Blogger’s note: The following passage is the from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved my Life. It’s the 7th excerpt from Chapter 1: “48 Viewmont Avenue.” I will post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning. To read previous installments, go to the Categories link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”
When I started at Joseph George Middle School in the 6th grade, I realized, for the first time in my life, that the world outside of Viewmont Avenue wasn’t very safe. I became the target of an eighth-grade bully who would hide behind a post or a wall at school and jump in front of me to keep me from getting to class on time. After being marked tardy a few times, I figured that I had better do something about it or I would be in trouble with the school and with my parents.
Although my parents taught us that conflicts should be resolved by talking, and using our fists was the last resort, the older kid wasn’t interested in negotiations, so there wasn’t much chance of avoiding a fight. When I explained that to my dad, he as usual counseled against fighting as that would just cause another set of problems for me in school, but he understood if I needed to fight to protect myself.
Preparing for my confrontation, I rallied the neighborhood kids to be at my side so my chances of surviving would be better if I ended up on the losing end of the battle. The next day at school, as expected, the bully jumped out from behind a wall and started toward me. I was scared and nervous, but preparing myself for the first scuffle of my life outside of the rough housing I took from my brother Stevie from time to time.
When the bully had seen that my defenses had suddenly multiplied, he backed off quickly and ran the other way. Learning from that venture outside of the cocoon, I got into the habit of walking to school and class with a few friends every day. I had dodged a bullet, but my days in the protective cocoon of Viewmont Avenue would be coming to an end sooner or later.
When I started high school, my strong academic performance in junior high filled my high school schedule with college prep courses and my classrooms with students I hadn’t been in class with before. These students lived in the foothills up Alum Rock Avenue with their professional fathers and stay at home moms, and went to private Catholic school at St. John Vianney or the elementary school in the hills that the “rich” kids attended.
At first, I felt academically intimidated, but quickly settled down and discovered that I could intellectually compete with these kids in the tough college prep classes. Outside the classroom, I still hung out with my friends from the neighborhood where I felt safe and comfortable. I met the closest of these friends, Rudy Bryand, in junior high school where we spent free periods playing baseball.
Rudy lived right around the corner on Alum Rock Avenue about nine houses away from me. We got to know each other better in high school. I talked him into trying out for the frosh/sophomore basketball squad, and of course, we both played on the James Lick baseball team for four years. Rudy and I quickly became best friends. He was tall and handsome, a born comedian with a charismatic personality that attracted friends and girls with ease.
Together, we had our first beer, went to football and baseball games, talked about girls, and caroused around town as rambunctious young men. He was the best man at my wedding and I was the best man in his. As we got older, we started having our own families, had chosen different career paths and social circles, and drifted apart.
His street smarts complemented my book smarts, so we made a likable team that would cause mischief everywhere we went. He would say that our friendship was analogous to walking a tightrope; he would walk out as far as he could urging me to follow, while I stayed closer to safety beckoning him to come back in. A high school friend and baseball teammate who I still stay in contact with, once said that, “Rudy was crazy and Eddie could talk his way in and out of anything.”
A few years after high school, an incident perfectly captured that observation when Rudy, a couple of friends, and I were confronted by police after a fight broke out in a fast-food joint parking lot on the west side of town where one of our friends worked. While the three of us were waiting in the car for our food at the end of a night of bar-hopping, Rudy got into a verbal altercation with a couple of guys in the car parked next to us because he was flirting with one of their girlfriends.
One thing led to another and soon Rudy was in a fist fight with the offended boyfriend. A car full of guys, presumably friends of Rudy’s opponent, showed up and entered into the fracas. In the chaos and confusion that ensued, I took out a baseball bat from the trunk of the car to protect myself, and within minutes, police sirens were wailing as the other combatants scattered into the night.
When the police arrived, the bat was safely stored in the fast-food place. The police said that they were called to the location because a group of young men were fighting with baseball bats. As the spokesman of the group, I assured the officers that we didn’t see an altercation and had no knowledge of bats that were said to have been used in a brawl. After a few more questions, and despite a deep gash over Rudy’s left eye, the cops let us go without explanation. With Rudy, there was never a dull moment during a night (or day) on the town.
Next Wednesday: Life at James Lick High School
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