Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Muncie Boyhood: Space 1999 and a Rumble in the Hood

Ernie's house is gone now, but this yard was the site of my rumble.
I was in middle school and early high school during the era of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Wars, and various sightings of UFOs around the world.  My young mind was intrigued by the possibilities of space travel and extra-terrestrial visitation.  I spent a great deal of time during those years with my buddy Jerry from over on 22nd Street.  We had been friends early in elementary school, but then sort of went our own directions until 7th grade came along, when all of the sudden our friendship rekindled.

We were into three things:  Superheros, Star Trek syndicated reruns, and playing war with a bunch of little plastic army guys.  I might share more about the army battles and superheros in another post, but for now I’m going to focus on the Sci-Fi fascination.

Star Trek started it.  I remember the show being on as a regular series in the late sixties, but I never watched it.  It wasn’t until it was in syndication in the mid-seventies that with Jerry’s help I discovered it.  What a great show!  I still love it today. 

We fashioned our own phasers and tricorders out of wood.  We ran around battling Klingons and Romulans; wishing that we could kiss Yeoman Rand, the pretty blonde assistant to Captain Kirk.

It was only natural that when I learned of the existence of Space 1999, a sci-fi series starring Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, I was all over it!  In the summer of 1976, I was eagerly awaiting its season premiere.  “Eagerly awaiting” might be an understatement.  The fact is that the only consoling factor to me concerning the coming of fall and the start of school was the first episode of that season’s Space 1999.  If a preview was aired, I was bug-eyed watching it.  I read up on it in TV Guide and checked all the listings to make sure I knew exactly what day and time it would be on.

I was a bit obsessed, but finally, the time arrived.

I had a TV in my bedroom and it wasn’t unusual at all for me to take my dinner in there to watch a show while I ate.  To the detriment of my grades, I would often do my homework on my bed while simultaneously following the antics of Happy Days or Mork & Mindy.  (Maybe that’s why I struggled to pass Mrs. Denton’s Geometry class.)  This particular night, however, was devoted to Space 1999; the premiere episode that I had waited ALL STINKING SUMMER TO SEE!

I positioned myself on the end of my bed right in front of the screen.  The time rolled around.  Eight-o-clock, oh yeah!  The intro music and initial scenes began to flash across the screen…

In walk Ernie and David, two younger boys from the neighborhood.  I was a freshman in high school and they were still sixth graders.  “Blah, blah, blah.  Yak, yak, yak.”

“Shhhhhh!  I’m trying to watch this!”

More “blah, blah, blah” and “yak, yak, yak.”

“Come on guys, please.  I’m trying to watch this show!  I’ve been waiting all summer for it!”

“Blah, blah, blah!  Yak, yak, yak!”

“If you won’t shut up, then just get outta here!”

“Meet us out in the street at nine-o-clock, then!” dared David.

“Fine.  I’ll be there.  Just shut up and get out of here!”

I figured that they’d get distracted by something else and would probably forget all about it by then, but I also decided that I would keep my word and show up at 9 pm in the street in front of Ernie’s house.  It seemed fair enough to me.  I was older, but there were two of them.  Besides, I doubted much more than a few more stupid words would be exchanged.

I was quite wrong.

I watched my show, but I don’t remember anything at all about it.  In fact, unless I look up some details on-line, I really don’t remember anything about the storyline or the plot.  What I do remember is all that happened AFTER the show.

It was my “rumble in the hood.”

At 9 pm, I walked out my back door, out my back gate, past my dad’s garage, and out into the street between my house and Ernie’s home.  There they were…waiting.

It was David who stepped up.  Ernie pretty much stayed a few steps behind him.  In retrospect, that isn’t all that surprising because David was more of the aggressor.  He’d started some trouble the previous summer that led to brief scuffle between me and his brother, Tony.

Tony had befriended me just before my sixth grade year.  Quickly, he had become the third leg in our friendship stool along with me and Tim.  We played baseball, football, and army together in the neighborhood.  He was even in on the notorious Poop Monster games.  He was a year younger than me, but we were roughly the same size.

Anyway, David stepped up in front of me.  He came right up and with his foot drew an invisible line in the street and dared me to step over it.  Freshly pumped full of adrenaline from an exciting hour of space adventures, I promptly stepped over his line, and it all broke loose.

He started at me and I shoved him hard, so hard that he tumbled across to the edge of the street and fell down.  That done, I turned toward Ernie and started in his direction.  Ernie quickly back-pedaled into his own yard.  When I reached the edge of the street, I sensed that David was back on his feet.  I saw him coming out of the corner of my eye and turned, and as I did I swung my fist around.  I didn’t swing hard.  After all, I had no experience with fighting.  I just swung it around about waist level.  I wasn’t expecting the boy to jump into the air.

I connected.  He fell on the ground doubled up.

Apparently, when I swung and he jumped, I accidentally hit him in the groin.  I certainly didn’t intend to, but it seems that is what happened.

That was the end of it…or at least I thought so at the time…and I went back home.

About fifteen minutes later, David’s entire family with the possible exception of his dad, were across the street at Ernie’s house, and they were screaming obscenities at our house; daring me to come back out in the street.  Tony was there.  His older sister was there.  David and Tony’s mom was there.  It was nuts!  They were determined to get me and make me pay for what I had done.  The yelling, taunting, and cursing went on for what seemed like hours.

We didn’t call the police, and I didn’t go back outside.  Eventually, they grew tired and went home.  The only obvious evidence of their presence the next day was a piece of wood sticking out of one of my dad’s garage door windows.

My dad's old garage at 21st & Hackley Streets.  There used to be two heavy wooden doors that hung on a rail.  The rail is still there.  There were a few windows in each, but most of them had been replaced with pieces of tin.  There was one less glass pane after this event.

It was over, but I knew that it wasn’t really over.  I knew Tony would feel obligated to defend his family’s honor against the perceived offense.  What I couldn’t be sure of was whether or not Tim would help him.  Tony was still at Wilson Middle School, but Tim was at Southside High School with me, and I always walked to school alone.  Frankly, I was really worried that I would be jumped and beat up.

Over the next couple of weeks, or maybe it was a full month, I began to vary my routes to school along with changing my start times every day.  When I was home in the neighborhood, I stayed close to the house and constantly watched for any potential trap.  Sometimes, Tony would ride by, and he was obviously looking for an opportunity.  If I was out in the street, he would veer toward my direction, but if I headed toward a house, he would veer away.  He was stalking me; waiting for an opportunity to pounce.  I had witnessed him do this with other guys in the past, so I knew how he worked.

Time went by, and I learned that Tim would not be part of it.  I felt a little better, but I knew Tony was still looking for an opening.  Finally, one day I was outside and Tony rode by.  He stopped and called over to me.

“Mike, let’s be friends again,” he said.  “I’m tired of this.”

“Are you serious?” I asked.  The truth is that I missed our friendship, and I did want it to be over and back to the way it had been.  I wanted to believe him.

“Yeah, I’m serious.  This is dumb.”

I was hesitant, but I really wanted to be friends again.  Slowly, he convinced me, and although I continued to be wary, I eventually let my guard down.  He came over to my yard and we hung out.  After a while, we decided we were thirsty, so we walked down the alley to Cantrell’s Barber Shop to get a pop.  I had some change, so I bought both of us a bottle and we walked back laughing and guzzling our drinks.

Carson Cantrell's Barbershop at 22nd & Hackley Streets is the building on the right.  He kept several pop machines along the front of the house on the left.  They were the coldest sodas in town.

“Let’s play some basketball,” he said.

There was a hoop hung on a makeshift backboard that was in turn hung on a tree in the alley beside Ernie’s house, so we went over and started shooting around.  Ernie came out and joined us.  We were having fun and I forgot completely about the problems that we had just recently been having. 

It was when I bent down to pick up the ball that I felt his arm wrap around my head.

He pulled the glasses off of my face and handed them to someone…might have been Ernie.  I also realized that his brother, David, had arrived.

I was bent over and he had me in a headlock.  He punched me in the side of the face.  I forced my way up and then threw him down.  David lunged at me, and I tossed him aside.  Tony was back at me and we struggled across the yard until we were leaning across the back of Ernie’s mom’s car.

“Mom!  They’re fighting out here!” I heard Ernie yell.

I grabbed Tony’s hair and pulled his head down toward the trunk of the car, and gave him a little punch in the side of the head.  David came onto and over my back.  Somehow, I managed to through him off again and not lose my grip on Tony.  I think he must have gotten in a couple of more punches and I might have thrown one or two, and suddenly we were separated and I was standing there with my fists in the air.  Again, it was two on one, but this time one of them was my same size and much more experienced at fighting than I happened to be.

I was standing there, waiting for more, unsure of which one would be on me first (but not running), when my dad came out of the back gate and yelled at us to stop.  I don’t know how he knew we were fighting.  He was usually inside and at the other end of the house watching TV.  Maybe Ernie’s mom called my mom.  However he happened to find out, I was glad to see him.

The fight ended there.  I went inside and Tony went home.

A few minutes later, our phone rang.  My mom answered.  After a second or two, she handed the phone in my direction and said: “It’s Tony for you.”

I was still hyped up from the fight and my face was flushed, but I took the phone.

“Hello,” I said.

“Mike, It’s over now.”


“You know I had to do that, right?” he explained.


It really was over this time.  We never had another tussle.  Slowly, our friendship resumed, but I never felt completely comfortable with him again.  The trust was gone.  My friendship with Tony felt like playing with fireworks; they’re a lot of fun, but if you weren't careful, they might blow up in your face.

Thus ends the story of my rumble in the hood.  I guess the moral of this story is:  Bad things happen when you come between a nerd and his science fiction.

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