© 2011, 2018 Mirror Image Edutainment, Alan John Mayer
My father rented a small flat on Long Island Sound, where we stayed while visiting friends in New England. We took long evening walks along the Long Island Shore. A week in, we drove to Denver via Toronto, Chicago, and St. Louis. There we took in the Arch, which had recently been unveiled. Nothing more to see there. On to Denver.My mother, the Empress of Fashion, in planning my wardrobe, followed the seasons with intuitive precision. She sent me to school that May wearing a white shirt with traditional Bavarian Lederhosen shorts.
With the first breeze of autumn, she dressed me in a long white linen shirt, gray slacks, and a double breasted Pierre Cardin blue blazer she had bought in a French boutique. Black and white Oxford shoes grounded me, or so I thought. In winter, I wore ski pants, a thermal undershirt, wool sweater, and an anorak. Mummy made sure my feet stayed dry, by telling me to put on my ski boots.
Today, guys wear tights and short shorts and it’s considered normal. Then, for ignorant wallflowers, it was an object of ridicule. With three boys in particular, my wardrobe didn’t sit well. Mike Lewis, Jeff Campbell, and Grey Atkins were so provoked by my wardrobe, they decided to beat me up after school.
No one had ever thrown a ball for me. No one taught me how to defend myself, not even against an abusive older sister. All my father had to say about fighting, “The pen is mightier than the sword”. Maybe that is true, in the end, but a ten year old boy cannot be expected to understand the long run implications.
To these wallflowers, I was from another planet. They had never heard of Germany. The only way they knew how to deal with me was to ridicule me. Here we were living in the nation’s ski capitol, yet these working class boys called my ski pants tights. Their parents were unaware what was going on in their sons’ lives, as were mine. My new teacher, my sixth, Miss Straub, did not make things any easier when she cried “Stay away. Don’t stomp on me.” In this, my eleventh year, I could not have worn anything bigger than a size 8.
The pen is mightier than the sword. What my father did not teach me was how to defend myself when the pen runs out of ink. Unable to make an impression upon these boys with words, I resorted to kicking, and biting my way out of their attack on me, three ganging up against one, an unfair match. Relieved, I made it home in one piece.
The next day, when the 2:30 bell rang, I shot out of that school like a bullet, and darted for home. That particular afternoon, I escaped their attack.
The following afternoon, I offered my services as eraser pounder to my first male teacher, tall, dark, handsome Mr. Condos. I looked up to him. At five feet I had no other choice. Once more, they bullies caught up with me at the crossing, but by then, I understood the power of a swift kick in the groin.
Jeff Campbell took the kick crouched down, while Mike Lewis, and Greg Atkins took off running, back to their side of the tracks.
That June, during the school’s final assembly, I was called to the stage twice, once to have conferred on me a certificate for perfect attendance, and again to be given a certificate stating I was an outstanding Crossing Guard. It was a proud moment, as Jeff Campbell, Mike Lewis, and Greg Atkins, sat, unacknowledged.
Life moves on. The following year, registered in junior high, I was free of the bullies, but the violation they imposed upon me caused humiliation. I knew of no one who cared, or took the time to listen. No one even noticed I was withdrawn, suffering. I was glad the ordeal was over and I never had to see Jeff, Mike or Greg again.
Many years later, I was working as a public school teacher for the Santa Ana Unified School District, filling out paperwork, disciplining children. I didn’t get rich, but I did get to boss people around, even if they were little brown people who didn’t understand what I was saying. That Christmas I flew to Aurora for the holidays to take care of my parents’ needs. One snowy afternoon, I drove into the 7-Eleven parking lot on Peoria and Seventeenth, in my parents’ nice car, and stepped inside. As I approached the register, I saw a carton of Marlboros on the counter, and I recognized Mike Lewis.
He held his hand out to the cashier for change.
“How are your friends Greg and Jeff?” I asked.
He recognized me. “Greg died from a stab wound, and Jeff is serving time for stealing television sets.”
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Me? I drive a taxi, just to keep up with alimony and child support.”
He dropped his change into his pocket, and I bid Mike well..
“You too” he grabbed his carton of Marboros, and walked out into the snow. The last I saw of Mike Lewis, he left behind a blue cloud of smoke trailing an old Dodge.
Was my Dad right? Was the pen more powerful than the sword? I don’t know, but it felt good to know I had done something with my life, little as my teaching career may have been. I had turned into a decent citizen, out to help my fellow man, woman, or child.
And so it was.