“It didn't look like ‘nothin’’ to me,” Mr. Malinowski said. He was well into his fifties, but Mr. Malinowski was a big man. Moreover, I could tell that he didn't like Matt Stefano. None of the teachers did, really; but Mr. Malinowski’s tone suggested a degree of antipathy that extended beyond an educator’s professional exasperation with an incurable problem student. Reflecting on this moment years later, I would sometimes wonder if there had been a Matt Stefano in Mr. Malinowski’s childhood. That would have explained a lot.
Mr. Malinowski, ignoring Bobby for the most part, walked closer to Matt Stefano and me. Matt now took a deliberate step away from me, as if to demonstrate his innocence.
Without warning, Mr. Malinowski grabbed Matt by his shirt collar, and shoved him up against the building, much as Matt had been doing to me a minute ago.
“Picking on other kids again?” Mr. Malinowski asked, bringing his face to within inches of Stefano’s. “Maybe you ought to try picking on someone your own size—someone who can fight back.”
I know what you’re probably thinking about now: There is so much about this entire exchange that would be impossible nowadays, or would result in multiple lawsuits.
But keep in mind: this was the early 1980s. Nearly two decades before Columbine, schools were much less vigilant about bullying. Unless one of the victims really made an issue of a bullying problem, the schools tended to make students work out these problems among themselves.
And as for a teacher laying hands on a child in a threatening manner: Corporal punishment was still practiced in many schools in 1980, and no one thought anything of parents spanking their own children. Not like nowadays, when spanking has become a matter for media worrywarts and United Nations human rights lawyers.
I was half-expecting Mr. Malinowski to throw a punch at Matt Stefano, but instead he let the boy go and shoved him away. Even in the early 1980s, a punch from a teacher would have constituted an “incident”. I also wondered, briefly, if Matt would have retaliated at that point, and what the outcome might have been. At six-foot-three and maybe two hundred and forty pounds, Mr. Malinowski was somewhat the larger of the two. But Matt was younger, probably faster, and almost certainly meaner.
“Don’t let me catch you doing that again, Stefano,” Mr. Malinowski said. “And to help you remember, I’m going to write up three demerits for you. They should add nicely to your total.”
By this time I had moved away from Matt Stefano and Mr. Malinowski. I was standing next to Bobby. Mr. Malinowski turned to Bobby and me. “Why don’t you two boys join the rest of the students in the front area of the school grounds,” he said. “Lunchtime is almost over.”
This was a command, not a request, though both Bobby and I were more than happy to comply. I shuffled away, Bobby at my side, while Mr. Malinowski continued his lecture at Matt Stefano. The teacher’s intervention had been a mixed blessing: On one hand, I had been saved from immediate peril. On the other hand, though, I had (however indirectly and without fault) subjected Matt to three demerits and humiliating treatment at the hands of an adult authority figure. Matt would be looking for a payback.
Serial be continued....
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