Archive for the ‘Bullies’ Category

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.

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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.

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.

One of my former bullies has died. There’s no other way to say it.

Remember Little Italy? He was one of the stars of my post on Catholic school bullies. Now, at the age of 43, he’s gone. I found out about his passing on Facebook; I also discovered that his viewing was a mere five or six miles from my office. Despite the convenience and slight desire to make my appearance, I decided not to go pay my respects.

Funerals are for the living. These functions give friends and family a last chance to say “goodbye” and perhaps gain some closure for their loss. I’m sure this was especially the case for the death of someone so relatively young. Given that, what business would I have going there? Having written about Little Italy in a less-than-flattering light, there’s no comfort I could or would want to provide his family.

I also didn’t go as a matter of integrity. Attending a viewing and faking my way through it for a guy I hardly knew and never liked would be a violation of my authentic self. I’m not going to refuse to turn a sinner into a saint just because they’ve died; this level has sheer phoniness always disgusted me and is simply not in my skill-set.

So Little Italy is gone and with him the explanation for why he wanted to do me grievous bodily harm on that sunny fall day in 1986. In the end, I can only guess that in his twisted state of mind, he saw an outsider threatening his friends and the opportunity to gain some instant street cred. Since most high-school bullying is based around reputation and social standing. I’m thinking this is the likely scenario.

So a guy who wanted to smash my face in so he could look good in front of his friends is now dead. That’s it… There’s no other way to say it.

I really lashed out at some of my former bullies and would-be bullies on Monday’s post. Since most of them aren’t my friends on Facebook, I thought it only fair to message them a link to the story and invite them to respond to me if they feel so inclined. After all, I don’t want to be perceived as the guy who “talks shit about people behind their back.” Here is a person-by-person update on the responses, or lack thereof, I received. As to be expected, some were better than others.

Little King & the Pinoy Powerhouse

I’ll lump these two together only because both of these gentlemen manned up and apologized for their actions from days gone by. Further, after chatting with them on Facebook, I can see that they each have an interesting story to tell, and I’m enjoying reading them … and getting to know both of them better in the process. Many men are loathe to apologize for things they’ve done, big or small, so I commend both of them for having the courage to do what they thought was right in their hearts. As far as I’m concerned, all is forgiven and I no longer see them as “former bullies or would-be” bullies any more. What can I say? I’m a big softie at heart; I even cried when I saw E.T. (But don’t tell anyone!)

Two-Ton Tony

None of the bullies I mentioned in my first post garnered as many responses as Two-Ton Tony. Some of his former friends messaged me to tell me of the harrowing experiences with him. Listening to them, I couldn’t help but wonder if Two-Ton Tony is a sociopath, since his behavior – as described by them – showed all the classic traits of this personality disorder.

Anyway, after a bit of cyber-sleuthing on my part, I was able to find Two-Ton Tony’s workplace. As it so happens, I’m in need of the services provided by said business or one like it. All things considered, I was thinking “no better time than the present” to swing up there and talk with my old classmate. As luck would have it, Mr. Two-Ton and his boss were standing in the parking lot, conversing with someone else, when I pulled up. I got out of my car and approached them, my mind and my body sharpened and ready for anything.

Standing before your ol’ high school bully after 20+ years is quite a surreal experience. There he was, the man who threatened to “stomp my face into the concrete” for nearly an entire school year was now standing before me. And now, the size disparity between the two of us wasn’t as drastic as it had been back then. He’s still a fatass and taller than me, but my years of weight training lessened the size differential that I thought was a factor back in ’88.

As I stood there, a flood of emotions came rushing into my brain, each one struggling against the other for control of my consciousness. Part of me wanted to smash his face and keep on smashing until one of us was the only one standing. Another part of me urged myself to stay calm, since the presence of at least two coworkers put the odds were decidedly in Tony’s favor. The other part of me wondered if he’s even the same person he was back then.

As the conversation progressed in the mid-day August sun, I’m not entirely certain that Two-Ton Tony fully recognized me while he was giving me a job estimate. There was a point where I caught him starting at me, but when he noticed me notice him, he quickly averted my gaze, added a few more steps between us. If I had to take a guess, I’m not entirely certain he knew it was me, J.P. Ribner, the person he decided was not worthy of having a peaceful senior year. If I had to take a guess, he probably was looking at me, wondering where he knew me.

As I left the parking lot laughing, I decided to make sure he knew who paid him a visit. Upon returning home, I decided to send him a link to my first blog about him with the following Facebook message:

“Hey Tony! It was nice to see you today, and even better that you were actually nice to me. I don’t want it ever to be said that I talk about people behind their backs. I’d like you to read this story and get back to me.”

Facebook registered him as reading the message around 7:30pm. The following morning, sometime around 8am, I received this response:

“This whole encounter is very bizarre and borderline stalker type actions. Consider this your notification that you will be trespassing if you return to my [place of business] ever again. Any more communication to me will be taken as harassment and dealt with accordingly.”

Okay. Just to recap for you good people. Two-Ton Tony was the guy who used to follow me around in the hallway AND out to the car after school, threatening to kick my ass six ways to Sunday. And this went on for an ENTIRE school year! It only stopped after I blocked that weak-ass punch he threw at me during the pep rally, then stood my ground when he came lumbering toward me, talking all kinds of shit. But look what happens when I pay him ONE visit at his job – I’m “bizarre” and engaging in “borderline stalker-type actions.”

Wow!

Here was his chance to say, “Hey Ribner … I was a jerk to you back then. I’m really sorry, man.” That’s all it would’ve taken to make this whole thing between us go away. I would’ve been just as happy if he stepped up and said, “That’s right! I did bully you, and I’ll do it again. Meet me at …” And for the record, I’d be happy to meet him anywhere he’d want to meet so we can finally find out who’ll be the last man standing.

Instead of either of those options, Two-Ton Tony bitched out and chose Door Number 3: an implied threat of calling the police! Oh, and he blocked me on Facebook, too, which I guess is his way of “dealing with it accordingly.”

I can’t help but to laugh my fucking ass off at the complete joke that he’s become. To sum it all up, in high school, he might’ve roared like a lion; but now, he’s nothing but a passive little lamb. Or, as my lovely wife put it, “Looks like Two-Ton Tony is a big, fat pussy!” She’s right, you know.

There’s something else I find interesting about Two-Ton Tony’s response. Is shows a complete failure to accept responsibility for his own actions, which, coincidentally, is ANOTHER trait of a sociopath.

Kinda makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

The Anabolic Israeli Commando

Next on the list is the Anabolic Israeli Commando. Since he’s not a Facebook friend, my message to him has likely gone unnoticed in his “other” folder … the tiny one that no one ever checks because it’s not where messages from their friends go. If he doesn’t respond in a couple days, I’ll send him a friend request and hope for the best. Although the A.I.C. never said “I’m sorry” for what happened between us, he did more or less redeem himself for his actions the following school year, and I must admit that I forgot to include this detail in my original post detailing only his dastardly deeds. So, in the interests of full disclosure, here’s the story how my former high school bully actually turned around and did something good for me. (So if you’re reading this, A.I.C., keep in mind that I’m manning up and giving you your props where you deserve them!)

During the summer before my senior year, I ran into Crawdaddy, who was someone I at least enjoyed talking to while at Powers. During our conversation, he mentioned that he had borrowed a cassette tape – KISS, I believe – from the A.I.C., but he’d be unable to return it since he wouldn’t be returning to Powers for his senior year. Frankly, he was sick of all the bullshit. He said he didn’t want to ask me to take the tape back for him since he knew of the history between myself and the Commando, but I assured him that it would be fine. The A.I.C. and I had spoken a few times after the incident – nothing beyond your typical “What’s up?” cordiality – and I didn’t see a problem with me returning his tape for Crawdaddy. And so the situation was settled … or so I thought.

One problem occurred when I got back to school – I didn’t have the A.I.C. in any classes nor did I ever see him in the hallway. I did, however bump into a mutual acquaintance whom we’ll call “Shades” for the simple fact that he wore those self-tinting glasses that all Stoners who have to wear glasses used to wear in the 80s. Since I knew Shades was friends with the A.I.C., I asked him if he’d be kind enough to give him the KISS tape, to which Shades said, “Oh yeah! Sure, man. No problem. I’ll give it to him when I see him in Science class.” That was the last I heard from Shades, but not the last I heard from the A.I.C.

A few days after the hand-off, I went to my locker to see the A.I.C. looming there beside it. I asked him what was up and he told me that Shades told him that I had his tape and wasn’t going to give it back. At that point, I told the A.I.C. what really happened, adding, “Why the fuck would I want to keep your tape, dude? I don’t even like KISS.” He retorted by saying, “Well why would Shades make that up?” The answer to that seemed as plain as the nose on my face, but maybe he didn’t see it. I explained, “He’s keeping it ’cause he’s hoping you and I will fight again.” Upon saying that, the A.I.C. tilted his head to the side, gave me a look, then clapped his hand on my shoulder and said, “Okay. Well I’m gonna go talk to him and take care of it.” And that’s the last I saw of the Anabolic Israeli Commando and Shades. I can only assume the case of the missing KISS tape was taken care of and the true guilty party was punished.

Little Italy

Little Italy, the Italian miniature pony, might not ever respond to my overture. For one thing, we’re not Facebook friends, so my message is likely sitting in his “other” message folder. I was also unable to send him a friend request due to fact that the security on his page is tighter than Fort Knox. Perhaps that has something to do with his recently-confirmed drug arrest and conviction. Mama mia! It would appear that my erstwhile bully was arrested for possession of at least 25 grams of cocaine, which carries a 2-4-year sentence. He’s currently on probation, and hopefully he’s able to piece his life back together and rid himself of the chains of addiction.

Ol’ Buckethead

Also not a Facebook friend, I don’t suppose he’s seen the message. Or, he’s seen it and has chosen not to respond. Then again, considering that he was the guy who once threatened to beat me up for saying “hello” to him, he could be on his way to Metro Detroit right now, determined to put an end to the menace that is J.P. Ribner. Perhaps Little King or the Pinoy Powerhouse could reach out to him and encourage him to make contact and squash this thing once and for all. It would be nice to be able to cross another name off the naughty list.

Well, that’s it for this installment, but there will be plenty more exciting stories from Powers Catholic High School to come. Stay tuned!

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

Bullies at a Catholic school? You betcha! And while they were nothing more than a rag-tag group of two-bit tough guys and shit-talkers, they managed to make my last two years of high school a living hell.

Sometime near the end of my sophomore year at Hamady High School, I had the brilliant idea to transfer to Powers Catholic High School for my junior and senior years. For those of you who read my four-part series Fat Boys are Back (And J.P. is Under Attack), you’ll know that a big part of why I decided to change schools was because I felt that I didn’t fit in at Hamady, and it was a school in which I had no friends. I was wrong, of course, but I didn’t realize that then. I foolishly thought that at Powers – which had about four times the amount of students as Hamady – I could surely find at least one or two people to call a friend. (Such things were important to me then.) I also didn’t think it was a big deal because I had attended a Catholic junior high school in Flint, Michigan (Donovan Mayotte), so transferring from a public to a Catholic school wasn’t exactly uncharted waters for me.

I was right about one thing – Powers had about four times as many students … and easily as many bullies.

To be honest, I was warned that transferring in my junior year was probably not a brilliant idea. Many people told me that by eleventh grade, most people’s friendships and social cliques were well established, and breaking into a circle of friends as a complete stranger would prove a Augean task. I was undaunted in my desire to switch schools, however, due in large part to the effects of the ill-fated attempt to see the Fat Boys perform at the Capitol Theatre and the unfortunate social falling out that ensued. And so, following the tumultuous summer of 1986, I marched into Powers Catholic with the intention of linking up with like-minded students and finally finding what I’d been searching for all along – a place where I belonged. Instead, I learned some valuable lessons about the weakness of human character, both mine and those who tried to torment me.

In their infinite wisdom, the administrations at Powers Catholic set me on a course to be shamed by my fellow students before I ever set foot in a classroom. Being a mere peasant from a small public school, I was stuck in several classes a year below my academic level. Being surrounded by sophomores was rather embarrassing, to be honest, and I’m still convinced that I was one of many victims of Powers’ caste system. After all, while my family had one of the biggest houses in Mayfair (my old neighborhood, aka “the hood”), it was a shack compared to the homes those rich Powers kids lived in. I didn’t even have my own car in those days, yet many of these kids were rolling into the parking lot in Mercedes Benzs or BMWs! The biggest drawback to being placed in these remedial classes was that it gave these rich little shits plenty of ammunition to use against me, and it was usually along the lines of me being “dumb,” “stupid,” etc. Having a bit of a mouth on me myself, I always fired back, which is how I often ran afoul of Powers resident bullies.

The bullies at Powers, for the most part, fell into two distinct cliques – The Preppy Gang and The Stoners. To call either of these this rag-tag collections momma’s boys and second-rate juvenile delinquents “bullies” might be giving them too much credit, however. The Preppy Gang had a “fight-one, fight-us-all” mentality, which more or less made them a gang, albeit one that wore heavy corduroy pants with huge grooves, penny loafers, and the latest Polo/Brooks Brothers/L.L. Bean ensembles. This group also liked to engage in something I call “bullying-by-proxy,” in that they would enlist older guys in my class to try to fuck with me because the members of The Preppy Gang were a far too effeminate bunch to actually step up and go toe-to-toe.

As for The Stoners, they were pretty much your garden variety 80s burnout crew – puffy mullets, cheap corduroys, ill-fitting collared shirts, and untied high-top sneakers. This group was more likely to throw a wild haymaker, since that’s what they occasionally did at their drink- and drug-fueled weekend parties that became part of lunchroom lore. They really should’ve been called “The Boners” because each one of them acted like the gigantic, vein-laden cock they likely wished they had between their legs.

Whether it was The Preppy Gang or The Stoners, both groups seemed as though they were always looking for a fight. Me being a thin, small-statured, socially awkward loner who didn’t have any backup to call upon made me the ideal target. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s move on to the bullies themselves.
The Little King
My trouble with The Preppy Gang began the day I crossed paths with a girlish, limp-wristed dandy whom I call Little King. Like all members of this little sewing circle, Little King had a nasty little mouth on him, along with the complete inability to back it up. This would’ve proven a lethal combination had his royal majesty spent one semester at Hamady; but since this was Powers, such behavior was not only tolerated, it was considered the norm for these privileged pansies. Sometime early in Felix Lehmkuhle’s science class, the Little King decided to pop off at the mouth, calling me “stupid” or “retarded” or something like that, whereupon I promptly informed him that I would snatch the perceived crown from his head and shove it up his ass so far he wouldn’t be able to breathe. Little King indulged himself in the obligatory ruffling of feathers and mumbling under his breath, but he did so whilst steadily backing away from me. Foolishly, I thought that would be the end of things; but later that week, I was confronted once more by the Little King and he had brought his royal court with him … all of whom claiming they would jump me and kick my ass.
The Pinoy Powerhouse
Old grudges die hard, which is why it’s no surprise that the Pinoy Powerhouse was willing to step up and fight me on behalf of the Little King. Short yet rather stocky and with a hot temper to match, this Filipino fighter and I had gone at it many years earlier at Donovan South, one of the many Catholic junior high schools that feed into Powers. I don’t quite remember what the argument was about back then, but the fight consisted of us hurling insults whilst circling each other, and the highlight being both of us landing hooks at precisely the same time, causing each of us to stumble backwards and begin our circling and taunting once more. Much like my run-in with the Little King – and our earlier fight at Donovan – the Pinoy Powerhouse and I traded insults back and forth in the lunchroom, both of us swearing to destroy the other. In other words, nothing more than the rattling to sabers was to be seen that day.
Ol’ Buckethead
If you have a mother like mine, do yourself a favor and DO NOT take social advice from her. If you do, you might end up in a fight with an asshole like Ol’ Buckethead. A tangential member of The Preppy Gang, Ol’ Buckethead’s appearance really lived up to that moniker. Although a year younger than me, this unfortunate lad was already losing his hair by his sophomore year. In fact, his hairline was receding so much that it made his head look like the head of a man in his 60s, which is not a good look for a tenth-grader … and even worse if one’s head is shaped like a bucket flipped on its side and slammed atop a skinny, pencil-like neck. Anyway, in her ongoing efforts to increase my shame and humiliation, Mommy Dearest suggested I be more personable, perhaps say “hello” to my fellow students, and maybe I might make a friend.

Against my better judgment, I walked into Lehmkuhle’s science class (in retrospect, most of my troubles seemed to originate there), and made my way to my seat. Since Buckethead sat next to me, I decided to say, “Hey man. What’s up?” as I sat down. Suddenly, that elongated, head snapped ’round in my direction and he said, “You don’t know me, motherfucker! I’ll kick your fuckin’ ass!” Like my encounters with the rest of The Preppy Gang, I was able to keep Ol’ Buckethead from jumping up out of his Sperry Topsiders and swinging wildly upon me by uttering a few choice words of my own.

Suffice to say, Mom’s advice did not work and Buckethead and I never became friends nor mended fences. Instead, he soon threw his lot in with The Preppy Gang to present a united front against the odd stranger who dared enter their midst. (Update: after a bit of cyber-sleuthing, I was able to locate Ol’ Buckethead’s Faceboook profile. True to my suspicions, he’s as bald as a buzzard these days and his head is as gigantic and bulbous as ever. I mean, it’s shaped like a fucking light bulb!)
Little Italy
I don’t have anything against Italians; in fact, some of my best friends trace their ancestry to “The Boot.” But the bully I’m about to describe was not only a proud Italian, he was also a rather stereotypical one, right down to the dark, slicked-back hair and golden horn pendant he wore around his neck on a gold chain. To put it bluntly, this guy was Jersey Shore LONG before the world ever heard of the likes of Vinnie and Paulie D. And mama mia! did he have a temper! I say’a, Mistah Italy! What’s a’matta wit you?

At the height of my feud with The Preppy Gang, I was heading down the hall on my way to class, when I turned the corner and was walking right through Preppy Rowe. From both sides of me, I became taunted by the likes of Little King and the rest of those effeminate momma’s boys that that made up that clique. Naturally, I fired back with some insults and threats of my own, and the next thing I know, all four-feet, two inches of Little Italy was suddenly in my face, screaming about how he’ll tear my head off for “talkin’ shit” to his friends. To this, his so-called “friends” giggled and squealed like a bunch of cheerleaders on prom night, no doubt relieved that someone was willing to carry their tattered banner into battle on their behalf. In the end, it boiled down to me – the Slovak Warrior – and Little Italy both daring the other to “take the first swing,” and this macho charade ended the moment the bell for class began to ring.
The Anabolic Israeli Commando
One of the toughest (self-proclaimed) members of The Stoners was The Anabolic Israeli Commando. Tall and with a dark brown mullet, The A.I.C. was proud of his Jewish heritage and was often seen reading Soldier of Fortune magazine during class and no doubt dreaming of engaging in heated battles in the Gaza strip. He also had arguably the most well-developed musculature in all of the school, the result of his near-fanatical weightlifting regimen. It was long rumored that this was boosted by a steady regimen of steroids. No one dared say this to him, though, for to do so would mean certain death at his hands … which coincidentally, makes the rumor that much more believable. (It also didn’t help that his father – a physician – was convicted with unlawful distribution of prescription drugs, possession of machine guns, and other charges.)

Long story short, The A.I.C. and I had a class together, one rowdy remedial math class that was so out of control, that fights, near-fights, and shit-talking were a daily occurrence. Similar to my aborted bout with Little Italy, I initially ran afoul of The A.I.C. when another student – Froggy – got in over his head with some shit-talking to me. It was a classic case of battleship mouth/rowboat ass, but Froggy had an ace up his sleeve. He walked up to me with The A.I.C. in tow and said, “If you try to do anything to me, you’ll have to go through him.” From that day forward, I became The A.I.C.’s sworn enemy, and he became mine. And so began a school year-long dance of shit-talking, threats, and near battles that all boiled to a head one balmy day near the end of my junior year.

I remember walking into class and heading toward my desk, which meant passing by The A.I.C.’s desk in the next row. As I was preparing to sit down, A.I.C. socked me rather hard in the shoulder. Without thinking, I spun and drilled him in his chest, just above his heart … a move that sealed my fate. “I’m gonna kick your ass after class,” he said. And he meant it! Like all bullies – Stoners, in particular – there is “the rule”: they can do whatever they want to you, but you don’t dare do the same to them. If you do, you better be able to back it up. Well, true to his word, he followed me out into the hall and handed his books to one of his sycophants. I handed my books to an acquaintance and prepared for what I had convinced myself would be the ultimate ass-whipping.

The A.I.C. began swinging on me, connecting with my face with a couple of hooks. Admittedly, he got a few good shots in before I grabbed both of his wrists to immobilize him. I still remember the look of shock in his eyes when his overdeveloped biceps were unable to pull loose of my grasp. (Apparently, adrenaline strength trumps steroids.) To his credit, A.I.C. improvised by pushing my head down into his oncoming knee – it might have been once, it might have been twice – causing a hairline fracture in my nose. I pushed him off of me, knocking him back against the lockers and jumped back out of range, quickly assessing the damage to my face – bloody nose. Then, he and I locked eyes – Guilt? Fear? Remorse? Apathy? – that caused him to freeze. I did too … for a moment. Then the thought of charging forward and slamming my fist into his face bubbled up from my primordial subconscious just as the teachers swarmed the scene to separate us and usher us to the office.

To this day, my biggest regret was allowing my fear of The A.I.C. to overwhelm me. This fear, not his punches or even his bone-crunching Muay Thai kneestrikes – allowed him to win that fight. Did my nose feel broken? Yes. Did it bleed? Yes. But did it hurt? Not really. Adrenaline is a powerful chemical and it’s one that has flowed quite freely through my veins for as long as I can remember. The following year, my relationship with The A.I.C. lacked all the two-way animosity that marked our interactions from the year before; but still, it always itched in the back of my brain that what he did to me should not go unpunished. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any time to rekindle my battle with this muscle-bound human bulldozer – losing the fight to him practically painted a bullseye on my chest that drew every wannabe bully and two-bit tough guy out of the woodwork to fight me during my senior year.
Two-Ton Tony
The second Stoner to set me square in his sights was Two-Ton Tony. He was a mountain of a man; a full 300+ pounds of beer-drinkin’, pot-smokin’, potato-chip eatin’ blubber. And a man that size could still be formidable and even dangerous if he were to get a hold of my 5’10”, 160-lb. ass. A member of the Stoner crew, he had all the stoner accoutrement: the requisite mullet, untied high-top sneakers, earring in the left ear only, and a Bondo-covered van that blasted out Guns ‘n Roses and Metallica in the parking lot after school. He also had a grudge against me that lasted the entire school year.

I don’t know how or why Two-Ton Tony had it out for me. We didn’t have any classes together and I never took the time to talk to him or his best friend and sidekick, Little Joe, who was a near carbon copy of Two-Ton Tony, save for being shorter and less of girth. The only way I can figure it was that my fight with The Anabolic Israeli Commando happened practically in front of Two-Ton Tony’s locker, and perhaps his fat, sadistic ass got a kick (no pun intended) out seeing his friend, The A.I.C., dish some punishment out to me. From everything I’ve since been told about Two-Ton Tony, he was an angry, miserable person whose only way to feel better about himself was to tear other people down. Perhaps seeing me on the losing end of the scuffle with The A.I.C. made me an easy target in his mind. So let the games begin!

My senior year was one of constant torment from Two-Ton Tony. Whenever he would see me in the hallway, he made sure to tell me that I was a “faggot” and a “pussy” and that he was going to kick my ass. Since my loss to The A.I.C. the year before had shaken what little confidence and belief in myself I might have had, I did my best to ignore him. This kept his antagonism strictly on the verbal level. As my misfortune would have it, Two-Ton Tony’s asshole older brother, some bargain-basement Jason Bateman wannabe, happened to work at the grocery store in my neighborhood, and he always made a point to remind me how Two-Ton Tony would pound my dick into the dirt every time I was sent up there by Mommy Dearest to pick up groceries.

The closest Two-Ton Tony and I came to exchanging blows was in the upper level of the bleachers during a pep rally. Why I decided to stand near The Stoners I have no idea, but there I was, standing against the railing, with Two-Ton Tony on the top bleacher just below me. A casual turn of his head caused him to notice I was standing behind him, which was followed by a “What the fuck you lookin’ at?” comment. (Of course. Because my whole goal in life is to look at assholes with chips on their shoulders.) He fired a hard, straight right toward my stomach, which I quickly deflected with a “wax-off” block, knocking his pudgy hand – with its fat, Polish sausage fingers – into the metal railing. “That’s it!” he shouted, before slipping through the gap in the railing with incredible grace for a fatass.

Next thing I know, Two-Ton Tony is in my face, telling me he’s gonna kick my ass, as all the Stoner asshole crowd around us in a circle, shouting encouragements for him to do just that. I’ll never forget one of my so-called friends, Sir Kerry of the Blue Camaro, shoving his face practically into mine and saying, “Do it, Tony! Kick his ass, man. Kick his fuckin’ ass!” To my credit, I didn’t back down, and my stand-off with Two-Ton Tony ended much like many of my near-skirmishes at Powers, with both side daring the other to “take the first shot, man.” And like that, my feud with Two-Ton Tony ended as quickly – and as strangely – as it began.
What Does it all Mean?
So, if writing this blog is to be some type of therapy, the question of “What does it all mean?” inevitably must be asked … and answered. If I have to say anything, it feels good to unburden myself of all of this. I’ve been carrying around far too much trauma for more than 25 years, and I’ve come to a point in life where I believe my own health and mental stability requires me to purge these demons, one story at a time. As to my former bullies, some might read this yet many will not, as social media has connected me with but a scant few of these lads. For those who do, perhaps they’ll recognize themselves and use this opportunity to reach out to me to apologize … or at least just discuss the issue. Then again, they might not take too kindly to my unflattering portrayals of their high school selves, thus urging them to want to avenge their tarnished honors. I wouldn’t be bothered if that were the case. While I may have “lost” one fight at Powers, and walked away from many others, there were some I won and in rather violent and dramatic fashion. As to those tales … well … that’s a whole ’nother story!

J.P. Ribner’s experiences with bullies and the violence they cause has led to his creation of three novels: Legacy of the Bear, Prophecy of the Bear, and World So Dark.

“Look out!” Skeeter shouted, but the warning came too late.

“Whump!”

I heard the familiar sound of bone crashing into meat, muscle, and tissue reverberating through my head. Bright burning pain radiated through my retainer bent inside my mouth. Immediately, my school books dropped from my side and went crashing to the black asphalt of the Hamady High School parking lot, and I could see my attacker backing away from me, shouting “C’mon, faggot! Let’s go!” He was serious when he threatened me at lunch; the thought flashed through my head like a lightning bolt. So did another one – I’m gonna kill this mother fucker! Bringing my fists up to my face in a guard, I closed the distance between us.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning …

With the horrors of the Fat Boys incident behind me, I planned to ride out my sophomore year at Hamady High School with no more reminders of that terrifying night. I had discarded my love of hip hop and b-boy persona the way a snake sheds its skin and adopted the cultural affectations of a skateboarder/punk rocker. This brought the usual taunts from the typical sources; but by and large, everything was going relatively fine … until the arrival of a pugnacious young man whom we’ll call the “Golden Mullet.”

The Golden Mullet was more than a bad ‘80s hairstyle, he was also a recent transfer from some god-forsaken shithole such as Beecher, Burton, or the dreaded East Side. As his nickname would suggest, the Golden Mullet sported a puffy mullet with the same shade and thickness as that precious metal, and he had all the affectations of a typical ’80s bully: tight, peg-legged jeans tucked into high-top sneakers, left untied. Up top were the requisite band t-shirts, most often the likes of Motley Crue and Ozzy, with a pack of Marlboro reds rolled up in one sleeve.

He also had “the walk.”

Anyone who was ever tormented by a bully in the ’80s has seen “the walk.” This bizarre pantomime consisted of puffing one’s chest out and squaring the shoulders to make themselves as wide as possible. And it doesn’t stop there. Practitioners would curl their arms out at their sides as if they were a gunslinger in the Wild West, and they also kicked their feet as they walked, causing their heels to clunk hard into the floor as they proceeded down the hallway. All of this was set off with a narrowing of the eyes and tipping the head back so that they were literally looking down upon everyone they passed. Put all of this together and add in the occasional challenge of shouting “What?” or “What’re you lookin’ at?” and you have “the walk.”

Keep in mind, “the walk” wasn’t all fashion – it had function, too. By making themselves as wide as physically possible, the Golden Mullet and other high school bullies increased the odds that they would bump into their fellow students. This, of course, gave them the excuse to beat someone up … because if there’s one thing you don’t do, it’s make contact with this type of bully. Even so much as an accidental brush was provocation to violence because their precious reputations and gigantic egos simply couldn’t allow such a brazen “challenge” to go ignored.

So this is what landed in our neighborhood and took up residence on Mott Avenue. And the Golden Mullet wasn’t alone, either. He quickly fell in with another group of like-minded – and equally fashionable – Motley Crue fans who lived on nearby Doran Avenue, and an impromptu gang was formed. Being new to both the school and our neighborhood, the Golden Mullet no doubt felt the need to prove himself and establish his reputation as a person not to be fucked with. Since my friend and I had already had a minor beef with the aforementioned mulleted metal mavens, the Golden Mullet was eager to take up the challenge of beating up J.P. Ribner.

It was a challenge he relished all too well.

For months, the Golden Mullet threatened me in school. He also stood outside of Double D supermarket one chilly winter’s night and gestured for me to come outside and fight him. The only thing that saved me from having to confront him as I left was the fact that my mother was with me. I can only surmise that since the Golden Mullet was always close with his mother, perhaps he chose not to smash my face in front of mine. I breathed a sigh of relief that he found it in his heart to spare me the humiliation of being pummeled in front of Mommy Dearest.

Though several confrontations between us had been averted, I seemed destined to have to fight this rambunctious stoner, and the plain fact of the matter was, I was afraid. Call me silly, but I foolishly believed all his bluff and bluster of being the toughest guy in the world. I did what I could to avoid his challenges until one day, I could avoid them no more. And would you believe that it all started over a penny?

Walking back from lunch with my friend Skeeter, I saw the Golden Mullet coming at me at a rapid pace. The next thing I know, he makes a motion with his arm like he’s Ron fucking Guidry, and suddenly I’m being pelted in the chest with a handful of change. He said, “Go buy some lunch, faggot!” and the comment was followed by the laughter of his friends. Without even thinking, I quickly bent down, scooped up at least one of the pennies that hit me, and fired it at him, hitting him square in the eye.

Infuriated by the pain and loss of face in front of his friends, the Golden Mullet came chest-to-chest with me. A verbal torrent of threats and insults poured forth from his offensive mouth but I was too heated up to care. A teacher came around the corner and told us both to go back to class, and to be honest, I thought that was the end of it. Clearly, I completely forgot “the rule” – bullies can do whatever they want to me, but I can’t do the same back to them without getting my ass kicked.

Flash forward to 2:45pm, as Skeeter and I are walking home, talking about who knows what. We crossed a small, grassy hill and entered the parking lot proper, walking past a row of Regals and Cutlass Supremes that were jacked up in the back, with fat tires and Cragar rims. Apparently, the Golden Mullet had been hiding behind one of these vehicles, waiting in ambush. As I passed him by, he burst forth toward me and, without my seeing him, hit me in the jaw from behind before jumping back from me and dancing around, taunting me.

This was a HUGE mistake!

Without one single thought to the fear I once had, I charged the Golden Mullet and the glorious and chaotic mess of our infamous brawl began. I swung a right hook at him which, in my highly adrenalized state, completely missed his face. Fortunately, because I had some experience in the martial arts, I knew what a backfist was and I simply swung my right fist back and caught him underneath his eye. He went to kick me and I jumped back but not quick enough to dodge his shoe, which came flying off his foot and hit me in the chest.

“Hold on!” he shouted. “Let me get me shoe on.”

I kicked the raggedy high top back at him and told him to hurry up, which he did. We were back at it again and, in all the confusion, he somehow managed to grab my shoulders and take us both to the ground. A little something about me – I’m terrified if fights go to the ground. I wasn’t a skilled wrestler, and being on the ground leaves you practically defenseless if someone’s friends decide to get involved. I did the only thing I could do – I grabbed hold of his mullet with one hand and pulled his head back, then I shoved the index finger of my other hand into his eye and viciously scratched his cornea.

“Lenny! David!” he shrieked, beseeching his fellow members of the Mullet Militia. “Help me! Get him off’a me!”

On the one hand, I was bolstered by the fear in the Golden Mullet’s voice and it made me rip at his eyeball even harder. On the other hand, his friends Lenny and David were standing above me and either or both could’ve easily stomped my head to a pulp. To their credit as gentlemen however, they did no such thing. In fact, I’ll never forget what David, the older of the two, had said.

“You’re the one who wanted to fight him, so fight him!”

Somehow we struggled back to our feet but I maintained an iron grip on his bale-of-hay hair. I quickly circled behind him and put my arms under his arms and got him into a full Nelson, which was tightly secured with now two handfuls of his amazing golden hair. He froze, unable to break free of my hold, and I took full advantage of this by head-butting him in the back of the head seven or eight times, leaving him a bit wobbly.

“Let him go!” someone shouted. “Someone’s comin’!”

Looking over the Golden Mullet’s head, I saw high school principal Lone Wolf McSuede running toward us at full speed. I gave my erstwhile tormentor a hard shove and he whirled around and stared at me for a second, and all the fire that was once inside his eyes seemed extinguished. In that moment, he knew he had been beaten, and I knew it to. We nodded to each other, an impromptu agreement that each would be given safe passage out of there. We successfully evaded McSuede … until he pulled us into the office the next day and gave us both a three-day suspension.

But what does this have to do with what happened at the Fat Boys show, you might be wondering? Ironically, the connection between these two incidents occurred to me last Friday like a bolt out of the blue.

As previously stated, I was terrified of the Golden Mullet. He seemed bigger than me, and he definitely carried himself with more self esteem than I ever had back then. I was shocked that I reacted the way I did – jumping into action without fear – because it seemed so out of character for me. Knowing what I know now about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I can see that his initial punch triggered all the unresolved anger from that incident that I had been carrying around with me, and my anger overrode my fears. It was practically the same punch from the same angle, after all, and I’m convinced that there’s no possible way that a connection between the two can be denied.

His second mistake was backing off after that first punch. Had he just continued hitting me, there was a good chance I might not have ever been able to gather the presence of mind to mount a successful counter-offense. If he had followed through with his surprise attack, there’s a very good chance he could’ve dominated me and even knocked me out. That said, I’m thankful for his mistakes!

You readers will likely be glad to know that the animosities between the Golden Mullet and myself ceased not long after the fight. It was he who came up to me one day and said, “Look, you’re gonna say you won the fight, and I’m gonna say I won; but neither one of us has a problem with each other so let’s just bury the hatchet.” I shook his hand and the two of us continued doing skateboarding tricks in the school’s parking lot, not 20 feet from where we had fought a year or two before.

While this chapter has a happy ending, the imprint of the Fat Boys incident remained in my psyche for many many years to come, which you’ll hear about tomorrow in my fourth and final installment of: Fat Boys are Back … and J.P. is Under Attack!

“Thud!”

The familiar sound of bone crashing into meat, muscle, and tissue reverberated through my head. I knew what happened before the sensation of pain, bright and burning, radiated through my jaw and into my head. I’d been punched in the head, hard! A sharp, stabbing pain in my jaw followed, making it painful to touch, talk, or move; but I was still standing, and still able to turn to face my attacker …

I should start at the beginning.

Back in those halcyon and seemingly carefree days of 1984 (or ’85), I was one of a few of white boys who became enamored with the hip hop, breakdancing, and graffiti art zeitgeist. Our fellow classmates at Hamady High didn’t make it easy on us – the redneck whites tried shaming us for listening to what they called “n***** music,” while the black dudes eyed us with skepticism and the familiar refrain of “white boys don’t have rhythm.” Still, we soldiered on, and the ritual of backspins on flattened cardboard boxes was a familiar site in many a Mt. Morris Township driveway. I was in the thick of it all, happy to have cultivated a talent and the props that came with it.

On the night in question, fellow b-boys M&M, Duster, and Special K asked me to see the Fat Boys at the Capitol Theatre. While I preferred RUN DMC, Newcleus, and the Wild Style soundtrack, I was thrilled that the guys wanted to include me. My pre-teen and teenage years were lonely at best, with few people willing to risk social suicide by hanging out with me after school. I practically jumped into Special K’s car, completely oblivious to the trauma and life-changing events that were about to unfold before me.

So we were standing outside the Capitol, waiting to be let in to the show, when someone sucker-punched me. Turning to confront my attacker, I saw was a sea of various shades of brown skin and what seemed like hundreds of pairs of brown eyes glaring back at me. I’d been in situations where I wasn’t wanted – parties, school functions, etc. – but this was the first time where there was the possibility of dire consequences attached to my “intrusion.” I was outnumbered and painfully aware of how out of place I was. I didn’t belong, and I wanted out!

During all of this, a strange feeling of calm came over me. It’s called “normalcy bias,” and it’s something I wouldn’t learn about until 30 years later. The term refers to the state of calm that overtakes some people during disaster or emergency situations. Rather than going into a blind panic or doing something to save themselves, those afflicted with normalcy bias will calmly sit or stand in place, waiting for help to arrive or the situation to right itself. Sadly, those who are paralyzed by normalcy bias often die … even when safety is one simple decision away.

So there I stood, feet frozen to the sidewalk, not knowing what to do. The irrational part of my mind kept expecting someone, anyone, to come to my rescue. But who? My friends? Security? Prince Markie Dee? I was helpless and alone, afraid to confront my unknown attacker, yet equally terrified to say anything to my friends. I was afraid that my need for safety would’ve ruined everyone’s night. It sounds silly now, but that was my reality then – the legacy of Trauma Central, where my family’s happiness was my responsibility, and their miseries my fault.)

I did the only thing I thought I could do: I scooted a bit closer to my group and continued to stand there, my back to the crowd that no doubt aided and abetted my attacker.

“Thud!”

So one punch to my jaw not enough for him; I was an idiot to think that it would be. Again, the pain radiated throughout my head and again, my mind was flooded with the most powerful feelings of terror and shame … a rather toxic cocktail. I also felt anger, the kind that anyone feels when caught in a helpless and hopeless situation. If there was any good that came out of that second haymaker, it was that it jarred me out of the normalcy bias that had me in its thrall.

No doubt seeing the look of sheer terror upon my face as I scooted closer still, M&M asked, “What’s wrong, Ribner?”

“Someone fuckin’ hit me!” My reply came out in a forced whisper.

“Who?”

“I don’t know.”

M&M quickly told Duster and Special K what was going on, and an impromptu plan was formed. Switching places with M&M, placing my back against the brick wall of the Capitol, while Special K – the oldest and most streetwise of our group – stood facing the crowd and my attacker. As if in response, a young man approached M&M and, after a brief exchange, opened his jacket to give us all a look at the handgun he had in a holster, secured to his side.

“Gimme whatchu got,” he demanded, “and I’ll make sure dey don’t fuck wit chu.”

Wanting to protect me, M&M, Duster, and Special K forked over whatever they had between them and gave it to the stranger while I stood on the periphery. There was a lull in the attacks as we waited for the line to move; but with the adrenaline coursing through my veins and my heart pounding inside my chest, each minute was an eternity. Eventually, the line inched forward a bit, and then a bit more … we kept moving like herded cattle, unable to keep from casting nervous glances over our shoulders as we did.

Suddenly, the double glass doors of the Capitol Theatre opened and the crowd burst forward.We got jostled around in the movement and I found myself beside my friends; there was no one between me and the attacker in the crowd. My heart sank as I knew I was once again in a bad place, but all I could do was keep moving forward and not get separated from my friends.

“Thud!”

Ears ringing and vision blurry, it was clear that the Cheap-Shot Artist wasn’t deterred by the presence of our erstwhile guardian. (As we suspected then and still do now, the two were likely in on it from the beginning … the opportunity to bilk and beat some pussy-ass, cracka-ass, honky, peckerwood muthfuckaz was no doubt too tempting to ignore.)

Within seconds, we were sucked into that huge, gothic structure known as the Capitol and we found ourselves standing elbow-to-elbow with each other – and everyone else who had been in front and behind us – in the lobby. Then, as if on cue, everyone stopped and we were once again standing still. I was fortunate to not have lost my friends, but somewhere in the crowd, my attacker – whose identity was still unknown to me – was nearby. I was trapped, and I knew a decision had to be made …

Here’s Part II …

And Part III …

And finally, Part IV …