Bull in the Ring

 bull

When his eye happened to fall upon Alice, he turned round rather instantly, and stood for some time looking at her with an air of the deepest disgust.

“What – is – this?” he said at last.

“This is a child!” Haigha replied eagerly.

“I always thought they were fabulous monsters!” said the Unicorn. “Is it alive?”

“It can talk,” said Haigha, solemnly.

My big bother so-called brother Jack thinks he’s an expert marksman. He tells everybody that he is, and he’s going to join the Army next year to be a weapons maintenance man, but expert marksman? He’s definitely not that.

He’s definitely not my brother, either. Halfway is as far as it goes, in all ways.

We have guns, which are mostly his, and he’s a good shot, but he’s never been in a real competition. I’ve gone shooting with him and he’s shown me videos of himself shooting, but he doesn’t shoot very far. He’s a marksman, I guess, if he’s close enough to his man.

He knows how to handle guns, take them apart, and clean them. He can clean them better than anybody I know, although he won’t spend a second glance cleaning our house, which means I have to do his part. My step mom thinks it’s a privilege he’s her natural-born son.

If you’re his girlfriend and want to know how he’ll treat you if you ever get married, just listen to him talking to me sometime.

I don’t know how he got started with guns. Jack has always liked the military, and uniforms, and the superior straight back. When he was a kid he got a BB gun, but then, so did everybody else. He knows a butt load about guns and thinks they’re awesome. They’re awesome because of how they work, how they can kill people, that’s all.

There are a couple of guys I wouldn’t mind shooting.

There’s Patrick, for one, whose dad works for the Cleveland Browns. He’s a total d-bag, tall, wears his hair puffed and blonde. He’s the quarterback on the freshman team. He’s always depressed, though. Every day at his locker he’s just kind of unhappy, like he’s stuck in midair.

He’s a mean person, though, and a jerk. Most guys are jerks once in a while, but Patrick burns that flag. When I see him walking to school he seems mad. He’s not awkward in any way, and dresses fine, but he slumps when he walks. It’s noticeable even across the street from the front door of the Red Door Deli.

Another one in that boat is Martinelli. We call him Matty. He’s in my math class and he’s a creeper. He’s a crap load of annoying, too. I’m fine with annoying people because everyone rubs you the wrong way sometimes, but he’s a weirdo. I heard he’s been one since he was a kid. He’s sour and strange.

Maybe God was having a bad day when he made Matty, because he’s a stalker and a creeper, too.

He’s been creeping on one of my friends from Lakewood Catholic Academy. He sneaks around her house and neighborhood looking for her. He creeps her on Facebook, which isn’t unusual. Lots of guys do that. It would be super if he were stalking me. I could pick him off bit by bit with air pellets. But, stalking a girl isn’t right just because you can’t get a real date.

I don’t know what he wants, although whatever it is he isn’t going to get it. My friend just hates it. At one of our dances it turned into the funny thing in the middle of the gym. I was dancing with her when he came up to us and she started yelling at him.

“Matty, you’re such a CREEPER, get out of here!”

“Are you kidding me?” he asked, his mouth all twisted, and just walked away.

He’s a freshman, like all of us are, and it doesn’t seem like he should be so weird. He’s a tad taller than me, but pretty pale, with a narrow face and slanky brown hair. If I threw bullets at Patrick and Matty it might get me a little happiness.

I would also definitely shoot Spoons.

He’s on my cross-country team and he’s a JERK all the time. Everybody’s annoyed with him so no one would miss him, at all. It’s because of how he acts most of the time that no one likes him anymore. He always tries to talk downtown on you. He comes right up to you for no reason and calls you an idiot.

“Just shut up, dude,” I say.

“No, you shut up. What are you going to do about it, anyway?” he says.

It’s always dumb and hard to take crap like that. Other people want to shoot him besides me. There’s a line and he crosses that line. There’s no going back once you’ve crossed the out-of-the-gate line.

I’ve shot plenty of people with air soft guns and BB guns, so I know what it’s like to shoot somebody, although so far they’ve all been my friends.

Air soft guns shoot plastic fliers. They go fast so they can hurt, but they’re only pellets. They leave a smallish bruise. Bullets are better, but I’ve never shot a person with a bullet. In fact, the only thing I’ve ever killed is a frog, although it was really a toad. It was at summer camp. My friend was trying to stab it behind our cabin, where there were always a lot of them. He hit it a few times, but mostly kept missing.

“Give it to me,” I said. I grabbed it and stabbed it and then slammed it on a tree so it would die quickly. It was a mercy killing.

There would be no mercy for Spoons, though.

Spoons is Spoons because we say so. When you’re a freshman at St. Mel’s on any of the teams you get a nickname. No one’s allowed to give himself a nickname, like Super Nova, or anything like that. The upperclassmen give us our tags on the cross-country team. I’m Blue, and there are Squints, Puma, Barney, Elmo, Coin, Rondo, and Spoons.

Squints doesn’t squint, and he’s not even Asian, so none of us know how he got the tag. Puma is Puma because he’s fast, fast like a cat. Spoon’s nose and mouth are bad, like his features were spooned like soup onto his head. He’s mostly ugly and has long brown furry hair that’s matted. At the beginning of the year he started off being a nice guy, but got worse and worse all winter long.

Every once in a while he would try to be nicer.

“Ah, OK,” I would say, but that was always a mistake, because before the end of practice he would be the same mean old wrong way Spoons. He’s a better runner than me, so as the year went on I couldn’t and didn’t have to be near him during practice.

We train on trails in the Metropark, on the Towpath, and at Edgewater Park. They’re hard to run because they’re rutted and bumpy, winding up and down, and you have to watch where you’re putting your feet. We get wet and muddy. We trained five days a weeks, running six miles here and there, and there were sprints on top of that. There were some distances that went seven or eight, but we’ve never gone past eight miles, thank goodness.

At first you’re dying, but after awhile you start feeling less bad. Then you have to go harder, and faster, so you start feeling bad again. It’s a rat race. But, we’re a good team. We took second in the Districts and we’re going to the Regionals. If we make it out of there we’ll go to States.

I’ve played baseball, basketball, and soccer. I wish I would have stuck with soccer, but I didn’t. Not enough action, honestly. I played football for five years, until I went into eighth grade. It was FUN until the coaches RUINED it. I always wanted to play football, though, so I did. My dad wanted me to play soccer. He said it was safer, but he signed me up for football when I said soccer sucked. He bought all the stuff I needed.

He took me to a store to get my own pants with built-in pads. Otherwise, the team gave you baggy pants from a long time ago. They were the kind where you have to stick the skanky pads in and they never stay. The new ones have things on a little belt that you tie on. It was a big deal to have all my own brand new stuff.

I got my own chinstrap, too, because the team chinstraps were nasty sweaty stained things that hardly worked at all. I got my own strong one with padding.

My dad bought me special Hex pads. They’re hexagons over a skintight muscle shirt. You had pads all over so when you got hit it wouldn’t hurt as much. There’s something in them that cushions the blow. Oh, my God, thank God they work! You get hit HARD playing football. Sometimes, even when you have ROCKED the other guy, you’d totally get CRACKED, too.

CRASH TEST DUMMIES.

No matter what, though, pads or no pads, I got hurt. Everybody did, got dinged got a stinger got busted up. I hit someone bursting up the middle one game one day and an awful buzz shot down my arm. It felt like when you fall asleep and your hand goes numb, but it was my arm, all at once. It hurt for two weeks, mostly in my shoulder, and I had to go see a doctor. I don’t know what he said, or did, but it got better after awhile.

“Real boys love the pain of competition,” our head coach Brad Reagan and his brother Gold were always saying. Whenever they said that we knew we would be doing a butt load of Bull in the Ring drills next.

I was a cornerback and I was good. Hitting people was fun, especially people who were better than you, except if they were really good, which wasn’t the greatest. Then it was like, OH, NO! But, if they were as good as you, or just a little better, you’d make each other better. You would have to make sure to try very, very hard. If you ran them down you’d be terrifically happy.

“Good job!” everybody would be yelling.

We were like that on our team. Everybody supported each other. That’s what I liked. But, then the coaches became more total jerks than they already were.

My friend Chad’s dad was the defensive coach. He was the best, such a nice man. We had a great head coach, too, at least for awhile.. He was Coach Hamm. He had played football in college and been a coach all his life. But, his son played for Garfield High, and he went there to coach him.

We got our new coach in seventh grade, Coach Reagan, who brought his brother Gold along. They were just total downpressers.

“You boys are a bunch of pansies,” is all we ever heard from them.

“Take a hit for the team,” they would say. “Just make sure the other bastard takes a bigger hit for his team.”

They were always swearing, like Mr. Rote, our religion teacher at St. Mel’s, except you couldn’t laugh at them.

They called us pansies and other select names. Whenever we lost they called us pussies. We were in the seventh grade, 12-years-old, barely teenagers. My dad got mad when I told him how the coaches were treating us. He talked to them about it, but they said he didn’t understand football, and nothing ever changed.

Many of the other guys didn’t like the new coaches, either. The brothers Rotten Reagan were a tag team. They were always on us, always yelling at us, squeezing us every chance they got. Coach Falco, who was our offensive coach, told them they shouldn’t talk to us that way, but they were complete idiots, and did whatever they wanted.

Coach Falco’s son was an amazing wide receiver for us. He got an award from the league for being one of the best players. Coach Reagan’s son was not so good, so he got the academic award, instead, somehow. A lot of guys did the same, or better, on the ACT’s, and were better players, but the coach had to give his son something, so he got the academic football player award. We had to go to the ceremony.

It was just a lot of nothing.

They gave us pep talks before games, but it was always a boat load of whatever empty talk hot air. I don’t remember anything they ever said and it never made a difference. It didn’t make us play better. It made things worse. They were so negative it made you not want to play. It made all of us sad and angry.

Coach Reagan’s brother was the assistant coach.

“Don’t play defensively, ever!” he yelled. “Attack and attack and attack some more!” Nobody understood what he was saying, especially when he was playing charades on the sidelines, but we ran around like nuts, anyway.

“We finally got one,” they would say whenever we won. They yelled all the time. That’s what ruined it for me. At the end of the season in seventh grade I hung up my cleats.

“I’m DONE with it,” I said.

I’m thankful I played football when I did, but after I started running cross-country at St. Mel’s I found out how much more I liked it, even though our coach is Grumpy Gillis. That’s what we all call him, who is Coach Krister. We make fun of him because he tries so hard to be grumpy 24/7.

At least he doesn’t give us PHONY pep talks.

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