By Beau Smith
Back in the 50s there was a big hoo-haw about the supposed bad influence of comic books on the youth of America. Some nut by the name of “Dr. Warthog”, Dr. Fredrick Wertham? or something to that effect was goin’ around whinin’ about the violence, near nudity and the obscene way Donald Duck shook his butt when he walked. It was another obvious case of somebody with way too much time on their hands. Anyway, after he got through complainin’ about folks gettin’ needles jammed into their eyes and women bein’ tied to airplane propellers, comics suffered through some clean up time and the comic world got handed some forced nap time. Didn’t last long.
By the time I started really reading comics in the late in the 60s things were startin’ to get back on track. When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby stepped up to the plate that’s when things started tastin’ right.
It was through their writing and drawing that another section of the manly puzzle was put in place for me. I already had the foundation of manhood influences set before me; my dad, John Wayne movies, TV westerns and army shows like Wyatt Earp and Combat. Comic books filled in the last piece of the puzzle.
The time of change was between the years 1965 and 1966. I was in the sixth grade. A regular kinda kid. Not too bad, not too good. I knew most of the kids I went to school with and had no particular trouble with any of them. Most of em’ were my friends.
One day when I was walkin’ home from school like any other day. Behind me a ways were what we used to classify as school hoods. Back then that meant guys that cussed, smoked, had been held back a grade or two, and talked about what havin’ sex was supposed to be like. It was this day that they decided that ol’ Beau was gonna be their whippin’ boy for that particular afternoon.
It started out with them yellin’ cuss word at me, and callin’ me names. I just kept walkin’. As I picked up my pace, so did they. They broke into a trot and caught up with me. Two in back of me, the main one in front. Then the foreplay of brutality began. The leader asked me my name. Seems he liked knowin’ who he was intimidating. My name became a source of amusement for him for a couple of minutes. When that novelty wore off he decided that it was time to start the shovin’. Each time he called me a cuss word he would punctuate his voice with a shove to my chest. His pals backed him up with shoves of their own from behind. They told me all of the things that they were gonna do to me if I didn’t cry for em’ right then and there. By now a few other kids on their way home had gathered to watch – most happy that it wasn’t their turn in the humiliation booth.
My mind was runnin’ at a pretty hard speed. I had vivid pictures of these guys whuppin’ the crap outta me and not knowin’ when to stop. I was scared and I wanted out of there. I thought that if I gave em’ what they wanted – cryin’ – that maybe they would go on and I could deal with the humiliation later. The cryin’ part wasn’t hard to do. I was scared and ashamed of bein’ scared in front of the other kids. The tears started flowin’. So did the laughter. The hoods weren’t satisfied with their own laughter. They had everyone watchin’ laugh too. That hurt a lot.
Since they had things rollin’ their way, and they liked it, they decided to go a little further. The leader asked me if I wanted to get my whuppin’ in the face or the body. He went back on his deal. Why was I shocked?
I had already gone through more punishment than I wanted. I wasn’t goin’ to stand there and let unload him on me. I was gonna rabbit. It was risky, but I was the fastest kid in sixth grade, maybe it would pay off this time. Bein’ scared helped put fuel to the fire. I took off.
They tried to chase after me, but I was too fast and too scared. They never even came close. That day they would have to be satisfied with the pain they put me through in front of the other kids. After all, there was always tomorrow.
I went home and locked myself in my room and cried harder than I did for the hoods. I had never been so ashamed of myself in my life. I never felt so low. I musta beat up everything in my room. I had tears of rage and they had to come out. After I calmed down I sat and replayed everything over and over. I kept thinking about what I should’ve done. What I should’ve said.
A stack of Marvel comics sat beside my bed. Titles that I had been readin’ the last month or so. I needed something to take my mind off that afternoon. The comics were there. Amazing Spider-Man, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Captain America, Daredevil.
As I read em’ things started sinkin’ in. All the things that Stan and Jack had put into those characters started coming back to me. How they fought the impossible odds, how they faced fear and won. How they were sometimes scared but still did what was right. I knew it was all just make believe, but it was the motivational speech that I needed to hear. I thought to myself – what would Spider-Man have done? What would have my dad done? What would John Wayne have done? Most important – what should I do?
I knew that I was gonna have to face them again the next day. Sure, I could find other paths home and avoid em’, but that would end soon enough and I couldn’t run forever. Thing was I didn’t want to run. Not again. Not anymore. I never wanted that feeling of humiliation to ever be inside me again.
I went down and talked to my dad that night, and explained everything to him. Nobody ever messed with Big Rog. I figured he would have some advice for me. Something to get me through it. Dad could see that I was pretty shook up from the events of the day. He could tell that I was more shook up from the way I handled the situation more than anything else. I hung on his every word that night.
The first tip he gave me was gold. “Son, nobody, especially kids, likes gettin’ hit in the nose. It puts em’ out of sorts, makes their nose bleed and their eyes water.” He said with a tone of someone that knew of the fruits of this maneuver.
“If they still wanna fight after that, just keep throwin’ punches at their face. They can’t hit what they can’t see. If your fists are in his eyes, then he can’t see ya.” He continued?
“Most of the time that one punch to the beak will do it,” he said. “Thing ya gotta remember is to throw that first punch as hard as ya can. Make it count.” He told me with a calm and focused tone.
“Always the NOSE, son… always the nose.” – my dad, Big Rog Smith.
He told me that you should always go in with a plan. Pick the place and time. Know where you’re gonna make your stand. Be prepared. Since there were three of em’ that day he suggested that I ask one of my close buddies to be around in case. Not with me, but around. That way if things do go the other way and the weight of numbers is too much you will have help gettin’ bailed out or at least gettin’ help. He told me that the choice was mine. Either cry for these guys every day or to put a stop to it. I knew I couldn’t go through another afternoon like that again. It had to stop.
The next day at school was hell. The word was around about my water works performance. Everybody asked me what I was gonna do. I didn’t tip my hand. I told em’ nothin’. My mind was on only one subject all day. The walk after school. As 3:00 got closer I could feel that creepy fear startin’ to build up. I kept seein’ those guys bustin’ me up. I could hear em’ all laughin’.
The last bell rang and I met with my pal, Mike at my locker. He said that he would follow behind the hoods if they showed up. If things got out of hand, he would help or go get help. That part was done.
The walk home was different today. There were more kids walking behind me. They were all lookin’ to see if it was gonna happen again. They were lookin’ for a show. I’ll lay odds that those same kids are adults now and rubberneckin’ car wrecks and watchin’ reality TV shows like that sissy “Real World”.
About half way home they showed up. Only two of em’ today. The leader and his “henchman.” I walked about 15 feet while the two of em’ cussed me. I was tryin’ hard to keep from burstin’ out with tears. My ticker was racin’ a million miles an hour. A bunch of stuff ran through my head. Dad sayin’ that they can’t kill ya, they can just rough ya up. I thought about John Wayne deckin’ the bad guys and not worryin’ about the five behind him. I thought about Spider-Man liftin’ that big hunk of machinery off of himself and decidin’ not to give up the ghost.
I stopped and turned towards the two hoods. There was an instant crowd of grade school thrill junkies waitin’ to see me cry. I was almost ready to oblige em’.
The main hood told me that if I wanted to go home I had to cry first, just like yesterday. I heard his partner snicker and call me “crybaby”. It was like a bad grade school prison movie. With the crowd he was louder and more confident than he was the day before. I was hopin’ that he was gonna be more careless too. I remembered what dad told me. Keep your eyes on his shoulders and hands. It’ll give away his move. If ya feel scared, turn it into anger. Most important, if it’s gonna happen, then you make it happen. (Just don’t tell your mom.)
He started yellin’ at me to cry. Each time he would yell he would look at the other kids, waitin’ for em’ to laugh. That’ was my opening. The next time he yelled and turned slightly I gave him a right just like my dad taught me. Fast , short, and as hard as I could. My knuckles met with his nose and I could hear funny noises come from his blowhole.
“You couldn’t beat my ass then, and you sure can’t now!” – Beau Smith circa 1968.
The hood was on his butt holdin’ his nose and screamin’ and cryin’. There was blood and snot runnin’ freely from his nostrils. I was dazed. It was like someone else was workin’ my body and mouth. I turned to his buddy. He was lookin’ stunned, scared and was doin’ a good backward run. I was screamin’ at the hood-“Leave me alone! Don’t come near me again! I’ll kick your ass!” (The cuss word just – came out. On the deck improvisin’.)
The hood was cryin’ and runnin’ away. Everybody in the crowd was as stunned as I was. My fist was clenched so hard it hurt. I calmed down after a few minutes and started walking home. Everybody was my big pal all of a sudden, but I knew the real deal. They were just fumes from a racin’ engine. They’d be gone soon enough.
A part of my life changed after that day. I never backed down again. I found out that I could be in control of my life and not let someone else grab a hold of it. I learned about focus, control, and about self-respect. When I threw that punch that day I had some very special people backin’ me up; my dad, John Wayne, Stan Lee, and Jack Kirby. Years later my dad would tell me that he was in his car about a block away – just in case.
My love for the science of boxing started then as well. I learned from my dad, my cousin Vince (my other Real Man Mentor) and others the manly art and never had to look back again. In those years I learned that I could take a punch or two if need be to get my one good one in. In fact in later years I found that I liked dealin’ out my fists a little too much? but that’s a story I’ll give ya some other week when the column is due. Let’s put it this way? I never whupped an ass that didn’t need it.
My other manly mentor, my cousin Vince Keys and me here at the ranch.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not tellin’ everybody that they should go around solvin’ their problems with their fists. What worked for me might not work for everybody. The most important thing that I gained from that bad situation was focus, control and self-respect. I learned to use my head to figure out the best plan to solve a problem. Usin’ your head is always the answer.
As far as ol’ Freddy Wertham goes – I think the Doc should’ve sat down and really read a few comics. He might have seen things in a clear light. Instead I think he spent his life runnin’ from his own bullies.
Remember: always the nose.
I ain’t hard to find?
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