In the early 70s, I had long hair which attracted the attention of the cowboy wannabees. One, in particular, harassed me in the locker room every day I had gym. Mutton (not his name) was lanky and sullen, with thick, rubbery lips, and he threatened me regularly and threw anti-gay slurs at me because of my hair. I took it in silence, not wanting to escalate. Though there were other cowboys (we called them goat ropers), I was ignored by most of them, possibly because one of the most popular in the group seemed to make it a point to be cordial to me (and I was grateful to him for that). I was conscious, though, that if it had come to a conflict, I didn't want to rely on them all staying neutral.
Mutton continued his mostly verbal assaults, until one day I snapped. He called me some variety of “queer” for the thousandth time, and I had simply run out of flying forks to give. Looking right at his face with its livery lips, I said, “Well, at least I don’t wear lipstick!” There was laughter from several directions, and he went red and clammed up and turned away. This small victory didn't exactly make me any happier, since I expected he would now be looking to get back at me for it.
Soon after that, though, he was gone. Up and vanished from school. Word filtered out that he had killed someone—his nephew. I’m pretty sure it was stupidity rather than murder, but he was gone nonetheless. A manslaughter rap. I don't know anything about the legal proceedings, but if it stuck, he probably would have gone to Juvie. If it didn't, maybe his family kept him out of school anyway.
Three or four years after I graduated, I was in the checkout line at a local market where the owner was known for giving troubled kids a second chance, and there was my former antagonist, sacking my purchase. “Hey, Mutton,” I said perfunctorily. (This was a local equivalent of hello.) He looked up and favored me with the same sullen expression I'd seen all the other times, and mumbled something back, and I took my bag from him and went on out into the bright, lovely day. I felt free.
me and some pals
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