When I was twelve my parents seemed nuts. They were so preoccupied with being perceived positively by the neighbors that anything I did to tarnish their image was met with stern admonishments, a slaps in the face or worse. Pretty mild stuff, I know, but my inexperienced suburban mind was appalled by this treatment, even though I couldn't put it into words at the time.
We had recently moved from Dayton, Ohio to New Orleans and New Orleans felt like another planet. The school system in New Orleans at that time was practicing forced busing and everyone was angry about it. The teachers were angry, the parents were angry, the kids getting bussed in were angry and the kids who weren’t getting bussed were angry. There was constant fighting and violence. Our Junior High made national news when one of the buses was set on fire, with the kids in it, by some angry idiot. And I was a complete boob from Ohio who didn't have the slightest idea what to do or how to behave. The only enjoyable aspect of my world was riding my Kawasaki 100 Centurion dirt bike.
My parents wanted me to go to private school but I refused. I wasn't going to volunteer to be one of the neighborhoods targets of choice. I hadn't lived in New Orleans long, but I'd been there long enough to observe that if the private school kids ventured out of their own yards, the public school kids would torture them unmercifully.
My first day at the retired military compound known as McDonnah 45, I had a large colored boy named Leslie sitting on my chest, batting my head around like a cat playing with an unfortunate sparrow. No amount of reasoning or pleading deterred him from the delight he took in taunting and demeaning me. When I looked around for help I was greeted with diverted eye's and in the case of one teacher, a yawn and a leisurely stroll back into the school building. I certainly wasn't in Ohio anymore.
After many incidence of my naivety being physically punished and much lunch-money having been relinquished, I began fighting back. Not well, but I could no longer endure the constant humiliation of having my eyes poked, of fingers reaching for my ass in gym class and having pencils broken off in my lockers lock. After twenty or so fights, (most of which I lost), the blacks called me crazy and left me alone. The white bullies left me alone as soon as I started fighting back.
After this stage of my acclimating to public school life in New Orleans, I made a couple of friends; Craig and Brad Duville. The Duville brothers were cool and I was stoked they liked me enough to let me hang around. They had a Victor five horse power mini-bike that they rode around endlessly behind their house, by the bayou. I'd bring my Kawasaki over and we'd tear up the topsoil next to the Alligators that hung around that section of the Bayou.
Riding in relatively close proximity to those chompers wasn't as dangerous as it sounds. The sound of our bikes scared them all into the water within seconds. Particularly the biggest one who we named Wadly. A couple of blips of the throttle and he couldn't get away fast enough. All seven feet of him would energetically waddle away, over any of his lesser motivated companions if need be, in his spirited return to the security of the water.
The brothers Duville had a successful venture that they operated out of their home, and surprisingly enough their parents didn't seem to mind; they sold pot. Their Mom was young, very attractive and sadly for me, hardly ever around. Their Dad was the programming director for the local Rock station and while he was obviously successful, he was just as obviously a stoner. Not a Cheech and Chong 'wow man' stoner but a sharp dressed, long-haired, business savvy, highly productive stoner. Whether they turned a blind eye to their son's activities or outright encouraged them I'm not sure, but if you wanted some weed, the Duville brothers were the ones to talk to.
Craig and Brad's enterprise put them in contact with just about everyone who smoked on the west bank … which was just about everyone in our age group. One of their customers was an older boy who worked as a mechanic at the local Gulf station. His name was Troy Dedman.
The Gulf station where Troy worked was in a tiny shopping complex on General DeGaulle Drive. General Degaulle Drive was the biggest through-fare leading in and out of our neighborhood. Two lanes going east, two lanes going west and a strip of greenbelt between them that we called 'the median'. It was easily seventy-five yards wide and three times that long. We frequently rode our dirt bikes there. If the cops showed up we'd escape down a narrow trail that led to the Bayou.
One sunny spring day after school, I was practicing wheelies on my bicycle and someone riding a motorcycle on the median caught my ear. I rode over and found it was Craig and Brad … and they were riding a Kawasaki 350 Bighorn. I was stunned and amazed. That 350 Bighorn was the Holy Grail of dirt bikes at that time, (to me anyway). I even had a poster of one on my wall. I couldn't believe they were riding one.
I rode over to them and asked how they had the good fortune to be in possession of such a fine machine. They told me it was Troy's and that he had lent it to them for the afternoon. I asked, and then begged and finally pleaded with them to let me ride it, but nothing doing. They told me they had promised Troy that no one but them would ride it, and then they looked at each other like they had some sort of secret.
I finally convinced them to let me sit on it. Then I started it up and took off before they could stop me. Riding that bike was a dream come true. I shifted through the gears wheelieing with each one. Then I threw it into a slide, powered through a one hundred and eighty degree turn and charged up the other side of the median. It handled better than any bike I'd ever ridden and had so much power. I was in Heaven during that stolen five minutes of Bighorn bliss.
I pulled back up to where Craig and Brad were standing and handed them the bike and said, “there, that wasn't so bad was it?” They both shook their heads and Craig said, “man, now you've done it. You better get out of here.” I heard the sound of a Honda SL70 at full tilt and looked over Craigs shoulder to see Troy Dedman riding straight towards us, and he didn't look happy. I jumped on my bicycle and headed for home, pedaling faster than I ever had before.
He caught up to me as I was crossing a vacant lot between two houses. It was clear escape was impossible so I got off my bike and tried to calm him down, pointing out I hadn't hurt his bike and then Blam, he decked me with a right that blew me off my feet and chipped one of my front teeth. I stood up, dazed and wobbly, and then BLAM, he hit me with a left that threw me to the ground and broke my nose. It took me much longer to stand up after that one; I was exponentially more in-shock and shaken. As I raised my head our eyes met and BLAM, I was lifted off the ground by an uppercut that smashed my teeth together and lacerated my tongue. I guess Troy figured I'd paid the toll for my misdeed because through my haze I could hear him firing up the SL70 and riding back to work.
When I got home I explained my injuries by saying that I'd crashed while attempting a heroic jump on my bicycle. This was easily believed as I was often injured during my two-wheeled exploits. I was even allowed to miss school for two days because of my injuries, which was fantastic because I was so embarrassed about the tremendous ass-kicking I had received, that the thought of having to face going to school and everyone knowing how thoroughly I had been pummeled, made me feel physically ill.
When I returned to 'the 45' I kept my eyes fixed on the ground like I'd lost a hundred dollar bill, trying to avoid eye contact with everyone. That didn't last long. About two minutes after I got there a kid I hardly knew came up to me excitedly and said: “Man, I heard you got into a fight with Troy Dedman. How are you even alive? You just took off on his bike? Man, you are crazy!”
All through that day people came up to me in awe that I'd been in a 'fight' with Troy Dedman. They seemed oblivious to the fact I'd had my ass handed to me on a plate. I actually became something of a minor celebrity for awhile. My social acceptability never faded and my young world felt much improved, for the short term of its duration.
Why people valued what they did and how to operate in social systems still confused me, but I was glad that this time circumstances had somehow operated in my favor. Although I would have appreciated a less punishing route.