My best friend in junior high school was David Hockabout although everyone called him “Hocky”. He was my best friend primarily because I was one of the smallest guys in school and he was one of the biggest who was NOT a bully. It was a friendship built more on the need for survival (mine) than anything else… had the two of us had been caricatured, we would have made a hilarious cartoon pair.
Hocky was a real marshmallow; his body mass didn’t intimidate anyone in the least. My vicarious protection was mainly due to the fact that, if the bullies zeroed in on us, he was usually the bigger target.
I think the worst period of any kid’s childhood is probably junior high. At this age, the adolescent brain hasn’t developed sufficiently to be skilled at weighing the consequences of one’s actions; it’s pretty much overcome by the “depravity lobe”. As a result, junior high personalities generally fell within two categories: predators and prey.
The hunting grounds were the school yard, a place where even teachers dared not venture. So there we were Hockey and me, attempting to survive another recess on the playground.
Todd was one of many bullies. He was usually accompanied by a cadre of henchman; however, on this particular day he had apparently decided to freelance. As luck would have it, Hockey and I crossed his sights as convenient targets of opportunity. Todd circled briefly then went in for the kill -- His weapon was a partially-eaten fudge ice cream bar which he smeared generously on the inseam of Hockey’s butt. Now to be candid, Hockey had somewhat provoked this attack – he was wearing a freshly laundered pair of white jeans. White! He might as well have thrown blood in shark filled waters.
A crowd gathered taking in the entertaining spectacle, everyone was totally amused with the stunt -- including myself, I am ashamed to say. But in junior high school, empathy is an obscure concept among teenage boys; and as I said, the line between entertainment and depravity is indistinct at best. I laughed right along with the rest of them as Hocky wiped the brown ice cream smear from his butt with an empty lunch bag.
Just as quickly it was all over; Hockey and I turned away in indignant escape, away from the school building across the blacktop to take refuge in the baseball field. Hocky was a walking mess of rage and sadness; clenched teeth and tears – angry indiscernible mutterings interspersed with expletives. I just walked beside him like the good friend I pretended to be.
We had made our way some distance onto the outfield when Hockey looked down and spotted an apple with a bite out of it, discarded on the ground. Without missing a beat in his spew of expletives, Hockey reached down, picked up the apple and flung it back in the direction we had just come.
Todd was now far off in the distance leaning against the corner of the school building; completely unaware of the powerful forces which had just been unleashed in his direction.
To digress a moment, I must admit that I have experienced occasional moments of immaculate splendor in my life where, one could say time slows almost to a stand-still. Filmmakers often employ these poignant moments by projecting them in slow motion – and so it seemed this was one such moment.
In perfect geometry and in complete adherence to Newtonian laws, the projectile arced through space, whereupon having reached its zenith against the blue sky, seemed for a brief moment to hesitate, then yielding its inertia to the force of gravity, continued its trajectory in precise mathematical regression downward, whereupon it encountered the side of Todd’s head, detonating into a splattering impact of applesauce and hair.
Hockey, inattentive to this point, had let the missile fly without regard to its flight and destination. Excitedly, I grabbed his arm and turned him around in time to witness the vision of Todd, fists clenched in rage, looking quickly left and right in a vain attempt to determine the origin of the attack. But alas, Hockey and I were so far out on the schoolyard, his attackers had disappeared into anonymity of kids actively running about in all directions.
We sat on the grass and watched from a distance, trying not to be obvious in our delight -- Todd pulling bits of apple out of his hair and angrily fuming with no one to direct his anger to. It was one of the best days in memory of my two years in junior high school… and I believe Hockey’s too.