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Johnny Angel Wendell: Justice and the Code of the City

The musician, performer and talk radio host writes about family life from the Echo Park-Silver Lake border.

I don't know as I really believe that fate is anything more than random circumstance put in some kind of understandable order by our numerically-oriented brains, but if it does exist, it kicked my ass last Friday and hard. Generally, my drop off schedule for my two sons is to walk them into the gate at their elementary school, make sure they're in and then hie off fast to the Y.

But on this particular morning, the lower back was as seized up as an oil-deprived engine block and so there would be no workout.
After dropping them off and finding a place to park, I figured that I had time and why not hang out with them till the bell rang. The little one was in line and kibbitzing with his cronies but my older son was nowhere to be seen. When the bell rang, same situation and as is the nature of parenting, my fear gourd started rising just a little. After a couple of minutes, two of his friends appeared, breathless--my boy was on the other side of the building and in the quad--and had been in a fight.

He wasn't there. Panicked, I made my way to his classroom and there he was, visibly upset but uninjured. I took him out on the stairs and asked him what had happened, but he was too shaken up to answer coherently. His two pals appeared and I grilled them as to what had happened and this was what went down:

Apparently, a few older fifth graders were picking on and bullying this tiny third grader. My son's two friends yelled at them to cut it out, but my son--impulsive as he is--didn't even bother. Waded in and got up in their grills and demanded they leave the little guy alone--and got kicked hard twice for his intervention. I asked my boy's teacher if I could have a few minutes with my kid's friends and I asked them if they knew who these bullies were and where they were. When they replied that the two were out on the yard for morning PE, I dragged them down there to ID the little bastards and indeed they did.

I was seething. As a grown, sober, semi-responsible adult, I know that even entertaining the idea for a minute of "frontier justice" on this issue is beyond the realm of any rational person (the idea of beating the crap out of their fathers, well, that's another story). However, once the junior felons were identified, the PE coach assured me they'd be taken to the office and they were--I called the school's social worker and pressed her twice during the day, which did result in a suspension for the duration of the school day. Small victory. (Whether or not it had been determined, as one of my son's friends claimed, that they were shaking the little boy down for lunch money is unknown).

What I told my son afterwards at pick up time was that I was proud of him, that he had earned daddy's favorite sobriquet, he was a true warrior. He knew wrong was being done and he stepped in--justice had to be served when there were no adults about. But I also told him of the code of the city--if it doesn't concern you directly, mind your own business. It's how we survive. But there is no denying my pride that he showed true heart. I only hope he shows true common sense next time and defers to teachers or security there.

Which made it a typical day for a parent. There is no black and white or absolute right or wrong in any code of conduct and only real world experience can teach you this. Why it has to be so damned painful, that is the great absorbing mystery for all of us, in the city or not.

Patrick Lee February 17, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Great essay. Thanks for posting it! Your son is an example to us all, and kudos to you for raising such a "warrior."
Armineh Hovanesian February 17, 2012 at 07:30 PM
Most excellent! Job well done papa and junior Wendell :-)
Theresa Wilson February 28, 2012 at 10:15 PM
That did take a lot of courage..you must be doing something right.

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