What if a Marine Trained You?
Something hit my back and I started shaking.
“Dude! Epic fight!”
“Sammie Davis! Don’t do that!” I shot a nasty look. “You scared the poop out of me.”
“Sorry,” she smiled. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”
I wish I could smile like Sammie Davis Jr. She smiled winningly. She smiled jokingly. She was always either smiling or getting ready to smile.
“But you told them off. And you had Pickle!” Sammie smiled her jubilation.
“That wasn’t a fight; that was a train wreck.”
Sammie smiled triumphantly. “No, Cutie! I’m proud. You’re everybody’s hero. You stood up to all three Andersens. All three! And your reflexes are even faster than Pickle’s. You could’ve fractured his skull. Which is what you do next time. You get someone down; you make sure they don’t get up.”
“Next time? What about his brothers? What if Spit catches me outside the Freeze? You don’t get arms that short unless your family has crossbreed since the Age of Reptiles.”
“No, man,” Sammie deflated. “Don’t let ‘em scare you. They’ll just keep doing it.”
“What am I supposed to do?”
“What you just did. Fight.”
“Great advice. And get humiliated?”
“Man, they tried to put you down. But even if they killed you, they can’t eat you.”
“So my mother often says. But she doesn’t have to fight Pickle. Neither do you.”
“Nobody bothers me because they know I’m not afraid of them. And even if some chick does kick my ass, I’ll kick hers too, and then she’ll respect me.”
Is that really all it takes to gain respect? Act tough? “I don’t know how to fight.”
Sammie’s eyes widened with shock. “You ain’t never been in no fight?”
“Yeah. My brother. About a thousand times.”
“You hate him?”
“No, he hates me. I regret him. He’s an economy-sized rectum about a third of the time. And I’m disappointed I didn’t get a best friend like you for a brother.”
“You can’t beat him?”
“In a fair fight? He’s got fifty pounds on me.”
“Dude, everbody’s got fifty pounds on us. You can’t not fight them all.”
Truer words. And Sammie Davis is a head shorter than me. Then why is she unafraid? “How’d you learn to fight?”
“My brothers. I box their ears to make ‘em leave me alone.” Sammie changed the topic. “I wanna be an astronaut. If I could close my eyes and imagine what I want to do, I’d be on the next Apollo mission. Dorothy Dandridge, dancin’ on the moon. What do you want to be?”
“Fitzgerald. Or even better–Capone. I want to storm the Andersens’ house and vigilante Pickle and Scooter. Then I want to Tommy Gun their mother for raising these three apes. Spit will be the last one. I want that fascist to suck the end of my barrel and beg. I’ll write my autobiography while I’m on Death Row.”
“Jeez, that’s actually kinda funny,” Sammie’s eyes widened. “I’d pay to watch.”
“Dying’s easy. Irony is hard.”
“I thought it was just something you needed in your blood,” Sammie smiled at the old joke. “You know what would be sooo groovy? Your daddy-o was a Marine?”
“Yeah. Island fighter. World War II.”
“What if he trained you how to fight? Marines know judo.”
What an excellent idea.
We were quiet for a moment, and then Sammie Davis spontaneously brought up O’Murphy. “We sit next to each other in Chem. She wanted to know if I like Scooter.”
“What did you say?”
“I asked why she liked him. She said, ‘You’d never know it. He’s really sweet. One day, he left this huge heart-shaped box of candy at my door.’”
My jaw dropped. O’Murphy had thought of everyone but me.
Sammie Davis caught my unspoken look. “Don’t worry, I’ll never tell. But one more time–why don’t you fight?”
“Don’t you believe that if we all stopped fighting . . . ”
“A’course. No violence. No war. Better planet. My biggest bro is already on a gunboat. Vietnam. And you know the black man – my brothers – they unjustly carryin’ more than they share of the burden. I’m gonna join the Air Force–they treat women better. But you get drafted, you have to fight.”
“If I’m a grunt. But if I test high, I’ll probably be radioman. Or a code breaker.”
“So what’re you gonna do now?”
“Go back to school and grab my bike. I still have to deliver my paper routes.”
Sammie Davis smiled. “When are you gonna fix your motorcycle?”
“Can’t. I bought a master link for the chain. But it turns out, when the chain broke, the hub stripped the aluminum baffles in the back wheel.”
“Drive sections. The rear wheel won’t go without them.”
“How much does that cost?”
“Hundred for a new rear hub. Another twenty for the rubber baffles inside.”
“Maybe your moms or your bro would spot you the green?”
I shook my head. “We’re so poor, even the cockroaches have better housing.”
Sammie smiled. “Maybe you could just fill the whole hub with rubber cement? If the glue breaks up, just squirt in some more?”
“What if it gums up the hub and it won’t move? I might not ever be able sell it.”
“Cain’t get much for it if it don’t work. Where’s your dad live?”
“I have his post office box. Pollo something. We used to live in California, but it’s not like I know how to get back there.”
“California is west.”
“Which way is west?”
“You some kinda savant? You read a thousand books, and you still you don’t know your directions? Okay, memo: Dallas is south. East is–I don’t know–for-god-sakes Alabama. Go north on 81 to Oklahoma City. Thataway.” She pointed toward the high school. “Turn left and you’ll wind up in the Pacific. Why don’t you go? You could hitchhike.”
“Sure, like the movie.”
Sammie Davis Jr. grinned. Just a month ago, we’d watched The Hitch-Hiker at the Ritz, about two fishermen who’d picked up a psychopath. Negroes were required to sit in the balcony. We went upstairs before the lights dimmed. Every head in the theater turned to watch the dark-skinned white dude with the light-skinned Negro chick.
“You think anyone would give me a ride after that movie?”
“One way to find out.”
So just me, standing there alone on a road, sticking out my thumb until a car stops? How far would I have to walk? How far would I walk if cars didn’t stop? And what if the wrong guy in the wrong car stopped?