It was a warm spring afternoon and my son and daughter had gone to play up the street. We lived a block away from an elementary school that had a huge sports field adjacent to it where schools and Little League games were played. The kids were playing on the toys of the school yard, riding the merry go round, the slides and swings. My son was climbing a jungle gym as my daughter used the swings. A neighborhood bully showed up to ruin the fun. He approached my daughter and told her she was using his swing and to get off. She looked and saw that there were three empty swings and shook her head, pointing to the unused ones. He grabbed the suspension chain, stopping my daughters for and aft movements, then stiff armed her with both hands. She literally somersaulted backwards to land face first in the bark dust. It knocked the wind out of her.
My son fairly flew off the jungle gym and ran up to the bully who was four inches taller and about 30 pounds heavier. Telegraphing nothing, he balled up a fist and gave the bully a roundhouse swing that connected with his cheek and nose. The bully went down like a dropped rag, blood streaming from his nose. Still saying nothing, the son stepped towards him and the kid crab walked backwards a few paces, then got up and ran off in tears. My son went and helped his sister get up, brushing her off. Her face was dotted with tiny cuts, a few weeping tiny rivulet of blood. Gently he took her and and led her back home.
I was in the living room watching MTV –this was back when they really were about music and had an audience with IQs larger than 6. I looked up and immediately saw their unhappy look and my daughters damaged face. “What the hell!” I barked. “What happened?” Both started talking at once as kids tend to do, but I got the gist of things. I scooped up my little girl and hugged her. “You okay, honey?” She said she was. I beamed at my son. “Good job, man. Good job.” He held out his hand, swollen from the abuse he’d inflicted on it. I got an ice pack for him, and as he sat applying it, I had him tell me the whole story again so I could be sure of the details.
I was proud of my boy for standing up to the bully. That kid had been terrorizing the neighborhood for months and I felt it was nigh time for him to get back a little of what he’d been dishing out. I packed the kids into the car and took them down to Basking Robbins for some ice cream to salve their pain and as a reward. When we got home, my wife met us at the door. “The principal from the school down the street called. She’s demanding that you come talk to her or she’s going to call the police. She said she was going to have our son arrested!” She’d been absent, off shopping with our youngest and third child while the excitement had played out. I told her I’d go see her.
My kids went to a different school in spite of the nearness of that one. It didn’t have a very good reputation so we chose to accept the duty of chauffeuring the kids to and from school –our school’s buses didn’t come to our neighborhood. The school was empty, the halls devoid of the raucous background noises of a busy school, and listened to my footsteps echoing the halls as I strode to the administration offices. I stepped inside and was directed to a closed door marked “Principal.” I stepped in.
It was a neat office with the usual ego wall of diplomas and awards, otherwise empty beige walls. A metal desk sat in the geographic center of the room. A woman, rather sturdy looking, sat behind it. She stood as I came in. She was wearing a white blouse topped by a hideously multicolored scarf wrapped as if it might afford warmth. She wore a shin length brown dress that gave her the look of a Tootsie Roll topped with shipped cream and sprinkles. A head of severely pulled back salt and pepper hair ended in a tight braid that reached almost to her waist. She was a walking tree trunk. I held out my hand as I introduced myself. She looked my my hand with disdain, refused to shake it. She sat back down.
“We have no room for thugs at this school, Mr. Kilpatrick.” I corrected her on my name. “Whatever. Can you explain why I shouldn’t have your juvenile delinquent son thrown in jail?”
“Certainly!” I said, sounding chipper. “He a hero.”
Her eyes widened. “A hero? I think not!”
“I believe that. ” I said.
“I said I think not. It means that I don’t believe you think.” She looked about ready to have apoplexy. “I say that because what happened in the school yard was a rescue, not an assault. You should have that Downes-Syndrome reject parents in here, not me.”
“I have all of the information. Your son attacked that boy for no reason whatsoever!”
“The hell he did. I described the situation and ended it by saying that the ‘little fucking whelp deserved to take a punch and if she sisn’t think so, I’d be happy to sue the school for the damages my daughter experienced, holding the school as the superior respondent. This backed her up a little.
“That’s not the way it was reported to me.” she sniffed. “And your language is highly inappropriate.”
“How the hell would you know?” I snarled. “Your education seems to come from sources without credibility, and second hand at that.”
“Still nothing. You understood what I said, right?” she nodded an agreement, although reticently. “Then my language was not inappropriate. Language’s purpose is to convey concepts, and since you accurately decoded my meaning, I’d say it was pretty damn appropriate. Frankly, you’re lucky I’m in a reasonable mood. So I’ll tell you what, you call 911 and we’ll go ahead and let this escalate and we’ll see who comes out on top. I’d love to see a jury look at that baby Huey bully next to my fragile little girl, show them photos of what he did to her face, and see whose side they take. I suspect the District would be facing a large liability payout… replete with the effect it would have on your career for causing it by acting rashly and with absolutely no due diligence backing your bullshit accusations.”
“I can see that you’re angry. There’s nothing personal in this, no reason for emotion.”
“Wrong, Chickie.” I barked. “It couldn’t get anymore personal. You’re trying to affect the life of my children negatively and that’s personal as all hell to me.” I looked at her in a way that obviously chilled her. She shivered.
“There’s no reason to use demeaning metaphors to address me.” she said, huffily.
“Then how about you try getting my name right!” She reddened at this. “For Christ’s sake, you don’t even have the proper names and here yu are trying to be a judge, jury and executioner –and against little kids who’re defenseless against the authority of a school. So yeah, this is very personal and I suggest that you keep that in the forefront of your mind. Now, what’re you gonna do about that goomba bully that’s been terrorizing the neighborhood under your protection?”
“Wha… This school is protecting no one!”
“Exactly, you aren’t protecting anyone and you damn well should be. Now that little bastard is a student at this school, and as it says on that sign on the wall in the office, you’re a zero tolerance for violence school. Since it was YOUR student who committed the violence and you failed to protect my kids, they were left to defend themselves. They did a good job at it and they deserve a reward. You, on the other hand, along with that walking side of immature beef need to take responsibility for actions and failures. So, again, what’re you gonna do about it?”
“Well, truth be told, it happened after hours so the school isn’t that much involved.”
“Wait a minute. You’re also set to prosecute my kid for violation of school rules, but you’re reticent to prosecute the true bad actor here and for him, nothing happened on school grounds? That’s total bullshit.”
“The rules tie my hands Mr. Kilpatrick.”
“It’s Kirkpatrick, dammit. Kirk, Pat and Rick, all pushed together. What learning disability are you fighting that you can’t get my name right?”
“There’s no call for rudeness here, Sir.”
“I agree. Stop doing it.” I stared daggers at here and waited for a response. None came and I spoke again. “So? What’s going to happen here? Nothing?”
“I will have a conversation with the boy; explain to him that physical intimidation will not be tolerated.”
“Yeah, during school hours. Okay, I’m going to call and end to this little get together but let me warn you. Pay attention here. If that neanderthal assaults one of my kids again I’m going to be all over you like flies on a cowpie because this is damn personal and we aren’t talking some educational theory. We’re talking about my children. And, I am very proud of the way my son stood up for his sister and under any future similar circumstances, I will remain staunchly so. You getting me?”
“I understand your concern.”
“I’m making it your concern. Good day.” I walked to the door and stopped, looking back. “This didn’t go the way you imagined it would, did it?” She didn’t reply, just looked at me with concern clearly evident in her expression. I let myself out. The outer office now had a few people in it, all trying to look as on a mission. All were sporting repressed smiles. As I stepped out the door into the hallway, one of the people winked and gave me a thumb’s up sign. I returned the wink and left.
I despise officiousness. I suppose I should just accept it as a common trait of those committed to life within a bureaucracy, but I’ve never been able to do that to any real degree. There’s something about it that gets under my skin like an overzealous nurse with a syringe and bloodlust. I have always had a bit of misogyny in my character (which seems to be rising logarithmically as I age). I suspect it grows by being fed by the various bureaucrats my life forces me to endure with greater regularity. I used to think it was the same for everyone –until my friends all told me “No, man. It’s just you.”
I was telling this story to make a point, but somehow whatever that point was has vacated my cerebral cavity so I’ll just leave it as a personal anecdote. Besides, the phone is ringing and caller ID says it’s the VA administration offices. Sigh.