091016-blm-lif-vogelsteve

Steve

Vogel

Ever been bullied? I have. A long time ago. Still haunts me.

I thought about it some more when I read a story in Thursday’s Pantagraph about renewed concerns about bullying being expressed at a Unit 5 school board meeting and a Letter to the Editor that referred to the apparent bullying death of a student last month in Champaign-Urbana.

It’s a matter that demands constant attention, a problem technology and social media have elevated to a 24-hour-a-day menace. My experience dates to well before cyber-bullying existed. Mine was the age-old trauma of physical intimidation that gives kids nightmares.

Bob was a high school student who had a noon-time job in the school cafeteria. I was a short, skinny seventh-grader who put ketchup on fish sticks. Bob delighted in clamping his fingers around the back of my neck, squeezing until I cried in front of my classmates and then taunting me.

It was happening every day at a cafeteria table. The physical pain was exceeded by the humiliation. You can imagine how little I looked forward to lunch time. To going to school.

After about two weeks of witnessing my hurt, shame and embarrassment, a classmate spoke up. “Bob, why don’t you leave him alone?” My defender was a popular boy, a class leader. Others at the table, possibly afraid they’d become Bob’s target, looked away. But my friend stood up to the bully. Bob-the-jerk walked away and never bothered me again.

Many years later, I saw Bob as I searched for my seat at Hancock Stadium. He waved at me, called me by name, seemingly seeking some recognition. I ignored him.

As I watched events on the football field, I considered approaching him to ask whether he remembered the cafeteria bullying, whether he was aware of the physical and emotional hurt he had caused, whether he’d like to apologize.

I didn’t say anything. Sometimes I wish I had. But as time goes on, I realize kids who bully frequently have their own problems. That doesn’t make it right, of course. But it does promote forgiveness. And in one sense, I owe Bob for indirectly instilling in me empathy for the vulnerable.

Local and area schools are attentive to the bullying problem. State law even requires them to investigate reports of cyberbullying. But as parents, siblings, friends, teachers and classmates, we need to pay attention, be willing to speak up, to act. Longer term, we need to change the social norm so that bullying in any form, in any setting, is unacceptable.

I never thanked my friend for coming to my defense. I think I’ll try to find his address and send him a copy of this column.

Appearances count

Main Street entrances to Bloomington-Normal — on both the south and the north — are looking better.

A dilapidated building that once housed Barney’s Fine Foods in the 2400 block of South Main has been demolished and the lot cleaned up. The site has been festering ever since the popular steak house closed 25 years ago.

Bloomington businessman Chim Potini, who purchased the property last December, says he may construct an office building there next year.

Meanwhile, it was 11 years ago this week the Staywood Inn (before that a Holiday Inn and before that a Sheraton Inn) on North Main in Normal suddenly closed. So after several false starts, it’s good to see renovations on the broken-down structure nearly complete and the “Raddison Hotel Normal” getting ready to open. Standard room rate: $109 plus $13 tax.

Now we need to worry whether the appearance of the corner of Veterans and Empire (also known as Route 9) is at-risk with at least two Eastland Mall anchor stores either closed or about to close.

It will take some effort to keep those shuttered properties from leaving a poor impression.

Wait. The potholed Veterans Parkway-Route 9 intersection already is doing that.

Vogel, of rural Bloomington, can be reached at vogelgraph@yahoo.com.

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