Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!
I definitely remember my childhood in the role of the eternal geek, not the bully. But, I couldn’t be happy as a typical run-of-the-mill geek. I had to stir in a sense of activism. After all, I instinctively recognized the ridiculous nature of cliques. Why break people down into groups and ridicule each other? Each person should be respected as a unique individual, especially by the age of 10. I purposely distanced myself from the “cool” group and took a stance. I became a self-righteous adolescent preaching about acceptance and equal justice for all 10-year-olds! I can’t understand why any sane child wouldn’t appreciate my brilliant forward-thinking message of peace and hope.
Some experts believe that politics on the playground is a natural part of adolescence that develops complex thinking. The process helps kids understand feelings and relationships in relative terms to others and contributes to the definition of an inner self.
On the other hand, it creates stupid-face meanies!
I had several characters that I remember fondly as my bullies, and now I shall name names:
Marty Fenton and Patrick Dunn
I remember these 2 as a team. And, even though Martin is now my Facebook friend (and a genuinely nice guy from what I can tell), I remember many times during recess where these boys would tease and taunt me. Sometimes, Patrick would kick me with his new steel-toe boots for fun. Of course, I have no memory of what brought it on.
The Partipillo Twins
Sounds ominous, but they were actually girls. They didn’t bully me, so much as they emotionally shunned me. When the school newspaper was surveying kids for their favorite band, we were called out of class. They said Journey. I agreed, saying I liked Journey, too. Then, upon hearing my answer, they looked at each other and then asked to change their answer to Foreigner. Definitely Cold as Ice.
And an honorable mention to Karen Strohmeier, who quit the bowling team when she found out that I was on the team. Luckily her brother was on the team, so he could share with me her reasoning for quitting. Girls using their power to make you feel worse than insignificant is more scarring than a steel toe to the shins.
I’m still not sure why he didn’t like me, but he always seemed bitter and angry with me. He would trip me and knock my books off the desk in high school. It made me nostalgic for grade school.
Luckily for me, I was in a gang in high school. It wasn’t an actual gang, but instead a small group of geeky writers that would write stories about ourselves as if we were a gang of special force-types. We were the Marauders. And we gained some fame when Ed decided to “expose” us in the school paper. Then we suddenly became kind of cool, which ticked him off even more. One day he was particularly furious thinking about me, but he could find me, so he picked a fight with fellow Marauder Mike Carey (who we called Madman). In fact, he punched Mike in the face, to which Mike responded by laughing. At that point, Ed freaked out and I don’t think he ever bothered me again. Too bad I missed the whole episode, but I replay a cartoon version in my mind whenever I feel blue.
If I had to pick one bully from childhood to remember, Brian Lovett proved to be the most prolific. He chased me from at least 4th grade through 8th grade. He would call me names in gym class and on recess. The first incident I can remember was in 4th grade, when he beat me up during recess. I think it happened several times, until I became so furious, I decided to do something about it. As the bell rang, and we ran back to class, I stopped him. He was still laughing. And, I punched him in the eye. It was so satisfying, even when he ran crying immediately to tell the teacher what a bad boy I was. I sat outside the classroom as a punishment, but I was so elated, it didn’t matter.
Unfortunately, it didn’t solve anything. The following year, after he continued to tease me, he challenged me to an after school fight. I remember walking back to the school grounds, singing the Beatles’ “We Can Work it Out” because I thought I could reason my way out of a fight.
By the time I arrived, thirty-five other kids had shown up for the action. And, all but 2 came because they wanted to see me kick Brian’s butt. They were my fans - ironically, most were kids I didn’t even know. But, they didn’t like him, so that was that.
I still tried to reason with him, “let’s talk about this.” But, he smelled blood. And we fought (more like wrestled). Not too long into the match, my neighbor Ronny Fortman jumped in and started to help. Within seconds, he had dislocated Brian’s collarbone (as Ronny was several years older). The kids cheered me on as the victor, and then everyone cleared out as the principal headed towards us. Being the “good” kid, I somehow felt I should stay and face him. I cried and explained how I didn’t want to fight, but he just told me to go home. I like to think that he didn’t like Brian either.
And then, even after that fight, Brian continued to instigate trouble with me through 8th grade. I would explain that I wasn’t about to ruin my good reputation, as indicated by my good behavior Blue Certificate every semester. But, that’s exactly what he wanted. So, he teased and teased. I would either ignore him, or explain to him that I was going to ignore him. That blue certificate still gets me jobs to this day - good thing I stayed out of trouble.
Luckily we went to separate high schools. And I only saw him one more time in college. I was riding the elevator with my fellow trumpet friend David Rubin, and Brian got on the elevator. I didn’t recognize him, but David was kind enough to “introduce” us. I just smiled and said “we may have met before,” but he acted like he didn’t know me. Now that hurts.
You Spot It, You Got It
For many years, I continued to remember with pride my years of passive resistance under the intolerance of the “cool” groups of Chicago suburbia. However, hints of my own incidents have come to light as I’ve become more honest with myself about my history. In fact, I bullied quite a bit myself:
- Brad Wildi: I joined forces with other musicians to play a concert we called BRAD AID – a benefit to raise money to help Brad lose weight. I thought it was good-natured ribbing. However, despite the fact that Brad was not actually fat, it ended up hurting his feelings. It was a good concert, though.
- Beth Casey: She was mentally challenged. And that is not a put down, but a scientific fact. And somehow, I found it acceptable to imitate her for humor sake. I realize it’s sick and wrong. Hopefully, she didn’t ever hear me, but I’m sure Jesus did.
- Josh Ament: He made fun of my freckles, so I put him in a garbage can. However, seeing as he was four and I was ten, it probably wasn’t a fair match.
- Ronny Fortman: According to my mother, I complained for a while about how he was teasing me, but when she went into the alley to scold him, she instead found me teasing him. I guess it went both ways. Ironically, he would come to my rescue years later in the infamous Brian Lovett fight.
Will my son or daughter be a bully? Or, will they have to come up with clever ways to avoid the taunting? Naturally, my kid will be smart (with Jackie’s genes), so of course, the other kids will be jealous - odds are good the offspring will follow in my geeky footsteps. I can only hope that I provide the correct level of support to allow my future child to make it through the confusion and cruelty of adolescence successfully.
And so, this blog continues to force me to explore uncomfortable issues from my childhood. And, I’m feeling extra pressure not to screw up my kids. I can’t help but think my blog may be bullying me.
Anyone got any good bully stories (as a child or an adult)?