Bobby the Brave
Before bullying became uncool...
Bobby the Brave: sinking the Bismar
Grade school was tough for me. Most people remember those years with the fondness of a favorite Disney song but it wasn't so joyful for me. The strangest thing for me is that other grades weren't nearly as unbearable compared to the grind of second grade. Other times as a young student in middle and high school posed hurdles, but I bullshit my way through them like most did, coming out of it clean on the other side. Few of those times had more adversity as grades 1 through 5 and the characters I sat next to or made friends and enemies with made the times more colorful to say the least. I wasn't any better to bear with, but this is expected, as grade school caters to the animal of the preteen that has no parents around and the only authority figure is also in charge of thirty other hellions. There is no stopping all those nose picking, snickering, note passing, sucker punching, poorly dressed kids all at the same time, so this lead our poor teacher to the device of trying to keep us all in line- one student at a time.
Then there was me: Bobby. An overweight, awkward, shy, and not too bright for his age mess of a kid that hated school and everything about it. Needless to say, my family life was difficult and troubled. At school, all I could think of was being at home with my overworked mother and at home I would have rather been on a TV show like Saved By The Bell: a place where all the kids with the pumped up kicks were more friendly and even the dorkiest of characters like Screech seemed cool. My poor, unfortunate mother had no choice but to deal with me as a youngster as my father was as useless as a plumber with no wrench. This meant that there was no compass to teach me how to talk to people, make friends, dress nice, look confident, or even brush my teeth daily. Some public schools would allow someone like me to walk freely without harassment from the kids with more functional families that could be role models of good social skills. Not Crystal Lakes Elementary.
Crystal Lakes was ironically never near a lake, and at the time I was attending was recently built. This meant that all the suburbanite soccer moms of the 1990's commuted their little rapscallions from the Wonder Bread world of two story homes to this school that even still smelled new. The classrooms were in the actual building, meaning school system hadn't resorted to trailer park classrooms like other schools did in Florida. Playground equipment was all new, shiny and rarely used by me since I was the fat kid. The rooms were all freshly painted and still emanated the odor of industrial enamel that gave the students’ headaches. The bathrooms were leak free and the walls were yet to be tainted by the student body of graffiti artists. And I could never forget the teachers that arrived on their first day of school with such a twinkle of hope in their eyes for us, and by the end of the year probably spent summer break as amateur wine enthusiasts.
Being almost a child of an almost single mother, I was right away the sorest thumb in the room. I spent my entire second grade year posed in the back of the class, at my desk, looking like a dork and acting a fool just for someone to notice me. I remember the awful way I would dress in class just to not go to school bare-assed naked. Some mornings I would wake too late for school and have to throw on clothing that wasn't appropriate. My mother had little time to argue with me and tell me to wear something else. I really wish my dad would have just said one thing to me.
“Son, you can't go to school in swim trunks and my Big Johnson T-shirt.” But alas, he didn't.
Almost any shirt in the house was perfectly fine to wear. Loose tank tops revealed my fat kid man-boobs, becoming the topic of ridicule. Most of my fashion lessons in “what was okay to wear” were learned the hard way: through other kids laughing at me. My hair was rarely cut and poorly managed so in walked in a brown locked mullet-head in bad clothing to attend his first day of second-grade public school. It would have been easier to put the “kick me” sign on my own back and slap the lunch tray out of my own hand. Despite this, I was a sweet kid at heart. My true goodness was inward, which one would have to get to know me to see and if you’re a smelly fat-ass like I was, no one did.
While most of the students of the school and in my grade were all well-adjusted kids with dignity and blessed with the aura of self-confidence that comes from only-in-sitcom parenting, others were ugly both inside and out. There was one kid amongst this student body of Full House characters that seemed so awful that he would step on every crack in the concrete halls just to destroy his mother's back until she was a quadriplegic eating through a straw. Our school principal would rue the day she ever met him or knew his name. Other boys at school wanted to be him, as he was incredibly rude and put on vulgar shows against the teachers just to gain attention. The girls at this school couldn’t stand him as he would comment on them with sexual remarks that no second grader should ever know about. Enter the larger than life character of Joey Bismar.
“I’m gonna get you boy-a.” He would chant daily, pounding his fist into his hand. “Afta’ school.”
I would cower in fear against this convict of a child. No one was more demeaning, abusive, intimidating, or morally neglected than him. There was a strange irony to all of this. He was also poor, came from a broken family, had no friends and dressed like garbage. What made Joey shine was his arrogant, bullying courage.
As soon as teacher’s back was turned: Whack! A sucker punch to my arm. On the playground: SLAP! His palm would strike the back of my head. God help me in gym class where he would make fat joke as I attempted jumping jacks while he would jump on the ground in an effort to simulate my large body generating an earthquake. I would tell the teacher about his antics and she would just talk to this kid as if this little demon was capable of diplomacy.
I had reached a boiling point in the middle of my second grade year, as all this pressure to try and be perfect kid with a couple friends was starting to wear away at my youthful innocence. Was I to let this bully make me feel so little and weak even when he was just barely different from me? All this kid had going for him was that he was skinnier and braver. Brave enough to talk about girls boobies (and mine). Crude enough to call our teacher a “bitch”. Ballsy enough to punch a fat kid that could kill him he would ever sit on him. Our moment came during recess in a showdown near the swing set.
I had this lovely habit of jumping off the swing sets when I was finished using them and Joey happened to catch it. Joey then took a break trying to look up the girls’ skirts to focus on me.
“Don’t, Boobie you’ll start an earthquake.” Joey yelled through a cackle. A couple of his close “cool-kid” fans gathered around him and laughed in agreement like a bunch of sheep. I couldn’t just ignore this.
“Shut your face, ass-head!” I yelled back, censoring myself in case teacher heard.
“You ain’t my momma!” Joey blurted in his defense and them laughed a little again. “Yo momma’s so fat she shits butter.” This was the early 90’s and “yo momma” jokes were trendy.
I wasn’t about to let him just get away with that little gem so I broke out my best swear I could cobble together without having to spend the rest of the day in the principal’s office.
“You don’t know my mom, bitch.” Yeah, that’ll show him.
I turned my back to walk away, and this wasn’t a good idea. Before I could say “yo momma” my back was invaded by a barrage of windmill punches that then were followed with a grapple around my neck. Perhaps the energizing rage within me was fueled by the sudden chants from students witnessing this struggle or maybe just the fact that my large size made me a pasty white Incredible Hulk, but something wonderful happened. I threw that backpack of a kid off my back and slammed him on the ground giving him a back full of pointy woodchips. Then came the quake- I sit on his chest and watched his eyes get tennis-ball-sized. My chunky thighs held his arms down so he was done for. My hefty frame robbed him of precious air and his sewer mouth couldn’t even call out the teachers name. Tears of fear welled in his eyes that got redder the longer I rested on him.
It wasn’t long before I finally got pulled off this kid by my stronger-than-we-thought teacher. We both got escorted to the principal’s office where that judge, jury and executioner sentenced us to punishment we couldn’t imagine: sitting next to each other during lunchtime! While in the eyes of school law we both lost the fight, to me this was a trophy. Joey finally got what he had coming since the day school started and I looked like a badass that wouldn’t take any more crap ever again.
It is to be expected but as the next month of lunch went by, Joey and I would talk. He would tell me about his hell of a family life, and I would tell him mine. I would tell him about Nintendo games I played and he would give me tips on how to beat them. We were two boys that had the same heroes in life like WWF wrestlers and villains in life like our dads. It was like we were learning that we both weren’t the only ones in the world with terrible lives.
Our first sit down at lunchtime went something like this:
“Where’d you learn to pin someone like that?” Joey asked, referring to me turning him into a sofa.
“Yokozuna from the WWF.” I answered.
He laughed. And for once not at me, but with me.
Bobby the Brave: The Teacher Edition
It was the first year of me teaching the 2nd grade and I was so excited to be doing it in a brand new school. Crystal Lakes Elementary was recently built and was ready for an entire new suburb to file in a fresh student body into grades kindergarten to 5th. I had previously taught in a high school, and I was feeling like this would be a welcome change. In fact, I wasn’t alone on that- the student lounge on the first day was filled with such colorful and hopeful dialogue.
“Have you seen the class sizes?”
“Yeah, They’re about 30- a nice size, very manageable.”
“Our textbooks were printed only 6 years ago, it’s the latest edition!”
Oh, the banter went on and on. In the 1990’s we all had this attitude that all we needed was the latest and greatest and teaching in a classroom with only 1 functioning computer was our key to educating kids. It was up to us teachers to give our students the best educational edge to prepare them for middle school- where the grass was not as green and the players on the field were far less forgiving.
It wasn’t but six months went by that our career of nobility in educating the young began to become an exercise in babysitting 30 kids. The bathrooms became a mural of un-washable and downright vile graffiti (seriously, what kid at the age of 10 knows this much about sex?). Classrooms would become unruly at the slightest sound of a student farting. The grounds and sidewalks turned into spotted works of awful modern art thanks to the hundreds of chewing gum varieties that we explicitly told the kids not to bring. We could yell all we wanted, but it was no good- these kids were being...well, just kids.
Suddenly my fellow educators began to feel the elementary school blues. The school superintendent prohibited smoking in the lounge, as did the community. For the life of me, I never saw a lit cigarette once in that room but could see the haze and smell the smoke every time I went there for lunch breaks. Those same hopefuls heard 6 months earlier talking of the glorious new campus was now verbally fantasizing about the day it would be burnt down to its rebar. And suddenly the talk changed.
“I can’t believe I had to fish a hot wheel out a kids nose”
“How’d it get there?”
“Joey shoved it in there!”
It was such dichotomy. Some of the teachers were fresh out of college and by the end of the school year they were looking into careers in data entry. Others of us looked forward to spending the summer break at the bar or in Napa Valley. We teachers say these phrases quite often, but we either don’t get paid enough for this shit, or we’re getting too old for this shit.
This isn't to say that I got sloppy. My class had top grades for the second-grade bracket and it was all thanks to me simply adapting. I had dealt with high school kids, and elementary school posed an even greater challenge because reality has yet to bite these kids in the ass. I could give a speech to high schoolers about how their misbehavior could cost them a college scholarship, but these kids still have half a decade or more to give a shit about that. In grades k-5, the only thing these kids care about is TV and Nintendo. They got unruly, so I got stricter and more creative with my discipline day by day.
Only 2 students would pose to be my make or break. The first one was Bobby. Maybe he was having a rough time at home, or perhaps he was “special”. I don’t know. Whatever the case, he had an issue- today it’s called ADHD, but back in the 90’s he just didn’t pay attention. Math periods were where he had the most trouble, as he would often just sit at his desk chewing his pencils and erasers. Other times I would look over his shoulder and find him just writing- not about the subject or the material - he would just re-write the textbook into his notebook...word by word. Snapping him out of this was easy, but keeping him attentive was hard.
Let it be known; this kid wasn’t stupid. He was well-behaved, and never caused trouble, but trouble always found him. He was a chubby, awkwardly-dressed and poorly-groomed kid. I know he had a great mother, but he would often complain about his father. Some days he would show up to school in grungy clothing or inappropriate clothes. Unless this kid had no mirrors in the house there was no excuse for him to leave for school in swim trunks and a tank top. What made matters worse is that I knew this child was miserable, and he seemed desperate for a friend. When I look back, memories of this lovable loser make me think of how he’s turned out.
On the flipside of the coin was Joey Bismar. I don’t know how this kid’s has turned out now but I am sure he’s no surgeon. Regardless, while he was in my class he was pure hell. He, like Bobby, was also poorly dressed and from a rough family life, but while Bobby responded to it by being a lovable doofus, Joey just squirt the lemon life gave him into the eyes of society. I wanted to staple a pass to the principal's office to his forehead and not even let him into my class. He cussed at me, called me a “bitch”, looked up the skirts of other girls in the class, and sucker-punched Bobby as often as he could. I always knew he did it, but I gave up calling him out on this.
I gave up calling him out on abusing Bobby because I was smart. I would hear this little demon-spawn taunt him in the lunchline:
“Afta- school boy-eee.” He would call. “Leave some food for the rest of us, fat-ass”
Other kids suffered under the gestural slings and verbal arrows of Joey Bismar, but none more so than Bobby: that was his main target. Most may not have noticed but Bobby would clutch his arm after a good punch, his eyes welling with tears and it was clear to me that Joey was merely pounding the steel. Forging the alloy of the weapon that would one day take him down; Joey was not bullying a student- he was creating a monster. When this beast strikes back, would it be more ethical to separate these two fighting dogs, or turn a blind eye?
It’s second grade, so I most likely would have to intervene when the time came.
You’ll never know much about the world until you witness the cosmic/human ballet of a playground. Kids playing and fully aware that I only have two eyes, so they become stealthy with their mischief. They yell at each other more creatively, cursing the fashion that only network TV can allow, assuming I won’t pull them in time-out. I kept my sights on Joey Bismar as he harassed his female classmates one second and then dodged the swipes from their hands the next. After he got bored with that, he sought out Bobby and found him jumping from the swing set.
I was too far away to hear, but it looked like Joey was getting his cracks in on his doughy punching bag. I saw Bobby yelling a few words back, not clearly hearing them past all the cheers and jeers from the rest of the playing class. Bobby transformed into the pasty incredible hulk in one great moment of yelling back at Joey, and in this insult all I could hear was the word “bitch”. Joey may loved using the word “bitch” but no one would risk calling him one. Bobby then turned his back and attempted to walk off, only to be tailed by Joey.
The next thing I saw resembled cartoons of yesteryear but these two boys began to fight, both turning into a ball of dust and wood chips. Joey jumped behind Bobby and attached himself to the fat boy’s back, holding onto his neck with one arm and pummeling Bobby’s shoulder with the other. Then it happened. Bobby lunged his body to the side, threw Joey on his back, and did what any fat person would do: sat on his chest.
My teacher, moderator, and referee mode turned on and I ran over to break up the brawl before Bobby choked the life out of his skinny new chair/ex-bully. Joey gasped for air and even cried. Oh, did he cry. That bully never had someone strike back at him like that, and as I looked over at Bobby I could see something of a smile form on his face. Even as I escorted these spazzy kids back to class, Bobby still didn’t flinch. He’d had his first victory.
This little scrape never made it to the principal's office, as I had my own punishment that would far exceed what he could conjure: I forced them to sit with each other at lunch. The school year went on, the punishment was only a for a few weeks, but they still continued to sit with each other and talk. It wasn’t my intention for it to turn out this way but it was evident to me on the first day of their penance: Joey successfully and unknowingly created a monster. I successfully and unknowingly helped Bobby create a friend.