Bullies

January 5, 2012

Columbus, MS, Culture, News

Bobby Reynolds was a bully.  A big bully – 6’1” and 180 lbs in the Seventh Grade, fully grown, and twice as big as any of the rest of us.  There was nothing freaky about him, no wild pituitary gland activity or anything like that.  He just reached his adult size when he was 14.  He did everything childhood bullies are supposed to do.  Pick fights, although he had no takers; pull chairs out from under just as you were about to sit; spill milk on your homework; bang you against the railing as you were going downstairs; trip you as you were going up.  There was no malicious little trick that Bobby had not tried.  By the Ninth Grade we were still way undersized compared to him, so his bullying continued.  All of us who ‘parked’ by the golf course after dark had been interrupted by Bobby, his fat fist hammering on the steamed windows until we opened up.

There was only one of our class who ever stood up to Bobby Reynolds – Sammy Brown, even more runty than the rest of us, who lived in the the Southington mountains with his artist parents, went to the local public elementary school with all the poor kids from the mills and got into fights every day.  His mother had an inheritance and decided that our WASP-y little country day school was the right civilizing influence that Sammy needed.

The first time that Bobby bullied Sammy, tripping him as he walked up the front steps to the school, loaded down with backpack and lunchbox, Sammy charged, wrapped his arms around Bobby’s waist, jammed his little legs against the wall and pushed.  Bobby windmilled wildly, but never landed a blow.  Sammy hung on like a terrier, and as Bobby flailed at him, reached up to tear his shirt – an expensive Brooks Bros. button-down bought at Henry Miller’s, purveyor to WASPs of the Connecticut River Valley.  Sammy, growing up in the woods as the son of artists, had no preppy clothes – no Brooks Bros., J. Press button-downs, no Burberry plaid belts, no Bass Weejun loafers.  He wore old flannel shirts, beat-up pants, and worn-out Keds, and didn’t care if Bobby ripped them to shreds.  Bobby, on the other hand, had to spend the rest of the day in preppy tatters.  Even his dim wits saw that although we still never would challenge him, and that he had beat Sammy badly, we knew that his reputation was damaged.

He still continued to bully.  His bullying actually picked up after the Sammy Brown affair, an attempt we supposed, to regain some of the stature he had lost.  We either put up with it, did our best to avoid him, or sappily tried to be his friend.  None of this worked.

One day later in the year, Sammy asked if I wanted to get even with Bobby Reynolds.  Of course, I said, and so did everyone else.  Sammy’s idea was to sneak into the Reynolds’ garage late at night and blow up their trash cans with the powerful explosive fireworks that he had bought in New York.  He said we would blame it on the Royals, a tough New Britain gang that was responsible for most of the crime in the area.  Sammy stayed over at my house, and at midnight we walked up to the Reynolds house, nicely secluded with big front hedges and a grove of birches.  We had scoped out the garage in the daylight, and knew that there were two big zinc trash cans, and they would be empty on Thursday, the day of trash pick-up.  We could enter the garage through the breezeway door, place and light the explosives, and be out and into the neighbor’s yard when they blew up.  The sign that we posted on the garage door was, “We know where you live, fatso”.  Signed, “The Royals”.

The result was more than we could have expected. We had put three of these super-sized, military-grade fireworks in each trash can, and fastened the lids on tight. The explosion was loud and fiery. The windows to the garage all blew out in fiery blast. The lids of the trash cans flew to the ceiling and banged and rattled to floor. The ground shook. Smoke drifted out the broken windows. We took off.

Bobby didn’t go to school for three days while the police investigated – they found nothing, of course.  They hassled the Royals, who were pissed that they had been framed for blowing up a rich boy’s trash, but never bothered to investigated us.  When Bobby went back to school, he was jumpy and always looked behind him when he walked up stairs.  We commiserated with him, but with a vengeance.  “Gee, Bobby, too bad about the trash cans.  If it wasn’t the Royals, maybe it’s someone from Bristol.”  Bristol had some bad gangs, too.

Bobby stopped bullying.

The point of all this is, in retrospect I am glad that there was a bully at my country day school, for it certainly wasn’t the last time I had to face one, and I saw how people dealt with them.  Most of us avoided conflict – why get hurt by an asshole?  But Sammy Brown took it to him – not only in the rending of Brooks Bros. shirts and J.Press khakis, but in guerrilla warfare.  He was our hero.  Today bullies are outlawed.  No Bullying policies are in force in all schools.  Parents are incensed that their little ones might be bullied and be scarred by the experience.  Elementary schools – at least in the white, upper middle class enclaves where social engineering reigns – make sure that there is no bullying, and dangerous see-saws and jungle gyms in the playground are outlawed.  Insulation from life is what it really is.

Nancy Hubbard, even in the Seventh Grade, was a hot ticket.  She drove all of us boys completely nuts, especially in the warm days of late Spring when she wore sleeveless blouses.  Just one look down her blouse to the outline of those smooth, full, succulent breasts divided our attention permanently.  Nancy was in charge.  She encouraged the boys she liked and with rapier skill and not a trace of empathy or guilt, skewered those that tried to bother her.  She honed in on just those features which made insecure young adolescent boys even more so.  Baby fat, zits, unruly hair, uncool clothes, wealth or the lack of it…all were poisoned arrows in her quiver.  No one bothered her – or, in today’s jargon, ‘harassed’ her.  She needed no state protection, no guardians or sex monitors, no review boards, or ombudsman.  You knew to stay clear of Nancy Hubbard unless you were sure that she liked you.

The point being, children – boys and girls – need to learn how to behave; how to be sexually forward without offense; how to gauge the actions and reactions of the opposite sex.  No one needed to tell us these things.  The Nancy Hubbards of the Seventh Grade taught us.

We were all a mean bunch when it came to nicknames and taunting.  Everyone suffered at the hands of the perfect – those blond, Aryan, wealthy West Enders who had never known a hooked nose, curly strand of hair, roll of fat, or dark skin.  I wanted to look like Ray Carter, have that nonchalant flip of straight hair over blue eyes instead of my Italian curls.  Also, as adolescent society goes, even the put upon put upon someone else.  All of us non-Jews piled on Izzy Zucker and called him Needles.  He was the total opposite of Bobby Reynolds.  He was tiny, and never grew.  He was thin and delicate, hence the name, Needles.  He was a Democrat when all the rest of us were Republicans.  His father was a furrier, while ours were professionals or captains of industry.  We were merciless.

There was one boy at country day school who was never picked on.  He was blind, and there were no stumbling jokes, no eat-the-peas jokes, no harassment whatsoever.  Peter Hollins, even at 14, simply had presence.  He had an elegance – there is simply no other word for it.  He was strong, although he never showed it.  He was confident even without sight.  He played sports, and we loved him for it.

In Tenth Grade, after graduating from country day school, I went away to school.  I was, by the standards of my classmates who rode, surfed off of Southampton, skied at Vail, and always did sporty things with their wealthy parents, fat.  I was kidded mercilessly.  In the Spring of the year, I decided that I would get into shape.  Persistently but quietly, I lost twenty pounds, bulked up in muscle, and gained speed and agility – all things that I should have done anyway.  I had two choices – to remain fat with a fuck you attitude, or to get with the majority program.  I chose the latter, but either were good choices.  In any case, the decision to get in shape was mine.  My navigating late adolescence was already cast in adult terms, and I was better off for it.

In the totally politically incorrect environment in which I grew up, we learned that others always judge us unfairly, but with experience we come to know who we are.  We did not need school administrators and teachers to control our behavior or to engineer idealistic adolescent societies because we had the Bobby Reynoldses, the Sammy Browns, the Nancy Hubbards, and the Peter Hollinses of the world to teach us.

The same should be true now.

Of course the world also has total wackos – bullies whom only expulsion or reform school will fix; sexual predators for whom no insult can touch their twisted ego; but is it necessary to have a universal police state, controlling behavior, language, and adolescent intent?  No, and again, No.

Ron Parlato is a writer living in Washington, DC. He has close ties with Columbus which he visits frequently.  His writings on literature, politics and culture, travel, and cooking can be found on his own blog, http://www.uncleguidosfacts.com.

 

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7 Comments on “Bullies”

  1. KJ Says:

    Meanwhile, back in the real world…

    Bullies are NOT universally slapped down by administrators and teachers, much less by concerned parents. Much less so if the victims of the bullying are perceived to be gay. A large portion of adult Christians have zero tolerance for school bullying policies that include perceived or real sexual orientation.

    What we have today are kids that have learned how to solve an unbearable bullying problem when adults repeatedly refuse to intervene: bring a gun to school and eliminate the problems be they fellow students, teachers, or administrators. The sad fact is, this kind of solution would be unheard of if irresponsible adults in responsible positions were capable of exhibiting a little humanity and background and take their own stands against bullies, pint-sized or otherwise. The writer’s little fantasy that everyone learns how to deal with the existence of bullies only when we allow them to exist long enough to figure it out on their own is just that: a fantasy. For kids who suffer from bullies and ignorant, uncaring adults, the scars and repercussions of bullying are real and persistent.

    Kids — really, people of all ages — deserve more than a laissez faire attitude when it comes to bullies. Ignoring the behavior of bullies when it is minor and of little consequence is exactly the wrong response; left unchecked bullies only become more brazen.

    Reply

    • Ron Parlato Says:

      Thank you! I do appreciate your point and understand the need to take some kind of action. ‘Laissez-faire’, or really doing nothing rubs most of us the wrong way. I agree that breaking through the laissez-faire and confronting the bully is necessary; but where you and I disagree is who and how should do the confrontation. I believe, as I have written in the article, that is the children who must either confront the bully or decide to live with him – and both are reasonable; and both are life lessons. When adults intervene, that is, solve the problem for the child, he/she will never learn these lessons.

      Now, of course there are cases where egregious cases of bullying – physical intimidation and cruelty – need to be stopped and punished. Teachers since forever have stopped fights, reprimanded the fighters, and made sure that the ones who always start them are disciplined. But teachers cannot be everywhere. Taunts and teasing (I am not sure of an educator’s definition of bullying is, but I am sure that that this is a form of initial or mild bullying – you usually taunt and tease those whom you can intimidate and will not taunt or tease back) will occur on playgrounds and in corridors as long as there are schools and children to study in them.

      So, while I very much appreciate your point of view and understand the need for some kind of adult intervention in bullying, I would prefer, where possible, to let this social fact of nature play itself out. Children will be better in the long run if they can figure all this out for themselves. Thanks again.

      Reply

  2. Kevin Gregg Says:

    Enjoyed the story, and agree for the most part that life lessons raise you better than social engineering. I have been on both sides of the issue..

    Reply

  3. Carlton Sandoval Says:

    That’s right, KJ, some people needed a swift kick in the butt YEARS ago and never got it. That’s where I agree with you. Guns and stuff is where things have gotten way off track. What happened to taking an issue and confronting it like a man? Win some, lose some.. take guns out of the picture though. You can at least both live to fight another battle again another day.

    Reply

  4. KJ Says:

    I’m not advocating that victims shoot anyone. But kids today have heard of other kids going to this extreme. Bullying is rarely a single incident that happens and doesn’t recur. When a kid is being bullied and knows that someone in authority watched it happened and did nothing, what kind of conclusion are they to reach? Bullies make kids miserable. But it’s adults who don’t intervene that rob kids of hope.

    Reply

  5. KJ Says:

    An example of what happens when anti-bullying policies are neutered and cannot be suitably enforced:

    http://www.rollingstone.com/…/one-towns-war-on-gay-teens-201202023

    Reply

  6. KJ Says:

    “Bully” official trailer:

    Reply

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