Saturday, March 21, 2009
Who I Was and Where I Came From
So, I've taken a couple of months off from blog posting to work on some creative projects. This is a 99.9% true story from back when I was a kid in Sandy, Utah. It's mostly a hodge podge of events that happened in grade school. Hopefully, it gives you an idea of what things were like back then. See for yourself:
Mike Peterson and I usually played near the big storm grate just behind the batting fence and the swing sets. We were playing Chronicles of Kings. Today we slew a phalanx of orcs. They surprised us in a mountain pass. They were sent to steal back the sacred sword which we recovered from the ruins of Ashtoran, but having the sacred sword made them easier for us to kill, which they, being orcs, hadn’t thought about. A phalanx of orcs wasn’t as big as a horde of orcs, but still. Then we were attacked by a swarm of bees and we ended up starting this float trip thing that involved rafts and aquatic monsters. It was a good story. The idea was to create this epic story that would get expanded with each recess. We were both excited about the rafting thing. We never thought about sea monsters before. It was a good angle.
We were next to the tall metal swing sets that flanked this big triangle area full of pea gravel. There was a jungle gym, monkey bars, parallel bars, the whole thing. There used to be a slide but that got taken out and we never figured out why. The rest of the big yard was just grass with a couple of stands that would’ve been soccer goals if there had any nets. All of the Red Rover kids and the Crack the Whip kids and the Smear the Queer kids were usually over there. I was never a Red Rover kid, but I was sometimes a Crack the Whip kid or a Smear the Queer kid. I’d gotten ahead in Crack the Whip but I never really caught on to Smear the Queer. You picked a kid that nobody liked and you just chased him around. It was mean and we knew that, so we tried to limit how often the game got played. This was before Mrs. Moss said that we couldn’t play it at all any more. Somebody had complained. It was an open secret that Paul Lefferts usually got picked for the queer, so we naturally assumed that he was the whistleblower. But, now Lefferts was targeted even more because now he was a squealer on top of being smelly and always talking with his outdoor voice. I never thought that Lefferts’s mom had thought that through. Now, that this had happened I kind of felt sorry for the guy.
We’re not going to play Smear the Blank any more, Mrs. Moss said.
“Blank” meant that queer was a bad word. I had no idea and I felt instantly ashamed. This was a couple of weeks ago.
Let’s play Sewer Theater, I said to Mike. Sewer Theater was this game I made up where one guy would yell through the big sewer grate near the batting fence and the sound would come through another storm drain that was near the tether ball poles. The idea was to make up a story and yell it through the grate loud enough so that the other guy could hear it. You’d make up part of a story and then the guy on the other end would make up another part so, in the end, you would have a full story before recess was over. I usually made up a lot of sound effects to go with the story, but Mike said that he couldn’t hear them very well through the grate. This just meant I needed to improve the sound effects to compensate for the echo in the drain pipe.
That’s a stupid game, Mike said.
The game had it’s flaws, but I thought calling it stupid was a little off base. We were trying to make memorable narratives here, and Mike wasn’t being very collaborative. Besides, I was the leader of the two of us, and he was just a sidekick. I came up with the big ideas and Mike was there to provide color, charm, embellishment. That was the dynamic that we agreed upon. What was the point of having somebody who had all of the great ideas if no one was there to follow him? The leader needed someone he could rely on to get him out of all of the tough scrapes he got himself into. I had said that Batman would be dead without Robin and without Chewbacca, Han Solo would have no idea how to fly the Millennium Falcon. Mike agreed. We discussed it months ago and he said that he didn’t mind the sidekick role and that he liked the idea.
You’re stupid, I said, shoving him to the ground.
He was smaller than me, so it was a little cheap, but Batman would’ve done the same thing. A leader commands respect.
Jerk, Mike said.
The bell rang. We got all clustered together and pushed our way through the big swinging brown doors that took us into our classrooms. I stood right behind Michelle Perry. I could almost smell that lemony smell in her hair. Michelle was blonde and her hair was pulled to the sides and banded with elastics that had these clear marble things on them. She had pronounced cheek bones and when she smiled her mouth was full of perfect white teeth. She was stunning; second only to Susan Hunter who I was desperately in love with but told no one. It was my secret, this great love. The first day I saw her was on Halloween. She was dressed in these medieval clothes with a golden princess crown and a little plastic sword. She had thick brown hair.
What are you? I asked.
I’m a warrior, she said.
I vowed that day never to tell anyone about her, and I promised to think about her all of the time. I did talk about how I felt about other girls, but not Susan. She was special, while the other girls: Michelle Perry, Roseangel Martinson, Madison Graves, and Emily Fichtner, were just conventionally pretty. I still crushed on them too, but not as intensely. One summer, I pulled Bradley Gumble under this boat that was parked in a neighbor’s drive and told him that all of these girls could never be had by any man. They were all being held captive by some horrible malevolent power similar to the dark side of the force in Star Wars. Only one man could break the spell of this power and then these girls would give themselves totally and unspeakably to that man, effectively becoming his slaves.
What can we do? he said.
He was stunned by this realization. I had told him the big secret. We spent the rest of the afternoon planning how we would each break the spell and become this one man who had absolute power over all of the pretty girls. So far, nothing had worked.
When we were all inside after recess we got to work on this project that involved cutting out pieces of paper and gluing them to colored pieces of cardstock. I always hated these kinds of art projects. I didn’t care about cutting things up in creative ways and gluing them onto whatever we had laying around. That was more of a girl thing. All I wanted to do was doodle in the notepad that I kept in the cubby tray under my desk. I coasted on this cut-and-paste job. I’d cut out one piece and then take a trip to the drinking fountain, cut out another and then go to the crayon bin pretending that I was searching for a peach colored crayon. This ate up enough time.
Our teacher, Mrs. Dehaven, was now standing in the front of the room. She wore a long, brown dress and today her hair was curled and her lipstick was this dark, autumnal looking shade. I remembered hugging her earlier in the year. There was this warm smell that she had. There was a softness in the way that she hugged you. She was wearing these pearl earrings and she started pointing to the board with this long stick using these swift, exacting strokes. It was easy to look at her while she was doing all of this. I probably looked like I was paying attention.
Michael, she said. Did you understand that you have to cut your paper out evenly on both sides so that when you unfold it, you’ll have a leaf shape? I said yes, but she looked like she didn’t believe me.
Then, there was computer class. On good days you could play Oregon Trail. In Oregon Trail, you were trying to get a wagon train to migrate west without the whole group dying of malaria or running out of water or food. This game was nearly impossible and if you played it the right way it was still not very interesting. The only thing worth doing was to buy only guns and bullets at the general store before your wagon trip began. Then you could hunt these animals that ran across the screen with incredible quickness. The game ended early this way because your wagon would break down and you didn’t buy any spare parts at the beginning of the game because you blew it all on guns and bullets. Your whole group died of malaria and you’d lose, but nobody cared. Trying to shoot these impossible to kill coyotes and jackrabbits was the only fun part of the game.
Computers was taught by Mr. France, an overweight guy in his forties with a white beard, who wore pleated grey Dockers with big, white New Balance walking shoes. If you did something wrong he’d call you an idiot and then explain to the class what an idiot was and how you fit really well into his nuanced, intricate definition of an idiot. That day, I was waving my hand in front of the flashing green computer screen so that my hand turned into this mesmerizing green blur if I waved fast enough. This kept me occupied for awhile.
Did you hear me? he said. I turned around to look at him like I had just been awakened from a decade long coma.
Idiot, he said.
After that, we ate lunch. There were pigs in a blanket and mashed potatoes and gravy. Pig in a blanket day was my favorite. They were really good with lots of ketchup that came in these little white cups at the end of the lunch line. I washed all of that down with a little carton of Viva chocolate milk. It used to be that you could never get chocolate milk, only regular, but now they had it all of time so everybody was drinking it. The only kid that didn’t drink chocolate milk was Caleb Beckstead. Caleb said that he didn’t like the taste of chocolate milk and that his mom told him that he was allergic to chocolate milk, but not regular milk. Caleb always wore his glasses at an angle over his nose so that the lenses pointed down at his desk. He said that this was the only way that he could see anything, and that wearing his glasses normally actually made his vision worse than if he wasn’t wearing glasses at all.
I wanted to eat lunch in a hurry, because we had recess right after that. I went through all of the brown halls with the glaring fluorescent lights and the weird orange carpets and I went out the door. Mike was waiting for me at the storm grate.
Hi, I said. Listen, I’m really sorry about earlier. We don’t have to play Sewer Theater anymore. I guess I can’t even hear you all of that well on the other side, so it’s no big deal. Sorry, I pushed you. That was really mean.
Yeah, I don’t want to be the side kick anymore, he said. You came up with Sewer Theater, but we both worked on Chronicles of Kings, and you, me, and Eric Stonehocker all came up with Aliens vs. Predator, because we all read the comic books. I think nobody should be the leader, because we don’t need one. Let’s just all play together, and come up with good stuff.
I said that was a good idea. We did our ritual handshake that involved snaps and fist bumps, and all of that. Nobody knew how to do that but us. Then, Matt Matthews came over to us. He was at least six feet tall with a mouth full of big even teeth and a messy haircut.
Gentlemen, he said in his courtly way. What’re you two doing this fine afternoon? We explained that we were all done with the orcs and the bees and that now we were doing this raft-sea monster thing.
There should be a kraken, he said. We agreed that krakens were cool, but that a kraken was really more of a giant, boss monster that we would have to defeat after fighting a bunch of smaller, less powerful water monsters.
What about piranhas? Matt said. We wrote Matt in as a wayfaring pirate who would show us all of the valuable sea routes for three bags of gold. I ended up destroying the piranhas with the sacred sword, while Mike shot them out of the air with his bow and arrow. Matt had magical thunderbolt so he used that to blast the piranhas off of our little raft.
We forgot to fight the kraken, Mike said.
Next recess, I said. The bell rang.