My dad always said, Never throw the first punch. He believed in finishing the fight, just not starting it. So during a neighborhood game when Petey Lopresti began to pick on a younger kid, who I think was 5 or 6 to our advanced age of 7 or 8, I lost it. I am not sure why this enraged me so because I don’t recall Petey being particularly mean. I do recall the little boy starting to cry, though I had a pretty good imagination. It’s possible I was itching to have my first fight. Or maybe my Savior complex was extra-precocious. Or maybe though I was young, my sense of injustice was already ripe. I bet that I was already annoyed with Petey Lopresti to begin with, and I was just looking for an excuse.
Whatever the reason was, with every fiber of my being I suddenly wanted to pound the daylights out of Petey. Only I heard my father’s voice in my head: “Stop! You can’t take the first swing.”
But how to get Petey to hit me first?
Although perhaps unkind to say, Petey had developed a reputation that was not undeserved, for being what my aunt calls a “whiney-butt.” I can almost still hear the way he sounded, as if always in perpetual need of a nap. It is the same sound often heard in grocery store lines: I waaaaaaant caaaaaannnnndy! Or exuding from Janice’s mouth on Friends: “Oh my God, Chaaaaandler!” And I’m fairly noise tolerant; I can take fingernails on a chalkboard without flinching.
Suffice it to say, Petey was more likely to stand there and wail at me than smack me. I wouldn’t stand a chance if that was the competition. So I marched up to him and with 40-something pounds of bluster and indignation began to taunt him: “Think you’re so big and bad, huh? Picking on someone half your size?” I leaned over and got in his face. “Try someone your own size.”
Petey turned and tried to walk off. But I was having none of it. Like a psychotic pogo stick I bounced up and down right in front of him. And kept bouncing. In. His Face. “Come on! You scared of someone your own size? Huh? Huh? Answer me. Are you? Are you? WHAT? YOU SUDDENLY GO DEAF?”
I think everybody on the block stopped, and turned to watch the shrieking possessed human pogo stick. “Pick on someone your own size, like me! LIKE ME!”
This is where things sorta blur. “Come on, hit me! HIT ME!” I heard the words, as did half the neighborhood. “I said HIT ME!”
I have no clue how many times I said this. Then I changed tacts: “Just tap me then. Right here. Here.” I pointed to my cheek. “Just a little tap. Come on, Chicken! Right HERE.” Petey finally reached up and tapped me.
And that was all it took.
The next thing I remember was the lady across the street pulling me off of Petey, saying "That's quite enough." Petey jumped up and ran home.
You’d think there would have been a trail of blood but there wasn’t. Forty-something pounds of bluster doesn’t draw blood, I may not have even landed a single punch because I don’t think I even knew how to ball my fist. But by the way I rolled him around on the ground it was obvious I’d seen pro wrestling.
I brushed myself off and threw back my shoulders as if exiting the ring. Possibly I imagined donning that fat gold WWF belt. I smiled. “He hit me first.”