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“Life is nothing but a competition to be the criminal
rather than the victim.”--Bertrand Russell.
When I was in junior high,
when Eisenhower was President,
when rock and roll was usurping
all that smooth post-war patter from Eddie Fisher
Frank Sinatra &
after we came to a non-winning stalemate in Korea,
setting up our own Hadrian’s Wall between
the north & the south, that then we had to provide
boots on the ground to protect & preserve
for the last sixty years;
when V-8s were commonplace,
when you could buy a used car for a hundred bucks,
slap on some cheap re-cap tires,
shake down some pals for gas money
so that you could cruise around town-- there was
this bothersome problem, still prevalent today,
where gangs of bullies would
take over schools, beating down & victimizing
the weaker & solitary kids. I was always the new boy,
because we moved around a lot.
I was big for my age,
was blessed with above average intelligence,
& decent study skills,
& very good grades (another form of competition)--
big enough to be an athlete or thug,
but smart enough to hang out with the nerds, & as such
became a threat to a pugnacious pod
of juvenile delinquents at Denny Junior High
Four or five of them would catch me
in the gym locker room,
in the halls between classes,
or outside the cafeteria,
or out on the playground--hold my arms
behind me & punch me out,
take my lunch, tear my clothes,
stomp my books, or
break my glasses. Outraged,
I would complain to the teachers,
to the Principal’s office,
to the Vice Principal,
to the gym instructors,
but they would just give me a blank stoic stare, assuming
I was just a big pussy, a cry baby; they seemed
disinterested, or worse, powerless.
I certainly did not realize it at the time,
but that critical situation represented
the cauldron, the forge that
my personality would emerge from,
and it became evident that that was just
the way the World works. The solution
had to be either fists or brains, for
I refused to accept the role of victim.
I decided to utilize both assets equally.
Whenever I encountered any member of the gang alone,
I would attack him immediately, breaking noses,
breaking jaws, knocking out teeth,
kicking knee caps, & pounding
heads into metal lockers;
& when I was sent to the Office for “fighting”,
when we were both sitting in those high-backed chairs
in front of the Vice-Principal, he would take a long moment
& stare at both of us intently;
me, the straight A student defending myself, &
him, the dull-eyed punk who liked to skip classes &
would soon be just another drop-out.
He would be expelled.
I was sent back to class with a slap on the wrist.
I repeated that scenario several times
until I had created a bit of a safety zone around me,
& was finally left alone,
but I knew that I was not a winner
in that sad story line, even when in the cat bird seat;
no, I was simply a survivor, who for a tentative moment
breathed the rarified air on top of the heap,
just before slipping back down amongst the throng,
keenly aware that it made no sense to keep
score, as divers check marks were penciled into
win/lose columns; all randomly, spontaneously,
absurdly, even unfairly, reducing their impact
& tangible importance.
Even today, as a retiree,
I am still more the survivor than the winner
in the game of life, & my scars,
injuries & losses
just make interesting fodder
for my poetry.
Posted over on dVerse Poets Poetics
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