I never thought of it as bullying. I just thought that older and bigger meant stronger, tougher and
thus meaner.

Two thugs came to The Academy Avenue Elementary School Yard at recess and demanded
“protection money.” They looked like the kids in the Bowery Boys movies, but without the
slapstick.
“You. C’mere. If ya want pratekshun, ya gotta give us a nickel or we’ll kill ya.”

“The nickel is for my snack at The Variety Store.”

“A nickel or we’ll kill ya. And dunt tell yer fatha.” I learned years later that their dark sides
continued; one had his fingers blown off by a cherry bomb. The other was serving time for
murder. Good thing I yielded the nickel.

There was a second episode, rather different. It was a beautiful late fall day with a few hours of
daylight remaining. As I left the school, I walked along Academy Avenue when she bounded
out of the hedges, yanked my Navy toque, a regular target for a steal and throw, and threw it in
the tree. I was also wearing my dark blue Pea jacket, one worn by sailors when the fog was as
thick as pea soup. It had broad lapels and a collar that, when pushed up, covered my face up to
the toque. I loved the way it protected me from the wind and cold.I knew of her. I wanted to be her friend. Fright will make you try the best friend route. After all,
we were wearing the same Pea jacket. She rolled her fist into a ball. “What are you doing here?”

“Here?”

“Yah. You heard me.”

“Walking. Home. I live, uhhh, there.” I made a blunt point with my free elbow.

“By my street?” Why me? I followed all the rules that should keep me out of a fight … diminutive, quiet,
innocent, and non-combative. To top it off, I was wearing the jacket that I thought made me
invincible. This time I wanted it to make me invisible. The following words came to mind:
pummel, punch, pound, maul, kick and blood.

Even the greatest in my neighborhood unraveled to silence when they were scared. I was now in
the silent world of someone who was about to be pounded. She tightened her fist around the
collar, pulled me closer, looked me in the face, dry nose to wet nose and, spewing a bit of spittle,
told me to “Screw.”

No problem. Screw. Such a beautiful word. I was off like a scared rabbit, feet pounding,
sucking air and pumping arms. I made the corner, turned up my street and was home in seconds;
puffing out steam.
Mom. “Where’s your hat?”

“I left it in school?”

“Be sure to get it tomorrow. Why are you puffing?” The toque was something to worry about
later. I was just happy to be alive. I ignored the puffing question.

I saw her over the years, being sure to avoid her though she was now smaller and seemed kinder.
I wonder what happened to that toque.

** Published in yesterday’s GoLocalProv