Exit 149 
     (A Quinn Martin Production)


by Brad

August 24, 2007


You grew up where young girls they grow up fast
You took what you were handed and left behind what was asked

I was out the other day when I saw someone who looked familiar. Normally not a bad thing, but in this case, I couldn't remember where I knew this person (if I knew him at all), or how far back I knew him. My primary concern was does this person have a case to retaliate against me in some manner? I tell you, there were some tense moments as I stood in line at Wendy's, and for once, it wasn't over me debating between a Combo One or a Combo Two.

In this instance, I dodged a bullet. Either this person didn't know me, or he didn't recognize me. And it's possible all would have been well had he known me. I mean, how long can a person hold a grudge? And would an adult physically attack another alleged adult in public over something that happened over 30 years ago? In my slightly paranoid mind, I'm thinking it's possible.

There are people out there who might disagree, but I'm under the impression I've been a likable person throughout my life. It's true I've had obnoxious periods in my life and I still have days when I can rub an entire room the wrong way, but five days out of seven, I would wager that I'm likable to most people. In the sixth grade, I came across someone who didn't like me for no reason, and eventually, I didn't like him. The guy, I'll refer to him as RH, hated me because I was me. I know this because I asked him what his problem was toward me. I just hate you he said.

At first, it was no big deal. I could go on with my life and not worry about RH. I had football, I had baseball and I had friends. Let RH, this Peter Lorre of a classmate, have his hatred. I guess the fact that I managed to ignore him bothered RH because he stepped things up by taunting me and challenging me to fights. I had no problem with this because I had the height and the reach and even though I was a skinny kid, I still had the weight advantage over him.

The problem was RH was all talk and no action. He was a weasel. I would confront him and tell him I heard he was calling me out. He would deny everything in a cold sweat and a trembly voice. A day later, the talking started up again. He would beg me not to hit him and I would back off. Then RH would get some distance between us and he would yell slanderous names at me and take off running.

One day I finally cornered him in the playground, but the teacher intervened on his behalf (it's possible I was set up in some kind of sting operation). She told me I was to leave RH alone and if anything happened to him, I was going to have to answer for it. So I had to suck it up until summer arrived. Meanwhile the tauntings from RH rained daily.

I forget when in the summer it happened, but there was a confrontation. However, it was bittersweet. Since RH was a weasel, he had other enemies and someone got to him right before I did. He was still recovering from that beating when I happened upon him. I was 12 and not yet a gentleman, so I wasn't about to let him go for another day. To my credit, I was more talk than action because the person who beat him up before me did a real number on RH. I had wanted to hit him in the face so badly for so long, but there wasn't an untouched spot on RH's face from the previous beating. His nose was bleeding, he had a fat lip and there was swelling under one eye. Yep, RH was having a lousy day and I was about to make it worse.

OK, it was mostly mental torture because I threw a lot of phantom punches his way. Most of the ones that I let connect landed on his arms. He was sniffling when I found him, but by the time I left RH, he was full-out bawling in the fetal position.

I did finally get him in the seventh grade. We were playing touch football during lunch period and we were on opposing teams. RH wasn't saying anything to me and he was also avoiding me on the field. Then an opportunity presented itself. RH found himself wide open and his quarterback threw the ball to him. I hustled over. The hit I delivered on RH was definitely illegal in touch football and it's probably a penalty in today's NFL, but I suspect Jack Tatum would have been proud of me.

RH said nothing. He got up, albeit on the shaky side, and stood in the huddle with some help from his teammates. I was asked by my peers to leave the game. I was only banished for the day. No league commissioner in schoolyard touch football.

As far as I can remember, RH never said another word to me. He seemed to be a different person after that day and while I'm sure he still hated me, I can't remember him saying anything to me. His family moved after Christmas. I haven't seen him since and I never thought about him again until I saw Full Metal Jacket in 1987 and the transformation of Vincent D'Onofrio's character in that film. Then I started to wonder, and worry, if the same thing happened to RH. Is he out there--locked and loaded--gunning for me? For a few years, I did my best to avoid public restrooms. And I became wary of dull-eyed Marines

There was another kid in the seventh grade who I sometimes wondered about, not because I was mean to him, but because he had a condition, and I was once standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm not sure what his condition was called. What I do know was his classmates would tease him and he would get angry and go into a huge, uncontrollable fit. It was like seeing a live-action Tasmanian Devil from Looney Tunes. He would be out of control. It sometimes took two adults to restrain him. I'm not sure if he took medication or not. I know they would take him somewhere to cool down for awhile (sometimes literally with a wet towel on his head--he often showed up in the hallways and classes with dripping hair afterward) and then he would be back in class like nothing happened. Usually the taunters, if they got ratted out, would be punished.

Anyway, Taz was a decent guy and I had no problem with him. He was in my home-room class and one of my later-period classes (I think it was social studies). Plus lunch. We ate lunch according to grade. I remember once he tried bonding with me. For some reason, this conversation during home-room still sticks with me.

Taz: How's it going, man?
Me: OK.
Taz: You got a girl.
Me: No.
Taz: Me neither. Sucks don't it?
Me: Yeah.
Taz: Well, stay cool, man.
Me: OK.

I can't remember what I had for dinner Monday night, and yet, I can recall this conversation from seventh grade like it happened this morning. I also remember staring in the bathroom mirror for a long time that night after the conversation begging the gods of cool to please bestow their gifts upon me.

One day, Taz had an episode during lunch and it drew a crowd. I'm not sure how it started, but he was going in full Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil mode. Stuff was flying everywhere. Chairs, plates, lunchboxes. Anything in Taz's path was going flying through the air. We, the students, were following behind while some teachers were trying to wrangle Taz. One of the shop teachers and an assistant principal finally got him under control and were trying to calm him down. A group of us were standing around while they were trying to get Taz to tell them who started him up.

I knew there was something inside Taz that made him do this and he couldn't control it, but I couldn't help laughing. It was a funny sight. Sadly, my timing was bad. Taz locked eyes on me as I laughed. Even then, I could feel his brain writing my name down on the long list of people he was going to get revenge on one day. I was a marked man. Not even 13 and I was destined to spend my remaining days looking over my shoulder.

Taz began shaking and yelling for me--and others--to stop laughing, and we were told to disperse. The assistant principal and the shop teacher led Taz away while one of the more reliable students in the crowd was sent off to the gym to get some towels.

There might be others out there gunning for me. Maybe something I said innocently was taken the wrong way and it's been festering in someone's brain for years. It's possible during my drunken years I was given a verbal invitation to some event and unknowingly blew off that person, and that person is still pissed. And it's also possible that I wasn't as likable as I thought I was and I have a longer list of enemies than I suspect I do. A virtual nation of sleeper cells, watching and waiting for the right time to strike. I might not be able to hold them off all my life, but from here on out, I'm using the drive-thru at Wendy's.

Write Brad at exit149@gmail.com

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