Sunday, January 8, 2012

Odyssey of the Playground

In his famous journey, Homer’s Odysseus had to suffer and prevail over great challenges both mental and physical before he could finally return home.  With the help of his guardian from Mt. Olympus, the goddess Athena, Odysseus was able to escape the eye of Cyclops and the voices of the Sirens.  Of all the hardships, however, the hero of the Odyssey never had to endure anything as arduous as the elementary playground at recess. 

My son once came home from school complaining that one of his classmates had annoyed him during recess by constantly inflicting a “spider hold” on him.  A spider hold, I deducted by his description and rather annoying demonstration, is sort of like that Vulcan knock-out pinch to the neck that Mr. Spock did on Star Trek to those who annoyed him.  My son told me that all the kids were constantly giving each other the “spider hold,” but he found it ridiculous and, frankly, somewhat uncomfortable.

My heart went out to him.  I remember those seemingly innocent albeit slightly injurious rites of passage in the schoolyard.

“Hey, Chester!”  Wham!  A full force blow to the upper body.  “It’s good to see you back.”  Whomp!  A breath-taking slug to the back.  There were others.

I dreaded Tuesdays.  In my school it was referred to as “Toes-day.”  On this particular day, someone would walk up to you and stomp his foot down on yours as hard as he could.  I would wake up the next morning with mixed feelings.  Yes, I had survived another “Toes-day,” but now it was “Weddings-day,” a day wrought not only with physical pain, but emotionally scarring as well.  On “Weddings-day” the nuptials were performed by a blind-sided shove that made you go flying into the nearest girl, preferably one in need of a good emollient.  Any contact constituted marital bliss. 

Painful though these were, it was merely the light stuff, the work of the underlings. 
Those who perpetrated these little annoyances were the imbecilic henchmen to the archenemy that was Gunter; six feet forever to my four foot whatnot, Gunter was the bully’s bully.  Gunter had been left back so many times that he had his own parking spot.  Gunter was so mean that he’d step on your toes and push you into girls on any day of the week.

Gunter had it out for me.  Mostly everyday during sixth grade I was either tripped, noogied, Indian burned, Charlie horsed, ear flicked, or just plain punched by sasquatchian kid.  I had no idea why until one day when he was caught red handed, that is, he had me in a headlock grimacing in pain when a teacher walked up.  The teacher told Gunter to stop pummeling me.  “But he’s wearing Bo-bos,” he said about my sneakers with the tell tale “BB” on the sole.  “That’s stands for basketball,” I said from inside Gunter’s elbow, repeating the words of my mother.  Even the band kids laughed.

According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, approximately one-third of school children have been bullied or have participated in bullying by the time they are in high school.  Unfortunately, children learn to tolerate these unwarranted assaults as a means of self-preservation.  It’s the classic catch-22:  If a child complains, he is ridiculed by his peers or he may incite the bully to take even more violent actions.  Telling a teacher is completely out of the question.  The code of ethics among school children wading their way through playground politics is clear on this one.

In this age where schools are installing metal detectors, completing random locker checks, practicing lockdown drills where students stand in a darkened classroom against a wall so that the classroom will appear unoccupied to a gunman in the hallway, implementing and enforcing zero tolerance policies, and completing volumes of paperwork when bullying is reported, some abusive behaviors are still being over looked and even encouraged in schools by those who still believe in the antiquated adage that boys will be boys. 

A simple punch in the arm my look innocent enough; however, accepting even the slightest nudge could be a sign of something far worse.


  1. Figured out through this post, you are changing names, couldn't figure out Art, but figured out Gunter easily. He never changed. I don't remember the "cool wall" in grade school, didn't realize the boys were all such bullies, nor Toes-day or Weddings-day. I was at the same darn school.

    I tell my daughter "Treat people how you want to be treated". I know they have zero tolerance for bullying at schools here now, but still, I know it goes on. I also noticed through subbing, the girls are a bit meaner than the boys.

  2. I agree that girls can be meaner than boys. I don't think all were bullies, but one certainly was made aware when one didn't exactly fit in. I didn't have my first pair of Levi's until high school which was a struggle in middle school when that was the tag to have. The "cool wall" was that half wall by the back door. Even if you got to school early and was sitting on it, a pecking order would mandate moving.

  3. " Gunter had been left back so many times that he had his own parking spot."

    Love it!