"You know what? The bastard blows me out of the water. This guy writes Maine like Ardai writes New York. If you're not reading him, you don't know what you're missing." --Chris F. Holm, author of "The Collector" series, The Killing Kind, and Red Right Hand.

"A refreshingly new voice in noir." --Ed Kurtz, author of Nothing You Can Do and The Rib From Which I Remake the World.

"A glorious boilermaker of noir and East Coast gothic. The action is taut as a sprung snare and Bagley tightens the screws with every page." -- Laird Barron, author of Swift to Chase and Blood Standard.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Best Thing You Can Do...

I’m going to talk about Chris Holm’s story “The World Behind” again. There is an early scene in which the narrator (an adult looking back on his childhood) is getting his ass kicked by the school bully. A girl comes to his rescue, which is just about the worst thing that could happen under those circumstances. He knows word will get around. He’ll be humiliated and it only makes the bully hate him more. So the narrator has to come up with a bully-avoidance plan.

Rereading that story recently reminded me of something that happened when I was twelve. Those of you who haven’t known me long will find this hard to believe, but I was a scrawny, wimpy little kid. I had a big mouth with nothing to back it up. So anyway, I made some smartass remark to this older kid who lived on my block. Let’s call him Moe. I guess ol’ Moe must have been fourteen or fifteen at the time, and he had at least twenty pounds on me.

As soon as the words came out of my mouth, Moe commenced whaling on me. I’d like to say I fought back as best I could, but that would be a lie. Moe knocked me down with one shove, sat on my chest and used my head for a punching bag. When you’re a wimpy little wiseass, you learn to accept such things as the price of doing business.

In the normal course of events, the beating would have lasted a minute or two. Then the big moron would get bored and wander off. I’d wash off the blood and hope my lips didn’t swell up too much. No big deal. Like Jean Shepherd once said, “In the jungles of kid-dom, the mind switches gears rapidly.”

Here’s where it all went wrong…

My grandmother happened to look out the window. She saw Moe beating the stink out of me right on our front lawn. Grandma grabbed a broom and came screaming out of the house. Busting some pretty good moves for a 78 year-old, she laid into Moe with that broom. Then she chased him halfway down the block.

I knew right then I was screwed. The story of how I let my grandmother fight my battles would be all over town by the end of the day. Worse, Moe wanted payback for getting a broom handle upside his head.

A year or so later, Moe held up a Stop and Shop with a pellet gun. He got away with a carton of smokes and a few bucks’ cash. If I remember right, he barely had time to light one up before the cops snagged him.

So what’s the moral to my heart-warming tale?

It’s simple: sometimes the best thing you can do is just take the beating.

Oh, and: it’s still armed robbery, even if you “only” use a pellet gun.


pattinase (abbott) said...

In second grade, Louis Moonblatt let the heavy door slam on me every time he could. (He was M and I was N for Nase and we often walked in alphabetical order). I didn't say anything because he was twice my size. I developed insomnia which I still have today. So sometimes taking the beating isn't best either.

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

I'm not condoning or making excuses for bullying, Patti. I'm talking about a lose-lose situation.

Once I hit high school, people left me alone. There are still a couple of assholes from 7th and 8th grade I wouldn't mind running into now, though.

Lyman Feero said...

In seventh grade I was 5 foot 1 and weighed 135 pounds. I was shorter than all my classmates and was brutalized on a daily basis. Kicked, shoved, hair lit on fire, spit on, homework destroyed, you name it. I suffered through it. I took the beating. I sure as hell wasn't going to add fuel to the flame by tattling. The beginning of middle school was torture.

Sometimes if you're patient time has a way of correcting the past. A truly amazing thing happened over the summer between my seventh and eighth grade years. I grew 8 inches and put on 45 pounds. Of course it wasn't great at the time, my bones grew so fast my tendons couldn't keep up. I couldn't even stand for a while. I was in intense pain for two months. But that went away and when I returned to school in the fall I was now one of the biggest kids. Of course a big kid who had the mentality of the same little kid from the previous year.

A few of my bullies backed off because I was bigger than them. The hard core bullies didn't care. I still have scars from where one of them burned me with a set of superheated test tube tongs. Which led to anther scar when I flinched and broke the test tube I was holding. It gashed open the back of my little finger on my right hand.

I suffered along for a while until winter. My dad had a stroke. He almost died and my perception of the world took on a much darker slant.

The day the bullying ended was as much a surprise to me as it was to everyone else. It happened so fast. Someone knocked my books out of my hand as we were headed up the spiral stairs. He almost got by me but my hand shot out and grabbed him by his shirt. I spun him around, punched him in the face, grabbed him by his collar and pushed him out over the railing. I started screaming that everyone had better leave me alone or I was going to drop him. I beleieve what I actually said was "Leave me the fuck alone or I'll kill him then you." It was a 12 to 14 foot drop to the concrete floor below. I never let go of the kid until the football coach pried me off of him.

No one ever picked on me again. There were only maybe 40 kids in that hallway but everyone heard the story by the end of the day.

And amazingly enough my stock went up on the dating front as well.

So Patrick, in short I agreed. Take the beating and wait. Always wait. Wait for that opportunity where suddenly you're in control. It always happens.