GETTING MORE TALE #833: Flag Boy
Part Two of the 1986 Saga
One of the many recurring themes here has been the awful experiences of being a metalhead in Catholic school. A story that has somehow escaped being told until now is the one where those bastard kids gave me the name “Fag Boy” for a whole school year.
Grade 8, the 1985-86 year, had to be the worst. It was kicked off by a huge fight with the school bully Steve Hartman, a total piece of shit, but at least I won. Not that it helped. I was teased relentlessly all year for my love of Kiss and Judas Priest. Then I had mono. Incidentally, Catholic school bullies are the worst and the teachers didn’t give a fuck. When one kid, Ian Johnson, got into a fight with another bully, the teachers made them walk around the schoolyard together hand in hand. What was that supposed to do?
The only thing that made life easier that year was beating Hartman in September of ’85. That kept him off my back for the school year, although there were other bullies waiting in the wings. Jeff Brooks, who stuffed snow down my jacket every Thursday after shop class. Kevin Kirby, who copied my homework. Towards the end even Hartman was campaigning for a “rematch”.
My sister used to call that school the “Hell Hole”. She would sing Spinal Tap’s “Hell Hole” when we drove by. This is a little kid in grade 4 calling her school that name.
At the start of the eighth grade, to learn social responsibility, we all had to volunteer for something. There were a limited selection of slots for each role we were offered. I cannot remember all of the duties that were set out on our menu of options. Volunteering at the church was definitely among them, but I volunteered for the one I thought would be the most interesting: security! On a regular basis, we were to walk around the school when it was closed to make sure all was well. Keep an eye out for anything wrong, like vandalism. It was perfect because I was always biking around that direction anyway. It was really the most appealing of all the options to me.
I’m sure you have already guessed they didn’t give me the security assignment. No, I was given something that was supposed to be better, but was actually far worse. It was such a dubious honour. I was Flag Boy.
I wasn’t athletic, I was a skinny kid who openly listened to Judas Priest. No way were they putting me on security. They gave the two open positions to a couple of the athletic kids. I don’t think either of them did any security that year.
As Flag Boy, I was responsible for putting out and bringing in the Maple Leaf at the start and end of every day for the year. It was worst at the start of the day. When announcements were about to commence, I had to get out of my seat and leave the class, which always seemed to amuse them. Then I had to walk down the hallway past the other grade 8 classroom, who always mocked and laughed and pointed at me as I went. They called me “Fag Boy” from day one. What made it even worse were my boots. My dad gave them to me. I thought they were so cool. They didn’t have laces, they had dual zippers. The boots only made me more a “Fag Boy”.
When the first pair of boots wore out, my dad gave me his second identical backup pair. Ironically those boots would be considered so retro and stylish today.
The abuse that year was pretty bad and I faked sick a lot. I faked sick mostly on Thursdays, which was shop class. They bussed us to another school, St. Joseph, which had a woodworking shop. The supervision was minimal and the bus rides were all but intolerable. At one point or another I just decided I couldn’t take it anymore and faked sick as many Thursdays as I could. By the time I got sick with mono for real, I had several incomplete projects in woodworking. I was home for the rest of the term, and I never had to worry about those Thursday bus trips again.
Having mono sucked a lot, but Thursdays on the bus were far worse. I considered it more than a fair trade.
While sick at home for real, I absorbed as many Pepsi Power Hours as I could. I heard Hear N’ Aid for the first time. I became addicted to “Rough Boy” by ZZ Top because of that damn music video. (I guess I learned from an early age that I’m really a leg man.) My heavy metal credentials grew by leaps and bounds and I listened to more and more songs: “Metal on Metal”, “Never Surrender”, “Turbo Lover”, “Rock and Roll Children”. To this day, I associate those songs with my sick time in 1986. Especially Dio’s “Rock and Roll Children”. The surreal music video suited the way I felt physically. It didn’t look like the real world and I didn’t feel like myself.
My association of heavy metal music with relief from the outside world was cemented that year. I had always come home to the comfort of a few Kiss tapes. In 1986, sick with mono, I was safe from the school and surrounded not by bullies but by Ronnie James Dio, Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Halford, and Bruce Dickinson. They didn’t call me “Fag Boy”, in fact their lyrics encouraged me to dig for strength. Recovering from my illness, I had built this wall of metal around me. It would be my armour for life.
I don’t know if those kids remember calling me “Fag Boy”, or if they would admit it. I know I wouldn’t recognize Hartman if I saw him today. They used to talk about forgiveness a lot in Catholic school. You can forgive, but you never forget.