Turning Your Colors

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Chapter 6

“Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas – only I don’t know exactly what they are!”

I don’t remember much of anything about my life, it’s all a blur, before the ruckus I got into at pre-school. What happened before that all seems like an accident, like a dream. It happened because of my sister Sandy’s hairspray, which I can still see as clear as day. I barely remember pre-school but going one on one that day is the thing that stands out.

We were all sitting at a table eating lunch and next to me was a kid named Bobby. He had his head down, munching and crunching. I leaned over and pretended to hairspray him. I knew about hairspray because Sandy had started using it at home. She would stand in front of the mirror in the bathroom waving a can around, spraying her head. Later in life she used it all the time. Otherwise she looked like a porcupine.

I had never seen anything like hairspray before. After I saw it I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I did it to Bobby, pretend hair sprayed him, and he got SPITTING MAD. I don’t know why I did it or why he got mad. We suddenly started hitting each other. It was a long time ago, but I remember the sound of our slapping hands.

We were only four years old.

When I was five years old, I went to kindergarten. Looking back, I can’t recall much of what we did there, either. I do remember we spent most of the time on a carpet, which was brightly colored, and we got prizes at the end of the day if we had been good.

Mrs. Papp was our teacher. She had a round pudgy face and brown hair past her shoulders. It fell forward when she leaned over and gave us our goodies. I liked the way her hair smelled. It smelled clean and fresh.

The next year Mrs. Kreese was our teacher. She was on the old side and looked like a witch, but she wasn’t mean. That didn’t matter to everybody. Some kids said among themselves that she was totally a witch. Every day of every week she wore mismatching socks. She always wore a dress, but never nylons, just ratty socks. She walked in clunky black shoes with thick heels, not flat shoes like other old grown-ups.

I think she knew what we said about her, because I heard her say to a kid who was being bad one day, “Your mother wants you to be good, and if you don’t be good, since I’m a witch, I’m going to come to your house in the middle of the night, to your bedroom when you’re asleep, and haunt you.”

I hit my teacher with a pencil in 2nd grade, although I didn’t mean to do it. Mrs. Lemons was tall, with gray hair, and liked ice cream. My dad and I saw her all the time at the East Coast Custard stand in Fairview Park across the bridge from the hospital. It happened when we were sitting on a rug at the back of the classroom and I was tossing a pencil up and down. It suddenly flew out of control and hit her on the arm.

I almost jumped out of my skin. I HAD TO TURN MY CARD!

Everybody in class had their own special number and a card at the front of the room. If you were bad you had to turn your card. We called it turning your colors. It was like turning over a new leaf, although sometimes it was an old leaf. There were different colors, which were green, yellow, and red. Green was good and red was bad. If you were always good you never had to turn a color. But if you were bad, you had to flip it, showing every kid in class you had been bad.

After a certain number of days, if you were being good and your card wasn’t staying solid red, you got a prize, like candy or a little toy. Sometimes we made our own little toys. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we did it anyway.

One day in between time a friend of mine and I we were in the bathroom when we saw one of the first graders come in. He always pulled his pants and underwear down all the way when he went to pee. He pulled them down to his knees. Sometimes they fell to his ankles.

While he was concentrating, we snuck up behind him, spun him around, and slid him into one of the stalls, closing it and holding the door shut. He was stuck in there. But the lunch lady came in when she heard all the noise he made, and we got in trouble. We had to go see the principal and listen to his lecture. That was the highlight of the day, at least until I got to go home.

By then, by the time I was in 2nd grade, it was just dad, me, and Sandy my older sister at home. My mom was gone. I didn’t know what had happened, other than the butt load of yelling and fighting between her and dad had stopped, and she was just gone. Just like that she wasn’t there anymore.

I had the time of my life after that. It was my dad and me and my dad on our own. If I did something bad, he wasn’t happy about it, but he wasn’t too fussy. He just dumped stuff. He brushed it off. He knew how to roll with the punches. I had all my friends over in the summer and we played outside until eleven o’clock at night. We ran around the house with nerf guns and had a ball busting out.

Dad didn’t care. He had his own diary. He was very loose. He slept without sheets in a bedroom with barely anything in it, except clothes all over the floor.

“You’re so annoying, do you know that, does it even matter to you?“ Sandy started saying kept saying. She wasn’t always my best only older sister. She could be the worst. She had a serious streak to her. One night she told me she was going places.

She would complain all the time, but I didn’t listen, unless she was making dinner. I listened to her at least once a day because she made dinner every night.

It was awesome to not have a mom in the house. If I had it to do over again, same thing, sure, I definitely would. I didn’t miss my mom, not really. I loved her when she was there, but that was a long time ago. It was fine back then, when she was there, but I was small, and needed her more. When my mom was gone, she was gone and that was all there was to it. Never look back. She never came back, although we still saw her sometimes, although none of us ever wanted to, not my dad, and not even Sandy, who loved mom the most.

Once she was gone, I got my first air soft gun. I could never have one when she was around. She always said NO. But then when I got it my Uncle Valdas sat on it and broke it in half. I knew he did it on purpose, because he didn’t want me to have a gun, even though he had been in the Russian Army for three years.

“I’ll give you forty dollars for it,” he said, holding the two broken halves in his hands in his lap. He thought money was the way to go, the way to get things done. He lived for gold. He had a gold watch and a gold chain around his neck.

I have one now that’s really expensive, a really great gun, the second one my dad has gotten me. It’s fully automatic and shoots little plastic pellets that sting. I shoot things with it. I go to air soft wars with my friends. We pile into military outfits and have actual battles. Everyone has to wear eye protection, so we don’t shoot our eyes out.

When I was in 3rd grade my teacher called me a fathead. That was pretty HORRIBLE. She called me other names, too, but the worst thing she ever called me was that. Mrs. Trollan was a prim and proper ex-nun. She wasn’t tall and wore her hair short and rippled around her face. She looked like an ugly holy roller, but maybe a little prettier than a roller.

What did I ever do to you, I wondered?

She sat at her desk in a proper way and stood in a proper way. That’s just how she was. I was never sure if I was on her bad side, or not, but she started called me fathead all the time. She did it in front of everybody. I DIDN’T LIKE THAT.

I sat in the middle of class, so it’s not like she had her watch on me. Besides, I never really did anything bad. It was just a boat load of a bad year. Never look back, and I headed for 4th grade.

The next year our 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Coconea, went a little crazy toward the end of the year. The troublemakers in class called her Mrs. Cocaine, making fun of her name, even though she was a nice lady, and probably didn’t do any drugs. She had a son in the Air Force and two boys in high school. But there were too many bad kids in the class for her to cope with. They disobeyed her and lied all the time, even though no matter how much 4th graders think they can outsmart teachers, they really can’t.

I never knew if Mrs. Coco knew that, or not. They just overwhelmed her. She was brittle tense.

It wasn’t about being smart, though. The bad kids were always getting in trouble, but Mrs. Coconea couldn’t put a stop to it. She wasn’t strong enough. Her days were a nervous breakdown divided by before lunch and after lunch. She couldn’t even eat a sandwich in peace. She was always trying to go home.

No one ever called her Mrs. Cocaine to her face, but everybody knew about the dub. I was never sure if she knew, although I think she did. Sometimes she just looked sad.

The next year I almost got into trouble but didn’t because I told the truth about what happened in the playground, which was a good thing because they had it on video, anyway. None of the other kids told the truth and they had to pay the price. Some of them couldn’t tell the truth without lying, anyway.

We were messing around in the playground pantsing each other. When you pants somebody you run up to them and pull their pants down. Unless you go to a private school nobody wears belts in 5th grade. No belts. Belts are out. Pants are loose. But you only pull the pants down, not the underwear. Those are the rules of fame.

The idea is to shine a light on the tighty-whities.

There was a kid lurking nearby. He wasn’t one of us, not in our group. He was one of the all-of-the-time annoying kids. We were messing around and he was watching us. Someone pantsed one of us, and we were all pushing each other, running around, laughing it up. All of a sudden, the lurker came running from behind and pantsed one of our group.

It was his own private ambush! He started cracking up. He thought it was so funny, at least until I whirled on him and pantsed him back. Then he didn’t think being pantsed himself was funny. NOT AT ALL!

He got sad and weepy and crawled away. We were, like, whatever, and walked off. Somebody told the rest of the class about it, and one of the kids told his mom, and then the school found out. Everybody else lied about it and said they hadn’t done anything, but I owned up to it. I take it smart. he others all got an in-school suspension, but I didn’t get into any trouble, at all.

We didn’t know then that they had video cameras outside, watching us in the playground. We all knew they were in the hallways, but we hadn’t seen them outside. But after that we could see them and knew where they were, and we did our business out of sight.

They have cameras so they can see whatever goes on and know about it. THEY KNOW! When Billy pushes Josh down in the hall and kicks him in the face, they know, and the hammer comes down. What I think is only real police should be on the surveillance camera team. Or maybe bounty hunters, too, so they can collect the reward.

Cameras are stupid. It’s usually just the public schools that have lots of cameras. St. Mel’s has only two of them. One of them is a phony. We spy on ourselves, anyway. We don’t need peepers on us.

One of the cameras is in front of Mr. Krazakios’s office and nobody knows where the other one is. We’re always trying to find it. Everybody knows Mr. K.’s camera isn’t a real one. It’s a replica. Mr. Krazakios is one of the Latin teachers. We think he’s on crack, although not really on crack, but like uncommon nonsense. He’s a wild man who during assemblies will run up and down the bleachers pushing guys out of the way and sitting them down.

Sometimes Mr. K. says the Morning Prayer on the P. A. at St. Mel’s and it’s the creepiest thing. He sounds like Orphan Esther. It’s just MESSED UP.

He’s on the older side, skinny, and really quick on his feet. He has short scratchy gray hair and wears checked suits. He knows thirteen different languages, even Lithuanian, and he’s learning Chinese. Last year he broke his leg trying to skateboard and made his own cast for it. He healed up with no problem.

I started skateboarding in the 3rd grade. I have a lot of memories of that, of skateboarding outside and learning tricks. I rode everywhere and it was so much fun. I was on my own. No one could tell me what to do when I was on my skateboard. I loved going fast. Some kids would attach a leaf blower to their board to go faster. I never did that. But I got bruised and hurt all the time. Any flick of your foot or a blast of wind could send your board whipping the wrong way. Every time I tried to kick flip down some stairs it was anybody’s game out there.

But I don’t skateboard anymore.

I stopped when I was in 5th grade because too many bad kids skateboarded. They were yardbirds riding a toy. I wasn’t friends with the bad kids, although I was at first, skating together with them. I was always hanging out with them, even though I’m a nice guy. I’m not a bad guy, at all. I figured out it wasn’t a good thing, though. They weren’t good people to be with, so I stopped skating altogether.

Way more bad kids skateboarded than good kids. It’s a stereotype, for sure, close-to-the-bone, whatever, but that’s the way it is. The kids who don’t have anything to do, or who don’t have a good home life, they skateboard. That’s definitely not me.

When I was in 6th grade I totally stopped hanging out with most of those kids. By then I was in advanced placement classes and was with the same thirty good kids the whole day. They became my real friends. None of them were bad kids.

A bad kid is someone who’s a JERK in class and gets in TROUBLE all the time. They talk back, don’t show up, and do drugs. There were a crap load of kids in middle school who did drugs. They would wear bell-bottoms from the 70s and tight-roll them. They didn’t do PCP or cocaine, not really, not that anybody knew, or wanted to know. Most of them just smoked weed. They would talk smack to the teachers and bully other kids.

They would make fun of the special kids, loud laughing at them, and pushing them. My friends and I would say, step off of it, leave them alone, although they never listened to me. But they always listened whenever we brought Nate over, who was big and strong and jacked out of his mind, even though he didn’t do drugs.

“Hit the biggest one first and hard as hell in the face,” he always said, grinning and clapping.

It was horrible the way they treated the weak kids. It was one of the biggest things that ticked me off in middle school. I understood right away, those kids are jerks, and the kids in my advanced classes aren’t. I started hanging out with the good kids all the time. Most of the bad kids were underachievers. They were in all the slippery eel classes. They could barely read.

By the time I was in 8th grade those kids flat amazed me, like it was a freak show, the circus out of focus. They were so stupid the teachers had to read the tests to them. Some of them were just naturally morons. The rest of them didn’t try. They were just in it for the fun. They were the kind of kids who grew up to be Ken the Toad, grown-up who ruled because they were mean.

I learned you have to try when I was in 3rd grade. It happened when I got my first actual project. The project was for a book we had to read, about what it was about, about what we thought of it. Once I had to do it I started understanding that you actually have to put time and thought and effort into things.

I knew all about it by 8th grade. Bad kids simply choose not to care. They get on the road of nowhere retards, going nowhere, except when they become your boss, and you’re out of luck.

I care because I want a good job and a good house, a nice pretty wife who’s pretty, and good kids who go to a nice school. I started looking towards the future at the end of 8th grade, which was when I knew I would be going to St. Mel’s. By then I knew what color looked BEST on me. I take it smart. I was going to make sure the worm didn’t turn on me.

Better to be the robin who gets what he wants.

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Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus

 

 

 

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