There. I said it. I. Bullied. Ken.
No, I'm not proud of the fact, and I only really mention it in company that knows him (at least by reputation). And only after a few drinks. Or if someone waxes nostalgic about those bright high school days.
After all these years, I still sometimes wonder whether Ken wonders why we targeted him. From what he writes, I suspect he still hasn't quite figured it out. You see, it wasn't, as he suspects, because he was a fantasy role playing dork. Yes, it was awkward when the headmaster "seized" his Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual and kept them for several days, supposedly to figure out whether there was anything Satanic or Communistic afoot during lunch period in that den of iniquity, the library study room. I was no Eddie Haskell, though. Everyone, bullies and bullied alike, recognized that the headmaster and his pencil-pushing goon squad were hapless, dickied oafs.
At all events, we didn't pick on Ken because he was, for a time, singled out for his nerdy interests. (Hey, Ken. How's the opera fan? Have you been getting cozy with the tutti frutti?) And it wasn't because he was a pudge. And it wasn't because of his mellifluous tenor, in that era still croaky from the change. And I, for one, have no idea what happened to his bicycle. I thought he was dropped off early by car each day so he could organize chairs in the home room, so what do I know.
Those of you who suspect that it was because of his smart mouth are not far afield, though as he has explained, he tempered his reactions for fear that he would incur more, or more vicious, attention.
Not that we were truly vicious. A wedgie here, a flat tire there. (On the trainers, not the bike.) That one time when we blocked the lavatory exit, we could've given him a swirly, but we didn't, for he was already balding and there's no fun in it if they don't walk away dripping wet. (On this basis, the scheme to hold him down and give him a 'hawk was also rejected, so we just cut his Peckham Rye.) And yes, the incident with his thermos was arguably out of line, but we labeled it with masking tape, so it's not as if he actually drank it.
In any case, it was his mouth that got him into trouble, not for the frequency of his retorts, for they were few, but for their quality. Specifically, for their allusive literary depth. You see, Ken couldn't just say "I'll punch you back" or "Go away and leave me alone." With him it was always, "I shall cry havoc, and Daddy will let slip the dogs of war" or "Verily, I do bite my thumb at thee." Not by accident did we choose figs to pelt him with on the day he announced his candidacy for Student Body Secretary. (Secretary, Ken?) And it wasn't just the precocious quotation of Shakes or Vonnegut or Burgess or Baldwin. We wouldn't have bullied him for pretense alone. No, it was something more. That look in his eyes– that yearning, needy look, sustained for just a bit too long and a bit too punch-worthily.
It was as if he were fishing for a similarly literary response, as if nothing would have made him happier than to spit out "a knavish speech sleeps in a foolish ear" and have one of us retort "My lord, you must tell us where the body is!" It was as if he were trying to lure us into playing a role in some creepy imaginary world where the crap they shoveled at us in English class actually mattered.
Milo to his Andrew? No thank you. I wanted no part of his itty bitty Mitty committee, and the idea of his watching Cheez Whiz drip down into his rucksack and muttering "Life is short, but the years are long" makes me want to puke even now.
Whatever world he was living in wasn't the real world. While most of us were prepping for iBanking or BSchool (back when MBAs meant something) after college, he was making a big show of having an imagination, and not only having it but wrapping it around everything else. He had this meta-layer of fiction that decorated his sad little existence. Even when I was shoving him repeatedly between the shoulder blades and taunting him with cries of "Try, Pythagoras! Try, Pythagoras!" I just knew, whether he said anything or not, that he was recasting the whole thing into some grand drama, probably based on Updike or something. And yeah, he did go into law, as I found out at the reunion, and that gave me some hope that maybe I had managed to straighten him out after all, and I even started following the blog. But soon it became clear that he even wraps his legal practice and firm management in some ridiculous layer of imaginary folderol to make it seem less soul-sapping. Well, guess what, Kenster! You can't bake moldy holiday without a rack, and six days does not a week make! Head out of the clouds, man!
It was my mission to show him, and everyone like him, the difference between reality and whatever imaginary sitch he thought he was living in. I like to think of it as an intervention to make clear to him that a fiction is a fiction, and a fist is a fact. (Ok, so maybe in a way it was because he was a role playing dork inhabiting his fantasy land that I bullied him. And maybe he figured that out more quickly than I did, but that doesn't mean he's any better than I am. And when he sits down in the Dr. Pepper that I poured on his seat, he'll realize that. And most importantly, he'll acknowledge it.)
That is why I stand with Ken now to defend the right use of the word "bullying." What I did to Ken was real, it was methodical, and he richly deserved it. These weasels and dirtbags and senators who come along and try to cheapen the concept must be stopped. Whinging that Mr. Adams called you a Jacobin is one thing. Calling Mr. Adams a bully because he calls you a Jacobin, well… that's just pathetic, and it gives bullying and Jacobins a bad name. Mr. Adams is not bullying you when he insults you! He's bullying you when he trips you into a puddle and ruins your uniform! Right, Ken?
To those who cry "bully" I ask: how will you lead a people if you can't even get this right?
I tried to achieve something in Ken. I don't want it diluted or cheapened by slime puppies who have no respect. And if they keep it up, I'll kick their collective ass.