When I was in middle school, my father nicknamed me “the righteous brother”. And it was not a compliment. Nor was he referring to one-half of the famous singing duo of “Unchained Melody” fame. And it was certainly not a way to earn any street cred. Some might see this as a compliment. It was in reference to my annoying and judgmental tendency to preach morality to my two younger sisters. I was also a tattletale. And though I prided myself back then on my high horse of morality, I would be amiss to say that I didn’t have an ulterior motive: getting my little sisters in trouble.
It was bad enough that I had to endure getting made fun of my peers. But my own family? Though I later learned to embrace being the black sheep of my family, at the time, I just needed to accepted for who I was. And that wasn’t always the case.
Of course, being a “righteous brother” had its upsides: by the time I got to high school, I didn’t have a curfew like other classmates because I was always home early enough not to warrant one (fewer friends = less time for late-night hijinks). In truth, my straight-laced “righteous” behavior had less to do with morality and more to do with being afraid to get in trouble.
I was, for lack of a better word, a pussy.
My cowardice emerged at a very early age. There is even photographic evidence to prove it. Exhibit A: I was just short of turning one and I’m being held in the arms of a clown at my hometown Memorial Day parade. The look of abject terror on my face says it all. In fact, it is a look that suggests something much more sinister (though, on second thought – in my defense – who wouldn’t be afraid?)
Exhibit B: This same look of fear is duplicated over several photos taken on the lap of Santa and the Easter Bunny. Santa is scary enough. The Easter Bunny’s soul-piercing black eyes and inanimate expression is even more frightening. Most kids grow out of this by the time they are five or six. I was still showing fear well beyond that (and , on a semi-related note, the fact I still believed at the age of 12 tell you all you need to know).
Exhibit C: I am just shy of three. My hands are held tightly over my ears as tears stream down my face. The source of such abject terror? … a kite, flown by my dad in the parking lot of the church behind our house. I was scared of the flapping sound it made in the wind.
As I got older, my phobias increased, extending to lighting matches, bees, basements, and routine blood tests (of which even the smallest amount has caused me to pass out).
Despite living the life of a certified wuss, there are a few scattered moments where the righteous brother showed signs of unrighteousness. Grant, it was often accidental. Some could write volumes about such rebellious behavior. I just need a few pages. Although these instances are far and few between, it is my hope that sharing them could perhaps earn the slightest modicum of street cred (of which the first step is to probably avoid using such pompous words as “modicum”):
Tearing it Up
Lying to cover up a crime is the oldest trick in the book. However, when you are raised Catholic, lying to get yourself out of trouble only leads to a downward spiral of endless guilt. I learned this lesson in the first grade after intentionally stomping all over a classmate’s steno notebook when nobody was looking. I didn’t even know whose notebook it was, yet, for forces beyond my control, I noticed it on the floor and felt compelled to destroy it. Mutilate it. Tear it to shreds. After the crime was discovered, the victim was brought to tears. She was one of the best students in the class and her destroyed notebook meant page after page of lost work. As much as my conscience was dictating me to do otherwise, I remained mute, even when the teacher pulled each of us into the hall one by one in an attempt at coaxing a confession out of them. I feigned ignorance. But inside, I was already burning in hell. It was my first “crime”. And even though more crimes were yet to come, I still feel guilty about it till this day. Once a Catholic …
Playing in the Street
When I was five, I told my two-year-old sister to stand in the middle of the street. It wasn’t a matter of not knowing any better… nor was it a matter of me attempting to kill her (at least, I’m pretty sure I made sure no cars were coming) . My motivation was to get her in trouble. All it managed was to get me in trouble. Within seconds of her entering the street, my parents had burst out the front door and scooped up my sister out of harm’s way, as my grandparents watched from the porch. I remember the wooden brush against my ass. I remember crying. I remember my grandfather being so upset by my scolding, that he and my grandma left. Though I don’t condone hitting a child with a wooden brush, a hand, or any other object for that matter, I certainly don’t condone telling a toddler to stand in the middle of a street. Having small children of my own makes this episode even more cringe-worthy. This incident also sparked my first grounding – one week without friends, which was not that difficult for somebody with no friends.
It was one of those hot, glorious dog days of summer. I was playing in the front yard with a hose, when I spotted our neighbor Mr. K. approaching down the street in his car. For reasons I will never be able to fully decipher, I had the sudden impulse to spray him with a hose right through the open window of his passing vehicle. I managed to time it so that the point of impact of the hose coincided with the arrival of his friendly wave.
Upon impact, he quickly slammed on his brakes and started scolding me.
“What in the hell did you do that for?!” he said, wiping the water off his face with a handkerchief.
I stood there like a helpless mute, hose still in hand.
My mother ran out to see what was going on. She apologized, took me inside, and proceeded to scold me even further. I had no ill feelings toward the man whatsoever, yet, I felt compelled to spray him with a hose.
“Do me, Baby!”
If you are struggling to seem cool, don’t try to gain your classmates’ respect by telling them that your sister’s Cricket doll says “Do me, baby.” Even if you are telling them this because you think it will make you cool, even though a.) it won’t and b.) you don’t even know what “do me” means. For those that don’t know who Cricket is, Cricket was similar in concept to Teddy Ruxpin. For those who don’t know who Cricket or Teddy Ruxpin is, they are both animatronic dolls that play cassette tapes inserted into their ass – like Chuck E Cheese characters on a smaller scale. As the tapes play, their eyes and mouths are programmed to move along with it. Neither one them – or anything of their ilk – say “Do me, baby.” This led to my first and only time that I was punished in school. And it resulted in me getting a stern warning from Mr. Brusco – our cigar-chomping principal. I also had to write a note for my parents that said: “Today in school, I told my classmates that my sister’s Cricket doll said “’Do me, baby.’” It will not happen again. And I am sorry.”
I kept my promise. And Cricket still lives at my parents.
High Balls, Wrestling, & Jell-O
For a span roughly around the ages of 5-10, I would frequently goad my cousin Tony into wrestling matches at holiday functions at my grandparents’ house. To paint a better picture of this matchup: I was a skinny, weak toothpick and Tony was…well, beyond “husky”. Without fail, Tony would agree to wrestle, only to then promptly pummel me. Like clockwork, I would scream for help, at which point Tony would get scolded. The frequency that this scenario played itself out was on par with Charlie Brown, Lucy, and a football. I would promise not cry for help, yet sure enough, I did. Every time.
One time, around the age of 10, I found a new way to get Tony into trouble. A new “football” so to speak. While standing at the pop and booze table, I convinced Tony to let me make him a high ball “just like Grandpa.” Though we were accustomed to “Jr. Highballs” (Squirt and cherry juice), I decided to add a splash of whiskey to Tony’s drink (not mine). When he were caught, everyone immediately blamed Tony. Nothing he could say could convince them that innocent Bobby had anything to do with it.
However, I would later get my due punishment when I decided it was a good idea to fling a spoonful of Jell-O and Cool Whip at Tony’s face. Somehow, only I found the humor in this.
Take this Gift and Shove It
It’s probably not a good idea to show your appreciation for a Christmas gift from your beloved Godmother by shoving it onto the floor because it was only a sweater when you were hoping for a toy. What a prick.
If I could impart any wisdom to my children, it would be to avoid “friends” who think it’s a good idea to prank call the police. Notice the quotation marks I used on “friends”. True friends don’t put all the blame on you, even though you were the unwilling accomplice who actually tried to talk them out of their stupid little prank. In the end, the police showed up and promptly escorted me back home, where I was issued a prompt warning. I didn’t even attempt to explain my role in the situation, out of fear that my “friends” would retaliate. In other words, I was less afraid of getting in trouble with the law than I was facing retribution of my “friends.” The only other time I would ever get in trouble with the law (aside from the occasional speeding or parking ticket) was being interrogated by the FBI for being a possible terrorist suspect following a late-night film scouting expedition on an industrial island in Detroit.
After enduring several years of bullying, the time had come to take a stance. However, my stance consisted of a half-assed, weak slap (or, more specifically, a mild graze) across my bully’s cheek while he was chomping on his bologna sandwich in the school cafeteria. His immediate reaction was to laugh, then continue eating his sandwich as though nothing happened. The dozen or so witnesses also laughed. Adding insult to injury, this incident prompted even more teasing by my bully. At least I tried.