Winter Lake

Originally published Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Winters in Montana were never mild when I was growing up there. The snow always threatened to bury the house, or at least cover the windows on one side of the house. One of my earliest memories of winter in Montana was that of a small Franklin stove. God bless Benjamin Franklin for his invention. Actually, to be technical, God bless David R. Rittenhouse who took Franklin’s flawed design of a freestanding cast-iron stove and made it work. Good ol’ Ben had originally designed his stove so the smoke would exit from the bottom, failing to realize that smoke rises and fire needs oxygen. His design did produce a stove that radiated a lot of heat, but wouldn’t stay lit for extended periods of time. Rittenhouse redesigned the stove with a pipe on top.

I loved that stove. I would awaken in the cold morning well before the sun broke over the mountains to the east and hover near the stove. It was on these mornings I would cherish the cinnamon toast and hot chocolate my mom would make for me. My dad would have already left for work. Often his would be the first tire tracks out on the long dirt road that lead to the main paved road.

As I grew up, winter was more than just cold and snow. The hill that led down to the lake became an ultimate sledding course. The lake itself would freeze over with ice sometimes two feet thick and would become the largest ice skating rink I have ever known. I loved ice-skating on that lake. At night, the frozen lake would speak and sing. The ice was always under some form of stress and that stress would result in cracks erupting. Each crack was a voice and sometimes the voices gathered into choirs. As spring approached, the ice would get more talkative. On a good day I would skate from my house, to Kim’s Marina, into Chinaman’s Campground, over to Yacht Basin, around Cemetery Island, back to home. That would take me about three hours. I would do this alone, which wasn’t without risk.

I never fully realized the risks involved until that one winter when I was skating along and hit thin ice and fell in. I sank with the weight of the skates on my feet and struggled to get my arms on the ice, but the ice kept breaking. Turning towards shore, I kept breaking the ice until my feet touched bottom and then continued moving towards land. I don’t have a recollection of being cold, I think fear and adrenaline kept me warm enough. As soon as I hit the beach, I ran the best I could with my skates on towards the house. I was luckily over an area that was called ‘the point’ which was a stretch of beach on the north side of Magpie Bay, which wasn’t too far from home. The run home was cold, that I do recall keenly. My fingers and toes were numb and I was shivering like mad. The frostbite was minor, but to this day, a good blast from the air conditioner will make my ears, fingers, and toes burn and ache.

I understood from that moment on, the true treachery of that area of the lake. It didn’t take much warmth in that are for that section of the ice to melt away when the rest of the lake was still several inches thick. Unfortunately, not enough people knew this. One winter’s night when I was in high school, I was getting a hair cut from my mom. I noticed a light flashing from the lake. On closer inspection, it was coming from a man stranded out there. I grabbed an orange water float that was meant to be pulled behind a boat and ran out to the point to help guide the man ashore. He had been following the tracks of his father’s homemade snowmobile when he got to this section. The ice was cracking around him and he was unsure of where to move to get back to safety. Luckily he had been on foot and was able to hear the sounds and sense the fragility of the ice. His father who had been out on the snowmobile much earlier in the day, didn’t have that notice and plunged through the thin ice. His father had fallen into the iced over lake a dozen yards away from where I fell in. I only had to move several feet to find footing, no one knows what conditions under which that man was struggled.

As the lake thawed with the approach of spring, the ice would melt away from the shore, leaving a giant tantalizing raft of ice floating out in the center. The air would be warm, the ground was wet instead of frozen and talk among my brothers and sisters would turn from winter things to who would be the first in the lake. If there were any Rites of Childhood for me, attempting to be first in the lake had to be one of the most cherished. How hard could it be, in March and sometimes April, when the lake was shedding it’s icy crust, to take a dip. The water was crystal clear and so tempting. The lake was cold, but feeling it with your hand, you couldn’t see how it was so cold as to prevent you from taking that quick dip and thus earning the title First In The Lake.

Dressed in bathing suits a few would line up and make their attempts. Some would get to their knees, few would get to their waists, and I dare say that I have no recollection of anyone going in all the way. As the ice disappeared completely and the sun was out longer, eventually someone would get in, but by that time the boaters were already on the lake and the title was a bit more meaningless because summer was around the corner.

The Scott Dialogues: Aesthetics Part I – Is Art Beautiful?

Originally published Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The following is a transcript of a conversation recorded October 8, 2002 at a diner on Clark Street in Chicago. The person who made the recording prefers to remain nameless as his or her actions may actually be deemed criminal. What you are about to read is in fact one of the many conversations involving an enigmatic individual called Scott, the entire collection being called ‘The Scott Dialogues”.

When ever possible, the person’s real name, if known through the conversation is used. Otherwise a fictitious name has been assigned to the person’s voice for sake of clarity.

Michael: I was at the North Halsted Market Days and there was this guy there selling painted sea shells with tea light candles in them. He was calling his creations art and billed himself as an artist. I know art and that wasn’t art, that was crap, which makes him a crapist at best.

Megan: Crapist? Is that your latest attempt at being clever? Michael, just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it isn’t art.

Michael: Jesus, Megan, give me a fucking break. Why do you always question everything I say. I’m just commenting on this guy’s seashell candles.

Megan: Maybe if you weren’t such a clueless opinionated asshole I would have less reason to doubt what you say.

Michael: You get off on being a bitch.

Scott: It looks like I stumbled into another Michael-Megan fight. What is it over this time? Some person whom you don’t really care about and how much he weighs? Or is regarding the year Reagan was shot? What miserable assertion has been put forth that has created such ire and animosity?

Michael: Very funny, Scott. I was just telling Megan about this guy at a street fair who was selling crappy candles and calling it art.

Scott: It isn’t art? Out of curiosity and boredom, just how do you define art?

Megan: Yeah, how do you define it? This should be good, Scott against Michael.

Michael: I’m sure you’ll love it. What is art? Art is something that takes skill to create. Those seashell candles didn’t take any skill or creativity for that matter.

Scott: Art is, correct me if I am misstating your definition, something that requires skill and creativity?

Michael: Exactly!

Scott: Okay, that may be a viable definition. Let’s analyze it a bit.

Megan: No it isn’t. That isn’t what art is at all.

Scott: What do you think it is?

Megan: Art is beautiful. It comes from the soul and it makes you feel something or reflect on life in some meaningful way.

Scott: Quite the dilemma. Those are not necessarily mutually exclusive definitions.

Michael: Those seashells weren’t beautiful and the only thing it made me reflect on was who in hell would pay five bucks for one of these crappy candles.

Megan: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Scott: Does that mean Art is in the eye of the beholder as well?

Megan: I guess.

Scott: Then doesn’t that mean there isn’t an objective criterion for art? So when Michael says something isn’t art he is correct, by your definition.

Michael: Hah!

Megan: No. Well, maybe.

Scott: So the first question that needs to be resolved is can we define art objectively?

Michael: No. It is as you said; it is up to the viewer.

Scott: I never said that, I was just interpreting what Megan said.

Megan: It seems reasonable. If we agree beauty has something to do with art and beauty is subjective, than an element of art must be subjective.

Scott: Then we have to also ask; is beauty truly subjective?

Megan: Of course it is.

Scott: Really? Is it possible that everything has an intrinsic beauty and certain people are better skilled at seeing it than others?

Michael: That is ridiculous. Are you saying that a crushed bug on a car windshield is beautiful? You are sick.

Scott: Let’s run with my assumption for a second and use your gross example. What could be beautiful about it?

Michael: Nothing.

Megan: One less bug in the world, that’s beautiful.

Scott: Talk to me in artistic terms. Could there be a pleasant color scheme in the squashed bug guts? Think of it not as a squashed bug but as a painting, or a sculpture. Maybe even as just a shape. Can you honestly say that there isn’t some perspective that could be taken which won’t reveal something beautiful?

Megan: This is sort of like being attracted to someone who isn’t physically beautiful because you find his mind and heart beautiful. When you look at the right angle, you can find the beauty inside everything.

Scott: That is essentially what I am saying. Sometimes you may have to find a very specific angle to look at something to see the beauty, but if we believe that everything is beautiful, than we will find it.

Michael: I don’t understand why everything has to be beautiful. Why can’t things be ugly?

Scott: That is the corollary. If everything is beautiful if looked at from certain perspectives, everything is ugly as well.

Megan: Dang, that’s kind of depressing.

Scott: It isn’t depressing or uplifting, it just is. Don’t let emotional attachment to things like beauty and non-beauty cloud your thinking. What we have established is beauty is in the eye of the beholder, not because beauty is subjective but because some eyes can see the beauty that exists in certain things while other eyes lack the proper perspective to see it.

Michael: Isn’t this a cop out? Everything is beautiful; everything is ugly. That frees us from having to make distinctions or worry about comparisons.

Scott: No, it doesn’t. It just means we have to define how we are judging beauty before we make our pronouncement. For example, the beauty of a swimsuit model does not compare to the beauty of a balanced mathematic equation, but both are beautiful. The beauty of Sandra Bullock does not compare to the beauty of Hamlet. We don’t think twice about considering these things beautiful but in our minds we know we are applying different perspectives to these things to see their beauty. This is why beauty pageants set up different segments to judge beauty: poise, talent, swimsuit, and formal wear. They very well could create a different perspective, like complexion, bust size, teeth color, and disease resistance.

Megan: You’re odd.

Scott: But it is the truth. And that is what we are trying to sort out. The truth about Art. If Art is beautiful, we have determined that everything is beautiful, so if someone is squashing bugs between glass and calling it art, we know that it is at least beautiful.

Unfettering

Originally published Thursday, August 19, 2004

He dangled, in midair, his right arm stretched skyward.

Pain burned through his hand, down his outstretched arm and into his bare torso. Nothing was actually visibly wrapped around his wrist, but he felt it. Whatever it was obviously suspended him, within a darkened void. No walls, no floor, no ceiling around him at all. Only a faint bit of light from far below him gave any indication that there was anything else around at all.

He struggled against the pain for conscious thought.

‘What is my name? Fucking pain! No. Nothing like that.’

Tears left him long ago. Tears don’t heal this kind of pain. He felt his heartbeat in his wrist, each beat causing a jolt of pain.

‘I must be a tortured hero. I must have delivered fire unto humanity in defiance of the gods.’

Once in a while a cold draft would blow pass him, sending a shiver through his naked, dependent body. A particularly strong wind would start him swaying, increasing the pain that his body could never quite adapt or adjust itself to. Each moment was like experiencing the excruciating pain for the first time. The muscles, ligaments, and tendons that held his arm and should together were slowly pulling apart. His shoulder would soon become dislocated.

‘Jacob. No. That’s my dad’s name. Thomas begets John. John begets Jacob. Jacob begets Mark. Mark. My name is Mark.’

Eternal pain. How long has it been?

Mark winced and breathed deeply which caused a slow spin. With his head hanging listlessly, he forced his eyes open, like he had done before, to see what he could see. A dark room, a void. Mark rolled his head to the side to look at his wrist. He squinted and though he could see the tether. A forged iron chain, each link covered in thorns, a hellish rose stem, twisted into binding links. The thorns pierced his flesh. In the dim light from below, Mark could make out dried blood all down his forearm.

‘How did I get here? What hell is this? What god have I offended? Forgive me my daily trespasses… my hourly trespasses… forgive my ignorance and my malice… if I had known this would be my punishment I would never have committed whatever sin it is I did that warranted this punishment.’

Mark thought of a scene he had read in the book Dune a thousand years ago, in the beginning of time, in the beginning of the pain. A young man was tested for his humanity by putting his hand in a box that caused pain. Dune. Paul. The test was to see if Paul would pull his hand from the box or if he would withstand the pain. Only a human would endure the pain. An animal would flee it.

Mark bowed his head trying to see through the darkness below him, trying to see what caused the dim light to shine. He could see nothing. With his remaining energy, he twisted his arm violently. The pain paralyzed his ability to scream, but he kept twisting his arm. Gashes appeared around his wrist, blood gently flowed. Mark struggled against his bond. He felt his flesh shred, but he didn’t stop his frantic thrashing. Mark looked like a fish caught on a hook, being lifted from the safety of the water.

He was an animal, not a human. The pain must have an end. A coyote would chew its own leg off to escape a trap. Isn’t that better? Escape the pain. Does it take courage to inflict a greater amount of pain upon yourself in hopes of ending all pain?

Mark didn’t care anymore. The chain ground against his bones now. He feared the fall, the descent into the darkness, the descent towards that dim light. The light of hope, or the light of a hell worse than this one.

‘Put a frog in boiling water and the frog jumps out. Put the same frog in a pot of water over low heat and it will remain there until it is cooked to death.’

Mark hoisted himself up, trying to grab hold of the chain with his left hand. His hand only touched air where the chain should have been. Tired from his efforts and overwhelmed by the pain, Mark slipped from consciousness.

All around Mark’s dependent body, drafts of air and winds whispered to him.

‘Don’t fight it, Mark,’ whooshed the winds.

‘The pain of hanging here isn’t so bad.’

‘Why trade a known for an unknown? The pain of hanging could be much better than the pain of falling, unsupported, into the void.’

‘Once you fall, you cannot return.’

‘Some actions cannot be undone.’

Mark didn’t know how long he had been unconscious. Time was meaningless in the void. When he finally woke, he noticed the skin of his arm had started to heal over the chain. He begged for death. Why wouldn’t he die from blood loss at least?

Without hesitation, he began in earnest to free himself. The sharp chain worked its way up his hand, peeling the skin along the way. Mark lifted himself up and let himself drop. Each drop peeled more skin. Each drop sent shockwaves of pain through his entire body. Each drop was closer to being free, closer to death, salvation, or damnation.

Another drop and the chain sliced through the bone of his thumb, which now tumbled into the darkness. Mark could feel the chain slipping up along his hand without his help. He was afraid now of the fall. He curled his fingers to catch the loop and to hold on tightly. Who was he to question the will of the gods?

There was no strength left in his hand and his fingers couldn’t hold onto the chain. Mark tumbled into the void. There was no scream.

He fell in the void.

Little-Known Facts About Giants

Originally published August 10, 2004

There are many little-known facts about giants. Did you know that giants never stop growing? Giants came into this world slightly larger than a normal child but where a normal child stops growing, the giant continues to grow. When the earth was created so were all the giants and since giants are immortal they are still alive today.

Oh yes, that is another one of those little-known facts. We know the stories of how some giants were killed. Goliath was felled by David. A fairy tale once told often to children, now nearly forgotten tells the story of a giant who had a magic harp and a goose that laid golden eggs and how one day a fellow named Jack climbed a beanstalk to this giant’s castle and stole these items. The giant chased Jack, but Jack cut the beanstalk and the giant came crashing to the earth, dying from the impact. Immortality guarantees a long life, if death can be avoided.

What of those other giants who did avoid death? Where are they now?

Since a giant never stops growing, so long as the giant continues to eat – was that mentioned before? Eating. A giant must eat to continue to grow and you don’t want to be around when a giant needs a meal. Once, one of the older and more giant of the giants sat down for a meal and a drink. Entire lakes were sipped dry. Great swathes of land were stripped clean of all vegetation and most animal life. The area is now called the Sahara desert.

As long as the giant eats, the giant grows. Unfortunately for the giant, the larger it becomes, the more effort it takes to move. Eventually, a giant can become so large that it can’t really move anymore and it lies down upon the earth to sleep.

Look now to the horizon and you may actually see one sleeping. Sleeping giants are often mistaken for mountain ranges.

While sleeping, giants’ hearts slow down and beat maybe once every twenty or twenty-five years. Sometimes they are mistaken for earthquakes, but more often, the giant is so covered with dirt, trees, and rocks from the centuries of sleeping, that the heartbeat only causes rockslides. The noise of it is dismissed easily as thunder in the mountains. For all who care, never attempt to wake a sleeping giant. Even if they are so large they can barely move, if a giant were to roll over, entire cities could be squashed. A simple cough could produce winds powerful enough to topple tall buildings. Even a simple deep breath could create a vacuum that could suffocate thousands of people.

Let sleeping giants lie.

Parable of Sam

Originally published Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Belief creates reality. Argue all you want, pick all the nits you want, it is a fact. If you don’t believe in the fact, well, you are just trying to be difficult and are missing the point. That’s perfectly fine by me, I have nothing to gain by relating the following story to you, but you may walk away with a bit more understanding of what this world is all about. At the very least you may have a moment of entertainment and be able to laugh about that old man who sat on the park bench and told you an outrageous tale of Gods and Heroes in America.

Pardon me if I make an assumption, but you look to be like a standard American Christian. I know, I know, you don’t go to church; you don’t even know what denomination your Mother was when you were growing up. You have friends who are Catholic, but you only know that because on Ash Wednesday they have a gray smudge on their foreheads. One of your friends is a devout atheist and goes purple in the face anytime anyone bases a moral decision on the Ten Commandments or Sermon on the Mount. We all know those types. And lest I forget, you also have that ex-lover who was into banging drums, burning incense, in an attempt to be a Druidic-Wiccan Pagan New Age Shaman Magician, or something. All you really cared about was the fact the sex was good.

If anyone asks you though, you say you are a Christian. It is the way you distinguish yourself from Muslims and that couple that run the magazine stand down the street who may or may not be Hindu, but you aren’t sure because you don’t really care. Ganesha to you sounds like something you eat with hummus. You are secure in your beliefs, so long as no one forces you to defend them. That’s just fine, this is America, you are allowed to believe whatever the hell you want. Remember what I said, though, belief creates reality.

The story I’m going to tell you is about how American belief created new gods. I can see the confusion on your face already. New gods? How can there be new gods if there is only one True God? Just sit down and learn something, won’t you? Gods derive their power from the belief people put in them and to think any one of them is Truer than the next is sheer folly. Your god today has no more or less meaning than the god of the Neanderthals who marched across Western Europe in the Ice Age.

So the story starts with a fellow named Sam. Sam was a respectable man, mature yet not a curmudgeon like myself. He stood tall and had a terrific work ethic. Up before sunrise and wouldn’t get into bed until all the cows were accounted for, all the gates closed, and all the tools put away. Sam was a farmer, a carpenter, a poet, an engineer, and an explorer. As time passed Sam sometimes was forced to pick up a gun and become a soldier, but he did it because he had to, but he didn’t like it. Sam was that kind of guy; he always did what he had to do. Sometimes a fire would have to be lit under his ass, but when he started something he finished it.

Somewhere along the line, Sam started seeing a new guy around who went by the name Bill. Bill wasn’t a bad guy, didn’t seem to work as hard as Sam and over time seemed to become more important around these parts than Sam. Sam was fascinated by Bill and even started referring to him as the All Mighty. Sam seemed to find less reason to work and more reason to follow Bill. It is an odd thing when a god begins worshipping another god, but that is exactly what happened with Sam.

Understand, this really isn’t Sam’s doing. Sam was a product of the belief of the American people. Sam, was the patron god of America, an ethereal representation of what this land was about. Sam had two friends, two beautiful women named Liberty and Justice, but Sam was lured away by the temptress Media. Media had this ability to affect the beliefs of the people and to a god who is controlled by the beliefs of the people, this is a most tempting power. Sam took to Media like she was his lover since the beginning of time. Liberty and Justice were after thoughts. First Media got what she wanted, and if anything was left over Liberty and Justice would get their share. Bill didn’t care one way or another. That was probably what intrigued Sam the most about Bill. Bill could have his way with Liberty, Justice, and Media. There wasn’t anything that could oppose Bill. And Bill had no sense of morality about it.

See, my friend, these are the gods that are in the American pantheon right now. We have the venerable elder god, Sam. A father figure, no one could argue with that. Liberty and Justice, both are maternal, protecting types, though they are at odds with each other at times, quarrelling over what is more important. Bill, the Almighty Dollar, is a trickster god, caring only about self-aggrandizement. There is nothing inherently evil about Bill, but Bill doesn’t care if people do evil in their pursuit of him. Media started off as a naïve woman, a workhorse delivering news and information to the people, until a few found a way to corrupt her, turn her into a prostitute. She became a Siren, luring the unsuspected to her altars, asking them to sacrifice to her and Bill. Unlike Sam, Liberty and Justice, she doesn’t care about America as a concept, only as a means to a greater end, her own power. I would be wrong to omit that Sam has a dark side, a villainous side that rarely is seen but needs to be mentioned. Sam, upright citizen of the world, delves into the dark arts often enough to have a corrupted soul. Part of this was due to his obsession with Bill, but it is mostly due to his desire to set upon the world a certain sense of order.

Look about you right now and you can see the dark side of Sam. The Sam who completely ignores Liberty and Justice. The Sam who willingly sacrifices Liberty out of fear. The Sam who puts a cloak upon Justice out of fear. The Sam driven in a monomaniacal rampage out of fear. Sam does this in hopes of creating a new god, Security. Many have tried to build and maintain enough Belief in Security as to allow him to come forth, shield in hand, as a Cavalier of the Land, protecting all. Security often comes forth on feet of clay, though and cannot be sustained long enough to do any real good. The sacrifices made in attempt of creating the belief in security stay with us for a long time, unfortunately.

That is your fear that is driving Sam to be like this. It is your fear that encourages Sam to torture people in hopes of birthing Security into America. It is your insistence that Media isn’t a lying wench that allows you to believe the other lies in your life. Stand against your fear and believe in the Sam who was the farmer, the Sam who was a worker, the Sam who was an engineer and explorer, believe in the Sam who cared for the world, not about Bill. Believe in the Sam who had the strength to carve out a nation from wilderness, who had the wisdom to bring Liberty and Justice to all. Sam knew, way back then when this nation was crowning from the birth canal that the only real protection comes from these two fine ladies. Sam knew they would be at odds with each other at times and the country would swing back and forth between Liberty and Justice, but that was fine because Sam didn’t know which one was more important. No one does. So it is right to allow them to fight it out between themselves, because deep down Liberty respects Justice and would never harm her and Justice adores Liberty and protects her whenever possible.

Get off my bench, now, and go do something that makes Sam snap out of his dark mood. Do something that empowers Liberty and Justice so they can help Sam come back to his senses. And if you still don’t believe that belief creates reality, then to hell with you, because it does and your belief that America should be afraid and America should ignore Liberty and Justice is only hurting Sam. And when Sam hurts, the world hurts.

Humiliation

Originally published Tuesday, August 03, 2004

It was the day I didn’t fight back and it is among one of my biggest regrets in my life.

High school is not an easy time for anyone. It is even worse for the socially inept. We were the bottom feeders, living off of the scraps from others. We had a good day if we successfully escaped the notice of everyone. We gathered in classrooms during lunch, avoiding the places where the more socially skilled chose to eat. We had our secure locations where we were masters – the computer lab, the chemistry lab, even the art rooms and theater. We also had the one place where we felt our very existence was threatened: the gym.

I had many moments of humiliation in gym class. Not all of these moments were at the hands of my fellow students, many were due to my own lack of coordination or strength. Have you ever seen the cartoon about the boy who climbs the rope in gym and then gets stuck at the top? I didn’t think I had enough upper arm strength to climb the rope in gym class so I trapped the rope between my feet and used my legs. Before I knew it, I was at the top of the rope. My legs pushed me easily to the top. Unfortunately, the same maneuver didn’t work well in reverse. As I lowered my hands on the rope, my torso swung out away from the rope and I started a slow spin. I was stuck there for what seemed like hours. Essentially, the only way I could see to get down was by slowly sliding. Gravity is cruel and friction is evil. The rope burn wasn’t too bad, better than everyone in the gym watching me perform an unintended acrobatic show.

Of course I was picked last for the teams (why gym teachers decided this was a good way to choose up teams is beyond me, they should just assign the teams and be done with it). That is a humiliation that everyone seems to have had… which is odd since only one kid can be picked last. Even I am embellishing here. I was usually fourth or third to last. I would be standing with the rest of the bottom feeders wishing I was dead instead of waiting for people I had no respect for or desire to know decided my fate for the next thirty minutes of my life. There are few things worse than waiting for two people and their advisors decide which is the best of the worst.

On the field, the court, the floor, or wherever – the threat of humiliation was limited and centered mainly on one’s skills or personal appearance. Tripping while running, scoring in the wrong goal, having to be ‘skins’ against the ‘shirts’ when your back is covered in acne. Expect no pity from the gym teachers because they are attempting to treat everyone as an equal. Too bad they don’t realize everyone isn’t equal and their efforts only help hammer home that point so when no one in authority is around, the bottom feeders became fodder.

My greatest humiliation came during my freshman year after the gym class finished that day’s activities. We were all standing in the hall that led to the locker room where we changed. James Allen, a bully since I first met him in elementary school at R.H. Radley in East Helena, came up to me. My instincts were telling me to stop him, the survival instincts built into each and every human by design or nature to help protect the species were screaming at me to prevent him from taking whatever action he was going to take. Yet, my mind was telling me that in a fight both people will get punished. Oddly enough, I feared punishment more than anything. It was my ingrained desire not to cause other people hardship. If I got punished, that would include detention, which means my parents who lived far outside of town, would have to go out of their way to get me.

Let me back up a second so the weight of this decision can be fully felt. I lived some 35 miles outside of the city of Helena. My only connection to the city was by the school bus. Ever since I began riding the school bus there was only one rule: don’t miss the bus. Missing the bus meant my parents would have to make the long trek into town and pick me up. This mandate became more critical when my father suffered his heart attack and no longer went to work in the city and my mother took a job to help pay the bills. Only a selfish child would heap extra hardship onto his family by getting into trouble that could be avoided.

James Allen wrapped his sweaty shirt around my neck and began twisting. I kept saying to myself that if I began to choke, I’d fight back. I just stood there, hoping that in someway there was dignity in silently allowing another person to perform a bit of torture upon me. The shirt never tightened enough to choke me, as that was not James Allen’s purpose. I couldn’t fathom what he was trying to do and even suspected he was merely trying to goad me into fighting back. I figured his strategy was to do something totally benign though bizarre to me in hopes I would fight back and he and the rest of the guys in the gym class would laugh at my antics that would make me look even more like a total loser.

I blacked out.

James Allen’s real purpose was to limit the flow of blood to my brain to cause me to black out. I woke up seconds later on my back with all the guys in the gym class gathered around me. I recall the looks of relief on a few of their faces. I was helped to my feet and seconds later Mr. LeBrun, the gym teacher came to unlock the locker door. I kept thinking how things would have been different if only he would have shown up earlier – either while James Allen had his shirt wrapped around my neck or while I was prone on the floor. I chided myself for getting up so soon, I should have stayed on the floor until he showed up. I kept thinking that in someway I needed the authority figure to acknowledge my victim status and to see the victimizer punished.

It took several years for me to come to the realization that I need only have followed my instincts. I should have fought back. James Allen would have beaten me bloody – his skills at fighting were far beyond my own, but I would not have been a victim. I would have stood up for myself, something I never learned how to do. I can do it for others but not for myself. Many people would have been inconvenienced. I may have even had to go to the hospital to fix a broken finger or nose. The cost of which would have been a drain on my family, but at least I would have kept some amount of dignity and honor. I would have at least established that you can’t play those kinds of games on me because I will fight back. All I established that day was I was a pushover. There are no martyrs in high school. No one recalls the day when I stood in silence as another person humiliated me. There isn’t a section in the yearbook for The Most Victimized.

I have many reasons why I really don’t like being around people. The fact I didn’t stand up for myself is my own failing, my own humiliation that I carry with me. There were nearly eighteen other guys in that hallway – none of them stood up for me. None of them even questioned what James Allen was doing. I learned many lessons that day, and though I fundamentally despise society, I am very willing to stand up for someone who is being victimized. Who knows, they may be able to fight back, but maybe they have to make sure they catch a bus to get home. Maybe they think they are choosing a lesser evil. Maybe they are merely paralyzed in fear. I no longer have to catch a bus and I know it is easier to act on someone else’s behalf than my own.

How would things have been different if one or two others in that hallway would have simply said something instead of standing in silence? I still would have been humiliated but not nearly as badly.