"I can spit further than anybody you know."
“I’m telling you, PJ, I can spit further than anybody you know!”
PJ rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Yeah, right! Let me see what you got, wise-guy! Makes me sick the way you’re always saying you’re better at something than everybody else, Jack. Anyway, who cares?”
Jack made a face like he had just smelt something terrible. “I ain’t gonna show you nuthin’ ‘til you get some kids over here and we have ourselves a little contest.”
“Oh, yeah? All right, hot-shot. I know somebody that‘ll out spit you any day of the week!”
“Put-up or shut-up, PJ!”
“After school, two-thirty, right here, behind the backstop! I got two dollars says my guy’ll beat you.”
“Done-and-done, PJ, old boy, two-thirty it is!” Jack loved to say ‘done-and-done', just like his dad. He gave PJ a cocky smile.
PJ turned and walked off shaking his head.
Jack yelled after him. “And don’t forget yer money, sucka!”
PJ was hooked just like Jack had planned.
The contest was on.
Jack decided not to go back to class. Why bother, he was flunking out of Mr. Tanner’s class anyway.
“You don’t apply yourself, Jack,” said old man Tanner. “When are you going to wake up and smell the coffee, boy? If you get an ‘F’ in this class, you’ll be doing the sixth grade all over again.” Mr. Tanner stuck his face inches from Jack’s. His breath smelled like old socks and pipe tobacco. “You’ll be the laughing-stock of the school, Jack. You know you can’t hide behind your mom on this one. She can’t keep telling us it’s because your dad died, and all you need is just a little more time. Because you know what? Report cards come out next week, Jacko, and time’s up for you. Time’s up.”
Mr. Tanner was a real winner, a model teacher, a regular pain.
Jack stayed behind the backstop waiting for the final school bell to ring. His brown hair hung down covering most of his ears and forehead. His clothes were clean, but he had a large hole in the knee of his pants. His mom did the best she could, but there just wasn’t enough money. He wished his dad were still alive. He angrily chucked stones at the fence that surrounded the playground. He imagined it was Mr. Tanner that the rocks were hitting.
“I’ll show ‘em! I’ll show ‘em all!”
The bell rang and Jack watched through the crack between the boards of the backstop as the kids began filing out of the classrooms. He saw PJ heading his way with a small group of boys. Jack waited with a smile on his face. “This is gonna be good,” he said aloud.
As the boys approached, Jack stepped out from behind the backstop.
“So you didn’t chicken-out, huh, PJ?”
“What’s this all about, Jack?” asked Carl, the tallest boy. “PJ says you wanna have a spittin' contest.”
“Is this your guy, PJ?” Jack asked, pointing his thumb sarcastically at Carl.
“Yeah, Jack, but maybe we should do this someplace else. ol' man Tanner was asking after you. He looked mad enough to eat you alive.” All the other boys agreed.
“Tanner don’t scare me! You wanna do this or not?”
“Sure, wise-guy! It’s your funeral.”
They walked behind the backstop and Jack counted off twenty paces, then drew a long straight line with the toe of his raggedy shoe.
“Whoever hits the backstop from here, wins.”
“Nobody can spit that far, Jack! That’s ridiculous!”
“Then pay up PJ!”
Carl took PJ off to the side and they started mumbling to each other. Then, he let go with a loogie that sailed high into the air. It didn’t have much distance, but it was an impressive shot. That seemed to convince PJ, and they walked back over.
“All right, Jack, but I’m changing the rules! We’ll mark the one that gets the closest to the backstop as the winner. Okay?”
“Sounds good to me, PJ. Let’s do it!”
PJ went first. He approached the line, then took one large step backwards. He cocked his body in an almost crouching position, dipped his chin into his chest, then suddenly leaped forward and let fly.
The opaque glob of spit sailed through the air a good twelve feet, but fell short of the target.
A bunch of kids on their way to the bus stop gathered around to see what was happening. The spitting contest was starting to draw a good size crowd.
Ralph, the snot-nosed know-it-all from Mr. Tanner’s class, pulled a pencil from his pocket-protector and stuck it in the ground, marking PJ’s attempt.
Carl decided he’d go next. Nobody argued with him. You could see him sucking his teeth and trying to get the largest amount of spit in his mouth that he could possibly muster.
He put his right toe on the line, bent half his body back, then in one snake-like movement, whipped himself forward and spit. It was the biggest ball of slobber Jack had ever seen. But because of the spit’s size and weight, it fell just in front of the backstop.
The crowd of school children made a ‘ooo-and-ahh’ kind of noise. Ralph ran over again and stuck a pencil inches away from the bottom board of the backstop, marking Carl’s attempt.
“Beat that, Jack-ass!” yelled PJ.
Jack just smiled. He had a secret weapon that his dad had showed him. He called it "the finer techniques of distance-spitting." His dad had been a pro, and the whole darn thing had to do with the space between his front teeth.
Jack calmly stood at the line, lifted his chin, and without any effort at all, squirted the spit through his front teeth while pushing it with his tongue from behind. The string of saliva shot out like a bullet high into the air....
Mr. Tanner chose that exact moment to walk around from the other side of the backstop. “What’s going on here?” he managed to yell out, just as Jack’s missile smacked him right between the eyes. Tanner let out a savage curse.
The last thing that Jack remembered hearing was the sound of twenty kids gasping all at once. Then they turned and ran like a skunk had just cut loose.
“Jack!” screamed Mr. Tanner.
Jack stood his ground. His right leg began to vibrate of its own free will, but his feet remained frozen in place.
“That’s it, buddy-boy, you’re finished!” Tanner took a couple of giant strides, then quickly reached out and grabbed Jack by the back of his shirt collar. “This time you’re going to pay the consequences for your actions, young man!”
Jack felt defiant. This man had proved he was no better than anybody else. “What about you?”
“What about me, Jack?”
“Half the school just heard you cussing up a storm! You want the principal to hear about that?”
Mr. Tanner released the boy and dropped his arms to his side. He thought for a moment, and then let out a big sigh of defeat.
“Damn it, Jack, all right, you win. You’ve been a thorn in my side from the very beginning. I’m even going to pass you on to middle school. Anything, to be rid of you. Let those teachers deal with your shenanigans, ‘cos I’m through! But you’re not going to take me down with you.”
Jack couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Mr. Tanner was worried about losing his job.
“We’ll keep this just between the two of us, okay?” He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped at his face.
Jack finally found his voice. “Okay, Mr. Tanner. Sure.”
“Good! Now get home before I change my mind, and not another word about this to anyone, clear?”
“Sure, Mr. Tanner. Crystal clear! Everybody pays the consequences for their mistakes, just like you said.”
Jack turned and ran off as fast as he could toward home. He thought about his dad and wondered what he would have done. He decided once he was out of this school and in the seventh grade, he'd try to do better. He'd make his mom proud of him. He'd show them all.