Tag Archives: Lakewood, Ohio

Lighting the Day

odysseus_and_the_cyclops_by_returningdragon_d3g97p7-fullview.jpg

“She generally gave herself good advice (although she very seldom followed it.)”

I didn’t miss St. Mel’s during Spring Break, NOT AT ALL.

It was nice being away from everybody. I hung out with my new friend who lives in Avon Lake, and all my other friends, and didn’t think about school. I had been staring out windows a lot, waiting for spring. I felt like a crab apple tree sniffing out warm weather.

I did a lot of reading and relaxing. I re-read the ‘Hunger Games’, which is absolutely one of the best books of all time. It’s a series, there are three of them, and I read all of them when they first came out. I was in middle school back then and we had a book fair one week. I spotted it there, right on the spot..

Not many people knew anything about it, but I saw it right away. It said’ Hunger Games’ on the cover and it looked very cool. I read it and two days after I finished it I bought the second one. When the third one came out I got it right away, too.

I’ve re-read all of them because the movie is coming out and I’m going to see it as soon as possible.

It’s about a semi-post-apocalyptic America. Everything is run by the Capital. That’s another name for Washington, but they don’t call it Washington. There are thirteen districts, although now there are only twelve, and the Capital tells them what to do. Every year they have something called the Hunger Games. Each district has to send one boy and one girl to the games. They all go to an arena and they have to fight each other to the DEATH. The last person left is the WINNER.

They win a life of LUXURY.

Mr. Orwell told me to read the story of Theseus and I would understand what it was about, but I didn’t. I don’t think he read my new ‘Hunger Games’ so why should I read his old thing called Theseus? Besides, I don’t believe it really had anything to do with the ‘Hunger Games’. That was then and this is now.

I don’t usually read too many books, much less re-read them, but the ‘Hunger Games’ is a series I’ve re-read three times. The emotions, the action, and the conflicts are all great.

Barely anyone I know reads. GOD, NO! They feel like they’re missing out on something when they’re reading. “It wasn’t half-bad,” they’ll say. “At least for a book.”

My dad reads a little, and one of my uncles is always talking about books, but at St. Mel’s nobody reads. Some of the kids don’t even crack the textbooks they’re supposed to read. That’s how much they don’t like all a butt load of words.

“What if you’re reading something and there’s a misprint?” one of my friends asked. “If it was a cook book you could get food poisoning.” They just don’t want to stick their fingers in the socket for themselves, or maybe they do.

Truly, almost everybody doesn’t read. They think reading is a waste of time. They would rather watch anything on their tablets. That way they don’t have to imagine something to make it real. But, if you ask them about video games, almost nobody would say they were a waste of time. I don’t think they are either, and I love to play them, but I like to read, too, at least a little more than most.

In our English class we hardly read any books. We mostly read parts of them. I read the entire ‘Inferno’, even though I didn’t have to. I liked it because everyone is always getting ripped from their mouths to their butt holes. We read a smidge of the ‘Odyssey’, but it was for a project that involved an essay. The ‘Odyssey’ is long, although Mr. Orwell says it isn’t. Nobody cares what he says, because it is long. It’s retarded, too.

The first three months of school we read different parts of it. We read the sirens passage and, basically, some of the other good parts, like about the Cyclops. That was really something, him being stabbed in the eye with a nasty, burning, poop-filled sickle thing. That was good.

We read a few more parts, but they were so bad I can’t even remember them. Then we had to write an essay about what we read. It shouldn’t have been hard, but it was actually rather hard, because of Mr. Orwell. If you don’t write your essay how he likes it he won’t give you a good grade.

I don’t know about that. You just have to get used to it. He’s a boat load.

Mr. Orwell is young and has a totally different style of teaching than most of the other teachers. I like him, because I can relate to him, but sometimes I very much dislike how he teaches.

We have English class every day and he’s had us write a butt load of essays this year. I don’t like writing essays.

He had us write one about home in the ‘Odyssey’, another one about women in the Odyssey, and even another one about why it takes Odysseus so long to get home to his wife. Mr. Orwell grades every essay and no matter what grade you get you have to revise it. More writing! I got a 93 on one of them and I still had to revise it. When you revise it, if you do something different with it that he doesn’t like, he will give you a lower grade. That’s the grade that will count, the revised grade, no matter what.

Sandy told me you have to write a lot of essays in college, and she thought he was prepping us for that, so it seems like what he is doing is actually a good thing. But, we do a ton of vocabulary, too, Greek and Latin words, and words with all kinds of weird endings. He said he wanted us to know where words came from.

WHO CARES?

Mr. Orwell said he usually has students read a book over the Christmas holidays, but he had us do a group project, instead, which I thought was a horrible idea. We had to pick a part in the Odyssey and work with a group on it.

There were three of us in our group, including me. The others were Tommy and Tyler. I called Tyler a few times, but he never answered. I called Tommy, who was good at drawing, texted him, and booked him, and then called him again. He finally came over to my house.

I had a great idea for the cover of our project, which would be a bow. “At the top there’s going to be a bow, cocked and ready, and a long arrow in the shape of a question mark, going down to a T made out of a trident, and under that the title all in capital letters,” I told Tommy.

THE ODYSSEY

“All through the arrow there’s a question mark, which is about Odysseus being gone so long, and where he was for so long and being all clueless to his wife and family and the whole kingdom. There are his wife’s boyfriends, too, who had to shoot an arrow through rings,” I said.

I had a bunch of them in the drawing. There was a big Cyclops eye, too, and axes with little circles right at the top of the question mark, and then it all curved down. At the down curve, right in the middle, there was the poked Cyclops eye, and then the sirens, all pretty on the water, and everything ended up with the trident.

It was all about showing the main points of the book. The top part was dark gray, the middle was white with lightning bolts and the sea, and the bottom part was blue. I did the rough draft, but Tommy drew it out because I’m bad at drawing and he’s a good artist.

The other part of the project was to dress up like something from the book and take photographs. My idea was that we pose it like it was a modern-day, now not then. I picked the Lotus Eaters, because they’re all on dope, and stuff. But, Tommy and Tyler were worthless guys. They’re not too smart to begin with and they didn’t care, either. I had to tell them what to do, bring the camera, and then one of them forgot his clothes.

I had to let him wear mine.

Tyler wore dress clothes, and Tommy and I were in shorts and mesh shirts, like we were working out. In the picture we grab the dressed up Odysseus and try to feed Sun Chips to him. I had the idea to use Sun Chips instead of lotus berries because they are delicious. After we did the picture we had to describe the shooting angle, the framing, and the mise-en-scene, one of Mr. Orwell’s fancy words. We had to write a paragraph, too, about why we chose the part we did.

I had to do it all, which was busted, because Tommy and Tyler wouldn’t do anything.

We also each had to pick someone to interview, so they ended up having to do something, the big butt turds, which is what they are since they hardly ever do anything.

The person we interviewed had to be a girl from 14 to 20, or a woman, 21 to 55, or 35 to whatever they were, as long as they could talk. We had to ask them a certain set of questions, and after that we had to make up our own questions. Mr. Orwell told us to use his questions and their answers as a springboard, although I wasn’t sure what he meant by that.

We asked them about the roles of women, what they expected in a relationship, and things like that. It didn’t matter that the book was written three thousand years ago! It was just a crap load of questions that didn’t mean anything.

We didn’t read much of the ‘Odyssey’, anyway. It was really about Mr. Orwell wanting modern day depictions of whatever, so we did that. I don’t understand why we did it.

We don’t read much in English class, which is kind of sad. At the beginning of the year, after we came back from Christmas, we did watch a boat load of movies. The first one was ‘Batman, The Dark Knight’, with Keith Ledger, the actor who killed himself. I don’t know what it had to do with English. The next movie we watched was ‘28 Days Later’, which is a zombie apocalyptic movie in England. At least it was in England, which has something to do with English.

Mr. Orwell said we were doing film studies, and it was so we could learn the language of the camera. I have NO idea, JEAH!

My Uncle Gediminas, who reads books, was over our house one day and saw I had the ‘Hunger Games’. He asked me about it. I read some of the first pages to him, the ones filled with Roman names.

“What else do you read?”

“I read the ‘Inferno’. It was good.”

“I’m impressed. I didn’t read that until I was in college. What else have you read? The ‘Iliad’, Homer’s other book?”

“No, but I think I’ve heard about it.”

“How about ‘Paradise Lost’?”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“That’s a tough one, sorry. How about Jane Austen?”

“I don’t know her.”

“George Elliot, or any of them?”

“Wasn’t he a poet? We read George Bilgere in class. He’s from Cleveland. He’s a famous poet. I think he’s still alive.”

“I’ve never heard of him. In my own backyard, too,” he laughed.

“He’s famous, he teaches at John Carroll, and everything.”

“How about Ernest Hemingway?”

“I’ve heard of him, he’s a poet, too. We read ‘Hills of White Elephants’.”

“James Baldwin, anybody like that?”

“No, never heard of him, who is he?”

“Charles Dickens?’

“I know him. He wrote the Scrooge movie. I went to see the play at Playhouse Square. It was exquisite.”

He gave me a funny look. Scar barked.

“I read a book called ‘Leviathan’,” I told him. “I don’t remember who wrote it, but it’s semi-medieval, about this prince in England who controls all these giant robots. It was very cool. And I read an awesome Greek mythology series called the ‘Demigod Diaries’.”

“Oh,” he said.

We were sitting outside in the backyard throwing an orange day-glow plastic stick for Scar to fetch. It was a clear dark night with an almost full moon.

“That’s OK, read whatever you want, whatever you think is good,” said Uncle Gediminas. “Don’t worry about anything or what anybody says.” He clapped to call Scar to us.

I threw the day-glow stick again because, honest to God, I barely knew what he was talking about. He was an adult, I could tell, but he was telling me to do what I wanted to do, which was a surprise.

 

 

 

Shut Up and Sit Down

5b0440fe9ec867c4108b4b9d-e1579121276449.jpeg

“You may look in front of you, and on both sides, if you like,” said the Sheep: “but you can’t look ALL round you – unless you’ve got eyes at the back of your head.”

I had to read ‘Night’ which is a book by Elie Wiesel. He’s a famous writer who won the Nobel Peace Prize. It wasn’t that great of a book, which is probably why it didn’t win any other prizes for writing, just the peace thing. He’s written a boat load of books on the Holocaust, but ‘Night’ is the one that made him famous.

We had to read it in our religion class. Mr Rote made us. There wasn’t anything I could do. He just would have said, “Sit down Sebastian and crack open that book.” The project didn’t make him any friends, but at least the book was short and creepy. It’s about Elie Wiesel going to Auschwitz, and about people getting killed shot tortured gassed by the Nazis. After that they were burned in crematoriums.

When they got to the concentration camp the women, at least most of the women, and the children, and the weak people would have to go to the side. They made them take off all their clothes. The Nazis wanted to save the clothes and shoes. They would tell everybody they were going to the showers to clean up. But the showers would really be gas chambers. After awhile they would burn their bodies. They were some sick bastards.

We watched a gruesome video about the Holocaust and then read the book. It would have been more fun if we had been able to read it at our own pace, but Mr. Rote made us read an exact number of pages every night. The next day we had a quiz on it. We had to remember one specific thing every day, so it wasn’t that hard. It was actually kind of boring. I always got a 5 out of 5 or a 10 out of 10. Mr. Rote usually quizzed us on something that happened in one of the chapters. It was some kind of fact, so it was retarded, his stupid quiz.

Jack my so-called brother upstairs in his attic fortress thinks Hitler had his reasons and is misunderstood. He even went to one of Hitler’s mountain top bunkers when he was in Germany for his slap dancing championships, but he was disappointed. He said everything was falling apart and damp. He and his creepy friend were the only ones there.

“It’s all wrecked,” he said. “Even the Germans don’t care.”

Jack is all about the Germans, the should-have-beens of the world, which is what he calls them. Dad went there, to the light bulb factory, for work, and told Jack it wasn’t anything like that, but Jack is a turd. He dresses up in deer-hide leather shorts, a green wool hat with a grouse feather, and black shoes when he goes slap dancing at the German-American Cultural Center. The black shoes have two-inch heels and cleats as big as horseshoes.

His dance group performs at the Labor Day Oktoberfest in Berea at the fairgrounds every year. They dress up like old men with canes. A lady comes on stage with a big sign saying she’s got a special beer, and they drink it, and limp around to the back of a glockenspiel. When they come back they’ve lost their white beards and scraggly wigs and limps and they’re dancing all spry and happy.

“It’s the German beer that makes you younger,” Jack says.

They have sponsors who give them bead necklaces and sunglasses and they toss a butt load of the crap to the crowds during their shows. One year when I was there, since my stepmom always makes us go see her boy wonder son dance, they threw out Jagermeister thongs. That was nutty. Everybody was grabbing for them. Who wants a cheap thong? There was a riot anyway.

Hitler must have been insane. He and his flunkies made mass insanity break out. I found out he had only one nut, which probably explains it. He was crazy, but he was a crazy mastermind. He was flipped out smart. His master plan was to make a master race by killing all the Jews. The Jews couldn’t be part of the plan because they didn’t have blond hair and blue eyes. But in the end, he killed his wife and himself, and the Jews got off the hook.

Hitler is always blamed for starting the war, but that’s just winner talk, because Hitler or no Hitler there would have been a war. There’s always a war. Nobody cares who starts something. I just want to bomb someone. Anybody. Then I get excited. I go looking for my xBox.

My Uncle Valdas was in the Russian Army when he was young and lived in Lithuania and it was the USSR. They made him go to Afghanistan and fix tanks during the war, but the terrorists crushed the commies, anyway. When he got back to Lithuania he became a policeman, but now he’s a big rig driver here, driving from coast to coast.

He’s not annoying, although he can be, and is most of the time. He just comes right in to my room with his radio and iPod and I have to download crime books from the library for him. I got his new radio working because he had broken his old one, but I screwed up on the downloads and had to call Apple. They were good about it, but they said, “Don’t let it happen again.”

It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t exactly know exactly what I was doing. Uncle Valdas was over for more than four hours with all his stuff. Thankfully, Aunt Lizzie showed up.

“The shit!” he said. “Put the iPod under the bed.”

Uncle Valdas is a weird talker. He has a weird accent. He’s a weird guy. He’s always working, working hard, at least when he’s not gambling at some casino somewhere. Aunt Lizzie says he’s throwing all their money away. He’s nice, but a little assertive. He’s not aggressive, just assertive. He doesn’t ask questions, since he doesn’t NOT KNOW IT ALL. He makes a butt load of statements about things. Sometimes it seems like he thinks he knows everything. When we were downloading his books he kept telling me to do the same thing that wasn’t working.

“I already tried that,” I told him. “It’s not going to work,” I said.

But he wouldn’t listen. He’s relaxed when we talk, he doesn’t pace or wave his arms, but he’s crazy. Not mentally crazy, but fast and loud crazy, basically. He’s always been. It’s nothing new.

I met Uncle Valdas when he and Aunt Lizzie got married nine years ago. I was five-years-old. There’s a picture of him and me when I was only a couple of months old. I’m buck-naked and my dad is holding me. Uncle Valdas is in the picture and there’s a big wet stain on his shirt. I must have thrown up on him.

Uncle Valdas never lets anyone get anything over on him. He will punch anyone in the face if he has to. He’s not a violent guy, even though he was in the commie military, but he knows that non-violence is pointless. It’s fine as long as it works, but it hardly ever works.

My friends and I were at Crocker Park, walking the mall, not doing a single thing, when a pack of little retards walked smack up to one of my friends. One of them started swearing at him. They were ten-years-old and swearing up a storm. I could have slapped that kid in the face, I was so mad about it.

“Shut up and get out of here” is what I should have said, but I didn’t say anything, for some reason.

“Dudes, can you guys get away,” one of my friends finally said, shoving the squirt away. But the little retards kept swearing it up. If I had slapped him in the face to begin with he would have run away crying because he was just a small senseless Westlake butt head.

I can’t believe a ten-year-old CUSSED ME OUT! I should have gotten VIOLENT. We saw them later, running around a Barnes and Noble, and security guards were yelling at them.

Is non-violence what it means to be a disciple of Jesus? Nobody knows, not even Mr Rote. I don’t think so. Most guys at St. Mel’s would say non-violence is pointless. That’s because violence is a good thing. Maybe not always, but sometimes it’s necessary, when it’s needed. It depends on the situation.

More often than not non-violence doesn’t solve anything. It can, but most of the time it won’t solve a thing. It’s good to try to talk things out. No one should go straight to brute force. Lots of grown-ups have a craving for it. It’s all about adrenaline. It’s like a drug. Most guys at svhool like fighting, except the smarties.

There are a butt load of shows on TV about jails, jailbirds, and drugs. The people in jail, especially if they do drugs, like fighting because they feel it gives them a fix. They feel the adrenaline.

Everybody at St. Mel’s is always messing around and fighting. I was wrestling with a friend of mine and he punched me, so I punched him in the stomach. But we were just messing around, so I didn’t do it super hard. Violent stuff happens at school all the time. It’s just a bunch of guys punching each other, hitting slapping tackling. They throw the other guy to the ground. We usually do it after school, sometimes in the gym, or during practice for something, or other. We hardly ever do it in the hallways.

I’m not even especially competitive. I’m all for sports, I love it, but I don’t care about being the best. I do it for fun, at least most of the time. Teachers and grown-ups and parents want their kids to be competitive. They’re always yelling at us. I hate that. Even the mall guards yell at us.

I was at the Westlake Mall waiting for my dad to pick me up one night when a guard came up to me.

“What are you doing, get going,” he said, all aggressive.

“Excuse me,” I said, trying only a little bit to not be sarcastic. “I’m waiting for my ride.”

He was, “OK, but don’t wait long.”

Teachers parents grown-ups always want to push around anybody who’s smaller than them. They want to be the alpha male, to have power over their kids, to be authoritative about everything. Grown-ups are the ones who are aggressive in this world. They’re the aggressive grapefruits squirting their juice. That’s how guys learn to be mean and horrible. BELIEVE ME!

Mr. Krister, my history teacher and cross-country coach, is like that. He yells at guys all the time for no reason. “Sit down and shut up!” His class is like a fracas. Running on his team is a brouhaha. He’s ugly with nasty teeth. He’s not too tall, on the skinnier side, and has sad sack scruff. Nothing matters, though, when he’s at St. Mel’s. He’s THE MAN!

When he pulled my tie one day when I was walking to study hall he pulled it down hard. It was on purpose. He definitely meant to do it. I wasn’t saying or doing anything. He did it because he wants to have power over guys.

“How are you, Sebastian?” he said, all smug.

“Let go of my tie,” I said.

“What?” he said, all smirking.

He’s a grown-up, just like an adult, and knew he shouldn’t be doing that. I might have told the Dean of Students about what he did, but I didn’t. I told my dad, instead. That took care of it. He had a talk with Mr. Krister at one of the pasta dinner fundraisers for the team. I don’t know what my dad said to him. I didn’t ask.

My dad is forty pounds bigger than Mr. Krister and boxed when he was in the Army. I know he’s been afraid of my dad ever since then.

I screw with Mr. Krister all the time now, partly because he’s a jerk, but mostly because I know he has to watch what he does or says to me. He doesn’t pull my tie anymore or even hardly yells at me. Even if he never did anything, but I said he did, my dad would never believe anything he said, so he has to be careful with me.

Shutting him down shutting him up. Down for the count. I like the sound he makes when he’s been shut down. It’s too bad for you, Mr. Krister. Sit down and shut up.

 

 

Tiger by the Tail

manhunt.jpg

“I like the Walrus best,” said Alice: “because you see he was a little sorry for the poor oysters.”

“He ate more than the Carpenter, though,” said Tweedledee. “You see he held his handkerchief in front, so that the Carpenter couldn’t count how many he took: contrariwise.”

“That was mean!” Alice said indignantly. “Then I like the Carpenter best – if he didn’t eat so many as the Walrus.”

“But he ate as many as he could get,” said Tweedledum.

Our main summer camp game starts as soon as it gets dark and everyone’s finally assembled at the bonfire pit. We get the lowdown from the counselors, since they tweak the game a little every year.

One summer whoever was a child had to run around and find passports for their family. That was the main prize. When they got caught, and they all got caught because there were traps everywhere, the rest of us, their family, had to jailbreak them out somehow.

It’s like manhunt capture the flag hide and seek all rolled up into one, but much, much trickier.

Last summer the counselors took us to the mess hall, closed all the doors, and darkened the windows. They turned off all the lights and made us sit on the damp concrete floor. There were two people broadcasting the nightly news, but then a counselor warned us they were going to shut it down.

It got super quiet. You couldn’t hear anything.

When the counselors came back they were dressed in black, charcoal from the bonfire smeared on their faces. They acted like they were mad Nazis. They split us up into groups and gave us directions. We had to find books and save them from being burned. They weren’t real books, just pieces of paper. The more we found of the papers the more Liberty Dollars we got for the auction. The more of us in our group who got caught the more our Liberty Dollars would be taken away.

The papers were scattered around the camp in the hands of three special counselors, who were hidden in the woods, and kept moving around. We had to find them and when we did they were supposed to hand over the paper. But, sometimes you had to beg them for it.

If they caught you they would take the paper away, rip it up right in front of you, and you would have to start all over. A lot of people hid them in their shoes, or their underwear, or different places no one would look.

It can get very dirty, like when dirt ruled the Earth. The dirtiest I got was when I was by myself, not far from the art house, but on the edge of the woods. One of the counselors came walking past and I dropped flat fast. I lay in a bunch of crap, leaves, twigs, mud, bugs, and rotting stuff. He just walked right past me.

I was, like, “Oh, man.”

You can try to get away when the counselors catch you, but it’s hard because the ones who catch you are the strong, fast ones, while the other ones can’t and don’t catch you. The strong ones don’t like it when anyone makes them look bad by breaking out of jail. It doesn’t matter what the other ones think. You can try to break free when no one’s looking, but if they snatch you back then you have to stay longer. The longer you sit the less chance you have to win Liberty Dollars, which isn’t a good thing.

IT’S INTENSE. I’M DEAD SERIOUS.

One summer Matilda, who plays for a college basketball team and is fast, decked me, blind-siding me out of the blue. At first, I wasn’t sure what happened. When I got up I tripped her, although I didn’t exactly mean to, and started running away. When she caught me I fell on the ground like I was out cold. She was forced to drag me by my arms and legs. While she was dragging me I noticed a large lump on her chest. When I asked her what it was she gave me a sly look.

“It’s a tumor. I have cancer,” she said.

I couldn’t believe it. She seemed so healthy. I jumped to my feet so she wouldn’t have to drag me. While we were walking the tumor started to jerk back and forth. I didn’t know what to do. Was she going to collapse and die? Then, just as we walked up to the jail, her baby gerbil poked its head out of her bra.

The jail was inside the art house, where supplies and costumes are stored. It’s at the farthest end from the sand dunes. Makayla was the guard that night, and although she isn’t very big, she’s totally strong.

There are two rooms in the art house. She had to patrol both of them alone. She carried a broom, pacing back and forth, her head swiveling. We had to sit in straight chairs and be quiet. If you talked too much you had to sit there longer. If you got up from your chair for any reason you had to stay in the jail longer, too.

You could try to escape, but it wasn’t easy. Makayla would hit you, not really hard, but hard enough. She hit us with her twine broom, but usually with the soft end. When things got nervy she jabbed the broom down on you and yelled the whole time.

You don’t want to try escaping too many times, either, because if you try a couple of times and they catch you both times, they will kick you out of the game. It isn’t fair, but that’s what they do if they get annoyed about it. If you sit there quietly and tell Makayla you’ll be good she would smile and let you out before the others. That’s what I did.

I was good.

When the counselors broke us up into groups in the mess hall they marched us to the flag ground. They were dressed in black and most of us were dressed in black, too, or camouflage. The counselors were spitting out commands, when out of nowhere they started screaming and sprinting at us. We ran in every direction. That’s how the game actually started.

IT WAS CRAZY!

I broke off from my group right away. I had planned to run with my friends, anyway. We made it to one of the boy’s cabins and hid there, catching our breath, and then started running around. We searched for the counselors with the scraps of paper and dodged all the others.

The counselors are fast. Make NO MISTAKE about it. They aren’t sludges, even the sludges, who have sort of fast up their sleeves if they need it. Even the girl counselors can catch you if you don’t see them right away and they are already sprinting straight at you.

You can push counselors away, but not punch them, although you can punch them, just not all of them, only the ones who don’t care. Your friends can help you, and if the counselor is alone, you have a good chance of getting away. He can’t catch both of you at the same time, no matter how big he is.

The counselors tackle hard when they want to. They can be bottle rockets and they don’t mess around. If they’re your cabin’s counselor sometimes they’ll cut you slack. They’ll use you as a distraction. The trick is to act like you’re getting caught when someone else is walking by, yelling, “Help me!” Your counselor will throw you to the side and get them, instead.

A couple of summers ago the jail was the boy’s bathroom. They took out the light bulbs. It was dark and clammy, damp and sort of soggy. There was only one door so it was hard to escape. We had to sit in there with the rotten smells and daddy long-legs crawling all over us.

This summer it was on the edge of the sports field beneath a pole lamp. It was a pressboard box used to store basketball backboards. The jail was small, the size of a dining room table, but tall and deep to the back.

The counselors squeezed us in there, around the edges, and then made more of us stand in the middle like cattle. They nailed two-by-fours to the sides so we wouldn’t spill out. Everybody was packed tight inside like rats. You could try to crawl out, but they would have already gotten you by then, dragging you back.

We escaped when some counselors grabbed new runners and were bringing them in, but there wasn’t any room because it was so crowded. Someone pushed us out. We had a couple of seconds of leeway. They can’t just grab you again that same instant, so we ran into the woods to the Hill of Crosses.

The Hill of Crosses is on a small, sandy hill. There are nothing but crosses, hundreds of them, some bigger than me. Everybody’s parents know all about it. It has something to do with their past. It’s been there forever, but no new crosses have been added so long as I can remember. There’s a white fence around the hill and a gate, but it’s never locked. We go there for fun sometimes, to talk and chill, because almost no one ever goes there anymore.

IT’S PRIVATE AND SECLUDED.

We were cutting through the Hill of Crosses, talking about what we were going to do next, when Lovett, who is really fit and really fast, jumped out of a sand dune. He was waving a flashlight like a crazy man. Somebody smashed into him, who singled Mark out for it, running after him. We just flipped out, and everybody scattered, none of us going the same way.

Norville sprinted to the border of the camp where there is a crappy old fence. It was his first year at camp and he didn’t know it was there. When he tried to jump it he got all tangled up. He ended up stuck, his t-shirt ripped, and his hands got scratched. He couldn’t get off the sharp wire.

Later, when we all found each other, we saw Lovett again with his big flashlight. He was searching for Mark. Everyone lay down in the sand. We were nervous, like moles, but he ran right past us. We stayed behind the little hill where we hang our clothes after coming back from the beach, and later snuck into our cabin. All of us were sitting on our beds, laughing in the dark, when Mark started freaking out.

He was so afraid he got down on his knees, put his hands together on his bunk bed, and started praying. He was praying out loud, crying, and saying “I don’t feel good.” That’s when Lovett walked in with the flashlight stuck in his back pocket.

“What’s wrong with Mark?” he asked.

“I don’t feel good,” Mark said, and walked outside the cabin and threw up.

He tried to throw up in the trashcan, at least it looked that way, but his aim was way off. The next morning we dogged him about it, because Mark’s an idiot, but all he wanted to say was he just didn’t feel good during the manhunt and didn’t want to talk about it.

I almost broke my neck playing Nazis and Jews that night. It was tiger by the tail. I was the tail.

It happened when BIG AL started chasing me. He’s ripped out of his mind and jacked up. He climbs trees and survives out on the tundra. I was jogging lazily away from Ned, who is fat and slow, when BIG AL jumped me. I screamed and went into adrenaline mode. When I saw his girlfriend waiting at the fork in the path I sprinted the other way into the woods.

I got away clean, but it was when I lost BIG AL that Ginty came out of nowhere. He was wearing a bandana and waving a basketball in his hands. I knew he was going to throw it straight at my ankles, because that’s what he was doing to a lot of guys. It was a hard inflated basketball and he’s a guy who can sling it fast and hard. It smashes you on the legs. Guys were face planting.

I was running all out and jumped when he threw the ball. I jumped right into the low branch of a pine tree. It smashed me. The whole branch raked across my neck. It felt like my neck artery had popped.

“That really hurt!”

I kept running, but I was suddenly scared, so I stopped. My neck was all scraped up and bleeding, but not gushing blood. When Ginty found me he took off his bandana and wrapped it around my neck.

“You’ll be fine,” he said.

Then he grabbed me and tried to drag me to the jail. You can always trust a rotten counselor to be cunning and rotten.

But I got away. I made sure my roll of burned book paper scraps was still in my pocket. I slept with them curled up in my fist and my fist tucked under my pillow.

The next day I ran to the front row of the auction. The camp commander stands at a podium with a wooden mallet. There is a chalkboard behind him full of a boat load of the things you can get and everyone starts bidding. There are t-shirts and baseball hats, breakfast in bed, and rotten counselors cleaning your cabin.

There’s stargazing with another cabin of your choice, which is obviously always a girl’s cabin, and that’s a good thing. But, I put everything I had, every one of my Liberty Dollars on the first shower of the night. It was the big night of the formal dance and I wanted to look my best for it. I made ABSOLUTELY SURE nobody outbid me because it was do-or-die for the hot water.

You get to shower first, all by yourself, for as long as you want. The camp commander posts a counselor to stand guard at the door and they don’t let anyone in except you. It’s ONLY you and you can use AS MUCH of the hot water as you want. There is only so much of it at camp, but you can take it all, and everybody else is left with the cold scraps.

Oh, yeah, that’s what you always do, because everybody else would do it to you.

 

 

Rules of the Game

tamale1-e1516057635811.jpg

“Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).

I don’t have a girlfriend. I have a dog, Scar the bold proud Beagle, so I should have a girlfriend, the same as my dog. I’m a good-looking cool-enough fleek guy. I’m sure I could have one and still hang with the guys most of the time. I would like a girlfriend, but I’m not creeping over it.

There’s a girl who lives three or four blocks away who I like. She’s nice cute sweet, and pretty, all there. Her name is Laurel. I met her when we ran cross-country together. I didn’t know her before that, but after we met we became good friends fast, although I haven’t asked her anything about being my girlfriend.

Sometimes we run races in the Rocky River Metropark, just her and me and nobody else. No tricycles are allowed in the park, making you feel awkward, all third-wheel ride. Those are my rules.

I always win every race, always. That’s a rule on me.

She’s not, like, a model, but that would be annoying, anyway. She’s a sportsman. She’s active and she’s smart, too. Laurel’s a little shorter than me, not as skinny, and has long brown hair. She’s super nice. I like girls who are super nice.

And, super cute, of course.

Some girls are cute, and some aren’t. It’s great to be a hot girl, but you shouldn’t like a girl just because she’s hot. You should like them because they’re nice people, or they’re smart, or they try in school. They shouldn’t just be able pretty face it.

But the first thing I think of whenever I see a new girl is, she’s hot, or not so hot. That really is the first thing I think of. The second thing I think of is whether I want to say hi to them and third is maybe talk to them. I try to be careful at first. If it looks like they might be mean girls, then I don’t want to be around them.

If they’re just your normal all-around girls and they are really nice and sweet, then I love that. It shouldn’t be all about looks. Some guys will see a girl and say, “She’s ugly”, even though nobody thinks with their face. Or they’ll say, “She’s just regular,” and go the other way. I like them better when they’re cute and nice and not butt heads.

The hot girls always know they’re hot if they’re actually that way. They know they’re hot, believe me. If you happen to be friends with them it’s not like talking to anybody different, like a regular girl. But if you’re not friends with them and meet them somewhere, on the spot they can and will be! be rude. MORE THAN RUDE! Back up boy!

When I’m with my friends we talk about girls, but we don’t talk about girlfriends too much. Many of us don’t have them. Some of us want girlfriends, but don’t know what to do about it. We talk about GIRLS, but not GIRLFRIENDS. We talk about pretty ones, ugly ones, weird ones, and all kinds, really.

Weird girls are weird, but not quirky, although they can be quirky, especially how they act, and how they are towards people. They’re never the babes, but sometimes they’re the quirky sidekick. They can be anti-social and not side-kicky. They don’t want to be around people talk to them meet new people. There are many girls like that. They’re insecure, or sometimes they’re not allowed to talk to guys.

Parents do that to them. Grown-ups make girls and guys do things in life as though they themselves didn’t have anything to do with making it like it is. Old people crap out and forget what it’s like. They FORGET they were the ones who made it all happen.

My friend Hunter, who’s in the locker next to me, isn’t allowed to have a girlfriend. His parents told him he couldn’t until he turned sixteen.

“Are you serious?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t want to spend money on them, anyway. That’s all they ever ask for, money money money.”

I was, like, “Hunter!”

Girls don’t do that ALL the time. They aren’t shysters, unless they’re the hot Catholic girls from St. Joe’s. Then it’s Midas gets all the GOLD. The nice girls might ask you to get them ice cream and munchies. But you’re going to do that for them, anyway, if you like them, or are their good friend.

I started noticing girls the July after seventh grade when I was at summer camp. I called them the tamale’s, among other things. Some were hot some were nice some were mean. You have nice people and you have mean people. I didn’t like the mean girls. They were hard to get close to.

Sometimes you talk to a girl and they act like you don’t matter, or worse.

“Oh, my God, I’m so COOL, you’re so DUMB, leave me alone.”

They’re all dolled up. It’s all about horsepower to them.

They’re a boat load of snotty and snobby. They prance the streets like little dudettes, all spotless and snooty, looking down their noses. I can eat anywhere myself, so I’m not like that, sniffing the air for odor.

Their perception of people, how they think about everyone, and talk about someone, is mean to the apple core. They never smile when no one else is around. They never frown unless they mean it. They’re so annoying I call them sociopaths, which was my favorite word at camp last summer, until I wore the crap out of it.

The meanest girl at camp the past two summers has been Natalie. She’s the meanest Canadian person I’ve ever known. Everybody says Canadians are nice. Not Natalie!

She’s short and snooty, but not fat. But she’s not like a twig, either. She’s more like a normal person with sweet knockers. She wears a butt load of make-up, which is sort of weird for a fourteen-year-old. She dances around, acting and acting, and is always saying, “Oh, my God.”

She dyes her hair, too. She colors it all kinds of different pigments, black, bleach blonde, and it’s all completely weird.

She brought a tiny table to camp so she would have a place to put her make-up on. If you wear make-up it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re snooty. But it’s the thing with her, and it does make her DEFINITELY wearing the mask. She whines about stupid stuff that’s truly stupid. We’re in the same morning classes after cabin clean up and inspection, so I know. Whenever we had to do anything together in class she would just whine and whine and whine about it.

“Oh, my God, I’m not doing that.”

The only reason was, was she didn’t want to do anything, at all. Instead, she wanted to sit around and be an annoyance, basically. Sometimes when she talks, she sounds like someone’s sister playing the violin. She has a lot of friends even though most of them aren’t like her. That’s something I don’t understand. I stopped thinking about it.

She has a party tray of enemies. Some of my friends who are the sweet girls and who are nice just hate her. They won’t be in the same cabin with her. They turn their backs and walk out. They’re all the same age, but they don’t like each other.

Natalie’s best friends are Chloe, Amelia, and Hannah. They’re all the same kind of people, they’re all in the same cabin, and they’re all in my morning group, which sucks. Chloe is just like Natalie, but more annoying, so I don’t like her at all.

Amelia wears a crap load of make-up, like Natalie, but it’s probably because of her birthmark. She doesn’t whine all the time, although she does want to sit around most of the time. My number one Matias is sweet on her, so I keep it down.

I don’t even know about Hannah, she’s so weird. She’s a stick.

“Turn sideways,” I said. She did.

“Stick out your tongue,” I said. She did.

“Ha, ha, ha, you look like a zipper.”

“Ha, ha, yourself,” she said. “I’m a sniper’s nightmare.”

I liked her much more after that.

I’m not sure if the Natalie gang is pretentious or dead dead serious.

The biggest difference between the Natalie gang of four and the nice girls is that nice girls are fun to be around. They don’t whine about stupid stuff, like having to wake up, or play sports all day on sports day. The nice girls even play the dizzy bat with us between games on the soccer field. At the end of the spin the sidelines are strewn with everybody flattened out on the ground, grabbing for grass to keep from falling off the edge of the world.

They don’t send off the superior vibe, either. They don’t try to act like all that, little prissy girls running around, trying to make a ruckus of things. They don’t press you down with their little laughs.

The mean girls want to sit in their cabin and talk a train load of stupid stuffs or doll up and talk to their boys whenever they can. The mean girls like the boys who like them, the ones who are Belieber boys, and especially the ones who are ripped.

The mean girls truly like ripped boys, but nice girls like everybody, except boys who are mean, no matter how ripped they are.

There is a wide wide dividing line between the nice girls and the mean girls. They don’t get along and it’s serious business. Last summer Katrina, one of the mean girls, charged another girl and got kicked out of camp because of it. That’s the worst thing that can happen to anybody at summer camp.

We hung with the girls at camp all last summer. We talked chilled had rages in their cabins, but never in ours. A rage is like having a rage with people who are your friends and keep it to themselves. Rages are the bomb. They’re awesome, trust me on that. TRUST ME! The grown-ups don’t and won’t.

Music pumps and you’re having fun going wild going crazy. You party at your hardest, out of control, although not exactly all out of control.

Boys are not allowed to be in the girl’s cabins at night, but my friends and I go to their side of the camp at least once a day. We sneak around the woods and climb in through the back window. We could run to the front door, but the back window is better. We mostly rage during the day because getting caught at night is more likely, and more likely to bring more trouble when it happens.

The camp counselors only chew you out if they catch you during the day. It’s a different slant on things if they catch you at night. It gets serious on the mattresses.

The one time I almost got caught was bad. It was at night. We were cutting down a path, zigzagging to the girl’s side of the camp, keeping low and slow. When we got to the Jungle Jim next to the sport’s field we ran into Jonas and Alana. They were making out.

Jonas is a counselor. Alana is almost a counselor.

“What the hell are you doing?” Jonas asked, jumping up.

We just stood there.

“Go back to your cabin,” he said, shrugging. “I don’t care.”

When Jonas was a camper, he used to bring fireworks and spray paint to camp. One summer that no one has ever forgotten he tagged the inside of one of the counselor cabins.

We were jogging back past the tall birch trees behind our cabin when we saw flashlights crisscrossing in the windows. Some counselors were inside looking for us. We had packed our sleeping bags with leaves covered over with clothes. The flashlights were stabbing all around and the counselors were laughing. We lay on the ground when they came out. They didn’t notice we were there. Once they were gone, we ran into the cabin.

“Are you kidding me?” Lukas sputtered, coughing up a gummy bear.

We were all laughing and yelling and punching each other.

In the morning they dragged us out of bed early and made us sweep the mess hall. While we were working Father Elliott and the camp commander came in. They saw us cleaning up and didn’t know why, but they were so impressed they gave us a ton of Liberty Dollars for the auction.

It was sort of a slap in the face to the counselors, although I don’t think they ever found out about it.

Every morning Raymond the night guard staples the screens we have ripped off the girl’s cabins back onto the window frames. He was a Lithuanian who had been in the Russian Army, like my Uncle Valdas. He was an ex-Spetsnaz. Uncle Valdas had to ride around in and fix tanks in Afghanistan. Spetsnaz did different kinds of dirty work.

One day Titus, one of our cabin guys who peeps in the corner by the door, was stung in the ear by a hornet. He started crying. Raymond, the night guard, told him to “tough it out.” We all laughed at the idea of Tits toughing it out.

Raymond would stand behind our cabin at night, in the bushes, or next to a birch tree. He said he liked birch trees because they bent, but never cracked. Once, at two in the morning, Lukas started screaming at him.

“Get out of here, man!”

But he didn’t. He came around to our front door.

“Boys, get to bed,” he said, more softly ever even than it was soft dark in the night. But everybody could tell he meant it. There was somehting wrong with Raymond, qll serious about 14-year-olds.

Sometimes when we were in the girl’s cabins someone would knock on the door. We always jumped underneath a bed or in between any crack we could find.

“Hold on, we’re changing,” the girls would singsong.

We just waited where they couldn’t see us, quiet and hiding out. The counselors came in for random reasons, but they didn’t care about the noise, as long as it wasn’t nighttime. There’s music playing all the time, anyway. Nobody cared as long as there weren’t massive amounts of f-bombs in the songs. If they caught you raging during the day they would just laugh and call you pathetic.

“Idiots,” they’d say.

We dance to the beats, although Lukas slowed it down one day and sang “I Did It My Way” and everybody loved it. For the rest of camp whenever we chanted his name he had to jump on a picnic table and lead everyone in “I Did It My Way.”

There isn’t much room to dance in the cabins because girls bring so much crap to camp. They have a pavilion with drawers in the middle of their cabins where they put everything. We dance on the beds jumping around running around. We open the drawers and throw stuff on the ground.

It’s a rage, so throw it in the air, it’s flying all around. YOLO!

After the electro pump music and Skrillex samba, chilling and eating their candy out the wazoo, we would all go back to our cabins and do what had to be done before dinner. You’re only at camp for two weeks and there are no trading days the rest of the year.

Madison was my favorite girl at camp last summer. She’s my age, just a papoose shorter than me, and dirty blond. But she wasn’t too dirty blond. I didn’t know we had known each other at camp for five years until she told me.

She’s pretty and nice and doesn’t try to be an “Oh, my God” girl. She’s smart and kind and likes me, especially because I’m funny. She appreciates the whole nine yards of me. We talk in the woods every day. Most of the time I can’t remember what we’ve talked about. I just stare at her and listen as best I can.

She talks about her girl stuff her clothes her friends, and all of what she likes.

“That’s cool,” I say.

I danced with her at the last camp dance as much as I could, but it wasn’t easy because I’m the BOSS at dances. I love dancing. It’s the best day and night. I’m completely happy when I dance. I just blank out on everything, especially when I’m dancing close and cheesy. What makes me dance even more is when there’s a boat load of summer camp girls reaching out for me

Everybody wants to dance with me. The girls and guys get in a circle and I go in the middle of it, busting steps breaking moves. They can’t resist me.

Our cabin got a bonus for being the cleanest, although I don’t know how. It was actually disgustingly dirty. Our prize was we got to pick a cabin of girls and rage with them for a half-hour at the Saturday night dance. They let us pick the play list, too. We made it a mix of party songs and slow songs. It was smooth and it was awesome.

What makes me the BOSS is I do the party boy, popping beats, and shuffling at dances. I’m learning how to liquid, too, which is something you do with your hands. One of the counselors goes to things called raves and he is teaching me how to do it.

At the end of our bonus time, after going crazy, we did some sweet dancing. I love party music, but that night it was a close second. The slow dancing was just a nip better. Madison and I danced the last two dances together.

It was nice satisfying epic sweet. It’s all about tamales being tamales and wrapping them up close.

 

 

Day at the Races

 788247

“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

I started running for the St. Mel’s cross-country team the summer before last, a year-and-a-half before I even started my freshman year in September. I didn’t know I was going to be a Mel’s man then. But I was dead certain I was going to be on someone’s team. I was going to make it happen.

My dad ran cross-country at St. Joe’s, on the east side, on the other side of Cleveland, more than forty years ago when he was a freshman, through his senior year. He was a champ. That isn’t why I’m on our team. It’s just a coincidence. There’s always room for coincidence, although if it happens too often somebody’s got to be up to something, even if he’s anonymous.

I ran a tad in middle school, running against other grade schools, but they were all fair-weather meets.

Now that I’m a runner, every day after school running with the team down into the Rocky River valley, to the long trail that goes from the golf course to the Nature Center, no matter whether it’s sun bright raining snowing sleet whatever. It DON’T matter. I bring my own sunshine. When I run I completely zone out. It’s the only time I’m able to think about nothing. Before I know it I’m done.

When I began training it was with the Lakewood City Track Team. We had to practice every day at Lakewood Park in the spring when I was twelve years old. On the first day our team met it was made up of Bailey, his little brother, and some girls. There were a couple of random guys who snuck in from the ghetto, too, which is east of Lakewood, and me.

Most of the guys who live in the ghetto don’t call it the ghetto. They call it the projects or the ‘hood, two inches from homeless. Some of them live in ratty houses. Some of them live in rattier houses. Mr. Orwell, who lives pet posh in Bay Village, laughed out loud about it one day in English class.

“Ghetto is me being refined,” he said. “The ‘hood is just showin’ and provin’.” Mr. Orwell was rapping that morning. He gets gay sometimes. “Look up what a slum used to be. Nobody had cell phones and flat screens in the slums back in the day. Down and out is just sideways now.”

Nobody in class knew what he was talking about. I thought he might have been talking to himself. What the hell did it have to do with “To Kill a Mockingbird” we all thought.

When we trained, we always ran our warm-up from Lakewood Park down Lake Road to the Marathon gas station, turned around, and ran back to the pavilion in the park. We’d meet there every day, run, run back, and stretch. Our coach talked to us, trying to train us, and we tried to pay attention.

I knew who our coach was, but I never found out his name. I was on the team for six months and didn’t know his name from beginning to end. I didn’t understand what he said his name was the first time he told us the first day and I never asked afterwards. I’m not sure anybody knew his name. Everybody called him Coach.

He was a freaking weird unsettling man. I don’t know if he didn’t have a job, or if it was something else, anything else. He wore his head shaved and always wore a hat. It was always a baseball cap, but every day it was a different one. He must have had hundreds of them. He wore old-school Oakley sunglasses, too, the big ones that cover the side of your face. HE NEVER TOOK THEM OFF!

One day when he did take them off when he thought we weren’t looking we saw RIGHT AWAY why, since his eyes were set more than four inches back into his head. They were creepy deep funky and nasty.

Even though he was a fit enough grown-up and wore running shorts and running shoes all the time, he never ran with us. He would loosen up like he was going on the road and then wait until we came back from our run. When we did pick-ups he stood nearby and watched. I don’t think he was an American. He sounded foreign, like an immigrant, from somewhere else. He had a bad accent. He wasn’t a bad coach, but he was old, more than fifty years old.

We competed against other schools and we were actually good. We ran in 5K races all summer and fall. An actual cross-country race is two miles, but we competed at road races. There were a butt load of grown-ups running, too, most of the time. At one meet at some law college with plenty of older guys running one of the guys on our team won the whole race. Lawyers will usually do anything to win whatever, but it didn’t happen that day!

I was an OK runner. I wasn’t anything special, at all, but I had fun. I ran every day that summer, sometimes seven days a week. My times kept improving and I got better. Some people think place is more important than time, but I think time is more important. Unless you’re in the top ten, it’s better to have a good time than trying to place.

What I do is I DON’T stop. I have endurance and I know how to pass people at the end. Once I hit the last 100 meters and see there’s a whole crowd of people, all cheering us on, I try my hardest to get there fast. That’s when I gear up sprinting and passing other runners.

That’s the one thing I’m good at.

At the end of most races many guys don’t or won’t sprint. They slog through the end to the grim bright orange finish line. They slow down and stop dead as soon as they cross the line. I always go go go. The first cross-country race I ran with the St. Mel’s team was the race I pushed myself the most. I kept passing people as it went on. I was going crazy, all in my own head, going really hard, the closer I got to the end. I sprinted to the finish line. When I passed it I started walking immediately and then threw up all over.

It was the first race of the season and it was awesome. I know for a fact it was the hardest race I ever ran until then, even though it was my first St. Mel’s meet. After that the hardest race was the racewe ran in freezing rain at the end of the season.

We were running at Gilmore, at a big meet with guys and girls, all mixed in. It rained through the morning and when we got there, huge no-bottom puddles were everywhere. It was cold very cold almost like freezing. You couldn’t feel your feet after a while, except when you’d take a step on a rock or a stump in your spikes. Then there would be a terrible pain.

At the end of the race I couldn’t even take my spikes off. I soaked my feet, still wearing my spikes, in a tub of hotter warm water and took them off after that. My feet were white as a dead man’s.

They ran everybody out at the same time because they didn’t want to make the girls wait in the cold. I couldn’t move my fingers after a while. We were waiting and everybody was shivering and shaking. When they shot the gun or blew the horn or whatever they did, we all just went. Everybody was screaming, running and screaming, just going crazy when the race started.

It was fun, but it was a horrible race, because it was nasty. Everybody started cutting huge corners. Nobody cared because it was too cold. We ran the whole race, for sure, but at the point where a straight edge was a part of two big curves, somebody cut the straight line, and then, literally, we all did the same thing.

We weren’t cheating ourselves because everybody was doing it. We were all trying. Besides, if you go by ALL the rules, you miss ALL the fun. Running in the freezing rain was only the half of it. Having fun running in the freezing rain was the other half.

My dad wanted me to run track, but I didn’t want to, so I didn’t. Besides, track is in the spring and I wanted to train for cross-country. I took the winter off and started running again in the spring. Bu, I didn’t run every day for practice, only when I wanted to. THAT’S THE WAY I AM.

I was going to start conditioning again when school ended, but I had to take a stone stupid Spanish class for six weeks. Every day for five days a week I had to get up early and be at St. Mel’s by 8 o’clock. I wasn’t good at Spanish, obviously, but the classes didn’t help me, either, at all. Now I’m good at it, but I’m still bitter. I might become a Mexican hater.

I didn’t condition as much as I wanted to, but enough. Enough for the team, and enough for the Wasaga Beach manhunt, that’s for sure! When summer camp was over in mid-July I got it up to go seriously. When the season started, I was ready and Coach Krister was ready for us.

Everyone would meet at the Little Met golf course in the Rocky River Metropark. I always rode my bike down Hog’s Back Lane. By the time I got to the bottom I was going 40 50 mikes an hour. We’d either practice in the park, on the all-purpose path, or go to the Hinkley Reservation in the team van.

When the season started there were thirty-eight kids on the St. Mel’s cross-country team. The way you get on the team is you sign up and pay the fee. It wasn’t a ridiculous amount of money because all they gave you was your uniform, which wasn’t much. It’s not like football, where you have to buy helmets and pads, and all kinds of stuff.

Everyone had to buy their own running shoes and spikes, though. The St. Mel’s poobah’s call it pay-to-play. I call it pay-through-the-nose. That way the poobah’s get to poop in gold toilets.

We conditioned in the Metropark three and four times a week. Not that many of the kids would go, though, less than ten or twelve. Everybody else, they didn’t go, because they didn’t care. We did push-ups sit-ups planks and side planks. They’re hard, but after a while they’re not so bad. We would stretch, do a warm-up, and go for a run. When we came back, we touched our toes some more and did pick-ups.

Pick-ups are sprints. Our coach would say, “Go out twenty minutes and come back in seventeen minutes, or better yet make it fifteen minutes.” It’s a negative run, or so they say, whatever that means.

“It’s a natural instinct to come back faster,” Coach Krister said.

I was, like, “No it’s not! We’re frigging tired.” Coach, you’re retarded, I thought, although I didn’t actually say that to him.

Hinckley was where the big hills were. That wasn’t fun, either, at all. Every time we went there it was too hot. It’s a mile up them hills. So, we’d run the mile up the hill, stretch at the top of it, run down, and then run up another hill.

It was crazy, but that’s what we did, because our coaches wanted us to do it. We had two coaches, not-so-bad Mr. Mirkenstall and bad Mr. Krister. I hated both of them.

Mr. Krister was maybe sixty-or-something, but definitely in his mid-50s. He kept his hair high and tight. He had a shaggy scruff most of the time and his jaw stuck out a ton. I don’t know what happened to his jaw. I think he got punched in the face, or something. His teeth were yellow crinkled nasty.

Mr. Krister talks with a New York accent. He doesn’t smoke, but I know he was an alcoholic. One of the guys on the team told me. The guy’s father is a lawyer, and Mr. Krister used to be a lawyer, and they used to be lawyers together. But then he became an alcoholic and couldn’t be a lawyer anymore, probably because all his clients were going to prison. He had to go to rehab.

I don’t know how he came to St. Mel’s. He has a doctorate in something else, not the law, but he teaches history. He probably has an undergraduate degree in it, so he can teach us about the past, although nobody cares very much about it. Who cares what happened way back when?

He’s sort of fit, but not super fit. He’s not very tall, either, and didn’t run all season. He would just ride an old bike around because he said he hurt himself. He tried to run a road race with us once, but almost passed out, coughing and spitting.

Most of the guys on the team who have him for class hate him. He thinks he can make fun of you because you run cross-country on his team and thinks he knows you better than not. He picks on you and makes fun of you in class. It’s really annoying. He grabbed my tie once when I was walking past and pulled it down hard. I was angry about it. I thought, what if I told my dad, who used to box in the army.

He does a butt load of crap to other guys, too.

One day between classes my friend Colt booked another one of my friends, Perry, and Perry pushed him into a locker. When you knock someone’s books out of their arms it’s not a big deal. You even help them pick the books up, sometimes. We were all standing there laughing when Mr. Krister rushed up, grabbed Perry by the jacket, and yanked him towards him nose to nose.

“What’s that for?”

“Why did you push him?”

“Because he booked me.”

“That doesn’t matter,” Mr. Krister said, and bum-pushed Perry back into the hallway.

Teachers are allowed to hit you at St. Mel’s. Nobody says so, but everybody knows. They don’t do it, though, because if they did, they’d probably get sued. I don’t know if it says hitting is allowed in the booklet of rules they give everybody, but they’re definitely allowed to hit students.

I heard of a brother, back when there was a boat load of them at St. Mel’s, who decked a kid. The kid was mouthing off to the brother in class, and walked up to the front of the class, still mouthing off to him, not stopping the flapping. The brother PUNCHED him SQUARE in the FACE. He broke the kid’s nose, there was blood all over the place, and the guy cried a ton.

The brother didn’t even get into any trouble. Back then they were all in it together. Bro’s before show-offs.

Gavin and Cooper are always messing around in Mr. Krister’s class. He kicks them out all the time. Gavin is a freshman, but he’s so jacked out of his mind he’s going to be on the varsity football team next year. He’s crazy strong, like a monster man. He’s big and gruff.

Mr. Krister makes it a ritual making fun of Gavin. Every day before prayer he will start staring at Gavin and Gavin will start laughing. Gavin’s got a deep man voice, but when he laughs it turns into a high-pitched girl giggle.

We say prayers, the Our Father, or the Hail Mary, before all our classes. We pray eight times a day. That’s a lot of praying. “Prayer is where the action is,” Mr. Rote always says. When Gavin laughs Mr. Krister tries to stare him down, because Mr. Krister’s a jerk. He will keep staring and staring and then Gavin starts laughing like a girl.

Gavin’s best friend Cooper is just retarded. He plays baseball, but he’s crazy bad at running the bases. He always falls down, or at least almost always. But he made the team because he’s got a snake arm. Before class he asks guys for pencils and then throws them across the room into the trashcan. I’ve never seen him miss. He ALWAYS makes it.

He sits in the back corner where Mr. Krister put him so he can’t bother anybody, especially Coach krister. One day Gavin asked Cooper for a pencil.

“I got a pencil right here,” he said, and smacked his nuts.

Then he fell on the ground, laughing. Mr. Krister tried to pull him up.

“Mr. Krister, I’m sorry, I won’t say anything more during class.”

“Get up, I AIN’T got all day,” Mr, Krister said, talking down to him.

He got up and had to go see Brother Ed, who’s the freshman baseball coach.

We had a quiz about World War Two and Cooper answered Il Douche instead of Mussolini. Mr. Krister sent him to see Mr. Streck instead of Brother Ed and he got a detention. He gets them all the time.

There’s a poster on the wall where Cooper sits and one day he signed his signature in big letters all over it.

“Coop, is that your signature?” I asked him.

“Uh, no,” he said, and started laughing.

Mr. Krister walked back to Cooper’s desk.

“I’m pretty sure that’s Cooper’s signature,” the guy sitting next to Cooper said.

Mr Krister started yelling at both of them. Cooper laughed and laughed.

Duffy sits next to me and is absolutely retarded, just like Cooper. He plays hockey, even though he’s hardly any good, worse than Cooper. He has trouble lacing up his skates. He pretended to smoke weed during class, making the motions, like he was blazing.

“Duffy, get your books, you’re going downstairs.”

“I wasn’t doing anything, Mr. Krister. It was all Cooper. It’s his fault.” He almost started crying, or laughing, or both at the same time.

“WHAT?” Cooper said. “You blame me for everything.”

Everybody in class cracked up.

“Cooper, get your books, you’re going down with Duffy.”

But, since Duffy was actually crying, he didn’t make them go to Mr. Streck’s office. I call Mr. Krister a softie because he won’t always crunch time anybody.

Our class is full of idiots. My friend CJ, who’s gay and is on the swim team, sits in front of me. He absolutely hates Duffy. He always swears at him. all the time.

“Duffy, I HATE you SO much.”

“CJ, shut up.”

“No, you shut the hell up.”

I don’t know why CJ hates Duffy. He will just whirl around, stare hard at Duffy, and mouth off random obscenities. He yells them out in the middle of class. Everybody can hear him. He doesn’t scream, but he says them loud enough. It goes on every day, even when Mr. Krister is lecturing about some war or peace treaty, or other damn thing.

Mr. Krister doesn’t do anything about it because he loves CJ, since CJ tells on everybody. He’s the town crier. He never tells on me, because he knows me, and we’re friends. He lets me lay low.

I hate the class, but it’s an easy A, and I get to be with all my retard buds messing around. It’s a day at the races. It’s awesome.

 

 

Only Crazy People Take Themselves Seriously

boomerang_1

Mad Hatter: “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”

“Have you guessed the riddle yet?” the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.

“No, I give up,” Alice replied. “What’s the answer?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said the Hatter.

We have show-and-tell at St Mel’s once in a while, but nobody ever brings anything anybody whatever. Some guy brought his grandfather once, who brought broken bits and pieces from World War Two, but none of it made any sense. When my turn came, I brought my Uncle Gray. He wore a black top hat, a black cape, and brought a bag full of boomerangs.

Uncle Gray told our science class he came to the show-and-tell because it was the birthday of the boomerang, the day it was invented. “What do you say about that?” he asked.

When nobody said anything, he said, “Many happy returns!”

All my uncles on my dad’s side of the family went to St. Joe’s High School on the east side, before it became St. Joe’s-Villa Angela, a coed school. They are all Lithuanians, even though they were born here, because grandma and grandpa came from there. They ran away when the commies took over. The had to run for their lives. It wasn’t a joke, like Mexicans walking into Texas and picking cotton. Our name used to be Grabaitis, but now it’s Gray. The old neighborhood went ghetto and the boy’s school and girl’s school both got so squeezed and small and broke they had to paste them together.

All my other uncles on my stepmom’s side went to St. Mel’s. My stepmom’s family is all German, from some place called East Prussia, that doesn’t even exist anymore. Some of them are bigwigs at the school now, although it doesn’t make any difference to me. Most of my friends know my Uncle Ted is on the Board of Trustees, but no one ever says anything about it. Sometimes I say something, if I have to.

Uncle Gray went to St. Mel’s. He’s one of my favorite adults. He’s not totally crazy, although he’s totally funny, and thankfully never pulls me aside to give me advice, which is unusual for an adult. Adults always have advice up their butts. Only crazy people take themselves seriously, but that’s adults for you. They think they know everything. Uncle Gray’s the boomerang man. He holds the record for the world’s biggest boomerang collection. He makes them, sells them, and lives them. He knows everything about them. He beds down with them, too.

He sleeps with a boomerang in his bed.

Uncle Gray is over fifty years old, but he doesn’t suck, which is remarkable. Most adults are unreasonable because they don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to any of us right now. They’re outdated out-of-touch obsolete. They’re over the hill. They can be unreasonable Little League dictators.

It definitely sucks to be forty years old. Why? Because you’re old, that’s why. You get up in the morning feeling just plain terrible. Thirty-years-old? It still kind of sucks. Most of the time you probably get up in the morning feeling terrible, too. It’s off to work you go. You’re not young anymore. When you’re old you don’t have fun most of the time. YOU WON’T! YOU CAN’T!

You could have fun, maybe, but only in ways that wouldn’t be all that great. When you’re a kid you can play with GI Joe’s for hours on end. You never think anything of it. Two years later you’re older and you don’t play with them anymore. When you find them again later on you’re, like, oh, MY GOD! I used to have so much fun with them. IT’S ALL GONE!

Old people can’t have that kind of fun, the kind of fun that’s just all in. For them, whatever they’re doing isn’t fun, it’s important. Important to them! They just want to get it done, whatever it is, like getting it done is life insurance. It’s not, but you can’t tell adults anything. They NEVER listen.

It’s the same with video games. Most grown-ups have never played video games. They’re still stuck in their old stuff, like reading newspapers and watching TV. That’s all done. It’s been destroyed by video games and online.

Adults don’t know how great video games are. They have no idea. They’re always saying we need to get up and do something. “Go outside, get some fresh air.” They think video games are stupid. If they are, then life is stupid. It’s not that video games are life itself, but they are definitely a good part of the good life. You can be the lamest kid stumbling down the hallways of St. Mel’s, but when you go home and get on a video game and are storming Brothers in Arms, like you purely own it, you can totally forget about regular life.

When you make friends online through video games, they’re exactly like real friendships. The only thing separating you from them is a computer screen. You can talk to people you don’t even know, and they can be your homeboys. You never meet them in real life, but you are still real friends. I can be playing somebody who lives in Montana and be close buddies with them. For real.

You can talk to them on Skype. You hear what they sound like and see what they look like. You just don’t know each other in real life, that’s all, even though it’s still the same. I like it that you can be friends with people you’ve never been in the same room with. For me it’s easy. For grown-ups, they can’t, they’re so suspicious. They’re always looking over their shoulders. They always think something bad is going to happen any minute.

There’s a barrier in the computer, which is the BARRIER, but it’s the doorway, too. Your video game friends don’t really know you. You can be nobody to everybody and still be friends with somebody, somebody who in the daytime life might not give you the time of day. You can be somebody on the computer screen, not just a ghost, but a Ghostbuster. You become more than just a nobody.

Video games aren’t an easy thing to get into when you’re older. Old people don’t understand them, at all. They grew up fishing in the creek. They’re still thinking the jump kick is the trickiest combo to master. But sometimes they’ll bite into the Jill sandwich. My Uncle Bruce bought an Xbox 360 last year. It was surprising, since the only game he ever had before that was Forza Motorsport 4. That’s it, that was it.

Uncle Bruce, Uncle Seth, and my grandfather are all deadset into cars. They work on old cars and grandpa sells them. Forza Motorsport is the only game grandpa’s actually good at. It’s the only game my uncles are good at, too. Anyone would think Uncle Seth might be better since he’s still a paperboy, even though he’s forty-years-old, so his brain hasn’t gone totally adult. It’s something they can relate to, and it’s simple, so they have a lot of fun with it.

When you’re fifty, you’re old. You’re a geezer, too bad. It gets worse the older you get. God, yeah, it truly DOES! If you’re sixty-years-old I feel bad for you. You can’t have fun. There is no more fun, for sure. When old people are old, they think anything new has got to be bad news.

They watch a truckload of TV, but watching TV isn’t necessarily a good thing. I watch TV to see the playoffs, football, basketball, but other than that, no TV. You sit there and don’t do anything. It’s all millionaires running around and throwing a ball to each other, or kicking it, or dropping it. I get a kick out of watching adults cheering screaming crying their eyes out about millionaires winning and losing their ballgame. It’s just a sweet wad of Chinese chewing gum for your eyes. Other than that, ESPN is dead-brain time.

The older you get the less fun you’re going to have. It’s a fact. When you’re seventy you’re just watching life, like it’s a fake-a-billy reality show, getting through it day by day. You’re there, breathing, but you’re not a part of it. YOUR DAY IS DONE. When you’re eighty you’re beyond old, of course, but I don’t think you can even possibly care anymore.

Some adults are happy, but not many. It’s less than half, I would imagine. It might even be less than that. When you’re young everyone’s mostly happier than not because you get over things easier. You just roll with the punches. Some can’t, of course, but most can. When you’re old you’re used to one thing, and when something else happens, well, then you’re stuck and sad.

When I get older, if that ever happens, I’m going to stay the same, which is on the go, on the spot, and as easy on the eyes as I am. I’m going to try to get old as slowly as possible. When I’m thirty-years-old I’m going to have kids and play video games with them. When I’m forty-years-old I’ll be a parent, driving my kids to school, but I’ll still have fun. I’ll play games with them and let them do what they want.

I’ll have some ground rules, of course. They’ll have to play sports. They’ll have to listen to what I say.

When I’m fifty and my kids are gone, I’ll have a butt load of house parties in my giant bathroom, on the patio, and spilling into the backyard. I’ll still be married, I think, and my wife will like the parties as much as I do. I don’t know what will happen when I’m sixty-years-old. Either I’ll keep going, have grandchildren, or die on the spot. It’s going to be a shock, for sure.

Making plans for the future is a wagon load of wasting time. A year ago, I didn’t know I was going to St. Mel’s. I knew I was going to Lakewood High School, at least I thought so. You shouldn’t make plans because they can change at a moment’s notice. It’s just like Blackie, my shifty-eyed black in it for himself cat. He might be in the kitchen and thinks he’s going to take a plate of snacks when no one’s looking, but then I sneak attack him. He had his plans until I snatched the snacks away.

But Blackie’s a wily smart freeloader. He’s free of pains and plans most of the time, free of cares. He sleeps and eats and runs around and sleeps some more. It’s the Life of Riley.

My whole day is always planned out, from the minute I wake up, Monday through Friday. My Riley is gone. We have our agenda for the day every day at St. Mel’s. I know everything I’m going to do and when I’m going to be doing it. I know everything I’m going to be doing, because Monday through Friday there are a blackboard of rules in my face.

I stop at my locker at the same time every day after the same period. I just do the stuff I have to do, the same thing every day, because that’s what people who are smart do. It’s like the killers who want to kill people. They are some of the dumbest people, but they are smart, too. They have a plan and execute it. Some people walk into a store and rob it. They go in and start shooting, but they don’t have any idea of what’s going to happen.

Most of the time they get screwed over. They get the crappiest lawyers, for sure. But other people have a plan for what they are doing. Those are the smart ones, especially those who want to kill other people for a reason. At St. Mel’s it’s all about having a reason. We have plans, and we execute them, but nobody notices anything. We have a set thing, our school periods, and we execute that because we have to.

Mr. Rote, my religion teacher, says if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. Maybe he’s right about that. All the old people in the world made a crap load of plans when they were young and look what happened to them.

Uncle Gray is funny and smart, ridiculously smart, in fact. He’s smart in physics, which is why he’s good at throwing and catching boomerangs. He tosses boomerangs like nobody’s business. He has four world’s records in boomeranging and he owns thirty thousand boomerangs. He’s the BOOMERANG MAN!

Last year during Earth Day at Lakewood Park the first fifty kids who lined up at his booth got a free boomerang. Uncle Gray makes them in China and sells them. He makes a bucket of money. He gave away the paperback backyard kind. They’re the kind that don’t go far and always ricochet back.

Uncle Gray was married, and re-married, and re-married some more. He was married to Morky, who was Korean and had a small head, and they had five kids. Two of them were twins, Lizzie and Ali. I called Lizzie the larger because her head was bigger than her mom’s and I called Ali whatever else there was to call her. When Morky left and never came back, all of their five kids were under the age of five. Uncle Gray married somebody else right away, but they got divorced in no time. He tried again, but no luck for him. Now he goes from girlfriend to girlfriend. He’s a great guy.

They all stay around for a couple of years and then leave.

When I brought Uncle Gray to show-and-tell my science teacher Mr. Strappas showed us slides about how boomerangs work. We all went out to the football practice field and threw them around into the sky. Uncle Gray put on his old-fashioned black top hat. He threw his black cape over his shoulder.

Everybody loved him, except for Mr. Rote.

“Why do you think Jesus isn’t coming back?” Uncle Gray, smiling and smirking, asked Mr. Rote, who had wandered outside with his guitar. Mr. Rote shrugged his shoulders.

“He wasn’t nailed to a boomerang!” I think everybody wanted to laugh, but nobody did. I don’t know why Uncle Gray asked Mr. Rote that. It was like he wanted to get under his skin. Mr. Rote tried to laugh it off, but he grunted instead.

Before we went back to class Uncle Gray took something out of his duffel bag and threw it over the bleachers. We all waited, but nothing happened. It didn’t fly back.

“What do you call a boomerang that doesn’t come back?” he asked.

“A stick,” said Mr. Strappas, walking like a champ toward us from the far side of the bleachers with a stick in his hand.

 

 

Turning Your Colors

behavior_c_630.jpg

“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, like a dream, before the ruckus I got into at pre-school. 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 hairsprayed 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 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 was very loose.

“You’re so annoying,“ Sandy started saying, who 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 since 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, but I was small, and needed her more. When my mom was gone,, she was gone and that was all there was to it. 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 our 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 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.

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.

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 it all. They disobeyed 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.

It wasn’t about being smart, though. They 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. Pants are loose. But you only pull the pants down, not the underwear.

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 in 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. The 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 God 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.

A lot more bad kids skateboarded than good kids. It’s a stereotype, or 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 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.

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. Tney get on the road of retards, going nowhere.

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 was going to make sure the worm didn’t turn on me, either.

aerial-beverage-coffee-990825

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