Language of the school yard

January 26, 2012

The story ‘Bullies’ rose into my consciousness watching the Republican contenders in debate. It was the language of the school yard. You had the timid kid (Ron Paul), the nerd (Rick Santorum), the dummy (Rick Perry), the rich kid (Mitt Romney) and the bully (Newt Gingrich).

The ‘Bullies’ was part of a series of stories that I wrote some 30 years ago. And its rules are often learned by boys through a gauntlet of terrible experiences. We teach our boys that the bully is not liked. But you must take him into consideration. And anyone can theoretically become the bully. It just depends on the mark, the kid that gets picked on. The other lesson boys learn is that the only defense against bullies is to have friends. And so developed life long friendships. And gangs.

You can download Bicycle Thieves by clicking on the title.



      A role of paper tumbled along the asphalt toward the school fence and stopped. Greg Tower turned and spat at the paper, then thinking it was money picked it up and unrolled it.

      “Nothing,” he said, wiping his fingers on his jeans.

      Greg was a small boy for fifteen, but had taken up smoking and a swagger and a duckbill haircut.

      “You think that was money, eh?” Bower laughed. Bower a large boy of sixteen was Greg’s buddy. On a dare, Bower had burned his initials into his arm with a magnifying glass. When asked if it hurt, Bower would reply, Well, it used to.

      Greg took a cigarette out from behind his ear and cupping the match, light up his cigarette.

      Between the two boys, Danny Cameron, stood nervously moving from foot to foot. Greg blew smoke into Danny’s face.

      “I told you I don’t have any money,” Danny said. Danny’s lower lip began to flutter.

      Bower laughed.

      “That’s what all the kids say,” Bower said looking at Greg. “Funny, ain’t it?”

      “Ah, we ain’t looking for money,” Greg responded putting his arm around Danny’s shoulder.

      Danny smiled nervously. The blood began to drain from his face.

      “We have this club,” Greg said. “Very prestigious club.”

      Bower laughed. Greg smiled.

      “Presstish,” Bower repeated.

      “Prestigious,” Greg repeated with a scowl. Then he turned back to Danny.

      “You want to join our club, don’t you?” Greg asked. “Why wouldn’t you, eh?”

      Danny shrugged his shoulders.

      “Of course he does,” Bower added putting his hand on Danny’s shoulder as if he was guiding him through a difficult decision in the young boy’s life. “It’s a great club. We got a special handshake and a motto. What’s our motto, Greg?”

      “What’s yours is mine!” Greg replied.

      “Ya, that’s it.” Bower shook with laughter then began to cough. “I need a smoke.”

      “You got a cigarette for my buddy?” Greg asked Danny.

      Danny shook his head.

      “I don’t smoke,” he said.

      Greg turned to Bower.

      “He doesn’t smoke,” Greg said.

      “That’s too bad,” Bower said with a sneer. “Cause I really need a smoke.”

      “My parents won’t let me smoke.” Danny grinned sheepishly.

      “Well,” Greg responded, “that’s one of the advantages of our club. You can smoke all you want.”

      “I’d have to ask my dad if I could join,” Danny said.

      Bower and Greg both laughed.

      Into the far end of the schoolyard, David rode his bicycle. He stopped, noticing Bower and Greg. These were two boys he had been warned about by his friends. Now in high school, they returned to the grounds of Our Lady of Peace to re-establish their reign of terror amongst the younger boys.  David wondered why they had decided to pick on Danny. Maybe Danny was just in the wrong place at the wrong time or maybe he hadn’t heard about Greg and Bower.

      Bower had a grip on Danny’s jacket and each time Danny made a move to leave, Bower threw him back into the fence. Greg laughed and slapped Danny across the face.

      “You don’t get it, do you?” Greg laughed, waving his hands in the air. “In order to join our club there’s a small initiation fee. And you’ve got to join. See, if you join, we’ll protect you.”

      “That’s right,” Bower said. “A kid like you must have a lot of enemies.”

      “I better go,” Danny said and moved to leave.

      Greg grabbed Danny and shoved him.       Danny took a swipe at Greg. Bower grabbed Danny and bashed him on the side of the head. Danny cried out, falling to his knees. Bower grabbed the small boy and lifted him up.

      “That ain’t no way to behave, Chief.”

      Greg spit into Danny’s hair and rubbed it in, his cigarette bobbing up and down in his laughter.

      “Come on, Chief,” Bower laughed. “It prevents baldness.”

      Across the street from the school, David spotted Mr. Moore mowing his lawn. Didn’t Mr. Moore notice what was going on? Why didn’t he try and stop them? Just then David noticed Greg’s attention turning toward him.

      “Who’s that kid over there, watching us?” Greg asked.

      “Where?” Bower turned.

      Greg pointed across the schoolyard at David.

      At that moment, Danny made his escape. Bower tried to grab him again but it was too late. In a few brief strides, Danny was out of the schoolyard running home.

      “Shit!” Greg cried, kicking the fence in anger. “What did you let him go for?”

      “I thought you had him,” Bower said in his defense then turned and waved at David.

      “It’s his fault!” he declared.

      The two teenagers began to walk toward David.

      “Come here, kid!” Greg cried out.

      David turned his bike around and rode off.

      It was a warm Friday. David and Michael, David’s young cousin, crossed the hydro field toward the Ashborne Fish’n’Chips to buy dinner for the family. Three boys, Greg Tower, Bower, and Psycho Bob, blocked their way. David took Michael’s hand and tried to walk around them.

      “Whose the girlfriend?” Bower asked.

      “I ain’t a girl,” Michael replied.

      Greg and Psycho Bob laughed.

      Bower bent over to speak to Michael.

      “That ain’t very friendly, kid,” he said.

      Michael moved closer to David, his six year-old frame trembling.

      “He’s my cousin,” David responded, squeezing Michael’s hand.

      “I think she’s your girlfriend,” Psycho Bob laughed. David had been warned about Psycho Bob. He’d been expelled from Our Lady of Peace for bringing a knife to school. Psycho Bob liked weapons.

      “Ain’t that against the law?” Bower asked.

      “Two boys!” Psycho Bob added.

      “It’s against all that I stand for,” Greg howled in mocking indignation.

      “His girl friend is kind of cute,” Psycho Bob said and reached out to touch Michael who shrank behind David.

      “Bob likes little girls,” Bower said.

      “He ain’t a girl,” David responded.

      “He ain’t!” Greg said. “Well, if he’s a boy he must have a weenie.”

      “That’s right,” Bower added.

      “Show us his weenie,” Bob said.

      The three boys laughed.

      David did not respond.

      Greg looked at David and then pointed to the hydro field.

      “This is our field,” he said. “I admit it ain’t much of a field, but it is ours. And you are trespassing.”

      David turned with Michael in hand and tried to retreat. Bower stopped his exit.

      “You’ve got to pay a toll to cross our field,” Greg said.

      “I ain’t paying no toll,” David said turning back to Greg. David tried to push past Greg. As he did, Bower came up behind David and kicked him in the back of the leg. David turned around, grabbing his leg in pain. As he did, Greg jumped on his shoulders, howling like a cowboy riding a bronco. David spun around trying to throw Greg off his back when Psycho Bob hit him lower in the legs. David turned raging with frustration. The three boys formed a circle around him. Every time he attempted to respond to one of the boy’s assaults, he was attached from the rear. Spinning around David fell to the ground. The three boys started to kick him. David curled in a ball to protect his face and balls. The three boys laughed as they continued to pummel him. Behind them Michael stood, his mouth open, trying to scream, but all that came out was a low whistle. Mr. Shanahan who was walking his dogs yelled from across the field.

      The three boys looked up.

      “Ah shit!” Psycho Bob. “It’s old man Shanahan.”

      “Just when we were having a little fun,” Bower added.

      “You owe us,” Greg cried pointing to David as the three boys turned and ran.

      David lay on the ground, sobbing. Michael walked over and put his hand on his shoulder.

      “Did they kill you?” he asked.

      David stood up and wiped the tears from his eyes. By now Mr. Shanahan had reached them.

      “Are you alright?” he asked.

      David nodded.

      “Those little thugs,” Mr. Shanahan said. “Do you know them?”

      David shook his head. Mr. Shanahan’s dog began to lick Michael’s hand. Michael pulled away.

      “Don’t worry, son, he won’t bite,” Mr. Shanahan said.

      When Mr. Shanahan moved off with his dog, David took Michael’s hand and they walked quickly through the field toward the fish and chip store.

      “You going to tell uncle Gerry?” Michael asked.

      David looked at Michael and shook his head. David couldn’t tell his parents. His father would be disappointed that he didn’t fight back. And his mother wouldn’t let him out of the house for days.

      “And don’t you say anything,” David instructed Michael.

      Michael nodded.

      “You going to get your gang and beat them up later?” Michael asked.

      David shook his head.

      The two boys remained silent. On the way back with their fish and chips, they took the longer route around the hydro field.

      Michael looked up at David.

      “If it was me,” Michael said, “I’d get a gun and kill those mother fuckers.”

3 Responses to “Language of the school yard”

  1. Love this so much… HA! I also love that the republican debate prompted this post. Great writing. Love the ending line 😉

  2. Great story and sadly very familiar. I apologies, but you’ve really set me off on one, I could play for England on this subject. Ain’t humans just lovely?
    We seek approval and acceptance and will go for it wherever we can get it. If we are excluded the more we might try to demonstrate our existence. And if that means striking out, forcing your will on others thereby gaining notice and influence than that will do nicely thank you.
    I find the laws of the playground much more prevalent in adult life, these days, not just within politics (where you would hope that someone somewhere might actually have two thoughts to rub together actually on politics).
    Possibly because I’m old, who knows, but there seems to be a widespread reporting of a general misuse of the immediacy of the mobile phone, social networking and the all pervasive ability to isolate the different. Our pseudo togetherness is masking a widespread inability to actually communicate with each other. You know; listen, answer, listen again, agree to disagree, like folk even though you might not like all their ideas etc? I am just so glad I’m not young and trying to make.
    I thank you for your forbearance and your great story.

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