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the five week war
when enemies become friends
by jason gilmore (@JasonGilmore77)
8.18.06
general

To date, I have been only been in about seven fist fights in my life. That number may seem high to some of you, and it may seem low to others, but my neighborhood was full of boys and it was hard not to fight somebody at some point -- even for a steady-tempered lad such as myself. What's more interesting is that all seven of these fights were with the same person. During a violent, bloody stretch between July and August of 1986, my most hated arch-nemesis was a kid named Stanley.

Even though our houses were on the same block, we couldn't have been more different. No one on our block was rich, but Stanley's family was clearly poor, and the disparity between the classes made itself obvious often. His father and mother both worked sporadically, and they had three kids who often dressed in little more than rags.

Despite this, Stanley claimed to have already done everything before you. If you told him you had five dollars, Stanley claimed to have ten. If you told him that you got a new bike, Stanley bragged that he already owned it and sold it. If you told him that you liked a girl, Stanley said he had already kissed her, and that her breath smelled like Cocoa Puffs. Because I was the only kid in my parents' house and the only kid on the block who went to private school, his anger at being poor always found its way to me. We annoyed one another at our very cores. And when you are nine years old on a block filled with more testosterone than Floyd Landis, it takes little to turn mild aggravation into carnage.

We could fight over anything. I punched him in the stomach because he didn't like the way he laughed. He kicked me in the back because I bought two other kids ice cream instead of him. One time, as we circled each other for ten minutes, shoulder to shoulder (Me: "You wanna start something?" Him: "Do YOU wanna start something?"), another kid, bored with our stalling, pushed us into each other. Slaughter ensued.

And all our brawls were epic Leonard-Duran slugfests, always accompanied by a jeering crowd of bloodthirsty friends. The contests even had names, usually based on the location the fight took place. I scored a major come-from-behind win at "The Battle on the Way Back from Tom's Carryout" on July 11th, followed by our draw in "The Battle on Benji's Front Porch" two days later. I suffered a massive, humiliating loss at "The Battle on Jason's Front Porch," on July 31st, and was holding my own at "The Battle in Stanley's Front Yard" when the clash took an unforeseen turn:

Stanley's mother had been sitting on her front porch the entire fight, watching us, uttering occasional comments like, "Kick his monkey ass, Stanley!!" while she crocheted a pink sweater for her youngest daughter. My mom was on our front porch, 11 houses away, screaming that she wanted me to come home. She could see that we were fighting.

But it's kind of hard to turn and walk home when someone keeps trying to kick you in the ribs. Finally, my mom marched down the street and approached us. She turned to Stanley's mom and said, "You have no class. How dare you sit here and watch these kids fight like that! What kind of parent are you?"

If Stanley's mother had said anything even vaguely disrespectful, I have no doubts my mom would've leaped up her stairs and put her in a headlock. But she said nothing, much to my disappointment. I was really into the WWF back then, and nothing would've made me happier than to team with my mom to win the Neighborhood Tag Team Championship.

Further complicating the situation, I was "going with" Stanley's older sister, Sherry. She was plump, loud, and liked to kiss me. The whole situation was weird. Very Romeo and Juliet. One day, I was in front of their house and their dad made a smart comment about me. I turned to him with the unbridled confidence I had in spades as a youngster and said, "You better be careful. I might marry your daughter." That led to "The Battle In The Middle of the Street," the last and longest battle of The Five Week War. It was one of those fights where we both fought so long and hard that we could hardly remember what we had been fighting about in the first place.

After that day, recognizing the futility of our conflict, Stanley and I became more tolerant of one another. Childhood is so weird. Sworn enemies become good friends over a game of tag. Soon, we were phone pals and chose each other first as teammates in neighborhood football games. Then, strangely, his family welcomed me with warm arms, and what I once wrote off as their ghetto crudeness soon became strangely endearing. Finally, within a year or two, just when I was getting used to them, their family moved across town.

Stanley went on to become a state wrestling champion. He had bulked up to 198 pounds and got a four-year, Division I scholarship to some school in Illinois. The last time I ran into him was at the Old West End Festival in the summer of 1999. He was short, but diesel, and I stood there feeling vulnerable, knowing that if the "Battle for Old Times' Sake" broke out, I'd have probably left missing a couple of limbs and a row of teeth. But he seemed happy to see me, gave me a big bear hug, and asked about my family. I told him that I was moving to Los Angeles and, he, true to form, bragged that he had already been there. Although this time, I believed him.

We were both fresh out of college and ready to step into an unstable world as adults. But I cherish the times that we spent together as children, and the lesson learned that those who you once went to war against don't have to be enemies for life.

You can't win. Call it a day.


ABOUT JASON GILMORE

Jason Gilmore is a film director, screenwriter, novelist and unrepentant Detroit Pistons fan. Track him down on Facebook.

more about jason gilmore

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COMMENTS

sandra thompson
8.18.06 @ 8:29a

That was really lovely, poignant, reviving memories of everybody's errant childhood. I think it's a mark of the civilizing process that we can look back and see how frivolous the causes of our childhood conflicts often were. While I'm here I might as well tell you, Jason, that I really enjoy your columns. This time you may have inspired me to write about my one and only childhood fight. (Yes, even girls get into fights! Even in the 1940's.)

louis tate
8.18.06 @ 2:15p

Jason, you gotta, gotta let me see your movie. This is LT from The Land. Love the column, love all your columns. Keep me posted. Especially loved the Leonard-Duran comparison, even though the Marvelous Marvin Hagler was better (in my opinion). The coco puff bit was hilarious. Keep up the good work.
PS
The cavs are going to take the Pistons this year.

Peace!!!

russ carr
8.18.06 @ 3:29p

You better be careful. I might marry your daughter.

This? Made me laugh out loud.

imani lateef
8.19.06 @ 8:30a

Jason,

this is hilarious. remind me. where is Tom's Carryout? is that the spot off of Lawrence.

Imani aka skip aka DapKing

jason gilmore
8.19.06 @ 1:48p

Naw, it's the spot that's called JB's now. The corner of Bancroft and Isherwood. Right up the street from my mom's house. But when I was a kid this cool dude named Tom owned it.

[edited]

alex b
8.19.06 @ 2:46p

This is really cool. I've reread this a couple of times and smiled the entire way through. :-)

tracey kelley
8.21.06 @ 12:38a

I could so see you as this scrappy kid, not looking to start anything but not backing down if need be. All the visuals of this sparked. Awesome, just awesome.

tracey kelley
8.21.06 @ 12:39a

I could so see you as this scrappy kid, not looking to start anything but not backing down if need be. All the visuals of this sparked. Awesome, just awesome.

I had some mighty verbal teardowns, but never any physical ones. Few people swing up to hit the tall chick.

imani lateef
8.21.06 @ 9:07a

no one has mentioned this. but i love the romantic quality about this column. it really hits home when you and Stan become friends...

i like the fact that you didn't just leave it there. the evidence you provided was so universal:

phone pals and football teammates...

and oh yeah

i know where you're talking about now. i stay on Bancroft and Collingwood.

u know i've always thought if they made a movie about TOL then it would have to be a cross between Mayberry and Memphis (ala Hustle N Flow) w. scenes in the Oldwest End to give it that Crooklyn "brownstone" feel.

naw mean

ironically that's the feel i get from this piece. or at least for starters...

jason gilmore
8.21.06 @ 10:51a

I had some mighty verbal teardowns, but never any physical ones. Few people swing up to hit the tall chick.

Um, yeah, you don't look like the chick that folks would be swingin' on.


[edited]



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