The Vandal Inside

Who would have thought that one ordinary Friday afternoon as a freshman in high school would turn into one of the most destructive? Not I, but then again, I was the cause of the irksome insipidity! It all started as I entered the boy’s restroom just before last period history class. I saw a friend in there, a guy I knew from another class, a jovial fellow whom I had known to be one to laugh at my absurd antics. Seeing him triggered something in me.

“Now’s the time to pay our respects.” I said. Without a second thought, I began malignly kicking the paper towel dispenser off the wall. First a dent, then a snap, then down it came! Next was the mirror; a few lunging kicks to the side of it and a hard tug downward, and shards of reflective glass covered the floor. When the sonority of the shatter died down, all I could hear was my friend’s hysterical laughter at what I had done. Emboldened to continue my reign of terror, I now had an accomplice!

Our faces red with glee, our teeth standing tall with expressive joy, my friend Jeremy immediately jumps in on the fun. We briefly looked at each other and instantly knew we were on the same page. Paving the way for more disaster, I thought to myself, “That sink may look and feel secure in the wall, but it won’t when us two jump on it a few times.” That we did. The cracking sound of tiles breaking, the sight of caulk flaking off from its base, the satisfaction of feeling pipes bust loose under our weight was delightful, but now the activity was getting tiresome. We decided we didn’t have to knock it down, just loose, so we followed suit with the metal bathroom stall walls.

We were having so much fun that we decided to skip class. But since we didn’t have much time before someone else entered the restroom and spotted us, we had to limit our targets to easier stuff. The toilet paper rolls got tossed and plunged as far down into the toilets as we could get them, and just three good kicks to the soap dispensers sent them sailing across a urine-stained floor where they were stomped on until the scented blue soap inside covered much of the area. The trashcan was next; it was stepped on until it was bent and lopsided. The trash went into the urinals. And just as some jocks came in, we were out and done! But the vandalism wouldn’t stop there.

The hastening of summer ever pressed upon my mind. The day, just like the after school pep rally and bus ride home, went quickly. The night soon came, and everyone knows the night is when the mischief-makers come out! That we did. I soon found myself with another set of hooligans, swinging violently on stop signs and pulling them out of the ground, dragging them into the middle of the streets. When occasion permitted us to find roadblocks, we stealthfully maneuvered them out into the highest traffic spots so as to create as much disruption in the neighborhood as possible. The thrill of keeping from getting spotted made life worth living!

Knocking stuff down was the biggest trip of all! Flimsy mailboxes just had to go, so did yard signs, and potted plants on windowsills and ledges—they are a point apiece! And the two homos who lived on the corner of our street with elaborate macramé weaves and cupid statues? Those were three points each!

I should have known I was a strange little bastard when in the sixth grade a teacher showed us a McGraw-Hill Films presentation on the costliness and consequences of vandalism. As the video played recorded footage of past vandalisms, every time a pane of glass was shattered or a shelf of valuables smashed to bits before my eyes, I almost fell out of my chair with laughter. Why couldn’t I control myself as I watched a phone booth being destroyed by a demented juvenile with a big wrench? All but a few kids looked at me like I was a circus freak. For the life of me, I couldn’t stop laughing, even though I got a zero for the day and was kicked out of class. I kept laughing all the way to the principal’s office! Yes, I was a weirdo, but the disorder, the capricious chaos, the sheer debasement of anything ordinary was just too damn appealing! I was the proverbial “kid in a candy shop.”

The frivolity of vandalism, the gaiety of carefree fun, of squealing laughter, of seemingly endless good times, it was for me the protoplasm of my teenage years. I never knew such wicked elation at any other time in my life as back then. The cackling, giggling, slapping my knees with joy, why does it have to be wrong? Perhaps it is a natural result of the empowerment felt when we set up a contrary order, the abolishment of boredom, and the “thrill of the hunt” in defying the authorities. Perhaps it also involves a bad self-image, the expression of negativity, built-up antisocial emotions released in the form of destructive behavior. Perhaps it is a combination of these things. But like most troublesome phases of youth, this one too was nicely outgrown.

Now I stand to preserve just the opposite of what I stood for back then. I stand to protect order and the status quo. I fight for the preservation of normalcy, for whom? For the bombinating buzzards who run society, for somber adults--those who though mature and decent, lack the vibrancy of growing up, that high energy level, the fire that “burns in the heart of the young,” as one songwriter put it. Today, I am only a shadow of my former self. I take pride in preserving moral values, in safeguarding other’s possessions and property—I do it for a living, in fact! I live life with the rightful understanding that people and their belongings are owed a certain level of respect, the same amount we would demand for ourselves. Life experience with our own possessions and a halfway decent upbringing teaches us how to properly behave. And yet, as I look back at my old restless self through the passing of time I find myself wondering which Joe Holman is really the better one.

Sure, he was combative, arrogant, and at times guilty of criminal mischief, a social misfit and a non-conformist all the way, but the Joe Holman of yesteryear was also passionate, energetic, ambitious, searching, and ever eager to learn. He was pliable and flexible, capable of being shaped into something more significant than himself, able to take on a new identity. He was moving up, anxious to take the world by storm, a kid with a big brain and an even bigger heart. That kid went to seminary. He became a preacher. He made mom and dad proud.

The Joe Holman of today is nothing like this. He has renounced his faith. His fire has gone out, his energy level is depleted and his disposition relaxed. He has faced pain and the embittering forces that rip the spunk of the soul right out of a man. He is no longer searching. He has seen more of this maligned mud ball than he cared to see. His days of yearning, of burning, of searching for answers under every nook and cranny, are over and done with. The old Joe Holman would carry on a conversation through the night, with passion and voice-straining vitality. The new Joe Holman will just pop open a Samuel Adams and say, “To hell with it!”

My family still tells me they liked the old Joe Holman better, that restless, fickle kid who once sewed his wild oats as a senseless vandal. Why does my family feel this way? Because that Joe Holman wasn’t wise enough to see through the stupidity, the pointlessness of his giddy loved ones and their lives of selfish gratification. The new Joe Holman opposes the ignorance of religion, that single most far-reaching delusion of grandeur in the adult world. He casts to the wind some of the things taught him by his parents, and for that he is shunned. The reason the old Joe Holman was so loved was because he was like putty in the hands of the “wise,” in the hands of the religious stooges with access to his mind. The new Joe Holman sees right through their parlor tricks. Their illusions no longer hold sway over him. Joe Holman is the natural enemy of every priest, preacher, pastor, and Imam. Their words are powerless against him.

The new Joe Holman is the killjoy, the cynic, the put-downer, the skeptic, the village atheist who rains on the parade of celebrating believers. He is the outcast now, his knowledge forbidden, his wisdom rejected, his anecdotes suspect. “He who opposes the village witchdoctor shall be accursed,” thus saith the people and their sacred book. The new Joe Holman is a heretic, a deviant from the good and right way. The old Joe Holman was a bright and shining star – brighter was his illumination than that of his fellows – but he was a blue sun. He burned out too fast. He is a black hole today, sucking the heavenly consolations out of the hearts of his believing loved ones and friends. He is the thief of peace and optimism, the archenemy of conceited joy. He eradicates mystery, reducing it to terms most familiar to him, much to the disgust of those around him. He spits on sacred and beloved bedtime stories. The new Joe Holman is not welcome. “Where is the vandal, the talkative, hot-headed kid with a smile who thought he was cool? We want him back,” they say. That ambitious fool who knew nothing is better than the one who found his way, the one who pulls the shades because he hates the light shining in, and because he hates those who stand outside, looking in, watching him with contempt.

From society’s point of view, I don’t know if I can disagree with them; the wild heart, capable of mischief but able to be molded into something better, is to be desired over the seasoned sage who, through tears and time, has been broken. The world at large must have a moldable mass at its disposal; there are cubicles to occupy, churches and classrooms to fill. There are products and promises to be peddled, to the empty, to the lost, to the needy, and to the hungering. The mind-raped visionary doesn’t get the job done. He is impractical, useless, a circle in a universe of squares. His lot in life is loneliness and his portion sadness.



  1. Joe, I like the way you write and the points your are striving to make. I was a slave to religion for from a better part of 30 years. I have no need, want or desire of religion now. It is a colossal waste of time. I stop in every so often to see what you are up to. Thanks for the insight.

  2. Thanks, Carla. That means a lot!



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