I moved from Nowhereville when I was in the 9th grade. We moved to a suburb of Oklahoma City with a reputation for affluence but, to clarify, not the neighborhood in the City where the butlers bear king sized candy bars on silver trays for Halloween. It was a huge school. There were close to 1,000 people in my graduating class, which means that the student population of the high school that I graduated from was 1/3 of the total population of the last town I lived in.
Coming from Nowhereville, my new school district felt that my education must have been dubious at best and insisted on putting me in a regular English class when I told them I needed an honors English class. That lasted a semester, and then they switched me to a class that was sort of an intermediary between the regular and honors English classes.
In that class was a boy named Joe Steele. Joe and I also rode the bus together to and from school, and he quickly noticed that I had a habit of comparing and contrasting my new community with Nowhereville, such as starting sentences constantly with the phrase, “In Nowhereville…” So, Joe, himself a new transplant to the town as well, took it upon himself to christen me Nowhereville. Joe Steele was a football player, and all his athlete friends called me Nowhereville as well. This lasted for my entire freshman year. I was rarely actually referred to by my real first name, unless I was at home.
As a side note, this was the year that the big controversy came out about Romeo & Juliet. Some idiot fundamentalist Bible thumper found out that we were going to be watching Franco Zeffirelli’s movie version of Shakespeare’s play and got upset about it. There was nudity. There were teenagers having sex! We might be tempted to do the same. We saw the movie anyway, and all I was tempted to do was to strangle the giggling Olivia Hussey.
While the controversy still raged, the Oklahoma City news stations were dispatched to our school. I got filmed for the evening news reading the part of the nurse to Joe’s Romeo, wearing my Nowhereville school mascot sweatshirt. Apparently, for a brief time I was a local celebrity who didn’t even live there anymore.
Joe Steele, for some odd reason, took a real liking to me. He’d come to our fair city to live with his father who did considerably better financially than his beleaguered single mother. He was in high school now, and he wanted the opportunity to be popular and do it right, so moving in with dad made that happen. But he missed his mother and his younger sister. So, even though Joe and I were very close to the same age, Joe constantly told me how much I reminded him of his little sister.
In English class our teacher made us write on a daily basis in spiral notebooks that we called our journals. These journals were supposed to be private, and our teacher said she didn’t read them beyond checking to make sure that we wrote something daily. Joe read my journal. Regularly. He was like the one man NSA. This was how he kept tabs on me. If he thought I was up to something that wasn’t maybe healthy or wise, then I’d get a mini-lecture.
Joe had two athlete friends who rode the bus with him. One played football with Joe. He was a defensive player and solid muscle. His real name was Matt, but we called him The Hulk. He was huge. The other friend’s name was also Matt, and he played basketball. He had blond hair that he always got cut into a perfect flat top. (I can’t remember if Top Gun had come out by then or not. Oh, well.) Matt was very, very patient with me because I was endlessly amused by tapping the top of his head with a pencil to watch his hair bounce. It never failed to make me laugh.
On the same school bus that I took every day with Joe and Joe’s girlfriend and Joe’s girlfriend’s best friend and The Hulk and Matt there was another solid hunk of muscle besides The Hulk. I’ll call her The Bully. The Bully was a girl whose name I don’t even remember right now. She was a big black girl with an attitude, and for some inexplicable reason she could not stand me. As instantly as Joe’s affinity for me had arisen, so had her complete disdain for my existence on the planet.
I’m a friendly person, and I used to get on the school bus and smile and greet everyone. For a long time, The Bully simply ignored me. And then one day she basically got in my face and told me that she didn’t want me to so much as look in her direction ever again. Well, I’d been beaten up by bullies before, and I figured I’d survive it. I didn’t go out of my way to make conservation with her but I wasn’t going to avoid all eye contact just so she wouldn’t pound me silly. I told her so.
The next time I got on the bus I didn’t seek her out, but I didn’t avoid eye contact, either. And…nothing happened. Nothing ever happened at all. Apparently, she was all talk and no action. And I couldn’t figure it out. The Bully was five times my size and probably actually knew how to fight. She could have beat the shit out of me. So, why didn’t she? Meh. It didn’t trouble me for long. I was just glad that I hadn’t been injured and went on living my life.
It wasn’t until many months, maybe even years later, that I found out what happened. One of the Matts told me, probably The Hulk because I was closer to him, but I honestly don’t remember now. Joe had confronted The Bully in a school hallway with both the Matts there. He told her that if she so much as touched a hair on my head he wouldn’t care if she was a girl or not, he would beat her black and blue, and if he couldn’t do it, then one of his friends would.
I found Joe Steele on Facebook and got to thank him for his intervention. He’s happily married with children, living in the Pacific Northwest. He’s an accountant. Sometimes you get the opportunity to thank people for the kindnesses that they bestow upon you quietly and anonymously. Isn’t that nice?
Entry filed under: Childhood, Education, Ethics, Humor, Men, Social Commentary, Violence. Tags: Bullying, Franco Zeffirelli, Hulk, Oklahoma City, Olivia Hussey, Pacific Northwest, Romeo and Juliet, Work.