Every Day is Basil Houpis Day: Bullying Doesn’t Stop After High School

By Storyteller Robin Bady

Story Summary

Robin was in middle school.  Basil Houpis had just moved to the U.S. from Greece, and he was different. He barely spoke English, wore mismatched clothes and smelled funny. Everyone picked on him mercilessly.  It was not until Robin went to her 30th high school reunion that she was able to take a stand.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Every Day is Basil Houpis Day-Bullying Doesn’t Stop After High School

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been bullied?  Did anyone help you?  How did you feel?
  2. Have you ever been a person who bullied another?  Why?  For how long? How did you feel? What did or could have stopped you?
  3. Have you ever been a bystander to bullying? What did you do? Why? How did you feel?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Bullying
  • Immigration
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking Theme

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Robin Bady. I wonder, have you ever felt like you’ve done something that you wish that you could have done again and done over? Well, this story takes place when I’m in middle school in 1963, in the small town I grew up in on the New Jersey Shore.

So, my hometown teacher is standing in front of the class. And standing right next to her is this geeky looking guy. His hair was uncombed and it looked greasy. He was… had a funny smile on his face and his clothes were, were mismatched and wrinkled. And he was shifting side to side. And my teacher, she looked at him and looked at us and then smiled painfully and said, (very slowly), “Class, this is Basil Houpis. And he is new to our school and new to America. And he doesn’t speak English very well. Help me welcome Basil Houpis.”

Silence. And then from the guys in the back, “Hoo, Hoo, Houpis! Basil Houpis! He’s got the cooties! He’s got the cooties!” You remember the cooties. That horrible childhood disease that gets you. The one that you have because someone says you have it. That nobody wants to go near you. Well, Basil had the cooties. And I remember him walking down the hallway with a pained smile on his face. And, ah, we split like the sea in front of him. And he would walk there all by himself, desperately looking for somebody to smile or somebody to talk. And the mean boys, they would go, (in mean grumbling voice), “Oh, yeah. There’s Basil Houpis.”

And the cool girls and the girls who wanted to be cool, they’d say, “There’s Basil Houpis. He’s so weird.” And there was me. And there was, in truth, lots of people like me, who’s pushing up against the wall, wishing I could disappear into it. Where were the teachers, you might ask? I don’t know.

High school comes and puff, he disappears and nobody knows where he’s gone. But, in truth, Basil was never gone. Because once a year, in March, whispers would begin, “Don’t forget. Don’t forget. Don’t forget tomorrow’s Basil Houpis Day.” Basil Houpis Day, that was a day when lots of kids would dress up with dirty hair and bad clothes that didn’t match, weren’t ironed, they’d smell. (The teachers… where were the teachers?) And they’d act just like Basil Houpis, which meant crazy and weird and didn’t speak their English well. Kids like me… you know, wished I could say something but I was too afraid. You know how it is. I did not want to be the next Basil Houpis.

Well, thirty years later, I am, thank God, out of high school. And I am now living my life and I’m happy, with a family. And I get a phone call from my old friend Stephanie. We had grown up next door to each other. We were one month apart. And she said, “So, Robin, why aren’t you going to the 30th high school reunion?” I didn’t even know about it. She goes, “You got to come! Everyone is coming. Why not?” So, I agree.

And on a very hot day in July, me and my husband… Well, you know, high school reunions are?… Well, you dress really well because you want to impress all the kids that you possibly didn’t impress in the past. I was very thin. I had a long, black, silky dress…slinky. I wore a jean jacket and statement jewelry because I was from Brooklyn now and I wanted to impress. Oh, high strappy heels.

And I walked to where the reunion is happening in our high school. I walk in and there’s the gym. The gym is decorated with, well, like it’s a prom. Not that I wouldn’t know. I never went there, to prom. But there it is. It is… something else. All the high school bands have reunited and they’re playing. There are kids doing skits. And I walk through. Everybody’s really friendly.

Then I go to the cafeteria. And the food they were serving, it’s exactly the same old sloppy joes that we had when we were in high school served by the same…the SAME cafeteria ladies wearing the SAME hairnet for the same price–thirty-five cents.

Well, I look around. There are a lot of people there. Everyone was there with their spouse or their partner. And even though there were nametags, I didn’t recognize anyone. Because… well, the truth was that if they were not standing in the group that they had inhabited while they were in high school, I just didn’t know them individually. And so, I spoke to people but it kept going past me. Who they were and why they were saying things to me about things I had said and done.

I had a pretty nice time. And when I went home, the following weeks, in the following months, the class reunion listserv was buzzing.

“Oh, do you remember going to the beach?”

“Oh, that party!”

“The diner.”

“The night after the play.”

“The night after the baseball game.”

“The night after the football game.”

And on and on and on. And then March came. And landing smack dab on my computer, in my email was the message… sent by a friend of mine, “Don’t forget tomorrow’s Basil Houpis Day! Houp, Houp, Houpis!” And all sorts of emails came in response.

“Oh, yeah! I can’t wait to do it.”

“Oh, yeah! Know just what I’m gonna do!”

“Oh, that sounds cool!”

And I’m just looking and watching. And I can’t stop reading because I can’t believe it. This is, well, we haven’t seen him in probably thirty-four years, since middle school. What is this about? We’re not in middle school anymore. And then I felt, whap, the same fears that I used to feel when I was smack up against that puke green, cement walls of our school. And I’m watching Basil Houpis go by and I am wondering, “What I should do? I can’t do anything, right?”

I don’t want to stand up against them. I mean, those are the popular kids and the cool kids. And I got so mad. So mad that I think, “Wait a minute! I don’t even know these people anymore! Why do I care?” And then I go back and forth between tremendous fear and tremendous anger until I settle into rage. My fingers go onto the keyboard and I start writing. “Who the…What the…How the…Why the…” And I decide I shouldn’t write anything. My husband comes in. He’s been watching me and he says, “Close the computer. Go, do it tomorrow.”

And tomorrow I tried to write and the next day I tried to write and the next day and the next day. I think it took me a whole month before I found something that felt okay. And that Tom, my husband, and I agreed was reasonable yet powerful. Because I was not a kid anymore. And I wouldn’t stand for this today. So, I write something that goes like this: (Dear Robin, it’s wonderful, I mean, excuse me, let me start that again.)

Dear Classmates,

How wonderful it was to see you all at the reunion. I forgot how much fun we’d had in high school and how difficult it was too. You know, we are all successful people in one way or another. We have families. We have friends. We are doing well with our lives. Some of us are very successful. Some of us are just getting along. But we’re all adults. And that’s why I was surprised when I got that email from you. Well, first the one that said, “Don’t forget tomorrow’s Basil Houpis Day.” And then everybody writing about it. You know, if that happened to your child, what would you do? What would you say? Would you stop it or would you let your child do it? What if your child was doing it? Was the bully?

We are better than that. I know that from spending time in your presence and remembering you from our time together. Let’s stand up to the worst in ourselves. Let’s stop picking on a poor defenseless kid, who could barely speak our language, who’s no longer around.

With Love,
Robin

Pfush, off to cyberspace. I closed the computer. I didn’t really want to see if anyone responded. But the next day, I looked. How could I not? And I heard, I read but it was if they standing right in the room.

“Who do you think you are, Robin? I always thought you were a conceited, stuck-up person!”

“Well, who are you to be preaching at us?”

“What do you think you are?”

“Do you think you know better? We’re just having fun. What’s your problem, babe?”

And a lot of bad words and a lot of other things and a lot of meanness. Oh, and I love this one: “Your father would be so ashamed of you!” That one took me aback. And when I was about to give up completely, a couple of other emails came.

“Thank you, Robin. When I was a kid, I wished so much that I could have stood up and taken care of Basil. I would have hated that to happen to me, which is why I didn’t do it.”

“If that had happened to my child, I would be fighting mad. Thank you.”

“Thank you for reaching out to the best of us. We forget when we get all into that group think. Thank you. Thank you.”

“Thank you. It’s about time.”

And I think it’s about time I stood up for that kid. And I think about what my father would have said. He’d have quoted his favorite quotation to me from Hillel, the rabbi, who said many wonderful things from a hundred years before the common era. Hillel said, “If I’m not for myself, who am I? If I’m not for others, what am I? And if not now, when? When?”

Tipping the Scales

 

Story Summary:

 When camp started, tension was high between the Chinese kids and Black and Latino kids in Robin’s group. But over the summer, the children began to let their defenses down and make new friends. That is, until Daniela returned.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Tipping-the-Scales

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been bullied? What happened?  How did you feel?  What did you do?
  2. Have you ever stood up for someone who has been bullied? What happened?
  3. Have you ever been a person who bullied others? Why?  What was going on for you?
  4. How would you handle a situation like the one in the story? Where would you stand?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Bullying
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family & Childhood
  • Stereotypes & Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hello, I’m Robin Bady. So, it was a couple of summers ago… maybe, many, that, ah, I was going to my first day of my first summer job in New York City. It was to be the head counselor of the Hamilton Madison Day Care Center in Chinatown, in New York. I was excited because I did not have to be a waitress like my friends. So, I arrived there and I go straight to the cafeteria and there are the children. They’re sitting at two tables, two very distinct tables. At one table were the Chinese children and the other table where all the black and Puerto Rican children. Distinct. Separate.

Well, my supervisor, Mrs. Louie, she had told me, “They don’t get along. They’re like oil and water. They don’t mix. The Chinese children live in Chinatown. The black and Puerto Rican children live ah, in like, all the new projects around Chinatown and they don’t talk to each other. But you shouldn’t worry. Your main problem, Daniella, who likes to upset things, she won’t be here for the summer.

Well, I thought, now I had just moved from Chicago where I had worked with really, really tough kids who had been in gangs. Teaching theater, for goodness sake. How difficult could a group of 11 and 12-year-olds be?  So, I jumped right in. And I did whatever it is you do when you have an underfunded program in, an underserved neighborhood. I made do.

And I’ll tell you, we had fun! And little by little things started to change. It started to shift and, I mean, first it started with the girls just putting their head on me and, you know, slipping their arms through mine. And then the boys, you know, let’s go and do an arm wrestle, which I always, for real, lost. And then the table started to mix and the groups of children started to make friends in the other groups. And, and we were one, big group.

Now, I know, and I’m sure all of you know, we’re not supposed to have favorites, but Elizabeth. Now Elizabeth was a new immigrant to this country as many of the Chinese children were. She had just come over six, eight months ago and, within no time at all, she was speaking English fluently, and she was reading almost as fluently.  One day she said to me, “Miss Robin do you know Shakespeare?” Well, hey, I was going to acting school; of course, I knew Shakespeare. The next day, I brought her one of my Shakespeare copies of Folger’s edition of “Julius Caesar.” She opened it up randomly and she looked at it; she went to sit down. The children gathered around, and with her finger, she began to read out loud.

“Why…man…he doth bestride the very world like a Colossus.” She had chosen my favorite speech! “And we petty men walk under his huge legs and peep about and find ourselves dishonorable graves. Men at some time are masters of their fate. The fault, dear Brutus, the fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.” This this was the BEST SUMMER EVER!

Well, the, the first day of the last week, I arrived at the facility with all the circus equipment because I was going to do a whole circus week and we were going to end with a big circus day. And I got there, and the boys were all fooling around in the back as they had been doing for a while, and at the two tables in front of me, were the girls. On one side were the Chinese girls and on the other side were the black and Latino girls. Two distinct groups.

And sitting at the head of the table with the black and Latino girls, was a girl I’d never seen before. Her back was straight, her head was straight, her arms were crossed. And all the girls sitting at the table with her, my girls, were sitting exactly like her, with that same hard look in their eyes. Okay. I took my hand and I stuck it out because I’m a friendly kind of person and I said, “Hi. Hey, Daniella, I know it…wel… welcome back. I’m Robyn.” And she looked at my hand and she looked away. And all the girls looked at my hand and looked away.

I had heard about Daniella. She was the kind of girl who’d like to upset things and make things difficult. Only her, her old teacher, whom I had replaced, could handle her. I got it. What had been going so well had now turned into a war, which…I realized I was going to lose. And so the next bunch of days went exactly like that.  If I wanted to do something, I had to go through Daniella, and then it would happen. You know, I looked at her. What was it about this child? She was a child. She was 12 years old. Nothing special jumped out but there was something that she had that made a group of girls follow her blindly. And it’s not like she was even nice to them, even. She was cruel and they were cruel too. I didn’t get it. I didn’t.

Well, Thursday, couple of days had gone by, Thursday, I, I went in and, uh, had my morning… I ran out to lunch. I was delighted. And slowly and regretfully, I started back after lunch was over.  I was crossing Catherine Street when the door to the facility slammed open, and out came a counselor holding Elizabeth in his arms.  Holding her, and her arm was straight up and around it was wrapped a white cloth that was dirty. And then a cab screeched to a halt, they got in, they screeched away. Mrs. Louie came to the door, “You better get into your classroom.” And so I ran. And when I got there, the door was open, there was glass on the floor. It was glass from the one glass panel in the wooden door. And my kids, my kids were standing there in shock. I walked towards them.

And that’s when Sandra broke, “Oh, Miss Robin! Elizabeth, Elizabeth stood up for Mary. Daniella was picking on her and, and Daniella pushed her down. So, so Mary said, ‘Stop!’ And then Daniella pushed down, pushed Elizabeth down. And then, and then…” And then, the other kids joined in.

“Right. And then, and then, Daniella and her group of girls, those mean girls, they, they went out.  And they, they pulled the door shut. And Elizabeth started to open it, so we could get out.”

And, apparently what had happened, it had been back and forth between the girls. Pushing and pulling one way, and the other, and the other way, until finally, Elizabeth’s hand went through the door. I looked around. Where was Daniella? And where were her girls? And then, Miss. Louie came in and told me that they had, they had run away. They had left and that everybody was looking for them out and I should take the children outside, which I did.

And so, we sat there not knowing quite what to do. We were in the playground. Some kids got on the swings but had no energy. Some were on the benches next to me and some went on to the see-saw. Up and down, and up and down. And finally, when it was time to go in, we went in and who followed behind us? Daniella and her posse. And they came, and they left. As I was about to leave, Miss Louie told me that the girls had been going through the area and had been ripping off candy from the stores.

Well, the next day Daniella and Elizabeth were both not there. And what had begun so, so beautifully ended with a whisper.

Well, I’ll tell you, it happened a while ago, but I still think of that time. Of what one person did. How did that one child have so much power? You know, it was kind of like a see-saw in the playground; up and down, and up and down. Like the scales of justice; up and down. Black, white, red, brown, yellow, and all the rest; up and down. Good and bad. And sometimes balance or not.  “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.”

What is it you do, we do, with our power? Do we use it to push people apart or to bring them together?