“Going Berserk” has always had a wicked appeal to me.
For brief moments, I’d go “mad,” and not care for my safety or well-being, but focus instead on the object causing a “crazy re-action” on my part. It was as if a volcano had erupted and I wanted to punish those perceived as evil-doers. Might have had a bit of “religious fervor” involved, as I saw myself correcting a wrong or an injustice with a quick upper-cut to the jaw.
One of the first times I felt this way, was while in high school, maybe 16. A bully was threatening Tommy Cannon, a guy from my neighborhood studying plumbing at Dobbins Technical High School, Philadelphia, where I learned printing. Had just gotten to know Tom. He was a tall, lanky guy, with a dry sense of humor and a quick wit. Was smart, too. Shared a belief in what was important in life, and learned that friendship ranked right up there with God and family.
Saw some “tough” kids surround Tommy and I went “berserk” when one demanded money from him. I crossed a distance of 20 feet in no time, jumping into the air as I got closer to the bully, thinking of nothing except helping my new friend.
I remember how time slowed down. I had pulled both legs from beneath me and slowly aimed them at this menacing youth leading the harassment. Saw myself as one of those Kung Fu fighters in the movies where someone pauses the action so audiences could see the impact of the oncoming blow to an opponent’s head.
Never tried this before, and did not have a chance to analyze what I was doing while in the air. A frenzy of sorts had taken over me. I felt I could not let anything bad happen to my friend even if it meant a greater harm to myself. I didn’t care!
Halfway toward the assailant, I saw him glance at me from the corner of an eye. I saw fear. I saw the emotion he sought to elicit from his latest victim. I saw a punk, a coward who felt “big” only by making others feel “small.”
At the last possible moment — while still suspended in the air traveling with the break-neck speed from such a long running-jump — I . . . felt . . . pity. Pity for a guy who needed to act in such a way for attention . . . for camaraderie . . . for some love he probably did not receive at home.
I pulled my legs closer to my body, tucked them beneath me, and aimed both knee caps in the general direction of this kid who was bigger than Tommy and myself. Instead of aiming for his head, I directed the blow to his body, knowing this would still knock him on his ass. Both knees struck his upper side. The momentum pushed him far away from Tommy, and caused a “shock wave,” to hit the other bad kids who had surrounded Tom. They quickly, and silently, moved away from such unexpected violence.
I had fallen to the concrete school floor, and immediately stood up, shouting “What the hell happened!” pretending ignorance and mistake. “I’m sorry man,” I said to the fallen bully. “I thought someone was trying to hurt my boy here.” I extended my hand and helped him to his feet. He seemed dazed. Speechless. I had hurt a lot more than his feelings, but he said nothing, probably confused with what just happened.
And then it was over. No retaliation. No”dirty” looks from any of the tough kids. Tommy had been as surprised as I was when I went a little crazy, and we never talked about it in school of when back in the neighbrohood of Brewerytown. “Going berserk” is something I have had to control all my life, letting it loose while in a battle on the fields of Vietnam or in the courtrooms of Philadelphia. And since I am not writing from a prison or a forced labor camp today, I guess I’ve finally gotten a good handle on it.