It was one of them November mornings where a thick layer of frozen dew covered the ground, and a wispy gray mist lay at the edges of everything. Me, Martin Luna, Three Eyed Gilbert and Bobby Perez were sliding on the grass trying to impress the girls. We'd run and get up a head of steam, drop down on our knees and slide.
We didn't slide far, not over three feet ever. When I remember back on those days, it was the sliding on that frozen grass that helped me figure out that men will do most anything to fill that need to slide a couple feet from where they started. Throw in impressing females, and you pretty much got the human condition in a nutshell, at, least from a male perspective.
I ain't spent enough time working it out from the female point of view because I wasn't female. Later on, when my daughters were having such a hard time getting raised, I wished I'd speculated on it a bit more. As far as I got back then, was when I figured out, that females of the species must get something out of watching men slide and trying to impress them.
Me and Martin were both competing on who could slide the farthest because we were both trying to impress the same young lady, Norma Atilano. Norma has about the same height as me and had beautiful reddish brown hair and a splash of freckles on her cheeks. It was her green eyes though that captured my heart, I don't know about Martin. Back then I thought he only liked her just because I did.
I was determined to go further than him, so I did something that no one else had done. I ran hard as I could and instead of dropping down on my knees, I slid feet first like a baseball slide. It worked too. I must have went at least six-seven feet.
I looked up and Norma was pointing towards me and giggling.
Martin came running up, "NO FAIR! The rule is on the knees! Ain't that right, Gilbert?"
I stood up to wipe the frost from my pants all the while glancing toward Norma and her friends. " Rules? Who said anything about rules? It's about going further."
That morning in Mr. Gilberto's sixth grade class, we were in the middle of our math lesson when someone from the office called Mr. Gilberto to the door. He stepped outside for a second and then came walking back to the front of the room in a hurry.
"Quick! How many presidents have been assassinated in office?" He scanned the class, but I knew it was a question aimed at me since I was the one kid in that class who loved history. Mine was the only hand that was raised anyway.
"Three, Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley," I said with a little extra hubris knowing that I'd even named them in the correct order.
"Wrong!" He was almost gleeful and beside himself when he said it. It was strange, but even back then, I knew he'd set me up to embarrass me in front of the class. The word stung, but he didn't even stop to explain. While I was just starting to protest, he walked over to the brown boxed RCA that hung above the center of the black board, pulled the chair he used for reading class below it, climbed up, and turned the TV on.
That's how we learned, from Walter Cronkite's own lips, that President Kennedy had died in Dallas.
Because I lived a block from school, I went home for lunch everyday except for Wednesdays when they served chili beans and buttered French bread. Entering the house, I found my mom standing in front of the TV ironing clothes, but she was frozen statue like, and I saw that her face was covered with tears.
I went into the kitchen and ladled out my own Campbell's alphabet soup into a green plastic bowl, got out some crackers from the box in the cupboard, and banana from the counter by the sink. I could see mom through the doorway of the kitchen, and she never moved once except to wipe away a tear.
When I arrived back to school, I still had some time for recess. Walking through the gate though, I saw a flurry of activity moving toward me down the hallway. Mr. Gilberto was at the head of it, and he was dragging Biggie Munoz to the office. A flock of cackling and laughing kids were right behind him, and behind them came Miss Younger, and she had Eddie Rabbit by the arm and was dragging him too.
Biggie was a big, round face kid taller than most of us, but he was gentle too and always had a big smile on his face and a dumb joke to tell. Eddie Rabbit was a friend of ours too. He was a little harder to like because he often came to school and didn't say anything. Martin nicknamed him Rabbit because Eddy had two buck teeth. He sometimes wore the same clothes for a couple of days too. Martin was the only one who said anything about it. When he did, it was Biggie that pushed him into silence.
Bobby Perez came running over to where I was, "Damned, Danny, you missed it. Biggie and Eddie got in a fight."
"Who won?" Bobby didn't answer; he just gave me a look that said it was a stupid question.
" Eddie was trying to kick him, but Biggie got him in a headlock. He was going crush Eddy, but then they broke it up."
"Why were they fighting?"
"I don't know. I think Eddie said something bout the president."
The bell rang, so Bobby and I walked arm in arm to class. Damned if Mrs. Laurel hadn't been crying too. She took roll and noticed that Biggie and Eddie weren't in their seats. She asked us if we knew why.
It was Norma who answered, "Biggie and Eddie got in a fight. They took them to the office."
Mrs. Laurel, a tall, buxom, stately looking, white-haired woman, stood up from her neatly organized desk, her eyes red-rimmed from crying. "Thank you, Norma. Does anyone know why they were fighting?"
Little Larry jumped up out of his desk excitedly jerking his hand up and down. Mrs. Laurel waited which was her signal for Little Larry to calm down. When he did, she nodded.
"We was playing marbles." She cut him off with a stern glance; he thought for a second then, " We were playing marbles, and Eddie (no one called him Eddie Rabbit in her class) made a good shot and said, 'Just like the one that got Kennedy.' Biggie got mad and pushed him. Eddie started kicking at him, and it was on, man! Oh, sorry, it was on, Mrs. Laurel."
I thought that she was going to cry again. Biggie was her favorite student. He wasn't a real bright kid and could barely read, but he was always polite and loved to help her do things. Once, he recited a four lined poem in class, and she made over him like he was Abraham Lincoln reciting the Gettysburg Address which happened to be the poem I had recited.
Biggie came back to class a few minutes later, but he couldn't quit crying, so she took a chair and set it outside and put her arm around him and walked him out. They were out there for a while too. We behaved pretty well sensing that something bigger than us was unfolding. Once, a balled up piece of paper flew across the room; I looked and saw Martin smiling. Lisa Ramirez walked over and picked it up and put it in the trash can, and that was that.
Mrs. Laurel came back in clearly disturbed and went back and sat down at her desk. All she said to us was, "Assignments are on the board, Class. Please work quietly." I watched her staring silently out of the window for several minutes. Occasionally, she would take a white handkerchief from the pocket of her green sweater and wiped her eyes.
I read the reading passage quickly. I was agitated and didn't know why, and after a few minutes I got up, walked over to her desk, and asked if I could go sit outside with Biggie. She started to say no, but I think she remembered the time that I was one of the captains when we played kickball, and I had let the girls on my team go first. She nodded and smiled at me sadly.
I grabbed a chair and opened the door. I remember how chilly it was when I stepped outside. I placed the chair down next to Biggie and sat down beside him without saying a thing.
After a while, he quietly spoke with his voice broken by the occasional sob, " She said I was 'sposed to collect sumpting." He looked up and I could see the wet tracks his tears had left on his round cheeks.
" I don know, my thoughts or sumpting." Biggie smiled weakly and then asked, "How I do dat? Like stamps, butterflies?" He was trying to make a joke, so I smiled. He dropped his head a second later and then added, "Eddy shouldna said dat bout the president."
I didn't reply and just nodded. It was quiet for a bit then he raised his head again, " I went to Eddie's oncet. I knock on da door, his dad answered and tole me real mean, "Whatda you want?'"
Biggie retreated into that memory for a minute. He was looking right past me, but he wasn't really there. He snapped out of it a minute later to tell me, " Eddie's dad got so mad cos we was makin noise. He pulled da long belt out and whipped him and tole me to home. He tole me, "Run along, kid and don't come back.'"
It was a very strange bit of timing that right at that moment, Eddie Rabbit's head peeked around the corner at the end of the hallway. That could've meant only thing; they'd told him to go back to class, but he was too ashamed and went and hid in the restroom instead.
Biggie saw him and jumped out of his chair and started walking real fast towards the restroom. I followed behind. When we got here, we found Eddie cowering in the back where the urinals were. He looked up defiantly when Biggie approached. Biggie's arms were out to his side like he was going to swing at Eddie.
Instead, he grabbed him in an embrace and pulled him to his chest. Eddie was shocked as hell and held himself stiff at first, but it wasn't long before he gave himself over to the hug and hugged Biggie back, and then, it was my time to cry.
Several years later, I was visiting a friend in San Diego, and he suggested we go to this dive bar down the street from his apartment. He went to the restroom after we ordered and left me alone drinking my beer at the crowded bar. I heard a voice from behind call my name.
I turned and discovered Eddie Fucking Rabbit holding up his glass and beckoning me over. First thing I noticed was that he had fixed his teeth, but I could still recognize his ass. He stood up and we embraced.
We started about old times and he told me that he had a job with an investment group and was doing quite well for himself. He told me that he'd married twice and had three grown daughters. He also told me that he visited Biggie in the hospital right before Biggie had died of brain cancer.
"His real name was Alfonso. Did you know that," he asked.
Inevitably, the conversation worked its way back to that day in the bathroom at Mark Twain School. He told me how sorry he was for saying what he had said. He heard his dad talk bad about the Kennedys and had simply and innocently passed on his father's ignorance.
"It still makes me mad to this day that they've never found out who was behind his murder, Danny. I can't believe that we've let it slide so long."
I agreed and assured him that most of us who were there that day agreed with him too.
Then he shrugged and said, "I don't what we'd do about it now?"
I finished off my beer before replying, " They should look for the guy who slid the furthest, and the girl who he was trying to impress."