Work of Art: Fighters followed a code

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By Art Trujillo

It’s a great feeling when someone I know says he remembers the people I wrote about in a previous column.

“You know this ‘Sopandas’ guy you mentioned? Well, he was my neighbor,” a childhood friend told me recently.

Indeed it is great for my column to have jogged a memory or two. But along with that is the inevitable question (often from a sibling, “Are you sure we grew up in the same household”). Somehow I believe I’m blessed with a keen memory of childhood events, thus my pre-occupation with things I did or were done to me in the ‘40s and ‘50s.

And there’s often a difference of opinion. I’m sure this has happened in many families, where one family member retells a humorous incident of yesteryear.

But in doing so, she’s changed the names of the characters: Instead of Mom it was Dad; instead of Immaculate Conception School it was Vegas High or Town High.

Short of DNA evidence and film-type documentation, or the sworn testimony of six nuns, it’s hard to prove very much. Who’s to say my recollection of things isn’t as great as yours?

In a Work of Art in 2003 I wrote about the recreational fighting that took place out of teacher sight, on the I.C. playground. Now, we must have been influenced by a code of conduct prescribed by watching westerns at the Serf. In those cowboy flicks, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry never hit a man who was down.

Rather, the protagonist punched the guy hard enough to knock him down, but would lift him up again (usually by the front of the shirt) and enter Stage II, while the victim was up. Then he’d repeat steps one and two.

Well, my recollection is that in our fisticuffs, we did similar things. We had it ingrained in us that 1) we’re not to pick fights in the first place, but 2) if a fight is inevitable, we must 3) never hit someone when he’s down.

But that’s not such a novel idea. Polonius, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, gave the same advice to his departing son Laertes, in the 1500s: “Beware of entrance to a quarrel, but being in, / Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.”

So, Polonius’ assault having been disposed of, let’s set up the ring:

Most fights I witnessed were arranged by mutual agreement. One pushes the other, the pushee pushes back, and fists fly. Immediately, there’s a circle through which not even Tiny Tim can enter, as boys cheer on the combatants.

As for the honor code, on several occasions one of the observers — usually a bigger, older neighborhood youth — actually jumped in to yank a fighter by the ankle to keep him from striking the other boy, who was on the bottom. And sometimes, when there appeared to be an obvious mismatch, neighborhood boys would pull the enemies apart, hoping to avert a fight altogether.

I was never aware of anyone’s jumping in to help his friend, or of a fight otherwise escalating into a brawl.

Has anything changed? Yes. It seems the old custom of using only one’s fists (no biting, no kicking) is passe. Now, judging from some of the Internet filmings of schoolyard fights, several people will attack one, being sure to land a few kicks in the ribs to the one who’s down.

Well, this account wasn’t intended to give the finer points of fist fights but merely to speculate on change over the last 50 or 60 years. I’ve written several times about having Plan B, all the way to Plan Z, which I employed just to walk the seven blocks to school. The various routes were my attempt to avoid the house of Gibber or Roy or whoever else might lie in wait and weight.

But even so, a bloody nose sufficed. Sure I was bullied by bigger, more experienced neighbors, but nobody I knew of carried a knife or a gun. In discussions with my three sons, I’ve told them about the old fear of crossing the Old Town bridge (Joe Lucero, an employee of West Schools once told me his parents used to warn him not to cross over to the east side, lest he get attacked).

My sons, ranging in age from 33 to 42, insist that all their lives, they haven’t known a Vegas neighborhood they fear entering on foot. In my youth, there were several, but in those days, most interactions were one on one, not 12 on one.

I abhor violence, and have always tried to keep the testosterone from raging. But what lesson do we pass on to kids and popular culture magnifies and glorifies it?

Here’s an example:

Between timeouts of a football game Sunday, there was a promo commercial for My 50 TV. It opened with Danny DeVito in bed swinging a large table lamp across the room; some other male joins in to crash his guitar into a huge flat screen TV (meanwhile, the ersatz laugh-track audience is cracking up). But wait, there’s more:

There are a couple more chair and table smashings, a kicked chair, a woman punching a hole in a wall with her fist, a man playing basketball and elbowing his female competitor in the nose. A woman who loses her cool pummels a man’s head some 20 times, and the grand finale: a creature dressed in green kicks a man in the groin with so much force that it elevates the victim.

What fun they’re having!

Understand, please, that these are seen by some as funny events. The half dozen acts of violence, compressed into a very short time, fail to include anything non-violent.

Ain’t progress wonderful? Is that what televiewers demand? I think I prefer the olden days.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to artbt@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.