By Tim Hayes
While lazily flipping through the channels late one evening, I stumbled onto one of those half-hour pitches for music CDs, this batch featuring songs from the ‘60s. Staring with mildly scandalized expressions at the hairstyles and fashions shown on grainy old Ed Sullivan clips, I saw tune after tune scroll up the screen.
A pretty harmless way to turn one’s brain off for 30 minutes or so. Until, that is, the Mamas and the Papas suddenly burst forth with their classic, “Monday, Monday.” And it all came flooding back.
On the block where I grew up, we had a back alley and an entire row of additional neighbors behind our house. About halfway down that back street, a family had a son, an only child. An anomaly in our predominantly Catholic neighborhood.
This kid was four or five years older than me, so we weren’t really friends. But the homes on our street – including the back alley – stood practically on top of each other, so it was damn near impossible to not at least know everybody, even tangentially.
Anyway, since he was the only child, the talk among the guys running around the neighborhood seemed to always come back to the notion that he got special treatment. He never had to share anything with brothers or sisters. His parents gave him pretty nice stuff – at least according to the astronomically subjective judgment of our universe of urban knuckleheads.
A brand-new 10-speed bike. A really good telescope. The best tennies.
But the gift that blew everyone away, and set this poor guy up for the everlasting resentment of every guy within a three-block area? A paved asphalt basketball half-court in his backyard, complete with a brand-new pole, hoop, net, and painted foul line.
This soared so far beyond the pale as to be downright criminal, said the judges, jury members, and executioners up and down the street. Who did this kid think he was? The older fellows on the block – the ones closer to his age – became determined to knock Mister Showoff down a peg or two.
They came up with the idea that each time a new gift got bestowed on him, it happened on a Monday. Whether this conclusion actually had any truth behind it, I couldn’t say. To be generous, it was doubtful. It just happened to fit the juvenile justice the guys wanted to mete out, so they went with it.
From the day that half-court appeared, every time this kid emerged from his house, or walked down the sidewalk, or could be spotted anywhere in public, his tormentors would start sing-shouting, “MONDAY, MONDAAAAAYYYYY!!!”
At first, he looked at them like they had a few screws loose. Not a bad diagnosis, actually. But when it kept happening – and he couldn’t find anybody to play basketball on his half-court – the shunning had its desired effect. He withdrew. The half-court stood virtually unused. The asphalt cracked after a couple of winters, grass growing through the openings.
Watching this happen as a kid, and recalling it all these decades later, even though I only saw it and never participated in it, still makes me angry, sad, ashamed. Jealously and resentment are ugly things.
After all, his parents did what all of our parents tried to do – give their kid the best they could. He had no reason to be ashamed of anything. But when adolescents want to hurt a peer, their efforts can be absolutely peerless.
Truth be told, though, adults occasionally can be just as petty, shallow, and cruel. The difference comes in expressing jealousy by belittling and criticizing the “offending” party through gossip and subterfuge. The testosterone-soaked guys on my childhood street at least had the guts to do it face-to-face to their victim.
Good gravy, regardless of one’s age, what a waste of time, effort, and brain cells! No one comes out a winner in these scenarios. Why can’t people stay within their lanes, take care of improving themselves first, and celebrate when others enjoy success?
Actually, we can all take a page from John the Baptist, of all people. In the scripture narration, when Jesus began preaching, he did some baptizing of his own. John’s followers got ticked off, can you believe it? Who was this new guy, crowding in our turf? He’s stealing some of your shine, John! What gives? We don’t like this! They wanted retribution, restitution, remuneration from this upstart preacher.
John put them back in line, telling his group that the story would continue – but that his chapter was ending. Don’t begrudge this new player on the scene. Let him do his thing. Give him his due. He’s not hurting anyone, so don’t sweat it.
Pretty solid advice. On Monday, Monday or any other day of the week. Worry about making your own life sweeter, and be cool about how other people build their story.
Whispered words of wisdom. Or, from another great ‘60s-era song, let it be.
Copyright 2019 Timothy P. Hayes