The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories
It was during my early days in San Francisco. We were at a bar, watching a 49er game. “We” were a gang of young guys I’d fallen in with because I knew one of them, Gil Wexler, from the Army. The 49ers scored a touchdown. Everyone cheered and one of the guys, Hugh Ballard, threw up his arms, then picked up my drink and finished it off. “Hey,” I said, “that was my drink.”
“Yeah,” he said. “So what about it?”
Ballard was a big beefy guy with black hair and a square chin. He worked somewhere downtown; he might have been a stockbroker. That was all I knew about him. As far as I knew, we’d barely spoken to one another but this clearly was a challenge. I could feel the eyes of Gil and the others on me. I didn’t know what to do.
For one thing, I wasn’t really a physical guy. It wasn’t as if I’d never been in a scuffle. On the handball courts of the Bronx my mentor had been a black fellow called Slim, who was reputed to be an ex-boxer (he had two missing front teeth.) Slim’s advice to me was that if someone tried to push me around on the court I should kick him in the balls. The closest I came to doing this was one time when a guy named Hymie, who looked like at ape and liked to rough guys up, blocked me hard and I fell to the ground. I looked up and Slim gave me a nod. But when I faced Hymie he was in a crouch, looking more ape-like than ever, and looked ready. I was spared having to decide what to do when Slim zoomed past me and a quick flurry of punches took care of Hymie. I guess Slim really had been a boxer.
All of this went through my mind in the space of ten or fifteen seconds while I looked at Ballard, but he was seated in a bar stool and his balls weren’t within reach. In any kind of physical encounter, I knew, I was no match for him. Besides this, I was the new guy in the crowd. Maybe this was a test. Maybe he’d simply taken a dislike to me. Finally, I said, “I’ll think of something.” He laughed and turned away. Afterward, Gil took me aside and said, “Don’t let Ballard bother you. He’s a big jerk.” But there was a little bit of condescension in his tone. It was okay to be cowardly because I was smaller so couldn’t be expected to retaliate.
It was true I wasn’t a physical guy, but this doesn’t mean I didn’t have fantasies of my dragging Ballard off his bar stool and knocking him out with one punch to his square jaw. Of course I knew this wasn’t going to happen. Still, when I’d told him I’d think of something I wasn’t kidding. That scene in the bar kept replaying itself in my head. I had to do something about it. Like Ballard, I worked downtown. I’d gotten a job as a researcher in an ad agency. On Fridays, the gang would meet in a bar and usually somebody would know of a party to go to. I went to more parties in my first few months in San Francisco than before or since in my life.
At these parties I kept my distance from Ballard but observed him. It was obvious that he liked to drink. The parties were BYOB, bring your own bottle. His preference was Scotch. As the night wore on, he’d become flushed, his voice became louder and his diction slurred. He held his liquor pretty well, but didn’t always know when to stop and a few times, after six or eight drinks, I’d seen him pass out. I gave a lot of thought to how I could level the playing field between us and eventually came up with what I thought was a pretty good plan.
I waited until what seemed like the appropriate party and the appropriate time. I’d been watching Ballard and now he was in the kitchen, getting another drink from his bottle. Gil and a few others of the gang were also in there. They were talking in loud voices, about what football player was better than another one, I think. I went up to the crowd and said, “Ballard, I can drink you under the table.”
He looked and me and said, “What?”
“You heard me. I can drink you under the table. Care to make a bet? Ten bucks?”
“You’re crazy,” he said.
“Just as I thought. You’re a phony.”
“Okay,” he said. “What are you drinking?”
“Vodka.” I held up my bottle and poured a drink.
“You’re on,” he said, and chugged down the drink he’d just poured. I followed suit. I figured that, with the two or three drinks he’d already had, another three of four would do it. Sure enough, he began to flush and slur his words. The vodka I was supposed to be drinking was of course water. I also slurred my words a little but was sober as an owl. After he’d finished what I figured was his sixth drink I thought he was ready.
“Ballard,” I said, “you’re a stupid son-of-a-bitch.”
“What’s that?” he said, only it came out as “Whashat?”
I looked at him. He stood there holding a glass in one hand and swaying back and forth. Unlike Hymie back in the Bronx, he wasn’t prepared; he was wide open. It was almost too easy. I followed Slim’s advice and kicked him in the balls. He doubled over. I clasped my hands together and brought them down hard on his neck. I think I’d seen this done in some movie. He sank to the floor. I grabbed my bottle of vodka, water, that is, and walked out.
It wasn’t until I was outside that I remembered. I’d rehearsed this many times. I would reach over and pour a drink from Ballard’s bottle into my glass and say, “That’s for my drink you took. Now we’re even.” In my adrenalin high I’d forgotten all about this. I had noticed as I’d left that some of the guys were looking at me with their mouths open. Maybe I’d re-established some respect. It didn’t really matter. I’d gotten tired of going to these parties with their unrestrained drinking. I’d met a few guys who also played handball and had started hanging out with them. I’d also dated the sister of one of these guys a few times. No more of these BYOB parties, no more drinking for me. I’d evened the score, time to move on.
© Martin Green Feb 2013
Solving the Nations Problems Part Two by Martin Green
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