike at reckless speed. It seemed the Corvair would make the township line and safety, when suddenly it encountered several cars abreast waiting at a red light, blocking escape. The driver applied the brake, and the car came to a screeching stop. There was a futile attempt to back up in order to cross the median strip, but the mad dash was over. It was time to make a stand.

The Galaxie screeched to a halt behind the Corvair. As the Galaxie stopped, the door of the other car opened. The drunken boy emerged swinging a tire iron. The girl tried to restrain him but was unable. No one else got out of the car. Skip, Pat, and Doug climbed out of the Ford, over the sides, like Marines exiting a landing craft. They surrounded the boy as the drivers and passengers from the cars waiting at the light turned, at first with curiosity aroused by the noise of the sudden decelerating vehicles, then with horror, as they took in what unfolded behind them. Yet, no one interfered; no one left, even when the light turned green.

The boy swung the tire iron viscously at Doug's head. Doug caught the bludgeon in his hand softening and misdirecting the blow incompletely as it glanced off his forehead. Now wounded and with a small stream of blood beginning to run down his right temple, Doug's anger and desire for vengeance heightened. He took the weapon from the boy and tossed it aside. Doug's malice matched the fear that came across the face of this pathetic opponent, now disarmed, but not surrendering. Doug threw a punch to the boy's head and missed. He followed with a sharp jab to the stomach that sank deeply into the soft area below the ribs and sternum. The boy doubled up, gagged, and violently vomited. He then reeled backward into Skip, who shoved him toward the curb where Doug waited. Pat stepped back; as far as he was concerned the fight was over when the enemy was disarmed. The boy was beaten. It was time to go. The lesson had been taught. The boy's fear and forced submission was enough humiliation. There was no need to go further. Pat pulled at Skip's arm, but there was no getting his attention. Pat called to Doug, but Doug was equally undistractible. Skip's and Doug's energies were laser-focused on the boy.

"Come on asshole. Had enough?" Doug goaded.

The boy was at their feet, trapped and defeated. He had a pained frightened expression on his face as he gripped his abdomen with one hand and wiped the vomit from his face with the other. He looked from face to face above him, with defiance at first in spite of his disadvantageous position, then with fear, as he realized his vulnerability. He doubled up, trying to protect himself as Doug and Skip closed in. People in the cars continued to look on; still no one intervened. If anyone had called out, none of the combatants heard. Doug and Skip began to circle preparing for their final assault. Pat tried to get Skip's attention once more, then Doug's, only to be pushed away.

As the circle closed on the cowering, whimpering boy, he made a desperate move, lunging suddenly toward Doug in a last frenzied effort to break the circle and perhaps escape. Doug crouched and met the attacker's rush with a solid forearm to the chest that lifted the attacker up, then backward, and down. The boy's jaw caught the immovable pavement. His teeth burst through his lower lip and protruded tongue bloodying the ground. He groped on the ground trying to get up again but didn't. He appeared dazed and confused. Skip spit at him and kicked at his back, then stepped on him before he and Doug triumphantly withdrew to the car.

Pat stepped towards the boy who lay still on the ground curled up into a ball. Pat felt sick. He had an urge to stay and help the boy, to console him in some way. To tell him they wouldn't have beaten him if he hadn't provoked them and continued to resist. He reached down to touch the boy when he felt a tug on his arm. It was Doug. Pat looked at Doug and started to pull away, then let himself be guided back to Jim's car. The light was still green, but no one had moved. Jim hit his horn and waved at people to get out of their way. The cars parted and let them pass. As they pulled away Skip began to chant. Doug and Jim immediately followed, "Kong is dead! Kong is dead!"

Pat looked back toward the scene they had just left. He wasn't chanting. He saw the girl and two others get out of the Corvair. Other motorists joined them to help the beaten boy. The realization that they'd physically beaten this boy gnawed at Pat. Hadn't the boy deserved it? He'd attacked Doug with a tire iron. He'd baited and maligned them. He'd thrown a bottle at Jim's car. But then, the tire iron seemed justified, albeit a foolish defense, and just escalated the danger. Wouldn't Pat have wanted something to equalize the sides, if he were that boy? Did they have to fight?

The only dialogue had been a stupid meaningless challenge from someone whose judgement was impaired. This wasn't a game, the victory was senseless, hollow, violent, and invited retribution. Pat had participated in the act, he hadn't tried to stop it until too late. He decided not to participate in the celebration. There was nothing to celebrate. The lust displayed by his friends frightened him. It was one thing to defend oneself, another to systematically, aggressively, destroy a weaker foe, a foe that any one of them could have beaten himself.

Jim, Doug, and Skip continued their chanting as they distanced themselves from the scene. Pat watched until he could no longer see the boy and cars behind him. Others would talk about it. Doug's bravery in the face of the tire iron. Jim's fearless chase. Pat, however, just ruminated about it and made a promise to himself never to participate in anything like that again.

Article © Peter Barbour. All rights reserved.
Published on 2020-01-20
Image(s) are public domain.
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