“It all started at Taco Tico,” is perhaps the best opening line for a personal story that’s ever been written.
When I was younger, I was a band geek. It probably saved my life – and not just in the sense it gave me relief from an otherwise certain depression and the ability to get away from my house.
On one occasion, it helped me avoid a beating.
Because my parents were negligent to a degree almost unequalled, I walked more than the average student. Until near the end of 9th grade, you would have undoubtedly failed to believe this, as I was fat, and not in the humorous Weird Al way.
After some event after school, my mom and aunt failed to materialize to pick me up. They were probably worshipping on Budweiser’s altar. I had two choices: invent Uber or start walking. On the way across the practice field, I found someone’s trumpet mouthpiece and put it in my pocket. For those souls denied exposure to band, such a mouthpiece is made of solid metal and a few inches long. I put it in my pocket so I could try to return it to the owner the next day. Unlike me, trumpeters had to pay for their own mouthpieces and instruments.
I walked up to highway 68 (now 412) and westward. By some miracle, I had two dollars in my pocket. I went to Taco Tico, a restaurant that once was legendary among some of us in the community. The building is across from Susan’s restaurant. Everyone in Northwest Arkansas has stories about events and food at Taco Tico. I could get 4 rice tacos for a dollar. I sat and ate the tacos. This sort of thing was a luxury for me. I left to walk the rest of the way to my cousin’s house on Ann Street.
As I crossed in front of Taco Tico, something whizzed past my head and hit the pavement with a thud. I turned to see some sports car (they were all the same to me) go past, with an arm and upraised middle finger for my inspection. By the time I was crossing Carley Road across from K-Mart and in the area where Walgreens now stands, I heard someone revving an engine loudly. The corner was a gas station for years, a cracker crust pizza place, and a gaming business that seemed to be in trouble constantly.
The same reddish-colored sports car that had greeted me earlier was in the parking lot. Two idiots sat in the front with the windows down, both shouting clever insults at me. Both of them were upperclassmen. I didn’t know their names, but both were football players for Springdale.
It was obvious they weren’t on their way to a Mensa meeting. They looked like a happy couple.
I walked as close to the edge of the lot as I could. The driver gunned his engine and rolled ahead of me to block me. As I started to walk around, the driver jumped out and called me a f*g. If I were in that place and time again, I would undoubtedly tell him it was more likely he and his passenger were, given they drove around randomly at all hours, and that they looked like a happy couple. When I didn’t answer him, he took a couple of steps and punched me in the stomach and then shoved me as hard as he could. I fell backward and to the ground. I had learned through my Dad’s violence that sometimes faking a more severe reaction might save me a punch or twenty. The driver spit in my direction and headed back to his car. Not that it was important at the time, but I wondered why so many males thought that spitting added any machismo to their personality.
I started to grab a rock but instead remembered the mouthpiece in my pocket. I took it out and threw it as hard as I could manage. My terrible aim somehow disappeared in that split second as the mouthpiece left my hand and arced with incredible speed toward the car. It thunked against the small rear passenger window. The glass immediately splintered. Admittedly, I threw the mouthpiece with the intent of hitting the bully driver directly in the face.
The driver froze, and his mouth fell open. “What the…,” he started to say. Without thinking and without hesitation, I ran directly toward him. It surprised him, and as he reached out to grab me, I ducked sideways and darted around the front of the car and kept running. The driver ran after me instead of jumping into the car. I could hear the passenger yelling. Within a few seconds, I was outpacing the football player by a huge distance. I turned, running backward, and told him he should run his legs more and his mouth less. I knew the area well and ran directly to the barbed wire fence and hurled myself over it.. I turned to see that the driver had abandoned his pursuit. He had to run back to the car before he could pursue me. I ran through the field, angling away from Carley road. It took me quite a while to run back to my aunt’s house, as I couldn’t be sure that the two idiots weren’t going to follow the roads and find me.
Despite me fearing for my life the next day at school, I had no options. Bullies were a big part of school life for students. It was pointless to tell anyone. Football players were mostly untouchable. I’d made the mistake a couple of times in junior high and then during high school of trying to “tell on” football players for some fairly dangerous behavior. It didn’t go well for me. It is part of the reason I don’t hold any of the coaches in high esteem, even those with huge scoreboards or statues with their names emblazoned on them. I don’t care that everyone seems to have other, higher opinions about the people we shared in common.
At the end of the year, the driver of the car pretended to lunge at me in the hallway. Although I flinched, I immediately and regrettably said, “I’m not your type,” as I dodged away. He wasn’t amused. The other droolers with him looked at him in almost shock. I walked away, certain I was going to be tackled in the hallway.