Fistfight in the Gravel Pit

Salt Lake City, UT – 1997

As was typical of the strictness of my parents, BB guns were not allowed at my house. I had asked for one for years growing up but it was always denied to me.

My grandpa, my dad’s dad, had lost his eye to a BB gun early in his youth. He had been playing cops and robbers with his older brother. To keep things safe, his brother had filled his BB gun with sand instead of BBs. My grandpa had been looking through a hole in a fence; his brother, sensing his presence on the other side, fired a shot through the hole directly into his eye. He was blind in that eye for life.

Needless to say we were compassionately deprived of the opportunity to blind one another, which we most certainly would have. But compassion can become tyrannical when it restricts the free expression of others. At least I always felt this way. As such I resented my parents and always imagined how much better my life would be with a BB gun.

By the time I left my parents’ house, my two younger brothers were becoming young teenagers. They, like me, had expressed their desire for a BB gun to my parents. As before, it was denied to them. There must have been an age restriction on the purchase of BB guns; perhaps you had to be older than sixteen. I can’t imagine why we hadn’t been able to get one thus far.

But now the time was right for me to save the day. This was the perfect opportunity to sow some dissent between my brothers and parents. I picked them up from my parents’ house and took them to the store. We pooled our money and bought a BB gun.

We took it straight back to my parents’ house and began shooting it in the yard. My parents quickly noticed and demanded to know where we got it. I told them I had purchased it for myself and my brothers using our own money, so it was not theirs to take. They were displeased but conceded on the condition we not shoot it at the house. They insisted we go up the street to the vacant lot – a gravel field with nothing but rocks, dirt and tumble weeds – affectionately referred to as “the pit.”

On this particular day our cousin was visiting from Texas. He was the year between my brothers in school and he fit right in. He had successfully battled leukemia twice as a younger child. He was a fun-loving and active kid who desperately wanted to continue to shoot the BB gun with us. We packed up the gun, the BBs, and some half-full spray paint cans and other flammable materials and headed up the street to the pit.

We arrived shortly and found a good spot against a hill to shoot. We set up some cinder blocks and took turns shooting the cans of spray paint. Every now and then we’d spot a small animal to shoot at. It was every bit as great as we hoped it would be. All was right in the world.

This went on for about a half an hour. On the edge of the pit we saw a young man appear. He climbed over the rail where the street ended and walked in our general direction. We paid him little mind and continued our business. As he approached I got a vibe; this guy was eyeballing us. My brothers and cousin were still too young to cue into the demeanor of this youth, but I knew as soon as I saw him that he’d be trouble.

Being older than the rest of my group by five years, I felt exposed. If this guy came back with friends I would be virtually unsupported. And I had a feeling. He watched us as he passed and proceeded to the far side of the pit, over a fence, and out of sight.

Sure enough, it wasn’t more than twenty minutes later that he appeared again at the far end of the field accompanied by a bigger kid. They made their way straight toward us. We continued what we were doing, my younger brothers and cousin oblivious to the situation while I waited to see what would transpire.

“Who said you could shoot that here?” the bigger kid asked as they arrived. I knew it. I knew this would happen. “Its a public field.” I responded, sizing up the situation. I looked in the eyes of the kid we had seen first. He had a smug look. My instincts were right about him. At first glance he looked exactly like the kind of kid who wanted to start shit but was too chicken without his big friend. And now here he was. My blood boiled.

“Well I say you can’t shoot here, and I’m a cop.” he said. “You’re a cop?” I asked, “You don’t look like a cop.” He motioned to his hat which had the word “Sheriff” written across it in big white letters. “It says it right here.” I laughed, “Yeah,” I said, “but they sell hats like that at the mall. Show me your badge or get lost. We plan on being here.” “I don’t have it with me.” he replied. “Then we’re staying here to do what we’re doing.” I responded, and turned and made a couple more shots at our targets.

These obviously weren’t cops. These kids just wanted to flex their nuts and this was the best guise they could come up with to instigate a challenge. But I had called their bluff; things now had to escalate. “You’d better do as I say and get out of here.” the big kid reiterated. I looked squarely at him, “You’re not a cop dude, if you were you’d have a badge. We’re not leaving. We’re not going to do shit.” This is what they wanted, and I was happy to give it to them.

If I remember correctly, this incident occurred less than a week after I steel-toe kicked another guy’s face in. I was primed. I still had violence in my heart. The kid marched up into my face. “I told you to get outta here!” “Get the fuck out of my face.” I said, pushing him as soon as he came within reach. Already they were both surprised. They were expecting me to buckle. That was not going to happen.

He approached again but this time kept an arms length of distance. I was still holding the BB gun. My first thought was to attack – I could butt him in the face with the gun. But what about the other kid? He got closer. I lifted the BB gun up between us. “What are you going to do? Hit me with that??” he demanded. “No.” I said. My brothers and cousin were standing by, looking unsure of what to do. I handed them the gun.

Now he was right up in my face trying to stare me down. We exchanged a few words, and after several heated exchanges I felt we had talked to long. I was ready for action. I cocked my right hand and smashed a hard hook punch across his jaw. He didn’t even see it coming. The blow wrenched his head sideways and his knees buckled beneath him. He dropped flat on his butt in the dirt.

An awkward pause followed that lasted an eternity. I looked down at him; his eyes were rolling in his head trying to focus. I looked at his friend, the instigator, who was standing with his hands in his pockets, avoiding eye contact. I didn’t know whether to hit the first guy again or go fight the second. I stood there for what felt like a full minute trying to determine what to do next.

By this time the guy I hit was regaining his bearings. In a sloppy manner he scramble to all fours and charged at me, attempting to grab me around the waste. My wrestling instincts fired and I immediately sprawled and cross-faced. We slid down a little hill and ended up in a scramble. I punched wildly while he held on to my shirt for dear life.

Suddenly we heard the voices of grown men yelling in our direction, “Hey! I’m calling the cops!” At the top of the hill stood a couple men, residents of the bordering houses. I let go of my opponent and ran up the path toward the street. My brothers were hiding in the bushes, obviously intimidated by the situation. I called them and we ran home in a hurry.

There was no way we could hide this from my parents. We told them the story and they disapproved. We reminded them that it was their idea to go to the pit. That made things worse. Needless to say I didn’t stick around to hear their noise. I headed down to Francesco’s to tell my friends the story.

Later I found out that my sister knew the two kids from high school. She had seen these two knucklehead shortly after our encounter. One of them asked her, “Is your brother the guy with the Mohawk?” “Yes,” she said, “are you the guy he punched in the face at the pit?” “Yeah,” he confessed, “he got me good.” She laughed, and he shrugged. This was the last I ever heard about it.











One thought on “Fistfight in the Gravel Pit

  1. Pingback: Autobiography | Matthew J. Summers

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