I Never Said Thank You John Z…


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-Tell them George….

-OK… Lennie… 

Stirring in my bed in the darkness, the fragile voice of Lennie intruded through my semi-awake state.

Lennie was getting worked up like a small child on Christmas morning, excited and wanting to share his enthusiasm in the same way that he got enthusiastic about petting little fluffy bunnies, soft furry mice, and rambunctious puppies.

And –  with no harm intended – young ladies’ pretty dresses.

Lennie just liked to touch soft things.

Have you read Of Mice and Men?… John Steinbeck’s beautiful masterpiece of two itinerant Depression-era farm workers in Southern California?

Did you see coverall-clad George and Lennie in the movie? Gold-toned cinematography capturing the simple dreams, and also the difficult but loving camaraderie between actors Gary Sinise (George) and John Malkovich (Lennie)?

Heartlifting and heartbreaking… just like real people’s lives. Muffled tears melt through my heart’s lining and ooze out my pores.

As a youngster and teenager, I harboured a soft spot for the little guy, the dark troubled souls, the odd man out.


When I read Of Mice and Men, I think of my childhood friend John Z.

I say friend, but John was really a mere acquaintance, someone I knew and said hi to while passing on the wide echoing stairs beside the music room of Glendale High.

We never hung out or did stuff together after school, although we did chatter to each other each day while sharing a bench seat on the bus trip to day camp one summer. I never went to his house or met his family.

John was a lot like Lennie in Of Mice and Men.

John was big and strong like Lennie, but sweetly gentle unless provoked, just like Lennie.

He had a condition called hydrocephalus. John’s head was enlarged from fluid that accumulated in his head as a child.  His head spread out like an upside-down pyramid, narrow at the chin and unnaturally wide above the dark brown hair line, his broad forehead was intersected by eyes that were narrow slits when he smiled.

John was mentally “slow”.

He liked to laugh, really loudly. And when he was happy, John would yell out a boisterous “BAHOO!

I can hear his voice in my head still, all these years later.

John was a friendly fella living peaceably in a world, an era, that was mostly unfriendly to the “different” souls amongst us.

He took a lot of ribbing and ridicule from some of the hormonal teenage boys, mainly the jock crew who made mocking others their daily routine, like a sacred ritual of self-aggrandizement within their Temple of Jock’dom.

While I never joined in on the “fun” of poking jabs at John, I also never said or did anything to head off the bullies that tormented poor John daily.

I wanted to. I steamed inside, but as a small guy I was in self-protection mode, more determined to lay “low” and avoid any bullying thrown my way. There was a Darwinian survival protocol that drifted like a sweat-scented fog through the school hallways.


Today, I’m here finally… belatedly… to thank John and others like him who played a part in my early decision to make my occupational choice a “helping” career.

I was a medical lab tech for 37 years. I helped people. I hope.

The impotence I sometimes felt during those early school years were part of what motivated me to try to assist others who were struggling.

It could seem a stretch to suggest that high school bullying was what made me decide to jab needles in people’s arms, sucking out their blood and then testing the plasma and serum, seeking answers to their sicknesses and discomforts.

There are thin threads, minor rivers of connections that run through our minds.

Our daily experiences often seem meaningless or tenuous, yet they quietly mill about within our sub-conscious where the work of deeper understanding is done, weighing and parsing and figuring out what makes sense.

Those “helping” connections led me to the medical career that occupied more than three decades of my life.

It could as easily have taken me into other obvious choices such as police or firefighting, teaching or social work, a non-profit manager or an ombudsman.

And helping others can come in many less obvious forms.

The folks who pick up my garbage make my life easier and happier. The software writers that allow me to write a blog or access my bank accounts simply are heroes in my life. Truck drivers that deliver food supplies to my local supermarket keep me well nourished (and then some!).

Helping is often more subtle and broadly-based than we appreciate.

SPOILER ALERT: At the end of the book Of Mice and Men, as the law begins to close in, sweet Lennie heartbreakingly, unknowingly to him, meets his merciful death at the hand of his friend George.

Back in my own world, I did a Google search on my childhood friend John this week. I haven’t seen or heard a word of him since high school.

Sadly, I discovered that he died 7 years ago, 55 years old. His obituary picture looks just like the John I remember when you add in some lines and wrinkles, a few grey-streaked flecks adorning his temples.

His passing didn’t truly surprise me… but it did strike a nerve, an aching, sensitive scab was pulled back inside of me. I hurt for John then, and I hurt for John today.

John never knew it, and I’m even slow to understand it myself, but his struggles helped teach me a simple lesson: if you have a reason to get out of bed that is bigger than you, you will have a big life.

If you only help yourself, you live a small life.

Thank You John … rest now good soul…


-Shhhhh… it’s Ok Lennie… I told them…

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My Cameo as a Bully

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Just once in my life I wanted to be the bully.

I’ve been thinking about bullies and bullying this past week. I’ll let you guess why.

I “accelerated” (Zoom Zoom) around Grade 3 in school.

A few others kids and I, over a period of three years, accelerated our learning pace and ended up in Grade 7 instead of Grade 6 (I guess you could call this skipping a grade).

I’m pretty sure the reason they pushed me forward was because I was the last remnant of 5 Green family kids… all previous 4 of my siblings were academically bright and skipped ahead (my oldest brother, the REALLY smart one, skipped 2 grades… CRAZY!).

They probably got lazy and didn’t even test me figuring there must have been a few intelligence genes lingering at the end of the blood line. Fooled them…

Because I was younger than most of my peers, I was smaller and less physically developed throughout my school career.

This occasionally led to bullying activities where I was the victim. Not serious stuff, but I ran home scared on more than one occasion, watching in my rearview mirror for the big kid with the big fists (and the wee little dick) who wanted to take me down.

Bullying wasn’t ever discussed in school.

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A fight would break out in the schoolyard… excited kids formed a tight circle around the gladiator bully and his weak victim as the ugly pummelling took place.

A few minutes later one of the reluctant teachers would wander out into the playground or field and break through the circle of kids enjoying the blood fest, too late to prevent the broken nose or lip dripping crimson blood, sending both the bully and his quarry to visit the principal.

The punishment for the bully couldn’t have been very severe because it always seemed to be the same few that were repeat offenders.

I wasn’t afraid of the beating part (not true, who likes pain? and blood?).

I was more afraid of the humiliation and what the cute girls in their pigtails, white tights and plaid skirts would think of me once I’d bled all over the place… or worse still…. cried. “Oh God, please don’t let me cry“. I couldn’t handle that gruesome shame, that embarrassment.

I enjoyed and was pretty good at sports and most days you’d find me and my friends playing road hockey or baseball or football in the field across from my house in front of Glen Echo School. I may have been small but I held my own with a ball or a puck.

One day, after years of being intermittently picked on and bullied I was feeling frustrated and wanted to know the amazing feeling that surely existed on the other side of the fence.

I hungered to feel the power of superiority and strength the bully stroked and caressed like a tender lover.

That day, on that football field, Paul Robinson was my poor chosen victim.

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Before we even started the game of touch football, I knew I’d take him on. I had a plan.

Paul was a year younger than me and smaller than me and weaker than me.

He was perfect bully material. I figured this all out because I was so smart and had “accelerated”.

I would wait for him to do something – anything really – that might be interpreted as remotely dirty or offensive in his play against me.

Me and the boys threw the ball and ran up and down the field and huddled like pro players and were having a great time until… until… Paul was guarding me once as I ran out to catch the ball thrown by the quarterback.

I dug in and felt solid traction in the thick grass underneath my feet.

I knew my assigned pattern and veered right to make myself clear for the catch.

Paul bumped me. A gentle bump but clearly a bump. I decided it was a “dirty” bump.

My lucky moment had arrived, my plan could be enacted, and I pounced like a raging tiger. The feeling of young boy aggression hormones flooded my system.

I acted offended, angry about the transgression, and pushed him.

Fairly feebly, Paul responded angrily back.

It was now patently obvious in my little mind that moral justification for a “fight” was present.

The scrap was on.

Honestly, I made/make a terrible bully.

I had seen enough schoolyard skirmishes to know that boxer-style full knuckle punches bring on blood and excitement for the surrounding group. Blood is key. The fight is as much for the spectators as it is for the combatants. Maybe more so.

Nope, the best I could muster in my trumped-up anger was to slap him on the face. No pugnacious knuckles, no spewing blood.

Over and over I moved in and slapped him. His cheeks and face grew redder and redder, akin to the silly “pink bellies” we would playfully inflict on our friends as a measure of our manhood.

The blood match probably only lasted a minute at most but I felt a momentary sense of glorious triumph, control, domination… and then… frankly, some personal humiliation as Paul finally came to cherry-faced tears.

This wasn’t what I expected.

The wonderfully brawny feelings of manly power and victory I had anticipated surging mightily, melted away like April snows.

Disgust replaced triumph. Self loathing replaced elation. Revulsion replaced satisfaction.

I’d crossed over to the other side and had my bully moment.

It felt harsh inside, as cruel as the moment I killed a sparrow with my pellet rifle and the sensation was more heartbroken than heart-lifting.

I quickly learned a lesson that lives on for me.

Sometimes it’s important for the oppressor to live in the shoes of the oppressed, and vice versa.

This past week of cross-border politicking has left me confused, vexed, and worried but hesitantly… cautiously… hopeful that somehow the current “bully of the moment” will find his AHA moment. Even at this late stage of life.

That somehow the enormous, heady power bestowed on him will be tempered by reason and respect and concern for the weaker opponent.

That somehow the mini life-lesson I learned on the football field at the age of 12 or 13 years of age will be understood and willed to the surface like it was for George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life.

It’s never too late to shed the bully inside. I hope.