In 1964 I transferred from a small private school to a huge public school in the St. Louis suburbs. McClure High School had over 3,000 students in grades ten through twelve. My childhood friend, Paul, was quite popular at the school, which helped me make friends easily. The public school had all types of students. We didn’t divide up into as many categories as the students do today, but one category of kids we called Hoods or Greasers. They hung out and supported each other similar to the gangs of today. They didn’t participate in school clubs or functions and dressed like the cast from a James Dean movie. I learned early not to mess with the Hoods because most were experienced fighters. I had never been in a fight, but my new friend Rick had.
One fall afternoon, when I was washing my parents’ car, a Studebaker Lark came screaming up the street, swerved over toward my house and came to an abrupt halt at the end of the driveway where I stood, chamois in hand.
"Hey Dude, my name's Rick. My family just moved in up the street."
The driver was thin and handsome with curly brown hair. He sat hunched over the steering wheel of the boxy little car as if daring the world to challenge him to something. He invited me to come over to his house and listen to music. I accepted and soon discovered that we were both passionate about the same music, especially the Rolling Stones.
Rick and I began riding the bus together to and from school every day. One afternoon after the final bell, I got to the bus early and was sitting waiting for Rick when I noticed a small crowd of students standing in a circle outside the classroom building. This usually meant a fight, so I got off the bus to see what was going on. In the center of the circle was one of my friends, Doug, arguing with a Greaser whom I didn’t know. The argument grew louder and the Greaser pushed Doug so hard that he stumbled backward and fell, his school books scattering on the ground. Before Doug had a chance to get up, into the circle stepped Rick. He reached down and helped Doug to his feet, then walked right up to the Greaser and said, “You want to fight somebody?”
The greaser backed up, “Hey man, this is between me and him and has nothing to do with you.”
Rick didn’t say anything more but just stood there between the Greaser and Doug. It was obvious, he wasn’t about to move out of the way. Then a big strong looking guy entered the circle. His name was Dave Chadwick and everyone knew he was the head Greaser. Chadwick put his hand on his friend’s shoulder, whispered something in his ear and they both turned around to leave. But before exiting the circle, Chadwick turned back and gave Rick an intense look. The whole thing was over in a matter of minutes. All the students dispersed and climbed into the yellow buses lined up on the roadway.When Rick slid into the seat beside me, I asked him why he got involved.
“That guy’s a jerk. He’s always asking for trouble and besides I know Doug is a friend of yours.”
We sat quietly on the bus ride home. I felt guilty. It didn’t even occur to me to step in and defend Doug. If I would have, that Greaser would have beat the crap out of me and then finished off Doug.
My friends thought Rick was a Greaser and the Greasers thought he was one of us, but he was neither. Rick didn’t fit into any category and he didn’t seem to care what any of them thought. He was dating a girl named Cathy who was definitely from the Greaser side. She wore a lot of makeup and her skirts were slightly shorter than the rules allowed. Rumor was that Cathy used to date Chadwick and was only going out with Rick to make Chadwick jealous. I asked Rick about that and he said, “People like to talk.”
On Saturday Rick and I were at his house listening to music, he told me that Cathy had been harassed by some of Chadwick’s guys. They called her a slut and a traitor for dating Rick.
“I’m going to have to fight Chadwick,” he said.
“What are you nuts? Chadwick is the toughest guy at school.” I tried to dissuade him, but he didn’t respond. He stood up, went over the telephone and called Chadwick’s number. I heard him say, “Be sure to tell him to meet me by the Bag O Chicken tomorrow after school.”
By lunch break the next day news of the fight had spread all over school. Some of my friends made comments like "So your buddy's finally decided to commit suicide huh?" or "Which hospital are you going to take your friend to." Even kids I didn't know made negative comments to me in the hall. Paul knew Chadwick pretty well and liked him. Their lockers were right next to each other. Paul never talked badly to me about Rick. He knew he was my friend and respected that. But at lunch he told me in private. "You know Chadwick is going to annihilate Rick."
"Well don't be so sure about that." I said defensively.
Paul thought it was foolish and unnecessary for Rick to challenge him in the first place and I kind of agreed with him.
I was worried for the rest of the school day. Everyone was talking about the fight. I stopped Rick in the hall and asked him if he was still going through with it. He said he was. I tried to convince him that it wasn’t too late to pull out, but we both knew it was. I resigned myself to the inevitable. After school I’ll drive Rick over to the Bag O Chicken and hope for the best.