By Jeff Salter
It wasn’t exactly David vs. Goliath, but that gives you a sense of how it seemed to me.
This week we’re blogging about a time when we acted bravely even though we were scared inside. Well, I have several doozies, but I’ll post this one from my school days because I think there may be flickers of recognition from some of you readers.
In my seventh grade class, there was a really tough guy who was several years older, much larger, heavily muscled, and he smoked real cigarettes. After 50 years, I no longer recall his name, so let’s call him Hulk. I was never close enough to make a definitive examination, but I’m also certain he was already shaving every day. I never actually saw his learner’s permit, but some of my buddies swore that Hulk was already driving! To this day, I cannot fathom what Hulk was doing in the seventh grade, unless he was an undercover cop.
I don’t actually recall that Hulk was an overt bully per se, because (prior to this incident) I don’t remember ever seeing him DO anything physically bad to anybody. I think it was more the incredible psychological fear we all felt because of his size, age, and reputation. So, whenever he came near anyone, that unfortunate soul would simply comply with whatever Hulk appeared to want … usually without any effort or spoken threat on Hulk’s part. In other words, he pretty much got everything he wished merely by his presence. All that said, Hulk was a champion at misbehavior and creating general discipline problems.
Anyway, I turned twelve in the very middle of that seventh grade year. Quite the opposite of Hulk, I was skinny and scrawny and wouldn’t be shaving until late high school. Until this fateful day I think it’s quite possible that Hulk was not even aware of my existence — and I definitely preferred it that way. If he was on the opposite side of the classroom or across the playground at recess, that was plenty of exposure for me.
Temporary class monitor
I do not recall any other instance – during my twelve years in lower education – of being appointed the temporary class monitor, so it was quite ironic that Mrs. Fitzgerald designated me to monitor class behavior during the several minutes she had to be out of the room. It was NOT a responsibility I wanted, even if Hulk had not been in my class.
For those of you who do not know, the class monitor is a student (seated at the teacher’s desk) who is supposed to report any misbehavior whatsoever to the teacher upon her/his return. Well, Hulk was known for pulling out all the stops during these rare interludes with teacher absent from her domain.
Sure enough, Hulk cut up the entire time, and it became obvious to everyone that I would have to write his name down on the ‘misbehaved’ list. I briefly thought perhaps I could squirm my way out of performing that distasteful duty by pretending that I could not locate anything to write with. One of the girls in class – S. T. – called my shrugging bluff by striding to the teacher’s desk and handing me her own pencil. No escape now from my involuntary suicide mission!
So, fully realizing I was sealing my own doom – and with an audible gasp from several other students – I wrote down the name of the hulking miscreant. Hulk’s eyes glared daggers at me from his seat.
Shortly Mrs. Fitzgerald returned to our class and inquired of me, “Did anyone misbehave?”
To which I replied, “Only Hulk,” and handed her the piece of paper bearing his name. Another audible gasp from fellow students, who surely realized that day would likely be my last on earth. The teacher chewed out Hulk and then marked something next to his name in her grade book.
Just as in the structured Mob world of Tony Soprano, in such situations you know your action will require a counter-action. So I knew fully well that I’d catch some punishment for having turned-in the misbehaving Hulk. Of course, there was no way to know what it would be, or where, or when.
Well I didn’t have long to wait. During the P.E. period on that same day, Hulk spotted me across the gym and strode purposefully in a beeline toward the student who “got him in trouble.” [Note that kids like Hulk never consider it’s their own misbehavior that results in discipline … they assign the fault to whoever turned them in.]
There was no point in trying to flee, so I just stood there and watched him approach. Without even breaking stride, he reared back and let loose a massive fist which felt like a brick falling from an airplane … right on my upper arm. [It was the same muscle part of the upper arm where kids incessantly administered “frogs” to each other. Very tender flesh indeed.]
The force of the blow very nearly knocked me over, but I somehow kept my footing. My arm hurt like the devil, but I had an immediate feeling that his single blow was to be my entire punishment for my reluctant role in his discipline from our teacher. And even during this potentially terrifying event, I perceived that Hulk delivered his blow almost with as much a sense of duty as I had felt in turning him in. Almost like obligatory retribution. Interesting.
That part of my arm bruised and tender for days, but I never had any other trouble from Hulk.
What about you? When did you – however reluctantly – prove your mettle?