Thursday, May 25, 2017
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Chapter 4

C H A P T E R   F O U R :

J A M I E   T A T E

B I G   M O U T H   S T R I K E S   A G A I N


“Sweetness, sweetness, I was only joking when I said I’d like to smash every tooth in your head…”

  -“Big Mouth Strikes Again” by Morrissey


“Jamie is a jerk [guitar riff]

Got gum on his shirt [guitar riff]

Tried to get off with his hands

And got it all over his paaaa-aaants”

  -“The Jamie Song” by Dan Wentz


Jamie Tate was not a popular child.  He was ver-r-y annoying.  He made dumb jokes and had an irritating laugh.  But if you tried to fight him, he would run away and taunt you from a distance.  In fifth grade, in our lovely suburban bedroom community, Jamie was having a very difficult time making friends.  This was made obvious by the fact that Jamie had to be let out of school 10 minutes early by the teachers so he could run home to avoid getting his ass kicked by the posse assembled after school.  What kind of animals were we?! What would happen if we caught him? Were we going to tear him limb from limb like a pack of hyenas, or eat his flesh like piranhas?!  Was some kid going to smash his head in with a rock like a caveman?!  Egad. 


And What The Hell were the teachers doing letting Jamie out of class early instead of trying to stop the bloodshed and violence?  How about a little effort, like maybe talking some children out of murdering another 9 year old? I told you my neighborhood was weird, sick and violent. 


Anyway, I lived about a block and a half from Jamie, so I enjoyed the company of some sadistic and horrible children running with me home, in a fruitless pursuit of Jamie with his teacher-sanctioned insurmountable head start, instead of the long, lonesome walk.  I don’t remember a ski mask covered in frozen snot on my face and nobody was wearing a snowsuit, so it had to be either May or September.


That particular day we missed Jamie, so we just milled around in front of his house for a few moments like a mob intent on burning Frankenstein or something and then peaceably dispersed.  I mean, there was always tomorrow.  Dare to dream. I went home to an empty house.


I remember kicking it on a brown leather loveseat, eating an after school bowl of Quisp, my reward for enduring another insufferable day of grade school and hunting Jamie down like an animal, when the phone rang.


"Hello, Patrick?" an adult voice, this meant I was in some kind of trouble as usual.






"Patrick, this is Clark Tate.  Jamie would like to fight you."


"Really?"  I was surprised both that Jamie wanted to fight and that Clark, Jamie's weirdo dad, was matchmaking the brawl.


Clark Tate was a professional artist who drew pictures on the back of cereal boxes and shit.  I had to admit he was the coolest show-and-tell guest ever.  Jamie was once even the model for a drawing of a kid playing with the 'toy inside!' on the back of a box of Frosted Flakes, the lucky bastard.  It did nada for Jamie's street cred apparently.


Clark kind of looked a bit like a not-as-fat or hideous version of Rush Limbaugh with a full head of hair, one of those noses that always looks like it is sniffing in disgust and bushy eyebrows.  He also had this kind of irritating measured, stentorian voice. Jamie's mom was very nervous and pale, like a woman in a Tennessee Williams play, and she hated my guts.  So, apparently, did Clark.  Being neighbors and of the same age, Jamie and I had tried a friendship, but it didn't take, despite Jamie's insanely awesome stash of state-of-the-art toys.


“Patrick, did you hear me?  Jamie would like to fight you."


"Are you serious?  Where?  When?"


"In our back yard, right now."  The stress had caused Jamie to lose his damn mind, apparently.  Although I was about the size of a starving tomcat, I was twice as vicious.


"Sure thing, Mr. Tate."  I might have even called him Clark.  My friend had a dad who’d been a colonel in Vietnam and once I found that out, I refused to call him anything but "The Colonel," even to his face. I could be obnoxious.  By all accounts, I was a very obnoxious kid that many people hated.


I likely used a black rotary-dial phone to organize my hyena pack of school-age rabble.  I told them to get their asses back to the Tate house to witness my now parent-approved, nay endorsed, demolition of Jamie.  My horrible friends were all more than happy to make the trek back. There was Brian Larson, Tim Bixler, Rob Mathews, Dan Wentz and Jim Moeller…and a few others.  Afterward, I just hopped over to Jamie's, using the backyard route through a shortcut in Jamie's tall hedges.  And then I was standing in Jamie's aggressively stupid backyard basketball court.


Stupid because Clark, who was absurdly proud of that court and how he had engineered it, had surfaced it with GRAVEL [Come to think of it, The Tate Family Gravel Court may be the only one of its kind in the world.] He was always explaining to everyone [in his measured radio announcer’s voice] ad infinitum how, because of the slope of property and difficulty getting asphalt in a backyard, gravel was the only genius solution for the perfect hoops court. I guess the concrete pump hadn’t been invented yet.  Lucky Clark wasn’t in charge of the highway department.   Nobody ever played hoops over there because the ball wouldn't bounce.  Or it would hit a rock and go rolling down the hill, but Clark was defiant in his genius. Clark also drove a DeLorean.


Clark, like Frank Sinatra, did it his way.  For good or ill. I remember how he told us in the aforementioned Oscar-winning Show and Tell appearance how he wanted to be an artist so badly when he was a kid that he had ripped out all these stitches he had in his arm so he could draw…that was cool, go Clark!  But sometimes that stubborn individuality turned into a gravel court that sucked or the hare-brained idea of challenging small children to fights in gladiator matches, as if we were inmates in a California penitentiary.


Clark and Jamie approached me from the front. Jamie appeared to have been crying.  They looked mildly disconcerted that I was already in the basketball court, warming up for Gravel Mania, instead of getting patted down at the front gate for weaponry.  This was all strategy, it was unfriendly turf, but I was showing them that this was No Social Visit.  Even at that tender age, I was as vicious and cunning as a Viet Cong sniper.


I couldn't dwell on etiquette issues anyway. I had a fight to concentrate on.  A weird fight, but a fight nonetheless.  I wasn't really sure why I was selected to fight Jamie, but I really wanted to for some reason.  Jamie and I were about the same size.  Strangely, we also had the same color blue eyes and dirty blond hair. I remember this because I hated it when other people said we looked alike, even though I was as ugly as a plate of barf.  Jamie probably outweighed me a little, everyone did, and I weighed only 80 pounds in Junior High, three years later.  I remember Jamie might have actually been stronger than I was; he beat me, to my horror, at leg wrestling that year in gym class.  There were no weak children left in 1970s suburban Chicago; the arctic winters, unhappy alcoholic parents or wild packs of well-to-do feral children had killed them all by the second grade.  I took off my shirt and Jamie did the same.  I usually did this before I fought; I liked to think of myself as one of those bare-knuckle boxers I had seen in old movies.


"Patrick, you and Jamie are going to fight."


Okay, sure.  Clark always stated the obvious, usually two or three times.


"Jamie, are you ready?"


For God’s sake Clark, can we please get on with this?  I’m on a tight schedule, if you make me miss Speed Racer, I am going to egg your car all the way back to the future after I fix Jamie’s wagon.


Jamie was not ready to fight but nodded.  Clark stood between us like a referee in a boxing match and got the fight started with a downward Karate chop thing and, for me, it was time to get this fight over with in a hurry.  I felt really bizarre.  Knowing Jamie to be a pussy, I just hauled off and punched Jamie in the face as hard as I could.  He began to bawl.  Clark sent me to a neutral corner and began to excoriate my negative personality traits to fire Jamie up.  It is really unpleasant to hit someone in the face, but its far worse to be on the receiving end.  This was merely surviving childhood in a severely upper-middle class Crazy Town.  Fightey-Town.  


"THERE he IS Jamie, Mr. Big Mouth, he's sitting right there!!  Mr. Big Mouth!  RightThere.”  Yes Clark, I am right here, I can hear you too, asshole.  I was sitting right over at the edge of the gravel court, cooling off, celebrating the easy win.  Now what?  Do I get a Pop-Tart or something?  I mean, a handshake is in order, of course.  BUT, Clark appeared to be preparing Jamie for some kind of round two. 


Oh Hail no!  Dude.  This one’s in the cooler, the Jell-O’s jigglin’ and the butter is getting hard.  However, Mr. Tate gave me this kind of “hang on there for a minute” stopping motion with his hand as I began to put my red flannel shirt back on, and then promptly went back to talking a bunch of third-grade smack about me. Bizarre.


I remember how weird it was that it was an adult totally bagging on me, he must have called me Mr. Big Mouth at least twenty times but it got Jamie psyched up enough to return to the fray, with some rule changes from Clark.  [I also recall vaguely thinking that there probably weren’t a lot of accolades being thrown my way at the Tate family dinner table.]


And what a nightmare for Clark; everything was going horribly wrong, but he quickly improvised and spelled out which Tate Family Backyard Beef regulations that he had “forgotten to tell us.”  Old Clark, of course, delivered the decree with the calm deep-voiced confidence of Wilfred Brimley selling senior life insurance policies.  Only now he was starting to get frantic and I could see flop sweat accumulating on his brow while his blue eyes were lurking back and forth in desperation under his unkempt eyebrows, much to my delight.


"Allright boys, there will be no punching above the neck or below the waist."  He went over to Jamie, who was still crying, to demonstrate the zone he was talking about [here, not here, here, here, not here, here.] Yeah, I get it.  Just say, “Don’t sock Jamie in the face again,” it will save us all some time. This was suchbullshit!  I had already won.  Fair and square.  In his “howse,” literally, in front of his dad, who was cheating on Jamie’s behalf, for crying out loud.  Well, despite the phony new punching sector, I had already figured out how to win again anyway.


He got the sniveling, red-faced Jamie to square up again by calling me Mr. Big Mouth about fifty more times, and within twenty seconds I was choking Jamie silly.  Predictably, Clark separated us and now it was getting really pathetic, because Jamie was REALLY bawling now and I started to feel horrible, remembering some of thegood times with Jamie, like playing with his motorcycle-riding Evel Knievel that actually jumped stuff [Clark’s job got him access to toys that weren’t even out on the market yet].  Ugh, now his dorky dad was forcing me to humiliate him and then murder him.  How many times and ways did he want me to beat his poor kid down?  Enough was enough. 


I was completely over any anger I had towards Jamie, but I remember really wanting a piece of Clark Tate.


Well Clark informed us that he had “forgotten” another rule: no choking.  I gave him a look like, “Are you dry-humping me?”  And he gave me a look like, “We both know you won, you sadistic little dickhead, just work with me here for a second.”  Poor Clark was already going to be sleeping in the garage for a month over this one.  If he had pulled this stunt today in some overprotective wussy-ass all-white community like Laguna Beach, he’d get five years in prison and his own “Dateline” segment. 


I knew what was up, but I was down with it.  We had to give Jamie something to go forward with.  I could discern in that moment the man’s quiet desperation and love for his outcast son, and neither one of them was really that bad of a guy after all.  They were just nerds.  I was something of an action-junkie, but I was never an animal, I think Clark sensed that.


We resumed the fight with a desultory effort from Your Author, so Jamie did pretty well.  We just kind of wrestled for a minute.  Clark separated us and declared the fight a draw with no argument from me.  I just wanted to get the hell out of there. Even in my insane Norman Rockwell Childhood Gone Wrong, this nasty little scrape was leaving a really unsavory taste in my mouth. Jamie could escape with his pride; he had put up a game effort against a psychotic foe in front of his retarded dad.  My friends weren't there anyway; Clark had turned them away at the gate earlier. [Looking back, I kind of admire Clark for orchestrating this bold and stupid scenario.  Clearly, as I said, it was done out of desperation and pure love for his son.]


I told the story to my family over dinner.  My dad just laughed, kind of irresponsible if you ask me.  I have told this story to others for years…I wonder if I’d left out an important detail:  Was it me that organized the posse against Jamie?  A friendless kid.  Man, cuz that would have really been mean and really not that funny.


The next fight is a fable, a tale with a moral, and I am going to tell you the moral upfront: Don't Fuck With People!  Have I already said that?  Well, it’s very important.  The following fight is a classic example of how badly things can go wrong if you want to go around acting stupid and then back it up with some phony tough-guy talk.