I was too young to start school. I still had my baby teeth. But there I was, back against the wall, trying to avoid contact with strangers. A large boy stood in front of me looking down at my upturned face. His stare was unfriendly.
“What are you looking at?” he asked.
“You look sleepy.” I said.
Apparently he took offense at my retort and pounded me into a submissive blob. This was my first encounter with a bully. I didn’t report the incident to my dad because I knew he would have questions about what I did to defend myself. I didn’t think crying and rolling into a ball would count for much.
I come from a long line of good boxers. Dad made attempts early in my life to instruct me the art of self-defense. I’m left handed, and a bit of a bumble foot, so I avoided physical confrontation. Several times I tried to mock the tricks of my favorite cowboy stars, but it never worked out just as it did on the big screen. I once tried to grab a charging playmate and roll backwards with my feet in his stomach thus launching him over my head. My legs were unable to support his weight, and to my father who was watching from the window it looked as though I had wilted in the face of a challenge. Further lessons were a necessity.
I gained confidence as I rose through the elementary grades, but, just when I felt comfortable, Junior High School started. I was a round faced seventh grader. The bullies I encountered here were bigger and meaner than any I had seen before. Some rode motorcycles to school and wore leather jackets. They had longish greasy hair combed back on both sides forming a ducktail at the back. The front was curled to fall over on their forehead in the front. I spent hours contemplating what I would do if attacked. I timed my comings and goings from school to avoid any notice from that crowd. However, it was not to be.
It was picture day and I dressed in a new white shirt and a bow tie. Sammy, the class bully, sat directly behind me. The teacher was out of the room. Sammy had a side kick named Earl who always jumped in after Sammy softened up his mark. I don’t know why the teacher decided to put me in front of these two. As I sat with my face forward trying to be invisible, I felt dampness on the back of my shirt. Sammy was slinging blue ink from a cartridge pen all across my back. I knew my dad would ask about the shirt when I got home. I had to do something. I stood facing Sammy and hit him hard with my left fist right between his eyes. A big knot formed over the bridge of his nose. I turned on Earl who was trying to slide down in his chair. Just about that time, the teacher walked back into the room. The class monitor, a girl with a pen and pad, was only to happy to report my breach of good conduct to the teacher. I was held after school along with Sammy and Earl. After a while my dad walked through the door to the classroom. He asked why I was being detained. The teacher, a small woman, explained the happenings from earlier in the day as my father listened. He asked her if she had seen the incident and she reported she had not been in the classroom at the time. My father came back to where I was seated and said “Come with me son we’re going home.” As we passed the desk he turned to the teacher and said, “He did just what I taught him he should, and he won’t be staying after school for that.” From that day forward I had very little trouble with any of the other bullies in the school. A bad reputation can be a good thing.