Written by Alvan Ung

Photos by David Le

...Two underage males stroll into the family-owned liquor store in Whittier

I worked the register at our family-owned liquor store in Whittier, while Mom washed dishes in the back.Two underage males strolled into the store. I could tell from their backward caps and garishly-colored clothing that they loved to party. Without hesitation, they beelined to the beers.

They snatched up an 18-pack of Bud Light. “Hot outside, huh.”

Both bolted out the door before I could respond. Another fucking beer run, I would have said, if given time to say anything.

I jumped over the counter, leaving gum and Mexican candy scattered behind. I didn’t care about the mess; adrenaline shot through my body as I chased them toward the street.

They paced past the neighboring El Salvadorian restaurant and pizza joint, toward their bikes, propped up against newspaper stands.

It’s illegal to chase people once they’re outside your store. At the time, though, I wanted my 18-pack back. Getting it back was all I could think about.

POW. His fists bashed my face. But I felt no pain.

BANG. He punched my forehead. The punches continued.

BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. My eye throbbed. I felt my forehead swell, but still didn’t feel any pain. The adrenaline numbed me.

No one gets away with my beer. Not without a fight. Nobody steals my shit.

I kept stumbling, crawling and tripping toward the guy holding my 18-pack — at that point, though, I couldn’t tell who threw the punches and who stole my stuff.

Struggling, I shrugged off the blows, clutched one of the bikes and chucked it at them with all my remaining strength. “Fuck you!” I shrieked over the sound of twisting metal. The click-clack-rattle was like blinds rolling up too fast.

The two idiots dropped the beer on the road and booked it, dodging another wayward bike. It smashed onto the concrete. They occasionally glanced back as they sprinted down the street.

The contents of my head pushed against my skull, wishing to spill onto the ground. I heard a lazy, dead droning in my ears. I sighed, exasperated; I won.

The mechanics from the pit stop next-door came to my rescue, taunting and jeering at the guys. One of them picked the cans off the road; another looked at my wounds and gasped.

I stared blankly through the storefront windows. The twisted bikes lay in ruins outside the store, following the jagged lines of the broken spokes, twisted frames and bent wheels. I surveyed them for a while before noticing the beer at my feet.

They were hastily piled into a box behind the register, wet and busted. As I counted the cans, I could hear a police officer interviewing witnesses for statements. Next to me, my mom placed the Mexican candy and gum where they belonged. Customers entered the store amid the wind-down of the chaos, curious, but not prodding.

But pain didn’t matter because I wasn’t defeated; I won.

Hazy as my mind was, I shared all the details I could remember with the officer. Two guys entered the store and exited without paying for an 18-pack. I jumped the counter and chased them. They landed punches on my head. I broke their bikes. They ran.

But pain didn’t matter because I wasn’t defeated; I won.

As I talked to police, the adrenaline subsided and the pain began. It hurt. The punches left huge, black bumps on my head that seared under a gentle press of the finger.

Afterward, my mom scolded me for “leaving the store behind” and chasing away “two idiots,” but nothing mattered because I was the victor. Those two losers didn’t get away, not with my beer or their bikes.

That night, I took the box of beers home. I used one as an ice-pack, and drank the rest in long gulps.

Nobody steals my shit.