My First Mugging

April 3, 2014

New York mugging, Granger (1857), April 3, 2014. (http://chroniclevitae.com).

New York mugging, Granger (1857), April 3, 2014. (http://chroniclevitae.com).

This is another story not in Boy @ The Window, though it could’ve been. It was thirty-five years ago this week that a group of my preteen neighbors from the Pearsall Drive projects (now the Vernon Woods co-op community) jumped me on my way home from the store, beat me up and stole a grand total of four dollars. It seems like such a small thing now, getting mugged for the first time, a block from 616 East Lincoln, our apartment building on the eastern edge of Mount Vernon, New York. Still, I learned a few things on that first Saturday in April ’79 about myself, my older brother, my mother and humans in general, things that haven’t changed in the three and a half decades since.

That particular day was definitely a crisp early spring one, windy, partly sunny and cloudy, just warm enough not to need a winter coat. I’d barely been out the house at all since attempting to run away from home some four months earlier. In the months in between, I’d been engrossed in reading everything I could, especially World Book Encyclopedia, not to mention what I hadn’t already read in Charles Schulz’ Peanuts series.

I hadn’t been out the apartment to do much of anything other than go to school or to the store. So little was my time outside that when I had to do a full food shop, I’d forgotten a few basic rules about protecting myself. Like making sure that a group of nine-to-fourteen-year-olds weren’t following us home from the local grocery store. And making sure to take the most direct route home when I could, or a circuitous route home when necessary. Going west on the north side of East Lincoln, making a left on Station Place, then a left on Lafayette Avenue, then a final left on Bradley, walking four short blocks that would’ve left us in front of 616.

134 Pearsall Drive (now part of the Vernon Woods co-op complex), April 3, 2014. (http://trulia.com)

134 Pearsall Drive (now part of the Vernon Woods co-op complex), April 3, 2014. (http://trulia.com)

On this day, the circuitous route would’ve been better. But that would’ve meant me being better, too. I was already not feeling well when I left with Darren for the grocery store. I had a stomach ache, and the diarrhea that came with it. So my best bet was to go to the store at 671 East Lincoln with Darren, cross over to the south side of East Lincoln, and walk as quickly as we could back to 616.

Only, the half-dozen boys trailing me and Darren back home had crossed with us, and immediately tried to surround us near East Lincoln and Pearsall. Darren, to his credit, ran off for home, leaving me alone and holding two paper bags of groceries. Somewhere between “nigga” and “muthafucka” and “giv’ me the money,” I struggled and ran away with the groceries, where after a minute or two, I ended up in the bottom floor of one of the project buildings.

I was jumped again, punched in the face and the mouth until one of the wannabe thugs had busted my lip and left me bleeding down the side of my face. I somehow crapped on myself during the run, but hadn’t noticed because I was too busy trying to not get mugged. After they took the four dollars’ worth of change I had in my right pant pocket, another wannabe said, “Oh shit, the punk dukeyed on hisself!” They laughed and left me there, in this abandoned, junky apartment, garbage and groceries and two ripped grocery bags all over the room, bloodied and soiled.

I picked up all I could from what remained of the groceries and began the long one-block walk home. By the time I walked through the front door, there was my Mom, angry with me about the groceries. “What I’m gonna do with this!” she said. It was afterward that she noticed my condition. “You let them kids scare the shit out of you!,” she gasped with what seemed like a bit of laughter in her voice. I said, very angrily, “I told you before I left that I had diarrhea!,” then went into the bathroom and cried.

Oscar de la Hoya's face after his beat-down via Manny Pacquiao, December 6, 2008. (AP via http://boxingscene.com).

Oscar de la Hoya’s face after his beat-down via Manny Pacquiao, December 6, 2008. (AP via http://boxingscene.com).

My Mom came in later to help me wash myself down. In the meantime, I had a bruised left cheek, a busted lip, feces all over my lower body, and soreness all over my ribs and stomach. It took about twenty minutes in all, but by the time I was done and washed, I went into mine and Darren’s bedroom and fell asleep.

It was April 7, ’79, and I already knew that I couldn’t count on my older brother to help whenever there would be a crisis. I knew that my Mom cared about me, but apparently not enough to keep me protected. I knew that the assholes that lived around me wouldn’t have minded it if I’d been run over by a Mack truck, as long as they could get a dollar out of me. I knew, most of all, that I needed to look out for myself as much as I could, since there weren’t any cousins or other family around to look out for me.

So when at the end of ’83, the city had sold the projects at Pearsall Drive to a real estate developer, though I was sad for a few individuals, I wasn’t sad in general. Those wannabes had helped make one relatively small aspect of my life — going to the store, going outside and going to Wilson’s Woods — miserable. And with so much misery in my life already, I was glad to see many of those kids move away.


Icy Dream

January 14, 2014

Massacre perpetrated by white walkers north of The Wall, "Winter Is Coming," Game of Thrones (2011). (http://justagirlinlondon.wordpress.com).

Massacre perpetrated by white walkers north of The Wall, “Winter Is Coming,” Game of Thrones (2011). (http://justagirlinlondon.wordpress.com).

One of only four times in which I use a dream or daydream device in Boy @ The Window, this one from January ’84:

It must’ve been everyone I’d come to know. About twenty-five or thirty of them in all. Led by Wendy, JD, Alex and Andrew, they all were marching down East Lincoln near where I lived, sticks and stones in hand. More like bricks and baseball bats and chains as they got closer. They were all dressed in Sergio Valente and Jordache, Benetton and OshKosh, Levi’s and Gap attire. They were all after me, my kufi, my life, my eternal soul. They weren’t running after me. They were marching in formation, like Soviet troops in Red Square, only with ridiculous smiles of mayhem giving away their intentions. I felt scared. But I had resigned myself to my fate. If I was goin’ down, gosh darn it, I was gonna put up a fight and take some of them with me!

I knew that dreaming about your classmates in any other way than out of adoration or infatuation wasn’t healthy. They served as a metaphor. They were an obstacle between me and my inner peace, a constant reminder that the odds were against me escaping 616 and Mount Vernon for the brighter pastures of a life and education elsewhere. They were symbols all right, symbols for everything from abuse and fear of abuse to undying and unrequited love. I woke up, sweating and with a panicked heartbeat from the nightmare. I looked at all of my body parts to make sure that I still had them in place before getting out of bed.

A glacier cave on Perito Moreno Glacier, in Los Glaciares National Park, southern Argentina, January 14, 2010. (Martin St-Amant [S23678] via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via Creative Commons 3.0.

A glacier cave on Perito Moreno Glacier, in Los Glaciares National Park, southern Argentina, January 14, 2010. (Martin St-Amant [S23678] via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via Creative Commons 3.0.

Later that snow-melt Saturday in early ’84, Mom sent me to the Fleetwood Station post office in the northwest corner of Mount Vernon to pick up a certified package. She had a PO box there, set up originally to protect sensitive documents from thieves in the building. I assumed that she was using it now to keep Maurice from getting his hands on any checks or other sensitive information. This was yet another task that I’d become the go-to-child for. I got dressed in my hand-me down winter coat and blue sweats and began the slushy trek to Fleetwood.

Then déjà vu struck. I found myself standing at the northeast corner of Lorraine and East Lincoln, unusually quiet because of the snow and the cold front that came with it the night before. This was where the metaphorical forces of destruction had lined up and marched against me. I laughed out loud, hoping at the same time that no one saw me. I looked down at the curb and sidewalk as the slush-ice was turning into mini-glacial streams and rivers, all blending as they ran toward a storm drain. In a semi-frozen pack nearby lay ten dollars. It had been trapped by the icy H2O. “My luck is getting better every day,” I said to myself. This happened to me, someone who never found more than a penny at a time on the streets and sidewalks of Mount Vernon. Despite all my worries and nightmares and other self-inflicted thoughts, things, at least at school, felt like they were getting better.

The Wall, viewing from the north, Game of Thrones (HBO), January 14, 2014. (http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/).

The Wall, as viewed from the north, Game of Thrones (HBO), January 14, 2014. (http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/).

I suppose that if Game of Thrones [Ramin Djawadi - Main Title (Game of Thrones)] was on HBO in ’84 (and if we had cable back then) that I could’ve thought, “Winter is coming! OMG, Winter is coming!” I’m a fan of winter (to a point), though, because there’s the promise of renewal, the possibility that struggle can lead to reinvention, even redemption. And for me thirty years ago, that’s exactly how I saw January ’84. I was looking for a fresh start, a new beginning, within myself, if not necessarily from others. But being fourteen, I could only be that wise for so long when I controlled so little of what was going on in my life, even with the best of icy dreams.


Muggers’ Delight and The Aftermath

December 5, 2013

Champagne popping, December 5, 2013. ( ).

Champagne popping, May 2011. (Brian Freedman via http://www.uncorklife.com).

I was mugged for the last time on this date thirty years ago, the first Monday in December ’83. I’ve talked about this before, the experience of being jumped by four teenagers, who in the end, made away with $13 and change, the dumb asses. It was the beginning of a long and emotional month for me, mostly because of how my classmates responded to finding out about it.

From Boy @ The Window:

The first person who came up to me to ask what happened was Craig. He saw me as I was leaving Carapella’s office, on my way to gym. We talked for several minutes about what had happened. He gave me a high-five, which completely surprised me. It was maybe the second or third time in three years that anyone cared to ask me about what was going on with me outside of school.

It wasn’t just Craig. From Phyllis and Wendy to Joe and Danny, they all seemed to care that I was all right. It was the first time in three years that I knew anyone actually cared about me even in the most basic sense. That whole twenty-four-hour period was overwhelming. Fighting off four muggers and chasing them for over a mile, Mom responding by taking me to the police and their tracking down of Corey, to my classmates’ genuine concern left me emotionally exhausted. I spent most of that evening at 616 asleep.

It was the last of four muggings and robberies in four years, at ages nine and twelve, and two at thirteen. People said that Harlem was rough, and from my trips on the Subway through and times in Harlem with Jimme, it was. It didn’t mean that Mount Vernon was soft or a place for only wannabe-thugs. Within a couple of months, Corey and his gang had all gone to juvenile detention for what they had done to me.

It would also be the last straw for me as far as my identifying myself as a Hebrew-Israelite. The fifth and sixth of December had taught me a lot about the human condition. My classmates had shown me their maturity upon learning about my mugging. Mom took more initiative on my behalf in taking me to the police than I’d seen her take in years. The police actually cared about my case and didn’t play around in tracking down my assailants. It took about three weeks, but I tracked Jimme down, and, after collecting some money for the holiday season, gave Maurice his thirteen dollars.

I guess I also learned a small lesson in redemption. The fact that I had even a teaspoonful of support was very different from the way my classmates might’ve treated me if Corey and company had gone after me two years before. I must’ve done something right in middle school and in ninth grade, enough to where I redeemed myself as a decent human being in the eyes of my classmates. Despite this, I didn’t trust it, not completely. I realized that things would get back to normal in a week or two, and I’d go back to my loner role. And while I was happy that Mom came to my aid, I knew that this was a rare event. Expecting Mom to be there to support me was really too much to ask.

Behind the emotionless mask based on Itachi Uchiha, a ninja from the Village Hidden In The Leaves (Konohagure) of the anime, Naruto, January 25, 2013. (http://sites.psu.edu).

Behind the emotionless mask based on Itachi Uchiha, a ninja from the Village Hidden In The Leaves (Konohagure) of the anime, Naruto, January 25, 2013. (JeiGoWay via http://sites.psu.edu).

Emotionally, it was as if someone had uncorked a bottle half-filled with warm champagne. I had gotten used to my role as nerdy loner at school and blank, unemotional eldest child in resistance to my idiot stepfather’s abuse at home. My classmates’ positive expressions toward me caused a psychological systems error, one that meant I could no longer avoid a simple truth. That it had been more than two and a half years since the last time I’d felt any connections to any person in my life. I had no friends, no family with which I shared an emotional or psychological bond. I hadn’t had a hug in at least two years. At least, until the day after my mugging.

After years of being weird and odd, of being made fun of (luckily Facebook, Twitter and cyber-bullying didn’t exist in ’83) and beaten up (with the constant threat of abuse to boot), and our plunge into welfare poverty, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make it to be fourteen, much less become a full-grown adult. I was approaching a crossroads, where my previously bottled-up emotions of the period between April ’81 and the mugging were coming directly into contact with my emotionless persona. It was an explosive mix, leaving me to question my very need to exist at all.


Honorary Stupidity

November 9, 2013

MLK's "Sincere Ignorance and Conscientious Stupidity saying, November 8, 2013. (http://bitterrealities.wordpress.com )

MLK’s “Sincere Ignorance and Conscientious Stupidity” saying, November 8, 2013. (http://bitterrealities.wordpress.com ).

There are so many things I could say about Richie Incognito and the vocal group of Miami Dolphins and ex-NFL players who’ve been supporting him versus Jonathan Martin over the past six days. That NFL players are Neanderthals. Or that Black players and ex-players like Cris Carter, Warren Sapp and Ricky Williams need their own education on what is and isn’t racism or harassment. Or that ESPN and the NFL Network have pushed this story without bringing a more critical lens to it.

There are two points that emerged this week, though, that bother me more than anything else. The idea that Incognito is more “Black” than Martin. Because Martin doesn’t sound “Black,” doesn’t act out of willful stupidity like “Black” NFL players, because he’s biracial, because he attended Stanford University, because his parents are Ivy League-educated. Last I checked, on and off the field, Martin’s treated as Black, regardless of his “unique” background. And Incognito’s still a White guy, one that threatened his teammate and his family, calling him the N-word on and off the field. Aside from the fact that the idea of a White guy being an “honorary Black” guy is offensive in general (see Maya Angelou’s idiotic praise of neo-conservative President Bill Clinton as “our first Black President” for Exhibit A) there’s this reality. No matter how “Black” Incognito can allegedly act, it’s an act, one which comes out of his Whiteness, and with it, an ultimate sense of cultural superiority.

Richie Incognito, Miami vs Oakland, Oakland, CA, September 16, 2012. (June Rivera via Flickr.com/Wikipedia). Released to public domain.

Richie Incognito, Miami vs Oakland, Oakland, CA, September 16, 2012. (June Rivera via Flickr.com/Wikipedia). Released to public domain.

The other equally disturbing point is that because the NFL locker room is a unique place of hyper-masculinity, that what goes on there isn’t subject to public scrutiny. If that’s the case, why not go back to the days of alcohol in the locker room, where players could shoot up steroids and amphetamines? Or have strippers and groupies in the locker room as well? The NFL locker room, like other work sites, is not a static place, but an evolving one. If it wasn’t, then seventy to eighty percent of the players in it these days wouldn’t be Black, Latino or Samoan. It’s a stupid argument, one exactly like those made by NYPD and LAPD officers, construction workers and White supremacists.

Luckily, there are players and ex-players like Brandon Marshall and Mark Schlereth whose understanding of and sensitivity toward this issue has been exemplary. They are in the minority among the professional athlete and sports world set so far, unfortunately. Martin’s former teammates have unified in their portrayal of him as a villain and traitor and Incognito as the “real nigga” on the football field and in the locker room.

The reason for this should be obvious, at least for those of us with either uncommon sense or with a social justice core. Humanity apparently has no place in the world of sports, especially in football and even more specifically where Black football players are concerned. For owners, front office managers and fans alike, they are merely commodities. Ones that all often criticized for or envied over their salaries and torn down publicly for their sins and crimes. The players and ex-players see themselves as warriors and gladiators, or, in the case of the media savvy, as cut-throat businessmen. None of this allows for any sympathy or empathy for football players who have been genuinely harassed or abused.

Beef cattle on Eefie Hill. North Atlantic in the background, United Kingdom, August 18, 2005. (John Comloquoy via http://geograph.org.uk). Released to public domain via Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0.

Beef cattle on Eefie Hill. North Atlantic in the background, United Kingdom, August 18, 2005. (John Comloquoy via http://geograph.org.uk). Released to public domain via Creative Commons Share-Alike 2.0.

It has meant that players like Incognito — or in previous generations, Michael Westbrook and Bill Romanowski — have fellow players willing to stand up for their criminal behavior, for in fact creating a hostile work environment. Players who suddenly respond like human beings to a dehumanizing workplace have found and do find themselves shunned by the fraternity. And to quit and air out the dirty laundry? It may well be easier to quit La Cosa Nostra and continue to live than it has been for Martin to quit the Miami Dolphins.

I, for one, don’t expect NFL locker rooms to change as a result of the ongoing investigation of Martin’s harassment allegations, no matter how true they may actually be. But I do suspect that even in the Dolphins’ locker room, there are players who haven’t forgotten their humanity, whose understanding of race and masculinity goes beyond a rap video or the N-word. At the very least, there will be much more to come in the form of dirty laundry, and not just from the Dolphins, either.


Second Day of High School, Wake-Up Call #17

September 8, 2013

Laurence Fishburne yelling "Wake up!" at end of movie School Daze (1988), December 9, 2009. (screenshot via Tumblr.com). Qualifies as fair use due to low resolution and clarity of picture.

Laurence Fishburne yelling “Wake up!” at end of movie School Daze (1988), December 9, 2009. (screenshot via Tumblr.com). Qualifies as fair use due to low resolution and clarity of picture.

I talked about my first day at Mount Vernon High School in ’83 a few days ago. But as I said in my book Boy @ The Window, my second day was just as memorable. It was already the beginning of the end of my days as a Hebrew-Israelite by the time the summer of ’83 had turned into ninth grade. I didn’t need any more wake-up calls than the reality that my then stepfather was more of a hypocritical bastard than he’d been before finding this strange Afrocentric and “Jewish” religion. But my classmate Nes gave me yet another one anyway:

“After a day of assignments and learning the names of our new teachers, I went to Louis Cuglietto’s eighth-period Geometry class. It was on the first floor of the school, just to the right of the front entrance and the cafeteria. As I milled around the classroom looking to take my seat, my Latino classmate Nes came out of nowhere and snatched my kufi off my head.

“’Give it back now!,’ I yelled.

“’Make me!,’ Nes responded with a bit of sarcasm.

“Just as he was about to throw it to another classmate. I grabbed Nes and knocked him to the floor. There we were, on the floor by the dark green chalkboard, me on top of Nes, who was struggling to hold on to my kufi. I lay on top of him, punched him in the face a couple of times, and took my kufi back from him just before Cuglietto came into the room. By this time everyone in our class had formed a circle to watch the spectacle. I don’t remember all of what Cuglietto said, but he did ask, ‘Do you want to get suspended?’ After we dusted ourselves off, we went to our desks and got back to work.

“For me, the incident marked a transition point in my life at school. This would be the last fight I’d have in school. Some people continued to try to verbally intimidate me. But they left it at that, probably because my height and my face said ‘Don’t mess with me’ before I’d say anything.

“The more immediate result was that I began to question more consciously my motives for defending myself as a Hebrew-Israelite. ‘Why do I care if Nes snatches my kufi from me?,’ I said to myself on the way home from school that day. It wasn’t as if I truly believed in any of the teachings anymore. I definitely didn’t want anyone messing with me at home or in school. At the same time, I didn’t want to use up energy defending something in which I didn’t believe.”

To say that I was disillusioned would be like saying active volcanoes are dangerous. I had a smoldering anger from the previous twenty-eight months of physical and mental abuse at home (along with our plunge into welfare poverty), and ridicule and isolation at school. But I also realized that making a move to declare that I was no longer a Hebrew-Israelite meant that much of what I had gone through at school, though, was a complete waste of time and energy. And with nothing and no one to believe in or for, I still wasn’t ready to move on.

But the month of September ’83 had more in store for me, Yom Kippur especially (to be continued).


Kufi Battles

February 15, 2013

Slow-motion punch frame from Matrix Revolutions (2003), February 15, 2013. (http://theathleticnerd.com/).

Slow-motion punch frame from The Matrix Revolutions (2003), February 15, 2013. (http://theathleticnerd.com/).

My days as a kufi-wearing Hebrew-Israelite at school is one of those things I don’t spend much time on this blog talking about. Mostly because it involved defending myself to protect a piece of clothing and a religion in which I never fully believed, especially after early ’83. Plus, it involved fairly rare attempts in which dumb asses attempted to bully me. Compared to my now deceased idiot ex-stepfather’s abuse, no kid or wannabe thug after the summer of ’82 really stood a chance.

There were three incidents in eighth and ninth grade in which a kid got into a scuffled with me over my kufi, for whatever reason they’d invented in their head. The first was in February ’83, as one Black kid — probably about fifteen — snatched my kufi from my head and started to run up the basement hallway with it at Davis Middle School. The incident occurred as I, A and another member of A’s “Italian Club” entourage were in the middle of an errand for a teacher. I immediately ran the boy down, knocked him to the floor, dusted off my kufi, and put it back on my head. The boy got up and threatened to beat me up. It was at this point that A intervened, saying that he would “have to take us all on” if he wanted to fight me. A’s moment of support notwithstanding, I would’ve beaten the kid in the face as many times as it would’ve taken to get my kufi back.

Pittsburgh Steelers' James Harrison sacks Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco, AFC Division Round, January 15, 2011. (http://espn.go.com).

Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Harrison sacks Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco, AFC Division Round, January 15, 2011. (http://espn.go.com).

The second incident occurred a month later, prior to the opening morning bell at Davis. Out of the blue, “Little J” picked a fight with me, calling me a “dickweed” and a “shithead” for no reason at all. I hardly knew the Jewish kid, who immediately came at me to push, shove, throw punches, and grab at my kufi. It really was crazy for Little J to think that he had a shot at doing any damage. I was already five-eight. He was lucky if he was four-eleven and one hundred pounds after a potato latkes breakfast.

This wasn’t a fight. It was a pushing and shoving match, with me doing all of the pushing and shoving and Little J landing in bushes or on his ass. For seven minutes, he kept running at me, trying to throw a punch or kick me. I caught or blocked his attempts, grabbed him, and shoved him into the bushes near the boys’ entrance to Davis. By the sixth time, Little J was crying and his cheeks were fire truck-red, I was laughing and shaking my head, and the other Black boys at Davis were asking me what was going on. When I told them, they started laughing as well.

Beyond him grabbing at me and my kufi, I never knew what Little J wanting to fight me was all about. My guess then was that Little J was playing the role of Esau (the hairy brother of Jacob from the Bible, Torah and Qur’an) and didn’t like the fact that I claimed to be a descendant of the father of ancient Israel and his people.

The Man In Black (presumably Esau; played by Titus Welliver) with Jacob (Mark Pellegrino), from TV series Lost (2009-10), February 15, 2013. (http://magiclamp.org).

The Man In Black (presumably Esau; played by Titus Welliver) with Jacob (Mark Pellegrino), from TV series Lost (2009-10), February 15, 2013. (http://magiclamp.org).

Incident Three occurred on my second day at Mount Vernon High School. After a day of assignments and learning the names of our new teachers, I went to Louis Cuglietto’s eighth-period Geometry class. It was on the first floor of the school, just to the right of the front entrance and the cafeteria. As I milled around the classroom looking to take my seat, my Latino classmate “N” came out of nowhere and snatched my kufi off my head.

“Give it back now!,” I yelled.

“Make me!,” N responded with a bit of sarcasm.

Just as he was about to throw it to another classmate. I grabbed N and knocked him to the floor. There we were, on the floor by the dark green chalkboard, me on top of N, who was struggling to hold on to my kufi. I lay on top of him, punched him in the face a couple of times, and took my kufi back from him just before Cuglietto came into the room. By this time everyone in our class had formed a circle to watch the spectacle. I don’t remember all of what Cuglietto said, but he did ask, “Do you want to get suspended?” After we dusted ourselves off, we went to our desks and got back to work.

For me, the incident marked a transition point in my life at school. This would be the last fight I’d have in school. Some people continued to try to verbally intimidate me. But they left it at that, probably because my height and my face said “Don’t mess with me” before I’d say anything.

The more immediate result was that I began to question more consciously my motives for defending myself as a Hebrew-Israelite. “Why do I care if N snatches my kufi from me?,” I said to myself on the way home from school that day. It wasn’t as if I truly believed in any of the teachings anymore. I definitely didn’t want anyone messing with me at home or in school. At the same time, I didn’t want to use up energy defending something in which I didn’t believe.


The Beatdown

November 5, 2011

Ironing out balled up paper, a bullying symbol, November 4, 2011. (Donald Earl Collins)

An anti-bullying video’s been trending in the social media sphere this week, in which a teacher demonstrates to her class the effects of bullying on a student’s psyche. All courtesy of balled up, stomped on and unfolded yet crumpled pieces of paper. It’s a good, though incomplete description, because it doesn’t address the great feeling of superiority that those dispensing the verbal, physical and psychological abuse get from bullying their classmates.

Though I seldom have thought of myself as someone who was bullied, by today’s definition, that’s exactly what happened to me for the better part of five months of seventh grade, from November ’81 through February ’82 and late-May to early June ’82 (see my post “The Legend of Captain Zimbabwe” from May ’09 for much more). I guess I’d been called so many names by so many people in 7S so first few months — and, to be truthful, did the same in response to a fair number of classmates myself — that I didn’t think too much of it as November ’81 began.

About two weeks after my fight with Brandie (see “Adverbs and A-Holes” post from last month), I experienced a serious physical bullying altercation (there were one or two attempts by neighborhood kids while I went to Nathan Hale and Holmes Elementary, and a couple of attempts in high school). The best way to describe it is that I got jumped and then beat-down after the end of the school day on the first Friday in November ’81.

It wasn’t a random jumping or beat-down, and not one that involved Davis’ Black or Latino students, who were always described to us super-nerds as “dangerous.” No, the perps in this case were from what I euphemistically called the “Italian Club,” a full two years before we had an official Italian Club in high school. They’d been on me in 7S homeroom and in Italian class with nearly constant verbal abuse for the two weeks or so since my scuffle with Brandie. Apparently, my decision to ignore them didn’t work well enough.

The leader of this pack of uncouth Italian or White working-class preteen Humanities boys was “A,” who presented himself as between John Travolta’s character on Welcome Back, Kotter and Arthur Fonzerelli from Happy Days. A’s favorite move those Humanities middle school years was to walk into our homeroom and belt out The Police’s “Roxanne” refrain, as if he were Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours. The way his band of Italian or Italian-esque brothers hung around him, you would’ve thought he was a rock star, someone like his fave, Mr. “White Wedding” himself, Billy Idol.

A Christmas Story (1982) screen shot of bunny suit kid, December 11, 2009. (http://myhealthypassion.wordpress.com). Qualifies as fair use under US copyright laws, between low resolution, cropping, and intent of use.

Led by A, about ten 7S classmates attacked me after school as I was on my way out the school’s side door closest to the Humanities wing to walk home. They grabbed, punched, and kicked me, and called me everything but a child of God. A, of course, wasn’t actually involved in any of the dirty work of beating on me. Like a about half a dozen other 7S classmates, A watched as he directed his gang.

That was my third A Christmas Story moment. Except I’d been better off wearing the pink bunny suit over my kufi! Bullying is a funny thing, even when you’re one being bullied.

But unlike the piece of trampled, stomped, balled up paper, I wasn’t scarred in the sense that my self-esteem was shattered. Far from it, my self-absorption and delusions of academic grandeur shielded me, made it possible for me to iron out most of the wrinkles in my psyche from being jumped that day. It took my grades, a crush, and events that played out at home, at 616, to shatter my childhood.

Of course, being called a “dumb ass” as if it were my nickname, or “Captain Zimbabwe,” as a proxy for “Negro” or the N-word, wasn’t exactly besides the point. Nor was the idea that a bunch of White kids could decide that they could gang up on me essentially because I was an enigma to them. Like me being weird, uncool and smart was too much for their pubervescent heads to handle.

The best revenge, though, was going through puberty myself, to find myself growing ten inches in twenty months, between March ’82 and December ’83. That, and taking care of my body, mind and spirit over the past thirty years. Not that I have a dart board of my tormentors or anything, but I think it would be hilarious if any of them attempted to bully the 225-pound me today. Of course, I’d probably laugh so hard that they’d get a couple of licks in, at least before my sense of righteous rage would kick in.

The moral here, I guess, is to have a sense of how to deal with bullying if and when it does occur, to not shrug it off as “boys just being boys” or, for that matter, “cliquish girls being cliquish girls.” By middle school, though, it’s not just about reporting it to teachers or parents. It’s about other students stepping in, and students the subject of bullies’ discontent defending themselves. And that is what I’m instilling in my son. Of course, I’ll step in when necessary, too.

Flexing muscles, as in too bad I didn't have these 30 years ago, November 4, 2011 (Donald Earl Collins).


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