It was the beginning of summer and my older brother, Benj, who was 15 ½ years old (remember when that extra ½ year meant so much), and I, who had recently turned 12, challenged me to a game of stickball. Although he was older, he respected my athletic prowess and understood that his age would probably not be the determining factor.
After playing a few innings, we heard the familiar sound of the Good Humor Truck that frequented the playground area where we were playing. Benj quickly straddled the fence, calling to the truck to stop, with me in hot pursuit. Although he was not much of an athlete, I respected his skill in straddling the fence sideways inasmuch as I never quite mastered that feat with ease.
Refreshed from the sodas, we returned to the stickball court to discover that there were two guys standing in our court. My brother, in an irritated tone, told them that the stick and ball were ours and that we had not finished our game. Although both of them were taller and bulkier than we were, I estimated their age to be somewhere between Benj’s and mine. The bigger of the two of them made a threatening gesture saying something to the effect: “I’m not leaving so you’ll have to make me.” Knowing that neither of us had much experience in fighting, I readied myself to depart and allow the two of them to take over the court. To my amazement, my brother stubbornly refused to leave, saying: “Fair is fair and we were here first.”
Not to my surprise, the two of them got louder and challenged us to a fight. My brother did not back down, but said the fight had to be in front of the school where there was grass, the only place, as he put it, a “real fight” could happen. They agreed. While the two of them boldly strode ahead of us, I looked up toward the heavens, in hope of a miracle, wondering what Benj might be thinking. Signaling to me not to utter a sound, he walked behind them with a cocky gait and I, the younger brother, timidly followed all of them.
When we reached the lawn in front of the school, my brother assertively told the other two that this spot would be fine. The two of them huddled for a moment, with the bigger one saying that he would fight my brother, who he mockingly called “big mouth.” My brother, assuming an audacious tone of voice, explained to them that this was going to be a wrestling match with each of them adhering to high school rules, and that he had wrestled on the high school team. When I heard that, I gasped in shock, but held my tongue. During the wrestling season, Benj had made the sports headlines of our local newspaper for having been the fastest pin of the year in 11 seconds: To clarify, he was the one who had been pinned.
Meanwhile Benj, went on in pedagogical fashion, demonstrating to his opponent, who I will call the Hulk, how to get into the referee’s position where both squat on fours. The Hulk looked at him confused and mumbled “is this it?” “No, no,” Benj replied, and he made a gesture pointing to the Hulk’s position. When the latter switched his stance, Benj again told him, “no” saying that he would be disqualified or would have to forfeit the match if he continued in the same manner. They went back and forth with Benj doing the instructing, and the Hulk attempting to follow my brother’s guidance. Suddenly, he threw his hands up in disgust and stormed off with his friend but not wanting to lose face, and like a bully, he tried to browbeat us with words of intimidation.
When they were out of hearing, Benj told me you can talk your way out of any fight if you need to. I remember that we returned home triumphantly having no interest in continuing the stickball game. Whether the two of them went back to play stickball, I had my doubts. But because big brother Benj had made his point, it no longer mattered to us.