Institutionalized Bullying: the education of young Lulu

Remember the Tasmanian Devil?  That inverted pear-shaped body, the prehensile tool intelligent shape of his arms, the crazy eyes?  I always loved his whirlwind.

Though perhaps this explains a lot of my unfortunate choices in past relationships, said Devil popped up in my brain this morning (the cartoon version of him) while I was listening to the KQED radio broadcast of the perhaps happy ending of a sad story about institutionalized bullying.

I learned about institutionalized bullying in 1970. I was the new kid, the tall kid, the smart kid. None of that is true any longer, but I still meet bullies every day. Woodrow Wilson’s 6th grade bully is now the namesake of a skunk who scares the crap out of my house cat every time she tries to sit outside in the evening. This skunk’s name is Flavia. She loves cat food.  In 1970 Flavia’s victims were my friends Lily, Cheryl, and me. The outcasts.

I want to thank you, Flavia. You began the education I needed. It wasn’t just the bully next door whose frustration and anger management peak was an act of hitting my younger sister in the head with a suitcase and giving her a black eye, instead of using her words to say that she didn’t like that game any more. It wasn’t that bully’s Father who walked his roof in a rage while waving his police revolver and his handcuffs, waiting for his older daughter to come home from where-ever the heck she went to escape him. It wasn’t just my drunken confusing Mom, or her wannabe pugilist Dad.

It was you. You gave me the nerve to talk back by dressing me down one day in a gang dressing room at Woodrow Wilson School. Your verbal attack was for my not having what you claimed was sufficiently delectable age-appropriate anatomy for a twelve year old. It was a tough year. Thank you for helping me through it. I’ve named our favorite skunk after you. This is your receipt for the rest of the year; my thanks are just lagniappe.

I owe it all to you. You woke me up. You made me realize I had a voice, a pointy little pen, a way to walk in the world. Thank you.

I work with some bullies. All are essentially cowards. I know that now, and am grateful. There are many in the juicy part of the Tenderloin where I walk to work, out on a section of 7th Street labeled Pirate’s Alley in my brain. (‘Argh, me hearties! Give us yer change!’) Thus we rename things in my family. Helps us get oriented.

I love the new mayor and the acting Police chief. I feel certain that the dedicated cops and FPS staff who constantly support my right to work and to walk safely to that work will eventually sort out who has jurisdiction over that juicy bit of territory in Pirate’s Alley. It’s the bit between the BART stairs and the check cashing store. Between the barber shop and the liquor store.

I feel confident. Thus I ready myself for a new day.

Not all bullies look the same, act the same, or come under the same jurisdiction. This morning’s story about the reinstated meat clerk in a Safeway store who lost his job because he jumped out from behind the counter and came to the aid of a woman (who happened to be pregnant and whose boyfriend happened to be kicking her) was about the new hero: a man named Ryan Young. What a coincidence!  Go get them, Ryan Young! All right!

This Safeway who fired the Good Samaritan meat clerk was eventually forced to reinstate him (hopefully with back pay) because the customers boycotted the store for firing him.

What a relief. Finally, some collective wisdom from the consumer world.There are bullies in this world, and there are heroes, and there are businesses whose customers won’t take it lying down.

One day soon perhaps there will be a corrido sung in the barrio (written by a woman, perhaps?) about the story of this brave meat clerk named Ryan Young.

Bullying happens everywhere. We can all sing about the person who outsmarts, out-runs, or out-fights a bully, a Tasmanian devil, or an abusive boyfriend. We can sing about Robin Hood, Tiburcio Vaszquez, or Ryan Young. We can sing about our common survival.

  • In my case, it was standing up and talking back to Flavia in the girl’s dressing room about who was flat chested and why you should not expect more from a young girl, even if you were a year older and a universe of notches higher on the social pecking order.
  • In Mongo’s case, it is avoiding the skunk while waiting for me to appear.
  • In the case of Safeway’s clerk, one can only hope it was a well-placed left cross, a call to store Security, a call to 911, and a bully frog-marched to the door and chained to a long line of shopping carts while waiting to hear from local Police authorities. Whatever he did, it worked.

It also unfortunately temporarily got him fired.  I remember this. I remember rescuing Becky (not her real name), who was grabbed downtown by a man who had a get away car, a driver, and apparently something gun-shaped. He got her to give up her purse, only after a struggle.  My then-boss told me that he didn’t want me chasing criminals on company time.  He meant it as a joke, of course.  I was on a break to go to the Post Office when I saw him grab her. Forty people walked around Becky and her assailant as they left the crosswalk. You bet I wasn’t on company time!

We all need to walk in the shoes of someone who comes to the aid of a person, an animal, or an institution being victimized by a bully. Sometimes in order to clean up this world, you need to roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, and get to work.

You can always wash your hands afterward. This, my friends, is a good idea.

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