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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 674

Tony, who is about to serve thirty days—easy time—for auto theft, meets with his uncle, Alex, who is on probation. Concerned about Tony’s first stay behind bars, Alex wants to give him a quick lesson in fighting. He soon grows impatient with Tony’s lack of fighting skills, however, and exclaims:...

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Tony, who is about to serve thirty days—easy time—for auto theft, meets with his uncle, Alex, who is on probation. Concerned about Tony’s first stay behind bars, Alex wants to give him a quick lesson in fighting. He soon grows impatient with Tony’s lack of fighting skills, however, and exclaims: “Didn’t your old man teach you nothing?” Tony remembers how his father once tried to get his brother Jimmy and him to spar. They did not show enough aggression, so their impatient father took Tony’s gloves, put them on, and beat Jimmy himself. Jimmy got a nosebleed and Tony remembers trying to stop the flow of blood that should have been his.

After Tony finally collapses from his uncle’s fighting lesson, Alex reluctantly offers to go back to jail himself with him. He says that he can call his parole officer and arrange it easily, but Tony says that he will take care of himself. They agree to meet at eight the next morning for the drive to the jail.

As Tony goes home to shower and change, he notes the beauty of the place in which he lives. His house faces the sea, and open land—much more in his childhood than in the present—surrounds the immediate cluster of houses. He remembers the stables and a helicopter landing in the strawberry fields and reflects on how the hunting land and the farmland have been parceled off, with tract housing encroaching on the open space. At home, Tony must lower his head as he enters a low-ceilinged room; this reminds him of when he became big enough to be wooed by the same football coach for whom his brother had played. Tony was flattered to be offered a spot on the football team, but by then Jimmy was flying a helicopter in Vietnam, and he himself was spending his afternoons with Sylvia.

Tony goes to his grandmother’s house to eat. When he returns home, he finds a note from his mother. It says that she does not want to see him before he goes to jail, that if he wants to be like his father’s family, “fine.” The note also says that going to jail does not make him a man and that his mother will spend the night at a friend’s place.

Tony thinks of the parties that families once threw for their sons bound for jail. After one such party, when he was in high school, was the first time that he got somewhere sexually with Sylvia. He later stole a car in order to visit her at her college. She called him stupid for stealing the car, and on the way back he was caught. Tony also remembers a Fourth of July when he threw a sparkler on the roof of the hunting lodge. His drunk father proved incapable of putting out the resulting fire, so Jimmy put it out after climbing on the roof.

After Tony goes for a swim in the ocean alone, contending gracefully against the large waves, he telephones the house where his mother is staying and is told that she is not there. He rummages through old boxes, finding the certificate he earned for making the honor roll in high school—the achievement of which his mother was proudest. He also finds the silver star that Jimmy won in Vietnam and thinks about Jimmy’s funeral, how admirable Jimmy was, how angry and apathetic about everything he felt after Jimmy died. Only Sylvia made him feel better, but she went away to college and broke up with him.

The next morning, Tony’s mother wakes him up, having changed her mind about not seeing him off. She cooks him breakfast. Alex arrives to drive Tony to the jail. As they arrive there, Tony holds the medal in his pocket and remembers how his brother died in an act of heroism, flying back under fire to get his men. The word “stupid” rings in his ears.

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