In moment of Google curiosity I looked up one of the more horrible bullies from my childhood. His skills of aggression were so effective that our single encounter the summer of fourth grade still feels fresh in my mind today, over thirty years later.
Well, not that fresh…more like a can nearing its expiration date. But it’s still in the cupboard.
My friends and I went to a video arcade in a pizza parlor where he and his buddy were losing their tempers over their performances in some of the games. I remember the star bully of this story getting particularly angry with his game of Dig Dug, actually rocking the machine back and forth, pulling the its joystick hard after losing another life.
In retrospect, we should have totally left the arcade, gone home to play more Atari 2600 games. There was no way we were going to walk into that kind of aggressive heat and not get burned. But it was my first time seeing Dig Dug–I wanted to play it! So we carefully pretended these predators didn’t exist.
At one point this bully’s friend threatened my pal when he growled, “Don’t touch me!” as they passed by each other. My friend, legally blind with limited eyesite, hadn’t done anything intentional to provoke him, but details like that don’t matter in such youth interactions. As my friend tried to plead innocence, the asshole got more in his face until I stepped up, demanding he be left alone.
The problem with me doing an action like this at the time is I had the balls to stand up for my friends, but when these two thugs-in-training turned their energies towards ME my balls shrunk into the size of Chia seeds.
I start off trying to talk them out of their bullshit, but they keep shoving me, eager for a reaction. At some point my friends convince me to leave with them and as I walk out the door I make the second mistake of flipping them off. I just realized typing that that I’ve never publicly flipped anyone off in anger ever since that incident, the consequences of actions in your childhood having that great an effect on me. Ya see, my action provoked them to charge outside after me.
My bike was locked to a telephone pole, so I couldn’t just run away. They corner me with a bunch of threats and more shoving. After 30 years it’s a bit of a blur recalling exact details, but I know I was provoked into finally throwing a punch at one and maybe even throwing another to the ground. Anyone who knows me beyond that moment to the present might have trouble believing it happened, as I simply don’t have the fighting personality–but I did for that instant. And my friends…they were too shocked to do anything besides watch. And what were they supposed to do?
The bullies pounced on me, obviously satisfied that I’d given them a reason to retaliate with full justification. I remember specifically getting an epic blow to the side of the head that was almost stunning. An employee from the pizza joint stuck his head out the door and ordered us to break up–and specifically for the thugs to beat it. I think the employee knew these two kids (one of their Dads may have owned the restaurant), as he told THEM to get lost and asked me if I was OK. I was already on my bike, taking off.
Because the other two had already gone to the side of the building to get their own bikes and pursue me.
I pedaled my ass off to my house, which was two minutes away, but it was pointless, as these guys followed me all the way my driveway. At this point I was scared to go for my house key hidden in the back yard because I was afraid I’d be extra screwed if they’d gotten into my house. Kid logic entertains all worst-case scenarios as plausible. So I spent what felt like an hour having one POS ram his bike into me (the one who sucked at Dig Dug) while the other one made all sorts of threats about how he should rob my house, beat me to dust, etc. I may have been struck a few more times, and I recall making some sort of apology for flipping them off, begging to make peace and be friends, all which fueled their superiority. It’s easy to armchair quarterback moments like this years later. Where the hell did my spine go? These fools weren’t marginally bigger than myself. Perhaps if I’d fought relentlessly like a rabid dog they’d have split, thinking I was too crazy to deal with. But no, they eventually left because they’d simply gotten bored harassing a scared kid with tears in his eyes who’d given up fighting back. I ran into the house and threw a paper bag over my head to regain control of my hyperventilated breathing.
Then there’s the incident where this same punk attacked another friend in middle school a few years later because he walked into a door my pal opened, not seeing that he was coming. But I’ll let that friend detail it in his own blog.
You hear the occasional feel-good story or see a movie where the victim stands up to a bully and gets him to back down, the moral being that standing up for yourself always brings about the feelgood Hollywood ending. That might be true if the victim succeeds in putting the bully into the hospital, but the more common reality is that standing up for yourself reinforces the target on your back. Bullies thrive on the energy you give them, be it crying, screaming, pushing back. Standing up for yourself gives them something to look forward to at the next encounter. Who wants to harass someone who laughs them off or goes to the cops? And if by chance you do bruise their egos they only come at you harder, perhaps getting their friends to join them.
So now that I’ve detailed this trauma in a public forum, let’s get back to the Google search. I find an article about Dig Dug Bully in the Marin Independent Journal, dated last year. Turns out he has been the football coach for a highly-regarded team in Marin County. Yeah, go figure, right?
Then the article turns to his battle against cancer. Seems he had a serious battle going on, illness, surgery, a prolonged period of feeling the lowest of low, along with a current clean bill of health for the past few years.
So now I’m thinking…son of a bitch! I’ve wished for that sort of pain and suffering on this guy since our fated meeting in 1983–and he gets it??? What kind of asshole am I to be carrying a grudge through childhood, turning it into my own emotional toxicity well into middle-age? I mean, it’s not like I think about that incident every day, swimming in a pity party. That pool was filled by plenty of other incidents of my own doing! But as I’ve dealt with uncontrollable anxiety in recent years, letting doctors use me as a guinea pig for questionable medications, exploring therapy, acupuncture, journals, the occasional shot of something higher proof so I could get to sleep, I couldn’t help referring to moments like that day with Dig Dug. It was one of those transitional moments in childhood where you learn that not only is the world imperfect; it was actually quite cruel.
There’s no moral here, is there? I’m not taking joy in his suffering, but honestly, I have trouble feeling sympathetic. And I know how much I’ve changed since the day I absorbed all of Dig Dug’s hostility, learning how to function in society, dealing with people. It would be ignorant on my part to assume that football coach is the same vicious bully who rammed the front wheel of his bike into my head 30 years ago.
Can I interpret this as karma? Or does he get to interpret it as one of the greatest lessons of his life?
Somehow I’m still angry, reading his story. I should have gone for the hundredth punch that day, should have gone to the cops, should have broken his neck against his locker door during one of the days we crossed paths in middle school. It annoys me that he’s a revered high school football coach, and it worries me that he’s imparting his thug wisdom upon young minds that don’t know any better.
But now I’m just being hyperbolic.
I seriously doubt the guy has put a single thought into our encounter since that day. Maybe it was merely a youthful act of aggression that was worked out when he got into sports, which ultimately made him a better person. Hell, maybe he’s helping those kids not become the asshole he was when he was their age. Beating cancer is a life-changer, I’m told. He probably has a newly positive outlook few get the chance to experience. That’s the type of person you want in your life when you’re feeling sorry for yourself and your mundane problems.
So I push for a new catharsis by way of this blog post, and get on with the present that is way more important. Truth be told, I actually haven’t thought about this guy in years.