Monday, April 5, 2010

"Crazy Clifford: a short story about bullies and those they bully"

Crazy Clifford was printed in The Lone Star Iconoclast
Issue:  April 7, 2010

Crazy Clifford © by Peter Stern

 a short story about Bullies and those they bully

CHAPTER 1: Intro to Crazy Clifford


I’m a typical 9-year old kid trying to grow up in a pretty tough section of Manhattan in New York City.  Going to elementary school every day is a big gamble on the streets, never knowing what may lurk around a corner and whether I’m going to have to fight to survive.

So, as a kid, living and walking around on the streets is a pretty scary, adrenalin-filled daily existence as well as simply a fact of life.

My fears are usually confirmed and highlighted by every kid’s worst nightmare. In my neighborhood the King of the Bullies was a bully named Clifford.  In fact, Clifford was so insane, scary and mean that he was called “Crazy Clifford” and the name alone made him a legend within a 20-block circle, which every city kid taking basic math knows that’s a 1-mile circumference.

So, here I am, only 9 years old and Crazy Clifford was 2 grades above me.  He was huge, even compared to other kids his age, and had this twisted scary gleam in his eyes as he would search around his domain for another ripe sucker to beat-up.

Every day Crazy Clifford went out of his way to torture any unsuspecting kid who accidently walked into his destroy zone.  And Crazy Clifford was MEAN!  Hoo-boy!  Crazy Clifford was crazy, mean and rotten!

He would beat-up kids for no good reason at all, or he’d take their lunch money and then beat them up.  If he wanted to, Crazy Clifford would steal your wallet, favorite pen or even your sneakers if he wanted to and then he could sell them to another kid.  Crazy Clifford was the biggest, baddest, meanest kid around.  Most kids were terrified of Crazy Clifford, even the kids who were older than he was.

I was so scared of Crazy Clifford that I often had nightmares about him.  Sometimes, I couldn’t wake-up from a few of those nightmares because it turned out they were real and not dreams.  Sometimes, I couldn’t figure out if it was a dream or if it was really happening to me.  Actually, it didn’t really matter because I usually was scared awake and asleep.

That’s how scary Crazy Clifford was and I dreaded going to sleep every night because I would just lay there in the dark, staring with my eyes wide open and thinking about what Crazy Clifford might do to me the next day.  Then, after I fell asleep, I’d be dreaming that Crazy Clifford would be chasing me around, yelling that he was gonna put me into the hospital when he caught me.  And the scariest thing of all is that I believed him when I was asleep or awake.

Today I have this idea. Because I’m getting sick and tired of being threatened, beat-up and thrown down on the cement sidewalk, I’m not going to run the next time Crazy Clifford comes over to me.

Now don’t ask me why I have this death wish, because I can’t give you a rational reason.  I only know that Crazy Clifford is taking up too much of my awake and sleeping time and it has to stop.  There’s only so much an average terrified kid can take.

Usually when Crazy Clifford stares me down and starts yelling at me, my legs start shaking and then they have a mind of their own.  They start spinning like a cartoon character and then before I know it I’m racing down the street, zooming through red lights and dodging any cars and trucks that are in my way.

I’m thinking this is how all the great Olympic track sprinters got their careers started, running like heck to get away from some “Crazy Clifford” in their neighborhood.

So anyway, right now it’s Monday morning and I’m on my way to school.  I’m walking real slowly, you know, sort of cautiously.  It’s a pretty long walk from my apartment building to my elementary school, like about 10 city blocks, or half of a mile.

I don’t really like the school at all.  It has a stupid number instead of a name. It’s PS 132 in Manhattan.  The ‘PS’ stands for Public School.  Someone real creative must have named it because most of the time the numbers after a public school indicates the street it is on, but in this case, the school is on 183rd Street, but it is PS 132.  Don’t ask me why, because I have no idea.

I’m sure that most of you noticed that on TV and in movies most schools have cool names. Usually, schools are named after some famous people. Sometime they did something great, like they became President of the United States of America.  But my school is named after a number that no one can figure out.  As far as I know there is nothing famous about the number 132.  Maybe one of you smarter kids out there can write me and let me know why they picked this number for my school.  I would appreciate it.

So, anyway, it’s Monday morning and I’m heading towards my school and I’m being very cautious, watching everything and everyone that moves.  In fact, if it wasn’t for watching out for Crazy Clifford, it would be a pretty nice walk, especially when I get near 181st Street, which has a lot of stores along both sides of the street.

There’s an especially cool little restaurant called Teddy’s Shanty.  I guess a guy named Teddy owns it, but I don’t know what a Shanty is.  It must be a BBQ place because you can stand on the sidewalk, look through the store-front glass window and watch a chef in a white apron and one of those high white chef hats cooking and flipping hamburgers on a glowing charcoal grill.  It’s really cool to watch, if you have the time and if you’re not watching out for Crazy Clifford to come and beat you on the top of your head.

Speaking of which, it’s starting to get late and I need to walk a little faster.  I don’t see Crazy Clifford anyway, which is a good thing.  The bad thing is that I don’t see ANY kids walking to school.  I’m guessing that I am late for my first class because I can see the school yard and it’s empty of kids and teachers.

Now I have to go to the Attendance Office and get a late pass, so I’ll continue this story after I’m finished with my day at school.  That will be around 3 PM, so meet me outside and we can walk home together.  Okay?  Bye, see you later and don’t’ be late.

CHAPTER 2: Oh-oh. It’s Crazy Clifford again

Oh, hi.  You’re right on-time. It’s 3 PM.  Thanks for meeting me outside PS 132.  We can start to walk home.

So, let’s get going and keep your eyes open for…

“Hey, Stern!”

Oh-oh.  It’s crazy Clifford again.  You’d better move away from me or he’ll bust your head open too.   I’m not going to run today.   I’ll face up to him and maybe he’ll stop picking on me.

So, I need to be tough right now. Oh-oh, here comes Crazy Clifford.

“Hey Meatloaf,” Crazy Clifford is standing over me shaking his fist at me and glaring at me. “I’ll take that watch you’re wearing. I need one for my collection.”

But I can’t give him the watch because my mom and dad gave it to me to keep track of the time when I’m away from home.  My knees are starting to shake and are knocking together, but so far I’m still in charge of them.

Crazy Clifford is getting more wild-eyed and starting to salivate as he continues to yell at me and all the kids leaving school are starting to encircle Crazy Clifford and me, sensing a possible homicide in progress.

Some of them are starting to yell “Fight!” to the other kids.  Now it’s getting a bit crowded around Crazy Clifford and me.  I’m starting to sweat and now the rest of me is shaking along with my knees.

Then all of a sudden Crazy Clifford grabs my shirt, picks me up and throws me on the cement sidewalk.  Then he lifts his giant foot, which is covered by his combat boot, and starts kicking me in the stomach and chest.

I’m thinking, “Where are cops or teachers when you need them?”   My next intelligent thought is that no one is coming to my rescue.

Then Crazy Clifford gets crazier and he starts to stomp on my head, which still is on the cement sidewalk.  I decide that standing up to Crazy Clifford isn’t working out exactly as I thought it would.

Suddenly, in one single action, my feet take control over my mind.  Without any conscious thought at all, I am up from the concrete sidewalk and I am zooming down the street with home in mind, but home is 10 city blocks away.  Will I make it?  Or, will Crazy Clifford tackle me on the 50 yard line?   I don’t have time to think about it.

I’m out to set a new world’s record for 10 city blocks.

Luckily, I caught Crazy Clifford by surprise and I’m already 4 blocks from the school. I can hear his footsteps and heavy breathing behind me, but I don’t dare look back.  It feels like I’m streaking faster than a speeding bullet.   I’m not sure how I am breathing, but terror can make you stronger and faster than you usually are.

I’m thinking that Crazy Clifford can’t catch me.  He’s older, bigger, stronger and faster, but today he isn’t going to catch me.

I’m recalling from somewhere deep in my memory that Olympic sprinters pick up their knees higher to get more speed, so I’m ready to give it a try.

I start pumping my knees up and down like 2 giant pistons in some kind of factory machinery - and it’s working.   I’m moving even faster and it seems like I’m pulling further ahead of Crazy Clifford.

Five more blocks zipped by me and I’m still alive.  I’m scared out of my mind, but I’m still moving faster than I ever did before.  Now I can see my apartment building on the corner as I’m getting closer.

All the time I’m running my fastest time ever, my mind also is sprinting trying to think about how I’m going to be able to stay ahead of Crazy Clifford, open the front door of the building, keep up my blazing speed running upstairs to the 2nd floor, use my key to open the door of our apartment and lock the door behind me.

All of this is going on inside my mind within a lightning bolt sort of split second and I still wasn’t getting caught by Crazy Clifford.   For one brief second, I am amazed by my abilities.

I zip around the corner and smash open the front door of my building.  Without slowing down for a second I run inside and race up the stairs, four steps at a time.

Crazy Clifford still is close behind me puffing heavily and stomping his big feet on the stairs.   I don’t have to look, I just feel it.  The echoing of all this in the stairwell increases the fear I am feeling and my adrenaline starts pumping even more.

As I’m zipping up the stairs, I’m reaching in my pocket for the door key. Got it!

My feet land on the 2nd floor, the key is out and I’m reaching to put the key into the keyhole of the large iron door of our apartment.

The key almost magically slips into the keyhole and I turn it halfway to the right as I push the door in, only wide enough for me to get in.  I slip through the slight opening and slam the door shut behind me and immediately lock the door from the inside.

Just as I lean up against the locked iron door, trying to catch my breath, I hear Crazy Clifford hit the metal door.  Breathing heavily, Crazy Clifford, almost quietly speaks to me through the door.

In a bone-chilling, blood-curdling tone, Crazy Clifford growls, “I’ll get you tomorrow.”

Breathing harder and faster than I ever did before and with my heart pounding like it’s going to burst through my shirt, I don’t doubt Crazy Clifford for a second.

I hardly slept that night.

CHAPTER 3: The Final Showdown - 15 Years Later

I returned today to visit my mom and dad.  They still live in that apartment building.

It’s been a long time since that very scary day when Crazy Clifford chased me all the way home from PS 132.  It’s been so long I can’t even recall if he got me the next day as he promised he would.

The fact that I’m still alive all these years makes me think he never got hold of me again, because for sure, if Crazy Clifford ever got hold of me again, he would have killed me on the spot.

Since elementary school, I went on to Junior High School, graduated High School and I even just received my Master’s Degree from New York University.   I moved away a long time ago and haven’t thought of Crazy Clifford in many, many years.

I do have to admit that I never allowed any bullies to bother me since.   I have never been scared to stand-up to anyone if I had to and I never ever have been scared of any person as I once was terrified of Crazy Clifford.

As I’m leaving the apartment building, I start walking toward the subway station that will take me to my new residence.  I don’t live with my parents any more.  I have a small place of my own 50 yards from the beach in a town on Long Island.

So, like I said, I’m heading for the subway and I notice another person walking towards me on the opposite side of the street.   I probably wouldn’t think too much about it, but there is something vaguely familiar about the person’s gait and how he carries himself.

It’s some guy in a Marine uniform maybe a few years older than I am.  He stands erect and proud.   He is walking down the street, confident in every step.

As we walk closer towards each other, we each show a sign of recognition.

I can’t believe my eyes.  It’s Crazy Clifford!   He sees me, steps off the curb and walks towards me.   He still looks big, strong and intimidating, but after all this time I’m no longer scared of him and I feel ready for anything that will happen.

Crazy Clifford steps on the same sidewalk I’m on and stops right in front of me.

He looks at me seriously and says, “Hi, Pete. I thought a lot about what I did to you when we were kids and I want to apologize to you for all the things I did.  I’m sorry.”

With that, Crazy Clifford reaches out his hand in apology and friendship and I hold out mine to shake it.   A feeling of relief seems to emerge in each of our faces.   As we turn to leave, we start walking in opposite directions.

I’m thinking, wow, Crazy Clifford really changed.   Either the Marines changed him or he must have met up with someone a lot tougher than he used to be, someone who kicked his butt and straightened him out.

As much as Crazy Clifford used to scare the heck out of me and a lot of other kids in the neighborhood, what he also did was to make me tougher.   After dealing with Crazy Clifford all those years in public school I guess made me better prepared to meet and deal with all kinds of people throughout my life.

So, I smiled and said a quiet “thank you” to Crazy Clifford for helping me become a stronger person and went on my way.

-The End-

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