I’d been obsessing about bullies and how to deal with them for days when I asked my friend Gary if he remembered being bullied as a child.
“Mickey Todaro,” he said.
“What?” I asked.
“Mickey Todaro, third grade,” he repeated. “You asked about bullies so I’m telling you.”
“I didn’t expect such a quick response.”
“It’s like it was yesterday.”
“Go on,” I said.
“Everyday on the way to school Mickey Todaro would punch me and steal my lunch money. It was awful.”
“What did you do?”
“I found another route to school. I’m tough, but I’m not stupid. Mickey Todaro was big, and he had friends.”
“Gary,” I said. “Do you realize this happened to you over 50 years ago?”
“You don’t forget or mess with a guy like Mickey Todaro.”
I posed the question to the Scrabblettes the next time I saw them.
“Bobby Rowland,” said Pearl without hesitation.
“You heard me. Second grade. He pushed me into a ditch, that son of a bitch.”
“I crawled out and hit him over the head with my lunchbox.”
“Put a big dent in my lunchbox, so I ran home and told my mother.”
“She said to stay away from him, so I did.”
“Parents down south would never recommend that,” said Louise, counting out her letters and placing them on the wooden stand.
“Really?” asked Pearl. “What would they say?”
“’Pick up a stick and hit back’,” she answered.
“What about those kids who locked you in the funeral parlor when you were 8?” asked Rose. “Did you hit them?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” answered Louise firmly. “That was 60 years ago, and I’m still in recovery.”
I turned to Rose. “Were there bullies when you were growing up?”
“Of course,” she said. “Richie Foley called me Tokyo Rose Chinese Chink. I was devastated.”
“Did you tell your parents?”
“No way! They didn’t speak English, and besides, they had eight kids, one of them blind and epileptic. I didn’t bother my parents with stuff like that.”
“Did you stay away from him?”
“Couldn’t. We went to a one room school house. But my teacher, Mrs. Parsons, bawled him out in front of everybody. She made me feel safe.”
My survey concluded, I went home and pondered my data. I’d been prompted to ask these questions for several reasons. I’d babysat my 3-year-old nephew the previous weekend and I’d watched him tussle with an older, more aggressive kid from my neighborhood. Additionally, I’ve been thinking a lot about a man living not far from me who has been standing up to and therefore running into trouble with drug dealers on his block. Lastly, I’d read an interview of former playmates of George Bush who said whenever he didn’t get his way during a game of kickball, he’d take his ball and go home. His mom would yell at all the kids to leave George alone.
During childhood, many of us learn to deal with the bullies and creeps who bother, scare, or threaten us. We find ways to get around them using avoidance tactics or the help of friends and family. I worry about the man up the block. He’s gotten a lot of support from the media and people outside the neighborhood, but what will happen when the reporters and photographers move on to other, more sensational stories, and the police aren’t available to protect him?
From the results of my survey, I’d say that sometimes the best policy is to avoid the bullies, except, of course, if you’ve got a mom like Barbara Bush in which case you can be the bully. When my nephew gets older I’ll try to explain to him about how life ain’t fair. Then I’ll advise him to walk softly, carry a big lunchbox, and figure out another route to school. ›