One instruction that my father gave that was wrong, and I had to learn his wrongness the hard way, was to always run from trouble. If someone challenges you to a fight, my father said, run to the nearest police station and report the people who are trying to get you.
My father had a story about a crowd of kids who would follow him and his brother, Freddie, home from their school in Fremont, a neighborhood in Seattle. They lived in Interlake then in a tiny house that has since been turned into a storage facility for Ben Law Appliance. They lived near the dump that is now a mini-golf course. Every day these kids would follow him and his brother home. We started to run home. When the bell rang we were ready and we just ran home as quickly as they could. “Those kids never got us.” I tried to apply my father rule growing up.
In elementary school in Fall City I was the weird kid and because I’d grown up with those kids they accepted me for what I was: the weird kid. I wore a velour sweater in brown and orange colors. I had a massive Beatles style bowl cut. I wore a blue hoodie on the playground and played with my best friends Wyatt, an asthmatic, and Sam Sudore. Sam’s father was a hairdresser and owned a couple of hair salons. Wyatt’s dad was a dairy farmer.
Most of the other kids in the school dads fell trees for Weyerhaeuser. Their Moms’ worked as waitresses. That’s what my Mom did too.My dad was the local pot dealer. Our dad’s had the traditional non-traditional jobs of rural Washington State.
When my Mom got a job at Boeing and we moved to the upper Snoqualmie valley in the 1981, even further way way from Seattle, our household suddenly joined the bedroom community invaders who had been changing the valley. The Snoqualmie kids began to attack me. I had a button down shirt. “What are the buttons for?” a gigantic kid asked me. To hold down the collar, and my being new and having a button down collar meant I was targeted for violence at recess. Three or four kids would gather around me and hit me and push against me and press against me in the hidden spots on the playground. I was just too big and too strong for them to do anything else to me. I didn’t know it then but I was a lot stronger than other kids my age. I didn’t think about it, because I wasn’t a particular fast runner nor was I very agile. Instead I was just a block of flesh and bone and these kids would wheeze and press against me in a knot of arms and legs for about fifteen minutes and then disheveled we would return to the classroom. The strategy of not fighting back seemed to encourage them. They kept at it and I got kind of used to it. I didn’t look forward to it. I would wait until they exhausted themselves. I would adjust the buttons on my button down shirt and go back to class.
After school, I put on my soccer clothes and jogged or walked the two and half miles from our subdivision way out beyond the city limits to the athletic fields where soccer practice was held near the County Pool. The field was under Mount Si. Sometimes an electrical storm would cause our hair to rise and we would run around the soccer field with our hair raised up. Two kids united in their position at the bottom of the social ladder were eager to climb at least one rung by having me below them. They began to follow me home to “beat me up.” I tried to ignore them. They would block me or call me names or tell time they were going to stick things in my ass. Sometimes they would try to physically intimidate me and I would just shrug them off and get home. I felt like crying every time I got home because it was like walking through very thick manure. Finally after two months of this, I said to the leader of the two kids at the end of soccer. Okay, I’ll have to beat the shit out of you so that you I can walk home in peace. I’m tired of this. I kept my backpack on and it swung around. I clocked the kid in the face and he winced, and he hit me about six times and I didn’t really feel it. It was going to be a long and ineffectual fight, but I wasn’t going to listen to my dad’s instruction about how to deal with bullies anymore. If someone bullied me, I was just going to fight them.
An adult intervened and drove me home. But the kids never bullied me again. I’d learned then if you encounter a bully the only option you have is violence, most likely the lame attempt of the bully to hurt you.
On the bus, there was a kid who would hit all of the other kids. He kept the back seat cleared and spread out. His younger sister was a waifish blond girl that all of the boys in my class wanted to go out with because they came from the poorest part of town and for some reason this poverty registered as the idea that she was somehow easy. In sixth grade we kind of knew what this meant, but we also had no clue. The bully had been held back because of his obvious mental deficiency. He could only express himself in banal absolutes and a kind of casual violence. He would also often declaim his love of milk. He sat in the back of the bus swigging from a half gallon of carton. One day he was drinking his milk with huge gulps and smacking the kids who kept telling him to stop. He said, “shut the hell up,” and started boxing us. So I slowly brought my fist up and he nearly spit out his milk. He thought it was hilarious. So I socked him in the face. Milk came out of his noise. He began to cry. He did however stop hitting us after that.
The advice of my father had given to me about bullies was wrong.
In grade school I had played the flute. I chose it because it was a complicated instrument and I thought hell I will learn the most complicated instrument. It seemed like a manly choice, being technically complicated. All of those buttons. A man would choose the difficult to play instrument. I even went to a band camp and sat with a bunch of girls and one of the girls and I began to flirt and talk. Every day we would flirt and talk. She was a year older than me and was going was already going to my new school. I was so excited when I saw her at the school, but she wouldn’t talk to me. Maybe it was because of my button down shirt?
When my parents divorced in 1983, my mom moved my brother and I from the wilds of Snoqualmie to the deep suburbs of Renton, about twenty minutes south of Seattle. I switched from the flute to the French horn thinking the French horn protect me from the bullies. I would get beat up less. But on the first week as the new kid in school I accidently brushed the school bully, a crazy kid named Jeff Giberson, with the horn case while standing in line for school. Jeff was known for coming from a family of thugs, and although Jeff was small by his brother’s standards he was still much larger than anyone else in seventh grade. Jeff pushed me, and tried to grab my horn. And remembering the bully lesson I learned about the milk bully, I put down my horn case and got read to fight. I still had my backpack and on it and it swung around. The fight was quickly formalized by the other kids in line chanting “fight fight fight” eager to see Jeff demolish a band geek. Jeff and I circled around each other. I made a couple of stabs at hitting him and then Jeff walked up to him to and planted a solid, crushing blow right in my left eye. My cheekbone broke Jeff’s fist, and I got an instant and intense black eye. A girl named Kirstin Custer broke up the fight. I took my French horn to band, and then was called out of class to get sentenced by the Vice Principle to three days of suspension.
I walked home and called my Mom. The school had already called her. I spent three days and home and went back to school. No one bothered me after that at that school. Jeff had to walk around with a bandaged hand for a month or two. I would say later that I broke the school bullies fist with my face.