Posts Tagged ‘bullying’

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.

It was like a scene out of Office Space with a more twisted logic. The new employee sauntered over to my cubicle to inform me that I would be responsible for five sales per week in another department. The conniving little prick didn’t care that I already was juggling my department and another one that was handed to me after the former manager quit. He also didn’t give two shits that I hadn’t had a raise in two years. Nope! All he cared about was being a hero in front of the boss at my expense. To add insult to injury, he condescendingly told me that the boss “already gave me his approval for this.” The message was clear: resistance is futile and “Reverse Seniority” was in full effect …

My friends told me not the take the job. They said the boss, aka “Big Man,” was a demanding prick who expected everything but gave nothing in return. As proof, they said he would brag about his vacation to vacation to Cabo San Lucas to employees who hadn’t had a raise in years. Since I was dead broke college student, I was forced to ignore their warnings and work for “The Company.” (Cue “Imperial March” theme music.)

During my first few months on the job, Big Man was somewhat as my friends described. He drove his Porsche to the office every day, had a different Rolex for every day of the week, and loved to regale us with tales of vacations in faraway lands such as Jamaica, Mexico, and the French Riviera. All that said, he did manage to be nice to me during my first six months; he even regularly complimented me on my columns that appeared in the college newspaper.

About a year in, I noticed that I went from being the star employee to “just another lazy-ass college kid livin’ off his parents’ money.” (It never occurred to him that I took out loans and was working for him to pay my way through school.) According to him, my sales numbers weren’t high enough, my attitude wasn’t positive enough, and I simply couldn’t do enough for The Company. (Cue “The Imperial March” theme.) It bothered me until some of the old timers said not to take it personally, the same thing happened to them. So I soldiered on.

Things completely went to shit during my third year on the job. By then, a new crop of freshmen meant a new crop of employees who soon became the apple of Big Man’s eye. Three of them in particular – Overbite, Double Chin, and Mop Top – were particularly adept at lying, flattering, and sucking the boss’s balls enough to allow them to fly up the company ladder three rungs at a time. Soon, these rookies became the de facto managers and directors of we who’d been there for years. Everything came to a head the day Mop Top sauntered over to my cubicle and saddled me with the additional responsibilities.

As angry as I was, I knew there was no use arguing about it. Mop Top was Big Man’s new pet and the two of them had already made up their minds. Plus, I already knew Big Man’s take on human resources management: “If you don’t like it, there’s the door.” And even if I did complain about being overworked and underpaid, I already know what he would’ve said: “A company has only two priorities: to its profits and its stockholders.” It was a nice way of saying, “Fuck off! You don’t deserve anything.”

Needless to say, Big Man went through the roof when I quit. In a matter of seconds, he was reminded about how much he and The Company (Cue “Imperial March” theme.) actually needed me. But instead of conducting an exit interview to learn about his shortcomings as a leader, he chose to yell and scream at me. “How can you do this to me after all I’ve done for you?” he said. I had to point out to him that a company’s only priorities are to its profits and stockholders. As CEO of J.P. Ribner, LLC, I owed it to my stockholders – my wife and child – to earn more money with a company would pay me more and I my work would be appreciated. I’m sure the lesson was lost on him.

Sadly, reverse seniority is common amongst narcissistic bosses. Their attention spans are notoriously short and since they believe they’re entitled to everything, they’re unable to appreciate what any one employee has done. Also, quiet, steady, hardworking employees don’t create the kind of excitement that silver-tongued false flatterers do, so it’s easy for the slow-and-steady types to fade into the darkness while the spotlight is trained on the boss and his pets. If you have a narcissistic boss, my advice is simple: Fire them before they fire you. My only regret is that it took my three years to do it.

Cue “Imperial March” theme.

What happens when a bully gets called out by their former victim? Does he deny what he did? Maybe he says, “Shut up, or else!” or he tries to justify his behavior by saying, “I only did that ’cause you were eyeballin’ me!”

Or maybe he apologizes and humbly asks for forgiveness …

Last week, I posted “A Bully’s Memory,” my first of what will be many entries about bullying. In it, I called out four bullies from my past who’ve sent me Facebook friend requests that I’ve accepted without discussing the aforementioned bullying. I shared it on Facebook in hopes that the “big four” would recognize themselves and do the right thing. One of them did, the man who I called “Sleazy Rider,” but whom I’ll now forever address by name, Wayne Lutz.

Though I didn’t use his name in the piece, Wayne recognized himself in it. Although he didn’t fully recall the time he snapped in woodshop and threatened to pound me into the ground, he felt horrible for having done so and, to his credit, he publicly apologized. Right there on Facebook for all our shared friends to see, he identified himself as “Sleazy Rider” and shared a rather heartfelt and sincere apology. This makes him more of a man than most people I know who use the term to define themselves. Also to his credit, Wayne sent me an even more sincere and heartfelt apology on Instant Message … a message that spurred a phone call, which pave the way for a reconciliation.

“Hello?” I said.

“Hey J.P. How’s it going?”

There it was … that slow, familiar drawl that I hadn’t heard in six years. Admittedly, it felt a bit odd because I knew we had to discuss the now-infamous “woodshop incident,” especially after I put it out there in such a public way! And so began our conversation, one in which all posturing, ego, attitude and other defense mechanisms are stripped away, allowing two men to just talk as equals, neither one afraid of losing their status or reputation. In that hour, we learned more about each other than either of us thought we knew. I was surprised to find out that he, too, had some issues with bullies at the school. For example, the bully who threatened to slam me into the concrete each day in Spanish class was the same one who used to follow him home from school and threaten him. (I still can’t help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, his lashing out at me was somehow in response to his own torment.)

Frankly, I was surprised to learn that Wayne had been bullied. To be honest, I would’ve never pictured him as someone who had to deal with these things that experienced on a near-daily basis in school. Though we’re the same age, Wayne always seemed so much older and more mature than the rest of us at that time. It was this very attitude that he had it all under control is why I looked up to him back then and why I hung around him as much as I did. Suffice to say, Wayne told me some things that he experienced as a young man, this explained the look of weariness he had in his eyes back then, and why he was forced to grow up faster than his emotions could handle at that time. Out of respect for him, that’s about all I can say … the rest is his story to tell, not mine.

In the end, I’m glad I spoke with Wayne because it reminded me of one very important thing: he’d only been my bully once, but he had been my friend both before and after the incident. All these years, I’ve focused only on that to the point where I forgot about this. To think I’ve missed out on the opportunities for friendship with him all these years because I held on to that for so long! (Admittedly, this is something I’m working on.) It’s also made me realize that anyone, even friends, can have a bad day, and they might say things they don’t really mean, and that I wasn’t alone when it came to the bullying at Hamady High.

I hope I was able to match the honor that Wayne displayed; I feel I owe him that. It took a lot of guts for him to apologize publicly, and I have an immense amount of respect for him. It’s too bad the other three bullies mentioned in my first post couldn’t muster up a fraction of the integrity that Wayne Lutz has. I shouldn’t be surprised, though … a bully is a coward, and ignoring my first post was a cowardly way of not owning your shit. So to Mr. Slick, Napoleon, and Senor Caliente, I have this to say, and it’s something I’m sure you’ll recognize:

“This isn’t over ’til I say it is.”

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