“I would rather be a little nobody, then to be an evil somebody.” ― Abraham Lincoln
Angelo “Angie” Porco did not fit his name. He was no angel because he acted like Satan. And if you thought he was just a dumb football player, you would learn how cunning and depraved he was. Being the biggest and strongest boy in the 6th grade probably helped, and since he was also the strongest boy in St. Bernard’s School in Wauwatosa, even older boys stayed out of Angie’s way. It only took one “accident” in the locker room when an eighth grade boy slipped and hit his head on the side of a wooden bench for all the boys in St. Bernard’s to get the message—leave Angelo alone and try to make yourself as small a target as possible. Angie only went after big kids; teachers had radar that detected when if he attacked one of the little angels. Angiee would whisper some foul name in your ear, demand a dessert, when the nun supervising the lunch room was traveling between the two rooms they must diligently hover between. Angie was far too sensible to get caught doing anything wrong.
August Aurelius Major had a name that was too big for him. Augie preferred to be invisible, but when you are the smallest boy in the sixth grade, you are polite, teachers adore you and you follow the rules, the bullies paint a target on your back. Augie was able to glide under the radar and stay well out of Angie’s line of vision. On the occasions that Angie demanded money, or food, or his Hostess Cupcakes, Augie handed it over like he was fortunate to provide Angie a service. This in turn led Angie to totally underestimate Augie. Greater mistakes had been made in history, but Augie was sureit was time to mitigate Angie’s powers, but outright insurrection was downright suicidal. Being puny had its upside too; everyone felt sorry for you, and if the right people were bribed, you could live unnoticed. Augie’s manta was what his father always said, “Don’t think of it as a bribe, think of it as a benefit that will require a small favor in the future.” Augie decided to end the bullying; he began to plan and his planning was meticulous.
Phase one of Augie’s plan required the right sort of incentive. Augie couldn’t just ask for an extra box of Hostess Cupcakes. Augie would have to plant little pearls of wisdom in his parents’ heads. One night Augie let slip at the dinner table that, “Mary Margaret was so kind to me today; I said thank you for her help, but I just feel like I should do more.”
The next night “Bernard helped me carry six books home from school. He knows I like to read and when we were getting ready to come home, there was Bernard like the great friend he is. I am lucky to have a friend like Bernard.” Augie dropped the hints casually, but never too many and never too obviously.
One night, all on his own, Augie’s father said, “You know Augie, you should bring a treat for everyone who has helped you. They are such good friends; they’ve earned something special.”
Augie replied, “That’s sounds like a bribe; like I’m paying them to be my friend.”
“Don’t think of it as a bribe, think of it as a dividend.”
“What’s a dividend?” Augue asked innocently.
His mother took the bait. “Honey, all those children who have been so nice deserve something out of kindness. Maybe you could share a cupcake with them.”
Augie shook his head no. “One cupcake for ten people does not sound like much of a reward. I want each person to know I appreciate everything they do for me.”
Augie’s mother swooped in to rescue her little Angel. “Augie you are thoughtful. When we do the shopping, I’ll buy an extra box of cupcakes and you can share one with all your friends. There will probably be one left over for Mrs. Baker your teacher. I’m sure you want her to know how much you like her, don’t you?”
Augie’s mom took the plan a step too far. “Oh I’m sure she would enjoy the treat, but Miss Baker said she was on a diet for her sister’s wedding. It was Mary Margaret’s birthday and Miss Baker refused a cookie.”
When Augie went grocery shopping with his mother, she let him pick out the box of cupcakes. After putting the box in the cart, Augie said, “I love you mom.” Augie meant it too and gave his mother a hug hug.
Augie never shared any of his plans with anyone. Every day for a week, Augie dutifully handed out one cupcake to every child who helped him. He made sure it was all on the sly and everything was going fine until Mary Margaret decided to thank him profusely for the delicious cupcake on Wednesday and added a hug in front of the entire class. Augie moved up the timetable for his plan by heading straight for Angie. With a smile Augie told Angie, “I’m sorry I gave away my cupcake today Angie. I know you like them, but my mother made me. I’ll bring you two tomorrow.”
In his deadliest voice Angie said, “Make sure you do big foot.”
Miss Baker choose that chose that time to walk into the lunchroom looking for Sister Angela. One of St. Bernard’s most sacred rules was to remain seated during the entire lunch period. “August Major! Return to your seat immediately. When Sister Angela releases you at the end of lunch time, come to my room. Perhaps a day or two inside will remind you no to break the rules.”
Augie was beyond elated; he hissed at Angie, “Thanks for two days without recess. I’ll be eating in Miss Baker’s room. Your cupcakes will have to wait.” Augie’s scowl hid his elation.
Miss Baker stayed just long enough to escort Augie back to the sixth grade classroom. Augie rubbed his eyes and irritated them enough to produce a few tears. As soon as he entered the classroom, he marched to his desk, let out a huge sigh and buried his face on his desk.
Miss Baker gave Augie a few minutes before she walked to his desk. She heard sniffling and sounds of crying. “No crocodile tears young man. The only person you have to blame for your troubles is the one staring back at you when you look in the mirror. You know the lunchroom rules better than anyone. Sit up straight.”
Augie has been rubbing his eyes as Miss Baker spoke to him. He had tears trickling down his cheeks. “I’m sorry Miss Baker. I just had to be out of my seat before I got in more trouble.”
Miss Baker snorted. “From whom, your parents? Explain yourself.”
“My parents are the least of my worries. There are things worse than being grounded.”
Miss Baker was not convinced. “Explain, I am listening.”
Augie quickly scanned the room as if someone was eavesdropping and stubbornly shook his head no. Augie tried to talk three or four times, but it looked like he was too afraid to speak. “If I squeal, I’ll get it twice as bad. I’m too small to fight back.” Augie clamped a hand over his mouth like he had blabbed a secret.
Miss Baker was finding this hard to believe. “You have never been in a fight. Just who might be your opponent? Out with it now!”
Augie made a show of looking in the hallway to scan for anyone who might be listening. His voice was little more than a whisper. “You’re a teacher; he’s too devilish to do anything where you’d see it. You watch; I’ll come in from recess with a black eye, or a bloody nose from gym class and everyone will swear it was an accident. He’s been here six years and no teacher has caught him yet. He’s too evil.”
Miss Baker sat in a chair and said soothingly, “Augie, you know you can confide in me. I’ll make sure no other child discovers your trust in me. I can protect you.”
Augie said harshly. “Easy for you to say. The day after I can go out for recess again, and he’s dragged into the principal’s office, he’ll know I blabbed. I don’t play sports, but a football will bean me, or I’ll accidentally trip on my way home. I’ll probably get poked in the eye as he helps me up from the ground. I won’t squeal; you can’t threaten me with more inside recess either. You can’t make me talk.”
Miss Baker’s smile was disarming. “You are quite correct. I can’t make you talk, but I know someone who can. I’ll place the call to your mother immediately. You may listen.” Miss Baker rose and walked toward the phone on the wall.
Augie was impressed with how well his plan was working, but one more little step was needed. He beat Miss Baker to the phone and barred her way. “Please don’t call my mom. Angie would probably do something terrible to her too.” Augie clamped both hands over his mouth.
Miss Baker folded her arms and looked pleased. “So, Angelo is bullying you. Let me help and we can put an end to this. What else has he done?”
Augie had memorized a long list of the things Angie had done. The list of injuries and injustices took fives minutes to explain and it was only the first week of November. Augie explained the stolen treats and food. He explained how Billy Connors had really gotten a black eye. How Mary Margaret and half a dozen other girls had been splashed with dirty water, splattered with mud, or simply pushed to the ground. Attila The Hun’s reign of terror was probably kinder. Augie begged and pleaded with Miss Baker. “Please ma’m; just let things go. A couple of cupcakes would make everything go away. On top of this I have no proof. Just give me some time and I can get you all the proof you need.”
Miss Baker folded her arms and look skeptical. “I am inclined to disagree. I will give you a week, but at the first sign of trouble, the principal will be notified. Thank you for your trust Augie. This demonstrates the highest quality of a young man’s character.”
Augie let out a long sigh and gave a weak smile. “You’re welcome Miss Baker. I hope I live long enough to enjoy your trust more than a day or two longer.”
The recess bell rang; Augie hoped he looked contrite. He made no attempt to hide his tears. Only Angie looked at him more than once. Augie decided to put phase one of the plan in action. As he stowed his coat and lunch box in the coatroom, he bent down to tie his shoe. Augie launched himself upward right into Angie’s elbow. Augie was surprised at how much pain an elbow coulda cause. Augie said, “Ouch! I’m sorry Angie. It was all my fault. I should have looked to see where you were.” Augie did not need to fake the tears. From the look of concern on Miss Baker’s face, he must have a pretty good bruise all ready.
Miss Baker came running; “Angie! What did you do to Augie?”
Angie turned to Miss Baker and said, “Nothing Miss Baker; I was just standing here and Augie stood up and hit my elbow. Explain it to her Augie.”
Augie was having a hard time seeing through his tears but he said quietly, “Angie’s right Miss Baker; it was an accident. I wasn’t paying attention and I caught Angie’s elbow in my eye as I stood. It’s all my fault.”
Miss Baker was convinced. “The rest of you take your seats; I am going to look at Augie’s eye.”
When the rest of the class left the coat room, Augie decided to lay it on thick. In a whisper he hissed, “I told you this would happen. Send me to the office for a frozen sponge before Angie makes things worse. I don’t need any more help.”
Augie walked down to the office and explained he needed a frozen sponge. When he returned, Augie noticed from the looks, every other child in the room was convinced it was Angie being a bully. None of them offered Augie a word of kindness. That was a sure way to get Augie to repeat what had happened to them.
Augie went down to the office several times for new frozen sponges. Augie made sure to give Miss Baker looks that said wordlessly, I told you this would happen! Do you believe me now?
On the way out of school, Augie made sure he stood right in front of Angie in the line to leave school. With Augie’s huge feet, it was only a step or two before Angie stepped on Augie’s left shoe so hard the shoe came off. Angiue hissed, “Out of my way big foot!” Augie was pretty sure at least three of his classmates heard the comment, but would they be willing to admit it?
Augie’s parents believed his explanation, with size twelve shoes, even his parents stepped on his feet on a regular basis. His mother tried to make him feel better by saying, “Don’t worry sweetie; you’ll grow into your feet. They’ll be perfectly normal looking.”
Augie replied, “If they don’t, I can always apply to clown college.” Both parents laughed at that. Augie went to bed knowing his plan was working, he just needed a bit more time before everything fell into place. He just needed to stick to the plan and everything would be fine.
Phase two went well. Right before he headed back to the class for day two of missing recess, Augie slipped his own Hostess Cupcake under Angie’s hand. Angie squashed the dessert as he pushed up from the table after eating. Not only was the dessert smashed, the cream filling squirted all over the front of Augie’s regulation light blue oxford shirt. Augie apologized before things got any worse. “I’m sorry Angie. I was just giving you my cupcake. I owed you a couple. Don’t worry about my shirt; my mom is a whiz at getting out stains. You know me, I’m a klutz.”
Miss Baker watched as Augie made a poor attempt at scraping the mess off of his shirt. “The whole class saw me blunder right into his left elbow at least it looked that way. You’re only going to get me killed if you do anything. I can handle this I tell you. Leave me alone.”
Miss Baker knew she needed more than just a dirty shirt to report a bully. “All right Augie, but if there’s one more incident, I have to step in. I will not stand by and watch you be manhandled.”
Friday was here at last and Augie had his trump card to play. Augie knew Miss Baker was watching the playground from the doors during lunch. He looked at her and waved. Miss Baker was determined to catch Angie in the act. She had to keep Augie safe. That young man was truly brave. As promised, Augie presented Angie with his two cupcakes. Augie watched as Angelo devoured his treats with delight. Just as Angie had swallowed the last of the cupcakes, Angie told a joke about how his father had baked some brownies with a laxitive to punish a freeloading friend. Everyone was laughing when Angie came up and grabbed Augie from behind and spun the little boy around. “Listen big foot; did you put something in those cupcakes to get back at me? Cause if you did, you’ll pay.”
Augie could see the doors and could see Miss Baker standing there watching. “What if I did? What you going do about it? In an hour or two you’ll be too busy rushing for the can!” Augie could see the rage rising in Angie’s eyes.
Angie made a fist, punched Augie in the gut and knocked the wind right out of the smaller boy. Augie plopped on the ground, gasping for breath. Miss Baker rushed over, accompanied by Sister Henrietta, the principal. Miss Baker exclaimed. “I saw the whole thing. Angelo punched this boy for no reason.”
Angie started to protest. “He put something into two Hostess Cupcakes he gave me. He’s trying to make me sick. I was just protecting myself.”
Bernard came forward. “Augie did not. I saw him give the cupcakes to Angie. The wrapper was closed. I saw Angie open them.”
Mary Margaret stepped forward. “Angie has been calling Augie big foot. Augie can’t help it he has big feet. That’s a mean thing to say. I bet those accidents with Augie’s eye and his shoes weren’t accidents either. Angie has been bullying us for years. It’s time we stood up to him.”
A dozen boys and girls related all the times they were splashed with dirty water or had snowballs thrown at them. Angie seemed to shrink as student after student explained how he had made their life hell. He had no choice but to admit he was responsible for everything. Miss Baker was not convinced. “You step one toe out of line and I’ll make sure you are expelled before the end of that day. I’ll talk to Coach about taking football away next season too. Don’t think I won’t young man!”
Angie was a kinder and gentler boy; he had no choice; the teachers made sure he was watched at all times. Angie rarely spoke in class and always looked as if someone was going to bully him. Augie felt a little bad, but a box of Cupcakes was an excellent dividend after all.