It was a very quiet apartment building. The forty units were mostly occupied by older people whose children were grown and had started families of their own. Of the seven or eight children who were being raised there, we had all come from families who believed that their children should learn how to behave in public as well as at home so there were never any youthful disturbances which might annoy the other residents.
One of my earliest memories was of the two men who were the Superintendent, Juan Espinoza who was an immigrant from Cuba and his assistant, Lenny. While I’m sure that I knew Lenny’s surname as a child, I’ve long forgotten it. But while I may have allowed Lenny’s last name to escape my memory, I’ll never forget the man himself.
Lenny was a gentle, kindly, Big Ben type of fellow, but without the facial hair. In his day had he had the opportunity to go to college, he easily could have qualified as a member of the school’s football team, at least based on his impressive size. But that wasn’t why people noticed Lenny. He had an unusual physical condition which I have never seen again in anyone else. On his face there were outgrowths of skin, some the size of exploded popcorn. It was impossible not to notice them – and I couldn’t help myself from seeing them.
I remember being six or seven and going with my mother to the grocery store when Lenny was in the hallway, mopping the floor. And I remember asking my mother, “Why does Lenny have those bumps on his face?” Fortunately, I had the good taste to ask this question when we had exited the front door and were far out of Lenny’s hearing.
My mother responded, “I don’t know, dear. But we must always remember neither to criticize people nor make fun of people because of the way they look. They can’t help the way they’re born – but they can control the way they behave – just as you can. And Lenny is always there whenever we need some help in the apartment and does his job very well. That’s what we should remember.”
Although as I mentioned, there were only a few kids in the building, there was one boy who, despite his parent’s best efforts, occasionally had an outburst and broke all the rules of how to be a civilized young person. He constantly referred to Lenny as “The Freak”. Of course, like most cowardly people who enjoy belittling others, he only said that when Lenny wasn’t present. At least that was a blessing. I could only imagine how hurt Lenny would have been had he heard that comment. And, although most of the rest of us kids told him that his statement was rude and cruel he persisted in referring to Lenny with that term.
At some point I came to the conclusion, largely based on this one kid’s bad behavior, that boys were more likely to be bullies than girls. That is until recently.
I was watching a clip on Fox News on the most recent Republican presidential debate which was aired on “The View,” a program that I have never watched. Of the people who I presume are co-hosts, the only one I recognized was Whoopi Goldberg. But I did recognize the same sort of vindictive and vile level of incivility that my fellow apartment dweller used against Lenny. Except that this time it was directed toward Carly Fiorina. What’s disturbing to me is less that these women acted as though they were vicious attack dogs than that they have an audience which apparently enjoys watching them trying to dismember another human being.
So I guess these folks missed the lesson that my mother taught me when I was a little kid. And, come to think of it, I believe the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said pretty much the same thing in his “I Have a Dream” speech.