Wednesday, June 18, 2014


when you're seven years old, the world is black and white, good guys and bad guys. my mom always had a bad back as long as i had known her, she swam at our local YMCA to soothe it on Wednesdays. Wednesday mornings were my favorite because i shared alone time with mom. she drove me to the Y in our beautiful little car, i could feel the air below the car whir beneath my feet, it was a magic carpet ride. then, i'd hold mom's hand all the way to the huge mat at the front entrance of the Y, where each square of plastic was individually painstakingly arranged in such a way as to form a huge letter Y in white against the black background of the mat. to me, that Y stood for Welcome, even though welcome does not contain a y. it was the '80s, my magical '80s childhood. buildings looked better in the '80s, they were mystical because i was viewing them from my short skinny stature, they loomed above me like iron castles. i always remembered the Y's gigantic one continuous pane of glass next to the mat where onlookers both within the campus and outside the property line in traffic could peer in and see the swimmers in their shiny gold and silver suits taking laps in the pool. red white and blue patriotic plastic rings formed the pool lane dividers. those noble swimmers in their nose plugs and funny caps on their heads were Roman gladiators to me, attacking the rugged ocean of the pool, synchronizing the beautiful human body to the rhythm of the waves, piercing through the water like a slippery eel to make the best time, their fine-tuned muscles flying above the white foam like magic. all for country, all for Roma. i felt this even though i hadn't studied the Romans yet. and the most mystical of all, when they would do that turn with their bodies when they reached one end of the lane so as not to lose time, they flipped their bodies gracefully like dolphins and continued to the other end of the lane. Aquamen. Aquawomen. and afterwards mom always treated me to Taco Bell for lunch.

i was 7 and a boy so of course i was into video games. video games were my entire world. as an only child, i could easily enter the fantastical worlds of video games with no distractions from a brother or sister, i melted into these worlds of swords and triforces and pipes and koopas, they defined me and i defined them, i used them to explain the real world, my real world, my innocent view of life still with the hope of a child. it was always the happy same when we came to the Y on Wednesdays, the gentle giant Doc would be there to check our IDs and hand out white towels. the Y was Doc and Doc was the Y. he was an old white bald hulky man, a kind man, he had been through wars and that pacified him, he smiled sweetly at everyone but took a shine to me because of my precious innocence. he made sure none of the big kids bothered me much so i could go on being innocent. he knew from his lifetime how sacred that was and what really needed to be protected, not what some country thought needed protection. i always pondered the name Doc whenever our eyes met, i thought about


the trainer for the boxer Mac in the video game. that was a thing with me, too, whenever i heard a name, my brain would immediately go towards a song on the radio i heard or a piece of video-game music or theme, it would trigger the notes of the melody immediately inside my fertile mind. i was so close to beating that game, i had gotten to the last level where you face Mike Tyson but was too scared of him to go through with it. i had it on eternal pause and didn't know when i'd face my fear again. of course i didn't know the last name of the video-game character back then, only the name of Doc. Doc Louis is coming to me now in the present with google. i never found out the last name of the real Doc.

mom would go into the ladies' to change, leaving me alone by the vending machine which was always magically stocked full of the naughty stuff through the glass, the cokes and pepsis and candy, all the colors of the rainbow represented in bad carbs and sugar highs and peanuts and chocolate, a boy's modest dream. and yes, there were Skittles, too. i pulled out the quarter that i remembered to carry with me on that day by leaving sticky rainbow-colored post-it notes on the post of my bed each day the week before from my little cute pocket of my little cute denim overalls outfit that mom picked out for me that morning laying it out on the bed, and i would use my cute little fingers to push the little quarter into the slot and i pushed the cute little button to activate the dropping of my cute little candybar which i then ate cutesily. oh the '80s, so innocent, so simple, no internet, just 3 basic channels of tv, more air to breathe, more room to think, more space for my active imagination to expand as i sat on the hard wood bench waiting and gnawing. suddenly there is a butt in my face. it farts right in my face.

it's Vulpe Pui, eighth grade, rough and tumble, backwards baseball cap, one earring, sour face, brooding eyes but not the good kind, mean for no reason for he had money. this is when the '80s free time was not so good, it gave bullies the free time, also, all the time in the world to play their mind games and use their intelligence over a dumber opponent. what a waste of brainpower.

i tried, i really tried.

me: what kind of name is that? pee pee

and then i shielded my head for the inevitable blow. fuck that guy hit hard. my trashtalk skills were not on par with his, could never be, he would always be six years older than me, always, throughout all of time, i could never catch up to him agewise, but maybe i'd catch up to him wisdomwise. that's all i had, i didn't have the faintest idea what vulpe was.

Vulpe punched me in the face five times, each time singing a verse or phrase or something from something i didn't recognize.

Vulpe: *punch* one for the money *punch* two for the show *punch* three to get ready and *punch* four to go...and *punch* one more for the road.

thing is, unlike most bullies, he didn't stand there and admire his bloody work and laugh. he never smiled, i had never seen him smile once. he would always stand over me blank-faced with cold barren eyes. of course he made sure to do this each time on Doc's lunch break when nobody was manning the front desk station. nothing crueler than a smart bully. what a waste of power.

i didn't have any comebacks, i didn't have any strength left, i was weak and just wanted to go home. he had won, he had always won, he would always win, i was too small and tiny and awkward and precious and innocent and happy to fight. i crawled up into a ball and waited for it to be over.

Vulpe: dude, what is with that getup? you look like Raggedy Andy. or rather Raggedy Ann.

you: "mom" i mouthed quietly. i loved my mom and would always represent her with dignity.

Vulpe: i keep telling you, if you want to beat the game, if you want to beat me, the final boss, you have to work out. why are you at the Y if you're not gonna use the weight room or the boxing ring? staring at the basketball players all morning won't get you anywhere in life.

so, he was trying to help me. i see. oh how i loved watching those basketball players, it was very much like the swimmers, with a similar one gigantic pane of continuous unbroken see-through glass. they were people with secret knowledge i did not understand, i admired them from a distance and could only clap in admiration, i could never achieve feats such as dunking a ball or swishing a three-point shot because i didn't have the Magic Johnson shoes and the height and the muscles and the determination and the work ethic and the alchemy, i just liked to lie on my stomach and play video games alone in my room for days. weight rooms scared me, they were filled with meatheads talking gibberish, hulks who were always angry though they were never green, struggling and sweating and talking loudly to get to the next level of weight. i could respect the level thing, but it was too foreign. they were so strong they could beat me to a pulp with one glance, and i was already a pulp. as for the boxing ring, i suppose i could give that a try. no, what was i thinking? that was real, not Little Mac and Doc, real gloves, real hits to the real face, it would hurt, when you uppercut, you would get hurt bashing your small gloved fist into the opponent's large face, not just have a star above you indicating you had an uppercut move in your bank if you pushed the START button. no, the thought of real life scared me. still does. video games, video games, get back to the fantasy.

Vulpe: as ol' Tyson says in the game, your arms are like fingers. seriously, dude, you are so fucking skinny i can barely see you. those arms are pipecleaners. don't you care? don't you care about living? don't you care about life?

you: i want my mommy.

did i say that out loud or think it? that's all i could think, i didn't have the fortitude to fight on my own, to stand up and be a real boy. i quickly needed to get back to video games and to the bathroom to wash my bloody face.

in the locker rooms, which were perfectly empty this time of day, i could swim in my forte, the only thing i was good at, thinking. i thought about it. it had to be a video-game solution. i was Link, i had elven ears and a green hat and a wooden sword. the adventure had begun and Vulpe was Ganon. i could do this, i could win this if i got enough rupees and the right armor and got that special item found in that one special place that moves the one specific rock that is needed to get to the next level to even gain access to Vulpe Ganon, much less defeat him. i would need the silver arrow to defeat Ganon Vulpe. i wondered if it was located in the ladies' room, that's why i had yet to see it. never found it despite hours and hours of gameplay.

i dusted myself off, picked myself up, or rather Link from The Legend of Zelda did, and i pushed that big heavy door with the glass pane in its center that leads to the front desk, my cute little strength in my cute little innocent arms that really were toothpicks, it took all of me to advance the door ajar so i could squeeze my rail-thin frame through. my body was ready. and so was my mind. my brain had another explosion again thinking about the start of a new quest in Hyrule, the music flooded my mind again, i so wanted to reach the Second Zelda Quest, the kids in the schoolyard had talked so much about it, i cowered in the hopscotch area alone because i wasn't there yet, hadn't yet defeated Ganon in the First Quest, so many new challenges awaited, so many new things they talked about, how hard the Second Quest was compared to the First, how so very difficult it was, did i have the strength and the will and the smarts to do it myself for me as a representation of me? or was i a dumb 7-year-old kid?

i turned to face Vulpe, who was unfazed. with my air sword in one hand and air shield in the other, i waved them around as the music danced in my soul. i danced to it in the middle of the carpeted inside entrance area for all to see. Doc was returning to the front desk slowly. i danced and swung. i was pumped up with blood.





Juliette said...

Awwwww, you sound so cute I want to hug you.
Weren't vending machines the best ever thing when you were a kid.....simple joys.

I hate bullies. I love that you used your game character to help you stand up.

Very moving.

the late phoenix said...

juli: a million hugs ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

what is the :* equivalent of a hug anyway? ;)

Juliette said...

It's (((((( hug )))))) x a million.