The Best Punch I Ever Saw

Posted: November 7, 2010 in Nonfiction

The best punch I ever saw, I saw when I was 15 years old. I’m not so sure I haven’t spent the rest of my life trying to see it again. It might be why I watch the UFC, it might be why I push every group of hillbillies I see bumping chests outside of a bar to “Fucking do something already!” I hate bullying and I hate posturing, but I love to see shit go down. Fighting’s stupid. And it’s awesome. And the best punch I ever saw, I saw when I was 15 years old.

That’s when I saw a kid named Eddie Nast knock out Charlie Wills. Eddie was a kid in my grade, a freshman, Charlie was 6’9” junior. The tallest kid ever at Angola High School, my little school in Northern Indiana. He was probably the tallest kid in our entire conference. He was an awkward gangly kid up until a few months before Eddie knocked him out. When a combination of puberty, prayer, and his efforts in the gym turned him into the best basketball prospect in school history.

Eddie was a kid in my gym class. Kind of a rough kid, kind of a troublemaker. Charlie had no business being in our class at all. He was a teacher’s assistant to the gym teacher, who was also a basketball coach. A barky man certain that if more people loved boys’ basketball as much as he did, there wouldn’t be any war or famine or divorce. Charlie was supposed to help with grading papers and such, but as a Gym teacher’s assistant, his only real job was kicking the shit out of us freshman in every sport we played. He was 6’9” college recruit two crucial years older than all of us. At 15 I was prepubescent.

Eddie wasn’t. Eddie was a man at 15. And one of the naturally strongest men I’ve ever met. Eddie was strong, and rotten, but not a bad kid, just rotten.

Once he stole a bunch of golf carts and got caught when he was returning them. He didn’t want to wreck them. He wasn’t malicious; he just liked mischief. He caused trouble; he was good at it. He’d swipe boats off of the lake, take them out, then dock them afterwards. If he had had the money, he’d have filled them up with gas.

I was kind of a nerd. But, Eddie liked me. Maybe it was because I didn’t mind letting people copy my homework, maybe it was because I didn’t act like I was better than him because I had a winter coat that wasn’t clearly a hand me down. Maybe it was just because when I was talking in class and getting yelled at, he wasn’t. I don’t know, but the troublemaker was my buddy.

One Wednesday Charlie was kicking the shit out of us in a flag football game. Just crushing us. Nobody was enjoying themselves, except for Charlie, and maybe a couple of freshmen basketball players on his team.

There’s a prevalent misconception about Indiana and basketball. Outside the state people think Indiana basketball players are all good looking Alpha-males who bully nerds.

The kids on my High School Basketball Team were mostly nerds. Even Charlie was kind of a dorky fellow; quiet and mild mannered. They were honors class kids that were easy to coach. kids good at taking direction and passing to the coach’s son.

In a league where great athletes don’t often occur, these kids make for the best teams. Sound fundamentals and Form shooting. Tall kids were harvested and spent some time in the weight room, then taught how to play. Rural Indiana isn’t a place where poor kids shoot hoops all day. It’s a place where the kids whose parents can afford to send them to the summer camps end up playing varsity.

Those kids might have been enjoying themselves while Charlie marched in for his 7th touchdown in our gym class that day, but I doubt it.

At one point in the game, somebody grabbed hold of Charlie, and pulled him down. I know for a fact it wasn’t Eddie, it was Roger Raske. Roger grabbed Charlie, and Charlie overreacted. He spun around furiously,

“Who the Fuck Grabbed Me!” he shouted.

Eddie didn’t miss a beat. He stepped up immediately. Roger was a big strong kid who didn’t have an easy upbringing either. He didn’t need anybody to fight his battles, but Eddie wanted to.

“I did.” He said. Staring at Charlie. It wasn’t math. But Eddie knew how to solve this problem.

Charlie paused a second. He was unsure and his voice wavered.

“Don’t Fucking Do That!”

“Fucking Stop Me.” Eddie said.

Charlie shoved down at Eddie. Because he was so tall he shoved him in the collarbones, not in the chest. Eddie didn’t shove back. Eddie threw a punch.

He reached back and threw it from his ankle.

He looked like Little Mac on Mike Tyson’s Punch-out. He jumped up like a starpunch and hit Charlie in the face. He hit him like he knew what he was doing. He hit him harder than you know how to hit somebody naturally. He hit him with a punch you brought from home.

When it landed it sounded like a punch.

It didn’t sound like a gunshot, cannon blast, or rifle report.

It didn’t sound like thunder or a bowling ball. It sounded like a hand smashing into a face.

If it was on an old episode of The Batman TV Show, the word balloon would have just said, -PUNCH!-

Charlie was unconscious immediately. He got hit so hard he went up on his toes a little bit and then crashed down. He was so tall he fell in sections. He crumpled. His knees hit, then his hips folded over, then his elbows, then his wrists, then his shoulders, then his head. He fell like the cheap giraffe toys you buy at the zoo, made out of beads and string. When you push a button the string goes lose and the beads fall down. He landed like that, all 6.75 feet of him, in an area about the size of a hula-hoop.

The gymnasium fell silent. Coach Bertram came charging through the door. Few things let a teacher know something is amiss better than absolute silence. He had been out in the hall. Talking to the Newspapers about Charlie, or figuring out how to get more money from our school’s budget to pay for a Gatorade Machine.

“Who Did This?” he bawled.

“I did.” Eddie said, with a smile on his face.

“Git…Git…Git” he couldn’t even form whole words. “Get out of here.” He finally said., “GET OUT NOW YOU LITTLE PRICK!”

“I’m going.” Eddie said. He turned and sauntered out. “It’s not my fault he couldn’t take a punch.”

He had to have the last word. Like I said, Eddie was kind of rotten.

Coach Bertram tried to get Eddie expelled. He had three basketball players tell the principal what had happened.

Charlie didn’t lie, and didn’t make any excuses. He said he shoved Eddie and he got hit in the face. Charlie Did Not look like a bitch. He looked like a 17-year-old boy that got punched in the face by a meaner one. He kept Eddie in school. At least that year.

A few years latter, Eddie killed himself

It was an accident

He blew himself up.

He was 19 years old.

It was my freshman year of classes at Purdue and I found out in an e-mail. I was pretty shaken up. He was the first kid in my grade to die.

Eddie was making a potato gun.

For those of you that don’t know, a potato gun is a piece of tubing you rig up with hairspray, or some other flammable vapor. You light it and launch produce from it, typically a potato. An orange or an apple would work. You could probably even fire a pomegranate or a head of radicchio, if you were a faggot.

Why would somebody make a potato gun?

Fuck all. That’s why.

Because it’s hilarious.

It’s shit going boom.

It’s rotten.

It’s dumb.

It’s a sad way to die.

The newspapers in our hometown said it was a pipe bomb, because the newspapers in our hometown are a bunch of assholes.

That sounds scarier, and sells more papers.

“Poor Bad Kid Does Bad Thing: Dies.”

But he wasn’t doing a bad thing, just a dumb thing.

Eventually all the papers wrote apologies,

admitted it was potato gun.

But it wasn’t a headline by then.

And I don’t think anybody there was really sorry.

I don’t think they gave a fuck.

Eddie was a kid that struggled in school, and wasn’t easy to coach. Grown men yelling at boys made him anxious, made his eyes water and his hands ball into fists. Made him mad. Mad like I could never be.

Eddie wasn’t my best friend but he was a friend. We rode dirt bikes together once or twice. He made fun of me for not inhaling cigarettes when I first started smoking.

Eddie was a pal in a place I didn’t have many.

I didn’t like the smart, smug rich kids, the young republicans I took Honors English with. And I didn’t fit in with the rough angry poor kids I took woodshop and metals with.

Those kids weren’t bad, but they were angry. They would grow up to stay angry. At everybody. They’d join the Tea Party. They’d vote against their best interests, because being treated badly reminds them of home.

A couple of months after Eddie died I was talking to some friends at College. They had been on the basketball team.

Somehow Eddie’s death came up. One of them said with a snotty smirk on his face, “I guess Charlie got the better end of that fight in the long run huh?” And they all laughed a little.

I didn’t say anything, but I walked away. I wanted to fight them. I wanted to choke them. I wanted to hurt them so bad. I wanted to hit them like I had nothing to lose.

These were the good kids. They got good grades. They were on the basketball team. They went to Fairview Missionary Church, the premier church for the socially affluent in my little town. They were well behaved and always looked clean. They were going to be doctors they were going to go back to our hometown and become upstanding members of society. They were the filthiest scumbags I’ve ever known.

They say history is written by the winners. And they’re probably right. But I want you to know, whether it’s important or not. Eddie Nast threw the hardest punch I ever saw.



  1. Sara Flores says:

    I love it!! I laughed, I cried…I loved every piece of this very true story. 🙂

  2. Caleb says:

    I fucking hate Angola so much that my hands shake sometimes

  3. Jared S says:

    DJ, that was bad ass man. I loved the way you brought it back around at the end. Well done. You have a good 1st person voice.

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