# # The Cruel Death of Jerry Guilder's Lunch

Brother, I Can See Your Skull.

Brother, I Can See Your Skull. - The Coreyshead Blog

The Cruel Death of Jerry Guilder’s Lunch

The Cruel Death of Jerry Guilder's Lunch

“I was going to die at the impassioned hands of a half-Japanese cowboy on a grade-school sidewalk, and I was going to do it slowly and in immense pain.”


We were standing outside the school, waiting for the morning bell to ring, when Sonny pointed and said, “Let’s smash it.”

It was just an ordinary lunch sack: brown paper, wrinkled from reuse, and sitting at a slight angle on the rough sandstone sill of the classroom window.

Some kids carried lunch boxes. Steel rectangles with “The Lone Ranger” or “Underdog” stamped on them, or plain, long, plastic lunch pails with space for a Thermos in the lid. All with their peculiar and unmistakable odor of aged banana, peanut butter, potato chips and cookie crumbs.

I’d had a steel “Kung Fu” lunch box in first grade, purchased on sale at Ferguson Hardware’s going-out-of-business sale for half price, but it hadn’t lasted long. This grasshopper had karate’d it to bent uselessness before the year was even half over and though the short, plastic Thermos that came with it survived to serve for many years, my mother took one disgusted look at my battered lunch box, another at me, and vowed never again. From then on I was a sack-luncher and a bag re-user.

Some kids threw out their bags after only one use, content with the knowledge that, tomorrow morning, there would be another, crisp brown sack with a sandwich, apple, and three cookies waiting on the kitchen counter and no questions asked, but lots of kids were instructed to reuse their bags. I’m sure some did so for simple conservative reasons but, for most, it was because they were poor.

There were a lot of poor kids in our school. We were eight miles west of a small, northwestern Colorado town, and a small but still decent sized percentage of the kids considered themselves cowboys for the simple reason that they basically were. Maybe they didn’t ride herd, but they did the rest. A rough-and-tumble lot of children with ill-fitting clothes, filthy skin, tangled hair, and calloused hands. Some were abused, some were neglected, some were hungry, some were just raised in an older fashion not yet extinct in the rural Colorado of the 1970s.

I looked at the sack on the sill. The idea of taking it down and stomping on it sounded fun but … that was someone’s lunch. I thought about it, and my mind went back to a day in the first grade when my own lunch, in my as-of-yet-un-karate’d “Kung Fu” lunch box, had been taken and dipped in a soiled toilet by some foul joker, an older kid named Prichard Philo. Even though I knew it was mere chance that my lunch box had been chosen for such an ignoble baptism, I’d felt humiliated, violated.
“No,” I told Sonny. “I don’t want to get in trouble.”
“Aw, c’mon.”

Sonny was always getting into trouble for something: stealing, cursing, punching, talking, running, throwing, spitting. Brown skinned not from race but rather a combination of overexposure to sun and under-exposure to soap, he carried with him the slight scent of human urine and had been allowed to chew tobacco during break in kindergarten because he had a note from his parents. My close circle of friends included Sonny not by choice but rather by default and tenacity. Sonny was one of those people you wish you’d never met because once he took a cotton to you, you couldn’t shake him unless you moved to a different school, beat him up, or died.

Sonny grabbed the sack off the window sill and threw it on the sidewalk between us. The pale light of autumn’s morning sun shone down upon it, lying there on its side, helpless.
“Let’s stomp it!” Sonny said.
“No,” I said. “I don’t want to.”
Other kids were milling around us, a few watching, most of them oblivious. People like Sonny and me; we didn’t attract crowds of peers.
“It’s been sitting there for three days, man.” Sonny said. “No one’s gonna miss it. It’s rotten.”
If true, this changed everything.
“Really,” Sonny said and, seeing he’d found the key, stomped his foot down square on the bag, producing a delightful-sounding crunch.
Sonny lifted his foot and waited for me to take my turn. He didn’t have to wait long. I saw the straining bulge of the sack’s bottom and planted one of my blue Keds right smack on top of it. The contents squooshed like toothpaste back up into the neck of the sack, a very satisfying and soft feeling that sent tendrils of destructive pleasure up my leg to the seat of my male brain. Sonny’s foot came down again next to mine. Soon we were dancing on the lunch sack, really mashing its contents into goddamn nothing; a mindless, primitive explosion of joyful, pointless destruction.

At some point, Sonny pulled back, hesitated, then sprinted away. Intent on the bag’s hideous demise, I only saw his feet disappear and, looking up, was treated to the most chilling sight I thought I would ever see: Jerry Guilder staring straight at me from the corner of the building, his face squinched up in disbelieving rage: “My lunch!”

Jerry Guilder was a big, hulking, half-Japanese cowboy kid. The middle of three brothers, he had managed to get all the worst qualities: dumbest, meanest, ugliest, biggest, rudest, smelliest —he really excelled. His skin was a dirty brown like Sonny’s, his hands broad, thick and hard. He wore a black, cattleman-style felt hat decorated with a flaccid acorn band. The slight upturn of the hat’s soiled brim, shaped by casual tossings, shaded a pair of pronounced Asiatic eyes, a broad nose, and a wide mouth of jutting browned teeth speckled with flecks of Copenhagen. The expanse of his shoulders stretched thin the heavy fibers of his canvas drivers jacket, and the quilted flannel underneath, whose unbuttoned cuffs flapped in tattered frays from the coat’s too-short sleeves. His Wranglers, much of the blue gone brown with grease stains, featured the signature round wear of the chew can in the back left pocket and were held up by a pale leather belt, the last six inches of which tapered to dangled down like some penile delegate from behind the dim silver of a large, oval belt buckle. Finish with square-toe cowboy boots, worn near through and an original color and stitching long since impossible to gauge, and you’ve a picture of what faced me, white with anger. Big for his age anyway, Jerry had been held back twice and was just about as scary as any one kid I had ever met at that point. He scared me not so much because he was big and mean but because he was big and mean and stupid. I could handle big, I could handle mean, but stupid has no limits, knows no reason.

I stared back at Jerry and stepped off the lunch sack, shaking my head.
“I’m s… “
“My lunch!” Jerry took a step forward, his eyes on the tattered remains of the sack. It was torn in places, ruptured and oozing. Half a banana poked out the opening, semi-crushed and looking as if it had died attempting to crawl away from the violence.
“I’m sorry, Jerry,” I finally managed to squeak out.
The bell rang and everyone ran to line up outside their respective classroom door – everyone but Jerry and me.
Jerry’s eyes, narrow with real and justifiable anger, raised and sought my own. I should have run then, but shame and guilt nailed me in place. He had me dead to rights and we both knew it.
“I didn’t think … but Sonny said …”
“You son of a bitch,” Jerry growled walking toward me, one hand drawing a long, steel chain out of his coat pocket.

Now I’d not, at that time, seen street violence in reality, but I had seen it on TV shows like “Hawaii Five-O,” “Ironsides,” and “Emergency!” and I knew that if someone approaches you in anger with a chain, they intend to hit you with it. Shows and even movies in those days left much to the imagination so, in my mind’s eye, I saw great hunks of wet flesh flying from my arms and head and torso as Jerry chain-whipped me without mercy until I collapsed, bloody, a flayed heap at his feet looking not at all unlike his now-mashed lunch.

I was going to die at the impassioned hands of a half-Japanese cowboy on a grade-school sidewalk, and I was going to do it slowly and in immense pain.

This realization traveled to the core of my brain in half the time it took me to blink and, before I knew it, my amygdalae took over and 150 million years of combined evolutionary instruction told me what to do: I flipped out.

Screaming, “He’s gonna kill me! He’s gonna kill me!” at the top of my shrieking, little-boy voice, I ran right past my would-be assailant and barreled through a line of upperclassmen shuffling single-file into Mrs. Dingle’s classroom.

Mrs Dingle, an elderly woman in a floral blouse, grey skirt, and 1960s-style horn-rimmed glasses, took in my frightened freak-out with disbelieving eyes.
“Calm down, young man! Calm down! Who’s going to kill you?” She took me by the shoulders and shook me a little.
“J-Jerry Guilder!”
“Jerry Guilder is going to kill you?” Her voice was kind but full of questioning disbelief. She looked back over my head where children, watching the scene with curiosity, continued to file in. “Why, I don’t even see Jerry. Why would he kill you?”
She had to ask that.
“I don’t know, but he had a chain and …” I sniveled through mucus and tears.
“Well, it’s all over now, so get going to your classroom before you’re late,” she swatted me toward the front of her classroom..

I was still teary but my eyes were already clearing as I exited her classroom and made my way toward the third-grade rooms. Now was not the time for tears. Now was the time to be on the lookout for Jerry and his cronies.

The general hustle and bustle of the halls, with children hanging up their coats, stowing their lunches, running to the bathroom for a last-minute tinkle, and otherwise jerking around covered me, and I made it to my class unseen, unscathed. Stowing my own items, I noticed Sonny looking at me with a smirk.
“You said that lunch had been there for days!” I accused., “But it was Jerry Guilder’s lunch, and now he’s gonna kill me!”
Sonny just laughed at me: “You’re a stupid pussy.”

I sat through the next couple of hours unable to concentrate on instruction or even the typical japes of my friends. Jerry Guilder had been ready to beat me with a chain, and I had barely escaped with my life. My safety was short-lived, however. First recess was coming up and, without a doubt, at that time he would surely finish the job—but this time with a cheering audience and willing accomplices. I almost threw up at the thought. I kept my eye on the inexorable sweep of the clock’s hands as I formulated my escape.

When the recess bell finally rang, I approached my teacher, Ms. Ackerman.
“Ms. Ackerman? Can I stay in from recess today?”
“Why is that, Corey? Aren’t you feeling well? You have been quieter today.” She peered at me through the bulbous twin panes of her enormous bifocals.
“Uh, I’d just rather not have to go out.”
“Hm. No, you need the air and the exercise. It’s a beautiful day! Go outside.” She stopped looking at me, picked up a novel from her desk and took a noisome bite from an apple.
“Please, no. I can’t.”
“Why not?” she asked, not looking up.
I didn’t want to say anything, didn’t want to get in deeper. I already knew that no one was going to take this seriously except me and Jerry. Involving “the authorities” was likely to only make my death worse. I wanted a way out, not a deeper way in, but I couldn’t go out to first recess and expect to live.
“I … I’m afraid.”
Ms. Ackerman groaned in annoyance at my evasiveness. “What are you afraid of?”
I didn’t want to but Ms. Ackerman had left me no other choice. I looked at my shoes.
“Jerry Guilder threatened to beat me with a chain and he’ll get me if I go to recess.”
Ms. Ackerman looked up from her novel, mid chew.
“Jerry Guilder what?”
I repeated myself, this time with more confidence.
Ms. Ackerman put down her book and wrote out a hall pass.
“You need to tell Dr. Simpkins. Off you go to the principal’s office. I swear you kids are out of control.” She tore the pass off the pass and handed it to me.
I gulped. Not exactly the stay of execution I had hoped for but conceded to myself that being sent to squishy-old Dr. Simpkins was far preferable to facing certain death on the playground.

Dr. Simpkins was a thin, calm, balding man with soft, well-washed hands. He wore white button-up shirts with dark ties and a pen and a pair of sunglasses in the pocket. I’m not sure why, maybe it was the slight southern lilt to his pronouncements, but he reminded me of a preacher. He would stop you in the hall out of the blue to ask you how things were going, and he always had a youth-empowerment aphorism ready. I know he meant well and many of the kids, most of them younger girls, worshipped the ground he walked on, but for me there was something so forced about his personality—so scrubbed, polished, and practiced—that a conversation with him always felt about as personal and relevant as the words in a fortune cookie. I didn’t dislike him, but had no faith in his ability to understand or handle the situation without making things worse

I walked into the office and showed the secretary Ms. Ackerman’s pass. “… but I’m not in trouble,” I added.
The secretary gave me a pursed-lipped eye-roll and after checking that he was free, ushered me into the principal’s office.

Dr. Simpkins sat behind the desk, perusing some papers. He smiled as I came in and put the papers aside.
“Well, hi Corey! How are you? What brings you down for a visit?” It always amazed me that he seemed to have memorized every child’s name; there were hundreds of us. He leaned back in his chair with his arms behind his head and made a show of giving me his full attention. Faith or no, I knew that he was the top male authority around here and decided to come clean.
When I was done talking, Dr. Simpkins looked at me and raised his eyebrows.
“Well now, you can hardly blame young Jerry for being mad, can you?”
“No, sir, but I really didn’t know that … ”
“Excuses are the nails used to build a house of failure, Corey. A house of failure. You don’t want to live in a house of failure, do you?”
“No, sir.”
“So, yes, mistakes were made, but to err is human, and failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently. Let’s call Jerry in, shall we?”
“What!?” Fear shot through me. “Please, no.”
Dr. Simpkins looked at me over his reading glasses. “You owe Mr. Guilder an apology. I am sure, once he hears how sorry you are, he will be able to forgive and forget.”
“But what about the chain!? He was gonna beat me with it!”
“Oh, now. I think you’re exaggerating a bit, don’t you” Dr. Simpkins presented me one of his softer smiles and moved his hand toward the phone.
“Please, Dr. Simpkins,” I pleaded. “I’m afraid of Jerry. He’s not gonna forgive me. Can’t I just stay inside for recess this week, until he forgets about the whole thing?” I had to get through to this moron that Jerry Guilder was not some errant kid who would drop the matter upon hearing a heartfelt apology. I’d seen him kick first-graders in the back for fun and once watched him push another boy face first into the steel bars of the rotating merry-go-round, turning his face into a pulpy mass.
Dr. Simpkins smiled at me like I was a misguided sheep. “I think we should just fix it now, rather than wait, don’t you? You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps, after all.”
Dr. Simpkins picked up the receiver and dialed out to the secretary to have Jerry brought in from recess.


First I had stomped all over the guy’s lunch, and now I was interrupting his recess with a visit to the principal’s office to be accused of threatening me with a chain. Oh, yeah. He was going to forgive me, alright. I was dead as dead could get.

It took a few minutes for the teacher on recess duty to track down Jerry and send him in. He slouched into the office, hat in hand, only pausing for a microsecond to acknowledge my quivering presence with a piercing look that said, “You’re dead.”
“Jerry,” Dr. Simpkins began, “Corey here tells me that he has something to say to you.”
Jerry looked at me.
I swallowed.
“Jerry, I’m sorry I stomped on your lunch. Sonny said it had just been sitting there for a couple of days, so we didn’t think it would matter. It was a dumb idea, and I’m really, really sorry.”
Jerry blinked a couple of times then looked at Dr. Simpkins. “I don’ have any lunch today, now. What am I s’pose t’eat?”
“Oh, now. Not to worry,” Dr. Simpkins smiled. “Today, lunch is on us. I’ll call down to the cafeteria. You just go through the line today and get a nice hot lunch. How’s that?”
“Thank you, Dr. Simpkins,” Jerry grunted.
“Now, how about our friend Mr. Edwards over here? Do you have anything to say to him?”
Jerry looked at Dr. Simpkins, confused, his hat-shaped hair sticking out over his eyes and ears like a spiky black corona. “Like what?”
“Well, he went out on a limb, there, don’t you think? He offered you a chance to forgive him. That doesn’t happen every day.”
Jerry stared at Dr. Simpkins a little longer, rotating his hat by the brim with both hands between his knees, then turned his head to me and considered me a moment.
“Fergive ye,” he murmured through slack lips, the flintiness of his gaze upon me never warming. My heart sank into my stomach and set off a chemical reaction.
Jerry made to stand up.
“Well now, whoa there, Mr. Guilder, whoa there.” Dr. Simpkins motioned with his hand for Jerry to remain seated. “We’re not quite done here.”
Jerry sat back down, blinking.
“Corey here tells me he’s afraid you might want to beat him up, is that true?”
Jerry swung his head to look at me, his eyes filled with cold anger, then he turned back to Dr. Simpkins and opened his eyes up as wide as they would go; “Golly, no sir!”
“He tells me you might have threatened him with a chain?” Dr. Simpkins put the question as if he couldn’t believe Jerry would do such a thing, he was such a good boy.
“With a chain. Do you have a chain on you, Jerry?”
“Why, shore I do,” said Jerry, reaching into his coat pocket and bringing out the chain, “it’s just a old dog chain, though. Fer walkin’ m’dog.”
”Oh, I see. A dog chain,” Dr. Simpkins replied, turning to me, a gentle smile on his face as if to say, ”See? That explains it!“
“I wooden hit nobody with it,” Jerry supplied, snaking his neck to emphasize his sincerity.
Dr. Simpkins brought his eyebrows and voice down in mock seriousness. “Well, of course not.” He smiled.
Jerry slipped the chain back into his pocket, and Dr. Simpkins pushed his glasses up onto his forehead. “There, see? That wasn’t so hard, now was it boys? And doesn’t it feel good to be friends again?”
“Yes sir, it does,” Jerry said, looking directly at me with a big, malicious grin on his face that Dr. Simpkins couldn’t seem to read.
“Well, then, why don’t we stand up and shake hands?”
Dr. Simpkins gestured for us to rise and approach each other. We did so, Jerry with his ever-growing evil smile. I stuck out my hand and watched Jerry’s engulf it. We shook. I expected him to squeeze my hand like a vice but instead he barely used enough pressure to retain the grasp. His hand was dry and rough. The whole thing was creepy.
“Alright then, boys, run along!” Dr. Simpkins ushered us out of his office. I didn’t want to go, so I hung back, but the principal urged me along with the flat of a hand between my shoulders. I knew the minute we were out of his sight I was dead meat, but then the bell rang to signal the end of recess and the halls exploded with children and teachers heading back to their classrooms. My death was postponed at least until lunch time.
Over the rising noise, Jerry turned and pointed a finger in my face. “I’ll getcha. Don’ you fergit it. I’ll getcha.”

I spent the rest of the day and much of the next waiting for Jerry to materialize at recess, in the hall, at lunch, on the bus, somewhere, anywhere, to beat the crap out of me. But it didn’t happen. I didn’t know if it was because I made sure to always surround myself with friends, or if Jerry was afraid to get in trouble now that the principal knew, or if Jerry had forgiven me, or what, but as the weeks passed, I quit worrying about it. I never forgot that he owed me, however, and always made sure to give him a wide berth. If I found myself in the same room as him, I would excuse myself, or if that was impossible, I’d make myself as small and as quiet as possible. His face became imprinted on my brain in the same way the buzz of a rattlesnake’s tail was; danger!

Two years later, I was messing around in the river bottom with my friends Garrett and Levi when I was finally forced to face Jerry.
The three of us had been tubing the river and were now splashing around a swimming hole in our cutoffs when Levi, atop the remnants of the old, concrete abutment above the swimming hole, hollered down that he had just seen Prichard Philo and Jerry Guilder coming towards us along the bank. The cold finger of fear once again ran its nails down the chalkboard of my soul. I was with two friends, but we were far away from any houses or adults.
“What are they doing here?” I asked, shivering in the sunlight.
“I dunno,” Levi shrugged. “Looks like they’re hunting. Jerry has his rifle.”
I almost threw up. I could feel the blood drain from my head and limbs. There was no god.
“I have to hide,” I said.
Garrett and Levi looked at me in surprise.
“Jerry’s gonna kill me,” I said, then reminded them of the lunch-sack incident from two years before.
They were skeptical.
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Levi said. “They’re good guys.”
“No, Levi. I’m serious. Jerry hates me. He promised to get me.”
Garrett shook his head. “If they try to start anything, we’ll tell them to stop.”
I appreciated the support but was not reassured. Levi was about as big around as a twig and cried if you punched him hard enough—and that wasn’t very hard. Garrett was tough as nails when it came to pain but was a bit of a pushover. If anything happened, he’d go and get help and, I’m sure, help to fish what was left of my body out of the branches of the cottonwoods when they got back.

Despite my fears, I decided to hang tough. I had no other option, to be honest. I was half naked, my shoes were filled with sand that was chafing my feet raw, my friends weren’t about to run off, and I couldn’t do so and retain face with them. Garrett and Levi continued to splash and holler while I awaited my fate by the side of the swimming hole, grim as a condemned prisoner.

Jerry and Prichard crunched their way to us through the matted grass and brambles of the riverbank trail and gave a hailing shout. Garret and Levi hailed back and came out of the water to meet them. I stood by, silent and still. Prichard pulled out a can of Copenhagen, pinched a wad to place in his lip and, after a priming spit, struck up a conversation with Levi about fishing.
I scanned Jerry with my eyes, Prichard too, but neither seemed to take any special notice of me. Just another kid in the river, I guess.
Prichard began prying at Levi for fishing secrets —the bait he used, the best holes to fish— but Levi wasn’t budging. It took me a few seconds to realize that the conversation was friendly. Not that it had been hard to tell, just that I was surprised. It flew in the face of all that I’d come to believe about the two older boys but there was Prichard, wheedling, not bullying, Levi for his fishing knowledge of the local streams. He actually looked up to Levi! A skinny, little underclassman! Right behind him was Jerry, leaning on a .22 rifle with amusement on his face at Prichard’s attempts and Levi’s artful evasiveness.
It was clear to me that, while they ran in different circles at school, these were all kids of the same neighborhood, comfortable with each other on a level I had never suspected. My view of both Prichard and Jerry deflated some, taking them down from mythic beasts of horror to merely regular folk. Jerry even seemed like a bit of a goofball, truth be told. He made jokes at Prichard’s expense, offered his own advice to Levi on how to tan a squirrel hide, and even chuckled a few times in my direction as if to draw me in. After a while I relaxed and, though still at the side of the conversation, joined in here and there when I could fit a joke in.
At one point Jerry offered me a chaw. I thanked him, took a healthy wad from the pouch of Redman he held out, cheeked it, then worked up enough gumption to remind him of the whole lunch sack story. I told him how scared of him I had been, and for how long. I knew I was taking a risk bringing it up but, as I related the details of my dread, he laughed open mouthed until his eyes were wet.
“That Sonny’s an asshole,” he said.

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