Friday, March 24, 2006

Lee Mazzilli and Radical Kindness

As a logical follow-up to my two prior entries, I'd like to point out that tomorrow, March 25, is the 51st birthday of former New York Mets centerfielder and former Baltimore Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli. It is logical to me because:

a) It involves a birthday (see March 21)
b) It reminds me of a party Sandra Bullock and I threw in 1992. We wanted to have a party in our tiny -- seriously, I'm talking 400 square feet, tops -- apartment on Polk Street (San Francisco), and it was around March 25, so I dug up some pictures of Lee Mazzilli from some old baseball magazines and books, slapped them on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper (we were late to the personal computer revolution) and made it a "Happy Birthday Lee Mazzilli" party. He was 37, 3 years young than I am right now.

The party was normal for a one thrown by 26-year-olds -- wall-to-wall people. Windows were broken, noise ordinances were ignored. The next day we hauled garbage bags full of empty bottles down our circa 1906 elevator. Someone was accused of throwing a TV off the roof of our building.

Still don't know if that one went down or not.

See entry for March 20. During the Lee Mazzilli party, we were the couple sitting on the steps. For all I know, the couple I saw last weekend was sitting on the steps throwing down coffee to combat whatever they had slammed down the night before.

Don't worry about Lee on the eve of his 51st birthday. He is presently the bench coach for Joe Torre's Yankees. I looked it up on Wikipedia.

Interesting Lee Mazzilli fact: when his playing career ended, he went into acting. He played the lead on Broadway in "Tony & Tina's Wedding."

Last night our (wildly expensive) grade school held what could most accurately be called a "kindness conference." Not to sound too abstract, but "kindness" is a big initiative at the school. We are presently in Year 2 of our "Radical Kindness" program, designed to eliminate bullying, eliminate the passive witnessing of bullying and, as an unintended consequence, create children even less equipped to handle the kind of pushing and shoving that happens each weekend on the basketball courts of the Stonestown Y.

I speak not as one who has bullied but one who continues to suffer at the hands of bullies. Though more subtle as adults, they exist still. I did not have the benefit of a "radical kindness" program while in grade school, which means that, rather than try to reason with a bully, I go fetal, hoping that I have somehow become invisible at the same time.

Those who know me well may say, "What? I saw you take on that Lyndon LaRouche supporter on the street that time! You were fierce!" That is an aberration. Every so often, a would-be bully who is obviously not threatening will have to absorb the aggregate total of frustration I've built up shrinking from truly frightening bullies.

More typical is my experience with the young, stylish listing agent from Urban Bay Properties, concerning the loft my client wanted to buy.

Reader's Digest sums up the situation as this: she sent an email. I checked to see that it arrived, and found the next morning that it was missing an attachment that I needed to make our offer. Several phone calls and emails later, I finally reached her, and was treated to an agressive, rude, accusatory attack. Far as I can tell, I didn't notice her screw-up at a time that was convenient for her.

Of course, I tell you that now. At the time, I tried to be soothing, not only to save the deal, but also in grave fear that she would continue attacking. Had I been the fortunate recipient of radical kindness, I suppose I would have taken a more pro-active approach, drilling down to the real source of her anger, which may have had nothing at all to do with me. Perhaps she had an unsatisfactory childhood, schooling bereft of radical kindness. I could have helped her deal with her anger, rather than just withstanding it.

Maybe in childhood she was a small, stylish version of Bobby Lishman, the most feared bully of my youth. He was three years older than me, my sister's age. Most of us were scared to death of him, for good reason. One of the most enduring scary memories of my childhood is standing outside the cafeteria at Grove Street Elementary, in second grade, trying to melt into the walls as Bobby Lishman stood on a trashcan across the hall, waiting for Danny Rizzo to come down the stairs. There were probably about eight kids there, all like me, trying to hide in plain sight, all of us relieved to the point of prayer that this time Danny Rizzo was BobbyLishman's target, not us. "Shh!" he hissed at us.

In time, Danny Rizzo came down the stairs with his friends. When he reached the doorway, Lishman jumped him and kicked the crap out of him. We all just stood there, watching, terrified of doing anything.

In my head, I've mapped out Bobby Lishman's adulthood. He still lives in a small town in Northeastern Pennsylvania, where he's a mechanic. His wife and children are scared of him. He drinks cheap beer and throws the empties on the ground around his recliner. He goes by "Bob."

Of course, he could just as easily, and probably, be a supervisor at some software company in Connecticut, live in an 1800 square foot home with faux brick finish, and coach his kids' soccer teams. I have no idea. In my world, he grew up just as bad as he was in 5th grade.

Would Bobby Lishman have benefited from radical kindness? Would it have helped Danny Rizzo avoid getting his butt kicked? Would the rest of us, having been taught that to witness bullying and do nothing is to be an accessory to the bullying, have jumped in and tried to stop Lishman when he said, "Shhhh!"? And what happens to my kid, having been protected from bullying for the first 9 years of his school life, when he gets to high school and meets up with a linebacker who thinks Pokemon is stupid?

I appreciate the work they do at our (wildly expensive) school. And I feel like pounding my chest in Jewish pride when I realize how hard they're working at making our kids into great citizens of the world, especially when I open the newspaper and read about the latest propoganda campaign to discredit us and how the fact that some other cultures methodically teach their children to hate us. After all, we do use the blood of Christian children for baking.

Good on us. But having spent a lifetime spent never learning how to fight back, there has to be some value to that, too.

We didn't get the loft. I'm not sure if it has to do with the agent's midguided anger or that fact they wanted $80,000 above asking in a softening market.


Anonymous flush puppy said...

It is a quandry - how to produce kind children who are still able to assert themselves when necessary. You think boys are bullies - they've got nothing on girls. Girls save all their meaness for emotional torture - far more damaging than any buttkicking your Danny dished out.

11:55 AM  
Anonymous Noodles'Mom said...

I have to agree with flush puppy- boy bullies simply kick some butt and press on-girls work more slowly, getting under the skin of their victim, planning their next move, and making sure their girl posse is backing up every evil intent.
Radical kindness won't work with girls, because they have perfected the art of "killing with kindness".

4:37 PM  

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