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Going into a new school in a new city, state and way of life was not without its challenges, particularly for a 12 year old.  Luckily, and almost right off the bat, I acquired the services of a motivational coach.  Seeming to perceive my need, fellow student Shawn was obviously attracted to the pathos I projected.  I was meek and scared, afraid of being picked on or beat up by some bigger kid, maybe even some messed up gang member.  Shawn showed me right away that fears, like fairy tales, can sometimes come true.

I didn’t know I had any classes with him until he became my Personal Tormentor. Then, with me pinging on his radar, and to give me the personal attention I needed, he moved over to the seat next to me in no fewer than 3 classes every day.

He was 13 but seemed more like 30, he bussed in on the Metro from somewhere I never knew (I wasn’t all that chit-chatty with him about stuff like that), and was much taller and beefier than I (my own growth spurt launch was minus 11 months and counting).  He was muscular like an adult, not having Junior High kid muscles. And though it may have been cliché, he’d flex his biceps in front of my face (like Bowser in “Sha Na Na,” a show I now had more reason than ever to hate).

In his first lesson to me in probability analysis, he showed me (close up) the knuckles on his right hand.  They weren’t just skinned, there WAS NO SKIN.  Heavy use had made the knuckles literally bone.  He looked like a beginner Skeletor, and he knew I was certainly no beginner He-Man.

Shawn had a scenario running, he was a fast talker who always needed something from me, some were things that were obvious, some just a little strange.  In fear or not, I always arrived in class early, the ones I shared with him I’d just stare at the open doorway waiting for him to come in and beeline towards me.  He had a sense of humor; he thought all his shenanigans were funny.  Most of his yuks were about what a pussy I was, I didn’t see the humor in most of that myself.

He told me he was in the Crips, I didn’t know too much about that gang; but I DID know that I saw a lot of other gangs and gang members and never saw someone who said they were in THAT one.  I figured it had to be so bad ass that maybe they only needed to send one “ambassador” to each school.

He’d lean in close slow down his speech and tell me the things he’d do to me after school, or before school, or right now.  Other kids avoided him and I too became avoided by other students, by association.  Like a pitcher on the bench in the 8th inning, throwing a perfect game, I had plenty of nervous solitude.  I didn’t really have an M.O. for things yet, I wasn’t that funny, wasn’t an athlete, wasn’t particularly artistic.  Shawn would direct me to go stand in a corner right before class and think about this.  I could hear other kids snickering but I still gave this a lot of thought.  He used my paralyzed terror as a tool to channel some latent ability in me, that maybe I could one day offer the world.

Well… I COULD actually doodle.  I drew something for him once.  He zeroed in, his attention was now magnified.  He said, “Draw my house,” describing what it looked like.  I finished it and he smiled like a happy kid who for once DIDN’T have murderous intent.  “Artistic Me” now existed in its embryonic form.   He became kind of a Medici to my Leonardo.  But he made it clear that instead of painting for the glory of the Catholic Church; I was just drawing for my health and continued survival.  I drew the school, I drew his neighborhood, and I drew him (I’ll tell you, that was a shaky reveal).

I should interject here that he copied off every test and homework assignment I had (when he wasn’t on suspension for fighting).  He knew by my vocabulary that I was smart, and I had more motivation than ever to excel in school. Like a pregnant woman who says she is “eating for two,” I had acquired kind of an intellectual dependent.  In a weird way this pressure focused my attention and actually made me a better student.

The drawing wasn’t really going anywhere after awhile.  He wanted humor, caricature, or cartoons.  One day, staring at the southeast corner of Mr. Bishop’s class, I came up with a character that would surely appeal.  Super Shit was his name and crime fighting was his game.  I drew him with the muscles I still lacked, and flying around with a cadre of flies, whom I called his ‘helpful legion.’ He was a heroically caped, coiled up little dung heap. I made up stories about Super Shit’s exploits, to Shawn’s amusement; he just needed to be amused, after all.  But I wasn’t having a very good time.

I’d leave school and alter my route schizophrenically to avoid him, making diversions down Bronson and the other way towards Fountain Avenue. My fear of him was pervasive, to the point where I wasn’t eating or sleeping right.  I didn’t talk to anyone in my family about him, and I was getting to where I was kind of numb to it.  Even Fortress Lido (my apartment building) was losing its ability to make me feel safe. My friend Enrique didn’t even know (he would helpfully point out an empty seat to me when he saw me standing in a corner in class).  Then my fear went to a dumb place.

I wanted to see what would happen if I rebelled.  I started to kind of demur on his requests; he didn’t seem to care, he didn’t threaten me or anything.  Maybe I was going to get away with this after all!

But then one day in Mr. Desby’s class he started jawing with the biggest kid in class (he usually didn’t talk to anyone else but me).  They got into a very vocal argument and before I knew it, Shawn was kicking the CRAP out of this guy right in front of me (in between punches making occasional eye contact with me).  Shawn was finally subdued by Mr. Pittman, elected and suspended. Eduardo (the kid) and I (as a witness) earned a trip to the Counselor’s Office.  He was now missing a front tooth and was bleeding a little so he took a diversion to the Nurse while I waited.

When Eduardo (minus the front tooth and plus a black eye) finally arrived he seemed charged, like it was some kind of honor that he got his ass kicked by this guy.  He leaned towards me and almost whispered under his breath, “Who do you back?”  The question was to me so strange and out of context that I made him repeat it 3 times and then explain it.

He wanted to know what gang I supported.  I told him I didn’t support any.  He leaned away from me slowly and said “good, good.”  Apparently I was attending Junior High school with a bunch of hardened “wise guys.”

Shawn (why is he back from suspension already?) and Eduardo later struck up this weird friendship (good for them!); I thought Shawn had finally found his Salacious Crumb.  But after that demonstration in Music class I knew my rebellion was dead in the water.

One Friday after school as I was walking home up Sunset to look at the art for a new movie at the Cinerama, I passed, like I usually did, Tracy’s Karate School.  I was struck by an idea that eventually took hold.  It went like this:

1. Shawn apparently liked art.

2. But he didn’t pick on Sok-Jun, who was a far better artist than I.

3. Maybe Shawn thought he knew Karate or something because he was Korean.

Maybe Shawn didn’t know Karate.Le Conte

I talked my Mom into letting me sign up for an introductory class.  Due to the dojo’s proximity to my school, I was really afraid of the possibility of Shawn seeing me enter or exit this place.  This would doubtless be interpreted as not just a little rebellion but an outright revolt.  I went in quickly, staying away from the front window and met Paul, my Sensei.

The dojo was a standard wide open area that could really have doubled as a Ballerina School, what, with the waist high railings and mirrors along 3 walls.  Paul’s office had a poster of Bruce Lee from “Enter the Dragon” and another of Jim Morrison from the famous black and white Joel Brodsky session.  I thought someone should have painted a karate gi on Jim.

The classes went well; I kept news of my attendance and progress away from Shawn.  I was still being bullied but I now had a BB made of steel in my gut, slowly getting larger.  I progressed to yellow belt, getting ready for what would surely be a big showdown.  Then I stopped seeing Shawn.  He was gone for more days than his usual suspension.  I cautiously asked around.

It turned out he was expelled from LeConte.  Like the newsman holding his earpiece close and saying “this just in;” it was all hazy.  I didn’t even believe it at first. But it was true; apparently he had finally exceeded his ass-kick quota for our school.  There would be no showdown, in fact, I never saw Shawn again.  But I was getting into Karate:  Shawn had kind of inspired me to do something that made my self-confidence grow.

I felt like a different person in general and I liked it; that is until it got to be a LOT of work and then our money for lessons ran out.  I was just shy of attaining Purple Belt; actually I didn’t show up for the sparring session that definitely would have delivered that prize (I was up against a little guy who I had mastered earlier).

I can’t give Shawn ALL the credit but his unrelenting menace towards me kind of honed me as I passed my 13th year.  For one thing, I found I really could draw and I had developed this weird sense of humor.

And I was getting a feeling every once in awhile that people shouldn’t mess with me so much.  But nobody else really did mess with me again.  I lost that “look” which had obviously attracted a predator like Shawn in the first place.  My black and white world saw color gradually bleed back into it again.  I actually had to deprogram myself from looking over my shoulder all the time.

A few years later I saw the movie “The Karate Kid.”  Something about that movie made me squirm in my seat. I felt uncomfortable and I found myself, for the first time in a long while, wondering about Shawn.  My first thought was that he had probably died and then I surprised myself, wishing he was ok somewhere.

In the movie, the scrawniness of Ralph Macchio annoyed me; maybe I just saw something of myself in him.  But the denouement of the film was certainly gratifying, for everybody likes to see a bully get his.  Many years after I’d think about the guy every now and then; and while Shawn may have never been the subject of any my Facebook searches, I still wondered if he was alive and maybe getting help for whatever tormented him.

In my occasional thoughts I’d wonder if I ever ran into him again, would I revert back to the scared little guy back in Hollywood?  I always concluded probably not, especially as more years passed. But if I WAS given the opportunity to see him again, to finally come face to face with my Personal Tormentor, my PT; I would just say this. “Fuck you dude.  And thank you, well sort of.”

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