I once had to go to court for assaulting someone. Well, ‘allegedly’ assaulting someone, anyhow.
I was 16 and to that point in my life, my record of physical altercations consisted of a) punching a dude in the face when he found a girl and I necking behind her house late at night – and he kept making fun of us (he ran off crying), b) Fighting in class with some kid who was bullying me and we threw each other around the classroom before being sent to the principal’s office – where we pretended to actually be good friends who were just playing around to get out of it. Ironically, we did become best buds because of it, and c) I beat the crap out of some kid that threw a big pile of mud in my Mr. Turtle pool. Okay, that one’s made up cause I never caught him after chasing him through the neighbourhood. Lucky you hopped that fence, kid. Namaste.
The point is, I’d never been a ‘fighter’. I was always the smaller, smart, funny kid who played in the school band and at night lived a double life of smoking dope and playing poker with my friends.
But there I was in court charged with assault.
And the whole thing was over a stuffed animal. Yes. A 6 foot long stuffed orange snake to be precise.
I’ve been having conversations with my therapist (don’t knock it til you try it) about aggression, strong male role models and where I learned to be true to myself since it wasn’t something instilled in me by my parents.
The whole thing went back to an incident about 6 months before the court date. I was working at Canada’s Wonderland that summer in the Games department. You know, an attendant wearing a goofy themed get-up in one of the game booths. Normal days consisted of just hanging around talking with other kids working there for the summer. Then once in awhile, someone would come up to the game you were working that day and they’d try to win a prize by throwing a quarter on a plate or ‘Whack 15 moles back into their holes!’. It was a fun job – I met other kids from all walks of life and it was there over 4 summers that I learned to come out of my shell and realize I had a knack for making people laugh.
As the summer plied along, we all dreaded the approach of the Labour Day weekend. Not just cause we’d all be saying goodbye, but also because it was ‘Italian Heritage Weekend’. The busiest weekend of the summer by far, and not to be too stereotypical here, for some reason it had the most um, ‘aggressive energy’.
I had a reputation for being friendly, efficient, and able to handle crowds well so I always got the shitty assignments on busy weekends. Instead of being put in a game staffed with 3 or 4 other kids, that weekend I got put alone in ‘Peach Basket’. Fucking ‘Peach Basket’. It wasn’t a lot of physical effort like ‘Ring Toss’ where you were constantly picking up plastic rings flying at bottle necks, or ‘Muffin Tin’ where whiffle balls were whizzing around you as you tried to clear them and also stay out of the way – but mentally, ‘Peach Basket’ was a bitch. A basket (yes, fruit basket) was placed at about a 45 degree angle towards the guests and from the other side of a counter, they had to throw a softball into it. Two balls. Get both in and you won. The back of the basket was very let’s say ‘springy’ and the ball would usually bounce right out. But people in the know knew you could hit the bottom lip of the basket and ball would gently roll in.
The problem with the game was that players were given both balls at once and if they got the 1st ball in, the attendant (me) had to remove it before they threw the 2nd one. So I had to constantly be aware of removing one ball before the second throw. I had 7 baskets for 7 separate players to keep an eye on.
The prize? A six foot long stuffed snake. Big ticket item to some people. Walk around the park with a dayglo snake around your neck as a show of your virility.
Anyhow, enough setup. Here’s how I assaulted someone.
I’m in the weeds. There’s a mob of people around the ‘Peach Basket’ booth waiting to play. It’s shoulder to shoulder in the park that day and I can’t even see over the mass of humanity. Heady times for Wonderland. I’m dishing out balls, taking in money as fast I can, and releasing trophy snakes to new loving homes at a good clip (stupid worker mentality back then).
‘Ya! Gimme my doll!’
A guy playing my game has his arms raised in the air – We are the Champions, bitch, style. I look at the Peach Basket in front of him and there are two softballs in the basket. As I said earlier, the not-well-thoughtout rules state the first ball has to be removed before throwing the second, so I explain that to the guy. Big signs posted all around the game.
‘I’m sorry, but I have to remove that 1st ball before you throw the 2nd.’
Fuck, I hated explaining that all the time. I give him the second ball back and place it on the counter between us. Most customers would just shrug and throw again.
‘That’s not my problem that you didn’t remove it in time. Gimme my doll.’
Apparently, the snake was now a ‘doll’.
‘I’m sorry sir, but that’s not the rules.’
‘I got two balls in and I want my fucking doll!’
He’s about six feet tall, with an entourage of a few other guys and a girl. And they’re all looking at me like they’re about to steal my lunch money. I’m supposed to be intimidated I guess but if I give this guy a snake, I’m dealing with a crowd of people who think they can get one ball in and win.
Oh, and also, that summer I started to find my footing as being a bit of a stubborn dick.
‘If you just throw that ball and get it in, you win your doll.’
He whips the ball past me and it bounces off the display of snakes art-directed along the walls to entice people to come play the venerable, life-affirming game of ‘Peach Basket’.
‘If you don’t give my fuckin doll, I’m gonna come in there and grab that one myself.’
I’m hot, tired, and working minimum wage on the last weekend of the summer. I should be at the beach.
And that’s where I do it. I don’t give a shit about the 30 cent snake on the wall. This is about more than that. This is about standing up for yourself when the world is trying to beat down your own personal code. Do you give in? Do you just give him a snake and let it go and go on with your life? Maybe. But I guess that’s just not me.
I fold my arms and look him square in the eyes.
‘I’d like to see you try it.’
He quickly jumps onto the counter of the game and starts to leap in. I put my arms up to hold him back and pretty much catch him as he jumps onto me and into the game. He’s on top of me, I’m in a bad headlock and manage to get my arms around his neck from below as we’re now bouncing around the peach baskets and stupid styrofoam-filled snakes.
Bang against one wall. Bang against the other. I’m pushing him and being pushed just trying to get in a few blows before I know this guy will overpower me. We’re in a stupid, awkward dance and the crowd starts roaring.
‘CALL SECURITY! CALL SECURITY!’ It’s Sarah yelling from the next door game ‘Tin Can Alley’.
And then suddenly, there’s my friend and co-worker Patrick jumping on the guy and trying to get him off of me. He was working the relatively sedate ‘Bicycle Race’ water pistol game nearby. Like me, Patrick isn’t going to physically intimidate anyone, and all summer he was growing out a Jheri Curl which was finally taking shape so I appreciate that he’s risking his new coiffe to save my ass.
The guy turns his attention to Patrick who’s jumped on his back and body slams him against the wall. I clearly remember the clipboard on the wall where I’d record how many prized snakes I gave away going flying.
The ‘Italian Heritage Weekend’ crowd is loving this. There’s cheering for both sides and for the first and hopefully only time in my life, I know what it’s like to be in a UFC ring.
Patrick and I manage to shove the guy in the corner and he’s lashing out fists and arms everywhere. We’re taking hits and trying to hold our own, but really just trying to keep this guy from killing us. Sarah is shrieking in the corner.
Then, like the cavalry, there are three big Wonderland uniformed security guards pulling us all apart. Most of these guys were cops in training and they knew how disarm most situations.
And it’s over. I’m pumped up on adrenaline, my clothes are ripped and later, I’m gonna feel some bruises. But that ‘doll’ is still on the wall.
Six months later. I’m at a court in Newmarket being defended by a Canada’s Wonderland lawyer for assault. The doll seeker himself was charged with assault and then counter-sued me and the park.
‘Your honour’, his lawyer says, ‘My client is only a few credits short of graduating from high school (he’s 20 by the way) and this accusation will keep him from pursuing a career in law-enforcement. He still has physical scars from the incident which have required on-going medical care. I ask you to throw out this charge.’
Sarah, Patrick and I are seated next to the lawyer. It’s the first time we’ve all been together since the previous summer. Patrick’s Jheri Curl is looking like a boss, and Sarah has adopted a very sultry emo-goth look (yes, I had a weakness for her – to this day, I have a weakness for the emo girls). Me, I’m listening to the Smiths and The Cure now and finding my own unhappy insular Grade 11 year is coming along quite nicely.
After weighing all the evidence and reading statements, the Judge rules and the charge against me is dismissed.
Would I have done it again? Should I have let him take the snake off the wall and just go and he’d have a career in law-enforcement now and I could just laugh the whole thing off as ‘big deal’? Maybe. Maybe I should have. As I said earlier, therapy is teaching me that there is a time to just be the bigger ‘man’ and sometimes that means just walking away.
But I do know this – the world is gonna challenge you. People are going to challenge you. And sometimes you’re going to do things that later, you might regret not handling the ‘right way’. Sometimes you’re going to let people push your boundaries beyond what you are comfortable with. In the moment, you’ll make mistakes.
What can you live with? It takes awhile, and mistakes, to learn.
You have many beautiful and colourful dolls on the wall inside of you. Protect the ones that matter to you – even if they don’t matter to anybody else – and you can never go wrong.