When I started high school I was a five-foot-nothing pud with slicked-back hair and a bad attitude. I became an immediate target for all the sadists amongst the juniors and seniors at St. Joe’s. There was this ritual of theirs called a locker check, which basically consisted of a towering meathead shoving his equally large friend into a freshman who was extracting or inserting books into a locker. A high-level locker check would result in the freshman getting his head bounced off the sheet metal causing a deep, harmonic gong to echo through the corridor.
I was the recipient of a lot of locker checks my freshman year.
One day that first semester after miraculously avoiding any locker checks all morning, I turned a corner and saw one of the most horrifying images I could have summoned at that age: my mom wandering the halls. Ma is this plump, loud, gregarious north-sider, the type of woman who has no qualms about shouting at you from across a busy department store, “William . . . what size underwear are you now, honey?” Needless to say I saw her, she saw me, and I dove into the first open classroom.
By my senior year things had changed. I had a seven-and-three record as a boxer in the Chicago Golden Gloves and Chicago Park District. I was nearly six feet and was voted “Toughest Senior.” Loved and respected, I basically did as I pleased that last semester. There were times when groups of us seniors would leave class to wander around the halls, jump off of high ledges in the gymnasium onto these big blue foam gymnastic mats, or just leave campus for a late breakfast at Steak ‘n’ Egger.
By then we were even beyond torturing the freshmen.
One morning a few weeks before graduation, Ma was dropping off my friend Nick and me at school. In the busy morning shuffle there were hundreds of kids scattered in the parking lot. We pulled up behind a stopped car with a mom and a scrawny freshman inside. We were astounded as the freshman leaned over and gave his mother a kiss on the cheek before dashing into the building. I remembered the day three years earlier when I’d been such a scared little jerk in the hallway and then thought, When’s the last time I kissed my Ma? I glanced over at her (she’d witnessed it too), and she smiled at me. I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.
Tough guys kiss their ma’s too. Get over it.