I am writing on behalf of my twelve-year-old son, tell me how I’m supposed to deal with a bully at school, this isn’t easy.
You wrote the wrong guy. I hate to disappoint you, but I am too underqualified. Still, I wish my friend, Paulo, could chime in on this. He would have a good answer.
Years ago, I found some used lumber for sale in the classified section. I drove to South Alabama with Paulo to pick it up.
Paulo moved here from Los Angeles, he comes from a large Mexican family. His sister-in-law made the best homemade chicken mole you’ve ever had, his brother was a preacher.
Paulo grew up in gangs—and I don’t mean the kind that play patty cake after soccer practice.
Paulo had been to prison. He had ornate tattoos on his arms, hands, and one large design on his neck.
I met him when I worked on a landscaping crew. He had just turned his life around and moved in with his brother. He was short, built like a refrigerator, and could bench press a Pontiac.
The address in the newspaper led us to a farmhouse that had a long driveway, blocked by a livestock gate.
I dialed the number in the ad and told the lady we had arrived. The gate opened automatically, via electronic remote.
“Wow,” said Paulo. “Now that’s what I call a FANTASTIC gate.”
You will note, I am using substitute words. Paulo is from East L.A. He would never use the word “fantastic.”
We drove toward the house. I saw the pile of cheap used lumber calling my name. Paulo and I tossed pieces into my trailer until it was lunchtime.
I explained to the lady that we were breaking for lunch and would be back in a few minutes. We unhitched our trailer, then left.
When we returned, the gate was locked again. So, I dialed the number. No answer. I dialed again. Nothing.
Paulo inspected the gate and said, “Hey, look! It unlatches, bro. We can let ourselves in.”
This was a bad idea.
Even so, we opened the gate, and soon we were busy loading lumber again.
That’s when I heard screaming.
A big man came flying down the farmhouse steps, waving his arms, shouting at the top of his voice. He wore only underwear and looked like a linebacker for the New England Patriots—minus the shoulder pads.
“GET OFF MY FANTASTIC LAND!” he shouted.
He was nose-to-nose with me, and shouting so loud it hurt my ears.
And well, I don’t mind telling you that I almost made a pancake in my pants. This man was big enough to twist me into a funnel cake and sell me at the carnival.
Paulo stepped between us.
He used an easy voice. “Calm down,” he said. “We’re just here to load lumber.”
The man did not calm down. He shouted, “CAN’T YOU READ? THIS IS PRIVATE FANTASTIC PROPERTY! GET OFF MY FANTASTIC LAND OR I’M GONNA RIP YOUR FANTASTIC LIMBS OFF!”
I didn’t have the guts to ask if the man was speaking in the figurative sense.
Paulo used a low voice again. “Okay, we’re leaving, okay? We mean no disrespect.”
And the worst happened. The man hit Paulo. He landed a fist against my friend’s cheek. It knocked him sideways, off his feet.
Paulo hit the ground.
I was convinced this was where we would die. They would never find our bodies.
The Baptist church would hold a funeral with an empty casket, and all my friends would know I sacrificed my life for a pile of fantastic lumber.
I will never forget what happened next.
Paulo rose from the ground, brushed himself off, and approached the man.
“Fine,” he said. “Hit me if you want. You wanna hurt someone, hurt me.”
Paulo got in the man’s face, then tugged his shirt collar down and lifted his chin, exposing his bare neck to the man.
“Go on,” said Paulo. “Dah-lay, man.”
The man stared at Paulo and took a step backward.
Paulo took one step forward. Chin pointed up.
Anyway, there was no more violence that day. We crawled into my truck and left the lumber behind.
My friend said nothing on the ride home. He only looked out his window, and God knows what he was thinking.
Before I dropped him off, we shook hands, and I noticed the tattoo on his neck again. I hadn’t paid much attention to it before. It was a giant pair of wings, with text in the center.
The tattoo read: “God is Love.”
“Are you okay?” I asked my friend.
“Me?” he said. “Yeah. For the first time in my life I’m doing great, bro.”
“That man hit you pretty hard.”
“Gimme a break, my abuelita hits harder than him. He’s just having a bad day, that’s all.”
We lost touch over the years. I heard he moved to Chicago to be near his daughter. But I think about him a lot. I’m thinking about him right now.
So I’m sorry, I know you wanted advice. I wish I could give some, but I think we both know you can’t trust a man who buys used lumber.
Either way, I know how Paulo felt about matters like this.
It was written all over his neck.