Phil Friedman

7 years ago · 6 min. reading time · ~100 ·

Phil blog
Wake Up Little Susie

Wake Up Little Susie



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Wake Up Little Susie
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Preface:  This post contains language that is not today considered politically correct. I do not use these epithets and have not done so since I entered adulthood. They were, however, in common use where and when I grew up in inner-city Chicago, and their use is necessary here in order to convey a sense of the times and the background of this story. If you will be offended by their use in this context, please feel free to turn the page, and read no further.

Chicago is less than 100 miles from Milwaukee, and high school life in the Chicago inner-city was pretty much as depicted in the TV series Happy Days, except... where I went to school, everybody was a scruffy version of the Fonz, and clean-cut kids were seen only in television sitcoms.

My first three years of high school were spent at Chicago Vocational School, where there were 6,000 students housed at a "campus" so large, you couldn't possibly get between classes in the time allotted if the two classrooms involved were at opposite ends of the facility. 

The facility had actually for several years during WWII been an aircraft manufacturing plant. And when the war ended, the plant (which had originally been built to be a school) including millions of dollars in manufacturing machinery, was turned over to the Chicago School Board. 

CVS, as it was known, was one of two "wide-area" high schools in Chicago, the other being Tilden Technical High School . CVS accepted students from anywhere in the city south of Madison street, while Tilden Tech accepted students who lived north of Madison.

Both high schools focused on technical and vocational training, with CVS heavily emphasizing the vocational end of things, auto repair, machining, welding, electrical, plumbing,and carpentry shops, with additional serious training in both architectural and machine drafting.  

Text Copyright © 2016 by Phil Fnedman — All Rights Reserved

I had ended up there on the recommendation of a well-meaning, but ultimately far less-than-competent guidance counselor at the primary school I attended. For I wanted to be an automotive engineer, and she, not knowing any better, had advised me to go CVS, in preference to the college-bound district high school I was originally headed for. More on that story at a later date.

In some ways,  those were good years. I saw Bill Haley and the Comets live on stage at the Chicago Theater, as Rock and Roll really started to take off.The Everly Brothers had just hit it big with their first #1 single, "Wake Up Little Susie" --- which I could sing in my sleep since it played endlessly on the jukebox in the small diner across 87th street from CVS, where we sat when cutting classes and gobbling up french fries doused in brown gravy.




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Do idyllic images pop to mind? Especially when coupled with those TV images of "Happy Days"? Not on your life.

Chicago Vocational High School was a genuinely tough place. Not quite like a prison, but not too far off. 

I remember clearly that during the first-week orientation, my freshman class of about 1,500 was sitting on bleachers in the gymnasium, whilst the assistant principal laid out for us the school rules of conduct. About half way through his talk, there was a small pop sound, and one of the students in the bleachers to my right fell over forward, accidentally shot in the back by a fellow student who had been fooling around with a zip gun --- a small 0.22 caliber homemade gun that was essentially a piece of pipe with a nail for a firing pin. 

Luckily the victim wasn't critically wounded. But besides being arrested, the shooter was socially ostracized. Not so much because he had wounded another student, but because his zip gun was so crude. At CVS, with its legion of South Bend machine lathes, milling machines, and boring tools, it was considered particularly gauche to build such a crude zip gun.


As I said, CVS had just about 6,000 students. The student body was composed in the main of ethnic Italians, Irishmen, Poles, Puerto Ricans, and a small population (about 15%) of African Americans. Or as they were known respectively, albeit not respectfully, in those days, Dagos, Micks, Polaks, Spics, and Spades.

Then there were three Jews: me, one other boy, and one girl. Three total out of 6,000 students. 

I didn't really know the other Jewish students because when I was a freshman, they were sophomores. And we weren't from the same neighborhood. But no matter. Three in a pool of 6,000 did not amount to spit.

Almost every day of my freshman year, some tough guy or other would decide to pick on the "Jewboy." Because not only did my ethnic background make me a target for anti-Semites, my relatively small size and light weight in those days made me an obviously easy target for would-be bullies. And had it not been for a couple of genuinely tough guys with whom I became friends early on, I probably would not have lasted the year at school, perhaps even not lasted at all.

I remember quite clearly one time when I was trapped in one of the Boys bathrooms by three simian miscreants intent on showing me how to wash my head in a toilet. Things were touch and go, until Keith, a truly big and really tough Polak who had appointed himself my personal bodyguard, came in. 

Keith introduced the group leader's gonads to Keith's steel-toed shoe and the nose of one of the henchmen to Keith's forearm. Following which the group decided that maybe it wasn't such a good idea, after all, to turn me into a toilet scrub brush.

After that, when Keith or one of my other self-appointed guardians was around, I was more often than not let alone. Although not entirely, ever --- and rarely when I was alone.

However, a real breakthrough came in machine shop class one day not too long before the end of that first high school year. 

In Machine Shop, one of my classmates was a Mick who, for whatever reason, had taken it as his personal mission to make the life of the "Christ-killer" particularly difficult every day that school was in session. So he messed with the lunch I brought with me. Or hid my books. Or took my tools. Or sometimes just threatened me --- endlessly. Always with a smile, as though he were only innocently "joshing" with me. But also always with a menacing undertone and whispered "Kike bastard" that let me know he was serious.

I tried for months to just ignore the harassment. I tried laughing it off. I tried sharing my lunch with the guy. I tried talking to him about getting along. All to absolutely no avail. The bullying continued relentlessly.

Finally, I had enough of trying to go along in order to get along. One morning, in the midst of him bothering me in some particularly irksome way, I picked up a tailstock wrench --- which weighs about four pounds --- from the Southbend lathe I was running at the time, and with a shout flung it hard at his head. It missed him by about a foot, but he nevertheless started to retreat.

I suppose I could have stopped. However, by then, I was pumped so full of adrenaline, I wasn't stopping. No way.

I grabbed the tail stock wrench from the lathe next to my station and began chasing him, yelling like a madman --- or mad-kid --- that I was going to smash his fucking Mick skull like a watermelon.

It turned out he was more bully than genuine tough, and he decided it was safer to run than fight. I continued to scream wildly and chase him around the shop for what seemed at the time to be forever but really was only three or four minutes,  until the shop teacher broke it up. 

Still, that was long enough for my tormentor and the exuberant crowd of onlookers to conclude that I was seriously out of control. And, moreover, long enough to spread the word it was safer to leave "that fucking crazy Jewboy" alone.


If there is a moral to this story, I am not sure I know what it is. Perhaps, that sometimes bullies just won't stop until you chase them with a hard, heavy implement in your hand.  --- Phil Friedman

 Author's Notes:   If you found this post interesting and worthwhile, and would like to receive notifications of my writings on a regular basis, click the [FOLLOW] button on my beBee profile. Better yet, elect there to follow my blog by email. As a writer-friend of mine says, you can always change your mind later.

Should you be curious about some of my previous postings about and upon social media, you're invited to take a look at the following additional Chicago Stories:

"Two Pizzas and a Shovel"

"Vending Machines Are People Too"

“Life is Like a Monza Wall”

As well, feel free to "like" and "share" this post, as well as my other articles — whether on beBee, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or elsewhere, provided only that you credit me properly as the author, and include a live link to the original posts. 

About me, Phil FriedmanWith 30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous hats — as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. I am also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation.  In a previous life, I was formally trained as an academic philosopher and taught logic and philosophy at university. 


 Image Credits:  Phil Friedman, Google Images 



Life Lessons

Phil Friedman

6 years ago #16

Try my grandmother's Yiddish Romanian curse, "zer kann liegen mit dein kopf in drerd via a tzibilla". (You should lie with your head in the ground like an onion.)

Jim Murray

7 years ago #15

Outstanding blast from the past. Quite vivid and Phil-like. Fort Erie Secondary School, where I did my time, was diverse in the fact that you were simply either Italian or something white. But we all got along. It's was more about personalities than ethnicity. But this was Canada in the sixties, after all... the white bread capital of the world. PS: My nickname back then was Bird, which was short for Birddog, as in 'Hey birddog stay away from my quail...' (Everly Brothers). The only fights I ever got into were over females.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #14

Praveen. I never considered myself a victim of bullying, because I always knew it was within my power to act to stop the attempted bullying. I agree with you, though, that people who are bullied often become bullies when they feel the touch of power. But that said, I think we must distinguish between tenacity in discussion and bullying. In intellectual circles, it is not bullying to argue in defense of one's views, as long as one does not resort to sophistry and ad hominem attack. Cheers,

Paul Walters

7 years ago #13

Phil Friedman Oh the bullies , those with so many mental problems. We are witnessing one striding the world stage in one Donald J Trump. Hillary. little 'crooked' Hillary hopefully will deliver a knockout blow on Tuesday . As for prejudice , I have no tolerance for that. Whatever your race, or creed I personally really dont care, its whether you are a good person that counts

Milos Djukic

7 years ago #12

Aurorasa Sima, Thank you. Frankly, I am not sure.

Milos Djukic

7 years ago #11

Phil Friedman, Thank you for your comment.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #10

Milos, thank you for reading and commenting. I am, however, not sure that what you say about children is true. I think we need to not conflate guilelessness (which is a trait of childhood) with commitment to truth (which is more often an adult obsession). Cheers!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #9

Richard, your three points are right on. But here's the thing. I am not sure that all physically and otherwise aggressive people are bullies. I think Renee is correct that a common trait of bullies is that they are cowards at heart. There are, however, I believe some small percentage of genuinely aggressive battlers, who are all for a fair fight and prepared to slug it out, and take the consequences, whatever they may be. They are the people you truly want to avoid. Thanks for reading and commenting. Have a Blatz on me, and send me the tab.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #8

Renee, I never thought of my teenage years as anything other than existential hell. But it's easy to forget that and to idealize "how things used to be", as the writers of Happy Days did. There is also no doubt that social media presents as a game changer for the worse --- much worse --- among my daughters and their contemporaries. Thank you for reading and commenting. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #7

Randy, I think that one of the things our passivity-oriented society fails at teaching is the up-close reality of violence. I've known some fairly tough guys over the years, but most of the "normal" guys I've known, realize after the first couple of punches are thrown, that fighting is not such a great idea. Boys used to learn about strutting, shoving, pushing and cursing --- which actually gave them outlets for avoiding fights. And I've found that women, who grow up without learning those displacement behaviors, can be ever so much more focused in their drive to wound. Not PC, but I think true.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #6

Thank you, Kevin, for reading, commenting, and especially for saying out loud that you will watch my back. For while it shows grit to do so, I believe that in current circumstances, it shows double or triple the grit to say so out loud. My thanks and best to you.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #5

Thank you, Don, for reading and sharing. And for the kind words. Among boys, tall, thin guys often become targets for bullies. Because nominally they are "big", but actually are slight and present much less of a counter-threat than huskier guys. Which is much to a bully's liking. Cheers!

Milos Djukic

7 years ago #4

My opinion is that children and young people are very often much more brutal than adults. It is very often confusing given that adolescence brings with it so much beautiful human characteristics. Children love to play; their game is a fascinating evidence of commitment to truth. Children are inexhaustible source of some of the most wonderful wisdom. Nevertheless, fragments tend to become scattered with time and due to the accumulation of conflicting experiences. When we leave the past and when we are ready to share something deeply inner, about what we've been thinking for a couple of years, then almost transcendentally and in a specific way we will find a plan how to overcome fragments. Then, targeted interactions with people adds up all again. The problem is that most adults with years gradually lose the mind of a toy. Termination of playing is the ultimate sign of the beginning of stagnation. Phil Friedman, Thank you for this brilliant article.

Randy Keho

7 years ago #3

Ah, the wonders of adolescence. I didn't have to wait until High School to put the fear of God into some bullies. I got it over with in junior high.. After all, I'm Irish (please don't hold that against me). On two separate occasions, I knocked a guy out with one punch in front of the entire playground. Two quick jabs straight to the nose and the problem was solved. Some of my fellow students cheered as they hung out the windows of the second-floor library windows. I never had to fight, again. I was never disciplined, either. Most of teachers witnessed the entire event and looked the other way. Not so today. My 10-year-old grandson was just kicked out of the after school program for responding to a bully who'd punched him in the stomach. There's a no tolerance policy. Both parties are reprimanded equally. What a crock of shit.

Kevin Pashuk

7 years ago #2

I thought I grew up in a tough high school, but you win... High school is such a formative time, and I will bet that you have little tolerance for bullying behaviour now, which explains why you are quick to speak up when you see it in action. With a name like Pashuk, I might even be related to your guardian angel, although my fighting skills are likely less skilled, I'll still watch your back.

don kerr

7 years ago #1

Phil Friedman A particularly evocative story Phil and maybe a revealing insight into your character. Turnabout is fair play when it comes to cretins and bullies. I really appreciate you sharing this part of your history. Totally resonates with this skinny, although tall, boy. Sharing.

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