It was one of those days when everyone was outside. Every kid in the neighborhood was out riding their bike in the cul de sac where I grew up (AKA The Circle). Some grown-ups were out encouraging their lawn to grow by watering it; others were doing their best grass-growing discouragement by mowing it. Some were laying out getting a tan and others were just hanging out and enjoying a cold one, talking about everyone else.
The point is, everyone was outside.
You know when you think back on a perfect summer day and the sky is blue and everything is good and there is love in the air? This was one of those days.
And it would soon be changed.
Eastwood Court was not a place where perfect harmony stayed around for long. Eastwood Court was where perfect harmony came to visit and we would take it around the back and beat the crap out of it.
I remember how happy I was. I was 11 years old and I still remember it like it was yesterday. I felt great. It was an awesome day outside, everyone was riding their bike, and my relatives were in town.
We have a family reunion every year, but it’s only every few years when the ENTIRE family from all over the states comes into town. This was one of those years, and I was so excited to see my cousin JP from California.
And Aunt Alice was coming in from Idaho. Idaho!! (Once Alice gave me a little pin that was shaped liked a tiny potato and IDAHO was written across it. The tiny eyes on the pin were made of little indentations and I remember running my finger across it so I could feel the little grooves. Idaho!)
My cousins from Chicago would be there, too. My cousins who frightened me. My cousins who grew up speaking English and Spanish and listened to rap music before our little corner of Indiana had ever been exposed to it. My cousins, who spoke really loudly and talked a lot of trash and spoke to each other in code-in Spanish!-and were always laughing and poking fun and chasing and hitting – they hit! – and whom I always steered clear of. Lalito and Roberto. I had to keep an eye on them.
Everyone would be there tonight when we all gathered together for the first time in years.So things were good. I was excited and happy and nothing could go wrong.
Until Benny Jo Hideout cut off my sister on her bike and made her fall and he laughed.I couldn’t believe it.
My little 5-year-old sister was riding her bike in front of me and mean ol’ Benny Jo Hideout came up behind us on his bike and slammed into her. She lost control of her bike and managed to crash land in the Sattison’s front yard.
Benny Jo Hideout!!
That of course, wasn’t Benny’s real name. He got that name the only way kids get their nicknames. From other kids who are really reaching.
Benny never had a chance. If Benny was a character in a book (and I suppose now he kind of is) or in a movie, you’d be able to see how his life ended before it happened. I’ve never been a fan of clichés, and when they happen in real life, it’s just weird. Because clichés aren’t actually supposed to happen. They’re clichés.
Benny was a couple of years younger than me. I think I had only been in Benny’s house once and I remember it smelled of bacon or some other food that required a lot of grease in which to cook. I also remember realizing it was nowhere near breakfast time, so their house must always smell of cooked grease.
Their floor was dirty.
The TV was on and turned up really loudly. No one was watching it.
I don’t’ remember why I was in Benny’s house, but I do remember running away and swearing never to return.
Benny’s dad was named Charlie. He was a really skinny guy with a big moustache and glasses. We never saw or heard much from Charlie except after he’d been drinking. We would be outside playing and then hear the screams and shouts. We would try to sneak up to the house to see what was going on, but were never successful.
And when Charlie would yell, he was usually yelling at Benny’s mom, Ann. Or, as we called her, Big Fat Ann. Which soon got shortened to just Fat Ann. Fat Ann, Fat Ann, Fat Ann, we would chant and soon even that became shortened to “F’dann” and it became a sound effect that we would use when imaginary bullets ricocheted around us when playing cops and robbers. F’dann! F’dann!
Don’t feel bad for Fat Ann. After all, she was fat. It’s not like we were saying anything that wasn’t true. But you see, F’dann was worse than big or fat. She was MEAN, and if you don’t want chants made up about you by the neighborhood kids, then don’t be mean.
F’dann was mean and she yelled. But most of all, she hated us. She hated all of us non-F’dann kids because we lived in The Circle and we were all good kids. F’dann could see the future as well as anyone; she wasn’t blind. And she knew what was going to happen. She knew that we were going to grow up as good, nice people. She knew we were going to move out of Eastwood Court and live good lives. We were going to get married to other people who had grown up to be good people and were going to continue breeding and reproducing other good people.
F’dann knew that she and Charlie had not produced good people. They had produced two offspring who had taken the worst traits from their parents and put them on display.
They had produced DeeDee, who was basically a miniature version of F’dann. She was 7 years younger than most of us on the block and had already inherited her mother’s propensity for food and yelling. Most of the time DeeDee was just ignored or left behind (which wasn’t hard to do; she simply wasn’t a fast waddler).
And Charlie and Ann had produced Benny Jo Hideout, who would use his girth and size to try to intimidate the other kids. Benny Jo Hideout, who although did indeed have girth and did indeed have size could not intimidate the other kids because he was a pinhead. Benny Jo Hideout was a bully who didn’t know how to bully.
And, I realize now, they were hillbillies.
It’s not uncommon to find Southern accents in the lower part of Indiana, but up where we were at, only about 40 minutes from the Michigan state line, you didn’t find a lot of that.
Benny’s family had southern accents. Their backyard was a veritable treasure trove of all things hillbilly. A vast assortment of barbecue grills that had rusted reddish-brown. A riding lawn mower graveyard. The standard Pile of Wood With Rusty Nails Sticking Out Of It.
And, standing tall and serving as the ultimate Hillbilly Beacon–the sketchy clubhouse. The clubhouse that Charlie had made for his children that reached high into the sky with supports that couldn’t come close to holding the weight of his children (let alone the heavyset Gradeless kids who would also climb into the clubhouse with them).
Charlie was neither an engineer nor an architect, and it only took a week or so for the tiny 2x4s holding up this wooden deathtrap to wave the white flag and send the entire construction leaning at an angle that would make the Leaning Tower of Pisa appear to be square and plumb.
There was a commercial on at the time for cereal that had a catchy little tune that featured kids in a cool clubhouse and would end with the rough scratchy singer pleading for kids to “Come to the Honeycomb hideout!” Being the Saturday morning cartoon junkies that we were, we heard this song countless number of times, and it was ingrained in our psyche.
And soon, the catchphrase was adapted by us to become “Come to the Benny Jo Hideout” (”Jo” of course being added not because it was part of Benny’s name, but because we needed to make sure our song had the same number of syllables as the commercial).
And thus Benny Jo Hideout was born.
Because of all of this, plus the fact that his heart had about as much feeling as a Bundt cake, on that beautiful day when nothing could (or should!) go wrong, Benny rode his bike up to my sister and forced her off of the street and made her crash.
I didn’t even think.
You know on the Bugs Bunny cartoons when Daffy Duck would get upset, and to signify how enraged he was, the cartoonists would draw his feet red and then the redness would slowly climb up to his duck bill like a thermometer? That was me. Had I actually thought about what I was doing, I probably would have stopped to help my sister instead of trying to take on someone who had 80 pounds on me. But I wasn’t thinking.
And besides, come on. This was Benny Jo Hideout.
I put my bike into high gear and tried to catch up with Benny. He was still laughing. That high-pitched rat-a-tat laugh that echoed through the neighborhood and made small children weep and small birds fall dead from the sky. It wasn’t unlike Judge Doom from Who Framed Roger Rabbit at the end after he’d taken off his mask to reveal the maniacal toon that he was.
Benny laughed like that.
The Gradeless kids were there, too, riding their bikes, and had seen the whole thing. They laughed because they were also evil (They were kind of like the Crabb and Goyle to the sinister Draco Malfoy, if you follow Harry Potter at all).
They were all cackling and howling and my sister had started to cry on the side of the road. Todd had stopped to make sure she was OK. I was in hot pursuit. I was going to catch up with Benny and be the hero. I was going to catch up with him and punch him in the face and send him reeling with a How Do You Like That right hook. I was going to make Benny fall with my powerhouse punch and make him cry. I was going to make Benny pay.
And guess what?
I don’t know how it happened. It all happened so fast, but it happened.
Somehow, the whole scenario I had pictured in my head played out just the way it was supposed to. How often does that happen? Believe me, I was as shocked as you are now.
I caught up beside Benny Jo Hideout and it was picture perfect. Benny was too busy laughing to notice me creeping up and when he turned to his left to see me riding alongside him, he had no time to react. I swung my tiny skinny-boy arm and connected to his jaw with my little angry fist.
And Benny cried.
He didn’t fall like I had wanted, but by God, Benny cried like the big baby he was. And justice had been served. Eddie Style.
The look on his face was priceless. I still see it in slow motion as his face morphed from that devilish laugh to a look of shock and awe. His mouth went from a huge smile to a stunned “O” and then went plastic as I socked him.
And Big Benny Jo Hideout rode his bike back to his end of the spoon-shaped cul-de-sac, crying all the way. The Gradeless kids, not knowing if they would meet a similar fate for laughing, followed Benny home to regroup and presumably eat and get even more dirt in their never-clean hair.
Children cheered. People whooped. The marching band showed up and the celebratory music was enjoyed by all.
Soon, kids were rushing inside to spread the good news.
“Eddie hit Benny!”
“Benny pushed Jaime down and Eddie hit him!”
“Eddie made Benny cry!”
Parents ran outside throwing streamers and confetti and paparazzi came from the bushes to take my picture and post it in the Daily News.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. I did hit Benny. And Benny went crying home.
My parents, who had seen the whole thing, were smiling and proud, waving from the front yard. Their son, The One Who Never Hit, had stood up for his little sister and by God he had won.
It was a beautiful day indeed.
I rode my bike in circles in the spoon and was on top of the world. Todd and Brian and Jake were all telling me “Good job!” My sister was back on her bike and OK, and shouted thank you’s my way.
You’re welcome, little sister. You. Are. Welcome.
All this was going on around me and I was flying high.
Which is why I didn’t see Charlie come running down to the circle to get me.
He came out of nowhere and grabbed the handlebars of my bike, jerking me to a stop.
And suddenly everything changed. All of a sudden my day went from celebration to utter horror. It happened too fast for me to even register what was going on.
Suddenly I was stopped and Charlie had his hands on my bike and I couldn’t get away and he was leaned over and yelling at me for hitting Benny, the gnawed end of his pipe being jabbed at my nose over and over again. I don’t even remember what Charlie was saying, I was so caught by surprise. I was so preoccupied trying to fathom what was going on that I didn’t register the Hillbilly rambling he was spewing at my face.
I finally looked up at Charlie and he went pale and suddenly took a step back.
Dad was coming.
Charlie knew he screwed up.
Just like I had seen what happened to my sister and made it all good, Dad was watching this odd turn of events that unfolded before his eyes and was about to balance things out.
Dad wasn’t about to stand by and let some guy scream and yell at his 11-year-old son, holding him prisoner on his bike while shoving a pipe in the aforementioned son’s face.
Dad told Charlie to get away from me.
Charlie stepped back again, a mix of surprise and seething redneck anger twisting his face into a comedic scowl. (Have I mentioned my Dad is a Golden Gloves boxing champ? That would account for the priceless look on Charlie’s face.)
Charlie told Dad that I had hit his son and I had it coming.
Charlie grew testicles and took a step toward Dad.
Dad told Charlie that’s what his son got for pushing over a little 5-year-old girl on a bike.
I slowly began to roll my bike backward. I’m outta here.
Charlie waved his pipe in Dad’s face and said to stay out of it.
Dad told Charlie to get that pipe out of his face.
Charlie waved the pipe closer.
And Dad reached up and smacked the pipe out of Charlie’s hand.
The world stopped.
I heard a choir of gasps from all around me.
Charlie couldn’t believe it.
None of us could.
It took all of us a second to realize what happened because it happened that fast. No one saw it coming, especially Charlie.
Point. Whap. Tink!
All Charlie knew is that suddenly his pipe was on the ground and he couldn’t wrap his mind around how it got there.
Dad didn’t move.
Dad was cool.
And then Charlie flipped out.
He bent over and got his pipe and again began yelling. How dare you and you’re in trouble and on and on, arms flailing to accentuate his point.
And Dad just stood there.
All I saw was Charlie yelling in slow-motion, his tobacco stained teeth and black gums moving at 90 miles an hour and I wondered what his breath smelled like.
And then, in a move of such bravado I still don’t know where Charlie found the guts to do it, he began waving his pipe in Dad’s face again.
Look how calm Dad is. He is a Ninja.
As Charlie continued ranting and waving, Dad calmly told Charlie to get that pipe out of his face or he was going to smack it out of his hand again.
Dad was like Clint Eastwood; like Steven Seagal. They weren’t badasses because they intimidated people by screaming and yelling. They were badasses because they intimidated by talking quietly.
Charlie should have known.
And that is where Charlie’s bravery turned to sheer idiocy.
He took that as his cue to shove his pipe even closer to dad’s face. How he managed to avoid poking out one of Dad’s eyes I’ll never know, because that pipe was close.
Charlie punctuated his backwoods tirade by popping the pipe in his mouth and leaning in to dad to put the butt end next to Dad’s nose.
And before Charlie could blink, Dad smacked the pipe again.
Right out of Charlie’s mouth!
I still hear the “clack” of wood against teeth as the pipe was again hurled into the air.
A sea of cheers and laughter erupted and Charlie knew he had lost. He had been shamed. Charlie was the Loser.
He turned, snatched the pipe off the ground, and like his son before him a few minutes earlier, retreated home. Only this time instead of a wail of sobs accompanying the journey, it was a wail of shouts and swearing and threats of being arrested.
I sent Benny home crying, and Dad took care of Charlie.
This really was a beautiful day.
Shortly afterward, the entire neighborhood had convened in our yard to congratulate Dad.
Way to go.
to stand up to him.
That was great.
I think Dad was a little embarrassed. He hadn’t gone out there to show off or put on a show, he had gone out there to make sure this guy (this grown-up!) wasn’t going to try to do anything to his son.
Soon after we all returned to our respective homes. An uncle who had flown in that day came to visit us before we had to leave for the bigger gathering that evening at my Aunt’s house and I tried to recapture the glory and magic of what had happened. I was talking a mile a minute when The Cops arrived.
Garrett is a small town where everyone pretty much knows everyone else, and The Cops knew my dad. And they also knew Charlie. They talked to Dad for a few minutes and they all got a good laugh out of it. I think one of them gave Dad the thumb’s up and told him good job.
When they left the house without Dad in custody, Charlie (who was waiting at the end of our driveway to witness his final I’ll-Get-You-All triumph) couldn’t believe it.
This was a travesty. An injustice. Arrest that man!
It was obvious that, in the time between calling The Cops and The Cops arriving at his house, Charlie had thrown a few back, and he was fairly intoxicated. The Cops tried to explain why they weren’t going to arrest my dad and everything was OK now, but Charlie wouldn’t have it. And soon The Cops were the target of Charlie’s rage.
And The Cops put Charlie in the squad car and drove away.
I like to think that Charlie was taken to jail where he was promptly raped and sodomized, but I have no proof to back that up.
But you never know.