Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Never Call A Girl Ugly (Even If It's True)

Thank God for my younger brother Gene.

I learned from him that it’s not always appropriate to say what you think directly to the person that you have the opinion about. A lesson like this didn’t’ come from careful planning, books, or deep conversations about choices and consequences, it came from pure stupidity.

We spent most of our childhood living on two acres in an area called the West Hill. The surrounding houses were a mix of families living in homes on two acres and little tract homes on postage stamp lots, and at the end of every street a cul-de-sac. It was quite the mixture of incomes. Well off, middle class, struggling to make ends meet and just plain poor. We fell into the latter category. I didn’t know it until I was twelve. It took going to junior high to realize how poor we really were. In elementary school you live alongside the people you go to school with. In junior high you realize that some people have more than you.

Now Judy Lang, in my opinion, was ugly. I know that it isn’t politically correct to say that in this day and age and it shouldn’t have been okay to say it back when I was a kid. But, let me say again, she was ugly. Judy was the girl that they based the quote “beauty is skin deep but ugly is to the bone” on. And it wasn’t just my opinion, all of the guys in the neighborhood and all the girls thought it too. I think adults held the same opinion. It wasn’t a case of she sometimes looked good if the light was right, the only time she could have looked good was if the earth would fall into total darkness and light had been snuffed from our existence. It is no exaggeration to say that she was difficult to look at. To add insult to injury she was my age and in my classes in school from elementary to junior high.

As a comparison I should tell you that living next door to me was an absolute goddess that must have been a little selfish when looks were handed out. I’m sure she got any beauty Judy was supposed to get. Debbie was my first crush and of course, I had to live next door to her for the next 9 years. Very difficult to go through puberty living next door to her. We had very nice things to say to Debbie, all of them to her face.

Judy was the target of an endless barrage of taunting, ridicule and name calling that I have never seen repeated in my entire life, except for the recent presidential elections. We made fun of her last name mainly. We called her Fang, Fango, Fangendorf (after the bread), and numerous other things that I can’t recall or I’m too embarrassed to share. As an adult I’m shocked that she didn’t go out and off herself with the way we treated her. Her house was only about a block away from ours, a huge distance to a kid. Her house was nicer than ours, She wasn’t poor and She dressed better than us. Again, she was ugly and that was our excuse for the way we treated her.

Everyone on our street walked the quarter mile to junior high school, my brother, three of the kids living next door to us, and everyone to the east of our home, which totaled about twenty kids. Fango, I mean Judy, had to walk past our house everyday to get to school and to visit her friends. I don’t know if she was going to an ugly club meeting that was held weekly or what. Gene, the first of my younger brothers, was standing with a group of about six boys, including me, on our side of the street. Judy came walking by. Ready for the lesson?

Up until that day, none of us would call her names directly to her face, that would have been mean, but as soon as she turned the corner and came toward our house, my brother yelled out “FANGO, you’re ugly!” It was an obvious posturing technique to assert his position as leader of the pack. What happened next surprised us all. Judy Lang walked over to him, his chest feathers all puffed out with peacock pride, him still calling her names and then… she decked him! Not some girly slap, there was no pushing, no further dialog, no requests for him to be polite or apologize, she just reached out with her first and cleaned his clock with one move. I believe that it was a right cross.

Up to that point, I had never witnessed firsthand someone go from a vertical position to a horizontal position so fast. I learned something while watching the blood start to ooze from his mouth. It’s better to think twice and act once. Once to think about what I’m going to say and the second time about how it will affect the other person. Not that I have applied this lesson learned in all situations, but seeing my brother prostrate on the ground sent me a strong message that has served me well over the years.

And maybe Judy got the last laugh on me. As a kid I had a newspaper route and delivered a weekly newspaper in our neighborhood. Judy’s parents were faithful subscribers. I was so scared of her after she cold cocked my brother that I chose never to collect the monthly subscription fees from her parents again. She had me so frightened that I just delivered that paper for free as long as I had that route. To avoid any possible confrontation with her I either threw the paper at the porch or sprinted as fast as my little legs could take me to the porch and back to the street.

I just realized that I’ve admitted being scared of a girl.
Thanks Gene, whereever you are.

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