I had just returned from the shower when I walked into the middle of their conversation. “You don’t read books,” the enormous fat Russian said.
“Nah, I don’t read much,” said the tall skinny kid, a basketball by his feet.
“That much is obvious.”
What followed was the most awkward silence in a gym locker room I’ve experienced. The words hung there, the message all too clear. I had no idea how this conversation had started but I had arrived at its most loaded moment. There were a few of us standing around – myself, the young kid’s friend, the Russian guy’s friend – all waiting to see what would happen next.
Sad to say the kid didn’t look like a big reader. He had the defensive swaggering front thugs put on to cover their ignorance. From a glance you could tell he was the type of kid who never did particularly well in school and, instead of being ashamed, wore it like a badge .
The silent pause went on for a long time. I thought, “I don’t care how big someone is – you never let someone talk to you like that.” If I had a son, I would tell him this. We all stood around waiting for the kid to do something. Either he was too shocked or didn’t know what to do but he did nothing.
The Russian interrupted the silence, “Listen, I don’t mean to insult you. You should read books. In the future, you do this.” Then he walked away.
After he left the kid tried to save face in front of me and his friend. “Like I give a shit what some fat fuck says about me.” He fiddled with the stuff in his locker loudly.
“Did you know him?” his friend asked.
“Nah, no idea. Never met him.” He slammed his locker shut, picked up his basketball and left. Would he use this incident as motivation to learn, to value education, or would he see it as another insult he has to endure in a cold hard world? I’ll never know.