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Published November 23, 2021

Bully starts chants, but gets a taste of his own medicine

By John Toth / The Bulletin

Let’s watch a movie tonight, I suggested.

We ended up watching “Dazed and Confused,” a 1991 ritual of youth based in the 1970s. It’s similar to “American Graffiti,” which portrays the 1950s youth experience.

I needed something with no drama or violence - movie-lite.

“Dazed “ fit the bill, except for the character of Ben Affleck, who plays Fred, the leader of a group of villain high school seniors who like to chase down freshmen boys and paddle them. By the time he got what he deserved, I was hoping someone would file aggravated assault charges on him.

His character reminded me of 1972, when at the age of 16 I found a summer job as a pot washer at a camp in New Hampshire. The job didn’t pay much, but it allowed me to get out of the concrete jungle.

After I got there, I got my bunk assignment and met Josh Greenberg, the counselor of the bunk where I would be staying for the summer. He was my Fred, but I never got paddled. He wasn’t that weird.

Josh was a spoiled rich brat with a brand new Ford Mustang, in which I never rode. He had a knack for singling someone out in a crowd and hammering him psychologically. He was a bully.

He gave me a nickname: Uncouth Tooth. Since my name is Toth, he thought that was really clever. I didn’t mind. I had been called worse. In Austria, Toth sounded like the German word for “dead.” I’ve had experience with how to handle these types of situations. But he didn’t know that.

Kitchen workers at this summer camp were treated like everyone else. We were there to do a job and then enjoy camp life. The goal was to make the rich kids’ summer experience fun enough so that they’d sign up and pay an exorbitant amount of money again next year.

It was a lot of fun, except for Josh. He thought I was the lowest on the totem pole. Apparently, he wanted me out of his cabin - with me being just a poor boy from the city, washing pots in the camp.
Kitchen workers ate early and worked while everyone else dined. I was tackling a sink full of dirty pots one day when I started hearing a chant, first softly, and then it grew louder: “Uncouth Tooth, Uncouth Tooth… .”

I shrugged it off and continued working. The chant died down. The next day, the same thing happened and the day after that. I asked Josh not to encourage his table of kids to start the chants.

After it started, all the other tables joined in without knowing what it meant, or who it was about. That’s not hard to do with kids (and apparently not with adults, either).

Josh doubled down, and the chants grew in intensity and frequency. I asked the camp owner what to do. He told me to just ignore it. Josh would get tired of it. He didn’t.

I had enough and started my counter attack. I had nothing to lose. Josh turned on the heat after we talked. The direct path didn’t work, so I went around him.

One night, while the chant reached full volume, I put down my pots and stuck my head out the kitchen door.

Then I swung open the door, and with my apron on and a scrubber in my hand, I waved to the crowd. They went crazy and began cheering.

The camp owner started clapping, and it spread across the dining room.

I made an appearance every time I heard the chanting.

Campers got to know me and found out that the word “uncouth” didn’t really fit me. I was actually a really couth guy.

The chants continued, but for a different reason. They were not started by Josh. He began to have a really bad summer. The kids in our bunk waited until I got out of the kitchen and hung around me during free periods. They even volunteered to help me in the kitchen, which I “couthly” declined. I don’t think the owner or the chef would have liked that.

That was Josh’s last year at the camp as a counselor. It was the start of my seven summers there, working in different capacities. I only washed pots for that one year in 1972.

In “Dazed,” the freshmen ended up pouring paint all over Fred and embarrassing him in front of his friends. I used psychology to defeat Josh.

I don’t know what happened to Josh. But if you’re still around, Josh, you forgot to say goodbye to me in 1972 as you pulled out of the camp parking lot in your brand new Mustang - in which I never rode.

That was uncouth.

(John looks forward to hearing from you on this subject. Send comments to john.bulletin@gmail.com. You can even send an old-fashioned letter to: The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516.)