A true story, dedicated with gratitude to Harry Havery, and inspired by the compassionate leadership of Coach Richard Bozeman.
I never hold a grudge.
To hold a grudge is to coddle it, and allow it to believe it is dependent on you. I cannot have that. I work my grudges, push them and starve them, withholding my love and attention until they become lean and resilient things that stalk the earth far beyond my time here. I try not to accumulate too many, so that I can focus my discipline on building that esprit de corps among my resentments that sets their shoulders back and lifts their chins above the faltering, feckless grudges so common they do not warrant a mention. Here in this public forum I could say I am not proud of this pastime of mine, sanding the imperfections off of my grievances until they shine like mirrors, but it would not be true. I fear the loss of, or worse, the resolution of any one of the affronts in my collection would crack me at the knees and leave me a refugee, undefined.
Perhaps I am bored now? Perhaps a little pas a doble with self-destruction is the thrill I need? At Bucky McMahon’s invitation to participate in this event I felt I had to suffer an experience as he does, and let the story of that suffering become the final draft, so I decided to dig deep into my catalog of grudges and attempt the unthinkable, resolve a vintage high school grudge.
1985, Sebring, Florida. I am in 10th grade and I am not a jock, or a prep, or a stoner, or a hick. I am a breakdancer. We are few in number being so far from New York City, 1,100 miles far specifically. I have no idea what the Bronx is, but I nod knowingly at graffiti on trains carrying phosphate out of Frostproof. We gather behind Garino’s Pizza off of Lakeview Road and spin on cardboard to mixtapes playing on a 12 D Battery Boombox. We go to The Loop skating rink on Friday nights, but we don’t skate, just practicing backspins and windmills on the polyurethane floors. We anoint ourselves with noms de guerre- Fresh Kid, Mr. Spin, The Floor Doctor, The Dynamite Kid, Shortrock, and DJ Joe.
Our crew, the Defenders of Funk, and our best friends and rivals the Kool Rock Kids dream of making a trip to Orlando to serve notice to the big city locals at Club Electric Avenue. None of us have been, but we hear rumors they can headspin.
Harry Havery is a senior, and Sebring famous if anyone can be. Harry can play guitar, like real songs, and he plays a Fender Stratocaster. His hair is blond, curly, and down to his shoulders. He is not caught up in the music of the times, 80’s synth-pop and commercialized New Wave. At 16 years-old Harry is an anachronism already. He is a disciple of the Beatles, or what people like to call real music. I don’t know if people thought Harry was cool, but Harry Harvey was known. I didn’t know of anyone who disliked Harry. He could stand at the center of a pep rally or a Christmas Assembly and work the crowd in between songs. To this day I don’t know how he learned to play, or why. To me Harry was born with leather cuffed boots and a vest over a KISS t-shirt. It was all so surprising when we first heard the rumors about something called, “Anti-Breaker Day.” Facts were hard to come by, but we understood it was about us, and not in a good way. Since the summer before we had trouble with whom I would consider the popular kids, mostly good Christian children from respected local families. They played sports and dated cheerleaders and high-steppers, our school’s performance dance squad of sequined choreography. These guys would cruise by us wearing paper Burger King crowns and flip us off or do some clownish dance moves to mock us. We hated them, hell, I still hate them for that. They acted as if, and they knew it to be true, this sleepy orange grove town was theirs to inherit. The Burger King Breakers were the ones who ran with Harry’s hapless plan of Anti-Breaker Day, and whatever his original intention, it became a different thing.
The Defenders of Funk and the Kool Rock Kids held a summit in 2nd Hall, our turf at Sebring High School. Emissaries were dispatched to 3rd hall, the territory of the metal-heads, the stoners, and the kids generally associated with shop class. “Are you down with 2nd Hall?” was our question, which shortened to the coded reference, 2nd Hall Down, which stuck like a modern-day hashtag. We knew many kids had their reasons to despise those first hall assholes as much as we did. We shared 2nd hall with a large clique of black kids, basically all black kids who had not distinguished themselves enough to emigrate to the band crew, student council, or the big three- football, basketball, and baseball. The Dynamite Kid, Shortrock, the Floor Doctor, and me the Fresh Kid, negotiated treaties and solemnly shook on alliances to stand against the assault, when it came. DJ Joe said Harry Havery started it, and he was going to take care of him personally. He showed us a 10 inch piece of lead pipe with Harry’s name on it. Notice was given to all breakers that to come to school not in full regalia on Anti-Breaker day was treason, and 2nd Hall Down offered no second chances, not with us was the same as against us. Sharp lines were drawn throughout the student body.
1n 1979 Detroit Disc Jockey, Steve Dahl, organized and promoted “Disco Demolition Day” between a doubler-header at Comiskey Park. Attendees got in cheap if they brought a disco record to throw in a giant bin which would be blown up in the outfield between games. I speculate that Harry was thinking of this event when he promoted Anti-Breaker Day, just a tongue-in-cheek repudiation of the new, in favor of the familiar, a story so ancient it traces back to an apple, found on a tree, and all the calamity of new things.
I don’t remember on what day of the week Anti-Breaker Day fell, but I remember showing up very early to secure my redoubt before the gauntlet of Burger King Breakers had time to mobilize. There was a banner, hung right across from the office, and it read ANTI-BREAKER DAY in red letters, at least in my mind. I was scared, but also excited. I belonged to something. One by one my fellow breakers showed up, minus a few, who can live in their shame. DJ Joe locked Harry’s lead pipe and his boom box in his locker. This unassailable control of the morning soundtrack was a stroke of tactical genius. 2nd Hall would play our music, and no one else’s. Afrika Bambatta and his Soul-sonic Force, Egyptian Lover, and the Boogie Down Bronx, songs that fill my blood with pride and defiance to this day.
Anti-Breaker Day began in a rush as the doors at the ends of both halls opened and two armies marched towards us in the middle. It ended when the king of the shop crowd decked an ancillary metal-head with no affiliation to the Burger King Breakers at all. He should have been on our side for all they cared about a guy like that. It just occurs to me now that perhaps those two had prior beef? With that single punch though, chaos ensued, and all I remember are teachers, principals, and an appearance by the Highlands County Sherriff’s Office. They found Harry’s lead pipe when they opened Joe’s locker to stop the music. DJ Joe was suspended. Me? I slinked off to home room without further incident. That is the sum total experience of Anti-Breaker Day as I recall it.
Given the deep political angst of our country I thought to myself, “What can I do to make things better?” I’m not changing my mind on any of a dozen core issues. My positions and perspectives on those topics are calcified and arthritic in my personality, immutable and painful to exercise. I could however, lighten my load. I could contact Harry Havery, and ask him about that day, and whatever the outcome it would be a known thing, and like it or not Harry would have to help me carry it from now on. I sent him a friend request on Facebook, and he accepted. I wasted no time while I had the courage and I wrote to him, explaining should he cooperate or not I planned to write this story. I was nervous, and feeling as 2nd Hall Down as ever. This is his reply.
I have regretted that day for years. Still haunts me. I was such a jackass in school. Just a complete dick. I pretty much still am, but at least I’m aware of it and I’m trying to make changes. I’m so sorry about that. So sorry. Of course I’ll be happy to talk to you about anything, especially if it helps with forward momentum. I am sickened by the state of divisiveness in our country and world. Breaks my heart to think that I contributed to it at several points in my life.
Well damn it. This was not what I expected at all. With that genuine reply thirty-three years of cherished resentment disappeared. A conversation began, and continues. My remaining grudges stretched themselves out, got more comfortable with all this new real estate available. I see my grudges all a little differently now. I question their loyalty, their genesis, and their facts. Are any of my grudges truly second hall down? For thirty-three years I have told this story on occasion, always making the point that the administration sanctioned Anti-Breaker Day, that the entire establishment was in on it. Harry says no, that is wrong. The principal told him “Sebring Blue Streaks are not anti-anything.” which puts this lump in throat when I think of it now. This doesn’t mean I don’t have my suspicions about certain faculty acting as instigators and provocateurs.
The whole Anti-Breaker Day concept had one card to play, just like Disco Demolition Day, wear a rock t-shirt to school. That was it. Somehow I either forgot, or never knew, that was the desired action as Harry conceived it. Oh the things others will do with our bad ideas. Now I often forget that my stance towards Harry is supposed to be happening in a disciplined environment for the sole purpose of creating this essay. I see him scratching the ears of an orphaned possum on his kitchen table, or liberating a cold iguana from the pool. I’ve become like everybody else who tells me, “Harry Havery is a great guy. He still plays the Christmas show at the elementary schools. You need to let it go.”
Letting go is hard! I don’t want to do it. I want my anger to remain righteous and superior to the anger of those with whom I disagree. My anger is all I have left to remember them by. The Fresh Kid (myself) fell out with Shortrock and DJ Joe over separating families at the border and shipping children to ill-funded and ill-fated holding pens around the country. “Call your Senators” I begged them. “On this one issue stand with me. For this one thing show up and be Second Hall Down with me.” I offered to tell my senators I supported the wall. They refused me. They didn’t believe the news. They blamed the parents for bringing their children. They believe the law must be upheld, and what we witnessed was the law. We called one another horrible things. Short-rock read something I wrote about to him to another friend. I think I said, “Shortrock was always such a sweet guy, he is just so damn stupid he can’t help it.” He left me a drunken voice mail calling me a piece of shit over and over. I hung it up at about number fifteen. We re-connected briefly after that incident. We both tried to walk back our insults, but our backs were already at the wall so there was nowhere left for us to go.
Shortrock and DJ Joe both agree on this one thing that I still can’t comprehend, but I think about it all the time now. They agreed that friends should come before values, and on that premise, I was the turncoat. I was the one wearing my civilian clothes on Anti-Breaker Day. Are they right though? Do we have friends because of our values, or in spite of our values? Apparently not so stupid after all, Shortrock left me with a morality riddle that I don’t think I am up to solving. I’m just another self-righteous piece of shit to him now, and I don’t think I can fix that. I don’t know if I want to fix that.
I won’t call it the end, but at this point in the story the third act delivers this bombshell- I feel closer to Harry Havery than I do to about thirty percent of the Defenders of Funk, Sebring, Florida’s legendary breakdance crew.
Relationships are never static. They are always moving towards distance or intimacy. How bad can things get between us before America leaves itself a voicemail it can’t delete? Gettysburg was known for its trading post and lively taverns once. Srebrenica was known for its soothing thermal spas. Gaza was a lovely city by the sea. As for now, Sebring is known for its racetrack and orange groves, but that can always change.