I forget Mitt Something’s name, but not what I did


By JERRY TALLMER  |  What an extraordinary juxtaposition.

On one day, the president of the United States has the cojones, the balls, the sheer guts to make public his hard-wrestled belief that it is right and proper for a man to marry a man, a woman to marry a woman, if they want each other enough.

The next day, a would-be U.S. president named Willard Mitt Something declines to say more about a bullying incident of his youth except that he can’t remember it.

Really, Mr. Something?

I know that memory and its blank spots are tricky things. But if I can’t forget — have vivid memories of — myself and Tommy Israel kicking George Kornwall in the ass on the sidewalk of 123rd Street on a lovely sunny graduation day in 1937, which is 75 years ago, I can’t believe that you, Mr. Something, can’t remember yourself and your preppy posse terrorizing long-locked, bleached-blond John Lauber with a menacing pair of scissors at Michigan’s high-class Cranbrook School in the spring of 1965, which is only 47 years ago.

George Kornwall and Tommy Israel aren’t their real names, of course. I don’t know if the real George Kornwall is alive or dead. I haven’t seen him, heard about him since that day. His class of ’37 was the one just ahead of Tommy’s and mine at the Lincoln School of Teachers College, 425 West 123rd Street, top of Morningside Park, and George Kornwall was what in those days we called the Faery Queen.

Homo-baiting is homo-baiting. I know it when I see it or hear it.

The word “gay” in its present use had not yet been invented. But George talked gay and looked gay and acted gay, onstage (especially in comedies) and off. He plainly sneered down on all the rest of us as immature oafs, sexually not least, and that is why Tommy Israel and I were suddenly inspired to give George Kornwall a kick in the ass — or two kicks, one from Tommy, one from me — as a goodbye present on the Class of 1937’s graduation day.

What we had not foreseen — had failed to consider — was George Kornwall’s loved ones, his sisters and his cousins and his aunts, particularly his aunts. What looked like dozens of them, all debarking like circus clowns from a cab or two that had pulled up in front of the school.

This was different. This was callous. This was ugly — to brutalize George Kornwall in front of his own family. I wasn’t going to do it…and then Tommy Israel gave me a shove on the back and sent me zooming in on George right there among his sisters and his cousins and his aunts, and Tommy and I gave George one quick goodbye kick in the ass each in front of George’s mortified, bewildered loved ones — Next stop, Auschwitz — and kept running down the block and out of the picture.

I have, Mr. Something, never forgiven myself since, and no, though I do not often think about it, I have not forgotten that moment of mortification, of shame, to this day. … What must they be thinking, those loved ones, I wonder, as I strain to conjure up George Kornwall’s haughty, disparaging look down his nose at our fleeing backs, Tommy’s and mine.

I think the nearest I’ve ever come to being at the receiving end of any such bullying was when a fraternity hotshot in college yelled at me: “Drive it or park it, worm!” as I was struggling to get my car out of the mud around Memorial Stadium after a rainy football game.

But open scissors? Sexual orientation? Cut my good gray hair? No. God leaves that to me and my Delilah, whose other name is Frances and who has been pursuing me around the house with her haircut scissors every week or so for twenty-something years now.

In a piece in these pages some years ago, during the reign of George VIII, I spoke of that monarch as (see above) a hotshot “Mission Accomplished” frat boy yelling: “Drive it or park it, worm!” to a poor fellow stuck in the mud.

You, Mr. Something, with your selective forgettery, your multiple-choice political principles, and your gaping scissors, are…well…something. … And no balls at all.