Childhood bully returns

As I observe today’s political madness, I’m reminded of a guy I knew in my childhood in Baltimore. I’ll call him Jimmy, not his real name. Jimmy lived a couple of blocks away, on the edge of our neighborhood that was filled with active kids of both sexes who loved to play made-up sports in a vacant lot and a wide alley separating rental garages.

Our happy noises attracted Jimmy, who wanted to be part of the fun. He first showed up carrying an expensive, new baseball glove that he proudly showed us all, basking in our expressions of admiration. What happened after that introduction changed the way we all played together. Jimmy became the decider. He took charge, listing the rules of whatever game we were playing — his rules. We grumbled but went along.

Jimmy always played rough, aggressively pushing other kids out of the way, knocking us down, punching for no reason. He liked violence. In the days following Christmas one year, he showed up bearing two pair of boxing gloves and urged us to drop what we were doing and pair off for a few rounds of boxing so he could watch us hit one another. Nobody wanted to, and we definitely didn’t want to face off with Jimmy, who was built along the lines of a linebacker.

One snowy afternoon, as several of us walked home from school, Jimmy herded several of us against the wall of a building and urged us to take turns hurling snowballs at each one in our group in turn, like a firing squad. We declined, and he stomped home ahead of us, furious.

Jimmy drove us nuts with his constant bragging about his family’s wealth, which kept him supplied by the latest models and most expensive of sports equipment. Mind you, he shared his stuff with the rest of us, but I recall that once he started doing that, we noticed that the bat, glove, ball or catcher’s mask being shared was soon replaced with a shiny new one.

Mostly, he liked to be in charge, bossing other kids around. Whenever we offered suggestions, he dismissed them as stupid, often accompanied by a punch or shove.

Eventually, Jimmy wore out his welcome. We wearied of his bossy manner and propensity for violence, particularly his picking on the smaller or weaker kids. When we saw him approaching, we headed inside our homes for a while until he gave up and went home.

I wonder what became of Jimmy. His dad was an attorney, and Jimmy sometimes talked about what he would do when he became an adult, possibly following in his father’s footsteps. Law school would have been a challenge for him, though. Jimmy wasn’t too bright. He thought he was smarter than all of us put together, as he often told us. But he wasn’t.

I hope he did grow up. Some folks never do. We’re reminded of that every day.






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