I first encountered Eric Candleass when I was in eighth grade. I was talking to a friend during a passing period before class, in the classroom where his next class was about to take place. Suddenly, somebody kicked me in the ass. I turned around and saw a tall, skinny kid leering down at me. I laughed nervously, hoping the assault was in jest. I had never seen the kid before, and thus had no reason to believe that he'd have a problem with me.
"Ha ha ha!" he said, mocking my laughter with a sneer. He shoved me, saying, "You fucking faggot!"
"Whoa, Eric, what's the problem, man?" asked another student.
"I fucking hate that little fucking faggot," he said, as I made my way to the door. "Yeah, get the fuck out of here!" he said.
I didn't know why he hated me, but he was bigger than I was and I learned to avoid him. I didn't have any more encounters with him that year, except for an occasional shout of "Hey, faggot!" as I walked down the hall.
Our school was both a junior and a senior high school. For the most part, the two groups of students were segregated for the majority of the day. In 9th grade, we began to share hallways with the older kids. Some of the older kids, mostly racist burnouts who I referred to as the Nazi stoners, made a sport out of shoving each other into smaller students or knocking the books out of their hands. One day, I was the pin in one of their human bowling games, and ended up being slammed into Eric. He started shoving my violently as the Nazi stoners laughed.
"I was pushed!" I pleaded.
"I don't care!" he shouted in my face, shoving me again, much to the delight of my tormentors. I scurried away as quickly as I could.
That same year, I started getting into zines, small photocopied magazines produced mostly by individuals and traded through the mail. Many of the zines I was receiving had poetry in them, so my friends and I somehow ended up starting a short lived routine of 'Poetry Minute' in the locker room after gym class. We would stand on a bench, read a couple poems, and then move on to our next class. I never noticed Eric at Poetry Minute, but one day after Poetry Minute he noticed me, dialing in the combination to my locker with a stack of zines in my other hand.
"What you got there?" he asked.
"Nothing," I said, knowing he wasn't being friendly.
"Doesn't look like nothing," he said, and tried to grab my zines. I resisted, and he grabbed me by the throat. My friend Aaron pulled him away from, saying, "Leave him alone."
"Fucking faggot!" Eric said as he walked away.
Every Friday in gym class we swam. One Friday, I was one of the last people to finish getting dressed, but my friend Sean was slower still and standing at his locker. The only other person in the part of the locker room we were in was Eric, who was in the other gym class that occurred at the same time as ours.
"Come on, Sean," I said as I walked towards the exit to the pool area. "What's taking you so long? Are you shaving your legs or something?"
I don't know what possessed me to say that, but it was a subtle jab at Eric. Rumor had it that he shaved his legs, because they were always really smooth. More likely it was because, despite being really tall, he hadn't fully hit puberty.
I walked to the exit to the pool area, where everybody was congregated and waiting for the teacher to unlock the door. I started talking to one of my friends, and then was shoved hard from behind. I slammed into my friend, and we both went crashing into the soda machine and then down to the floor.
"What the fuck did you say?" Eric yelled in my face as I got up from the floor. He towered over me, and I stood there, half-naked and scared, completely unsure of what to do. Fortunately, a big kid named Jeremy grabbed Eric from behind and carried him, squirming, out of that part of the locker room. "I'm going to kill that fucking faggot!" he yelled on the way out.
My friend Rick decided to fight Eric when we were in 10th grade. I don't remember exactly what his motivation was, but I think Eric had stolen something from him. When I heard about his intentions, I was jubilant, and followed the crowd down the hall as Rick attempted to start a fight. The kids who walked with us hated Eric, too, which surprised me because I thought I was the only one that had had problems with the guy. Rick would periodically shove Eric as we walked, and Eric would turn around and look at him, and then continue walking. Rick wasn't a particularly big guy, but he was a wrestler, and not nearly as skinny as I was. Apparently Eric wasn't that tough when it came to people closer to his own size.
At some point a bald kid named Jamie said, "Man, I would never shave my legs!" Eric turned around and pushed Jamie. Jamie was unfazed, saying, "Get the fuck off me!" Eric continued on his way, and we followed him, with Rick still periodically shoving him.
A short guy name Jason gently nudged Eric with his shoulder, quietly saying, "Come on, Eric." This time, Eric stopped. He grabbed Jason and put him in a headlock, and then Rick started punching Eric in the face. Before I even had time to know what was going on, Eric was on the ground, and a couple of kids were kicking him. For some reason I was carrying a plastic banana on a plastic string that I had found in the gym, and I began swinging it at him. Eric got up, and the fight went crashing into a classroom, where a bewildered teacher gasped and stood in shock for a moment before breaking up the scuffle. I noticed an older student, one of the tough-guy Nazi stoners, holding Rick by his shirt collar and telling him if he ever jumped in on a fight again, he would beat his ass.
When I walked to lunch later that day, Eric and a bunch of his big, tough-guy friends were standing outside of the cafeteria. They puffed out their chests and snickered at my friends and I as we walked by, but they didn't do anything.
Almost everybody involved in the fight was suspended for a week, including at least one kid who they claimed had encouraged the fight, even though all I remember him doing was following the crowd and waiting for something to happen. The only person who was there but wasn't kicked out was myself, and I had been physically involved, though just barely. I wondered later why I had chosen to hit him with a plastic banana, which weighed less than a pound and which he almost definitely did not feel at all. Perhaps, despite my intense hatred of the kid, I was still reluctant to actually hurt somebody. Maybe the fact that he was outnumbered and on the ground made me momentarily pity him. I don't know.
I was able to avoid Eric for the rest of the year, and then again for the next. His distaste for me no doubt never subsided, and my contempt for him never went away. I once overheard him in 11th grade bragging about how he had "fuckin' stomped a fuckin' bird" to death before school, and showing his buddies the gore leftover on his shoes.
On the first day of our senior year, I was walking around the cafeteria with a friend of mine. He stopped briefly to talk to somebody who was sitting at the same table as Eric.
"Look at this fucking faggot!" Eric said when he noticed me. I was a huge Misfits fan at the time, and wore my hair in their trademark devilock style, with my bangs combed to a point in front of my face. Eric, ever the opportunist, began making fun of my hair, saying, "You think that's fucking cool or something? It looks like you have a wad of fucking chud hanging off of your fucking face!" I stood there with my friend and didn't say anything. Eric threw some food at me, and then we walked away. For the rest of the week, I daydreamed of breaking his face with a food tray. In retrospect, I probably should have assaulted somebody who fucked with me at some point during school. Even if I had ended up getting my ass kicked, in the long run I probably would have had to endure less of that sort of bullshit.
Apparently Eric had beaten up some kid during the summer before school started, and now he felt like a huge badass. Not that huge of a badass, though, because his new target was still a scrawny kid named me. He started messing with me regularly, calling me a faggot and a spick, tripping me in the hallway, and claiming he was going to come to "Spick Town" to beat my ass. The thing is, I'm half-Filipino and half-white, not Hispanic, and I never lived in the area he referred to as "Spick Town," which didn't even really have any Hispanic people living in it, anyway. Furthermore, he was friends with a couple Mexican kids, and his skin was darker than mine. I had always assumed he was mixed himself, despite his white supremacy and pasty siblings.
Taking a cue from The Kids in the Hall movie Brain Candy, my friend Pat and I had begun a campaign of shouting, " I'm gay!" at random people, both to befuddle them and to enrage the homophobes, of which there were many.
"Hey, I'm gay!" Pat shouted at Eric one day as he walked by.
"Hey, I'll kick you!" Eric told him.
"I'll kick you in the nuts!" said Pat.
Eric turned around. He got in Pat's face. More accurately, he put his chest in Pat's face, as Pat was a small, short kid, and Eric still towered over everybody. I stepped closer, indicating that I had Pat's back if things escalated to physical violence.
"I'll kick your fucking ass!" he said, "You and your fucking little spick friend here!"
"Paul's not even Mexican," Pat said, "He's Filipino, and he doesn't live in Sumava, either."
"Oh, he's a fucking spick, alright, and I'll come to fucking spick town and I'll fucking kill all you little fuckers!" His face was contorted in rage, and little beads of white spit were forming at the corners of his mouth. He looked so ridiculous, I couldn't help laughing a little. A few people were watching to see what would happen, among them my brother, a seventh grader only recently introduced to our friendly school.
"You wear that Insane Clown Posse shirt everyday," Pat said, "and they rap about killing racist people."
"Do you see me wearing it now, you little fucking faggot? I'll fucking kill all of you little faggots!"
My friend Jeff turned to me and asked, "Did he just call you a faggot?"
"I believe he did," I told him. What happened next surprised the hell out of me, because I didn't realize that we were close enough friends for him to stick up for me the way he did. He got in Eric's face.
"Who the fuck do you think you are, fucking with people like this?" he asked, inches from Eric. Jeff wasn't a particularly big guy, but he was bigger than either Pat or myself. Eric was still taller, though.
"I'll fucking take all of you!" Eric growled through clenched teeth, his body literally shaking with rage and anticipation.
Throughout the entire confrontation, I was ready for things to get violent. I wasn't sure of the outcome, but I knew that if it came to blows Eric would be facing at least three of us. Somehow, though, the situation diffused itself and we went on to our next class. Eric continued to call me a spick and make threats, and I feared being caught by him alone, as I probably would have been doomed.
He disappeared a couple months into the school year. I think he got sent to the "alternative school," though I was never really sure of the purpose of the place. Maybe it was for assholes who couldn't behave like civilized humans, or maybe it was for kids who couldn't do their homework. Either way, I was glad never to have to see that guy again.