I think it’s safe to say there aren’t many classrooms, anywhere, that don’t have a class "stink bug."
Stink bug. Maybe that’s an outdated term. We called them stink bugs at Northwest Elementary School in Byron Center 30 years ago. Maybe they’re called something different now. They have cooties or they’re icky or whatever. You know what I mean.
By and large, you can pick these kids out of the crowd. They’re dressed in outdated handme-downs that don’t fit. Their hair is rumpled and they’re socially awkward. They’re the last child picked in gym class and don’t have a lot of friends, if they have any at all.
They’re the type of children that grownups would suspect come from a poor family or a single-parent household. They may have an untreated mental health issue. They could be a quart low on love. They could be abused.
But who thinks about that stuff when you’re 8, 12, 16 years old? I sure the hell didn’t.
I was just glad I wasn’t a stink bug. Being the class shrimp, I was a prime candidate. So like any normal kid, I did what kids do — pick on the stick bug. I could have been the stink bug’s friend, but who wants that?
In the case of Northwest Elementary School, our stink bug was a boy named Kim — a girl’s name, which didn’t help his cause. Kim was as pasty white as Casper the Ghost, and we reminded him of that all the time. His name was dirty blond. Like dirty and blond.
Kim had no friends. Period. He ran around the playground after us and we ran away from him. We’d call him names and he’d schluff away. So he went somewhere we weren’t. He’d never call us names. My buddies would have pounded him. We generally did anyway.
He definitely had problems. I still remember Valentine’s Day 1983 when I went to the little boy’s room and witnessed Kim prancing around on all fours like an animal, his rearend up in the air, the bathroom overcome in stench.
I ran back to my third grade classroom and proudly announced the situation to class:
"Kim just pooped his pants!" The boys howled in laughter. The girls shrieked.
We didn’t see Kim the rest of the day. In fact, I don’t remember Kim making the fifth grade with us.
No worries. Like nearly every other social structure on this planet, kids adapt to the absence of their typical punching bag by finding a new low rung to step on.
Our most likely suspects came from the foster home down the street. They were strange and goofy enough. There were the poor kids at the corner, too. Their house got toilet papered a time or two by mischievous youngsters who shall remain nameless.
We didn’t have any gay kids to pick on in Byron Center. They were there, I know that now, but they certainly weren’t going to reveal anything at our high school.
We were in the heartland of West Michigan Christian conservatism. A few years after I graduated, our gay high school music teacher was run out on a rail for no other reason than showing his commitment ring to a class. The stress from the very public ordeal (Detroit Free Press coverage, packed board meetings held in the high school gym) literally killed Gerry Crane a year later.
So, professing to being gay at our school would have been generated a reaction unfathomable to our imagination.
The teasing, the bullying, the name calling, the ridicule that child would have gone through.
So as much as I cringe about state government overreach in getting involved with something like a mandated bullying policy for all public schools, I realize it’s quite necessary. Michigan is one of the few states without anti-bullying legislation, although a vote is pending in the House.
Yes, kids are kids, and kids have picked on other kids since time began. But that doesn’t make it right. Writing this column, I think back on Kim and the Horton boys and Steve and all the other stink bugs and wonder where they are now.
My childhood was fun, but was it at their expense? Was their childhood rotten? And how much did I contribute to the rottenness? How deep are the scars?
I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know the feeling of being on the receiving end of it. The class shrimp got his, too. And when I did, I remember wishing that a grown-up would stick up for me.
I wasn’t going to ask for it. That would make me a tattle tale. That only makes things worse. But for a teacher or an aide or a recess supervisor to stand up for me when they saw something would have been nice.
Maybe I’d been less prone to pick on Kim if I’d known grown-ups were watching and I’d get in trouble. Maybe not. Maybe kids will always be kids.
I guess we’ll never know.
Dirty little secrets about texting ban
The state’s new texting-and-driving ban has some loopholes big enough to drive a truck through … or does it?
The $100 fine that goes into effect July 1 for those caught texting behind the wheel only refers to a two-way communication, meaning if I’m surfing the Internet, reading a text or reading e-mails on my iPhone, I’m not, technically, breaking the law. It’s only if I’m sending a message to someone else.
Lt. Matt Bolger from the Michigan State Police agreed with me when I brought that up a few weeks ago.
He then reminded me of this: If I’m swerving all over the road or creating a hazard by texting, the police can go back to citing me with their old stand-by — careless driving, which is three points on the license and a lot more money in fines.
His point: Maybe admitting to texting and driving is the better option after all.
(Kyle Melinn is the news editor at MIRSnews.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)