Thursday, October 07, 2010

The bully boy

The last few years have seen some attention paid to bullying in public schools. I saw a couple of stories about it just yesterday, one on the Today Show and one on Oprah. I was bullied for a short time, my first year in high school.

I was kind of surprised at the time because I wasn't an obvious target for a bully, but for some reason Garry Starr picked me out. And his name was really Garry Starr, and I haven't changed it for the purpose of this blog, because Garry showed himself to be a coward. I don't worry about him coming after me nearly 50 years since he picked me out to bully. He could be dead by now, for all I know.

Garry Starr was an ugly kid. I can't even imagine what he would look like as an adult. Maybe like the guy in the picture. Starr was hulking and slope-shouldered, but big. He was about 6' tall, but his height was in his torso, which was long, as were his arms. His legs seemed short in comparison. So he looked like the gorilla he was. He had a lizard face, some sort of skin condition that gave his face a scaly appearance. He didn't do anything physical to me. He grabbed me by the collar one time, but there wasn't any hitting, just mainly insults, brought on by...what? I never could figure him out. I was just singled out in his pea-sized brain to be a victim. I did what victims of bullying do, too. I tried to avoid him, and that wasn't always possible. Because he was a year ahead of me in school we didn't have any classes together, but occasionally I saw him in the hall, at which time he'd get in my face.

Why? I have my theories. Nowadays they talk about gay kids being bullied, and I wasn't gay. I was smaller than Garry, and I'd had a date once with a girl who he'd bring up when he'd threaten me. Maybe he was jealous.

My friend Ron had once run afoul of Garry Starr and Ron's dad had given him some advice. "If he corners you, haul off and hit him in the nose as hard as you can, then run like hell." I thought about it and shuddered. If I did that maybe I'd get away, but there would be hell to pay later. I would try to avoid being cornered.

Bullying was considered a rite of passage in those days. I didn't tell my parents, because my mother was adamant that I stand up for myself if faced with such a situation. "I can't fight your battles for you," was her phrase. Someone, I think it was my brother, told Dad, and he was upset. The last time Garry Starr bothered me was when I was driving. He spotted me and followed me home. I pulled up in front of my house. He pulled up next to me, in the street, rolled down his window and started his usual line of threats. Suddenly I was aware of my dad coming out of the house at a run. Garry saw him and floored his car, getting out of there in a cloud of burning rubber. Dad yelled at me, "Get out of the car!" He jumped in and took off after Garry Starr. He didn't catch him but I was never bothered by Garry Starr again. Garry had realized that my dad, all 5'5" of him, wasn't intimidated and a bully can't handle that. As long as someone (i.e., me) was scared of him he was in his element; like most cowards if faced with someone who'd fight back he ran. It taught me a valuable lesson about bullies. In this case Dad had "fought my battle for me" and I was grateful.

A few years later I was confronted with that mentality when I was in the Army in Germany. Some guys took a dislike to me. I had a sarcastic mouth and attitude, I admit, and they didn't like it. I never showed any fear to any of them, just ignored them, and after a time they left me alone. It's no fun when the target of bullying doesn't play along.

It's about time someone did something about kids bullying other kids. I'm glad to see programs addressing the problems. When I worked for the school district they would identify these problems if they could. No one wanted another school shooting like Columbine, where bullied kids took weapons and killed indiscriminately. Bullied kids will carry weapons if they think it's the only way they can protect themselves. There came a time when adults realized that bullying wasn't just a kid thing, but a dangerous situation that could turn deadly.

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