Banish the bullies!

I want to know what adolescent bullies are doing these days. Bullying started to get a lot of national attention after it was linked to several incidents of school violence, and I don't think the hallway hooligans should get a free pass from the media just because it's summer vacation.

In my mind, I can picture groups of them meeting in back alleys to exchange information and refine their techniques of intimidation. If I sound paranoid, it's because I was targeted by a bully 35 years ago, and the anxiety of the experience never fades away completely.

For legal reasons, I shouldn't give the real identity of my tormentor, so I'll call him "Puncherman." He was big, overweight, and belligerent, a 7th-grade version of Fatso Judson in "From Here to Eternity." Why he came after me is still a mystery, but I must have looked like easy prey during those confusing first weeks of junior high.

Puncherman made fun of my clothes, and liked to "accidentally" bump into me as we passed each other between classes. Once he spit at me while I was walking to the lunch area. I tried to stay out of his way, but that just made him more determined to continue the pursuit.

Back then, the standard advice for dealing with bullies was to meet them head on, like the kid in the Charles Atlas ad who got sand kicked in his face. He went home, built up his muscles, and then went back to the beach and gave the bully a well-deserved knuckle sandwich. Inevitably, Puncherman and I had our showdown after school.

He confronted me in a deserted hallway while three of his lackeys watched. We each landed a couple of short jabs to the midsection, and then I grabbed his shirt and shoved him backward into a row of lockers. The impact was loud and jarring, and he sank to a sitting position, looking up at me with surprise.

In the movies, this would have been the moment when everything fades to black, and the next scene would show the big lug carrying my books and calling me "sir" while the credits rolled. But this wasn't a movie. I said, "Leave me alone!" and stepped back. After a few moments, Puncherman got up and started chasing me, and I ran until he got tired and gave up. Although he was more cautious after our dust-up, I knew he was just biding his time until he could engineer a rematch.

One day in late spring, as I left the boys' locker room, I overheard a coach asking Puncherman if he'd be going out for 8th-grade flag football.

"No, I won't be here next year," was the reply.

I almost started cheering.

It meant a huge cloud was moving out of my life, and summer vacation of 1966 would be worry-free, not shrouded in dread of new harassment awaiting me when school resumed. If I had absolute power over the universe, I'd make sure every bully victim gets a summer like that.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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