A Class Act

I never let schooling interfere with my education.” -Mark Twain

**********

Elin found herself struggling to stay awake.  She tried to sneak in a nap on her desk, but she encountered the same problem that every student at John Quincy Adams High had.  student-desk-mdThere was only one way to sit comfortably in the chair-desk combination.  If one tried to lean forward, fold their arms, and use the desk as a pillow, they quickly found that the desk was so high that it dug into their chest.  If they tried to limply slouch against the attached chair, the low lumbar frame threatened to send them falling backwards onto the ground in a majestic head-over-heels one-eighty.  Elin had seen it happen many a time.  Once, after a particularly fun weekend made up of a hot date and some movie marathoning, she had almost succumbed herself.  That’s what friends are for.

At the desk to her left was Katelyn and at the desk to her right was Stan.  The three of them made for an unbeatable team.  Katelyn was practical and organized, Stan was creative, and Elin kept them focused.  On that almost-fateful morning, Katelyn had kicked Elin awake and Stan had slid forward and quietly pushed her back into her chair when she started to tumble from her chair.  The desk had squeaked and squonked.  Elin had shrieked in surprise.  Yet, thanks to her friends, by the time Mr. Simonds had turned his attention away from the board and to her, there was nothing to see.

Mr. Simonds was quite the sight himself.  He was a flurry of energy.  Mr. Simonds was sometimes on time for his Applied Civics class.  (“It’s History, guys.  Just call it History class.  Social Studies if you want to feel like you’re special”, Mr. Simonds had said.  On the first day he removed his special occasion-fedora and took off his glasses.  Elin had heard him mutter something about “politicians” and “frickin’ board” as he breathed on his glasses and rubbed them on his wrinkled shirt.)

There was an ongoing bet as to whether or not Mr. Simonds would make it inside the door before class started.  Elin had no spare income to risk when it came to the wager.

“We want you to enjoy your youth”, her parents had cooed with matching grins.  “You have plenty of time to be an adult later.  You’ll be making money for decades.  Don’t worry about it yet.”  The no-job mandate necessitated her asking for money every time she had a date.  Which meant that she had to find out the nicest way to ask them each time.  Which invariably meant that her parents wanted to meet the guy first.  Whether or not her parents would approve of her next suitor was enough gambling for Elin’s life.

The rules were simple.  Linus, the most timid person in class, was in charge of holding the bets.  He was a threat to no one and therefore the least likely to think he could cheat the winners out of their cash.  (“Suspenders?  Really?  Oh Linus”, Elin often thought to herself.)

three-men-gambling-sitting-at-poker-table-playing-cards-betting-party-pen-ink-drawingThe odds were fifty/fifty that Mr. Simonds would be on time.  Other days he had a shot at having his briefcase open before the bell, but he always seemed extra rushed on Mondays.  The betting was always the most active then.  (Mr. Simonds often wondered why his class was always so punctual.  The truth was that no one wanted to miss out on the action; not even the never-bets like Elin.)

Monday was also coffee day.  It was guaranteed.  A sure thing.  Once Geoffrey, the mastermind behind the betting, had offered odds that Mr. Simonds wouldn’t have a cup of coffee.  Only once.  He got cleaned out that day.  Geoffrey adapted.  Now Linus held stacks of ones dependent on whether or not Mr. Simonds would spill on himself.  Those odds were pretty well set at five to one.  It was Elin who had made the best suggestion.

She saw him rush to get out of his car once.  There had been no one around him, the ground was clear, and no puppies were nipping at his heels.  Yet, Mr. Simonds proved himself to be incapable of getting out of his car without dropping half his things.  As he leaned to retrieve them, he dropped the other half.  Then, apparently out of nowhere, Mr. Simonds tripped.  Not a simple, catch the edge of one’s toe on the crack in the sidewalk, skip from one foot to the next to regain one’s balance, thus resulting in an undignified gait.   No, this had been a full-on, no coming back from it, tripping over one’s feet, arms flailing out to the sides, shoe flying off of one foot, face slamming into arm which slams onto the concrete, cavalcade of clumsiness.  Had he not left his coffee cup on the top of his car, he would have been inconsolable.  (As it turned out, he dropped it in the hallway; trying awkwardly to open his classroom door.)

129272-049-d6bf85edElin almost felt bad suggesting the bet to Geoffrey.  However it had been too delicious to pass up.  Geoffrey set the odds at an hundred to one and even let Elin name it.  She christened it “The Dick Van Dyke”, and looked around in mortification as she realized no one else had been exposed to the classics like she had.  Still, she felt the name was perfect and stuck to her conviction.  (Also, unbeknownst to them, she wanted to salute her parents’ love of the classics.)

With a payoff that high, Geoffrey had established a hard set of rules.  He and the bet-maker had to be witness to the event.  Geoffrey was a stickler when it came to an hundred to one odds.  No one had ever collected before.  “I just saw a Van Dyke”, kids would scream as they pleaded for money.  Geoffrey would only shake his crewcut-covered head.  “No really, look at him!”  “He always looks like that”, was everyone’s standard reply.  Mr. Simonds was a bit of a mess and it was on display for the school to see.  That was part of the reason why people still took the Van Dyke.  Everyone held out hope that they might see it.  The rumors would be borne out in some epic explosion of limbs and paperwork.  Perhaps there would be some caffeine splashes to top it off.  Hope ran eternal in the halls of JQA; especially where Applied Civics was concerned.

Turning to her right, she saw Stan fidgeting.  Stan’s creativeness never really came out neat and tidy.  Little sparks of creative energy shot out of him, scarring any bystanders that got too close.  He was always a sight to see.  This morning, as Stan tried to get his hair under control, he was in rare from.

“You doing okay there Stan?”  Elin spoke quietly as she checked in with her friend.  Her concern and subdued tone had a two-pronged purpose.   One, she knew Stan hated having his picture taken.  Two, she knew it must frustrate him having his ex-girlfriend watch his frustration from two seats away.

Elin had tried to be happy for Stan and Katelyn.  Quietly, and sometimes in frustrated rants to her parents, she knew that her two friends dating was never going to work.  Katelyn was pretty, contained, and organized.  Stan was a bit spastic, sometimes incoherent, and fraught with self-doubt.  Elin had been a bit confused when the two started lingering behind her in the halls, whispering a short conversation between classes or just happening to be talking when she arranged to meet one of them.  She had her suspicions, but wasn’t prepared for seeing the two of them kissing and groping each other like two octopi super-glued together.  And behind the school dumpsters?  Elin knew that sort of tackiness had to have been Stan’s doing.  She just couldn’t believe that Katelyn had gone along with it.

Sitting between the two of them, once an innocent situation; had turned into quite a chore.  A month ago it had required Elin to pass notes between the two.  Their mutual love could not possibly wait that extra fifty-five minutes to describe how they pined for the sight of each other and how they yearned to proclaim their love.  Elin had considered switching seats with Katelyn, but she was afraid that Mr. Simonds wouldn’t remember her name and his seating chart would wreck her GPA.  Sure, Katelyn’s grade was only .2 lower than Elin’s.  But when hitting your parents up for cash, every grade point counts.  So she had been relegated, quite literally, to the friend caught in the middle.  And that was only last month.

This month, she was struggling to be the post break-up friend.  And both of her friends had equal claim to her.  When Elin would ask Katelyn how she was doing, her English-loving friend would pull out a pad that she kept just for this sort of correspondence, and scribble out a detailed note, full of adjectives and adverbs, heartily fleshing out with alarming precision, exactly how she felt.  However that turned out to be the key to the three’s current status.

vector-illustration-of-two-high-school-students-sitting-at-their-desks-passing-a-note-which-is-actually-a-blank-sheet-of_16362691As Mr. Simonds had strolled up and down the aisles, trying to find the way to best present the information about the electoral college, he passed by Katelyn’s desk.  Katelyn was scribbling furiously and therefore did not notice Mr. Simonds approach as he discussed the pros and cons of Texas and California’s weighty presence.

“What’s this?”  He pulled the pad out from underneath Katelyn’s leaden arm.  She leaned on it with all her might, but offered no audible response.  Katelyn was obedient; the good one.  She might indulge in a little wager once a month, but she’d never be risky enough to take the Van Dyke.  She behaved.  So when a teacher caught her, she had one response.  She sat there like a frightened rabbit. One could almost see her nose twitch and her eyes go wide, ears flattening down as she awaited her demise.

“That’s mine”, came a voice to the right.

“Yours?”  Mr. Simonds looked to Stan with a skeptical eye.  “This”, he said, holding up the piece of paper with damning words written in feminine cursive, soft and flowing, “is yours?  How so?”

“Oh, well, that’s easy.”  Elin still remembered the look of concentration that had been evident on Stan’s face as he worked out the answer.  “See, Katelyn and I, we broke up.”

“You were dating?”

“Sure.  Everybody knew that.”

“Everybody?  Did you hold a press conference that I missed out on?”

“Huh?”

Mr. Simonds shook his head.  “Never mind.  So is this some sort of communal property?  A  hotly disputed matter in your distribution of shared treasures?”

“No, nothing like that”, Stan replied.  “See, I might have gone off on her when we broke up.  Said a few things I shouldn’t have.  You know how it can be when you end it with someone you care about, right Mr. Simonds?”

A look flashed over Mr. Simonds face.  He quickly hid it as he looked out the window, his fingers holding the note reached to adjust his tie.  Then they returned to their previous position as he remembered he wasn’t wearing one.  He took a slow breath and turned his attention back to Stan.  “I fail to see how my relationships have a bearing on this matter.”

“Well”, Stan continued.  “I was all mad saying this and that.  Katelyn was all, ‘You’re gonna eat those words, Stan!’  Got quite upset.  And now, well, I realize that I shouldn’t have said what I did, y’know?  And I tried to apologize before class.  But she got all mad.  Starting writing on that pad.  She muttered, “Oh, you’re gonna eat these words all right.”

“These words?”  Mr. Simonds, for the first time, started to look at what was written on the paper.  Katelyn’s eyes somehow got even wider before she buried them behind her hands and shrunk into her desk.

“Well lemme see”, Stan sad as he leapt up and grabbed the paper from Mr. Simonds hand.  “Jerk, selfish, not worth…”, Stan pretended to read as he nodded his head.  “Yep.  These are them, Mr. Simonds.  So now, you know what I’m obligated to do.”

“And what exactly, is that?”

“This.”

crumpled-paper-ball-14477875Stan quickly crumpled up the paper and shoved it in his mouth.  Feverishly he worked to squish the paper down, chomping and gnashing with gusto.  Incredibly, by the time Mr. Simonds had collected himself, Stan was just swallowing the paper with an audible glump-like sound.  He turned to Katelyn, but his volume was raised for all to hear.

“Are you happy now, Katelyn?  I ate those words.  Now give me back my headphones.”

The class cheered.  Rumor had it that Geoffrey had stood on his desk and even Linus had managed to clap a few times until the fear of discovery overtook him.  Elin never knew for sure; she was too busy staring at Stan.  Part of her wanted to jump up and hug him.  Another part wanted to punch him in the stomach.   She knew he would pay for his moment of valor.

“See me after class, Stan.”

“Certainly sir”, Stan replied as he victoriously sat back in his chair.

“And Katelyn.”

“Yes sir?”  She had removed her hands from her face just in time to see Stan’s performance, but the fright from before was now replaced with disbelief.

“Please restrict your writings and notes to those of a scholarly nature.”

“Yes sir.”

“And for goodness sake child”, Mr. Simonds said before shuddering.  “Give the boy his headphones back.  You don’t want to risk his questionable hygiene.”

“Yes sir”, Katelyn said with a smile.

Elin wondered that day if the two of them hadn’t dated already; would that action have been enough to get them together?  Thankfully, it served the purpose of making the three of them friends again.  Yet the former-lovers still tried to hide their inadequacies from the other.  Elin continued to have the role of mediator thrust upon her.  One does not want their ex to see them struggle with everyday hiccups.

Elin looked to Stan, former eater-of-paper, a pathetic victim of his hair.

“This little clump is out to make a fool of me”, Stan lamented.  “And I’m irked that my parents cut back my lunch money.  Stupid picture day”, he said as he attended to his hair with no result.

“What, they won’t give you three dollars for lunch anymore?”11954269361175104003moneybags_john_olsen_01-svg-med

“Well, they will”, Stan said as he licked his hand and tried to subdue his locks in a cat-like manner, “but they won’t give me six bucks anymore.”

“What in the world do you need six dollars for?”  Katelyn looked over at Stan, looking past his hair issues for now and addressing his finances.  “How many lunches are you buying?”

“I was buying two”, he said to his two friends.  “Kind of.”

“Explain”, Elin said with a sigh.

“Well, my parents are trying to get Crystal to be responsible with money.”

“Your little sister is more responsible than you are”, Katelyn retorted.

“Yes, but my parents don’t know that.  So they’ve been giving me six dollars to buy both our lunches.”

“Uh huh”, Elin replied.  “And exactly how much of Crystal’s three dollars has found their way to her?”

“Two”, Stan said quietly.

“Stan!”  His two friends showed their disbelief in unison.  Katelyn looked at Elin.  Elin looked at Katelyn.  Katelyn shrugged and then gestured towards Elin.  Elin nodded.   She then turned towards Stan, ready to attack.

“Stan, how is a teenage girl supposed to buy lunch with only two dollars?”

“I dunno.  I mean, whenever I see her in the cafeteria, she always has this group around her.  She’s always standing right by the serving area with trays heaped with food.  People are always clapping her on the back, hugging her.  Maybe her friends give her food.  She’s certainly popular enough.”

“So you think that is acceptable that her friends feed her.  And they feed her because you, her brother, her kin, her family; are too selfish?  That you’re stealing nutrients from her body?”

“Oh come on”, Stan said.  “She eats plenty at home.  This is not some starving child in a third-world country.  You should see this gal and her snack foods.  I’m only keeping a dollar.  Well, was.”

“And what”, Katelyn asked, “were you spending all these extra dollars on?  It wasn’t on me.”

“Hey, this is not an ex conversation.  This is a sibling conversation.  We agreed not to have those before class, remember?  We get all mad and yell-y.”

“Well then I’ll ask it”, Elin interrupted.  “Hey Stan, where’d all that money go?”

“I had to pay back Geoffrey.”

“And what was so expensive that you went into debt with Geoffrey?  Some cool new techno gadget?”

Stan shrank a solid two inches in posture.  A sheepish grin appeared.

“Ugh”, replied Katelyn.

Elin responded by smacking Stan upside the head.

“I think you two know me a little too well”, Stan said.

“What was it this time?  What did you have to have?”

“Elin, you wouldn’t believe it.  This is like, the coolest thing ever”, Stan said as his excitement took over.

“What?”

“It’s a remote controlled truck.  Well, kind of.  The EMC-0815 is more like a remote-controlled platform.  You should see the bed on this sucker.  It can carry anything short of a toddler.  I mean, a dog could sit on this thing.  It’s huge.  Powerful too.  This sucker can zip all over the backyard.  Well worth the money, I assure you.  This thing is like a drone, but on ground.”

“Because buying a drone would be silly.”drone-in-clear-sky

“Of course.”

“Well, at least he has some common sense”, Katelyn interjected.

“Some”, Elin quipped.

“Come on girls”, Stan said.  “You think I would buy a drone?  Pff.  No way.  At least, not until the price point comes down.  Thus suckers aren’t cheap.”

“So you’ve spent all your sister’s money—“

“Not all, Katelyn”, Stand interrupted.  “Some.”

“—on a glorified food car?”

“What’s a food car?”

“Oh come on”, Elin replied.

“The food car”, Katelyn repeated.

“No really.  What’s this food car?”

“In the cafeteria”, Katelyn answered.  “You pay five bucks and it zips your food to you?”

“I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about”, Stan said.

“You eat in the cafeteria every day!”  Elin shook her head.  Stan could be very selective in what he allowed his senses to perceive.

“Lunch is thirty-five minutes”, Stan replied.  “That’s two and a half minutes to get there and two and a half to get to class.  If I scarf down my food in five, that only leaves me twenty-five minutes for video games.  I don’t look around and see what others at doing at lunch.  My guys and I have high scores to battle over.”

“You’ve never heard someone call out, ‘Food car!’ during lunch?”

“No Elin, I don’t think I have.”  Stan stopped and thought.  “Wait, you mean ‘Football!’?  That?”

“No Stan.  Food.  Car.”

“I always thought they were yelling ‘Football!’.”

“Why would they be yelling that during lunch?”

“Why would they paint half their face one color and the other half another color?”

“You know Elin”, Katelyn offered, “I’ve always wondered about that one myself.  He has a point.”

“And that’s why you two dated”, Elin responded.

“Unfair!”

“Can we get back to this food car thing?”  Stan was confused and it didn’t sit well with him.  “There’s an EMC-0815 roaming the halls of this school and I don’t know about it?  Why didn’t you tell me?”

“We thought you already knew”, Katelyn replied.

“Yeah”, Elin said.  “You pay five bucks, they put your food on the thing—“

“EMC-0815.”

“Sure, that”, Elin continued, “and it drives right over to your table.  Gives you more time to visit with your friends and you don’t have to get up.  Put your order and your money on the thing—“

“The EMC-0815.”

“Stop it.  –and it zooms your food right to you.”

“We thought you knew, what with your sister running it and all”, Katelyn said.

“What?!”  The look on Stan’s face was one that Elin would remember for years to come.  She never knew her friend’s face could go so white without a fever or plague involved.

“She really must rake in quite the tidy profit”, Elin said.

“Makes you wonder who the real scam artist in the family is, doesn’t it?”

“She’s dead”, Stan said as he started to get up from his seat.  “I’m going to her class and I’m gonna crush her.”

“Really?”  Katelyn looked across Elin and shook her head ever so slightly from side to side.

“You’re not going to do a thing”, Elin replied.

“Why wouldn’t I?”  Stan fumed with rage.

“For one thing”, Katelyn offered, “we have school in two minutes.”

“But think it out, Brainiac”, Elin ordered.  “If you want to get her in trouble, you have to tell your parents.”

“So?”

“So that would involve telling them that you bought a gizmo.”

“EMC-0815”, Stan said, much more subdued than previously.

black-and-white-vector-illustration-of-teen-arguing-with-parents_133942358“Which would involve telling them that you’ve been taking money from her.  And really, from them”, Katelyn pointed out.

A sigh was the only response Stan had.

“Although at this point, I’m pretty sure Crystal has enough money to buy her own gizmo”, Elin said.

“Yeah.  Probably one that can go up hills faster or have some sort of amphibious capabilities”, Katelyn added.

The bell rang, signaling the beginning of class and the end of Stan’s rage.  He sighed again and went back to fidgeting with his appearance.

“I think you resign yourself to calling it a draw”, Elin replied.

“And what’s with your hair today”, Katelyn asked.  “You look all, I dunno…, funny.”

“Mr. Simonds better be very entertaining today”, Stan said dejectedly.

The door burst open and Mr. Simonds, stumbling over himself, half fell into the room.  He was struggled to carry his briefcase, stacks of papers, a coffee cup, his keys, and his special occasion-fedora.  His necktie was thrown over his shoulder and one of his shoelaces had just come untied.

A look over horror swept over Geoffrey’s face.  He cast a panicked look at Linus, whose hands were quite full of bills.  Geoffrey reached for his wallet.  He worriedly kept one eye on Mr. Simonds as he scrambled to see how much cash he had brought today.

A Prom(ising) Date for the Brave

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

A Prom(ising) Date for the Brave

The prom is like the Olympics of high school. You wait four years, three people have a good time and everybody else gets to live on with shattered dreams.” –Prom

Michael opened the refrigerator door for the umpteenth time that afternoon and stared down the corsage.  As with every other time that day, the floral arrangement gave no sign that it noticed the onlooker.  The red roses sat there with their deep, rich colors; the silky texture refused to wave or yield for the teenage boy.  The corsage remained passive, its emotions as hardened as the plastic box that served as its temporary home.  Soon, the corsage would find its real home, its true place, resting on a lovely young woman.  Of course, all that depended on Michael keeping his resolve.

The whole evening made less and less sense to Michael the more he thought about it.  He still had a hard time believing that Noelle had said yes to him.  The head of the track team was newly available, thanks to her boyfriend’s “indiscretion” behind the gymnasium.  Neither Michael nor his friends really thought that the famous redhead would have deemed him worth her notice.  But, with the promise of free cafeteria chicken burgers for a month, Michael had taken the dare.

He had walked up to the tall girl, her uncontrolled hair blocking Michael from her peripheral vision.  When he cleared his throat to signal his approach, Noelle had turned around with a piece of lettuce still protruding from her lips.  Michael had turned his eyes away in embarrassment and Noelle’s friends had giggled excitedly at what they guessed was coming.  Somehow, despite Michael’s awkwardness and the unromantic status of the conversation, he had managed to squeak out the question.

“Hey Noelle.  I’ve always thought you had a quality about you…”

“Quality?”  Noelle raised an eyebrow.  “What sort of quality, Michael?”

“Well”, Michael said with a pause.  He was shocked that she even knew his name.  They’d had classes together, sure.  Still… she knew his name?  “You seem, I dunno… nice.  And confident.  I admire that about you.”

“Thanks”, she replied as she put down her fork.

“And you’re hot.”

The table erupted with laughter at that.  Michael felt that the table had lost all interest in eating their lunch and was no focused solely on him.  He swallowed his throat and put his finger in the neck of his shirt.  The t-shirt had always sat loosely on him before, but now he found himself suffocated.  He considered caving to the utter humiliation of the scene.  Then he noticed the way Noelle was looking at him.  There was that kindness he liked about her, sitting right on her face.  He took a breath and tried again.

“I mean, attractive.  I suppose you could say ‘hot’.  All the guys do.  But, I mean, it’s more of a grace, y’know?  Like you’re pretty and all that, but you walk around without knowing it.  Even when you’re running, you’ve got this calm poise about you.”  Michael felt himself rambling.  “Does that make any sense?”

Noelle’s expression became very quiet.  If she had been considerately attentive before, she was now fully engaged in their conversation.

“Thanks”, she repeated.  “I really appreciate that.  Did you come all that way to say that?  Did you maybe have something, you know, else, that you wanted to ask me?”

“Actually, yeah”, Michael said, picking up the ball that had been gently lobbed at him.  “I was wondering if you’d feel like going to the prom with me.”  Michael had never felt more awkward in his life.  Noelle had certainly been respectful and kind, but that was no guarantee that she wanted to spend an evening with him.  Fortunately, Michael’s waiting was short-lived.

“Sure”, Noelle replied as the cafeteria gasped in response.  She pulled an unused napkin from beside her plate and nodded towards Michael’s constantly full shirt pocket.  “Mind if I borrow a pen?”

Noelle proceeded to write down her number and Michael hazarded a look over his shoulder.  He turned to his friends who were four tables away and flashed them the double thumbs up.  The table pumped their fists in the air silently, but then a look of alarm spread over some of their faces.  They made wild and panicked circling gestures with their arms until Michael finally caught on.  He returned his attention to Noelle to find that she was waiting, a bemused look on her face.

“Here’s my number.”  She said, handing the previously ordinary napkin over and bestowing upon it the rank of sacred treasure.  “Why don’t you call me tonight and we can talk.  Sort of, discuss plans, and all that.”

Michael grinned sheepishly and took the napkin which he handled carefully.  He nodded and starting walking back to the normal table where he belonged.  It wasn’t until he was twenty feet away that he remembered his manners. He turned, yelled, “Thanks!” and was met by his friends with a round of high-fives.

That had been three weeks ago.  Michael had been too terrified to call Noelle right away, so he waited until his nerves had calmed down to a somewhat reasonable level.  For the day’s purposes, “reasonable” would have to be defined as stammering only once every five words.  Still, Michael had managed to take a deep breath and dial up Noelle’s number.  He looked at the number on the napkin one more time to be sure, but his retinas had already burned the number into his brain from an afternoon spent studying its writing.

The phone conversation had been surprisingly easy.  Noelle seemed much easier to talk when Michael didn’t have to look her in the eye.  They had ended up talking for a good half hour and even had talked some since.  Sometimes it was a simply text message from Noelle asking how Michael’s day was going.  One time they talked about college and summer plans for almost an hour.  Michael couldn’t understand why she was being so nice.

The weeks of nervousness had all given way to today.  Michael had followed Noelle’s instructions and had purchased a corsage that would match dress.  She had tried to explain the details of how beautiful it was, but he admitted that he couldn’t keep up.  Once he heard the words “red” and “strapless”, his brain started to shut down.  All he knew was that he was taking the greatest gal at the high school to prom.  Even the jocks had stopped flushing his gym socks down the toilet.

Michael paced back and forth in his living room.  His parents had promised to be gone when Noelle showed up for their drive to the prom, but Michael was suspicious.  They seemed to continually find errands that needed to be done around the house that would, “only take a second”.  He didn’t feel that the kitchen lights and the top of the cupboards required dusting, but they were adamant.  If nothing else, Michael’s father had been useful in helping with the formal attire.  Michael had never worn a cummerbund before.  He figured it was some sort of royal sash.

The limo was due to arrive in half an hour and Noelle was supposed to appear in fifteen minutes.  Michael gulped for the umpteenth time that night.  The doorbell rang and Michael could feel himself sweating through his dress shirt.  As he walked to answer the front door, Michael noticed that both his parents were watching from around the kitchen doorway.  When they realized they had been discovered, they ducked back into the other room.  Michael rolled his eyes upward and moaned in annoyance.  He took one more breath, placed his sweating hand on the doorknob, and opened it.

“Hey, Michael. Are you ready?”

Michael tried to respond, but he couldn’t speak.  There, standing in his doorway, was Noelle.  To call her stunning was over-simplifying things.  The sleek red dress hugged her body while the slit down the side showed off her legs.  Her usually unkempt curly hair was pulled back and swept up, giving way for a red piece of fabric to drape under her chin and down by her shoulders.

“You… you look great”, Michael replied.

“Thanks”, she said with a smile.  “You too.  Very handsome.”

“I like your scarf”, he offered.

“Oh, this?”  She laughed and put her fingers to the loose fabric.  “It’s actually a wrap.  I thought it added a little dramatic flair.”

Michael nodded and stepped away from the door into the living room.  It was the closest Noelle was going to get to an invite to come in, and she understood it as such.  Michael couldn’t believe that Noelle was here.  In his house.  About to go on a date with him.  His curious nature got the better of him.

“Can I ask you a question?”

Noelle had been taking in her surroundings.  She stopped and turned to Michael.  “What’s up?”
“Why are you here?”

“What…what do you mean?  You asked me out?”

“Yeah”, Michael replied.  “But why did you say yes?”

“You’re a nice guy aren’t you?”

Michael only shrugged his shoulders.

“I’ve found that there aren’t a lot of nice guys in college.  I’ve noticed how you clean up after lunch when someone leaves a mess.  You helped Mrs. Nolan get around and got her chair for her when she had that surgery on her hip.  You take care of people.  Why wouldn’t I go out with you?”

“You’re pretty out of my league”, Michael offered.

“We may not have the same friends, but that’s not much of a reason, is it?  And just because I look confident when I’m running, doesn’t mean I’ve got it all figured out.  We all have our baggage, Michael.”

“Really?”  Michael was intrigued.  “What kind of issues?”

Noelle laughed.  “How about we get through this date first?  Maybe we’ll talk about our shameful quirks on the next one?”

Michael had a hard time believing what he was hearing.  A second date?  That lunchtime dare might have been the best thing that ever happened to him.

Brown Bagging It

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

(Once again, kiradault was knice enough to provide a topic to write about.  She’s kind like that.  See for yourself.)

Brown Bagging It

My school lunches could be described in one word; compartmentalized.  Admittedly, that is a rather long word to describe a bologna and cheese sandwich, but it still fits.  In the three years I spent in high school, I can recall many a memory.  I could talk all about how I got my first, and so far only, black eye because I lost a fight with a chair.  (To be fair, it was a pitch black room and that chair was an obstinate jerk.)  I could talk about the girl who ran up to me and asked me to help her out of her dress.  (It was a scene change during a one-act play, do not get too excited.)  But I can not remember one single time that I bought lunch at the school’s cafeteria.

I always pondered what the school’s offerings would taste like.  I never had tater tots or nachos of my own.  I did not once stand in line to buy a pizza.  Now, having to provide for myself as a mostly-functioning adult, I do not think that I was missing out on much.  I assume that the tater tots were the typical grease-globs that one comes across.  The temporary crunching that occurs right before its components break down and dissolve on one’s tongue were probably a poor reward for the coating of grease that would shimmer and coat a child’s formally dry finger.  (That is all assuming that the slathering of ketchup on the tot did not accelerate the decomposing process.  Ketchup, an all-consuming flavor in its own right, only adds to the moistness of the tot and makes the resistance of the outer skin that much less satisfying for a kid’s teeth to chomp through.)  If I had to guess, I would figure that the pizza was probably no better than the microwave variety available now.  I do not remember seeing a golden tinge to the individual-sized circles.  I would imagine that the top layer, made up entirely of cheese and nothing else, probably tried to slide off of the tomato paste with the first bite.  I did not pay attention to the other kids while eating so I will choose to believe that the cheese slid off in one collective sheet when one tried to take their first bite of their pizza while holding it close in their small hands.

No, mine was an entirely pre-assembled parcel.  The carrier, as always, was a brown paper bag.  I, being an early nut for recycling, tried to convince my mother that this wrinkled mass of wrinkly, crackily paper was like a pair of good jeans; it should be broken in.  I tried to patch each tiny hole with duct tape (which you can thank MacGyver for), reasoning that it would just last that much longer.  The trees could be saved if only we could maintain the structural integrity of this bag that had been folded and crumpled into submission.  She ignored my entirely logical protests and would hand me a new bag filled with food.  Logic in the adult world is much different than logic in the teenage world.  I felt she was being resistant to my brilliance.  She probably felt that a bundle of a thousand paper bags easily cost less than a roll of duct tape and she still had a massive stash of them to draw from.

The actual lunch was a testament to the wonders of plastic.  Trying to get a teenager to keep track of Tupperware containers is laughable.  We all know this.  My mother did not even try.  The fruit was placed in a small sandwich bag.  The crackers were placed in a sandwich bag.  And, as one would hopefully deduce, the sandwich was placed in a sandwich bag.

My lunch was always a bit different than my siblings’.  They might have an orange in theirs, but I had to have apples.  (Today I maintain that it is because of my adamant loyalty to Washington.  And I think pulp is gross.  Plus there’s that overpowering smell.  Clearly apples are the superior choice.)  My mother was kind enough to comply with my demands.  Not only were apples put in my lunch, but much of the time I had pre-sliced apples; no core or seeds to slow me down.  She sprinkled some mystery white powder on them so that they were still crisp and robust when I got ahold of them.  Quite often I would bite half a slice and spend scant seconds as a toucan with an apple-slice beak.

She also indulged me with my sandwiches.  My brother and sister were quite fine with peanut butter and jelly.  I wanted no part of their pro-nut agenda.  I did not like nuts, I did not like Almond Joys, and I did not like peanut butter.  (The exception to that rule was the little cracker sandwiches; the ones with the orange crackers?  Those were simply too good to pass up and I devoured them without explanation.  I was too busy letting the orange crumbs fall silently on my shirt as the cracker broke and shattered into little pieces in my mouth.)

My sandwiches were specially made.  They would consist of a slice of Ovenjoy or Wonderbread, a slice of Oscar Mayer bologna, a slice of Kraft America cheese, and then a second slice of bread.  The end.  Every day I would eat that same sandwich.  This went for five (or more) days a week, probably for eighteen years.  There were no surprises with my sandwich.  I would pick it up and it would respond by lying limply in my hand.  I did not care how robustly the food held up, there were no surprises.  No magic pickles were going to appear in my hand, there was no mustard to suddenly start dripping.  There were only three ingredients and they all stayed in their places like good little ingredients.  If I was feeling extra stern, I would squish down my sandwich to one third the thickness of its original composition.  I told myself that getting all that air out of the bread just made it easier to digest.  I ignored the fact that it looked like someone had sat on my lunch.  When it came time to chew, a toddler would have had no problem.  There were no crunchy or gooey parts to try to contain.  I bit into the bread, which offered no fight.  Then my teeth quickly slid through the partially melted cheese that most likely wanted to maintain the temperature that the fridge at home had worked so hard to maintain.  (But what chance does cheese have when faced with the trials of a teenager’s backpack?)  And then there was the bologna.  Any fight it once had was long ago mass-produced out of it.  It chomped through without a second thought, a quick send off to a suitable substitute for meat.

The sandwich was always the main ingredient, but the side dishes were always plentiful.  A typical lunch would consist of:  sandwich, an eight-ounce can of TreeTop apple juice (I told you, I was Washington-raised), a bag of cookies (not-factory sealed, my mom pre-bagged some for each kid), and a bag of fruit, be it apples or grapes.

I always had a fondness for grapes.  They had to be seedless, and I always preferred the greener variety.  The non-bruised ones were naturally the best and most deserving of my attention.  I would promptly use my teeth slice them in half.  (They had some mass and resistance to them; they could take it.)  Most of the time I would try to bite them exactly in half across their longitude.  I would place them between my front teeth and chomp; the crisp skin breaking open and giving way to a little burst of juice flowing on my tongue.  In my fingers was a little mini-football helmet.  I looked at the dome, examined the tiny veins in the middle of its structure, and then I tossed that part into my mouth as well.  (If I was really feeling wacky, I would slice the grape along its long side.  Somehow, I thought this made the grape resemble a watermelon, even though now I think it probably looked more like a water trough.)

I do not think that I was extreme enough to try to save the handful of plastic bags for another use, but I would not have put it past me.  The paper bag was always saved, unless it had gone through some tragedy.  Even the best intentioned diner will tear a massive hold in their bag or spill a drink all over the table.  What use is there for napkins when there’s a brown paper bag just sitting there to sop up the mess?  The TreeTop can was a different matter.  I probably saved that for last.  I liked hearing the sharp “pop” as I bent the tab backwards and the metal gave way.  It was an effort to get my finger between that loop and the aluminum surface that it rested against, but I made do.  The juice was quickly consumed; one slurp or two usually was enough to send the entire contents cascading down the parched throat of a kid who had devoured his lunch with much ferocity.   After the liquid was all gone, including the requisite tapping on the bottom to get those last two or three precious drops, then the can squishing began.

Some may have crushed their cans.  I squished.  I was not the strongest of high school kids, so my efforts necessitated more precision from me.  I worked my fingers around the middle of the can, making small dents in its torso.  Then I would go back and make the dents bigger and bigger until I was left with an obese hourglass.  Only then would I put the top and the bottom, the only flat surfaces left, between my hands and push with all my might.  That usually shrank the can down to a three or four-ounce size.  It was hardly impressive, but I was typically pleased with the results.  (The lopsided result always bothered me.  I wanted the crushed can to look flat and if one side was more resilient than the other, then I was vexed.)

That is how I survived my childhood without cafeteria lunches.  I thought vending machines were terribly cool because I rarely got to partake from them.  Trips to the airport were made special because we were actually allowed to make use of these wondrous machines.  Even then, I knew that the prices at airports were much higher than anywhere else.  But I still had my dollar and I still got to choose a candy, so prices meant nothing when compared to this rare privilege.

I do not remember specific incidents when I dove into the high school vending machine, but with all the after school drama activities, I am sure that I partook in a bag of chips or two.  The food trays though, those I can guarantee were never used by the teenager with the unadorned, but thoroughly wrinkled, brown paper bag.

Dramatic Shenanigans

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Dramatic Shenanigans

Talk around the locker bays that year had focus quite a lot on Gerald and Velma.  The other high school students would slam their lockers in confusion; the metal doors already dented with years of abuse and sullied in glue residue and sharpie signatures.  As the bays of locker reverberated in response, the groups of teenagers would continue their gossiping.  How was it that a nobody on the radar could snag such a somebody like Gerald?

The answer, had they bothered to ask the couple, was a simple one.  Gerald and Velma shared a love for practical jokes.  Gerald, ASB president and star of the drama club, used it as a way to perform.  He liked the big guffaws and bowling over with excitement when a well-executed prank was pulled off.  There had never been any proof that it was Gerald that had placed a bucket of water above the principal’s door.  There were plenty of witnesses, but they were “too confused by the events” to give an accurate description of the guilty party.  Either that or they secretly thought that it was a classic prank and they couldn’t bear to give up their hero.  Regardless, Gerald had found himself in the principal’s office.  His feet had squished on the residual dampness of the industrial carpet that had proven difficult to dry.  He almost gave himself away when he saw the administrator’s jacket and dress shirt drying on the corner coatrack.  The principal, clad in an old school sweatshirt, questioned and detained his prime suspect for two class periods.  In the end, he couldn’t prove anything.  Gerald walked out of the office scott free, a legend in his own time.

Velma preferred a more cerebral approach.  She was the only audience that she felt she needed to entertain.  Her English final was a bore to her, so she arranged the first letters of each paragraph to spell out “m-u-n-d-a-n-e”.  She would often hide hidden messages in art class projects.  Velma only wanted some subversion that she could smile at; her own private joke.

All that changed on the day that Velma’s friend, Midge, was the victim of Gerald’s prank.  Gerald had made friends with a few kids that spent much of their allowance on electrical gadgets.  Thus Gerald was provided with a small explosive device.  It was nothing serious; it had about as much explosive potential as a sparkler.  However this gizmo was hooked up to container of yogurt.  As Midge opened her locker, the connection in the wire was triggered and she ended up with a locker, backpack, and face full of dairy product.  (Later on it was discovered that Gerald had been trying to get his friend Paul, not Midge.  He had written down Midge’s locker number, 436, instead of Paul’s, 463.)

Velma went on the defense.  Gerald had apologized, even helped clean up the mess, but Velma wanted him to see what it was like when the joke was on him.  She thought, she planned, and she hatched a scheme.

Next Monday, it was Gerald’s own locker that drew his attention.  More specifically, he was intrigued by the note inside from Heidi Snift.  Gerald, like most of the boys at Woodbridge High School, was enchanted by Heidi.  She wasn’t head cheerleader; she was too busy playing sports.  She was the gal who always wore shorts, showing off her long legs in between volleyball, track, and basketball.  She was tall with long blonde hair, and she didn’t give the boys any attention; which only intrigued them more.  Gerald didn’t know why Heidi wanted to meet him in the Audio/Visual closet at lunch, but he was certainly going to find out.  He bragged to his friends about his rendezvous for the first three classes, then set off by himself for the exciting adventure he knew she had in store for him.

Walking up to the door, Gerald looked around, but saw no one in particular.  There were a few students around, but no one was looking in his direction.  He tested the doorknob on the closet, found it unlocked, and snuck inside.  He closed the door and tried to find a light switch.

“Heidi?” he whispered.  “Heidi, its Gerald.  Are you in here?”  Gerald kept feeling around the room, wires and cords dangled from various nails.  A few seconds later, he stumbled upon the light switch just to the left of the doorknob.  When he flicked it, nothing happened.

Suddenly, the door was flung open, and then slammed back shut.  Gerald rushed to the door but couldn’t get it to open.  He listened as wedges of wood were kicked under the door and the sound of a chair being wedged between the doorknob and the floor echoed his trapped state.  Gerald was starting to get concerned.  Unfortunately, his new roommate, who had just been thrown in with him, was terrified.

Gerald heard the scurrying at his feet and knelt down to investigate.  And that’s when it happened.  Velma couldn’t have planned it any better if she had tried.  For the exact moment that Gerald was crouched on the floor with the creature was the same moment that the skunk let loose its stench.

Gerald leapt back in shock.  There was no ventilation, no windows, just him and the skunk.  He pounded on the door and couldn’t get it open the first few tries.  Then, as the skunk was finishing its attack, he managed to kick the door open.  The first sight that met Gerald’s eyes was Velma and Midge, who were laughing hysterically at him.

“You did this?” Gerald asked Midge as his eyes watered.  He reached for something to cover his nose but all his clothes had been contaminated with the smell.

“No, she’s too good to stoop to your level”, Velma replied defiantly.  “She’s better than that.  This was all me.”  If Gerald was going to retaliate, Velma wanted to be sure that he would send his anger at the right person.  Midge had already been through enough.

“You?”  Gerald was stunned.  “You’re the quiet one who doesn’t say anything.  You play piano.  What’s your name?”

“Velma.”

“Velma”, Gerald said as he tried out the name.  He stood there processing.  Velma could see his wheels turning and wasn’t sure whether she should run or try to lock him back in the closet.  “Velma, do you know what I do to someone who puts me through this sort of wretched ideal?”  Gerald approached; a sense of purpose was communicated behind his eyes.

Velma started to back away.  “Easy there big fella”, she warned, not sounding as threatening as she had hoped.  Before she could stop him, Gerald had lunged forward… and hugged her.

“That.  Was.  Awesome!!!”  Gerald’s eyes were alive with excitement.  “Classic prank!  Beautiful!  I mean, nobody’s ever pulled off something that traditional and effective around here!”  Gerald started dancing in place.  “That was amazing!  Who’d you steal that from?  Are you a Groucho fan?  Bob Hope?  C’mon, that was perfect!”

Velma pushed him away and wondered how much of the skunk’s stench was now on her.  “I”, she started out, unsure of how to respond.  “I just figured it would work.  It always works when they did it on t.v.”

“And it did work!  That was flawless.  We gotta talk, there’s nobody around here as clever as you.  Can I buy you dinner or something?”

“No offense”, Velma said as she waved her fingers in front of her face, “but you kinda reek.”

“Well, not right this second”, Gerald laughed.  “What about tonight?”  Gerald looked at the expression on Velma’s face.  “Right, maybe that’s too optimistic.”  He sniffed himself and winced.  “What about tomorrow night?  Mini-golf, nobody ever gets hurt playing mini-golf, right?”

“Are you serious?”  Velma honestly wasn’t expecting the reaction she got.  She thought he might be mad, maybe even yell.  She didn’t think he would ask her out.

“Well, sure.  Why not?”

“You don’t think is odd behavior?  Considering what I did to you?”

“It was all in fun, right?  Nobody got hurt.”

“I mean, yeah, but…”

“Am I not cute enough?  I know I’m a little off my game right this second, but I’m not entirely lame, right?”

“This is certainly a new approach”, Velma admitted.

“That means I get points for originality!”  Gerald threw his hands up in the air and hopped up and down, the stench on his clothes bouncing up and down with the fabric.  “So now you have to go out with me.”

“As long as this isn’t some big prank”, Velma warned.

“Nah, we’re square”, Gerald replied with a grin on his face.  “Listen, I’m going to go to the office and get the rest of the day off.  ‘Extenuating Circumstances’, and all that.  You go return the skunk.  I’ll pick you up tomorrow night.

“You don’t know where I live, you nut”, Velma laughed.

Phone numbers were exchanged.  Golfing happened.  Then dinner, then back and forth texting, then another dinner.  After two weeks, Gerald and Velma were attached at the hip.  She sat and played piano while he sang along.  He went to parties and introduced her around.  She went on walks and taught him all about the parks that he’d never seen.  The two exposed each other to their worlds while enjoying the others.  So when they were both cast in very different rolls in the school musical, they were quite happy for each other.

The spring musical was a zombie edition of West Side Story.  The teacher was obviously trying to boost attendance by making their version unique.  The students didn’t care, they were just happy to have an excuse to wear zombie make-up and fake-bite people.  Gerald was of course the lead.  Velma was quite happy to sit in the pit and play piano with the orchestra.  There was something great about her boyfriend on stage, singing and looking handsome.  It was probably helped that his family were the gangsters and the other side were the zombies.  But that only made it easier for her to watch when Gerald kissed zombie-Maria.  Gerald assured her that he had much more fun making out with her than making out with an actress with fake lips falling off her mouth.

Finally, they were at the last performance.  Summer vacation was only weeks away.  After this, closing night, Velma would never have to play these tunes again.  Naturally, Gerald and Velma had their own special schemes for the show.

The teacher, knowing full well what her students were like, had repeatedly instructed them not to go crazy on the last show.  There was a history of shenanigans that she didn’t approve of and she hoped that the performers respected themselves enough to treat their final night with dignity.  Not surprisingly, that only made Velma and Gerald plot all the more.

Neither had told each other of their plans.  They both danced right over the topic whenever their friends suggested that they “pull off the mother of all pranks”.  But they knew each other well enough to figure out something was up.

As Velma walked up to her piano, she pulled the music out of the piano bench and placed it in front of her.  The lights in the theater dimmed, the teacher walked up on stage, and Velma sat down without looking.

“Thuppppppppppwwwb!” was the sound that exploded from her seat.  Velma turned bright red as she realized what had happened.  Gerald’s best friend, Ray, had taken the first row audience seat.  That gave him the perfect perch to place the whoopee cushion on Velma’s bench.  Velma, still embarrassed, turned to Ray half furious and half impressed.  He smiled from ear to ear, gave her both thumbs up, and nodded that it was, in fact, he who had helped his friend.”  Velma shook her head and sat back down.  The other students around her giggled and looked at her.  She eventually regained her poise.  Gerald was going to get his.  He wasn’t the only one with friends in this show.

The first act went by without any snags.  The second act went by and one of the zombies’ arms fell off before the big fight scene, but that just gave the actors one more prop to throw around.  Finally, the final scene arrived.  Velma was distracted by her impatience and ended up skipping a few keys.  She adjusted, tried to get herself to focus, and turned her attention back to the page.  As the fight began, she found her eyes drifting back up to the stage.

The zombies were approaching slowly, and the street thugs started brandishing their knives.  Their cardboard and aluminum foil blades had seen better days.  The rehearsals, the shows, and general roughhousing had left the cardboard wobbly and the aluminum was falling off in places.  At least they still caught the stage lighting and sent it bouncing back to the audience.  And then, just as Velma had planned, Gerald reached for his blade.  His back pocket was empty.

Velma resisted the urge to clap with glee but knew the best was still to come.  A look of panic flashed briefly over Gerald’s face.  Anyone other than his close friends would have missed it, but to Velma it was like a big spotlight shining on his target.  Then, just as they had discussed, one of the street toughs handed Gerald a bow.  No arrows, just a bow.

Gerald darted a look to Velma.  She shrugged and lifted her fingers from the keys just long enough to make a “what can ya do” gesture.  Gerald almost broke into laughter.  He contained himself at the last moment and turned to the violinist at his feet.

“Compadre, might I borrow your bow?  Por favor?”  The dazed musician didn’t know what to do.  The audience, amused by the antics, laughed at this last minute change.  Dumbfounded, the violinist handed over his bow and stared at Gerald with wonder.  “Gracias, mi amigo”, Gerald replied.  He then turned to the zombies and proclaimed, “Stand back you unloving beasts!  I only want Maria for myself!  The way she moans and stares at me with those lifeless eyes… it’s just too much for any man to resist!  I just want to hold her hand and take her… somewhere, I dunno!  Now get back!  Back or I’ll shoot you with my bow and bow!”

Gerald did an admirable job of trying to notch the violinist’s bow in the archer’s bow, but it was simply too short.  The zombies charged and attacked his neck.  Maria began to moan her final song, but was quickly interrupted.

“Hey, I almost forgot”, Gerald replied as he sat up.  “Here, gives this back to the violinist, would ya?  I promised I would.”  The zombie-Maria only groaned in response.  “Gracias, babe.  Te quiero.”  Then Gerald fell dead on the floor as his head bounced off the wooden stage.  Maria only groaned as she rocked her dead boyfriend on the floor as her undead family gathered around her.  Then the curtain closed on their tragic scene.

As the applause started and the actors took their praise, Velma laughed.  It hadn’t been the fanciest prank, but it had taken him aback.  Really, that’s all she had wanted.  That’s what had gotten the two together in the first place.

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