In honor of Veterans Day, I'd like to tell a story about my Dad, a Vietnam Marine Corps Veteran, and the lesson he taught me about pacifism.
When I was in 8th grade, we moved to Florence Alabama. It was hard. Really hard. My new school was split down the middle racially and the racism ran rampant on both sides of color spectrum.
Sometime in the middle of the year, the bullies at my school invented a game called "Jankum." The rules of the game were simple. To be "in the game" one only had to link your pinkie finger and from that point on, everything that was in your hand was fair game to be "janked." Sort of a toddler version of "car-jacking."
The game sucked. No one wanted to be in it except the few guys who invented it and wanted everyone’s stuff.
Well, we were pretty poor at the time and the school supplies that I had needed to last, or I went without. Inevitably, a few days after the game was invented, my new backpack was "janked" (stolen) from my feeble grip by a large kid by the name of Lo Allen. He was twice my size and a notorious fighter.
The internal fires of panic ignited and the bartering began. For the next 5 minutes I tried to avoid a fistfight, and somehow, convince Lo Allen to give back my friggin bag. Without looking like a big giant wimp and losing all self-respect, I somehow convinced Lo Allen to cut me a deal. He would "sell" me back my backpack for 3 dollars. Lunch money was 1.60 at the time and I handed that day's cash over and told him I could pay him the rest the next day. It was the best I could do. I figured I could make myself a lunch for the next day, pay the thief, retrieve my bag, and go on about my life. Suuuuure.
As I handed Lo Allen my first payment installment the next day, I mustered all my courage, and simultaneously linked pinkies, disengaging myself from further "janks." He was not happy and felt it somehow unfair. I probably should have waited on that part of it because Lo Allen decided to charge me interest. 100%-per-day interest to be exact.
Shamefully, I paid that slimy piece of crap my lunch money for the next 7 days. After the 5th day I guess Lo Allen's conscience kicked in ever so slightly and he returned my bag. However, he still expected the daily money until he decided the debt was satisfied.
Seven school days of this crud ensued and by the end of every school day, I was starving. It had to stop. However, there was no way to turn Lo Allen in to the principle because, sooner or later, I would pay dearly for ratting. With no end in sight, I was stuck, totally lunchless and paying Lo Allen a $1.60 per day.
Finally, I went to my dad. I told him all about the sordid game, and my plight. He listened quietly and expressionless. By the end I was in tears and awaited his solution. The conversation went a little something like this:
"Well son, here's the deal. I'm only gonna say this once. If you go to school and give that puke another penny of your lunch money, and I mean ONE PENNY, I'M gonna whip your ass. It's either me, or him. Take your pick. Come tomorrow, I better smell the school lunch on your breath when you get home, and I better see that backpack."
He left the room and I sat speechless for about an hour. Even though it wasn't even close to what I expected to hear, and I was double-scared, something in me knew it was right. I couldn't argue and I knew he meant it. When the old man gave an ultimatum, he wasn't whistling dixie.
The next day arrived and Lo Allen approached me for the money, at the regular time. The fear was nearly crippling. That conversation went like this:
Lo Allen: "Okay, Sef (Seth) Where's my payment."
Me: "Sorry Lo. I can't do it."
Lo Allen: "Alright, I'm gonna bush (bust) ya if you don't give it."
Me: "Sorry Lo, my dad said he'd whip my ass if I gave you any more money. I can't do it."
Lo Allen: "Alright, after class, I'm gonna bush ya."
Me, scared poopless: "Well, I guess you're gonna hafta bust me then."
The hour ticked by while many bullets of sweat passed through every pore of my brow. Finally the bell rang and I slowly walked out of the classroom and awaited the "busting," but Lo Allen... was gone.
It was over. I couldn't believe it.
In fact, I never heard a word about it. Later I told my dad, he chuckled, and that was the end of that.
Several lessons were learned that day.
I also started Karate lessons.