In Teddy Roosevelt‚Äôs day, “bully” was synonymous with “good for you.” Today, it‚Äôs synonymous with “pathetic loser.” (As Lenny Bruce joked, “Gee, I hope I‚Äôm not out of line.”)
With the epidemic of school bullying in the news lately, I recently recalled my middle school days at Pasteur Jr. High. It was located in the Pico/La Cienega neighborhood and a school edgy enough to be slightly reminiscent of “Blackboard Jungle.” (For those old enough for that movie reference.)
In the seventh grade I was an athlete so I escaped bullying. (Stealing my lunch money, etc.) But, when everyone else grew and I somehow didn‚Äôt, I had to rely on wit. Talk about pressure to come up with a monologue.
Frankly, even some of our teachers were bullies, especially grouchy Mr. McGraw in wood shop. Apparently, I got on his nerves by occasionally setting my plane upright which dulled the blade. (A capital offense to Mr. McGraw.) All semester we worked on book cases. I had planned to give mine to my dad on Father‚Äôs Day, that is until I once again left my plane upright. McGraw stormed over and abruptly snapped my bookcase over his knee.
At 12, I was frozen in fear. And yet I was impressed that he had just snapped it in two like that. (Long before baseball players like Reggie Jackson snapped their bats after striking out.)
After school I was rather forlorn in showing the two halves of my bookcase to my mother. She was president of the PTA and thus cozy with Dr. Rogers, our dictatorial principal. (Picture a female J. Edgar Hoover.) Unbeknownst to me, my mother must have made a phone call.
At wood shop the next morning, Mr. McGraw stood in front of the class and nervously cleared his throat. I was as stunned as anyone when he announced that he owed me an apology. (Yet I still had the feeling he wanted to snap my neck like he had the bookcase.) Before the end of the period, McGraw had fashioned a bookcase, something it had taken me seven weeks to do. Without another word, he simply handed it to me.
That Father‚Äôs Day I gave the bookcase to my dad but I obviously didn‚Äôt feel worthy of any praise. Curiously, I would go the rest of my life without being bullied until a few years ago, and then by some clown, uh, person in my own apartment building.
I will spare you the “reason” for this bullying as it made less sense than leaving a plane upright. Let‚Äôs just say the bully is an angry, bloated soccer hooligan. (With apologies to all other angry, bloated soccer hooligans.)
The bullying reached absurdity when I was in the elevator one night having returned from the market. He began rifling through my groceries. With his being overweight, for a second I thought he was going to start gnawing on a frozen chicken wing.
Then, when I tried to exit the elevator, he defiantly blocked my way. Apparently, he was hoping that I would bump into him so that he could then “kill me” as he had threatened to do. As gently as I could, I tried to explain what an idiot he was and that now he had just entered kidnapping territory. Finally he let me pass, but not without making a few lame threats about “next time.” (Can you say buffoon?)
What this ignorant bully didn‚Äôt know (ever met an intelligent one?) is that I was friendly with former police Chief Tim Jackman. When the chief got wind of what was going on, he was more than a little disturbed. Frankly, I had no idea threatening to kill someone, as my bully neighbor had done, is, among other things, a violation of the Patriot Act. (Making him not just a bully but a terrorist?)
The next day Chief Jackman sent two uniformed officers for a surprise visit to my neighbor‚Äôs apartment. (If only there had been a video!) Thankfully, the childishness has stopped. The weird, angry glares continue. I have to restrain myself from laughing because, well, it‚Äôs so “junior high.”
Related to bullying, on Monday this week a judge in New Jersey sentenced Dharun Ravi. He had used a webcam in 2010 to spy on his Rutgers University roommate, honor student Tyler Clementi, having gay sex and posting it on the Internet.
Days later, a humiliated Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge. A jury convicted Ravi of 15 counts of invasion of privacy and bias intimidation, but he received only 30 days in jail. (Two days for each count?)
Unfortunately, dear readers, I see I‚Äôve run out of room and have lots more to say. So let‚Äôs pick this up right here next Friday with “Nothing bully about bullies, the sequel.”
Unless you‚Äôre a bully or a terrorist, Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.