I must have been around ten when my amazing ability to withstand a human punch first surfaced. I’d been walking home from school when I passed a group of older kids shooting hoops in the park. Looking back, I can see how my appearance might have chummed the waters just a tad. Tight, noisy, friction-generating corduroy pants, Michael Jackson Thriller jacket, and wearing one of those skinny leather ties from Chess King. I also had a sweet, prepubescent obliviousness to the way my hair looked; pot roast-brown and sculpted into a lush helmet. I must have sensed trouble for when I glanced back I saw them all huddled together. Mumbling. Conspiring. Home was a block away; I could make out the slope of our hill from where I stood. But just as I began to pick up the pace, one of the kids—a lanky, olive-skinned kid with pimples like smashed cherries—shouted the classic line that for eons all creatures great and small have uttered as a segue to a butt-stomping:
“What’d you say about my mom?”
Foolishly, I stopped. I knew him vaguely as “Chris”. He was about my brother’s age and maybe he’d been over to our house once or twice. I watched as he quickly hopped the fence and glided over to me. He wore a blue denim jacket with heavy metal band names scrawled all over it in ink.
“What’d you say about my mom?”
“Huh?” I answered weakly, “I didn’t say nothin’.”
“Yeah, you did. I heard you.”
Another kid hopped the fence, and then another. They quickly encircled me like a pride of lions. Blocking my escape. The view of home had grown dim, obstructed by a wall of crustaches and greasy complexions. Then, without a word, he grabbed my tie and yanked me toward him, driving his fist into my face. A fart seeped slowly out of me as I just stood there, stunned and blinking. I didn’t fall because it didn’t hurt, which must have embarrassed him for he punched me again with noticeably more force. I rubbed the spot on my face where his fist had connected and tried to back away and that’s when the jumping really started. Another kid stepped in; punching me in my face and head as yet another pair of hands stripped my book bag from my shoulders and tore it open.
Books crashed to the ground and papers spilled out from my beach-themed Trapper Keeper as I was tripped and shoved like some clownish exploiter of physical comedy, descending quickly down the checklist of laugh-inducing elements: the slip, the slide, the double-take, the collide, before finally reaching the fall. But despite all outward appearances, I couldn’t believe how dull it all felt; like being poked in the chest with a giant, foam pointy finger. Still, I wouldn’t get up. Not yet. Playing possum, I would wait until my attackers began to hoot and high-five each other before making a break for it, covering the distance to home with preternatural speed. And although my flight had failed to trigger in my attackers the predatory instinct of pursuit, I had already fished my key from my pocket and prepped it for a quick entry.
Over the years, I’d rack up quite a few more hits and punches, absorbing them like white blood cells around a pathogen. It’s been an uber cool quality; one that could only be made better if I could absorb my opponent’s force and then kinetically channel it back toward them. Still, I’m not complaining. Notwithstanding the fact that being able to take a punch doesn’t necessarily mean I can give one any harder (although an Ultimate Big Punch Deluxe arcade machine at the 1994 Sanilac County Fair gave me a respectable 310 lbs. of force), it still gives an impression of impenetrability while sapping vital confidence points from your opponent.
I don’t want to make it sound as if I don’t feel pain. Following a particularly contentious game of Trivial Pursuit in college, my roommate and I found ourselves on the floor. During the fight, my fingernail snagged on a carpet tack, tearing my nail half off. That hurt. And speaking from experience, the mere threat of having my thumb ever smashed in a car door again would be enough to elicit a confession to JFK’s assassination.
There are plenty of things I don’t look cool doing: dancing, shuffling cards, trying to dunk a basket. I’ve never juggled chainsaws but I can’t imagine I’d look too cool doing that either. But when it comes to getting hit in the face, let’s face it, I’m the Fonz.
A second, more perplexing stage of preadolescence would follow just one year later; one that I’ve come to call my “Ninja Stage”. It wasn’t as bad as the “Thriller Jacket” stage, mostly because I think it left people with the impression that I was so weird they just left me alone.
 My brother, who had earned his third dan black belt in Taekwondo at the age of 12, was home at the time. Upset that I had gotten beat up by someone other than him, he took me back to the park and asked me to point out my assailants. In a rare moment of fraternal bonding, I watched with great pride and admiration as he went to town on two of ‘em at the same time.
 Such ability would have come in handy on a certain blustery night in November 1993 when, while home from college, I had gotten into a drunken street fight with Ri-Kay, the hulking, 300-lb bouncer from Rubes Bar.