Bullies have been around forever. They try to compensate for whatever is lacking in their own character by physically and verbally abusing others. When I was growing up there were bullies who picked on weaker kids not inclined to stand up to them. Every block and schoolroom had one...they would find victims to taunt or beat up for no reason other than they had a funny name or wore thick glasses. I think for boys, bullying became a rite of passage. We would be bullied by older boys, and sometimes to save face, we would bully younger kids in retaliation. I remember two childhood experiences, one when I was the bullied and another when I was the bullier.
I tangled with a kid from Fulton Street named Louie. His brother was reputedly in a local gang called the Baldies, and Louie hid behind his brother's reputation to pick fights with everybody. One day he went after my friend Vinnie and I stepped in and beat the crap out of him. He snivelled that he would tell his brother, and foolishly I told him to go ahead. Probably not my best idea ever. One day Louie accosted me, only he wasn't alone. His brother and a few Neanderthals were with him, and they walked me around the corner to a recessed stoop near Roma's Pastry store. "Are you ever going to hit my brother again?" came the question from brother Baldie. Pop! "Do you know what I'll do to you if you ever do?" Pop! After each question brother Baldie put to me, snivelling Louie rapped me on the head with a stickball bat! Badly outnumbered, I endured the beating in silence. I was ashamed, but I thought better a live coward than a dead hero.
My turn as a bully came when we took advantage of a mentally disturbed young man we called "Eddie Goose". Although in his early twenties, Eddie hung around the edges of our crowd because he couldn't function as an adult. We used him to run all our dirty errands like climbing on rooftops to retrieve lost balls and stealing fruit from Steve the pushcart guy. Eddie gamely endured our taunts and insults as long as we let him into a game once in a while. Despite his sweet nature, one day one of the guys pushed too hard. Being not only older than us, but powerfully built, Eddie had some type of seizure, picked the guy up over his head and hurled him into the bushes in front of my house. That day we saw a side of Eddie that scared the hell out of us, and although he was immediately contrite and afraid he had hurt his tormentor, we treated him a whole lot better after that. Unlike most of the memories in this blog, this one pains me because of the way I acted toward a sweet, harmless man.
One of my favorite scenes from the great holiday movie Christmas Story is when little Ralphie, frustrated to tears after years of torment at the hands of the neighborhood bully Scut Farkas, just snaps and pounds him to a pulp amid the cheers of his friends and fellow victims. Almost any Hollywood movie where the little guy stands up to the bully and wins is guaranteed box office. Trouble is life is not always black and white and sometimes it's hard to tell who the bullies are. I think there's a little bully in all of us trying to get out. I hope the schools and parents can do something about this problem. With video cams, texting and the Internet, today's cyber-bullies don't even have to risk a punch in the nose to do their dirty work.
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