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.”