Mark stepped out of Home Room into the noise and confusion of a school hallway between classes. He did not hesitate. He now knew where his first class was. He turned right and merged with the kids heading deeper into John Hanson Junior High's labyrinth of tight hallways connecting cramped classrooms. The old school was busting at the seams lately what with all the new residential construction going on in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
Jimmy G and his crew stopped Mark near the boys bathroom next to the gym. Jimmy puffed up his chest and shoved Mark hard. His entourage of Elvis haired bad ass wannabe's tightened their circle around Mark. Their Ban-Lon shirts were seriously tucked into thin belted sharply creased Big Mac work pants that almost, but not quite, touched their perfect high top black Chuck Taylor sneakers. They were the local equivalent of ultra cool. They ruled the halls at John Hansen
"Jack here says you called me a punk. .... Right Jack?"
The cro-magnon buddy towering over Jimmy mumbled, "Uh, that's right Jimmy. He said you were a punk ass greaser."
Jimmy squinted at Mark and smiled. "So, what do you say asshole? Did you call me a punk?"
Mark had had his share of these new kid in school encounters over the last 7 or 8 years. He sighed and looked down at this scrawny excuse of a school yard bully. He could almost write the script for the next day or two in his life.
Punk gets in the new kid's face and challenges him. New kid considers what to do. Does the punk have back up? If so, it won't matter if the punk is bad ass or not. His crew will have their way. Mark decided to speed the process along.The encounter was going to happen regardless. Sooner was better than later.
"Shit Jimmy, I guess I must have called you a punk ass greaser, if that is what Jack here said."
Jimmy's smile faded and his eyes opened up some. He had not counted on this answer. For a moment he was stuck for something to say.
Mark didn't miss this opportunity to press harder. "So what do we do now Jimmy? Get into a fight? And if so, where? I am the new kid. I don' know shit."
Jimmy hesitated. This moment of intimidation had not gone down as planned. He stepped back and poked a puny finger at Mark. "The Bridge - right after school. Your ass is mine."
Jimmy G and his small band of cronies shuffled away, occasionally turning and throwing dangerous glares in Mark's direction. Mark shrugged and headed to class.
"The Bridge" was found on the 1000 yard path that ran through a small strip of woods separating John Hansen Junior High from Oxon Hill High. It spanned Carey Branch, a small creek that spilled into the Potomac River a couple of miles away near Indian Head. It was also a gathering spot for the derelicts who attended both schools. They would gather, smoke cigarettes, sometimes drink, hassle the girls walking through and pick on whatever boy they felt needed it that day. It was often an unpleasant gauntlet for any student outside their clique.
Mark was one such student who found it unpleasant. But he used the path because otherwise walking home the long way would add 15 minutes to his journey. So far, all he had suffered while passing the bridge were some dirty looks, some smirks and a few "Hey New Kid, you suck dicks". Mark also used the bridge because he had learned that to walk in fear would only make his time here in Oxon Hill more difficult. Experience taught him that standing up and taking what came was the fastest way for any intimidation or bullying to stop. It had been his experience bullies did not long pick on people who resisted. Today was to be the day the bullies decided to mess with him. Mark was actually surprised it had taken them so long to tag him for attention. The new school year was in its 3rd week.
Mark was not immune to fear. He was anxious and uptight as he walked through the ball fields to the path that led to the bridge. His palms began to sweat the closer he came to Bridge. He accepted he might take a beating of some kind and was determined to get it over with. His only problem was how to respond to Jimmy G's assaults. Jimmy was a true runt. Not a dwarf maybe. But if he didn't grow anymore, he would become one. Mark in all his five foot-eight grandeur, towered over jimmy G by 12" at least.
Still undecided about what to do as he came up to the Bridge, he needn't have worried. The decision was made for him. Jimmy broke out of the gaggle of Greasers standing around smoking cigarettes. Jimmy came fast, only giving Mark a second to set his feet. He smacked Mark in the mouth. The appropriate "Whoa's" and "You get him Jimmy" comments rose from the gaggle as they began to encircle the pair.
Jimmy had miscalculated. His blow barely moved Mark's face. Mark looked down at Jimmy. Instead of hitting him, he shoved Jimmy hard enough to knock him off his feet. The Gaggle went quiet and their circle tightened.
"I don't want to fight Jimmy. Fighting is stupid."
Jimmy stood up. "So you are calling me stupid, huh punk?"
Mark looked around. He noticed some bigger kids wearing the same Ban Lon shirt, Big Mac pants outfits hovering over the inner ring of Jimmy's friends. He assumed they were early departing high school kids who also used the Bridge as a go to hangout. They looked mean and ready to tear Mark apart. One of them shouldered his way through the younger punks and faced Mark.
"Jimmy's my brother asshole. He's a pain in my ass, but I won't let anyone hurt him." He dropped his head to Mark's level. "Got it asshole?"
Mark did not respond. He knew that with all his previous experience as the "New Kid", this one was turning out to be nothing like he envisioned. For the first time, he was scared; really scared. There were a lot of kids sporting hair grease and Chuck Taylors here. They looked ready to live up to their reputations.
Jimmy's big brother moved in closer and again dropped his head close to Mark's ear.
"Look," he whispered, "let Jimmy rough you up some. You rough him up some. Nobody gets hurt after. Okay?"
Mark nodded his head, unsure that Jimmy's brother had that kind of pull over his salivating buddies.
Jimmy was wiping his hands on the dirty rear pockets of his previously perfect Big Mac pants. He once again charged Mark and in a flurry of fist flinging, managed to bloody Mark's nose. Jimmy retreated and grinned. "Whataya think now asshole? You gonna call me a punk again?"
Mark grinned also. The intimidating build up to this fight turning out to be such a minor altercation made him sigh with relief inside while outside he stood tall and did not cower. "No Jimmy, I won't ever call you a punk again. ...... Now are we done?"
Mark started to walk through the crowd of Blocks. Someone blindsided him with a fist to his ear, knocking him down. Mark jumped up and spun around to see who had thrown the punch. Too many impassive faces, no one looked guilty; everyone looked guilty. Mark stood there a moment glaring at all of them and slowly backed the rest of the way out of the ring.
Life got easier for Mark after that. He had stood his ground and that had gotten him some respect. But what really turned it for Mark was when he tried out for the basketball team and was selected to play. The blocks didn't mess with the jocks as a rule.
During B-Ball season, Mark was offered a membership of sorts in their crew. The only thing was he had to change clothes. They were not tolerant of the button down collar, wee-juns with tassles look. Mark bought a few Ban-Lon shirts and was already using Chuck Taylors, but he drew the line at wearing Big Macs. He always thought the huge pants legs looked stupid with spindly kid legs sticking out of them.
This fight did happen and I tried to describe it as accurately as I could. All the rest was created to try and make what was but one of a million stories of bullies a little more interesting. The next year when we moved back to Bethesda, I had to deal with two more bullies, one of whom really hurt me. The other, well, he never messed with me again. But that is yet another story to tell.
Keep it 'tween the ditches .........................................
For today musical interlude, I picked "Jeremy" by Pearl Jam. I did not know it, but they wrote this tune in response to an incident at a school I think in 1991. A bullied student stood in front of his class and shot himself in the head.
Yes, no encounter with bullying in my experience made me feel this desperate. And no, I don't think I could know or comment on how desperate someone can become after incessant bullying. I do know and have experienced bullying in my life. I am guessing most of us have. Yet it still happens.
Never underestimate the capacity of Humans to be complete assholes.
Started this post 12 years ago.