In 1955, I made a deal with the furnace that lived in the basement of my grandparents’ house. Our agreement was that if I promised not to venture any further than the basement step, second from the top, ‘it’ would stay in the basement.
I never trusted our armistice would hold. So sometimes when my gran cracked the creaky basement door, I would watch from that second step … but no further … as she descended into the dark place beneath the house, never quite certain that ‘it’ would give her up.
Other times I would lie on my stomach and watch Gran through the small, square hole in the floor, sort of my lookout post, as Gran melted into the dark to appease that ‘thing.’ Shoveling coal as black as the night into the glowing maw of a furnace, Gran would feed it through the long cold winter so it could rest undisturbed in the dark, humid shadows of our basement in the summer.
‘Didn’t matter the season, I was scared of the basement year round. ‘Down’ was never an option for me. Neither was ‘up.’ No matter how many times I jumped off the garage roof, no matter how hard I flapped my spindly arms, the gift of flight was not mine.
‘Up,’ as in up the street, was another route that wasn’t available to me … because up the street was where the infamous Zuberg twins lived. Those two had been deposited by the devil himself solely to keep me trapped in my own neighborhood! Before the Zuberg boys had arrived, the alley between 41st Street and 42nd Street had been part of my territory. But the gang of two changed that the first day a big, blue truck dumped all of the family’s meager possessions onto their front lawn and without ceremony drove away. Suddenly the Zubergs held a tactical position from which they could rule the world.
(This was before the idea of gang colors but, ahead of my time or not, my color was decidedly yellow.)
I was left with but a single route, down the street. I could go down the street but only if I was absolutely certain that Bruce Taylor wasn’t at home. Bruce could be friendly one day and a bully the next. One day we would hang out in his garage looking at calendars his dad kept hidden in the workshop and the next day he would threaten to punch my lights out if I tried to pass his house on my way home from school.
Clearly I needed help if I was to live in this dangerous world. And help arrived on a humid late summer afternoon, wearing a menacing face that was more frightening than furnaces and basements and the Zuberg twins. My dad.
For the third day in a row, Bruce Taylor had refused to let me pass.
I looked at the menacing face of my dad. And the face said, “You can’t run from every problem because when you turn away from one, you’ll find yourself looking at another that might be even worse. So turn yourself around, mister, and go take care of Bruce Taylor. And don’t let me see you run from that kid again. Because if you do, you’re going to have to deal with me.”
That did it for me! I cleared the hedge in a single hurdler’s jump, raced around the corner, barely touching the sidewalk beneath my feet. Bruce Taylor was sitting shirtless on his front porch as if waiting for another victim. Seeing me approach, he stepped onto the sidewalk, hands on hips, ready to block the weenie attempting to pass.
But the weenie didn’t stop. He jumped and landed a girly-like punch square on the bully’s nose. And the damned thing started to bleed! And little “Brucey” Taylor suddenly looked smaller as he ran bawling into his house, calling for Mommy.
Sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. And that applies to problems as small as “Brucey” Taylor or as large as international terrorism. Sometimes you have to “man up” and risk a bloody nose. If you or your company, someone or something you care about, are faced with an obstacle of any kind, trust me. Even if you wind up with a bloody nose, it won’t hurt as bad or for as long as the good feeling that will come from knowing that you at least tried.
So go ahead. Give me your best shot!
(PS. Thanks, Dad!)
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