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Monday, August 25, 1975

Pulaski East Junior High School and Bus 15

Timeline: 1974 to 1977. My age: 12 - 15. Location: southwest Little Rock, Arkansas, and our junior high school located in Sweet Home Arkansas (map).

On 7th grade I began going to Pulaski East Junior High School. Also new for me was riding a school bus. My new school was ten and a half miles away.

Immediately on the first bus ride things were weird. We were picked up around 7:15 AM, which was fairly early, school started sometime around 8:30 or 9:00AM. To my confusion, our bus driver drove us all the way downtown, to the Interstate 30 bridge along the Arkansas River. To anyone who knows the area will also know this was directly in the opposite direction to our destination school. The only thing I could figure out over the years was the bus driver was extremely early and didn't want to arrive at the school before a certain time. Whatever the reason, this gave a surrealistic introduction to...a three year nightmare.

Pulaski East Junior High School. First I need to say something in defense of the many teachers, school district officials and bus drivers associated with that school who were good people doing good things. There were many. I remember more than a few of those teachers, praise be to you all.

Pulaski East Junior High School smelled like cow manure because that was the heritage of the grounds upon which it was built. Its outdoor gathering fields for both sports and general mingling were adjacent to fields used for cows, and the cows regularly wondered onto the school grounds. Cow poop was a mainstay of the school's sensory experience.

I rode bus number 15, henceforth to called Bus 15, and I should use the kind of font used for old horror film posters, with red and running blood shaped letters. Hint: Bus 15 was scary, it was tough, and it was dangerous. So dangerous Chuck Norris soiled his pants and never came back after just one ride.

And Pulaski East Junior High School was also.

Beginning sometime in 7th grade black kids started taking my lunch money every day. This occurred through all of 7th and and 8th grade. It stopped in the later part of 9th grade because I had gotten a 120 lbs weight set for Christmas, and quickly got up to doing arm curls with 60 pounds. I asked one of the people who had bullied me, David Sanders, why the bullying had stopped. He fidgeted a little uncomfortably and said I had gotten bigger. The only place I had gotten bigger was my arms.

The bullies ran in two packs. The white kids were a pack of kids mostly from the Southern Oaks subdivision (map) with the exception of Ricky and Johnny Mullins that lived just off Butler Road on Allyson Circle (map), and Philip Easterly who lived on Lancaster Road (map). They bullied me on Bus 15 and in my neighborhood. The boys in Southern Oaks were led by David Sanders, and David was team up on me often with Ricky Mullins.

A short interlude: Johnny Mullins was one my neighborhood bullies. Early one evening he was riding his motocross motorcycle up our street and kicked our trash can over. My dad, who weighed 350 pounds of pure fat and massive muscles, ran outside in a rage. Our street was a dead end. Johnny had to turn around and come back our way. My dad picks up the garbage can lid laying in the street. Johnny slows down at the sight then revs back up trying to get by. My dad puts the garbage can lid sideways into Johnny's helmet, Johnny swerves but doesn't crash. My dad runs back in the house, gets his nickel plated Colt .45 automatic, jumps in his car and goes looking for Johnny. He comes back a little later never having found Johnny. This was over an empty garbage can. Neighborhood kids never did anything to our property again.

The bullies who were black kids, I can't recall all their names, but the worst was Bobby Trice. This pack of bullies I saw at school and lived far from me, near the school.  Please, this isn't defaming all the black kids there. My best friends in those years were black -Michael Martin, Alphonso Miles, and Helaine Palmer (who would become a muilti-decade columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette).

I'd put the negative effects like this: the black bullies kept me from having lunch for a few years and that caused my serious weight loss. The white bullies exacted psychological harm.

The bullies on Bus 15 would do this thing called a "dog pile" on me, and I think one other weak outlier. Now that I'm an adult I can see through the haze of teenage trauma, I was allowing fear to reign. These "dog piles" were humiliating, but not truly physically dangerous. The person I would become in my 20's, the me that lived in New Orleans, would have seen the dog pile as an opportunity to crush a lot of stuff in their pelvic area, or put out some eyes.

To any out there who are now being bullied, I recommend analyzing what is being done to you. When is it truly physically dangerous? When is it psychological? When is it social humiliation? They are not all the same, although they are all most certainly wrong.

Once, in 7th or 8th grade, the local white bullies were hanging out on the street in front of our house. Philip Easterly was with them. My sister and I were at home, and my mom and dad were gone. They kept trying to get me to come out on the street to fight Philip. Eventually Philip got the courage to kick our unlocked front door open and he stood in our living room in a martial arts pose telling me he was going to kick my _____.  That was the limit of his nerve, he left and the pack of boys eventually moved on. That wasn't at school, but fits with the gist of my junior high years.

Bus 15 had bigger problems than "dog piles". A cluster of the worst kids started placing nails in the bus tires. When the bus would come to a stop and we were getting on, one kid would place a nail under a tire in such a way that it was punctured when the bus started rolling again. We would have a flat on the way to school, and miss a major part of the first hour of classes. Also during this time the kids started tearing the cushions out of the seats.

At one point our vice principal Merle Breeding came on board the bus as we arrived at school. He gave us a strong talking to about the damage we were causing daily. We were doing over $1000 in damage per week. He said Bus 15 was by far the worst bus in the entire Pulaski County Special School District.

One flat tire incident was more action filled than the others. The kids had placed a nail in the usual manner, and we were all riding along wondering when the flat would happen (I'm sure the bus driver was too). We made it all the way past the drop offs of kids at Fuller Junior High and Mills Senior High. We were about to make the turn into Sweet Home when the blowout happened a lot faster than usual. We were on a curve, and the bus went off the road into a farm field and rolled over on its side. Being a big bus and the slow speed, it was less like a crash and more like a ride at a state fair. No one got hurt.

One might conclude all the buses were as bad. No, they weren't. I began to try and ride Bus 56, which serviced the neighborhood of Wakefield on east side of 65th Street. It was perfectly peaceful bus, right out of a perfectly peaceful movie. There was no difference in class, wealth or anything else between that neighborhood and mine (they were right next to each other, divided by one main thoroughfare). School district rules forbid kids switching buses ad hoc and riding one outside their service area. The bus driver for Bus 56 took pity on me a few times and let me ride, but for the most part I had to go back to Bus 15.

Looking back on how peaceful other buses were at the same school, and how peaceful things were at other schools that serviced southwest Little Rock, it seems to be just bad luck that got me on the worst bus in...possibly...the world.

School shootings. We were way ahead of our time on those.

One incident was on Bus 15. A black girl who lived on Butler Road, a friend of mine and we often sat together on the bus, was being harassed by the pack of white bullies led by Ricky Mullins. One day she packs a short barreled .38 caliber revolver and pulls it out on the boys, while we were on the bus. No bullets were fired. I can't recall the details of the outcome, she didn't get arrested, I think the situation was simply de-escalated somehow. All I remember was feeling happy while she was pointing the gun at them. I liked her, even more then. I know her name but omit it here out of protection for her reputation.

Another shooting incident had lots of bullets flying, but I missed it. It was at Pulaski East Junior High School, during the morning outdoor gathering before the first classes start. A boy I will call by his initials R.V. brought a pistol to school. A confrontation with vice principal Merle Breeding happened outside in front of all the students, R.V. shot at Mr Breedings feet, making him jump around. Then R.V. stole the school secretary's car and tried to flee the area, but was caught by deputies a few miles away.

Decades later, when I was near 50 years old, R.V. appears on our Facebook group. He had moved to another state and had a good life with career and family. He told us a few details I never knew. He had brought the gun to school out of fear of a set of bullies at the school.

So the two gun incidents I know of related to that time and that school were in response to bullies, an indication my memories of bullies isn't just imagination.

I loved academics all through school, including those years. Science classes were good, and I especially recall liking our English class reading A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens.

My one other great fear in those years: Physical Education class, PE. I loathed that class. I would try and get away with "forgetting" my gym shorts and shirt so I could sit out of the activities. To all the parents and educators who think PE is automatically something kids love and need, please read my account of how wrong you are.

I was weak, skinny, and uncoordinated in those years. PE wasn't a resource for getting healthier or more fit. The activities we did were sports such as volleyball, baseball and the thing I truly despised: the rope climb to the gym ceiling. These activities didn't develop jack sh_t. They were forums for the strongest and the most coordinated to win, and the physically less developed kids to lose.  I was not a lazy kid or one that entirely disliked all fitness.

Actually, I liked all real fitness we did in the class. By fitness I mean the few times we spent in the football player's weightlifting room, and other times doing 220, 440 and 880 yard sprints. At the time I knew these were the activities I needed several days a week, and was frustrated Coach Evans only let us do them a couple of times a school year.

Years later I would get my first weightlifting set and begin to change my life, eventually becoming a fitness/weightlifting instructor at the downtown YMCA, and at Gold's Gym. Once the ignorant and wrongheaded physical education was out of my life, I began to get stronger and healthier, thanks to geeky tendencies with reading and studying (strength training concepts) and the equally geeky or autistic tendency towards sticking with a regimen.

One last parting shot on physical education. Baseball, basketball and many other sports never ever got anyone in this world healthier. They develop social coordination. No one baseballs their way to healthier or stronger muscles or cardiovascular system. A strong/coordinated kid comes into baseball, they'll come out  strong/coordinated and the enhancement of social coordination, and likely a higher self-esteem. A weak or uncoordinated kid goes into baseball, they come out the same weak and uncoordinated kid, with injured self-esteem.

Baseball and basketball type sports forced on kids who do not like them is abuse, and institutions and individuals who revere those types of sports as something beneficial for everyone are fundamentally wrong and operating with flawed information or just plain ignorant.

In 9th grade I started hanging out with Jimmy Sullivant and Robbie Smith. Jimmy introduced me to marijuana, I smoked my first joint with him at his house. I quickly got to be a weekly smoker of the stuff. Robbie Smith lived on Southern Oaks Drive, and we became best friends, and part of that was smoking pot. We would tell our parents we were spending the night at the other one's house, then we would hang out at King Bee's on 65th Street, go to the hill in back and smoke pot, then went to the wooded area near our homes and sleep with some makeshift camping scenario.

King Bee's was southwest Little Rock's version of a hippy underground speakeasy. It's real business was pool hall, and a few pinball machines. They served soft drinks and snacks. It had the obligatory spacey surrealistic painting of volcanoes and plant-life all done in bright colors covering one wall.

I became a link in the pot world, through Jimmy Sullivant and Charles Smith I knew older and more pot invested people and would buy from them, and resell to my friends in junior high school. It was really small time, but I was more socially connected in all this, and having fun, which was a big change from the pure pain of the last two years.

One night I went with Jimmy and some much older car driving teen to a party in Wakefield. Charles Smith was there, and lots of older kids. Well not even kids really, they were 17-21 year olds, probably a lot of dropouts. They were listening to Yes, smoking pot ceaselessly and drinking. Charles had some moonshine, and offered to share the bottle with me. I didn't start drinking alcohol till years later, so I didn't know what to expect. I took several drinks. We were smoking pot before, during, and after the moonshine. I was sitting on the floor, and suddenly everything and everyone around me began to be like a giant canyon wall, Jimmy Sullivant, sitting in front of me in a chair, became a giant.

The moonshine was laced with LSD.

We got back to King Bee's and every facet of my perception was ...well... tripping out seems to be the only justifiable phrase to use. I remember sitting with a few kids my own age,  I remember Redonda McClellan being one of them. We talked about all these profound things I was seeing and feeling.

It was a school night, I was supposed to be home by 9:30 PM. My mom and dad would be up and waiting to see me.

I was 14 -it was against the rules for me to smoke pot, drink moonshine, and take LSD.

I left King Bee's with an idea for getting sober. I went up 65th Street to the Westgate Apartments, and I ran around the whole complex, several laps. It felt like I was on super-legs. I had endless stamina, it was all effortless. Maybe it woke me up in some way but my general state of mind stayed about the same as at King Bee's. So I walked home trying to at least make it before breaking my curfew deadline.

I walked in the door, past my mom and dad who were watching TV, they saw me and said "hi, good you're back", I said "yeah" and walked on by to my bedroom, making sure to not walk any faster or slower than usual. I went to sleep.

7th to 9th grade was all one bad dream.

Addendum: On the first day this blog entry was published I got four replies, all thanking me for writing about Pulaski East Junior High and said they too were bullied and their time at the school was full of dread and misery.
The author of this blog also has two books available on Amazon. Athena Techne uses some of the autobiographical content of this blog and adds a philosophical perspective utilizing the ancient Greek god Athena.

Athena Techne :: Page

Autistic Crow Computer is a fiction set in Seattle, about an autistic boy and two crows. The book was written for young autistic readers, although reviews by non-autistics have been positive.

Autistic Crow Computer :: Page

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