The following is an excerpt from Charles, Is Your Head on Your Shoulders?, a book by lifelong Stuyvesant Town resident Charles O’Connor on his experiences getting bullied as a kid, and how he hopes to help others avoid the same treatment. Names have been changed.
In the spring of fifth grade, 1971, Andrew and I were playing over at the school playground one Sunday afternoon. A boy, Eduardo, and his pal, Punky, stole my wristwatch. It was a Christmas present from my parents. They never let on, but they must have been terribly disappointed in me. I tried for several days to alert the principal to what had happened. When I finally reached him, he said,
“Well, uh, now you come to me…”
This attitude indicated that there was very little, probably nothing, that he could do, or wanted to do, about the robbery. I was quite disappointed in that man.
A few weeks later, I was walking home with a friend, Ronny Williams, and I was swinging a yo-yo. Strangely, I could recall a warning from my mother:
“If you bring that yo-yo to school, I fear you will come home without it.”
Well, you guessed it, as I walked down East 20th Street with Ronny after school let out, I became aware that Punky and another wannabe ruffian, Mark Giraldi, were walking behind us – at a good distance, yet close enough that I noticed them. I’m not sure if Ronny was aware of this. As soon as Ronny left to cross the street to go home, they took off after me.
“Hey, Chawls!” they yelled.
I broke into a run and took off like an Olympic track star. But they caught up with me. Punky started walking beside me, with Mark behind me. Punky was walking backwards.
“Chawls, lemme git da yo-yo,” Punky commanded.
I held it out of their reach.
“Lemme git da yo-yo,” Punky repeated.
I held it up higher.
“How’d ya like us to mess up yaw cute little face, Chawls?” Punky added.
By this time, we had reached D’Agostino Supermarket. I darted inside and headed, fast, down one of the aisles with Punky and Mark in pursuit, threatening to do… anything and everything to me. I ran into a delivery boy who brought our groceries up frequently and alerted him to what was happening.
“Hey, Joe! These two are trying to grab my yo-yo!” I whined.
“Hey, you punks! Leave him alone! Get the hell out of this store!” Joe bellowed.
Mark and Punky fled. Only this time, I still had a good grip on my yo-yo.
In retrospect: There are two very important observations you can make about the above incidents: When Eduardo took my wristwatch, Andrew and I were both there – and Eduardo, working alone, got my wristwatch anyway. I was by myself when Punky and Mark (two of them, one even a little bigger than I was) demanded my yo-yo – and I still had it when they took off – except for a little help from a supermarket employee! What was different? It’s simple: That Sunday, Andrew and I were on schoolyard turf. In the yo-yo incident, I was on my own turf, Stuyvesant Town.
I had a big psychological advantage; that was probably the first time those kids ventured east of First Avenue. Another important observation is the fact that these boys waited until my buddy and I parted before they went after me – they were not brave enough to come after me when there were two of us there. And, believe me, Ronny Williams wore huge eyeglasses, and, even without the eyeglasses, he was less-tough-looking than I was.
So, Mama was wrong. I came home with the yo-yo.
As a matter of fact, I almost came home with three!
About a year later, I was attending the summer day camp run at 104 – Billy Garrity, one of the tougher Irish element from East 21st Street, engaged me in the following conversation one day when we were waiting to use the swimming pool at the Hunter College Nurses’ Dorm:
“Hey, Chawls, didja evuh git mugged?” Billy inquired.
“Yes,” I replied, not proud of it.
“Didja get mugged by Ed-wah-do?” He inquired.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Whatsa madda wit’ yoo?! Wyncha punch him in da face?!” Billy asked, irritated.
O’Connor is seeking volunteers to read and offer feedback on his manuscript for the book. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.