Lighter Memories of Bullying
Lighter Memories of Bullying: From A Sixties Guy
It was different back when Eisenhower, Kennedy and Carter were presidents. Living in Newark, New Jersey, you never locked the back door and I was running to the grocery store to pick up a tub of butter every week. At day camp in 1957, I was a skinny average sized kid who avoided all kinds of confrontation and competition. My favorite movie was ‘The Invisible Man.’ However, one summer day, the head counselor at camp saw fit (because I was too adept at dodging the ball playing dodge ball) to warn me to attempt to catch the ball or else I’d have to fight (in a boxing ring) the biggest, meanest, toughest kid in camp at the end of the day. Howard Jones was twice my size and much older. As I was dodging the ball heading towards me faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a run-away locomotive, I saw Howard smiling sardonically at me. The counselor announced to the camp that Calvin was fighting Howard at 3 PM. I was unnerved and petrified. Later, when my bunk was playing softball in Weequahic Park, and the bus came to take us swimming, I hid in a massive bush and walked home several miles crying. Mother went to camp the next day to straighten things out. Back then, comic books had advertisements how body building (Joe Weider) could transform you from geek to sheik. But nature did it for me. My nickname by the time I got to high school was ‘the weed.’ I grew fast and a decade flew on by. At the Jersey shore in 1967, I saw Howard Jones on the beach. More than twice his size now, I gloatingly approached, ready for any eventuality but I stopped suddenly. The tenets of non-violence and reason prevailed. What purpose served? I was maturing with values. A few years later, I even bumped into the counselor who arranged the boxing match. I was twice his size too. We shook hands, smiled and he disappeared into the night and I felt fine.
Cut to 1976. Rebounding from a recent divorce, I went to Club Med in Guadeloupe (French Caribbean) in June. And I was even bigger (6’5”) than in 1967, having finally listened to Joe Weider by lifting weights as well; still dreaming of a professional basketball career. On the other side of midnight, I was strolling solo near the palm tree lined beach, when I saw two French employees of Club Med fighting with an American who was much smaller. It seems the Frenchmen were making hamburgers on the beach and the only way to obtain said meat product was to pay for it with snap-it beads, Club Med currency. The American didn’t have beads and wanted to pay in cash which was no go. Words led to fists flying. Lessons from day camp, I thought; non-violence. But I had to help a fellow American getting bullied and beat-up. Briskly, with an air of contrived intimidation, I approached the Frenchmen. And I was nearly twice their size. In a deep voice from the depths of my anatomy, I said, pointing and waving an index finger at them, “Leave the kid alone.” Gosh I even intimidated myself. Immediately they backed away, fists dropped and they kept staring up at me. I threw one more, “Leave the kid alone.” A hamburger on a bun on a small paper plate was passed to my new friend. A few hours before sunrise, we were still on the beach, talking about the universe, the Bicentennial celebration, singing a few verses of ‘Puff, the Magic Dragon,’ but mostly laughing. We became friends. Next day, we played tennis and again laughed about, “Leave the kid alone.” A few times in between hanging out at the disco, we talked about staying in touch. Ricky imitated me intimidating, with his southern California rendition of, “Leave the kid alone.” Informality of Club Med was special; no one knew or cared about last names. On the last day, Ricky and I exchanged phone numbers then he flew home. My roommate, whom I also became friends with, told me who my new friend Ricky was. Ricky Carson, Johnny’s son. Suddenly, I was intimidated; a celebrity’s son and how could I ever compete in that world. With regrets for all kinds of reasons, I never stayed in touch with Ricky.
Decades later I look back on bullying; memories lighter now, but heavier and impactful back then. The course was set for a rest of my life from that day camp experience, eventually embracing non-violence, Gandhi, Dr. King and never having lifted a hand to another human being or telling anyone else to “leave the kid alone.”