The Dual (OK It was actually a footrace)
Duals are part of the masculine mindset. It is primal to the products of testosterone to settle some things with some contest of skill or display of aggression. Southern men grow up with a pecking order of who can “beat up” who. The Southern “alpha” male may not be the biggest or even the strongest, but the one who has the most fear inducing ability. As one old saw puts it, “It ain’t the size of dog the in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.”
In olden times these events were a recognized part of male culture. Some offence against one’s honor or some other kind of dispute was settled by personal combat, often with deadly consequences. Pistols, swords, or old fashioned fisticuffs have settled such disputes and left a winner and a loser to their separate fates.
Johnny blamed me for his cousin’s unemployment. Even though the reason Billy was fired was because he showed up for work late and hung over I was the one hired to replace him and so, in Johnny’s mind, I was the guy who pushed Cousin Billy out of his job. Billy had a wife and kids. They were his blood. Now this outsider comes in and dares to work on the same machine that Billy had worked on for over two years. The fact that I had a wife and a baby on the way was of no concern to him. Kin is kin.
The problem was that 19 year old Johnny was so full of resentment toward me and misplaced filial devotion that he couldn’t even abide my presence. More than once he made some snide comment; and he never looked at me without staring a hole through me. He tried to get in my face and start a fight a few times when the foreman wasn’t looking. Since he was single and only 19 years old he thought risking getting fired to be preferred over letting me get away with the damage done to his cousin, but if he could keep his job and still punish me all the better.
I was about 6 inches taller than Johnny and, though he didn’t suspect it, was no stranger to the art of personal combat. In my younger years I had a reputation for being quick fisted and had never been beaten when the odds were one on one. It would not have been very hard to give him a lesson on respect that he would never forget, but my vow as a preacher, and my desire to stay employed, kept me from becoming his schoolmaster. I simply took it. I took it until others thought I was a coward. I took it until it hurt me on the inside to see my stature shrink in the eyes of my co-workers.
One day Johnny got on another tirade about why I wouldn’t fight him and accused me in front of others of being “yellow”. I don’t know where the idea came from, but I tried to think of a way to settle this thing without violence and the only thing I could think of was to let a footrace settle it. He was such a proud fellow that my challenge to him turned the tables completely! Now he had to accept or reject MY challenge to HIM! He started out by saying how stupid that was and I countered with, “What’s the matter? You afraid I’ll beat you?” Little did he know that I was pretty fast and had won many races as a sprinter in high school. I was fairly confident that I could beat him and at least we could both say we had gone up against each other in some way. I couldn’t get fired for having a “friendly” footrace on break time.
He asked me if he won what would I do, and I said that I would keep on ignoring his mean talk, but I still wouldn’t fight him and I still wouldn’t quit working there. I said, however, that if I won that he would have to leave me alone and get off my case. That was the deal.
The crowd had gathered by now and Johnny had to answer me. He informed me that he was the fastest one on his football team and he could beat an old “has been” like me without even trying hard. (At twenty five I was hardly a “has been”.) I said, “Lets’ go!”
The break horn blew and two lines were formed along the side driveway. It was a nice level concrete drive for about 30 feet, and then it began to incline for the next 30 feet to meet with the road. This was our field of honor. Someone stood at the top of the drive and held a red bandana up in the air. Johnny took off his boots, but left on his socks. I was confident that I could beat him without risking my feet to abrasions so I left my boots on. He looked with a crooked smile at me, and then we both fixed our eyes on the red bandana.
It was released and we both bolted at the same time. Johnny took a quick lead, but by the time we reached the incline my longer legs had closed the gap. Both spotters called it a draw. We both reached the line at the same exact time. I asked Johnny if he was satisfied, and true to nature, he demanded a rematch. “I have to beat you” (and then he let out some profanity) “I ain’t ever been beat and YOU sure ain’t gonna beat me.”
This time I took off my boots. The backs of my legs were still burning from the previous sprint, but the adrenaline was pumping and I was ready to show him what I could do. The red rag dropped again but this time we started even and held even until just before the incline where I began to pull ahead. Johnny desperately tried to close the gap, but when he hit the incline he began to lose his footing and went badly tumbling into a mass of legs and arms. As I crossed the finish line and looked behind me I saw Johnny on the ground trying not to react to the pain of scraping his ankles, both knees and one elbow on the pavement. His new Levi’s were torn and he was bleeding in several places. I could see the anger in his eyes, but I could also see a look of pain, the pain that comes from humiliation and defeat. He wanted to light into me right, then and there, but everybody was watching, and since I had not laid a hand on him he knew he had no right to strike me. He had been beaten fair and square by a man who he bragged couldn’t beat him.
For a short time after that, things were a little better around the mill. Johnny was quiet most of the time, and when he wasn’t around to hear them, people would talk about how the preacher had beaten Johnny in that race and Johnny got himself all torn up on the pavement. Some of the younger guys would pat me on the back and say, “That was something! I ain’t never seen Johnny get beat at runnin’ before. You’re one fast dude!
Later Johnny lapsed a time or two and tried to get me to fight him, but for the most part he left me alone. I still like to think that God, in His heaven, sent an angel to trip that hateful young man and give him what he had coming to him. “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay.” I was glad I let the Lord handle him instead of giving in to my own impulses. I hope this story may help someone who has struggled with how to respond against an antagonist. There is usually some way to avoid being drawn into a fight. God will bless you if you pay attention to his leading.