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The Bully

By Joel Shultz

His name was Danny Kropatch, a nineteen-year old Hollywood transplant/good ol' boy redneck from the backwoods of West Virginia. Picture a nineteen-year old version of the late actor Andy Griffith without the waves in his hair (Danny's was limp and thin) and you get the idea.

A well-muscled but lean 6'0" hayseed high school dropout, he was our nemesis for a short time; a genuine early 1960's Hollywood neighborhood bully. He toyed with kids half his age and older, always in his own surreptitious and sneaky style, couched in homespun fake sincerity.

And sometimes, when the mood suited him, he discreetly slept with his next door neighbor, a milky looking divorcee' probably in her late forties, early fifties. She, a lonely lady named Betty, still lived with her elderly mother who rarely left her back bedroom, A.M. talk radio blaring out the incessant droning of Ray Briem, Michael Jackson and their contemporaries twenty-four seven.

The Kropatchs lived six houses down the street from us on Barton Avenue in the heart of Hollywood. Danny slept in a converted tool shed with one large window behind his parent's rented home.

Peer pressure being what it is, we youngsters succumbed to his giggly, cornpone charm and found ourselves coerced into mini "boxing tournaments" in the bully's backyard well out of public view. He supplied these orange cheesy toy boxing gloves and would appoint two of us to initiate "The Event."

He then would retire to a lawn chair, a lit cigarette in one hand, a Pepsi clenched in the other, and he would laugh his ass off judging the "talent." Sometimes he would shout out encouraging remarks egging on the underdog to fight back. "Punish 'em Tommy" he'd yell, "He's smaller than you. Don't let him get away with that CRAP!"

I remember even now how Danny matched me up with another fresh-faced lad by the name of Allen Van Gilder. If Danny was a younger Andy then Allan Van Gilder was Barney Fife. Skinny as a rail, the runt of his family, he possessed few athletic skills, let alone any boxing knowledge or ability. Frankly, Allen was more obsessed with the latest horror flicks at the Pix up on Hollywood Boulevard.

So we began, and though I too had few actual fights myself (except for the ones with my older brother), I had however watched some classic television fights with my Dad (a huge fan), bouts featuring greats like Rocky Marciano, Floyd Patterson, and the first and original "Sugar" Ray Robinson. Aside from this, I practiced punching my 50's plastic stand-up clown punching bag, the kind with sand at the bottom so it would pop back up when you hit it.

Allan came out swinging like a little girl, trying to overwhelm me with simultaneous windmill rights and lefts, wild punches that only glanced my forearms, doing no damage at all.

Then it was my turn. I began peppering him with short, effective jabs, further reddening his already blushing face and puffing up his lower lip. Then came an unexpected teenaged right cross to Allan's ribs and the "battle" was over.

Dejected and eliminated, he stood up crying and struggling to rip his gloves off. I stood there, a mere yard away and tried to say I was sorry (after all, he was a classmate) when he caught me off guard by throwing the gloves at my face, raising a red welt under an eye.

It was a bittersweet, hollow victory. I beat a woefully overmatched school chum and received a red welt under an eye for my troubles.

Of course, the eventual "Lord of the Flies" winner was usually a local tough little stocky Puerto Rican ex-New Yorker named Mikey Olvero. Taking a beating was nothing new for Mikey; anyone driving by or peering out their front windows could view his father, Tony, "disciplining" him on their front lawn on just about any given weekend.

Despite the beatings, little Mikey was rumored to be the threat of the school yard, and some kids avoided him altogether. But we embraced him, attracted to his toughness and tenacity. He was exceptionally athletic, and was always the first or second to be chosen in any game.

So young Mikey Olvero, after eliminating the rest of us, would then be forced to fight the ringleader, Kropatch, easily 40 lbs heavier and a foot taller than his comparatively diminutive opponent. I mean, this bum had already been shaving for years for Chrissakes!

Battered and bruised, we all lay on the Kropatch back lawn in awe as the bout began with the bully measuring Mikey. Mikey wore a sheepish gap-toothed grin on his face and even flashed a wink of confidence our way, as if to say, "Don't worry guys, I can handle this hillbilly."

We watched and collectively hoped for an upset, maybe even a miracle knockout by Mikey. Kropatch toyed with him at first, even allowing him to land a few token but surprisingly strong body punches, as if to sample little Mikey's power. Then Danny let Mikey connect once with his fully developed whiskered chin, sticking it out toward Mikey, as if to say "Here it is. Let's see you hit it !" Mikey obliged and swung from his heels, Danny wincing a bit as it landed.

Kropatch, sly as a fox, was most likely setting up little Olivero, just waiting for his opening.

It came in the fourth round (2 minute rounds) when Danny stunned Mikey with a low body punch. The bully finally had had enough of this brash young upstart. He then paused to let Mikey regain his lost breath, then delivered one sharp blow that wiped any sort of grin off his face. That last punch would have most likely leveled an adult, let alone a thirteen-year old boy.

To his credit, little Mikey stayed on his feet. Averting his forlorn face from us, he removed his gloves, dropped them at his feet, and then walked home, bawling silently to himself, not smiling any longer.

Now I would love to tell you that the following year, little Mikey gained ten pounds of muscle, grew two inches, took up surfing and weightlifting and all this would be true.

But I'd be leaving out the part that also by the next summer, the Kropatch clan would be nestled comfortably back home in West Virginia, their Hollywood "living" experiment apparently not a success.

And although everybody shared the hope of someone, anyone, young or old, stepping up and administering the thrashing of Kroptach's life, it never to came to pass.

And despite the fact that we were mostly all native Angelinos, we were denied the fairy tale "Hollywood" comeuppance ending we so desired.

We never saw any Karmic retribution, the bad guy got the girl and escaped scoff-free, never, ever to be seen by any of us again.

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