Certain names have been changed to protect – well, me, let’s be honest – from lawsuits and beatdowns.
We always walked home from school. Always. Rachel (my older sister by 2 years) and I walked home from our elementary school on East 17th Street in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, we usually had company.
For whatever reason, we were targets. Maybe it was that we were brainy, teachers liked us, maybe we were socially awkward and weird, never caught the ball in dodgeball…whatever. Always targets, though. At least for most of elementary school, I had Rachel to walk with me. Made me feel better, even though she was a target, too.
That company I mentioned? Here’s where I start changing names. A few boys, of whom I only really remember two, enjoyed following and teasing us. (Rhymes with) “Snilly” and (Rhymes with) “Snott” were regulars. “Snilly” and “Snott” were mean and intimidating. They were in Rachel’s class. (Rachel and I were a year younger and smaller than our classmates.) I don’t remember specifically what they said, but I remember always being afraid and embarrassed.
One day, though, Rachel had had enough. “Snilly” and “Snott” and some others were following us, teasing and needling as usual, and Rachel was done. D.O.N.E. Here she was, the absolute soul of gentleness and kindness, humiliated in front of her friend and little sister, unable to contain the white hot fury the likes of which had not been seen on East 17th Street in the history of P.S. 255.
To my absolute horror and amazement, she turned around, dropped her books, and went after them, a la Ralphie in “A Christmas Story.” She threw and landed the first punch. I’m not sure how many other kids got involved, but I do remember in the end it was mainly a fist fight between Rachel and “Snott.”
Rachel’s friend, (Rhymes with) “Snisa” looked straight ahead and walked home very quickly, as she had been instructed by her mother to do if she ever saw a fight break out. I ran a few houses down to bang on Walter and Irene’s door, because even though they were 114 years old, they were grown-ups and I knew them. But they weren’t home.
In my exhaustive, impartial historical research conducted before writing this blog post, I finally asked my sister what “Snott” and “Snilly” used to say when they teased us. Without missing a beat, she said, “That day it was ‘Lirtzy-banana.’” (Our last name was Lirtzman.)
I said, “I’m sorry, what???”
“Lirtzy-banana,” she said.
This was the venom they spewed at us that fateful day. “Lirtzy-banana.”
I practically screamed into the phone, “LIRTZY-BANANA?????????? Are you eff-ing KIDDING ME??? That’s what they said that threw you into such a rage?” Over my peals of laughter, she replied calmly, “Well, I didn’t like being called a banana. Maybe if they had picked a different fruit.”
While others might be inclined to view the incident as a little less serious and worthy of legend status after this revelation, I can assure you I’m not one of them. These boys made a game out of making us miserable, and I can tell you for a fact Rachel would have snapped on that day regardless of the content of the teasing. The underdog bloodied her knuckles and prevailed in the end. She took one for the team. She was the little guy protecting the littler guy. I did not fare nearly so well when Rachel moved on to junior high school and I had to start walking home by myself. But maybe I’ll tell you about (Rhymes with)“Snamelia” and (Rhymes with) “Sneryl” – my own personal tormentors – another time.
I asked Rachel if that was the end of the teasing. She remembers more unpleasantness, but she doesn’t remember being followed home any more after that. I don’t know what ever became of “Snott” and “Snilly.” I could say that they’re probably shelving books at the library on Rikers. I never would, though, because that would be sinking to their level. Also, it would imply they could alphabetize.