Bully Boys – Part IV: How Long Has This Been Going On?

Remembrance and Reflections by L.E. Taylor

Fourth Hour was the first class after lunch and the post meridian routine in Mr. T’s shop class always began at 1:01 with Roddy Floutz pulling shut the faded green wooden door and the young teacher calling roll. The shop was in the basement of the old junior high, with steel cyclone insets covering half-windows that allowed in light, and a clear view of only the foot-part of passing foot traffic outside.

The minute-hand clicked. Mr. T loosened his brown knit tie and opened his class book. “Close the door, Roddy,” he said to… no one. The class of 12-year-old boys was unusually restive, peering over their shoulders here and there in a muffled commotion.

Robby and another kid burst through the open doorway. “Mr. T!  Some ninth grade boys have got Danny in the furnace room and are taking his money!”

The ‘furnace room’ was a dark passageway with a wall of lockers, just off the hallway across from the seventh grade shop. It led to a back stairwell.

Still in his natty tweed blazer, Mr. T arrived at about 1:01, point-five. Four sullen mid-pubescent punks pulled aside revealing the little tow-headed Danny. His face was tear streaked and a red welt shone on a pale freckled forehead. Continue reading

Bully Boys – Part III Street Smarts

Remembrance and Reflections: By L.E.Taylor

1945.

He was the youngest in his neighborhood of street boys and therefore the most vulnerable. Since infancy he had known physical suffering through chronic illness and it showed. Living in dread of more pain himself, he was not inclined to inflict pain onto others. It didn’t take the lads long: They knew he wouldn’t fight.

One day at the age of ten he was accosted by the usual pack of know-nothings. Their taunting was mean but not brutal, just a baseball cap that they grabbed from his head and tossed back and forth simply because they could.

He’d taken their abuse for years in many forms, but on that sunny spring afternoon a new impulse stirred his blood.

The nastiest boy, Stewart, sneered and toyed with my cap. As I came for it, he sailed it to Abbott. I ignored Abbott and took Stewart by the neck and rode him to the ground with a thump that jarred us both. Abbott began pummeling my back with the buckle end of his rolled up patrol-boy belt. The others laughed and yelled for a real fight. I got up off Stewart and came at Abbott, the much bigger menace. He grinned in feral delight at the prospect of drawing innocent blood.

“That’ll be all.” My father stood poised, at a distance. He’d seen enough. His voice was rich and controlled, his meaning clear. The boys backed away, resumed their way home. Abbott ran. Elgan wasn’t interfering with a fight, he merely recognized the Old Adam in human nature and sternly, he did the job of a civilized man.

Young boys are Barbarians. Stupid and venal, and without two strong parental hands to teach virtue, they tend to be cruel.

I’ve had many fights since that afternoon in 1945, some in the street, some in the classroom and on the playground, and many in the course of doing business. Gradually, I came to know what they are about.

The bully may or may not be mean, may or may not hate his prey. But the bully is always eager to assert dominance over the weak. The bully is a coward. He understands and fears one thing.

I say, give it to him.

Onward.

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Next time:  Bully Boys, Part IV – How Long Has This Been Going On?

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References:

Taylor, L. E.; Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga; Friesen Press; 2012.

 

 

 

 

Bully Boys – Part II: Mad Men

Remembrance and Reflections: By L.E.Taylor

1968.

It was my first client project on the West Coast. My young freelance business had been confined to the Midwest but nonetheless it required travel. On a delayed flight change at LAX, I’d met a congenial marketing exec named Gary, who worked for an architectural products company in Anaheim. He lamented his ad agency complaints to me, and within an hour of war stories, Gary had invited me to meet with his boss, Mr. J., the firm’s owner and CEO.

So I came out a week later, showed a dubious Mr. J. and his energetic young management team my portfolio and we talked business. I returned home to Michigan, drafted a proposal, including strategy, tactics, a fee, a detailed cost breakout, and a schedule. Gary called promptly to say it was a “go.”

Now, not-so fresh off the one hour shuttle from LAX, I was back in Orange County to begin scouting photo locations for a couple of days. Sapped by Jet lag, I still had enough in the tank for a courtesy office call on Gary and the client team. When the “boys” insisted we all to go out to dinner, I agreed. They invited Mr. J.

Dinner was delayed by adult beverages. I drank tonic water. My body thought it was midnight and I was fading. The restaurant was noisy, the patter between the young execs was animated and jovial.

Mr. J. remained chilly and remote. Out of nowhere, he said, “Let’s hear from our brilliant adman.” Slouched back on his spine, he muttered, “Waddam-I getting for my money?”

The boss had blind-sided his minions and conversation died. He and I locked stares. “It’s in the proposal,” I replied.

“Well, I’m paying, and I want to hear from you what you’re gonna be doing for it.” Gary, the marketing director, murmured something reasonable that didn’t work. Mr. J. drilled me from beneath lowered brows. “I’m the client, dammit. I want to hear what I’m getting for my money.”

“Hey, c’mon, RJ,” somebody said, “why…?”

Why? Because I sign the damn checks that’s why and I want to hear from my ad guy.”

Here we go; the gauntlet. I was tired. And bored. “Your ad guy,” I said quietly. “ RJ, there’s a misunderstanding here. I’m not anybody’s… anything.” His glower froze. “And I don’t’ care who signs the checks… so long as they don’t bounce.”

The redoubtable Mr. J growled, “I think it’s time for our ad agency to buy a round of drinks.”

Cold sober and utterly focused on the man who wanted to be my alpha, I stood up. “Mr. J,” I said, replacing my chair at the table, “I left home twelve hours ago, and I traveled 2,000 miles to help your company go to market.” I tossed a wrinkled Fifty onto the table. “Not to kiss your ass. Drink up.”

Later I learned from Gary that the betting among the guys was even, whether I’d show up the next morning. I was surprised at that; it never occurred to me not to show up. We had a deal.

Bullying was not new to me that night two thousand miles from home. Nor, although vulgar and sometimes dangerous, was it a mystery.

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Next week, Bully Boys – Part III: Street Smarts

Bully Boys – Part I: Terror

Remembrance and Reflections: By L.E.Taylor

1943.

The damp yellow clay of the pit smelled of rancid grass cuttings and mutilated earthworms and what the boy would later think of as Death. He was wrestled into the grave – what else could you call it? – by the four “big boys” from another neighborhood. He pled to be freed, but they laughed. As he cried they closed off the sky with a sheet of particle board and scrap planks from a construction site. The last small opening to life was blocked with a chunk of concrete suspended by a length of close-line just above his head.

“Larr-reee,” came the call from somewhere far off.

The boys scrambled and disappeared. My mother came bustling through the high weeds and the swampy standing water of the big vacant lot. She wore a patterned cotton house dress as even young women did in those days, and sensible shoes. Before she arrived at the pit, I’d freed myself, and was running toward her. She scolded me for not staying near home or telling her where I was going. The vacant lot was only a block from home, but a mother’s instinct and racial memory informed Grace of a vast universe of peril.

I was eight. I never told her about being buried alive. The spanking was painless and made us both feel a lot better. For different reasons.

Onward.

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Next time, Bully Boys – Part II: Mad Men

Remember Yourself (2003 Redux)

[Author's note: Among the unexpected bonuses of personal journal-writing is the shock, often humbling, of what you learn about yourself when you read your words ten years later. Yesterday, the following essay popped out of a old "Notes-To-Me" doc/file. It's dated March, 2003.]

We’re each a product of a journey that began before we got here. This young American journey has been unique. Our republic was crafted deliberately by its founders from the start. It was about something. Something new that had never been pulled off before. The United States of America – the Old Republic – was an invention inspired by God. Certainly by men whose lives were informed with deference to a Creator.

I believe that because they said so.

At the bloody birth of our new identity as a new People, enough good men reflected and drew a covenant to help us remember our better selves, not only as warriors, but also as free-born creations of God. We have institutionalized these First Principles in our documents and reinforced them in our lore.

I was reminded of this tonight as I washed my dishes and listened to the week’s Frontline documentary on PBS. Neither PBS nor Frontline is among my favorite political places on the the tube.

Tonight’s subject was the evolution of the current George W. Bush Administration, with special contrast between its balky start and the rapid maturing of its leader from tyro before September 11, to self-assured, hawkish, Commander-in-Chief afterward.

I began to re-examine my own support of our march toward war with Iraq.

My mind drifted. I was transported back to a high school stage, seated terrified at an oaken table with a monstrous black microphone inches from my nose. The mic bore a logo of three capital letters: “WJR”. The debate was broadcast live across the Midwest on the most powerful regional radio station in America: “The Great Voice of the Great Lakes.”

In my senior year, I was one of a tiny handful of vocal Republicans in a union-dominated Detroit high school whose enrollment topped 4,200. On WJR, that fall morning in 1952, I was the “anchor” debater ‘against’ a politically contrived “police action” that came to be known as The Korean War.

The principles that drove me to an anti-war stance in 1952 are still valid. War is troglodyte stupidity, the highest risk path to a solution. Armed conflict is justified when national interest is at stake – after an attack, certainly; or when the peril is imminent and pre-emptive destruction of a hell-bent rogue nation is the only sensible defense.

Regarding 9-11, we certainly were attacked. And, even at that, for most of a year Bush showed restraint, mounting strikes against known terrorist bases in Taliban Afghanistan.

But now, nearly two years later, we’ve kept going. Returning to Iraq after thrashing them in the Gulf War is troubling. And, recalling Korea and Vietnam, all too familiar.

I wonder; couldn’t we have marshaled an alliance to take out this guy? Bush (41) had maneuvered politicians, domestic and foreign, to support us after Saddam invaded Kuwait. It was smooth and decisive. No one doubted whose cause was just. Clearly there were national U.S. interests. Wouldn’t this current action against Iraq have been more effective and less antagonistic to alliances if more had been done behind the scenes and less in center stage to the boom of an ever-increasing drumbeat?

This Wolfowitz fellow seems to have been far too influential in a place that called for quiet power moves. We know the motives of France, Russia, and China for obstructing us: They have vast investments in shady commerce and crooked arms dealing with a gangster regime. But what logic do we have for our choice of ground warfare as a tactic? How about coming up with something just as persuasive to a bully, but off camera.

War is still idiotic. Reagan won everything for us without it. Except for the attack on our Beirut Marine barracks, and our retaliation on Libya for funding air-piracy, he ran the table without bloodshed, and the Evil Empire became finished business. At Reykjavik Reagan had called and raised, and he won the pot. No war was waged. Only the clear threat was sent that we were willing to fight and were resolved to win.

So what’s happening now [in 2003], as we send a new generation of young fresh blood into another far-distant nest of mad primitives? Maybe we’re forgetting who we are.

LT

03/21/2003

Fast-forward to September, 2013. Sounds familiar.

Onward.

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First Trip to the Museum, 1943.

There were no parking spots in the small unpaved lot behind the museum, so Daddy parked the Plymouth on a neighborhood street nearby. The eight year-old gripped the big gloved hand while the man’s other hand held on his fedora against the February wind. The little boy’s eyes stung as his dad led the way through a gust of flurries and they rounded the front of the great building. They mounted the cascade of steps and entered the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The boy’s heart leapt.

Just inside, the Sunday crowd was quietly festive, still milling about in their bulky mackinaws and long winter coats. Daddy removed his topcoat and hat and collected the boy’s wraps for deposit in the cloakroom to the right of the entrance.

The crowd thinned out for a second and the sight of a great marble entry hall, elaborately domed, and lined by suits of gleaming armor as far as he could see struck an image that the child would carry with him for a lifetime. This would be only the appetizer of a visual banquet about to be served. Continue reading