Based on my son's growth rate, his pediatrician estimates he'll grow to be about six feet six or seven. This is not wonderful news. When I chose to become a parent, it never occurred to me that I might one day have to buy groceries for a Jolly Teen Giant. If this possibility had been pointed out to me, I might have had a change of mind. Hell, I might have had a change of sex.
Although the economic factors were the first to flash through my mind when told my son could conceivably be nicknamed "Kareem," others followed. You see, having been a six-two-and-a-half adolescent myself, I know the down side. And it's nasty.
I was the perfect foil for short senior-class thugs who compensated for their altitudinal shortcomings by booting the pemmican out of anyone who was 1) big enough so that they wouldn't be chided for picking on someone their own teensy size, and 2) wimpy enough to assure them an easy victory.
I possessed both those qualities--a fact immediately appreciated by Dick Lindsay and Alan Ingram, who were, respectively, the second and third toughest thugs in my school, and who'd been seniors for a combined total of six years.
It was during gym class that these charmers first approached me. "You stepped on my foot, Tall Boy," said Dick, snarling, from about five feet away. "Apologize for stepping on my foot."
Unfortunately, I was tall but not bright. "I didn't step on your foot," I sniffed, "and I'm not going to apologize for something I didn't do."
Dick and Alan laughed. This didn't seem to be a good sign. Nor was I comforted when Dick snarled, "AFTER SCHOOL!"--verbal shorthand for the sentence, "When the 3:15 bell rings, go directly to Smoker's Corner, and there you will die screaming."
By three o'clock the school was abuzz with the news that this day would be my last, and all were planning their afternoons around my spectacular demise. Word even reached the principal, who called me into his office.
"I understand that when the 3:15 bell rings," he said calmly, "you're due to die screaming." I happily confirmed the rumor to this authority figure who was surely about to save my life. "Don't worry," he continued. "I've called your mother, and at 3:15 she'll be at Smoker's Corner to tell those boys not to hurt you."
Great. I was suddenly faced with two horrors: death while screaming and the prospect of my mommy shielding her baby from bullies in front of the whole student body. There was only one thing to do. I raced from the principal's office to Smoker's Corner, praying that I would meet my maker before anyone met my mother.
Dick and Alan never bothered to attend their last few classes of the day, so they were there waiting for me. "Quick," I screamed, "hit me!" They did. Many times. And even though I said nothing about kicking, they did that, too. But--thank God--they left me in a whimpering heap long before my protection arrived.
I was deeply touched by the hero's welcome I received at school the following morning--until Dick and Alan waded through the cheering throng. "We heard you called us names yesterday," Dick said, snarling. "AFTER SCHOOL!"
I would have committed suicide right then if not for the one and only brilliant idea I'd ever had. As I said, Dick and Alan were the second and third toughest thugs in my school. Numero uno was Noah Metcalf. Actually, no one had ever seen Noah fight, but it was an ugly thing to imagine. He'd had polio as a child, and all those years on crutches had pumped his arms to Popeyesque proportions. Better yet, he looked like Charles Bronson's younger, meaner, mentally unbalanced brother.
I tracked Noah down (which wasn't easy, since he never attended any of his classes) and offered this proposal: I'd give him my lunch money if he'd tell Dick and Alan not to beat me up. Noah agreed, then made a proposal of his own: If I gave him my lunch money every day for the rest of the school year, he wouldn't beat me up. (Noah was pretty short, too.) I agreed.
I didn't hear from Dick and Alan again. Not, at least, until the first day of my sophomore year, when the perpetual flunkees were waiting for me at my locker. "AFTER SCHOOL, Tall Boy," they said, snarling. But now I was cocky. "Ha!" laughed I, snarling back. "If you slope-headed shorties didn't graduate, there's no way Noah could have graduated."
"You're right," said Dick. "Too bad he moved to Texas. AFTER SCHOOL!"
Now you know why I was not at all happy to learn that my innocent little four-year-old son is doomed to endure similar abuse. It even might be inflicted by Dick Lindsay and Alan Ingram. Last I heard, they were still seniors.
It never occurred to me that I might one day have to buy groceries for a Jolly Teen Giant.