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Saturday, May 28, 2011


     I was in grade school for the last gasp of corporal punishment. This is not a story about abuse. It's not even anti-corporal punishment. It's more of a peer pressure piece.

     The corporal punishment of choice at Rose Avenue Public School was the strap.  It was whispered about in hushed tones with a terror normally reserved for Vampires, Frankenstein's Monster and Mr. Jackson, the certifiably insane 4th grade teacher.
     The strap was either  3 feet long wrapped in barbwire,  a foot and a half of rawhide with hooks. The length and material changed, as did the presence or absence of metal accessories, depending on who was telling the story. The fact was that very few kids had actually seen the strap. And the group I hung around with considered it a challenge.

    The guys I ran with weren't the wrong crowd. They were A wrong crowd but not THE wrong crowd. THE wrong crowd  were perrenial Grade Sixers who always hung out in the back corner of the schoolyard, sneaking smokes, mumbling incoherencies, and slouching, kind of like grade school Brandos without a cause. We weren't The Wrong Crowd, but we aspired to be.

     Then it happened. Danny Telfer got caught trying to sneak into the supply room (why we could never figure out, and he wouldn't tell us. I think he may have had a thing for chalk) and was taken to the Vice Principal's office. The VP of Rose Avenue PS was a guy named Marvin Lipton. He was tall from my 8 year old perspective, bald, and wore rimless glasses. It turned out he also wrote a weekly column for the Toronto Star on Current Events, complete with a quiz at the end to see if you'd been paying attention. But as far as we were concerned he was the Executioner.
     So we didn't see Danny 'til we got out of school that day, and once we did we asked him how it was.

     "It wasn't anything' Telfer said, "Didn't even hurt."

     "You're full of it" Michael Barnes opined.

     "You think so?" Telfer smiles " Then you go get the strap, and prove me a liar"

     And it was on. We had begun what was, to that point, the stupidest dare of my 8 some odd years on the planet.  Barnes picked up the gauntlet. Two days later Barnes was sent to Lipton's office for bouncing a rock off Mrs. Babbington's prominent posterior.
     He confirmed Telfer's report. " Guy can't hit for shit" Michael Barnes announced.
     I was after Ilhan Dagastanli, who tried to get in after the doors had been closed and locked post recess, and made a dent. He too said it was nothing special.

     My disgression was much less spectacular, but it did get gasps, and I assure you that it wasn't intentional. I was not a stupid child. I already had parents who  thought spanking okay by them. I did not wish to do a comparative study. Problem was I was a little too smart for my own safety.

    Remember I said Mr. Jackson was insane? Well, he was also a pompous windbag who took sadistic pleasure in mocking his (Grade 4) students. (In retrospect, he was almost certainly Gay too, but that probably didn't have anything to do with his personality disorders. They have  Gay assholes to speak). Jackson was not above physical discipline himself. I saw him personally throw a little girl against the back cupboards in a fit inexplicable rage over some perceived slight. But nobody believed us when we spoke about him and what he had done in class. He had all our mothers completely conned. They all thought he was charming and nice, and would never do anything as heinous as we had described.

    He has just finished berating my friend Sean for misspelling Egypt or Rhythm, something with a "y" as a vowel. and I muttered something starting with the vowel "a" and ending with the vowel  "e" at a subsonic level. Well, Jackson must have had bat hearing, because when I looked up he was hovering over me.

     "Mr. Boyes? Office." Mr. Jackson smirked.
     I knew that arguing could lead to worse punishment so I got up. and walked towards the classroom door.  Sean asked me what I had done, and I replied this time quite audibly (making sure Jackson wasn't within grabbing distance) and, using my theatrically trained 8 year old voice to project, I said " I called him an Asshole", got the gasp, and left.  I was much tougher as a kid.

     I walked down the hall to the main office, like Cagney goes to the chair in "Angels with Dirty Faces". Not the part where he turns yellow and cries like woman, but the part where Father Jerry is trying to talk him in to feigning cowardice, as he walks the last mile with a sneer on his  face. I may even had done the Rocky Sullivan shoulder roll, at least I like to think I did, as I walked into the office.

    " Go into the Vice Principal's office, Michael"

    I wish I could say I maintained the Cagney cockiness as I went into Lipton's office, but I didn't. I was scared. Maybe he did hit harder. The one question that had had my curiosity was answered immediately.  The strap itself was laying on the the top right hand corner. It was brown shiny leather (almost, naugahyde looking),no visible metal, and about 15 inches long. That mystery solved..

     "Have a seat, Mr Boyes"

    I sat in the armed wooden chair opposite Lipton's immaculate desk and stared straight ahead through the window that actually faced the apartment building where I lived. I didn't hear much. I was in something like a meditative state. I turned my palms up as instructed. I stared through the bricks of the opposite building. The first strike took me by surprise and I grunted. They had all fucking lied, the bastards. It hurt like hell. A scorching sharp pain. In the microseconds before the next hit  a voice inside my head said quite distinctly " Don't Cry or Yell ". I felt an explosion of pain in my right hand, but I made no sound and kept staring through the window, through the bricks,  through the rooms, through the back wall to the parking behind the building, through the cars, out into the streets beyond.

     When I had received 5 on each hand, he put the strap down and stared at me as though I was a weird inhuman creature.

   "Well,  I have to admit that you're the first I've ever given the strap to who didn't cry."

    I wish I'd said something grand and melodramatic like "Your weapons have no power over me" or thought  to slip my glow in the dark vampire teeth into my mouth beforehand so I could hiss at him and thus confirm his suspicions.  But to tell the truth my hands were starting to smart and pulse and all I could manage was " Thanks".

     " Go back to class"

      By the time school let out word had spread, and the group surrounded me. Michael Lanka asked me what it was like. I looked at Barnes, Telfer, and Dagastanli in turn. Then looked at Michael Lanka and said "It hurt  a lot"


  1. Hi Michael,

    I quite enjoyed reading your story. However, did Marvin Lipton really use the strap?

    You're probably wondering why I ask. Marvin Lipton was my dad. He passed away in 1992. I do not recall him ever sharing about using the strap. So this is as much a learning experience for me as it was for you back then.

    Kind regards,

    1. He did, but I don't blame him. It was Board of Education policy at the time and so it was part of the job. I don't remember him taking pleasure in the act, if that helps. Also I don't think there were many idiots like my friends and I who were trying to get it.

  2. Hi Michael,

    Thank you.