When I was growing up, Tagg Atwood was my best friend. What was
remarkable about Tagg is that he was without fear. All sorts of things
that would make ordinary people like Bob Gardner head for the hills
wouldn't even make him blink. He never turned down a wave, and he never
turned away from a fight. This made for certain problems. Since he wasn't
afraid of anything, and since we did everything together, I ended up in
situations I never would have gotten into by myself.
For example, I hated to fight. I always ended up getting a bloody
nose, but Tagg loved to fight. The result: we were constantly in fights.
Tagg's favorite practice was to pull down a man's straw hat over his ears
as we passed through a group. The pullee struck out blindly, whoever he
hit struck back, and the next thing I knew, I'd be in the middle of the
biggest battle since Trafalgar.
Tagg got such a reputation that I think the law began to follow him
around at night because eventually, as soon as the fight started, a
deputy sheriff would appear. For some reason, he always seemed to grab me
and tell me I was under arrest, so while Tagg was down there on the floor
fighting a couple of dozen strangers, I reposed safely in the clutches of
a deputy sheriff, an arrangement of which I heartily approved.
Well, one night we were leaving Frank Sebastion's Cotton Club.
Actually, we were being thrown out because of something Tagg had done to
arouse the enmity of the management. This was to instigate a fight with
the house band consisting of 12 black men. Fortunately for me, the club
bouncer was a deputy sheriff, and I was in my usual custody. Tagg, as
usual, was down on the floor fighting the 12 men. Just then, a car drove
up, and from it exited three Texans. They looked down and one of them
said, "It don't seem quite fair. That one white boy fighting a dozen
With a race riot looming in the not-too-distant future, the man who
had me under arrest pulled out a whistle, blew a mighty blast and
shouted, "Deputy sheriff, nobody move!" The Texans hopped back in their
car and took off. All the guys fighting Tagg quit, and Tagg stood there
with an expression of pure frustration on his face.
What happened to Tagg? Well, he died of cancer, but just before he
died, I visited him and asked a simple question, "Tagg, were you ever
scared?" He looked at me as if I'd asked the silliest question possible.
"No. Why should I be?" he said. He was just one of those people born
* ROBERT GARDNER is a Corona del Mar resident and a former judge. His
column runs Tuesdays.