Thursday, June 23, 2011

Remembering When...

I got bullied.

Reading news reports about bullying makes me want to become an advocate for the death penalty. Legalize marijuana but put bullies to death. The effects of drug use can heal over time as I suppose the effects of bullying can too, but, unfortunately, the scenes of being shoved into a bathroom and beaten with fists by more than one person are a lot more vivid today than sneaking a joint and a couple smooches with a raven-haired beauty at camp. I wish it was the other way around.

The other day I was walking the Mongrel and saw a young boy walking down the street with his mother. Joy and innocence of being a pre-teen in the summer time was covered by a mask of sadness over his face. The mother attended to her son with an expression that was a mix of concern and strength. These two were on their way away from a playground. As the Mongrel and I approached the playground I saw more kids than ever playing various games all across the blacktop lot. I don't know the story but I couldn't help but wonder - why can't everyone just get along?

I know it is hard for anyone to believe that such a bad-ass warrior as myself, who turned into one of the most incredible human beings ever, was ever bullied but it is true. The pain both physically and emotionally was exceptionally hard to deal with. I was new at Sts. Peter and Paul so I was attacked in the boys bathroom by two guys who didn't like the fact that I was there. They punched me continuously in the arms and chest so nothing would show and alert the Sisters. I was also attacked by a group of girls who pulled my shorts down outside of the locker room. Today I wouldn't mind that so much, as long as it wasn't too cold outside, but back then it was horrific. Later in my teens, a knife was pulled on me in a  restroom at Easton High School. These are just a few of the incidents.

Maybe it was because my parents made me dress like a geek or I always said out loud that I wanted to be a pirate when asked what profession would you choose. Something made people want to f#*k with me and most of that was the result of my own undoing. I could be a little weird. A lot of other kids had it much worse than I did. There were a few times that someone I knew just didn't show up to school the next day, or any other day after that. You would hear about sightings of that person around town, but they just weren't there anymore. School was awful; no wonder I liked going to church so much.

In Chicago, bullying can happen with guns or big sticks and death can be the result. Times are harsher. I contemplate getting back into teaching so I can be a part of suppressing intimidation. But the thought of doing so also scares me. School grounds in Chicago are no joke!

My trauma happened way before technology made it easier to be crueler. (Even though it is hard for me to imagine anything crueler than a fifth grader having his shorts pulled down on an exceptionally brisk fall day!) I don't know how one deals with bullying in today's society. One of the reasons I stopped teaching high school was the fact that there is hardly any discipline left in the modern school system. Whenever I saw even the slightest acts of bullying by a student I wanted to pulverize him or her into the macadam. Most of what I saw was verbal that had to deal with family income, athletic prowess, weight, or mental capabilities. If there was an incident usually a scholarship student had to deal with harsher penalties more so than a full-tuition student, no matter who was at fault. Witnessing bullying in any form would ruin my day. I took my job home with me and that was not a good thing. I am older now so maybe things are different.

Much respect goes out to the families who have to encourage a child to persevere through the time of their youth, despite the cruelty of others. I don't know why I wanted to write about this...the subject of bullying has been on my mind as of late. A lot of my time is spent quietly sitting back in observation of the world around me. Too many young sad faces pass through my field of vision. I want to stop them and tell them it gets better.

I want to say "look at me; look how great I turned out!"

But then they might say: "you are always broke and looking for work."

Then I will tell them: "I'm an artist these things take time!"

And they will say: "Whatever, old man."

Which is fine. Some people like to be advised and some people just need to get through it and work it out their own way. But it's out there and if there is an opportunity to make some one smile we need to grasp that moment and make it work. Eli Mongrel is good at making kids smile, he is much better at it than I am!

Now it's officially summer! Summer should be a time of carefree activity and growth in a young person's life. I hope all the kids out there get to regroup and enjoy themselves during the time off from school. As an adult who gets to visit home in the summer I sometimes run into or hear stories about the two guys who initiated me into the brotherhood of being bullied. They never look happy and you never hear their names in any of the "good ol' stories" from back in the day that old friends like to tell. Happiness and laughter don't appear to be in their dictionaries. It's almost like the cliche you see in many teen movies and somehow I can't help but smile...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

day lilies and yesterday

A day lily now sits on the front stoop. This plant is more than just a decorative thingy to try and make the place presentable for Art Fair weekend; the day lily represents my childhood. Every time I see a palmetto tree I think of South Carolina. Every time I see a day lily I think of home.

Home for me, meaning subjects of memory, began on Waverly Island Road when there were very few houses around. For those of you who know the area, Woodland Farms was in the planning stages and the Easton Club was a good place to look for beer cans. The footsteps of my childhood fell upon some very special parts of this Earth and day lilies covered quite a bit of that ground.

My incredible work ethic derived from being told to go weed the day lily beds. I remember being drug out of the house, plopped in front of the gardens, and directed to pull out all the unnecessary weeds. There were many times when the distinction between what was necessary and unnecessary became too hard of a decision for me to make so I erred on the side of pulling it...whatever it was. Often, my mother vehemently disapproved of these decisions. I am sorry, but to me there are still no such things as "decorative grasses." If you were all green amongst the battalions of blooming day lilies you were gone from that bed.

Here is probably a good time for me to confess something so I do not lead anybody astray in their opinion of me as blossoming young man - I was not always so diligent at doing what I was told to do...

There might have been a time or two when my mother would lead me to location then go off to work on chores of her own. I would remain in a crouch as if ready to rid the mulch of invaders but as soon as I would see that red hair disappear from sight I was gone. Depending on what bed I was working on there was always Utopia just beyond my mother's line of sight. To the south was the mouth of Playtors Creek, to the north were the Segers' barnes, wonderful lush marshland full of wildlife bordered the east and west sides of the property. It was a win win situation wherever I ran to. That is until my mother came to check on me. My how her voice could carry across the whole neighborhood. I could not stand pulling weeds. The day lily soon became associated with misery.

After my hatred of all things associated with gardening developed, the day lily then initiated me into the world of culinary exploration.

One night at dinner a salad with all kinds of weird ingredients was placed in front of me. Me being me at the time immediately began to protest. I am not a fan of trying new things. When my mother told me what the ingredients were I asked if she was trying to poison me. Tiny oranges and flowers were not safe (these being mandarin oranges and day lily petals). And I hated nuts in everything. This salad was filled with walnuts. The woman was obviously unhappy with what God had provided her with a tried to off me through natural means. I refused to eat any of it and was adamant. Somehow I won that battle and only had to eat my broccoli and crabcakes.

Then one day I was sulking as I fell in behind my mother for another day of torture. Before we started working I remember she grabbed some day lily petals right off the plant and started eating them. I was amazed. I was also scared she was going to die. Seeing raw petals on a plate is one thing but having someone just eat them off the plant was another. Who knew what dreaded plague had spread across the wilds of Waverly Island overnight? However, when she didn't die I became intrigued. I thought my mom was pretty bad-ass to do something so cool as to forage outside of the doors to the Acme.

So I tried the day lily petals and they were absolutely horrible. They were as gross as I predicted they would be. nauseating as they were I did not abandon the practice of eating them right out of the garden. Such an act often provoked spirited reactions from people my age. There were some fine looking young ladies growing up in the area and I would do whatever it took to try and look cool in front of them, even if it meant eating disgusting plants and having to keep from throwing up. Anything for a reaction...

When my family left the Eastern Shore and moved to Virginia the day lily beds were left in the hands of strangers. I was heartbroken. However, the house in Fredericksburg was soon surrounded with them as my parents completely refurbished a property that had been neglected for some time. I was happy to see the day lilies placed around the house. Even at a young age they helped take me away to better times and  places when being in a new area was a hard adjustment. They were a bigger help to me than that dipshit therapist I had to see.

In a new area meeting new people what was one to do to try and make his mark? You guessed it - eat the day lilies. In Fredericksburg when my friends and I got the munchies we ate day lily petals instead of potato chips but only if there were hot girls around. In my youth I rank day lilies just under marijuana and just above Virginia Gentleman bourbon in what helped me get through the tough times.

The day lilies were always there for me where ever my family lived. I cannot think about my childhood and not see them. Today they have faded from my mom's garden schemes. For some reason her tastes have changed and there are more things that I would have yanked out as an amateur landscaper. Now I have my own day lily as homage to a species that played such a pivotal role in my upbringing. I hope the damn thing blooms before the weekend. And don't think for a second that I won't pull off a petal and munch on it should the proper occasion arise...