Thursday, September 13, 2012


Either today or tomorrow both of the super-kids will be bussed out to see a movie called “Bully”. I have only seen the trailers to it, but it appears to be a tear-jerking documentary about bullying in schools. Simply watching the trailer was rather traumatic; how anyone could one watch the fragile composure of a parent relating the suicide of their child without being brought to the point of tears is beyond me. I expect both super-kids to come home with part of their humanity in a basket.

Perhaps I should pick up some chocolate to have on hand?

There is a lot of interest in bullying as of late. There are marches, and legislation, and movies like “Bully”. I understand that “Bully” is one of the better movies, but, as I mentioned earlier, I have not had the opportunity to see it.

When I was in junior high school I was a skinny wanna-be nerd. I was a little too big to be a first-choice target, but occasionally I had to be kept in line. On one such occasion a very early-blooming muscle-bound son of a successful lawyer squared off with me in the just after gym-class-let-out-and-the-teacher-is-gone time. It started with hair-fag comments, and moved onto wimp-fag comments. I quipped back that short hair and climbing the rope attached to the gym's ceiling to the top were not required to find the rapidly developing females of the school attractive; I don’t remember the exact words, but I like to think that they were inspired and annoying. In reality I was scared all out of proportion to the amount of damage this kid could cause me in the few minutes the class was left alone.

This situation is different from organized bullying. There were bystanders, but no pack of attackers. I’m sure there is some psychological archetype for this type of encounter that is named for a particular wolf-pack dominance activity.

Pack attacks are much more damaging. When Mitt Romney led his pack of dogs into a calculated attack on John Lauber they quickly overwhelmed their victim. Decades later some of Mitt’s pack still vividly recalled John struggling and screaming as they held him down while Mitt cut his offensively-bleached hair with a pair of scissors.

I never really thought my hair was all that long in junior high. I was always burning bits of the front off, and in an attempt to straighten the random damage my mother created what was mockingly called a “bowl cut”. I thought that growing my hair out might give me a rockstar look. I already had the skinny malformed physique that comes as standard equipment on non-athletic adolescent boys. However, in that decade that looked back on the 60s with sequin-studded smiles hair that covered the ears could be called “long”, and so I had long hair.

In pack bullying some of the participants are traumatized by the activities. Thomas Buford who was destined to become a lawyer when he participated in the Mitt-lead attack on John Lauber is quoted as saying “To this day it still troubles me”.

In my junior high gymnasium the first punch left me stinging, and I dodged the second. I thought about running, and even took a couple steps.  But the attacker had always been a much faster runner than me, and I had not begun my run in a useful direction; like in the direction of a door. It looked to me like there were people in the way of all my exits. A small group had gathered to see someone getting a thrashing, and it looked like it was going to be happening to me. They would not be disappointed.

Phillip Maxwell was also a member of Mitt’s pack when they attacked John Lauber. He is quoted as telling ABC news decades after the attack that: “when you see somebody who is simply different taken down that way and is terrified and you see that look in their eye, you never forget it.”

The people gathering to watch my imminent demise (in truth it was probably like 8 people, but it felt like a big crowd at the time) probably saw something different in my eyes. When I found I could not run away I decided that my only option was to kill my attacker. That is the way it is with some kids. I’m sure there are kids who have a stable and realistic concept of the world’s workings, but I was not one of them. I seriously doubt I had the capacity to kill anyone with my bare hands, but nevertheless I made up my mind to do it.

Attacks on kids can cause damage that outstrips the magnitude of the physical assault. Sometimes it is due to synergistic damage caused by the total weight of troubles that can befall a young kid. Sometimes it is an impotent support system that misses the clues that a refusal to ask for help can cover. John’s older sister who could have provided assistance to him after the attack was ‘doing her own thing’, and John apparently never directly asked for help. That his life was not all a prep-school education might prepare one for was probably due to a number of factors, but years later John Lauber would still recall the horror he felt during the attack Mitt led.

In physical damage the attack by Mitt-Pack on John had as much lasting effect as a bad trip to the barber. In psychological damage it was an assault that violated John intimately. He did not remember it as a relatively harmless prank. Almost a decade before he died John Lauber would be confronted by a third member of the Mitt-pack. David Seed ran into John in Chicago’s O’Hare airport.

Seed had never forgotten the attack and offered Lauber an apology, saying “I’m sorry that I didn’t do more to help in the situation”.

John is quoted as replying: “It was horrible”.

I probably looked horrible as I stuck back at my attacker. My hair, which was always greasy, undoubtedly caught some of the spittle sprayed from my attack scream. I had never even been in a fistfight so I was a little unsure about how to go about killing someone with my bare hands, but I knew one had to scream first. My attacker was taken off guard, and turned slightly to give me room to do whatever I was going to do.

Many of John’s family did not recall John ever speaking of the Mitt-Pack incident. John died in 2004 so he cannot be asked. The only first hand reports are those of Romney’s fellow Mitt-Packers. They all described the attack as shameful, insensitive, and horrific. There is no way to capture the damage done to John by plumbing the depth of some of his attackers’ remorse.

If I sprung like a wild animal onto my junior high attacker the animal would have been a very awkward squid. I flung my legs and arms as far out as their respective joints would allow. I knew that connecting with my intended target was an important part of fist fighting, and that I would need to connect a few times before I could render him lifeless.

Somewhere between my determinedly homicidal attack and his momentary decision to maybe run we collided. I sort of ran up onto his back and my arms and legs got tangled in him. Instead of a deadly kung-fu strike we formed a human knot and fell down.

I then realized that one of my arms was tangled around his neck, and I began to squeeze. I had stumbled into a sort of choke-hold, and he could not untangle me enough to get free. Strangely enough he would later say that he did think I was going to kill him, and had actually lost consciousness for a while. Looking back I’m not sure that was possible as the collected students pulled us apart, and the teacher returned before there was any real time to effectively be blacked out.

But I had beaten up one of the biggest bullies in the school, and I was IT. A couple days later I would get into another fight which ended with more predictable results, and I decided that being IT sucked. After those dust-ups I went most of junior high without any further violence. The fact that the bully whom I choked decided my attack was a gesture that demanded friendship did not hurt my violence-free middle-school tenure.

My newly won friend did not consider himself to be a bully. We discussed times I witnessed him assaulting other kids, and he either did not remember them, or thought everyone –including the victim- thought they were having some kind of ‘fun’.

In my experience there is a twisted kind of bully who does not recall their actions, or worse, twists the recollection into jovial fantasy.

Mitt Romney says that he does not recall the attack on John Lauber. He recalls “pranks” but no attacks.

The junior high bullying was not the end of my “friend’s” violence. He would spend some time in a criminal psychiatric institution.

I like to think that spending your life living the fantasies that you concoct for moral justification can stress the human mind to the breaking point.


Faith said...

Bullies are just incredibly horrible to deal with. I was badly bullied in 5th & 6th grades. It let up a tiny bit in 7th & 8th, and then I was just a nobody by 9th instead of being a victim.

Romney just disgusts me. The whole putting his dog in a box on top of the car thing was enough, and then finding out about that bullying attack -- well, let's just say that had there been even the tinest, most minute chance I'd ever lose my mind enough to vote for Romney, that would have changed it.

The Bullies movie is fantastic. I saw it in a small theatre, and there were perhaps 12 of us in the auditorium, and we had a fantastic discussion going all the way through. I just wanted to hug all of the children in the movie and take them home. It's a painful movie to watch, but I think a lot of good has and can yet come from it.

Of course, most bullies don't realise how harmful their behaviour is until they grow up some, and then others, coughMittRomneycough, apparently never do.

adult onset atheist said...

I hope to have an opportunity to see the "bully" movie. Your recommendation, Faith, only serves to solidify that hope. However, based on the trailer it looks like it might be one that I want to watch alone.

Have you thought about writing down your recollection of your bullying experiences, and then sending them off to the school system where they took place?

sushi said...

Excellent piece. I love the way you incorporated your own story into the retelling of Mitt Romney's "prank". He may have matured, but I believe he is every bit as much the mean-spirited, entitled bully he was back in the day.

adult onset atheist said...

Thank you Sushi; Romney may have matured but I had to go back to middle-school to find an experience that was even remotely in the spirit of Mitt's senior-year high school "prank".