Tuesday, December 20, 2005

JSB: The "Ah" Feeling



My last schoolyard fight happened in the sixth grade. A bunch of the boys were playing Socko, a derivative of Dodgeball at which I particularly excelled, and on the opposing team was one Eddie Schweitzer. Eddie was a tall, lanky kid, not real fast. He made an easy target for the Socko ball. And for my idea of fun.

I started making sport of Eddie’s lope, bounding around the asphalt in slow motion. Some of the other kids started to laugh.

Eddie wasn’t laughing, but I kept on going.

Finally he’d had enough. "You wanna fight?" he said.

Well, everybody heard him, and I couldn’t back down without losing whatever face I’d managed to save up to that time.

"Sure," I said, not at all sure. Fighting was not something I did often or well.

"After school, Boy’s Lodge."

The Boy’s Lodge was a place near Serrania Avenue Elementary School. It was a home for wayward youths. They had a nice big lawn that was sort of secluded, perfect for after school fisticuffs.

Of course, a fight was big news on the playground, and word spread, and by the time school was out a crowd had gathered at the Boy’s Lodge green to take in the festivities.

Eddie arrived. He was a couple of inches taller than I. Funny how I hadn’t really appreciated that difference before. Now I certainly did.

We entered the ring of kids who started cheering us on.

I only remember two punches. The first one came from Eddie’s right fist, and it was a doozie. Smacked me right in the nose. The second one I delivered, catching Eddie in the mouth. It hurt my hand.

Then I saw the blood. It was gushing out of my proboscis.

And that was the end of the fight. I think we both just decided to cut our losses. I ran home holding my nose.

That night I got a phone call from Eddie. I believe his mom put him up to it.

"You okay?" he asked.

"I got a bloody nose," I said.

"I got a fat lip," Eddie said.

"Oh."

There was a pause, then Eddie added, "You wanna be friends?"

"Okay," I said.

I felt a great relief then, because I didn’t want to get into any more fights. Fighting seemed like a pretty stupid idea. Besides, I didn’t like getting a bloody nose.

And friends seemed like a good thing to have.

Eddie moved away not long after that. Years later, when I was playing basketball for Taft High School, I saw him again. He was on the opposing team, sitting there on the bench. I went over to say Hi. His face lit up, like I was a long lost buddy. We talked about old times (yeah, a couple of high schoolers reflecting all the way back to elementary school) then played the game. I didn’t make fun of Eddie that day. At 6’8" to my 6’3", he was a force to be reckoned with.

After the game Eddie gave me a big handshake and smile, said it was great to see me. I haven’t seen him since.

But that was a nice little way to end things. In a way, it was the perfect ending. Not overdone, no melodrama. Just a great final image, Eddie and a smile.

It’s the kind of resonance I love in the ending of a good novel. Endings are the hardest part of writing, for me at least. A soggy ending can dilute even the best buildup. But one that leaves the reader with an "Ah" feeling is worth every ounce of work. That final image, that last line, take up more of my time than any other part of the book.

I just turned in the galleys for my novel Presumed Guilty, which shows up in April. I must have rewritten the ending 30 times. It got to the point where I was changing just one word here and there, for nothing else but the sound. But it was that important to me.

I hope I hit the mark. And I hope somewhere out there Eddie Schweitzer reads it, and smiles.

James Scott Bell can be found writing and smiling in a Starbucks in Los Angeles. His website is http://www.jamesscottbell.com

8 Comments:

At 5:03 AM, Blogger Camy Tang said...

Great story. It really illustrated the point for me. It's making me think more about the atmosphere and tone of my novel endings. That elusive "Ah" feeling, somewhere between cheesy and cool. Thanks. Something more for me to work on in my writing.
Camy

 
At 8:49 AM, Blogger Angela said...

Such a great story, Jim. I missed so much growing up female . . .

Angie, who never once had a schoolyard tussle

 
At 11:52 AM, Blogger Carrie said...

Glad to see you're still blogging over here!

 
At 3:48 PM, Blogger Rachel Hauck said...

Thanks for the reminder not to let the ending turn into tumbleweed.

The story of Eddit makes me reflect back to my, er, younger days.

Rachel

 
At 8:35 PM, Blogger Robin Cynclair said...

Thanks for sharing. I love getting the "ah" feeling!

 
At 8:46 PM, Blogger Dineen A. Miller said...

"It got to the point where I was changing just one word here and there, for nothing else but the sound."

That I can really relate to. I find myself doing that at the end of chapters too. Just the right flow, just the right beat. Tweaking the words really does it.

 
At 9:58 PM, Blogger Bonnie Calhoun said...

I like that 'ah' feeling in a book ending. There have been so many that make me want to pull my hair out

 
At 8:52 PM, Anonymous Ane Mulligan said...

Loved the story, Jim. Took me back to when I was the ball monitor. I probably gave you that Socko ball, except I went to elementary school in Inglewood, not the S.F. Valley.

 

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