Thursday, June 12, 2008

When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way

Long before Fight Club, I was one of a number of kids who participated in fighting activities that were expressly forbidden at my school.

Even a nerd like me threw caution to the win and engaged in the fights. There was no elaborate setup; often you and your opponent would just throw down.

But first you needed to prepare, and that meant a trip to the school library at lunchtime. That was where you got your gear.

All the professional pencil fighters swore by the NFL team pencils from the library vending machine. Occasionally, some joker would try to play with one of those Husky pencils that you get in kindergarten--you know, the ones that are as big around as an elephant's leg. But those weren't considered regulation gear.

Many a quarter vanished into that machine, and in addition to dispensing pencils, it also dispensed fate.

In mid-80s Northern California, two team pencils were coveted over all others: the 49ers and the Raiders. If you managed to get one of the red-and-gold or silver-and-black marvels, you had a better chance of winning your pencil fight. The Steelers and the Jets were acceptable second-tier teams.

If, however, you were unlucky, your the machine would puke out teams such as the Browns or Colts. You might as well have snapped those in half yourself rather than risk embarrassment.

Every pencil fighter had his style, but the general approach was the same: while securing one end of the pencil in one hand, you used the other to flick the metal end, at which point the middle of your pencil--the meat, if you will--clashed with your opponent's.

You weren't supposed to try to hit with the metal end; in fact, that was the dangerous part. Every flick had the potential to smash the living crap out of someone's finger by "accident."

But assuming you made the regulation pencil-to-pencil contact, you and your opponent took turns, hoping each hit would be the one that splintered a pencil into oblivion.

The audience took pains to obscure the view of the fight from any teacher, lest the fight get canceled. But once they heard the telltale crack, they got louder and more sure of who was going to win.

We nerds had a bit of an advantage, as it was not uncommon for the badass kids to make such a show of delivering the famed one-hit fatality that they snapped their own pencils.

And suggesting that said badass was only pencil fighting to compensate for anatomic deficiencies usually didn't go over very well.

In any event, even if the nerd won, he'd lose; the badass would just grab the winning pencil and snap it in his face.