Bully Proof

Superman has biceps the size of grapefruit. Me? Kiwis.

Hercules had back muscles as hard as steel. Me? Similar to Jell-O pudding—when
it’s been in the back of the refrigerator for a month, and is mostly just skin.

Tarzan could wrestle an alligator and a lion—simultaneously. Me? Well, maybe. But they would have to be newborns.

When I was a kid, I remember buying a Karate instruction book—thinking I could learn the skills by reading about them. All I got from the book were paper cuts.

The world has changed, but bullies still abound. Yet, nowadays, on one downtown city block near my home, I recently saw no fewer than three different self-defense businesses. One offers a course on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu; another is for Taekwondo and Kung fu; and yet another teaches Judo and kickboxing.

All have signs in their windows proclaiming: “Bully Proof Your Kid!” That sounds fine—unless bullies also take the same courses.

A tough in my neighborhood used to chase me after school nearly everyday. He would sometimes catch up and pound me. I finally decided that I should start walking home from school with a kid tougher than me. Failing that, I settled for a kid slower than me.

On the back pages of the comic books I read as a kid were advertisements for the most alluring items any boy could hope for. It was all available by mail order: whoopee cushions,
fake dog poo, pocket spy telescopes and joke gum.

Also advertised: joy buzzers, air-powered hover crafts, stink bombs, hot pepper candy and super-hearing devices. I knew a kid who bought a super-hearing device so he could hear his whoopee cushion better.
For teenage boys, the prospect of owning X-ray glasses that could look through girls’
clothes or bathing suits was just too good to be true—and an incredible bargain at only
But nestled among the ads for Sea Monkeys, spy sunglasses and live turtles was perhaps the most tantalizing promise of all—especially for pencil-necks like my pals and me. A man named Charles Atlas proclaimed that a kid could have super muscles, bull-like shoulders and a powerful chest in 7 days. It sounded great—even if it would take an entire week.

I didn’t really notice the smaller print which revealed that Mr. Atlas only promised that a person could start getting “results you can feel” within 7 days. In that vague description anything might be the “results”—from starting to feel sore—to a heat rash.

Still, the ad was intriguing. There was a picture of the mighty Charles Atlas, wearing only a pair of leopard-skin trunks. This was years before PETA existed. Today, those trunks would be corduroy.

The rest of the ad was presented in comic book style. It showed a skinny guy and his girlfriend sitting under an umbrella on the ocean beach. Suddenly, a big bully runs by kicking sand into people’s faces.

When the skinny guy calls the bully on it, he is grabbed and threatened: “Listen here, shrimp,” the bully says, “I’d smash your face…only you’re so skinny you might dry up and blow away.” Never mind that the bully’s remark didn’t make any sort of sense. But, after all, he was a bully, not a logician. He was used to letting his fists do the talking.

As soon as the big lug is out of earshot, the skinny guy declares to his girlfriend: “I’ll show that big bully some day!” But then—get this—his girlfriend says: “Oh, don’t let it bother you, LITTLE boy.” Ouch! That must have hurt more than ten of a bully’s knuckle sandwiches.

But after sending away for the Charles Atlas “Dynamic-Tension” Bodybuilding and Fitness Course, everything changed. In the final panel of the ad, the skinny guy—no longer skinny—is back on the beach again (at least seven days later)—and this time, he punches the big bully right in the chops, while his girlfriend just beams.
Yes, the skinny, geeky guy had now become a muscular, thick-necked stud. Maybe that
worked for him in the short term—but you have to wonder if may have unwittingly blown his future chances of becoming a software billionaire.

Yet, despite the appeal of having big muscles, my friends and I never sent away for the Atlas course. Sure, the idea of being built like Charles Atlas would have been cool, but we already had our money earmarked for other purposes.

And as soon as our X-ray glasses arrived in the mail, we headed straight for the beach.