From "Suburban Misfits"

Nightmare from Third Street

He walked ahead of me through the old neighborhood as if no time had passed.

My car was in the shop around the corner and I was wasting time strolling down a memory lane of childhood misery.

Leonard used to mock me from the back of the class, and even after 25 years, I still cringed.

He had started on me in kindergarten as if he had some past-life score to settle with me, smacking me in the back of the head in the school yard, stealing my books while I was at gym.

I avoided school social functions fearing the added audience would increase his audacity.

Leonard saw me as a kind of hick, mocking my disheveled hair, torn jeans and dirty sneakers.

He loved to call me "Bum."

In boy scout camp, he swiped my firewood, drenched my sleeping bag and once even burned down my pup tent - with me still inside.

But Leonard saved his most humiliating abuse for that one Halloween when I mistakenly dressed up as a hobo.

One sight of me and he howled "Al Bum! Al Bum!" a chant championed by the rest of class until well after 8th grade graduation.

Seeing him again on Third Street brought back all the pain.

But he merely pumped my hand and told me how much he missed me.

"Maybe you didn't know it back then," he said softly. "But I always considered you my best friend."

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