The Red Queen shook her head, “You may call it nonsense if you like,” she said, ”but I’ve heard nonsense, compared with which that would be as sensible as a dictionary.”
Allan, Paul, Bryce, and I were all middle school tyros back in the day. Afterwards we passed all the St. Mel’s interviews and tests and were accepted as freshmen. The only thing left to do after that was for our parents to find the money to pay for. It takes a ton of dead presidents to go to St. Mel’s. It takes more than thirteen thousand of them to get it done.
It takes a BOWLFUL of MAMMON to lie in the lap of the Virgin Mary.
Allan played on the St. Mel’s freshman football team from day one. At least he did until he got a concussion on the first day of practice. That finished him off before he got to day two. He’s out for the season.
He played football for Lakewood Catholic Academy in his youth. He’s only a little taller than me, but he’s a lineman. He’s butt load big and wide, although he has a potbelly, and still of all he’s strong as a bull. Allan’s not just a body on the JV field. He’s actually good, if he was still there, but after they rocked him at practice, he was scrambled eggs and toast.
St. Mel’s is hugemongous into football. We lost our only game in two years to Don Basco. Even though we always put one of the best teams in the country between the lines, Basco is the best team now. Our guys went to New Jersey to play them and it didn’t go well. But they have to come to our field next fall. Everybody is looking forward to that.
Mr. Rote, our religion teacher, always says there is no revenge so complete as forgiveness, but I think the best revenge is a massive beat-down. Never walk in anybody’s shadow, we always say in the hallways.
We’re state champions and that’s awesome. We own everybody in football and most of the other sports, too, especially wrestling. We have a bank load of paid for state championship trophies. There are too many of them in our vaults to count, really. When you start winning championships, year after year, that’s all you’re interested in.
It’s not just because we’re St. Mel’s that we win. It’s our tradition of winning and our players and coaches who want to win BAD. But it’s mostly because we have the players, the biggest and best players, and the biggest best black players, too. Some of St. Mel’s black football players are big, VERY BIG.
My friends are on the big side, too.
Big Boy Allan has a hot face and pearly whites, but the rest of him is mostly pasty white. He has brown hair and brown eyes. His hands aren’t big, but they’re meaty. He has fat toes and cankles. He doesn’t have ankles, not exactly, just calves attached to his feet. No ankles – only cankles.
Paul is tall and thin and strong. He has big hands, big feet, and is going to play basketball for the school. That’s the only sport he plays. It’s all he knows. He can palm a basketball no problem. He has super big hands. His hair is dirty blonde, his eyes are blue, and he has normal size ears. His lips are white person lips. Small. Black people don’t have white people lips. The only white kid I know who has black lips is Bryce.
Bryce is the Fourth Musketeer of us who made it into St. Mel’s, which surprised the rest of us. and everybody who knows Bryce. It even surprised me. Nobody thought he had it in him. He and I go way back to grade school and even before that. We were friends before we were even alive, although we didn’t know it.
His mom and my mom were hair stylists together and they got pregnant at the same time. After we were born on our not exactly the same birthdays, we were best friends from the time we were babies. Bryce is tall and big and buff. He’s very strong very don’t mess with me very on top. He wears his wavy hair long, which is a ginger color down to the roots, and sometimes he ties it back in a ponytail.
Even though he’s barely a month older than me, he already has a beard. It’s not like the badlands, either. It’s a real beard. I don’t have a single whisker. He used to shave more often, but he doesn’t as much anymore.
Bryce just turned fifteen, just ahead of me. He weighs more than 230 pounds, but he’s not fat. He’s close to six foot four, which is exactly eight inches taller than me. He walks like Robert Mitchum in the old movies my dad watches on TCM, not all butterfingers, like the ground’s moving underneath him. He’s not like that, quirky, where you walk weird. He walks with a swagger.
We all play sports, although I’m not sure what sport Bryce will play. It will probably be football. He will be a beast when he does. He’s built like a God. I run cross-country. I’m built like a bushman. I’m going to try to get on the lacrosse team next year. But I want to run track more than I want to play lacrosse. I stay in shape for it by running cross-country.
I used to play football, but I was always getting the hell kicked out of me because I was too small. We were always getting the hell yelled out of us by our coaches, too. I didn’t like that, either, any more than I liked being knocked down all the time.
Sports are the biggest thing at our high school because St. Mel’s is absolutely sports-oriented. The only guys not in sports are the smarties. That’s a stereotype, but it’s right around the corner to the truth. The guys not in sports who aren’t actually smarties are the guys who go to St. Mel’s for the experience or because their parents are making them go.
One of my friends, DB, who’s a sophomore, says he hates the school. He’s a nut, but that’s how it is. He calls it THE ORGANIZATION. That’s because his parents make him go to St. Mel’s. I love it. Nobody makes me do that. It’s right for some guys, but for other guys it’s completely wrong. I don’t know why it’s not right for DB. I never ask him. All I know is my three friends and I love it.
I tend to hang around the guys who like St. Mel’s. I don’t want to be talking to downers. There are kids like that at St. Mel’s and everywhere else, too. I’m not a big flag waver for our school, but why think your life is crap just because you think going to St. Mel’s is down?
DB and guys like him are weird. Weird is fine. I’m weird, too, but in a good way. Those guys are just awkward. I think they know they’re awkward, too. They’re less friendly than everybody else. They think they can sit there, smirk and grimace, and nobody will mind.
Some guys just float and float, which is bad. I am in the same classes with some of them a few times a day and they’re drifting. I try to be active, answer questions, but some guys just sit there like clods. They stare at the walls and daydream. They constantly won’t and don’t get good grades. It’s all right to get a not good enough grade once in a while, but constantly getting bad grades is bad news. It’s not going to work at St. Mel’s. Nobody learns anything by failing. Success is the only thing that counts.
At St Mel’s, teachers always routinely try to help you. It’s not like it was in middle school. They’ll come to you, or you go to them, which is even better, and they’ll help you. There’s no doubt about it. If you CARE about St. Mel’s, then St. Mel’s will CARE about you.
But some guys don’t care. That’s the problem. Their parents made them go to St. Mel’s. Their moms and dads are insecure and think they’ll have a better image of themselves and other people will think better of them if their son goes to St. Mel’s. It’s a prestigious school and they want the prestige. It’s a good fit for some guys, but for others it’s definitely not.
You don’t even have to be Catholic to go to St. Mel’s. There are Hindus and Muslims and even Protestants. We don’t have a daily mass, but we have a daily religion class every day. Everybody has to go. One of my friends, Amija, is in my religion class. He’s either a Hindu or a Muslim, or something like that, but he isn’t allowed to sit it out. We study Roman Catholic theology and Amija participates like everybody else.
One of the guys on my cross-country team is a Lutheran. There are all kinds of religions at St. Mel’s, although there are no Jews. I’ve never heard of one ever attending the school. No one ever says anything about it, about the no-Jews rule on campus, not even the Jews, who are always complaining about everything.
Even Mr. Rote avoids talking about it, like he avoids talking about guns, although he has a lot to say about everything else. He’s my full-time religion teacher. I wish it were Miss Torrent, instead, who is the other religion teacher. She’s about two feet tall, but she stands tall, taller than THE MAN. If I stand up, she is just past my belly button. It’s awesome. She’s awesome. Nothing keeps her down.
“I don’t mind being short because I was never tall,” she says.
She’s all in proportion, an older lady, and talks nasal like a duck. She wears her hair short, almost like one of the guys. She always seems happy, which is unusual in older people, who are usually cranky. Everybody gets older, but you don’t have to be old, although that’s not how it seems to work. She says she’s happy and not happy other times, but mostly happy.
“Thank God I never was cheerful,” she says. “But I am a cheerful pessimist.”
Walking into St. Mel’s on the first day of school and not knowing anybody was all new, but not so new. There were guys from Lakewood, North Olmsted, and Westlake. They were from all over. Walking in the door I only knew Allan, Paul, Bryce, and myself. I knew some guys from cross-country because we had been practicing for about a month before school started. But that was only for a month and I had barely paid attention to them.
If I had gone to Lakewood High School, I would have known a boat load of guys. They’d have all been from my hometown. We had an orientation the day before classes started, but that was the day before anything mattered. On the first day of school I went to my first period class. When the class ended that was it, my first religion class was over, and after that I went to my next class.
St. Mel’s was just a new place and I was at the bottom of the bottom of the pile. It didn’t feel scary, or anything, at least not like 6th grade, which is the first year of middle school.
McKinley Middle School was scary because it was a completely new experience. We had to move from one classroom to the next one all day, not like in grade school. When you’re a young kid you’re stationary. You’re in one room all the time, but at McKinley we always moved around, shifting changing.
I didn’t know many kids at McKinley when I started. I only knew my friends from grade school. I didn’t know anybody else because they came from so many other grade schools. By the time I started St. Mel’s I was used to not knowing anybody and moving around all day.
The classes at St. Mel’s are smaller than at Lakewood High School. There are maybe twenty of us in a class, all freshmen. Most of us are white guys, but some of us are black guys. I made friends with Eli, who is dark black, and Bobby, who is a lighter shade. There’s another black guy, too, who’s even lighter, he could almost be white, but I don’t know him.
There are plenty of blacks at St. Mel’s, and plenty of them are there to play sports. Some of them definitely got into the school because they’re good at running, catching, and tackling. A few of them, no, it’s because they’re smarties. Still, there are a butt load of them on the football team. There are even more than you would think would be on a normal football team. But there are still a lot of white guys, too.
There are no Asians, definitely not any of them. They’re like the Jews. No Jews and no Asians on the rough and tumble.
There aren’t many black guys living in Lakewood, which is mostly white man’s land. My stepmom said more of them are being section-eighted, complaining complaining and complaining. I didn’t know what she was talking about. When Jack started nodding his head, agreeing with her, I started ignoring it. I’ve seen more black guys at St. Mel’s than I expected. One of them is in the locker next to me. He is big fat evil Ethan. I’m OK with fat people, although I’m not a chubby chaser, but Ethan and I don’t get along. We’re two totally different kinds of people.
I have a friend, Big Spike, who’s on the JV basketball team. He’s sky-high tall. He’s one of my best friends, and he’s black, so it’s not like I’m a racist. It doesn’t have anything to do with tall, either, even though I’m on the shorter side. It’s just that Ethan is rude. It doesn’t have anything to do with being black, more like he’s got an evil black soul streak.
Fee fi fo, walking to Detroit.
He pushes other kids out of his way to get to his locker. “Get the fuck out of my way,” he’ll say. He’s never said it to me because I stay out of his way, believe me! I don’t commit the mortal sin of standing my ground. If I did, I’d be a pancake in no time flat.
No one ever pushes back. He’s big and has short legs, so he’s built low to the ground, even though he’s tall. I try to stay away from him. If you’re not nice to people I don’t want to be your friend. You don’t have to be a racist, just like you don’t have to be mean. But you have to be realistic. I play it smart. That’s how I am.
The mean guys don’t necessarily stick together. Ethan has lots of friends, even Bryce, who’s my best friend. I can’t get my head around it, but that’s the way it is. They get along. I don’t know how the nice guys can be friends with the mean guys, but it happens. Maybe it’s how you look at them, or maybe it’s because Ethan has never been mean to Bryce.
Bryce is bigger than Ethan, for sure. Ethan isn’t going to go out of his way to tell Bryce to get out of his way. That ain’t going to happen.
There are some people I don’t like and other people I really don’t like. I really don’t like Ethan. He makes it his mission in life to be nervy, like he has to do or say something disrespectful every ten minutes, like he just wants to be rude at all costs.
Bert, who plays soccer on the soccer team, is another one, although he’s more annoying than anything else. He’s a smart guy, not that it matters. He’s in my history class with Mr. Krister. Bert usually knows all the answers but is kind of a jerk and a smart aleck at the same time. When we were at Homecoming, he made out with my friend Jake’s girlfriend, right out in the open, on the dance floor. He can be a major jerk-bag.
He texts in class and when Mr. Krister calls him out on it he will say, “Oh, Mr. Krister, I was just texting my mom, she’s a widow, about what time to pick me up after school.”
We all know his mom is totally married, but Mr. Krister is in the dark about it.
Mr. Krister will take his phone away, but then won’t actually keep it, because he isn’t a mean man in that way. Bert will sit in Mr. Krister’s chair when he’s out of the class, and Mr. Krister doesn’t like that, at all. Once day before class he was in the hallway and Bert sat in his chair. He saw him through the doorway and chased Bert back to his seat.
He e-mailed Bert’s soccer coach, complaining about it, but nothing happened because he’s a fast-running fast-scoring fast-rising star on the team. All anybody has to is read their history books to find out what is number one at St. Mel’s.
If you’re good at sports at St. Mel’s you can get away with a lot of sins, BELIEVE ME. It’s not about being white or black or mixed up. It doesn’t matter what religion you are. What matters is the trophy case. What matters is not fade away. What matters is don’t turn into a pot of paste. What matters is winning. We’re all grown up about that.
Mr. Rote says the Bible will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from the Bible. At St. Mel’s, no matter what Mr. Rote says, the only sin is losing, and it’s not the small insignificant it doesn’t matter kind of venial sin, either. Winning is one thing and losing, all the hundreds of ways of losing, getting lost at sea, is another thing, FOR GOD’S SAKE, the mortal sin kind of thing at St. Mel’s.
Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus