Monday, March 14, 2016

The Ballad of the Bucket

Greetings, WYMOP readers!
This week, let me tell you a little story about bullying.
I think this was my first year of high school—though it may have been somewhere in later junior high, I’m thinking back quite a ways here—I knew a boy named Bucket. His first name was Scott, but everyone called him Bucket, so I just followed suit: I didn’t really know Bucket well, and I had other friends who went by their last names, so it just made sense; it was something boys of that age did at that time.
To be honest, I wouldn’t think much of it today, either. In my workplace there are quite a few people who are referred to by their last names at least as often as their first, and I am one of them. At one point, and for quite a few years, there were three Bobs and a Rob (that’s me!) working on the same floor, and for a while there was another Bob and yet another Rob. If you shouted out “Hey, Rob!” you were likely to go down under a stampeding herd of Roberts, so the whole last name thing just makes sense.
But I digress.
I can recall making a sort of connection in my head between Scott Bucket and the Charlie Bucket we meet in Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, a movie I had been watching my whole life—still one of my favorites, I love it when those little bastards get exactly what they deserve—and thinking it was actually pretty cool. But, as in my work example above, there was at least one more Scott in the mix that I can remember, so maybe that was why I was so accepting of calling Bucket by his last name. Whatever. I spent the better part of the school year referring to Bucket as Bucket.
Then came the day, toward the end of spring, when, for some reason lost to me over the years, I wanted to tell Bucket something. He was sitting in the front of the bus on the way to school, and I was lurking somewhere in the back. If you’ve ever been on a bus chock-full of teens on its way to anywhere, then you know their “quiet” mode is only slightly lower in volume than sitting front row at a heavy metal concert.
Getting his attention was going to be a challenge.
“Scott?” I called, somewhat like a young lady at her first school dance trying to ahem her way to a boy’s attention.
Yeah. Right.
“Scott!” I shouted, but all I did was add to the general cacophony around me. The boys sitting in the seat directly in front of me didn’t even turn around; how was this going to catch Bucket’s attention, a dozen seats away?
I inflated my lungs like I was about to take down a house of straw the old fashioned way, cupped my hands around my mouth like I’d seen them do in the movies, focused all my will, my energy, hell, everything I had, and bellowed “Scott Bucket!
Silence. Expressions of disbelief swiveled my way, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. Way up at the front of the bus the driver’s eyes filled the huge rear-view mirror, but for once he wasn’t yelling at someone to sit down and shut up or they were walking; instead his silent stare was fixed on me. Scott himself was looking back at me over his shoulder, mouth agape beneath his glasses like a wrestler had fishhooked him to drag him away from his conversation. Suddenly I was the absolute center of attention in this little world of bus.
A hand fell upon my shoulder. I turned to the hand, my eyes following the wrist and arm up to their owner, my friend John, who wore a wide grin.
John shook his head. “His name’s not Scott Bucket.”
Already stunned at my success in getting everyone’s attention, I said the only thing that came to mind:
His name,” he pointed to the dark-haired boy currently rearranging his gape into a grin, “isn’t Bucket. It’s—” and he told me Scott’s last name, which didn’t even sound like Bucket.
“Well . . .” My words sounded quite small, tumbling into that huge silence that had filled the bus near to bursting. “Well . . . then why does everyone call him Bucket?”
“Because he looks like a bucket of shit,” said John.
My mouth hanging open now, I turned to Scott up in the front of the bus, who smiled big and gave me a thumbs-up that caused the rest of the kids to burst out laughing.
Nowadays that would be referred to as bullying, but—and this is what I want you to take away from this—that busload of kids wasn’t laughing at Bucket; they were all—and by all I mean all, including Bucket himself—laughing at me in my confusion, and because I hadn’t known about the joke.
Some neighborhoods had a fat kid named Chubbs, or Skinny, or maybe someone with some prominent teeth called Buckey—hell, even Bill Cosby had ol’ Weird Harold and Mushmouth. We had a kid named Bucket, who, as far as I could tell, embraced it, answering to it so naturally I spent a year thinking it was his name. No one was sued, or required counseling, or was expelled from school, nor did Bucket go on a revenge spree ending in tragedy and bloodshed. In fact, he made such little a deal out of it, he ended high school as Scott, not Bucket, and it happened as naturally as the changing of the seasons or junior high kids outgrowing their clothes.
What the hell happened to us?

Talk to you later.

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