I yelled, “fall out!” But, there’s one in every crowd. His name was “Johnson,” an ex-merchant marine with big old biceps who thought he could fight a circular saw and come out ahead. He pulled the cover over his head as if that was gonna protect him from someone who knew better.
Everyone was watching me, so I knew I had an impression to make. I walked over, and said, “Well, aren’t you smart?” Then I took that cot and flipped it right in the middle of him.
He stood up, towering over me like a big gorilla, stared down at me and drew back. Now, the thing about big ole boys like Johnson is that they might have a lot of muscle and power, but for a lightweight class like me, they move like molasses. So that’s the last he saw. When he drew his big arm back, my fist landed square on his chin before his pea brain could register what hit him. He dropped like a loose button, out cold as a cucumber.
When Johnson started to stir a bit, he looked at me with surprise and reached up to feel his mouth, like he was making sure all his teeth were still there.
“It’s okay,” I told him. “I know a couple of folks without any teeth and they can still eat almost anything.”
He sat there glaring at me and I kept talking.
“And if you keep puckerin’ like that, pretty soon you’re your face is gonna match your asshole. Now get up!”
Everybody laughed except for Johnson. I guess he didn’t think it was funny. But he did stand up and, so far, Johnson and the rest of the cooks barracks have been looking at me in a different light. I don’t count on Johnson looking down on me ever again. Besides, he couldn’t fight the gnats off his butt.
I suppose the fighting Instinct was born in me, like red is born into a beet. Maybe because I started fighting in first grade when I had to stick that pocketknife into the thigh of Tommy Burns so he wouldn’t take my marbles.
Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper, my father’s story