Don Flamenco’s Finest Round

Drew looked me up and down. He said, “Tell me I can’t rip your head off.” I didn’t say anything. He made fists and opened his hands. His head only came to my chin, but he had a thin brown … Read More

By / August 1, 2006

Drew looked me up and down. He said, “Tell me I can’t rip your head off.”

I didn’t say anything. He made fists and opened his hands. His head only came to my chin, but he had a thin brown moustache across his upper lip. I could see the muscles of his shoulders flexing through his T-shirt and the tension in his forearms as he gripped the air. He walked the sidewalk, pacing like he didn’t know what to do next.

The others, Dub and Jerrod, they watched. They’d put me up to calling Drew that morning to accuse him of stealing the five dollars off my sister’s bureau, saw a fight was necessary, told me that I needed to get my respect. “You got to throw blows if he’s stealing from your household,” they said. So I’d called him, told him to come over.

This was all in the summer after ninth grade, the summer I first started hanging out with Dub. I’d seen that the kids in my Hebrew school were dorks, that my only option was Dub and his friends from the projects; they could play ball like crazy, called me white nigger and Larry Bird when I came down and fought as a part of their lives. The heat was still full on then, like the city was an oven that someone had left set to Clean for too long. You sweat no matter what you did. Basketball took up less of our time, fighting took up more. But usually it was the others that fought, and I just watched.

Around us people walked Mass. Ave. like any other weekday. I could see the line inside Dunkin’ Donuts, people waiting to order. A few newspaper machines were lined up along the curb. Dub and Jerrod circled Drew and me, cheering us.

“Tell him,” Dub said. Jerrod hooted and pumped his fist.

“Tell me I can’t rip your head off.”

I looked at my own hands: white like Drew’s, not black like Dub’s or coffee-colored like Jerrod’s, but thin. Not fists. Drew’s forehead wrinkled. I knew he fought, that he and Dub took turns punching each other in the stomach, competing to see who could take it the longest, and that he took kung-fu classes, lifted weights in his room.

“You can’t rip my head off,” I said.


“Ooh,” the others droned in, trying to stoke it.

Drew and Dub and me, we had gone to school together in seventh and eighth grade. But he had stolen from me, a thing I suspected of Dub, and something I’d caught Jerrod at once, but now I had to fight Drew. It was something I had to do.

“You can’t rip my head off,” I said.

And with that I let go: I’d known it would happen, that I had to go through with it. I’d even resigned myself to this fact, but I didn’t let go until I said this. And from that moment I knew it was on. Drew lunged at my waist. I was trying to get my hands up as he grabbed at my arms; he seemed like he was trying to pull my head down, and I pushed him off, into the panel glass of the Dunkin’ Donuts. He caught me again, held me against the glass, trying for a hold. People inside beat on the window. Drew locked his arm around my head, and I could hear people yelling, “Take it away. Go on, take that somewheres else. This ain’t a good place for yous to be fighting.”

“Move down, move down,” the others yelled as they pushed Drew and me away from the Dunkin’ Donuts. The headlock came off, and I could see ladies on the sidewalk staring. An old man with a white T-shirt and a beer belly shook his head and waved his finger.

Drew’s face looked wild with anger. A bead of sweat rolled down his temple.

“Yo, around the corner,” Dub said. “Mass. Ave’s too busy.”

“Yeah,” Jerrod said. “Yeah.”

The four of us walked around the corner to a side street with less traffic. We stood in the middle of the pavement, Dub and Jerrod leaning on cars. Drew still looked mad, and my heart was going wild.

“What you want now?” Drew said.

I rushed at him and pushed him backward into a car. I could hear the others cheering. “Fuck him up,” Dub said.

Then Drew turned it and threw me against the car. He tried to grab for my head again, and I fought him off, trying to hold his wrists, but he pushed me back, and we landed on the hood with me bent over backwards. Somehow I moved him to my side and we both rolled down the hood and onto the pavement. He landed on top again and held my arms on either side of my shoulders. I did my best to keep my legs moving, just flailing, trying to kick him in the back. “Stop it,” he said. He moved up so his knees were on my elbows. He was farther from my legs now, and I couldn’t kick him. I kept trying. He slapped me in the face; I knew he could punch me if he wanted, but for some reason he wasn’t. “Stop it,” he said, but I didn’t stop. I kept kicking at him and then, stretching as far as I could, I managed to get my body partly up from under him and, catching my feet under his arms, I threw him off me, into the car.

“Oh, shit,” the others called.

“The fuck was that?”

I looked up and saw Drew as surprised as I was, slumped against the front tire. For a moment, I felt good, like I had done something. But then he got up faster than I did, knocked me down, and he was on top again. He hit me in my ribs and I tried to pull his head down to hurt him in any way I could. I wanted to hold his head against the pavement, push his face into the street. He held my arms and we rolled over, ending with him sitting next to me, my head locked against his side.

“Now say I can’t rip your head off.”

I couldn’t breathe and when I said what I could, he tightened his hold on my neck. It hurt, and it was dark underneath him. I was sweaty. Gasping. The ground was hard and rough, is all I can say.

Then Drew was off me, and when I sat up, Dub held him against the car, his hand on Drew’s neck. “It’s over,” he said. “Now be the fuck out.”

I stood up slowly, watching Drew. He looked hurt worse by what Dub had said and done than by anything I did. He had a scrape on the side of his arm and his shirt had stretched out of its shape. He looked around: Jerrod had been his friend first, a guy he met at kung-fu, and he and Dub were close.

“What you looking at?” Dub told him.

“Go on, fuck off,” Jerrod yelled, pointing his chin up and at Drew, who didn’t say anything. When Drew started away, Jerrod ran up and pushed him from behind, but Drew didn’t stop, or turn, or try to fight back.

“I told you I would jump for you,” Dub said.

“Yo, you punked that bitch.” Jerrod slapped hands with Dub.

Dub punched my shoulder, hard, as I stood up. “That shit was all right.” He nodded.

“Fuck was that crazy leg shit?” Jerrod asked me.

I shook my hands and brushed the dirt from my palms. I couldn’t really believe the fight had ended. “OK,” I said, but it was more like it just came out of my mouth.


They all started walking back toward my house and I followed. They said how they thought it would be worse, that I didn’t do so bad, that Drew fought like a pussy.

“It was OK,” I said, and Dub clapped his hand around the back of my neck.

“That’s right,” he said. “Now you in there.” He faked like he was going to hit me in the stomach, then laughed when I flinched.

We got inside and went straight to the kitchen. Dub opened the refrigerator door and handed out Cokes. I saw my mom had a wine cooler on the top shelf and reached for it. “Fuck it,” I said, twisting the cap.

“Ooh, he big now,” Dub said.

“Yo, what’s that?” Jerrod asked.

“Wine cooler.”

Dub said, “You the man now, I guess.”

I took a long drink from the bottle. The liquid was cold and sweet but also sour, like when you leave cider for a long time. But I liked it. I liked drinking in the day like this. I’d had wine coolers before, with Dub when we’d convinced a guy in Harvard Square to buy us a two-liter, and once with my cousin after my bar mitzvah. I’d tasted wine, but this was better. It tasted good, like I had earned it.

Dub held out his hand. I gave him the bottle, and he took a pull. “Nasty,” he said. I wiped the top off with my shirt when he handed it back, then drank again. “What was that?” he said.


“You see that?” he said to Jerrod.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” Jerrod said.


“See what?” I said.

“That’s bullshit.”

They went upstairs and I followed. I sat down as they turned on the TV and the Nintendo and Mike Tyson started up. My heart was still racing from everything that had happened, and my left hand was shaking. I felt good though, and it was hot. I was sweating. I took a good, long pull from the bottle.

On the TV, Dub and Jerrod took turns fighting the first few boxers, Glass Joe and Von Kaiser. Then Dub did his best to fend off Piston Honda, a fighter it’d only taken me a few tries to beat, and in the third round he managed a TKO when Piston Honda was tired. He passed the controller to Jerrod.

“Yo, I’m coming for you, Soda Popinski,” Jerrod said, throwing a few jabs.

I drank my wine cooler and sank into a chair in the back of the room, waiting my turn. I could play a lot longer than the others and get all the way to Mike Tyson, but I would use the cheat code now and just go right there. Jerrod slapped palms with Dub, then snapped his fingers as Don Flamenco was announced on the card.

“You next, pizza man,” he said.

The Don Flamenco fight started like it always did: he came out dancing with a rose in his mouth, throwing big punches and looking funny. Then the rose disappeared and he danced in front of Jerrod at the bell. Jerrod threw a few jabs that the Don blocked. Then he threw a headshot that Don Flamenco dodged. Then the Don threw a jab that caught Jerrod right under the chin, and when Jerrod was about to punch, he followed it with another jab that connected. Then the outline of the Don’s body turned yellow and he started throwing body shots. He hit Jerrod with a right, then a left, both to the ribs, then three successive left jabs connected to Jerrod’s face and his boxer dropped his gloves. Don Flamenco went to work on Jerrod’s head then, with combinations that kept going until Jerrod was almost out. Don Flamenco followed with two long uppercuts, stretching for the sky, first with his left hand, and then one final blow with the right that dropped Jerrod to the canvas.

Don Flamenco stayed extended, his long, thin right arm held high in the air on his follow-through, his feet barely touching the ground, and his bicep so close to his face that he looked like he was kissing it.

Dub knocked the controller out of Jerrod’s hand as the referee started counting. “You got fucked up, kid.” Jerrod tried to hit Dub in the arm at the same time as he picked up the controller.

He started pushing the buttons, trying to get Little Mac off the canvas.

“You best punch those buttons!”

Jerrod tapped the buttons, but the referee was already at eight. We could only see the top of Little Mac’s head at ten, and then he fell back down. “Knock out! Knock out,” the referee said.

Dub laughed. “Yo, you got fucked up!” He pushed Jerrod’s head to the side.

I sat up straight, laughing.

“Fucked up,” Dub said. “You didn’t land a punch.” He hit Jerrod on the back.

“I’ve never seen a beating like that,” I said. “You didn’t even hit him!” I was laughing hard and easy with Dub at the dismantling. I’d never seen Don Flamenco fight that well. Jerrod even had to smile as the Don started into his dance again with the rose in his mouth, throwing big uppercuts and bringing his arms up so he could kiss his biceps. He danced a few steps to the right, then sidled back the other way.

“Fuck you, Don Flamenco,” Jerrod said, holding up his middle finger.

“That’s right,” I said. “Get mad now.”

“Served son.”

I held out my hand toward Dub, palm open, and he looked at it. He looked at me and I could tell he was thinking about who I was and what and whether I had any worth in his world. He looked at it for just a second, probably, but in that time I imagined a lot of questions I couldn’t answer. I watched him.

But then he slapped my palm, just one hit, not too hard, and that was something.

“OK,” I said. “OK.”

Dub took the controller to start the game up again.

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