Bully for You

Unreal explores the sociology of the well-timed wedgie. Plus: Praying for pets, bargaining for Pez dispensers — and sticking up for independent business in Rock Hill.

A month into the school year, the pecking order has been established. The bullies have risen; the meek have been identified and wedgied accordingly. Indian burns have been dealt, titties twisted, eardrums boxed. And Professor Ronald Pitner of Washington University's George Warren Brown School of Social Work has been watching.

Pitner's recently released research suggests that — surprise, surprise — most ruffians attack their dorks in what Pitner calls "hotspots": unmonitored areas within schools such as hallways, bathrooms and stairwells. Pitner suggests that schools focus as much attention on monitoring these areas as on individual bully behavior.

Unreal: What is it about these "hotspots" that attracts the bullies?

Mike Gorman

Professor Ronald Pitner: To answer that, I have used some theories from environmental psychology. They talk about a term, "undefined space": undefined in that they are places where no one feels any responsibility to monitor. The teacher may say, "I'm in charge of my classroom and the area immediately outside of my classroom, but it's not my responsibility to be in the bathroom or the stairwells." But those undefined areas are the places where violence typically clusters.

You're a professor. Obviously you must have been bullied a little bit when you were growing up, right?

[Pause] I'm sure...I'm sure.... [Laughs] It's all a blur now.

We'll take that as a yes. In what part of the school did it occur?

Oh my goodness. [Pause] I'm not just fresh out of high school, you know.... I guess I would have to say that it was on the playground.

The School of Social Work is a pretty big school. There's probably a lot of bullying behavior over there. Who's the biggest bully?

Other than me? Probably the dean.

Are there places over there you'd suggest avoiding?

If I identify where they are, then they will be printed and everyone will know.

Creature Feature

Pets have no place in Unreal's rich waking life. (Our fantasies? Another story.) And so it was that Sunday, October 1, came around, along with a calling: Get thee to the 4 p.m. pet blessing at Christ Church Cathedral, it said. Educate your audience.

"That Unreal, always the sacrificial lamb, isn't s/he?" That's what you're saying, we know, we know.

"Anything for the cause of all the sillies who want press coverage," comes our sincere reply.

Pet blessings, it turns out, occur the world over around October 4: the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Now, God — we all know He loved animals (created them before human beings). But God's got nothing on St. F.: If ever there was a saint who could domesticate a wolf, it was he. So it's appropriate that last week at least five area churches held pet blessings.

The pet blessing at Christ Church Cathedral was very cute. A little basset hound named Phillip waddled in behind another named Mona. There was an Irish setter, a slew of poodles and retrievers and a couple o' hot dogs. (God knows the real name of that breed.) Two horses and a few pooches from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department showed up. There was also an owl sitting on a big stick, and a bespectacled kid holding his caged gerbils, Ringo and Dingo. The Very Rev. Ronald H. Clingenpeel, who let us know he has "five little animals at home," led a few prayers and a 45-second homily (those are the best!) before he gave each animal a few strokes on the head and an intent, empathetic gaze. All the while, images of "Klaus," "Boris" and "Buster (deceased)" — whoever's pets they may be — appeared on a screen to the altar's right.

The service lasted less than half an hour, and everyone was pretty well-behaved. A "woof!" here and there, but that was easy to forgive — compared to the dog breath, anyway. You'd think the sort of people who take their pets to get blessed would brush their critters' teeth first. Jeez.

Most striking, in the end, was neither the pets nor their keepers. It was the several citizens who snapped photo after photo throughout the ceremony. As Unreal was scribbling for posterity in our notebook, so too were they documenting A Celebration of Creation 2006 for the history books.

Thank God.

Commontary™

This week's Commontary™comes from Michelle Barron, owner of the Book House at 9719 Manchester Road in Rock Hill:

Last week one of the property owners put a large sign for Jim Talent out in front of our bookstore in Rock Hill. The sign is NOT OURS and DOES NOT reflect the views of the Book House ownership and staff. We would NEVER put such a sign out in front of our store.

As the business owners, we do not feel that we should be forcing our viewpoints on others, but the landowner's blatant juxtaposition of HIS views by the road next to OUR sign demands our response in protest. We as tenants (currently in limbo with no RIGHTS and possibly being forced to move in the near future due to development and the disregard of our needs by our current landlord) cannot legally put up ANY temporary sign by the road on Manchester to advertise our business or to express political views (in support of Claire McCaskill).

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