We had a kid at P.S.233 in Brooklyn, New York who was our confirmed hero and leader. His name (for short) was Newtie. Newtie was big for his age and had the courage in his soul to match his God-given size.
When you’re eight, or ten, an eleven year old is for sure one of the confirmed big guys. Newtie – was definitely a big guy! He was the kind of kid we all looked up to. Although Newtie had graduated from P.S.233, he still hung out at our school playground. That’s not to say he was a buddy of mine, it’s just that we were all aware of each other – who belonged and who didn’t.
We had a great school playground, every inch occupied by our closely-knit clan of kids. We played every second of every day up until dark. We played basketball, softball, touch football, and of course a wide variety of stickball games were played dependent on whether or not there happened to be enough broom handles available.
Note: Today there are special stickball bats manufactured for teams that participate in stickball leagues.
Enter the Bully
Bullies come and go. Ours, the kid who most frequented our home grounds, was cut from a particularly nasty cloth.
Before depicting what transpired on the infamous day the despot bully entered our playground domain, a moment must be taken to talk about one of the great bully beaters of all time – my Father’s younger brother and my Uncle – Jack.
Jack resembled a well-muscled fireplug; he stood all of five feet three inches tall. Of my Father’s nine brothers and sisters, Jack was the first to be born in the United States. He was the kid in the family who entered this world ready to fight for his family and country. When my uncle Jack was around, everyone felt safe.
While I never was privy to any of his physical tactics, I heard about his heroic feats of accomplishment from my older cousins. In retrospect, there’s the acknowledgement he couldn’t possibly have done all they described him as doing. But, if only a small portion of the stories were true, it would still make him one of the better neighborhood gladiators.
One day, after a ball game I had been playing in, Uncle Jack came by to offer his congratulations on the way I performed in the game. I thanked him and was about to walk away, when Jack took my arm and said he had some really important advice to offer me. I was all ears; my Uncle always talked to me as if I were an adult.
“If ever you’re being challenged by a bully, there’s only one way to handle it. Make sure you get in the first punch. And, if there’s more than one bully with him, you pick out the biggest one in their crowd, and punch the bastard in the mouth before he has a chance to think about it. Then, turn to his closest buddy and move in his direction.”
“What if he comes at me?” I asked.
Without hesitation my Uncle responded, “If you knock the biggest bully down, the rest of them will take off running.”
And, there without warning, he moved across our schoolyard towards us. Marching up to the kid at bat (stick), he grabbed the stick from his hand and announced that he needed it for the game he was going to be starting up the next day. Then, he announced with a variety of four letter words, how he would be using the schoolyard for his own friends. And, if any of us were to show up while his game was going on, he and his friends would beat the piss out of us.
The kid at bat questioned him, “Why don’t you play with guys your own size?”
The bully threw his arm around the kid in a tight headlock. It hurt enough to make him scream in pain. The bully released his hold and again warned all of us not to be there tomorrow or he and his friends would show us what pain was all about.
What the bully didn’t allow for was the fact that one of the kids was brother to our own true blue big guy, Newtie.
The next day, when the Bully and his three teammates showed up to take possession of our schoolyard they found all of us deeply involved in another stickball game. Somehow unnoticed, and waiting in the wings, was our big guy Newtie.
The same kid the Bully had placed in a headlock on the preceding day happened to be up at bat. The Bully instantly relished the sight as he moved towards the batter with grandiose thoughts of applying another headlock to his much smaller prey. With a barrage of taunts, his three teammates vociferously encouraged him.
However, this day was not destined to be the same.
The batter stood his ground not showing any noticeable display of pending danger. There they stood, three big mouth soldiers following our Bully’s lead. They stood motionless for 30 seconds before the Bully moved forward. Effortlessly, Newtie slid between the Bully and his target for the day and without a word, slapped the Bully across the side of his face, making contact at ear level and bringing his open hand down with the full force of his body weight behind the blow.
Newtie, without missing a beat, turned to the Bully’s three teammates and smiled as he slowly stepped forward. The three took off running in opposite directions as their leader sat on the concrete listening to his ears ringing.
Newtie took the bat in his hands and turned to what might formally be referred to as a Bully, and asked him if he’d like to have another try.
The Bully wasn’t able to run; it was more of a scamper, of sorts.
Uncle Jack would have been so proud. I marvel at how closely Newtie’s actions matched Uncle Jack’s rudiments for the successful upheaval of a neighborhood Bully.
When I happily explained to my Father and Uncle what had taken place in the schoolyard, they both cheered for Newtie as if he was on a ball field and they were spectators. They both agreed that Newtie had done the right thing for the right reasons.
“Do you ever try to talk a Bully out beating you up?” I asked.
Uncle Jack was quick to reply. “Talking won’t do anything but provide more enjoyment for the Bully. If he says he’s going to beat you, hurt you, strangle you, or whatever – take it as a guarantee. Bullies rarely stand down, they always get knocked down.”
Through the years I’ve found my Father and his younger brother to always be right on with their aggressive assumptions. Whether on the playground as a student, or as an adult out there in society raising children of your own, bullies seem to find a way of inflicting themselves upon others.
The other day, I found myself listening to a man promising to blow up my country with a preemptive strike. His stature was small and his brainpower came across the tube as remedial at best. Yet, there he stood holding court with a band of soldiers around him, hanging on his every word.
They sure did remind me of our schoolyard Bully. Uncle Jack would have eliminated any chance of this little clown-like Bully preempting anything. Newtie would have slapped the little bastard across the face, and then turned on the group of medal-wearing sociopaths to scamper along to other venues more suitable than a country whose only claim to fame would be bullying their own people.