My first Epic Battle Was with a kid named Keith - I don't remember his last name. Keith was handsome, tall for a third-grader, and extremely well-dressed. I remember he wore a button-down shirt every day instead of a pullover, and I never saw him in dungarees. (This was the late sixties when childrens' denim was making the unsteady transition from dungarees to jeans.) Keith was self-confident and well-liked. The teacher would call him up to the blackboard to do long division and he would race through problems like he was born with a piece of chalk in his hand.
I liked him, too, but I knew it was essential that I fight him.
I was a new kid, having just moved to Georgia from Florida, and I could see that fighting Keith - and winning, I had no doubt I would win - would earn me eternal glory in Mrs. Brown's class in Washington County High.
I told Keith I was going to fight him, and Keith, while somewhat nonplussed, accepted the challenge. He was a polite kid and willing to oblige a newcomer. He had a sidekick named Ricky, whom I always thought of as Ricky Ricardo, who was very derisive about my chances. In truth, I don't think Ricky was really Keith's sidekick, but just someone who was nearby when I made the challenge and who - wisely - predicted I was going to get a whooping.
(In 1968 Sandersville, Georgia, children did not use the expression "ass-kicking." We did not say "ass" at all, and some of us did not suspect such a word existed. A vandal had spray-painted "Class of '67 SUX" on various surfaces throughout the county, which left me totally mystified. I thought it was Roman numerals.)
We fought during recess, but we didn't even get as far as the playground. We fought on the sidewalk just outside the front door. "I'm going to fight you now," I informed him, and went for him. Most of the kids went on to the swings, but two or three onlookers stayed to watch. The tension was so thick, it was noticeable.
In my mind's eye, I pictured the sort of fights I'd seen on Bonanza. I actually believes that at a climactic point, I would seize him by his belt and his shirt collar and send him crashing through a plate glass window. However, the setting was not congenial to such maneuvers, there being no windows handy. Instead I seized him by his upper biceps, and attempted to hurl him to the ground. He seized me likewise. I do not know if he was attempting to hurl me to the ground or not, but he might have been.
That's where we stuck. Neither of us could let go without being hurled to the ground by the other. It would never have occurred to me to throw a punch; I didn't want to hurt him, just beat him. Kicking was also out of the question. This was years before the TV show Kung Fu made kicking okay; in those days, kicking was still something only girls and sissies did. So we stayed there, locked in a mortal grip. Two of the three onlookers got bored and went to the playground. Mrs. Brown, if she observed the tableau from the window, did not rush out to break up the fight. If she'd seen it, she wouldn't have known it was a fight.
It was Ricky Ricardo who indirectly broke up the fight. Ricky, the only remaining onlooker, inquired of Keith why he didn't simply beat me up. Keith, still as pleasant as ever, said that I was a lot stronger than I looked.
That was all it took. I released him, and he me. I was stronger than I looked, which was high compliment coming from Keith, who was clearly pretty strong himself if I hadn't been able to send him crashing through a window. After that we could be friends.
I had proven myself and earned eternal glory in Mrs. Brown's third grade.