When I was in second grade, three bullies cornered me and their ringleader said that if I didn't bring them 75 cents the next day I would get beat up. I weighed my options and, since I abhor violence, I decided to pay them off.
The only problem was due to my constant pilfering of my saved allowance money for such essentials as Marvel comic books and Zero candy bars, my mom had moved my piggy bank to her bedroom closet.
While she was busy cooking dinner, I snuck a chair into her room and carefully reached for my money. But using her bionic mom hearing, she detected guilty silence from me, knew I was up to something and caught me red-handed.
I started crying and revealed my predicament to her. She called the school, and my extortioners were punished and told to leave me alone.
Now, I should mention that the gang who threatened to whup up on me were . . . technically, well, girls. When you're done giggling, let me explain something - these were freakishly big girls and I was a frail, asthmatic kid.
While this story has gotten considerable mileage at family gatherings where it is embellished for comic effect, my first experience with being bullied was not funny at the time.
Later on that year, the same girls enlisted the help of a boy whom they got to hit me to make me cry. They then marched around me while I wept singing this song over and over: "Cry baby cry, wipe your winkin' eye. No baby no, please don't let it show." That was in 1972 and I remember it like it was yesterday. The teacher stopped them, but from then on I was known as Crybaby Anthony.
In third grade, I got in trouble and was sent to the vice principal's office. He yelled at me, and I cried and then went back to my home room. When I walked in, the whole class looked at me and started chanting, "Anthony is bad! Anthony is bad!"
What I didn't know was that my teacher had been reading them a book called "I'll Fix Anthony" by Judith Viorst about a kid named Anthony who tortures a younger brother who dreams of vengeance. But again, I didn't know that.
So, I was in full Crybaby Anthony mode when the class stopped chanting with the exception of a kid named Tony Tobias, who kept saying it with gusto until I punched him in the face. I was sent home.
In the summer between fourth grade and fifth, I went to a camp run by my church. One day, a truck pulled up near the kitchen with a bunch of watermelons on the back, and some campers helped to unload it.
Instead of holding the watermelon close to my chest, I chose to hold it over my head, lost my balance and fell over backward. The melon split in two. Two older punks called me Muscleman all week after that. Every time they'd see me they'd strike a bodybuilder pose and call me by my derisive nickname.
Later on that week, they saw I couldn't swim and grabbed me, ignored my screams and threw me into the deep end of the pool.
When I was at Grange Middle School, there were two jocks who teased me unmercifully because I was a lanky asthmatic kid and not a good athlete. My mom had to call the school to get them to stop.
You'd think that a person with my history would never bully someone, but you'd be wrong. In ninth grade, a kid who lived near me looked, well, different to me and a friend and we teased him nearly every day at the bus stop. I recently saw him and apologized for my stupid behavior when I was a teen.
I'm glad to see that schools are recognizing and beginning to deal with the devastating effects of childhood bullying. Sticks and stones may break your bones, and names can actually hurt you.