Showdown at the Lions Club
I had some really great friends in high
school and crazy experiences with all of them. I met them in different
ways and some of them even started out as enemies. Dale was one of those
cases; and the story leading up to our friendship sounds more like
fiction. During my first year I associated a lot with Perry, my older
brother and his pals, Tommy Troupe, Bob Sanders, and Bob Rittenberry, who
were seniors. This had great advantages since they all had cars, were
really cool, and made great mentors, not to mention the trouble they got
me into early on.
Apparently what I was purported to bring to the party was a connection to the freshman girls. At the time I was less interested in girls than in the other more manly activities they offered, like guns, cars, and drag racing. Possibly our greatest fiasco came about on a Sunday afternoon when we went out shooting. Our method was to drive country roads with a carload of armed buddies and look for practically anything that moved, like hawks, crows and rabbits. Under the circumstances there were amazingly few fatal accidents. This particular Sunday was not a day to be proud of, however. What we thought to be a tree full of crows turned out to be a farmer’s prized game hens. We gunned down four or five before someone shouted chickens. The farmer took down our license plate and ultimately agreed to forget about the event if we paid for his hens.
Perry's friends constituted one of several distinct sets of rival "gangs" in the school and most freshmen, like me, had not yet settled into an equivalent group of same-age peers. One of my first “wars” with the opposition occurred when a guy, named Dale Cleek, whom I barely knew, bumped me in the school hallway. The problem was that a lot of friends from both sides were watching requiring cool words from both directions resulting in what was essentially the throwing down of a gauntlet. The confrontation began to escalate beyond what would be acceptable in the school corridor and we both agreed with great panache that we would continue this later in an appropriate place.
The whole affair may have ended there except that Dale, like me, had older mentors who apparently were in need of entertainment. Each of us received much advice putting us into a collision course that was widely advertised as an event on the way. Generally, when a confrontation between two rivaling guys took place, a lot of words passed back and forth and the contestant with the best presentation of curse words mixed with coolness was the winner. Perry and his buddies had had developed a different approach on such encounters and apparently had used it successfully on several occasions.
The basic idea was that if I get in one hellacious punch at the outset, then that really ups the odds of winning. Not only that, the approach was such a surprise that it would meet little if any defense, a sort of free punch.
Emotions stirred and rumors floated for about a month and I really dreaded the night that was now destined to come. It happened at a dance at the local Lions Club, one of the few venues for dances in Shelbyville. I sat on one of side of the dance floor and Dale the other, exchanging heated glances. Perry had sent spies to check Dale out who returned with the report that he was wearing at least two very large rings. Perry had rounded up four or five class rings from his guys and told me to put them on. He continued to coach me right up until the dreaded moment when one of Dales cronies came over with the dreaded message that Dale wanted to see me outside. I really didn't want to do this, but I was beyond the point of no return.
Outside, Dale and his mentors stood in a semi circle with Dale at the focus. Perry, Troupe, and Sanders followed me. As I walked up to the semi circle, I never actually stopped, even as Dale started saying something that was supposed to be cool and scary, and I never actually heard what he was saying.
I hit him as hard as I could right between the eyes and followed through as he fell backwards to the ground. I hit him a few more times in the face before we both wound tangled up motionless on the ground, at which time he told me that even if I killed him he would not give up. As I felt my shirt being soaked with his blood, I realized for the first time what I had done. This really was not fun, even if I was winning. I asked him if he wanted to shake and call it quits. He responded positively, and indeed we shook hands and walked away.
I wasn't sure what would come next. Would he sneak up behind me and kill me? Would I have to do this again without the advantage of surprise? A few days later Dale approached me still sporting black eyes and cuts on his face. To my pleasant surprise he said that he really felt stupid going out and getting his butt kicked for no particular reason at all and he hoped we could be friends. From that day on Dale and I enjoyed a fine friendship and had many fun experiences together. His follow on action left me a lot more respect and admiration than I would have had if he had whipped my ass.
Forty years later I walked with my daughter, Kris, into his furniture store on the Shelbyville Square and stood silently before him. After a few moments of his puzzled look I said, "Okay Dale, you old fart, I recognize you, so now it is your turn." Before I could get the words from my mouth he leapt from this chair and hugged me, shouting "DR. DOODLE".