Everything I Know About Politics I Learned In A Grade School Playground

Aug 21, 2020

Yes, I've covered politics for about 47 years now and people assume that explains why I may know a little bit about it.

In fact, I can trace my education in politics, sociology and life in general to an asphalt playground behind Cleveland Elementary School in Dayton, Ohio.

I learned everything I need to know about politics on that playground when I was a nerdy but observant kid.

First of all, I recognized what a bully is and how to deal with him/her.

No doubt, you have watched as President Trump, in countless bewildering and uninformative White House press conferences, tries to bully reporters – particularly women reporters. He treats the women journalists with what is either contempt, fear or both.

And you have, no doubt, seen many times when Trump was confronted by a woman reporter and challenged where he would literally turn tail and run out of the room.

Gone. Out of here. Can't take the heat.

This is pure Cleveland School playground stuff.

In my second or third grade class – can't remember which – there was a kid named Jimmy who was a total bully. He was not particularly big, but he was strong as a bull and had this massive round head which featured bulging eyes. He looked for all the world like Boris Badenov, the bad guy of The Rocky and Bulwinkel Show. Without Boris' pencil-thin mustache. Well, he might have had one. Can't readily recall.

At any rate, Boris – excuse me, Jimmy – spent months terrorizing kids at every recess on the playground. Everyone took their turn bearing the brunt of Jimmy's physical and verbal abuse.

I had my share of run-ins with Jimmy. I was an easy target – a skinny, nerdy, four-eyed kid who started wearing eyeglasses at the age of four – my parents astutely noticed that I kept running into things – walls, furniture, doors, whatever – because I simply couldn't see.

One day, Jimmy strode into a small gathering of my fellow nerdy kids and started in on me, pushing and shoving me. When he started throwing punches, I snapped and began returning the blows. We were near the back end of the playground, next to the top of a big hill that led down to a city park that used to be a gravel pit.

When Jimmy saw that I was mad as hell and not going to take any more, he began to turn tail and run towards the hill. I reached out, grabbed him by the arm, spun him around, and landed a huge haymaker to the kid's breadbasket. It knocked him off his feet and he went rolling down the hill, landing at the bottom in a pathetic heap.

On the playground, a crowd of kids had gathered, cheering and applauding the defeat of the bully who tried to run away.

It was, in fact, Liberation Day for the kids of Cleveland Elementary School – all of whom had learned a valuable lesson that day:

Stand up to a bully and he will inevitably run away. All bullies are cowards in disguise.

Another lesson learned on the playground:

Don't promise more than you can deliver.

A few years later, I struck up a friendship with a kid named Jonathan. We were friends, but not of the best friend variety.

I think I really hung out with Jonathan because he was an even bigger nerd than I was. He made me feel like Charles Atlas.

It was a crisp, clear fall day. About half a dozen of the guys, including myself, were standing around outside at recess, talking about whatever consequential matters 12-year-old boys talk about.

Up comes Jonathan, in his trademark gangly gait, and joins us, with a big smile.

I got new glasses, he said, pointing to the obviously brand-new eyewear he was sporting. My mom took me. They're the best you can get.

What makes those glasses so special, I asked.

They’re unbreakable, he said. You can't break them. Impossible to break. Will last forever!

Having worn eyeglasses since an early age, I knew something about the subject and I told him flat-out: There's no such thing as unbreakable glasses.

The other guys expressed their agreement with my analysis. Jonathan was adamant.

There is too! They are unbreakable! You can't break them!

Prove it, I said.

Ok, I will.

To my complete surprise, Jonathan whipped off his new glasses, placed them on the asphalt playground. He lifted his left foot and stomped on the eyeglasses with all the force his skinny little self could muster.

Of course, Jonathan's new glasses shattered into dozens of pieces.

The other guys were laughing hysterically as Jonathan, on his hands and knees, tried to gather up the pieces.

He looked up at me with wild desperation in his eyes.

Help me, Howard! I'm a dead man!

A fundamental law of sociology had just risen up and bit Jonathan on the behind: The law of unintended consequences.

And there was nothing he could do about it.

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

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