Posted on 11.24.16: Back in my Westfield days there was a big, dark-haired beefy guy named Bob Simon who used to give me all kinds of shit in junior and senior high. I hated him with a passion, and I seem to recall hearing a few years back that he’s dead. God’s grace!
I was once beaten by Simon in the back of a car on a trip back from Staten Island, where’d we’d go every weekend to get drunk as skunks. Admittedly I would act like an asshole after downing four or five cans of beer (“I’m a six-can man!” I triumphantly slurred one night) but that’s a side issue.
The animus between Simon and I began during 8th grade band practice. I played second trumpet; Simon was on the bass drum. During an attempt to perform a marching number, the headstrong music teacher (Mr. Buriss, called “Mr. Bur-ass” by some of his more spirited students) got angry with Simon for repeatedly missing a cue. He lost his temper, whacked his conductor’s stick on a metal bandstand, glared at Simon and blurted out “my God, man…you are thick!”
I told the guys in our peer group about the incident, and for the next few days “Simon, you’re thick!” was a thing. From that moment on I was on Simon’s shitlist. The goadings, humiliations and degradings were constant.
The Westfield high-school climate was hellish, no question. I suppose on some level it sharpened or toughened my game, but I think I suffered from a kind of PTSD for a couple of years after our family moved to Wilton, Connecticut.
In ’06 I passed along a story of drunken teenage vomiting during a long-ago weekend party at a New Jersey shore vacation home. It belonged to the parents of Barry, a nice-enough guy I knew and occasionally hung with during my mid-teen years when I lived in Westfield, New Jersey. A bunch of us had driven down there and partied without anyone’s parents knowing, especially Barry’s. No girls, no music to speak of — just a lot of beer and ale and vodka and everyone stumbling around.
Somebody was always getting picked on back then. It was a kind of hazing ritual, the idea being to put someone’s feet to the fire and see how they’d hold up or something. I never understood this damn game, but mockery, isolation and occasional de-pantsing (a gang of guys would literally hold a victim down and pull his pants off and leave him to walk home that way) were par for the course.
It was a social standards peer-pressure thing with the group having decided the latest victim had been acting in a too different or too peculiar way, or had otherwise transgressed the fluctuating standards of Westfield cool. Almost no one was safe. You could be one of the de-pantsing brutes and then the next weekend you’d be ‘it.’
During this particular New Jersey weekend a big, dark-haired guy named Richard Harris had been chosen as the latest victim. He had thrown up on the floor of Barry’s beach home, and so he had to be punished. Much later that night (around 1 am) we found a dead mouse in a mouse trap, so we threw the corpse into a pot of boiling water and put it under the sheets of a bed Harris was sleeping in. He woke up five or ten seconds later and bellowed “get the fuck outta here!”
A half-hour later we went outside and shifted Harris’s Chevrolet into neutral and pushed the car down the neighborhood street about three or four blocks. We were all sitting around the next morning and Harris walked in through the pantry door, glaring like a gladiator and saying “where’s my fucking car?”
Harris’s offense had happened around 10 or 11 pm the night before. I remember he was half-sitting and half-lying on the living-room couch and about to throw up from too much vodka. The movie plays in my head whenever I think back. I was coming down the stairs and Harris was suddenly on his feet and making for the bathroom (or at least the kitchen sink), but he wasn’t fast enough. He put his hand in front of his mouth in a futile, almost touching attempt to prevent the inevitable, and I can still see that torrent of chicken-rice puke spewing out of his mouth and cascading off the palm of his right hand and splattering on the floor and into a black grated-iron floor heater.
A hisssss sound resulted as globs of vomit dripped into the coal-burning furnace. The smell of it filled the house. We all moaned and groaned at the aroma and ran outside to escape it, going “aaahh!” and “oh, Jesus”‘ I’ll remember that moment for the rest of my life.