Amazing Journey: 1.3

Another Brick In The...Paul


Me and my brother were talking to each other
‘Bout what makes a man a man
Was it brain or brawn, or the month you were born
We just couldn’t understand

~ The Who

It was 1969; I was a 12-years old boy in junior high school. I was fairly innocent, easy to get along with, and larger than most kids my age.

I was happy and just wanted to fit in. Needless to say, I was not prepared for what happened to me in the locker room that year. Not by a long shot.

Back in those days, there was no such thing as bullying. Don’t get me wrong; there were plenty of mean kids back in those days. I found that out rather quickly.

However, society hadn’t yet given those horrible monsters a formal title for what they did to others. Title or no title, what those rotten bastards did to me caused pain. And that pain was both physical and emotional.

Trust me, I know. I experienced it up close and personal.

Already somewhat disenchanted with gym class, I was now subjected to even more disappointment. And this proved to be a lot worse than running laps or doing squat thrusts, although those exercises contributed to what came next.

Those exercises made you sweaty and resulted in a “not so fresh” feeling. At the junior high level this problem was resolved by requiring that you take a shower afterwards as a part of the gym class routine.

To make matters worse, this shower would take place In the presence of a group of your peers. In my case, a not-so nice group of peers.

This was something I wasn’t ready for. The last time I was around other naked kids was when my dear mother, Milly, scrubbed my brother and me in the same tub at age four or five.

Some things had changed since those days. Some of those things were anatomical. You know what I mean; I don’t feel I need to spell it out for you.

It was becoming apparent that the timing for some of those changes differed during a boys adolescence. Evidently, becoming a “young man” occurred at different rates.

Clearly, all boys were not created equal. Especially at age twelve.

This harsh reality smacked me right in my pudgy face the first time I was forced to take a shower with my classmates after gym class. Feeling extremely self-conscious, I made rapid work of my shower. Oh, I made sure to properly cleanse myself, especially those pesky “private” areas.

All I know is that I wanted to get back to my locker, dry off and get dressed as fast as I could without anyone getting a good look at my plus-sized body that was still in the process of developing. No such luck. Or, dare I say, fat chance.

Caustic remarks like, “Hey, fat boy, what you trying to hide?” and “You sure that you’re in the right locker room?” were being hurled at me.

As I unsteadily made my way back to my locker, the taunting continued. I feebly attempted to deflect the attention being directed at me with, “C’mon, don’t you guys have to get to your next class?” That didn’t work.

The small contingent of tormentors that had been following me had now assembled around my locker. Try as I might, there was nothing that I could do to cover my pubescent nether region. It was hopeless.

Mortified, I dressed as quickly as possible while my persecutors continued their onslaught, “Man, I have never seen one that small before!” Evidently size did matter, even in junior high school.

I knew I had better not cry. That would have certainly made things worse. Desperate, I looked at up at my persecutors and pleaded, “Please give me a break. I didn’t do anything to any of you.” That seemed to work as they finally stopped their mean-spirited hazing.

Matt, a guy I knew from my English class, called them off with, “Let’s go. Leave Paul the Wall alone.” Surprisingly, I mustered up enough courage to ask, “Paul the Wall?” Matt grinned and said, “Ya. You’re Paul the Wall, the master of plaster.”

With that the malicious little mob dispersed, snickering as they left. Great. A stupid nickname on top of all the embarrassment. And it wouldn’t be my last. Trust me.

Thankfully, the humiliation diminished as the days, months and years went by. Don’t get me wrong, I dreaded going to gym glass for the longest time. Those insults hurt a lot and I felt the sting for quite a while. Maybe I was getting used to it. Actually, it was more like I was numb to it.

Eventually I had matured both physically and emotionally. I was even able to identify with George Costanza on the Seinfeld episode where he experienced “shrinkage.”

However, the belittlement those adolescent dirtbags put me through left a scar on me that I have had to deal with all of my life.

Clearly, it wasn’t going to be very easy growing up. That was becoming very clear. Just being myself wasn’t going to be good enough if I wanted to fit in. The days of just being myself were rapidly slipping away. It wasn’t good enough to just be me, Paul Vagnoni. But, Paul the Wall? C’mon.