The joy of being bullied

This week’s edition of “Story Worth”

Did you have any serious accidents as a child?
My regret about the many accidents I had as a kid was that the emergency hospital did not give out frequent flyer points, but I had only one accident serious enough to land me in the hospital for a long time. When I was eleven years old, I broke my leg. We were playing a silly game for bouncing a super ball against the house and then fighting over it. I fell on the ground with my leg propped up. Ricky Gebhardt fell on top of it and everybody else fell on top of him. It was a compound fracture on the upper leg. My father came out and thought I was faking. He told me to stand up. I tried. It didn’t work.

A broken leg alters destiny
They carried me into the house and laid me on the couch. A broken leg hurts in a kind of throbbing way, especially when there is vibration. My sister was watching “F-Troop”, one of her favorite shows and objected to my screaming. I was being kind of dramatic. My mother came home and called an ambulance. In those days, the cops ran a kind of station wagon. They came up, put a leather thing around my leg and carried me out. It was a big neighborhood event. The neighbors came to watch.

Six weeks in traction changes your perspective
I spent the next six weeks in traction at St Luke’s Hospital. My parents, relatives and friends took turns visiting, and that was nice. My cousin Ray & my father always came on Sundays to watch the Packer Game, killed two birds with one stone. Ray was always very funny, and I enjoyed all the attention, but it was still usually lonely and unpleasant immobilized in the hospital.

Funny the little things you recall. I broke my leg on the first week of school. On the first day, I got in trouble for fighting with my friend Andrew Oren. Don’t recall how it started, but it ended with us putting gum in each other’s hair. I had short hair, so I suffered less than my friend who had nice long hair.  Anyway, this was our introduction to our 6th grade teacher.  She was not amused.  She made some comment about boys being trouble. I suffered karma from the gum incident with my broken leg, since some of the gum still sticking in the hair on the back of my head created minor but persistent discomfort as I lay on the pillow.

Short-term pain = long-term gain
This injury improved my life in the long run, however, at the cost of temporary suffering. The immediate result of my forced inactivity was that I got weaker physically but stronger mentally. I could not get out of bed, so I read & read. My mother was great about bringing books from the library and I went through lots of them. Ironically, learned a lot that was useful for the future even as I fell behind in my actual 6th Grade school work.

Before the long-term gain, let me explain the short-term pain. As I just said above, I fell behind in my school work, and I was behind when I went back to Dover Street School. My teacher was not very understanding. She often said that boys were lazy, and she thought I was a typical example. I read mostly history and geography in the hospital and did well in those subjects, but even there I gave my teacher reason to dislike me. We had a “geography bee”. You got eliminated when you got one wrong. I survived to the final round along with one of the teacher’s favorite girls. I won. But the teacher said that she had to use up all the question. I had to answer three more, otherwise it would be a tie. I recall the last question was obscure – the capital of Sudan. I think she thought she got me on that one, but one of the books I read in hospital was Winston Churchill’s “River War” where he talked about Gordon of Khartoum. I think I still recall the look of surprise on the teacher’s face, but that might be a synthetic memory.

Not smart enough to learn foreign language
I wanted to study language in 7th Grade, specifically I wanted to study German, but I was judged not smart enough. I think the teacher’s recommendation made a difference and she told me I was lazy. I was streamed into the less challenging classes.

My subsequent education and career implies that I am reasonably competent at language learning, so I think I would have done okay, but that is past. On the other hand, I got to be relatively smarter in a less competitive environment.

The real good in the long-run came from the real short-term bad of physical weakness and bullying. The hospital time and long convalescence made me weak. Bullies can smell that, and they gave me a lot of crap. The funny one I recall now related to the then popular series “Gunsmoke.” Reruns featured a character who limped the way I did soon after I got back to school. Some of the kids called me “Chester” after that character. I didn’t know what they meant until somebody explained. We got bad TV reception and maybe we did not get those reruns.

The joy of being bullied
Being bullied was something I did not enjoy, so I resolved not to stay weak, and started to work out – pushups and pullups first. I never stopped. Anyway, flowing from the ostensible bad event of breaking a leg, getting weak, being put into the “dumb” group and being bullied, came my live-long habit of physical exercise, love of reading and generally proactive outlook. How terrible would it have been if some guardian angel had prevented my injury, made my teacher more understanding or kept the bullies off me? You can’t always tell when you get good breaks, or bad ones.