Archive for February, 2015

united-colors-of-benettonWhen I finally left Powers Catholic High School, it was with a bang, not a whimper.

After brutally beating the Mouth of the South, rumor had it that many young men were going to take up for him and kick my ass. Everyone from Ug, the Caveman Baseball Player to Big B in the Place to Be were rumored to be caving my skull in at any moment. While neither of those two gentlemen stepped up to the proverbial plate to take a swing, I did managed to eke one last fight out of the Class of 1989: Jameson Wellington Rothschild III.

To be honest, I don’t know if young master Rothschild came from a wealthy family, as his name would imply. While there were many rich kids that attended that school, there were likely twice as many who came from middle-class families who took out a second mortgage in hopes that their children could get a good education. I suspect that was the case for Rothschild.

He and I had only one run in and it happened during my junior year. He started mouthing off to me in class, and he quite literally began giggling and squealing with girlish delight when his friend – a man named Jheri, last name, Curl – took up for him by trying to get loud on me. It would be a year later when the right proper Mr. Rothschild and I would meet again… and under very different circumstances.

I was walking to class with a friend and we were headed up the stairwell that parallels the school’s front doors. I looked up at the top to see ol’ J. Wellington heading down the stairs, coming straight for me. It was impossible to miss him since he easily stood about six feet, one inches tall, and he was wearing this long-sleeved shirt that featured wide stripes of red and green separated by thinner stripes of golden yellow.

I’m not going to lie to you, I had absolutely no intention of moving to let him pass by. Apparently, he felt the same regarding my safe passage and we both committed the unforgivable sin of bumping shoulders. Needless to say, the usually effeminate Jameson Wellington Rothschild III became incensed that I, lowly worm such that I was, would dare touch his immaculate shoulder. As expected, he began the usual shit-talking ritual so commonplace at Powers Catholic.

“Why don’t you do something about it, then?” I said.

“I will!” he replied, his steely-blue eyes blazing with rage.

“Fine!” I said. “Let’s go.”

Sensing it would be safe to turn my back on him, I handed my books to my friend and walked back down to the bottom of the stairs with Rothschild hot on my heels. As I stepped off the last step, I turned to face the enraged United Colors of Benetton model as he leaped from the second to the last step with a rather wild punch.

Like I did in my fight with the Mouth of the South, I went into a Jake LaMotta-like crouch. This caused Rothschild’s punch to glance off my back. He kept swinging with the wild, flailing punches so I simply buried my left shoulder into his sternum and sort of smashed him until his back hit the cinder block wall that formed the stairwell.

He was still screaming and flailing at this point so I knew I had to take the wind out of his sails. Smashing him into the wall with my shoulder again, I followed up with a quick right-handed uppercut and buried my fist into his bottom rib. The air seemed to whoosh out of his lungs in a near-death rattle and his whirlwind punches ceased. Now it was time to punish him, I thought.

I raised my left arm up until my forearm was across his chest and I used it to pin his back to the wall. Then, I unleashed with two or three more uppercuts with my right hand, only this time I aimed a little bit below the ribs. The punches to his groin caused Rothschild to emit a high-pitched squeal, only this time it lacked the maniacal glee he displayed when Jheri Curl had his back. Now, it sounded more like a cry for help.

Long story short, one of the male teachers burst through the door to pull me off of poor Mr. Rothschild. As he did, I somehow rubbed my face against the sleeve of that multi-colored shirt J. Wellington was wearing and the damn thing had the consistency of a fucking burlap sack. It gave me a carpet burn that was enough for a few people to suggest Rothschild got the best of me. Needless to say, these few naysayers quickly retracted their statements after threatening to do to them as I did to Rothschild.

J. Wellington never wanted to fight me again after that day. I know, because I later accosted him in the hallway and challenged him to another go around. “I’m done!” he said. “Just leave me alone.” Being so close to graduation, I decided to let it go at that. After my battle with Rothschild, the administration made it very clear to my parents that one more fight would get me kicked out for good. I decided the cap and gown was more important than whipping Rothschild again, no matter how much he deserved it.

About five years after graduating from Powers, I saw Jameson Wellington Rothschild III again. He was walking out of the bookstore at Central Michigan University, and the mere sight of him instantly brought back all the anger I had toward him in high school. I entered a trance-like state that caused me to turn and fall into step behind him. Sometime during the journey, I grabbed a very large chunk of asphalt from the street. I was determined to crack his fucking skull open like an egg.

Throughout my tailing of him, Rothschild seemed completely oblivious to how close to death or serious injury he was. The only thing that saved him was me spotting a Mt. Pleasant Police Department cruiser about three blocks up the street. Just the sight of that ol’ blue and white made me suddenly realize where I was and what I was about to do. Before the pigs knew what happened, I chucked the asphalt onto the grass of someone’s lawn and quickly cut up an alley that took me back to the student bookstore.

I guessed Rothschild and I both dodged a proverbial bullet that day.

glassjoeThe son of a bitch was now in my sights. Twenty minutes ago, he thought he was funny, doggin’ me out like he did, but now it was my turn. With my fist clenched like a cast-iron cannonball at my side, I whispered his name and he looked up at me. An entire year of the most vicious insults were about to be answered not with words but with action. My arm snapped like a chain, sending the wrecking ball that was my fist speeding forward toward the mouth that had abused my honor for the last time…

While my junior year at Powers Catholic High School was marred by bullying, I flipped the script my senior year… starting with shutting up the “Mouth of the South.”

Although it happened 26 years ago, I still remember it like it was yesterday. After losing a fight to the Anabolic Israeli Commando the year before, I seriously considered going back to my old high school. I’d had of the shit-talking that came with losing that fight and wasn’t anxious for another year of it. Unfortunately, the A.I.C. had cousins – three brothers, to be exact – at Hamady, so going back there would’ve brought about more of the same.

So without any better options, I returned to Powers Catholic for my senior year. It was then that I met the “Mouth of the South.” He was an insignificant little piss ant of a preppy, but what he lacked in physical prowess he more then made up for in sarcasm. This malicious little bastard was in three of my classes. Three. And it didn’t take him long before he started in on me about losing the fight to the A.I.C. and damn near anything else about me in which he could find fault.

There was just no end in sight and there was no blow too low for the Mouth of the South. He had an uncanny knack for ferreting out the slightest weakness or flaw in me, then he’d maliciously tear me to shreds over it. Looking back on it now, I can’t help but wonder if he didn’t come from an abusive home, as it would go a long way to explain his ruthlessness.

Considering all the nasty things he said about me, it was a relatively small thing that finally made me snap.

It went down in English class, where the Mouth of the South decided to crack wise by imitating my voice. He did his best to make me sound more like Kermit the Frog than I already do, and it made my ears and face feel as if they were on fire. This was the unmistakeable physical symptoms of shame, a feeling I knew all too well, and was determined to rid myself of after a year of living with the humiliation of having lost a fight in front of nearly the entire school.

I could’ve jumped up from my desk and charged him right then and there, but such a blatant act of aggression would be quickly squelched before I could do any significant damage. Instead, I waited for the perfect opportunity: when the Mouth of the South would grab his homework papers, which were conveniently placed upon the empty desk at the front of my row. It wasn’t long before he came traipsing across the front of the classroom, headed straight for the Desk of Doom.

Acting like I had to sharpen my pencil, I got up and began walking toward him. As I got closer, I quietly dropped the pencil to the floor before whispering his name. As he raised his gaze to meet mine, I unleashed a right cross, putting all my weight behind it. My goal was to smash the offensive sewer hole he called a mouth but my punch ended up smashing him in square in the nose.

My punch knocked his head straight back, puffing his blond bangs out with the force of the blow. I swear, he looked like Glass Joe from Punchout fame getting slammed by the power-up punch! I managed to knock him back a few steps but he quickly recovered just in time to emit a rather high-pitched, effeminate squeal as he began wildly flailing his arms at me in what looked more like a broken windmill than an effective counterattack.

Remembering the old boxing videos I used to watch with my dad, I hunkered down into a Jake LaMotta crouched and pulled my guard up, allowing his impotent strikes to merely glance off me. Shuffle-stepping inside his attacks, I shot a palm-heel strike with my left hand, catching him on the forehead, smashing his head off the TV, which was at the front of the room on one of those rolling TV/VCR stands wheeled there by the geeks from the AV club.

Knowing I didn’t have much time, I lashed out with a kick aimed squarely at the Mouth of the South’s likely-shrunken groin. The attack ended up striking him somewhere near his inner thigh, and it was enough to knock him off balance, thus ceasing his useless, squealing attacks. I then grabbed him hard by his Adam’s apple and squeezed with everything I had. Gurgling and choking, he raised his head and I cocked my right arm back to deliver another power punch; but by then, I was grabbed from behind by another student, who managed to pull me away from my victim.

Later on in the office, the Mouth of the South was crying – literally crying – about how I “sucker punched” him. I’ll never forget what I told him that day. “They have a saying in boxing: ‘Protect yourself at all times.’ You antagonized me all year, so it was only a matter of time before something like this went down.” Needless to say, my logic was lost upon him.

I later found out that I caused a hairline fracture to his nose – the exact same thing that happened to me in my fight with the Anabolic Israeli Commando. Something else happened: the Mouth of the South’s insults no longer bothered me. I would barely hear him bitching about me under his breath but it soon became white noise to me. I shattered his power and he became nothing more than what he was, and that was a name and a student ID badge.

Looking back on it, I only have a couple regrets: not whipping his ass sooner, and not getting more shots in on him. If anyone deserved it, it was definitely the Mouth of the South.

Permanent Sunset (For Rosemary)

Posted: February 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

sunsetYou are my permanent sunset.
The day’s most precious moment
frozen in time,
forever capturing your effulgence
as it basks in blazing brilliance,
bathing me in its gilded glow.
Such luminosity is a rare beauty,
an allure that robs shadows of their menace,
softening them into charcoal counterpoints
to the amber tinge that suffuses my soul.
A unique radiance such as this
cannot just be seen;
it must be held,touched… experienced.

And so I run to you
as you remain suspended upon the horizon,
turning the vastness of the world
into a mere black line, its only importance
the framework upon which its sits
within your muted beams.
Yearning to meet you, to meld with you,
I reach out, rewarded with the moment
you shroud me in warm tones of purple, orange, and pink…
your most dazzling display.
It is only then I ask you,
beg you even,
to resist the call to dip below that edge,
leaving me with nothing
but the bitter reminder of your brilliant glow
reflected off the moon in all its falseness.

As always, I am spared the kiss of that cold, dark night,
where stars shine their false promises
of the heat and comfort
they never intend to give.
Instead, that night never comes,
and I am thankful to remain shrouded
in that beaming splendor that is you…
my permanent sunset.

gillespieBend over and grab your knees! No, this is not a sex post… you’ll have to go to my wife’s blog for that. This is about why I think it’s wrong for school administrators to paddle children.

Before you say it, yes, I know that paddling is no longer allowed in schools here in America… at least that’s my understanding. But the subject was brought up recently on a Facebook forum for my old neighborhood school. Apparently, one former student and local BMX icon was waxing nostalgic, praising a former teacher’s rather generous use of the paddle. In short, this person believed that the teacher’s paddling taught children “respect,” and the elementary school’s use of corporal punishment made us all better people.

With all due respect to Mayfair’s king of bunnyhops and ramp riding, I call bullshit on his so-called theories.

Like him, I, too, went to that school and I don’t feel I benefited from its paddling policy at all. In its wisdom, the administration used the worst reasons and most flimsy of pretexts to justify doling out this form of punishment. And if you didn’t show the proper amount of remorse – i.e., not breaking down into a crumbling crybaby – they felt you didn’t “learn your lesson” and would paddle you again… harder. And if the first one didn’t make you break out into tears, the second was guaranteed to elicit the desired reaction. It was the stuff of bullies, really.

As discussion of Gillespie Elementary’s “paddling policy” continued, former students recalled the various reasons they took a few from that dreaded piece of wooden enforcement. Walking on the grass instead of the sidewalk, sliding on the ice ponds the formed just outside the bus stop, and in my case, “bouncing down the hall like a jackrabbit,” according to one grumpy, undersexed, overweight, and perpetually unfulfilled teacher.

Looking back on it, all being paddled ever taught me was that adults could be as capricious and cruel as the kids. Being adults with the power to paddle just made them more dangerous. Thing is, I didn’t need to endure that plank crashing into my backside to learn that lesson; both my parents were teachers, and I learned early on that the limits of their patience for childish nonsense wore rather thin indeed.

It wasn’t until I became a parent, myself, that I realized the truly insidious nature of swatting children.

It was many years ago when I became a parent in my 20s. When it came to raising my child, the only “manual” I had to go by was that of parents and the other adults who’d shaped my life to that point. My daughter’s mother and I were having a devil of a time keeping our child from climbing the pantry, which put her at risk for both falling and pulling the large wooden structure filled with cans and jars down on her.

After a week of saying “no” and taking her down from the pantry, we were both at the ends of our respective ropes. Long story short, I gave our daughter two clapping swats on her bottom the next time I caught her climbing the pantry and she promptly burst into tears. It was then that I realized who paddling was truly for: the parent.

The reason parents spank their children is to make themselves feel better. The temporary release of anger in a tangible way upon the one who’s annoying you gives the parent a momentary sense of power and control, which feels good… for a moment. This delusion is shattered in the split-second your child looks at you just prior to the cascade of tears that are sure to follow.

I recognized the look in my daughter’s eyes in that moment; it was a look of shock, anger, and above all, the feelings of betrayal that occur when someone who tells you they love you more than life itself turns around and hurts you. I remember being so distraught over what I had done that I cried into my then-wife’s shoulder for quite some time, vowing never to swat our daughter again. It never did take away the desire to do so in the heat of the moment, however, and I believe that’s the vicious cycle that every child who was paddled strives to break when they grow up and become parents, themselves.

As to the effects of paddling at Gillespie Elementary, I highly doubt the practice made us better citizens of the world. Likely, it only reinforced what many kids who grew up in that little redneck, shoprat neighborhood of mine were already learning at home: that might makes right. Is it any wonder, then, that there was so much bullying at the school back then?

About J.P. Ribner
J.P. Ribner is the author of Viking fantasy adventure series “The Berserker’s Saga.” Currently, the saga features two novels – “Legacy of the Bear” and “Prophecy of the Bear.” For more about his written work, check out his website.

Apparently, I often make light of people in abusive relationships and how difficult it is to leave these situations. At least that’s what one friend recently suggested. Perhaps the following story might change her mind…

“If she was so crazy, why did you stay with her so long?” Whenever the subject of my ex comes up, someone always asks this question. Some people can’t believe that a woman is capable of the unfathomable acts of evil that I charge “Peaches,” my ex, of committing. “Come on!” they say. “If she was so bad, you had to have seen some signs of it early on.” Of course she did, but I willfully chose to ignore such things as:

Strange men and women showing up at her house looking for her, all the while giving me dirty glances.

Saying I was both “the love of her life” and the man who “ruined her life,” usually in the same discussion.

Locking herself in the bathroom and gulping down pills when I got my college acceptance letter.

Her ex-boyfriend always obtaining our phone number no matter how many times we moved.

Long, drawn-out re-evaluations of our relationship, usually at 3:30 a.m. before the day of a mid-term or final exam.

Her disappearing for days at a time, leaving our daughter and I at home without money or a vehicle.

The verbal, emotional, and physical (yes, physical) abuse on a monthly basis.

Using lies and manipulations to turn my friends and family against me.

It wasn’t always this way, though. In the beginning, she gave me the love and acceptance that I felt eluded me my entire life. As a result, I jumped head-first into a relationship with her, making her my everything. And because I finally found what I believed to be a permanent source of the love/attention/validation drug that I’d become so addicted to at that time; thus, so I didn’t dare question the many strange occurrences mentioned above.

As our relationship wore on, I continued to remain helpless as her bizarre and abusive behavior escalated into all-out war. I wasn’t about to risk losing my “one and only” source of love, acceptance, and emotional/physical comfort… not after going without for so long. What if I couldn’t find someone else?

Above all, I stayed with Peaches because her dysfunction felt… normal.

I call my childhood home “Trauma Central” for a reason. The environment was rife with destructive narcissistic patterns, as my parents’ constant need for attention and validation thrust me in the role of both providing that for them and being seen only as an extension of them.

When life threw them a curveball, it was me who bore the brunt of their frustrations. I was constantly told that I was “bad,” “stupid,” and “useless,” and I entered adulthood wearing this identity about me like cloak. At 43, I’m still paying the taxes on this “inheritance.” In short, growing up this way made me easy pickings for Peaches.

There have been many studies about why people stay in abusive relationships. Some psychologists say our want for the familiar causes us to recreate patterns we know are bad for us. Neuroscientists talk about brain chemistry and how we can become addicted to the chemical reactions produced by negative experiences, especially if that’s all we know.

Personally, I think they’re both right. Peaches’s dysfunction was definitely familiar, and I can’t deny a certain addictive quality to the relationship, despite its toxicity.

Trauma Central played a more direct role in my staying as long as I did. One family member was delighted that my daughter was the first and only grandchild in the family, and this person lavished my child with time, money, and attention. This family member had a vested interest in Peaches and I staying together, so much so that it became easy for this person to believe Peaches’s constant litany of abuse at my hands, my alleged alcoholism, and other loutish and chauvinistic behavior she suffered ever so valiantly.

Eventually, I got off this crazy rollercoaster. After all the arguments, assaults, lies, bankruptcy, and threats, I caught Peaches in flagrante delicto with someone I thought was my friend. At great financial and emotional cost to myself, I left and filed for divorce. By believing I deserved far better than what she was capable of giving, I was at least able to defy both Peaches and that part of Trauma Central that would do anything to keep me shackled to this abusive woman.

My parting with Peaches was far from perfect. Like all abusive people, she didn’t appreciate being abandoned and she used the one and only thing she could to get her revenge: our child. Roughtly 13 years after we split up, I was forced to allow her new husband — the ex-boyfriend mentioned above — to adopt my child. It was the last mechanism of control Peaches had over me and she shamelessly used it to hurt me in the worst way possible. The brutal realities of that decision still haunt me to this day.

So, that’s my story. And after reading it all, I wonder how many people will trust in its validity. More to the point, I wonder if my friend still believes that I don’t understand abusive relationships… and how hard it can be for some people to leave them?

J.P. Ribner is the author of Legacy of the Bear, Prophecy of the Bear, and World So Dark.