I learned about defiance, real defiance, on a school bus. I was seventeen. That was the year I started drinking, the year my mother took my car keys away from me after I came home drunk. She waited until I was sleeping one off and hid them, knowing I wasnâ€™t about to give them to her, nor was I going to stop drinking. Not then. Becoming sober was still decades of misery away.
So I rode the cheese wagon, mornings and afternoons, sitting in the back with a couple of delinquent ninth-graders who looked up to me because I told them the sordid details of my life, embellishing most of them to the point of absurdity. But the more I embellished, the more the two boys, Davy and Ty-Ty, wanted to hear.
I told them that I was on the bus because some drug dealer associated with the Mafia took my car when I told him to fuck off. I told them that I had a sweet deal lined up with a guy who was going to sell me a brand new Dodge Viper. Iâ€™d be getting it in a couple of weeks. I told them about my brother Steve, who worked in the pits at Talladega, and how he always got me pussy when I went to visit him. I told them that nobody could tell me what to do, and I meant nobody.
â€œWhat about Champ?â€ Davy asked. I looked up at our bus driver. We called him Champ, and I always assumed it was because he used to box, but perhaps I was wrong. Either way, his big forearms, thick black mustache, and scarred face always gave the impression that he was not one to be crossed. Iâ€™d only seen one kid try it since Iâ€™d been riding, and he was dealt with swiftly and soundly. Champ threw the bus into park, slung off his seatbelt, and stormed back to the boyâ€™s seat. The boy cringed into his seat, petrified.
â€œSure, he can tell me all he wants, but Iâ€™m not going to do it.â€ And then, for effect, I added, â€œIâ€™m not scared of that old man,â€ while in truth I was terrified by the prospect of crossing him.
Champ had one rule on the bus: stay in your seat. So it didnâ€™t surprise me when Davy called me on my big mouth.
â€œStand up then,â€ he said. â€œStand up and weâ€™ll see how tough you are.â€
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