The Advantage of the Disadvantaged
BY DAVID S. LEWIS
Stevie Bieber to this day probably stands only 5 feet 2 inches tall, and he’s probably still not much to look at. As a kid, he was among the smallest and scrawniest of any of us. His waxy dark brown hair fell across his forehead, always messy, and he likely wore the same tee shirt and shorts seven days a week. At a glance, you might have thought he was two years younger than he really was, and if he turned sideways, you might not see him at all. He was bow legged, even then, and had pin hole green eyes that penetrated like a drill bit.
Yet Stevie Bieber was the most respected among us—and why would that be?
Despite his size, when it came time to choose up sides for football in the neighbor’s corner lot, that seemed at the time a hundred yards long, but was probably only forty, Stevie Bieber was always picked first—and, yes, if you were picked last, you felt bad, and so you had to prove yourself for the next round (because there was no affirmative action back then, strictly a meritocracy among us kids), or else you suffered from a low self esteem that you knew you had only brought upon yourself.
But why was Stevie Bieber the first pick? Why did everybody want Stevie Bieber on their team, when he was small and scrawny?
Well, Stevie Bieber seemed not to know he was small, or maybe he did and had decided to do something about it, or maybe he was just naturally a terrorist of some kind, but when Stevie Bieber hit you, blocked you, or tackled you (we played tackle, no pads), it was painful. He hit hard, played to win, didn’t hold back and play nice or worry about you taking his punishment, and so you always felt like you wanted to back off or avoid him, to avoid the pain. He knew this.
Elmer Pass was the first to recognize this out loud, to verbalize what we all knew—that Stevie Bieber was a little terror, to be feared, and when Elmer spoke up about it, it was with amusement and respect, the kind doled out by grown men for worthy rivals on a field of honor.
No doubt about it, Stevie Bieber was a little badass through and through, the guy you’d want with you in a foxhole, but don’t get me wrong, he had an almost kind streak woven through his intense and diabolical nature, a sympathy for other little guys, a sense of fairness that was unexpected given his athletic aggression and the pain he inflicted playing football—but his toughness was matched by his ease when the dust settled, when the play was over, as if his mastery of the martial arts yielded deep confidence, and with it serenity. Yet his sympathy for other little guys (I was one of them) never translated into special treatment on the field. He never held back. He hit you as hard as he could. He knocked you down, and it stung, but so doing he did you a favor, and here’s how.
Somewhere along the line the physics sunk in. You’re gonna get hit only so many times before you learn something from it, or remain a loser. And the physics lesson came through this essentially physical question—how was it that this wiry little kid dominated far bigger kids, that he prevailed, knocked them down, achieved glory, that he seemed to wear a sign around his neck that read Don’t Tread on Me, and that others obeyed?
All I knew was that it hurt when he hit me, but it didn’t seem to hurt Stevie Bieber. Then a coach, taking pity on me for my size and ineptitude, let me in on the secret a few years later. Hitting the other guy faster and harder, as fast and hard as you can, he said, transfers the stress of impact to the slower, less motivated object. The harder you hit, the less you hurt, and the more powerfully you strike. Ballistics bear this out, a .22 caliber versus a .22 magnum. Owing to his will, Stevie Bieber was the magnum, which was why he kept knocking people down (and if you hurt, he’d say shake it off, with those tough little eyes). What a revelation.
Later a teacher saw me catch a long pass in the school yard and decided I should try out for football. I didn’t belong on the team, but here’s why they put me on the defensive line (at the age of eleven).
The coach put us in a circle, all of us in pads, everyone has a number, and successively each kid goes to the center of the circle. When the coach calls your number, you charge and hit the kid in the center, as he charges and hits you. In the center, you find yourself spinning to meet the attacker, quite a challenge.
Then came Salvatore Ruggieri, a gargantuan hulk of a kid, big and wide, but slow and not aggressive. His number rang out like a bell in a boxing match, seven, and Sal ran at me like a refrigerator on wheels, and I remembered Stevie Bieber and all the pain he had inflicted on me, on everybody, for all those years, and I charged with every ounce of strength in my diminutive frame and soul, and I knocked poor Salvatore Ruggieri flat on his ass.
Unfortunately, after knocking a few others down, they put me on the line, where I didn’t belong, and I did not do well, never wanted to play that position. But, tired of being a victim, I took what I learned home and applied it in hand-to-hand combat with my three older brothers (who’d been mentored by the Marquis de Sade). I learned the value of asymmetrical warfare, the kind intuited by the great, but diminutive, Alexander Hamilton as he considered the capacities of an inferior force set against an overwhelmingly superior one—the British Empire.
And so, such men can be the catalysts of destiny. Hamilton was slight and small, and sickened by malaria much of his life. He was born illegitimate in the West Indies, the product of a terrible childhood, riddled with inferiority, but self-directed, self-educated, brilliant, a terror in combat, and through tenacity and genius made himself indispensable to the founding and survival of the United States.
He was Stevie Bieber.
Wise little guys, that is, born with disadvantages and strikes against them learn they must try much harder. They must meet lumbering forces aligned against them with superior wit, tactics, and will. The “unfair” challenges life presents then emerge as the means to their success, self-respect, and honor.
We all grow up, leaving childish things behind, but the Stevie Bieber rules of life always apply.