Tuesday, February 19, 2013



   In Steinbeck’s East of Eden Adam Trask is in a stupor.  His wife has run off and abandoned their newborn twins.  The good hearted Samuel Hamilton tells Adam he has a medicine that might help him, but the cure might also kill him.

In Samuel’s day farmers were tough and did what they had to do.   It was standard operating procedure, that when a dog ate Strychnine, the only cure was for the farmer to cut off its tail with an axe.  Samuel explains to Lee, the Chinese cook, that the pain of the amputation fights the poison—and Adam needed some severe pain to fight the poison of being abandoned by his wife.

So Samuel lets the cat out of the bag that Adam’s wife went to work in a dingy brothel after abandoning her babies.  Ouch!

Now cutting off a dog's tail to save its life is unspeakable--obscene--unless you love the animal.

In a grown up world, extreme situations call for extreme measures.

It’s melodramatic to compare Coach Montgomery’s one second shove of Allan Crabbe to cutting off a dog’s tail to save its life.  But the principle remains the same.

Sometimes powerful medicine is the only course.

Neither Samuel Hamilton nor Mike Montgomery was abusing anyone.

It may have to do with adrenaline, dopamine, serration, oxycontin—who knows how body chemistry really works, but moods and attitudes can change at the wisp of an ox tail. 
What we do know is that in certain situations sometimes a person has to be “slapped back” to reality.

(And before you send the e-mail regarding domestic abuse, never an excuse for violence etc.  I’m not trying to say that Monty was channeling his inner Boggie, “I never saw a dame yet that didn't understand a good slap in the mouth or a slug from a .45.”)

But it’s childish to pretend that reality doesn’t exist—and then to attempt to create some alternate universe which sounds nice in principal, but is not a part of the real world.

How does one stop an hysterical screamer?  Not by calmly reasoning with him.  It requires a slap across the face or a bucket of cold water to change the flow of body chemistry or bodily fluids.

What does one think the phrase “a good kick in the butt” means?

Why do we say “Someone needs some sense knocked into him?”

Ever been jolted back to reality?  How does that happen, exactly?

Who amongst us, when we were young and involved in a passionate affair which led to our dumping of a gal (for her “own good” no doubt), hasn’t been physically, grabbed and shaken as she screams “But don’t you know I love you!”

I dare you to say it didn’t happen the other way around.

Who hasn’t grabbed a kid, spouse or lover, (regardless of sex) and (figuratively) grabbed them by the lapels to try to “shakes some sense” into them? 

What does “It hit me right between the eyes” allude to?

These idioms were born of real life experiences, not theoretical modes of behavior.

This is not about defending physical abuse.  Abuse—physical or verbal--is wrong—pure and simple.  

Yes, there is a big difference between abusing, humiliating, or belittling someone on a regular basis, and “knocking some sense into them,” on the rare, but important occasion.

Anyone who saw the game saw that young Mr. Crabbe was “in a bad space.”  He was hang dog—mopping, whining, and complaining about “bad calls.”  He received a warning from the refs for batting the ball into the stands after missing a free throw.

He was not only “off” his game, he wasn’t “into” the game.

Apparently, he was either not hustling on defense or twice went to the wrong side allowing SC two easy baskets.

Attempts by coaches and teammates to get him focused failed.

Finally, Montgomery could take no more and he (in the heat of battle) threw a bucket of cold water in Crabbe’s face by jolting him back to reality with his hands.

He didn’t hurt him.  He didn’t abuse him.  He didn’t assault him. 

Yes, he touched him.  But Crabbe was in no danger and felt no physical pain.

In fact, as Crabbe is much bigger, stronger, and tougher than his coach, Montgomery put himself at risk by touching the youngster who might have instinctively reacted by punching Montgomery in the snoot.

Montgomery was simply throwing cold water in his face to wake him out of his stupor. 

Like the iodine in an open cut, often if it doesn’t hurt it isn’t working. 
Now if Montgomery had a history like Bobby Knight or Woody Hayes of physically or mentally abusing players that would be one thing.  But he doesn’t.  

On the fields of Eton, occasional kicks in the pants are necessary to motivate young boys.  It is simply human nature.  There are moments when all the calm reasoning and soft quiet “Montessori voice” teaching simply won’t work.   Occasionally, someone simply has to knock some sense (however it is done) into a youngster.

It’s all a matter of degree.

Someone said we wouldn’t allow a physics professor to do that to a student.  We wouldn’t?

I would.  If my kid were a genius who wasn’t living up to his potential and a physics professor finally grabbed him by the shirt and said, “Wake up!  You have talent!  You are wasting a precious gift by texting in class when you should be applying yourself,”  I’d like it.  And I bet it would work.

I also bet that on occasion it has happened.

Montgomery didn’t cut off Crabbe’s tail with an axe.  He jolted him into reality with a tempered shove.
It worked.  It was rare.

Teaching young men and women is hard enough.  We should never condone bullying or abuse of any kind.  But a swift kick in the tail, when necessary, is an important tool for learning.

We shouldn’t ask either our professors or our coaches to take on the job of helping kids to realize their full potential with a half full tool box.  

Not everyone is willing to cut off a dog’s tail to save it’s life.  But as a dog lover, I’d want that person house sitting my pet—and coaching my kid as well.