Attacking Life with Comedic Jaws of Sarcasm. Recovering Dating & Relationship Blogger - Made it to Step 12 When I Got Married.

Out in Bethlehem They’re Filling Out Forms, Standing in Line

I spent a few years in my 20’s, training in Kickboxing, and not in a fruity neon lit aerobics studio kicking air. My Sensei was a Triple Degree Karate Blackbelt. Despite the fact that I used to show up for work with bruises a la Ed Norton in Fight Club, I learned a lot about how to fight and general fighting styles. Men and women fight totally different. Women are more vicious. Round for round, a woman will throw more punches per minute, hit harder, kick harder than a man ever will. To this day, that training is branded in my head. But my fighting style is also shaped through generations of Velvet family training.

The father of one Velvet in Dupont grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on the wrong side of the tracks. And I mean, the WRONG side of the tracks. No one goes into his neighborhood now. When my Uncle died, I went up to the house for memories and such, and the man who lived in the attached house said (as I was stalkerishly looking through the mail slot into what was once my Grandparents hallway,) “You don’t want to live here. This is an awful neighborhood.” But, one of my favorite family stories is one from this neighborhood. This little gem, courtesy of my dad, shaped my brothers and I how to respond in similar situations.

When my dad was in grade school in the early 1940’s in Bethlehem, he came home from school one day with a black eye. His dad, my barely-English speaking Grandfather (Papou,) pulled him aside, away from his mother and sisters and asked him what happened. My dad explained to him that every day there was a bully who was beating up the kids for their lunch money. My dad, at 10 years old (and still now at 74) refused to part with his cash and he suffered a daily beating because of it. Papou bent down and said something in my dad’s ear. My dad nodded, and they went about their evening.

The next day, Papou was summoned from his job at Bethlehem Steel down to my dad’s school. He goes in to the Principal’s office. The Principal says to Papou, “Your son is in here because he beat up this boy. Do you have any idea why?”

Papou said, “Because I told him to.”

Of course this caused all sorts of a ruckus until Papou was able to explain what had been going on. Of course the school had no knowledge of this. Everyone was sent home and problem solved. So what did Papou tell my dad when he bent down and whispered in his ear?

“Find a rock tomorrow. Roll it in snow and ice until it’s a big snowball. Then I want you to beat him with until he can’t get up.”

Let’s fast forward 45 years to the 1980’s. My oldest brother, a straight A student, became the target of a bully and a couple of his drug addict friends. The things this group did to my brother were heartbreaking. My parents refused to sit idly by and watch their son be intimidated while the school, of course, did nothing to stop what occurred on their property. One weekend we went on vacation, probably to look at colleges for my older brother. When we got off the highway that Sunday night and were making our way to our house, my brother said, “I just know they blew up our mailbox.” That was what people did in the 80’s. They blew up mailboxes with M-80’s. Vandalism was big in our neighborhood. No one could hang Christmas lights and everyone’s houses were always getting egged and sprayed with shaving cream.

Rounding the corner on my street, there was no mailbox where there should have been. My brother was so upset. My dad told him not to worry. Everyone unpacked the car and went inside. My dad went to get my brother and told him to put his shoes on. It was late at this point, the rest of us were going to bed. My dad walked into the garage and grabbed a baseball bat. He and my brother crept through the neighborhood over to the bully’s house. My dad, at 50 some odd years old, Sammy Sosa’ed their mailbox through the front yard, then walked over to it, picked it up and as my brother tells it, hurled it OVER their three story house into their backyard. I remember my brother saying, “Daddy was PISSED. I had no idea he could throw like that.”

My brother and my dad were walking back home, and my brother said, “You know, we still need a mailbox. We won’t get mail tomorrow without a mailbox.” He and my dad looked at each other and my dad said, “Oh fuck.” They turned back around and my dad ran into the bully’s backyard and got the mailbox from where it had landed just next to their pool. He brought it home to my mom, who then plopped it on a table in our garage and she painted it a different color the next moring. They put the mailbox out where ours had formerly been. Martha Stewart and Sammy Sosa – my parents.

After that, my dad and brother would occasionally sit in the car in the driveway with baseball bats, waiting for the kids to come back and try to blow up the new mailbox. I can remember being 10 years old, and watching from my window. Somehow, I wasn’t scared for my dad or brother. I just knew they had had enough and they weren’t going to take it anymore.

There are other stories that follow, of retailiation much worse, things that happened in our sleepy little town that made everyone wonder about who was really doing what. All in all, I think my brother got the last laugh, because, again, like last week’s lesson, people ALWAYS get what they deserve. Most of the kids in that group stayed on their drugs and didn’t amount to a whole lot in life. But one of them was the pilot of the flight that crashed in Queens just a couple months after September 11. While it sucked for everyone else on that plane, I can’t say I felt any sympathy for that bastard. He was the #2 guy in that gang of kids who picked on my brother incessantly.

Years later, the younger brother of the main bully started picking on my next younger brother. The legacy was passed down to the next generation. He would body slam my brother into the lockers during class changes. My mom doctored up my brother’s shoulder with a bunch of tacks, and taped them backwards to his shirt. Fucking hilarious. The next time the kid slammed into him was also the last.

That, ladies and gents, is how the Velvet family fights. There are countless more stories of my brothers and I being harassed by bullies during school. Each and every time, my parents directed us exactly how to fight back. And you just don’t fuck with Gloom and Doom, they don’t back down. We won’t instigate, but when pulled into the ring, we fight tooth and nail until the other guy is down for the count. My last name is tattooed across my back not to fill space, but to remind me that I’m part of a clique with good old days I remember happily – good old days that trained me for coping and fighting methods that I still use today. I will always and forever, no matter what, be a “insert Velvet’s Greek last name here.”


  1. rob

    “Round for round, a woman will throw more punches per minute, hit harder, kick harder than a man ever will.”

    Kick harder I can see…but hit harder? Negative.

  2. Wicked H

    Sounds like great advice, in fact I was raised in a very similar manner. Once the straw breaks the back, look out.

    You go girl!

  3. freckledk

    I knew you were a Scrapper, but I didn’t realize to what extent. My girl crush has grown by leaps and bounds, and now extends to every member of the Velvet clan. You are collectively my heroes.

  4. bettyjoan

    You’ve told me the mailbox story before, but I love it more every time I hear/read it. In a world full of seriously dysfunctional families, it’s nice to know another gal who knows where she comes from and is damn proud of it. Well done, you!

  5. Erika

    damn. before i read this i was so proud of the time i snuck into the neighborhood bully’s yard and rescued this poor stray dog he had found and was abusing. i was 7 and completely terrified of him so this was what you would call a covert opp that included a baldface lie and some major sucking up to his hateful mother. THAT was my big childhood challenge. i was such a wuss.

  6. E :)

    Ding ding ding! Velvet wins! What an awesome story.

  7. E :)

    P.S. Love the Billy Joel reference…

  8. Brock

    I know I’m late to the party, but I’m glad you’re making public posts again.

  9. la whisky

    Just a fantastic post. Seriously book-worthy.

  10. KassyK

    Fan-fucking-tastic. 🙂

  11. circumlocutor

    I was very near to Bethlehem, PA, on Thanksgiving. My friend told me that people drive from far away to mail their Christmas cards from the post office there.

  12. Velvet

    Rob – Watch boxing, both men’s and women’s. The womenfolk are much more vicious.

    Wicked H – I do have a pretty relaxed attitude until I’m totally pushed to the wall. Then I’m like a rabid animal.

    FreckledK – Oh, no, you don’t want a crush on the rest of the fam. They’ll suck you in, and tell you stories about how bad I was in high school! Lies! All lies!

    BJ – Ha, I love that mailbox story. It cracks me up that my parents were bad too.

    Erika – What? That’s a GREAT story! And at 7? Wow. At 7 I was buying scratch and sniff stickers and putting them into my sticker book. No, seriously. I was.

    E:) – How’s life down under?

    Brock – Yes, I am back. Not in the same format as before, but perhaps one day I’ll get back to the more personal stuff. Just not right now.

    La Whisky – Aww…You are so sweet.

    KK – Happy B-day!

    Circ – Um…you are kidding, right? Man. They know it’s just a town, right?

  13. Juju Bean

    LOVE your stories. Parents that know how to stand up for themselves and teach their kids to do the same, rule. We had neighborhood kids stealing mail from our mailbox–with their parents’ permission. The parents would drive their van up to the mail box and have the kids reach into the slot with their little hands, since the box itself had a lock on it, and the parents’ hands were too big for the slot. When my parents witnessed that happening, they decided to affix about a half dozen heavy duty fishing hooks on the inside of the slot. Our mail is safe now.

  14. playfulinnc

    Wondering what prompted you to post this?

  15. KM

    Interesting question, playfulindc.

    I completely agree with your family’s views on retaliation, Velvet. My younger brother had problems with bullies in grade school, but was too small to really deal with them. So it fell to me to deal with them. There’s no funnier sight than a bully’s parents coming to your door and asking why their kid has a black eye and finding out the real story instead. Problems over.

  16. carrie m

    what an awesome fucking story. that’s how families should stick together.

  17. *A*

    great story velvet! i wish i had more of that fight in me, my parents always instructed me to ignore the bullies..hmmm
    ps. i was born in macungie, pa….lived there until i was 10 and i know bethlehem very well….

  18. Needtsza

    Papou had great advice. If you’re gonna fight, make sure it’s til they can’t get up…ever!

    Those are some interesting ‘facts’ you provided about hitting harder and more times, etc. I don’t deny them, but would like to know where you got your data. Just an interested party.

    And yea…my advice in fighting, kick their knee backward or sideways and/or the throat. That’s your first move. Any move after that will come easily. Man or woman.

  19. James

    Frankly, I find this disturbing and now shows why you have so much pent up anger that is evident in so many of your posts. Nowhere in your story, in any of these situations, did you try working this out in a civil manner. Throwing rocks (literally) is hardly ever the right answer. Violence only begets more violence and rarely solves anything. More civilized human beings would try a civil rational approach. If a child is being bullied at school your first course of action is to report it to the school authorities and if it is physical enough REPORT IT TO THE POLICE, but vigilantly justice is rarely the correct answer. Perhaps you should work on your anger issues rather than gloating about your dysfunctional way of dealing with problems.

  20. Velvet

    JuJu Bean – Why would they steal mail? What was in the mail that they wanted? Or was it just to be an aggravation?

    Playful – Oh, nothing really.

    KM – Awesome. That happens often. The kid doing the bullying then is the first one to complain to their parents.

    Carrie – Thanks!

    *A* – You can’t sit back and let people bully you. You can’t take that shit. You have to stand up for yourself.

    Needtsza – I don’t have a sourcebook to quote, it was just some general stuff I learned while kickboxing. Then watching the women’s boxing matches, I realized it was true. I read it somewhere but can’t recall where.

    James – Actually, the police were fixtures at our house. And they did nothing, as cops are known to do. A “civil rational approach?” HA. What kind of world do you live in? Thanks for dispensing your advice, as you can see, everyone here really agrees with you. Go back to church now and pray for the rest of us.

  21. *A*

    velvet – i know…i totally admire you for always sticking up for yourself…and still looking cute while you do it 😉 talk to my mom, she never wanted me to create the problem so i got pretty good at holding everything in…er but i digress…lol
    ps. james i totally disagree…sometimes you just gotta stand up for yourself or you WILL end up depressed and beaten down – literally and figuratively!

  22. Barbara

    I would feel safe with you in any back alley. Were the boys in your family protective of you when you were growing up? My experience with Greek families is that it’s the women who quietly call the shots.

  23. DCVita

    That is awesome! I totally admire women that can stand up for themselves and show the rest of the who’s boss. I can certainly use some of your spunk! BTW, it was great meeting you!

  24. Tacoma

    I’ll take this as a warning not to mess with the Velvet family. A serious warning:)

  25. Washington Cube

    I have a list. Just how busy are you and your family?

  26. rob

    women are more vicious…agreed. but still, hit harder?

  27. Robert

    Not that you’ll like my comments any more than James’, but…

    Find a rock tomorrow. Roll it in snow and ice until its a big snowball. Then I want you to beat him with until he cant get up.

    This story is funny only because, ultimately, the other kid did get up. While I agree that there are times and places where you stand up foreably for yourself – sometimes sacrificing your own body to make a point or salvage dignity – I think those times are fewer and farther between than your post lets on.

    I wonder how different everyone’s lives in this story would have been – yours, your brother’s, everyone’s – had beating someone with a rock led to a less comical and fulfilling outcome.

    I can’t speak to the exact time and place and situation of course, but, especially the “beat the other kid with the rock” advice, some of this seems wrong.

  28. Luck O' the Irish

    That is GREAT! Your family needs to write one of those survival books, like “how to survive the neighborhood bully” and put in there all the Velvet family methodology! I love the tacks. If only I was that resourceful…

  29. WiB

    Due respect to James and Robert, I don’t think you really read the story. Papou’s advice was not the first resort, even if it did get central placement: there was obviously a period of trying to do it your way. Reality, I think, lies somewhere in between “turn the other cheek,” and “beat them into oblivion with a rock.” Start at one end, but there will likely come a point where that theory stops working, and a variation of the rock approach is the only way to effect real change in the situation. Maybe you’d hold out longer than Papou did, but there does come a time, whether we like to admit it or not…

  30. WiB

    And to think all I was stopping in for was to acknowledge the “Allentown” quote…

  31. The Captain

    An incomplete “Allentown” quote, but still a great song. I also dispute the women hitting harder part, unless we’re talking pound for pound or something, but you didn’t say anything like that.

    This blog is quickly entering my short list for daily reading.

  32. Dara

    Because I was always the littlest kid in my class, my dad gave me similar advice — if you’re going get into a fight, you have to figure out a way to make sure that the other person won’t get up. I never really had to use it, though. My sister, however, took
    the advice seriously in middle school: Some boy grabbed her purse, and she gave him a black eye. She got detention, he got suspended for stealing.

    And I don’t know if women are really more vicious, but I am convinced that if they commit to fighting, they commit to it all the way.

  33. Juju Bean

    Hey V- They steal the mail because they think there might be checks inside. They get welfare, so they assume everyone else does, too. Check fraud is huge where I come from. That and meth labs.

  34. Siryn

    Tacks… omg. LOL.

  35. penny

    Ha! Must be a Greek thing…when I was little and came home after a kid in the neighborhood hit me and pushed me down, I expected sympathy from my parents. Instead they were mad…at me! “The next time that girl punches you, you punch back! Don’t you ever let anyone push you around!”
    Wish in my grown-up life that I could punch people sometimes…

  36. Drunken Chud

    ahhh, fighting back. my old man always told me: never throw the first punch. but by god make sure you’re throwing the last.

    and rob, you’re taking “hit harder” too literal. harder as in pound for pound they will put more behind their punches than a man puts behind his. as in, we show discression. in a fight we might throw a punch at 80% of our potential. a woman will throw around 95% of hers.

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