“I’M COMING TO GET YOU!!”
The air was still and warm on this afternoon long ago. The voice hits me from a distance. I was making my way back to school and a chill went through my bones. I saw young teenagers dressed in their sports clothes, looking around, hoping the anger attached to the shouts wasn’t coming for them.
A bunch of us were walking back through one of the parklands that surrounded Melbourne. Flushed faces, sweat-caked bodies moved in unison. And an acrid body odour was congealing into a cloud and floating along behind us.
We were returning from the weekly school sports day. A day of football, where male teenagers could expend pent-up anger in a way that wouldn’t lead to expulsion. Football was far more physical in those days. It was expected, called for, and demanded by coaches (who were nothing more than every teacher living out a dream).
“I’M COMING FOR YOU! BASTARD!!”
There it was again, closer this time. I looked around to see where it was coming from. It felt like it was coming for me.
“That’s Frank Grasso”, someone nearby whispered. Faces started to register fear, and then quickly looked around for an escape route.
Let me tell you about Frank Grasso. I am really bad at remembering names, but Frank’s is seared deep into my memory, for a different reason than you may think.
Frank was the school bully. He was built for the role and his name was so appropriate. “Grasso” translates as “immensely fat” and “damn huge”. He was all that and more. He was not overly tall, but he was wide, with a broad upper torso, and stumpy legs. As he walked along, he looked like an angry square full of “sound and fury” (a term we’d just learnt from studying Shakespeare’s MacBeth).
Frank had something in his personality that defined his character. Frank was threatening, and that to a young child was frightening.
“YOU PRICK! I AM GOING TO SMASH YOU!”
There it was again. Now getting closer. It was definitely Frank Grasso. Damn, I thought, what had I done!
Had only come in contact with Frank once before. I had just retrieved lunch from my locker and was rushing to meet friends. As I turned a corner, I ran into Frank. It was the first time I saw his face in extreme close-up; a sultry sneer, moist thin lips; eyes like slits.
He was so wide there was no way around him.
“Oh shit, sorry.” I said.
“What the fuck,” said Frank.
Rizzo, his best friend, stood behind him and laughed to himself. He knew what was coming.
What the fuck,” repeated Frank as he grabbed me by the collar and pulled my face into his.
“I fucken ever see you again, I’m going to kill you.” Of course, he would. And I would be slain with my head partly submerged in a pool of blood, my body dumped in a bluestone-lined laneway near the school. This was Frank Grasso. If that’s all that happened, I would consider myself lucky.
“What’s in your hand, arsehole?”
“What?” I looked down, I had forgotten I was holding one of those “doorstop” sandwiches my mother had made ready to be consumed by a regiment, let alone a teenager. “It’s my lunch, Frank. I’m just going …”
“What’s in it?”
“What? Ah, I am not sure, some fried eggplant, mortadella, provolone cheese, and other things. I think.” I’d have to name half the items in a European Deli to answer that question.
Rizzo licked his lips and nudged Frank. They looked at each other and then looked back at me with a little more urgency.
“Give it to me” said Frank, his hand held out to accept the parcel. Rizzo looked around as if there was a drug deal going on, but I handed it over thinking that losing my sandwich was a far better thing than losing my life.
“I hope you both enjoy it, Frank” I added relieved.
“Thank you, thank you, Frank”.
That was the first Frank Grasso time.
“I AM GOING TO GET YOU!!” This was the second. I ran through the day scouring for something that would make Frank target me.
We had been playing football. In the opposite team, my opponent had been Rizzo (yes that Rizzo, Frank’s faithful companion). In a move that I had just remembered, Rizzo had come out of a pack with the ball under his arm. Others had made attempts to tackle him, but being Frank’s “best” friend, it seemed “best” to not try too hard.
Then along came I. He exited the pack quickly. I was already on the move. I had traction and speed, even on the wet ground. He hadn’t seen or expected me. I lowered my body and sped up. I turned slightly, my shoulder pointed the full force of my body at Rizzo and hit.
His feet lifted off the ground and he pitched headfirst into the mud. The ball flew out of his hands. Everyone stopped. Mouths gapped. This was Rizzo, Frank’s Lieutenant. What the fuck did Joe think he was doing!
I grabbed the ball as it bobbled away, steadied, and kicked a goal. There were no high-5s, no pats on the back, no congratulatory messing of the hair, just silence. Rizzo picked himself up, looked at me, and walked back to the centre to take the centre bounce.
Here’s the thing, Rizzo was bigger, taller, faster, and no doubt stronger than Frank, but he looked to Frank for protection and retribution. And Frank Grasso retributed (I know it’s not a word, but it seems so appropriate).
What makes a bully? Is it all just so much “sound and fury”? At that age, is it just the person who threatens the loudest and is the scariest? Rizzo always stood behind Frank. As I heard later, he had complained to Frank about my tackle. But Rizzo wasn’t there at the handing out of the punishment.
“WAIT THERE, PRICK!!”
Frank had now arrived, and it was now obvious that I was his target. I turned and saw this great brick square shithouse approaching on its short stumpy legs. And the image was appropriate as at the same time I was shitting myself with fear. My heart was beating at a thousand miles an hour. I had stopped on the bridge that crossed an old, abandoned train line. I looked down at the parallel lines and remembered that even if I were to be thrown over, I wouldn’t be further crushed by a passing train.
“DID YOU TOUCH RIZZO?”
“Who?” It’s funny how when you are being threatened your memory totally deserts you.
“RIZZO. YOU KNOW WHAT YOU DID, ARSEHOLE!!” Threatening and accusatory, all in one sentence.
“What? You mean during the game? It was a …” My voice was tremulous. Frank came closer. His fists balled. My back was clamped against the iron bridge fence.
“DON’T LIE TO ME, PRICK!!” Frank grabbed me by the collar with his left hand, and with his right, he cocked and swung hard into the stomach. He looked me in the eyes.
“YOU EVER TOUCH RIZZO AGAIN, I’LL KILL YOU, YOU … YOU BASTARD!” Frank took a deep breath and swung his arm back a long way and let go straight into my stomach.
Then all quiet. He just left. No one came up to me. Nothing else was said. I don’t remember which way Frank went. I just kept walking on to school.
The thing I remember most? I had just taken two of Frank Grasso’s killer blows. Only a brick shithouse could deliver a killer blow, right?
As I walked back to school on my own, as my heart slowed back to normal, as my legs stopped shaking, I didn’t feel a thing. Franks’s hammer blow had been all “sound and fury signifying nothing”.
I do often think about Frank Grasso and Rizzo. What do school bullies become? Builders? Labourers? Do they run cement companies? Unions? Maybe they became Accountants or Dentists.
I don’t know. I don’t remember seeing, hearing, or reading anything about Frank since that day. Somewhere, I see him playing with his grandchildren, on a playground, or in a room full of toys. One of them is tearing off the head of a Marvel figurine.