Thursday, March 22, 2012
REEL MONSTER (the novel) - pages 11-20
See the previous blog post for the preceding pages...
Mr. Chadwick had been collecting chalk-dust inside the walls of George Washington High for almost 35 years. He received his doctorate from Yale in 1960, accepted a position as “head of the English department” at GWHS the following Fall, set up shop behind his favorite wooden podium in room 305 and basically hadn’t left since.
Pretentious in appearance, Mr. Chadwick never went one day without wearing his signature red, polka-dotted bow-tie and a navy blue suit that usually had a good deal of chalk stains on it. As far as his hair went, he didn’t have much of it, save for some white wisps growing out the sides. He also had a big pair of red-framed eyeglasses that - along with his chapped lips - stood out like a sore thumb over his chalky-white skin. Basically, if you were to look up ‘intellectual’ in the American Heritage Dictionary, there was a pretty good chance that you would find a photograph of Mr. Chadwick next to it.
Although he was usually perched behind his favorite podium, at this particular moment Chadwick was pacing the width of the long blackboard that ran along the front of the room. He had a beat-up paperback in his hand that was tattered in places and marked up with all sorts of notes. It was a work of literature written in the 1800s by somebody British that only Chadwick seemed to give two darns about.
“And thus we arrive at one of the most brilliantly written passages in the history of literature,” he said to the class. “Let’s turn our focus to...”
He grabbed a piece of chalk from off his podium and wrote the words “red” and “sweater” on the blackboard.
“...the red sweater. One of the most brilliant figurative devices ever to be written onto a blank page.”
Meanwhile...in the waaaaaaaaaaay back of the classroom...Brian and Mikey sat at their respective desks. Neither of them were paying attention to a word Chadwick was saying...but for somewhat different reasons.
In Brian’s case, he basically wasn’t paying attention because...well, because he didn’t really care what the heck Mr. Chadwick had to say about any red sweater. Besides, there were more important things to pay his attention to: mainly, the extremely hot, curly-blonde girl sitting at the desk in front of him. Yes, Brian was currently thanking the God that made him because this girl (he believed Donna to be her name) was wearing a very short pink sweater that rode significantly high up her spine and revealed her white thong, which rode significantly low down her backside. In other words, there was, indeed, some 'crack' showing and Brian couldn’t help but allow his flag to raise itself up to a half-mast position.
In Mikey’s case, it wasn’t out of personal choice to ignore Mr. Chadwick’s lecture. In fact, he WANTED to pay attention because his grade depended on it. But he couldn’t help but be distracted by the presence of a little somebody called...yes, that’s right: Lindsay Myers. Lindsay was sitting at his eleven o’clock, just one row in front of him, and boy did she look amazing. She had curly, dark-brown hair that somehow always seemed to look like she just stepped foot outside of the shower. Her skin was milky-white and her green eyes reminded Mikey of a bar of Irish Spring Soap, which he realized was kind of weird, but, hey, he couldn’t deny that’s what he thought of. And then there were her eyelashes which were carefully layered with mascara, but not too much...just the right amount.
For clothing, Lindsay wore tight denim jeans and a white tank top that hugged her bosoms tightly, revealing just the right amount of cleavage. Mikey couldn’t help but be pulled into her magnetic aura, like he was Odysseus and she was a Siren. It wasn’t long before he was transported out of Chadwick’s classroom and to a reception hall, feeding Lindsay a wedge of chocolate...no, vanilla...wedding cake. Lindsay took a bite of the cake and they both giggled as she wiped some frosting off the side of her mouth and rubbed it on Mikey’s nose. There were more than a hundred guests in attendance and they roared in laughter upon seeing the crazy shenanigans that the newlyweds were up to. Mikey blushed and took a look at his guests. All his relatives were there and they all loved him and he felt like the people in his family actually respected him for once in his lifetime. However, there was one particular guest who he knew didn’t belong. Was it a wedding crasher? No, it was Mr. Chadwick.
“Class, I want you to tell me what this red sweater is a symbol of,” said the pasty Mr. Chadwick.
And that was that. The fantasy was over. Mikey was back in reality.
Mr. Chadwick searched the classroom for a raised hand. “Anyone? Class?”
Mikey slowly sunk low into his chair and buried his face in his open book, pretending to be busy studying the ‘red sweater’ passage. “Pleeeeeeeze don’t pick me,” he thought to himself. He figured that maybe he wouldn't be called on if he looked like he was busy thinking hard about the sweater and maybe had a puzzled or confused look on his face.
Chadwick resumed scanning the room for any raised hands but didn’t see any. He was about to resort to grabbing his seating chart and calling on a random person, but then there was finally a hand that darted up in the middle of the classroom...an all-too-familiar hand. Mr. Chadwick’s eyes twinkled at the sight of it.
Indeed, it was Gregory Stern, or ‘The Machine’ as all the football players referred to him as. He was a tall, 250-pound star quarterback with a chin that looked like a bum and a unibrow that looked like a strip of Velcro. What attracted girls to this boy mystified both Brian and Mikey.
Half-jock, half teacher’s pet, Greg aspired to play football after high school, but he wanted to do it at a good school (either Harvard or the Naval Academy - he wasn’t sure yet). The problem was that he didn’t really have the brain to get into any of these schools, so he tried to make up for his stupidity by boosting his class participation points. Yes, Greg had the tendency to participate in class at an almost annoying rate, and also had the tendency to use really big, pretentious words that he knew would drive Chadwick wild with intellectual stimulation. Of course, everybody knew that it was all horse manure; it was widely known that Greg carried around a large stack of index cards with the vocabulary words written on them.
“I feel that the sweater is...
Greg kept the index cards nestled in his crotch, hidden from Chadwick’s view, but easy enough to glance down to.
“...ostensibly a good example of the writer’s use of...”
He shuffled the cards around.
“...semiotics. But, then again, I’d also have to say that the...”
Shuffle shuffle. Glance to the crotch.
“...connotations of the passage seem to indicate a...”
Standing behind his podium, a flush of rosy redness surged into Mr. Chadwick’s chalky-white cheeks. He clasped the podium’s wood and slowly thrust his crotch into the hollowed compartments inside, almost like he were humping the podium in intellectual excitement.
“That’s a VEEEEERY interesting observation, Greg!”
Greg curled the right part of his lip into a smug smirk, knowing that he successfully managed to fool the old teacher once again.
“Who else wants to make a comment?” asked Mr. Chadwick, again scanning the classroom for any hands.
Mikey buried his face back in his book and prayed to God that he wasn’t going to be called on. Even though he was pretty sure he knew what the stupid red sweater symbolized he still didn’t want to participate. Whenever he was called on, everybody would turn around and stare at him. And what if his voice cracked and everybody knew he was nervous? Or what if he had a bat in a cave (booger in nostril)? Or if he started shaking from the nerves and everybody could tell he was freaking out and then they would wonder what his deal was and ‘oh, is he having an anxiety attack?’ and oh my, oh God!
As for Brian, he was still staring at the white thong in front of him, completely oblivious to anything else that was going on in the classroom. Mikey never understood how Brian could just go through life, totally relaxed, not being frazzled by anything at all. How was that possible? How could somebody not take life so seriously? It simply wasn’t within Mikey’s biology to do that sort of a thing.
As for Chadwick, he was displeased to see that there weren’t any raised hands to be seen. He knew he’d have to resort to calling on somebody.
“Let’s see here...” he said, taking a peek at his seating chart.
For some reason, Mikey knew he was doomed. He could intuitively sense it. He just knew it was coming.
“Michael!” yelled Mr. Chadwick.
“Oh shit,” Mikey muttered under his breath.
Mr. Chadwick spotted Mikey in the way back of the classroom. “Michael, how about you?”
Mikey slowly lifted his face out of his book. To no surprise, every head in the classroom was turning in his direction. Yes, all eyes were on him. This wasn't a good feeling for a boy who could easily be written into the Guinness Book of World records as “most self-conscious person in the world”.
He gave his throat a quick clear so as to prevent any frogs or prepubescent cracks in the voice.
“Um...well...I think it’s a symbol of...um...hope???”
Mr. Chadwick’s face immediately returned to its chalky-white state and also drooped into a look of complete disappointment.
Mikey’s heart rapped loudly against his chest, a delayed response to having been called on in class. The heads were still turned in his direction and he didn’t know how to react. Should he smile? Wink? Where should his eyes be???
As for Mr. Chadwick, he looked like he just received news his mother had died. All interest in humping the podium was gone.
“Hope...um OK...nooooo.... Boys and girls! Boys and girls! Up here, please!”
The students gradually turned their heads away from Mikey and back towards the direction of Chadwick. Phew. Mikey was safe again.
“Class, please make a note of Michael’s comment, because that’s the kind of thing I’d prefer not to hear. We only have a limited time to discuss these brilliant passages and we can’t waste it with comments like Michael’s.”
Needless to say, Mikey felt like pigeon droppings and was sure that he now had another chapter to write in his “When I felt like a jackass” memoir (currently a work in progress).
He was pretty sure he could hear sporadic giggles coming from various students...maybe even Lindsay. Oh! And he was also pretty sure he heard a sneer coming from the vicinity of Greg Stern, that little pompous jock.
“Nice goin’, Mikey,” said Brian kiddingly out the corner of his mouth. Of course, he was still looking at the thong and he didn’t have any plans of taking his eyes off of it, even for a single second.
“Oh shut up,” Mikey whispered back to his friend.
The George Washington High School cafeteria was in rough shape, but, then again, so wasn’t everything else in the school. Everybody knew the renovation was on its way, so nobody made a very big stink about all the exposed piping on the ceiling that may or may not have been insulated with asbestos. The cafeteria floor was made out of a gray, vinyl tile, kind of like what you would find in the sterile hallways of a hospital. It certainly didn’t have much eye-appeal to it, but any other material would have been difficult for the custodian to clean at the end of the day. Then there were the cafeteria walls, which were peeling in parts and stained with Sloppy Joe sauce. At least there were some student council campaign posters that did a pretty good job hiding the walls’ blemishes, but, then again, these posters were also stained to a degree and also covered with inappropriate graffiti like boobies, pee-pees, wee-wees and bummies.
All the students sat along the benches of long, rectangular tables that were painted yellow. The tables and benches were all one piece and could be easily folded up at the end of the day when the custodian needed to clean the floors. Like with most school cafeterias, there was an unwritten social hierarchy when it came to where the students sat. In the way back of the cafeteria (where the windows were) was the ‘upper class’, where all the cool kids were. These students could be anybody from football players to key student council members or good-looking field hockey players, cheerleaders etc. Not only did they have a nice view of the athletic fields outside the windows, but they also had easy access to the juice machines, which were to the right of the windows, and the snack bar, which was to the left.
The middle of the cafeteria was where the “middle class” sat - that is, the so-so popular kids, mainly the track and cross country runners and maybe the stoners, overachievers, band and chorus people etc. And then behind the middle-class was everybody else: the Goths, the nerds, the dweebs, the idiots, the kids who still wore sweatpants to school, the kids with poor hygiene, the girls who drooled and the other socially-challenged students who basically had no concept of what it took to be the least bit cool.
On this particular day, Brian and Mikey found themselves kind of closer to the “lower class” end of the cafeteria than they would have liked to be. They sat by themselves (per usual), mainly because they didn’t really have any group to identify with. They didn’t play sports or play musical instruments, they weren’t into Nine Inch Nails or The Cure, they didn’t enjoy wearing sweatpants or drooling involuntarily...so basically it was just them in their own little clique with no label or category to pin on themselves.
Brian plucked a Tater Tot off of his plastic lunch tray, dipped it into a puddle of ketchup and then tossed it into his mouth. The soft tot tasted good with the chicken nuggets, green string beans, chilled fruit and chocolate milk.
As he munched on the tot, he couldn't help but look longingly over to the far side of the cafeteria, where all the cool kids were sitting.
“One of these days, Mikey. One of these days we’re gonna be popular. I can feel it.”
Mikey was busy filling the lid of his thermos with some hot chicken soup. Like usual, he had brought his lunch from home, mainly because his mother thought the school lunches were tainted with unhealthy artificial ingredients. She packed his lunch every day and was sure that all the essential food groups were present, including a ham 'n cheese sandwich (with lettuce, tomato and mustard) and a plastic cup of Motts applesauce.
“Face it Brian," he said, blowing on the soup to cool it down. “We don’t have a chance. Nobody likes us.”
“No, it’s gonna happen, Mikey. I can feel it in my bones.”
“Come on, Brian. High school just isn’t our time to shine. Our day’s gonna come later.”
Brian looked at his friend and shook his head in disgust. “Everything’s always later to you, Mikey. You can’t think like that.” He looked back over to the ‘cool kid’ tables and gazed dreamily.“Yep, we’re gonna be popular and you know what? We’re gonna get laid. L...A...I...D...laid!”
Mikey giggled. “OK, Brian. Whatever you say.”
Suddenly, a breeze of wind blew past the table. Mikey looked to his left and saw Lindsay Myers walking by, obviously heading towards the ‘upper class’ section of the cafeteria. She moved with beauty...and style...and grace, maybe not much different than a perfect-ten model on a runway (but not as thin and emaciated).
“Oh my gosh...there she is.”
Brian turned to see what Mikey was gawking at.
“Oooo, Lindsay Myers. She’s got the cutest butt I’ve ever seen.”
Mikey was genuinely offended by his friend’s comment.
“Hey, watch your mouth. Don’t talk that way about my girl.”
“Your girl?! Ha! OK, well, go ask her out, then!”
“Sssssssh, shut up.” As usual, Brian was talking louder than necessary.
“Go ask her out, then,” Brian repeated at a softer volume.
“What? No way.”
“Seriously, Mikey...if she’s your girl, then go claim her.”
“I’m not asking her out, Brian. No way. Not...not now.”
“Oh, that’s right. Maybe when you shine in college...or after college you’ll get a good job and make a million bucks...or maybe after you die...maybe you’ll be cooler in the afterlife. Sounds like a good plan.”
Mikey gave his friend the hairy eyeball, but Brian refused to shut up.
“It’s now or never, Mikey.”
Mikey looked towards the ‘upper class’ section of the cafeteria, and - for a moment - Brian thought his best friend was actually going to grow a pair and ask Lindsay out. But, no, he was wrong.
“No..." said Mikey. "I’m not gonna do it.”
“Fine...I’ll ask her for you.”
Brian stood from the bench and showed every indication that he was, indeed, going to go through with his word.
“Wa-wait!” shouted Mikey. “Fine...I’ll go.”
“Really? I don’t see you moving.”
“I’m moving, I’m moving," said Mikey and he slowly stood from the table.
Brian smiled as he planted his fanny back down on the bench. He watched as Mikey slowly climbed his way out of the table's bench, left the slums of the “lower class” section and started weaving his way through the rows of the so-so popular tables.
Mikey was amazed by how different he felt in these more aristocratic sections of the cafeteria. Part of him felt kind of cooler, but then another part of him felt very out-of-place. The latter feeling mainly arose because he could feel some heads turning as he made his way closer to the upper-class sections. The kids were probably wondering what the heck he was doing in their territory. If anybody asked any questions, he would just say that he was going to fetch a Veryfine from the juice machines. Yes, he would make it look like he was getting a juice.
As he made his way closer to the Veryfine machine, every voice of reason in his mind was telling him that this was a terribly bad idea and he should turn back or he would be sorry. But it also occurred to him that these so-called “voices of reason” simply could have been fear in disguise and that he would be nothing but a coward if he turned around. No, he had to keep moving forward. His days of being a giant wuss were over.
He arrived at the juice machines and then took a second or two to gather his druthers. He pretended to eyeball the Veryfine machine - as though trying to decide on what flavor of juice to go with - but he also took a few glances over to the table where he suspected Lindsay was sitting. Indeed, he was right on the money. Third table to the left, right in font of the window with the best view in the house. This girl was more than just “upper class”. This girl was GWHS royalty.
Mikey took a quick whiff of his breath (it smelled like chicken soup, which wasn’t a bad thing) and put Lindsay in his cross-hairs. Then he slowly made his way over to her table.
He had to pass two other tables before he got to Lindsay’s and the first one wasn’t going to be easy, as it was filled with football players who enjoyed pounding on “lower-class” boys like Mikey. Mikey tried to sneak his way past the table as inconspicuously as possible, trying desperately to avoid any and all eye contact. Lucky for Mikey, the football players seemed to be more concerned about eating their large stacks of Otis Spunkmeyer chocolate-chip cookies than anything else. The cookies were gooey and smooshy and fresh out of the oven, or at least fresh out of the microwave. Some of the football players would eat pounds of these things, sometimes nearly nine at a time!
The second table Mikey had to pass was filled with George Washington High's finest female specimens. Some were cheerleaders, others were field hockey players and there was even an ex-homecoming queen. Instead of eating any actual food, they were all consuming plastic baggies filled with carrots, apple slices, celery sticks, ice cubes and other anorexic favorites. How they could survive off such diets was beyond anybody's comprehension. It was a miracle that they hadn't dropped dead yet.
Mikey was now only about a few feet away from the girl of his dreams and he could feel his heart starting to beat faster and faster. He prayed to God that he could keep it together and that he wouldn’t break out into any awkward sweat, especially in a visible area of his body. Usually with sweat came a foul odor and that was the last thing Mikey needed right now. He needed to be as attractive as possible, but that wasn't going to happen if he was as nervous and stressed as he was right now. He had to calm down, but how?!
For a moment, Mikey thought he should just bail, thinking that this was the safest thing he could probably do. He didn’t even know what to say to the girl. Heck, what was he supposed to say? “Hi, Lindsay...can I buy you a milk?” But if he bailed he knew he’d never hear the end of it from Brian. He had to go through with this thing. There was no way around it now.
He finally came within a foot of Lindsay’s table and stood there awkwardly, not knowing what to do. Nobody had yet acknowledged his presence and he felt like a royal hediot times a thousand.
“Um...Lindsay...” he said, apparently not loud enough. Because nobody heard him.
“Can I...can I buy you a milk?” he asked, but again not loud enough. Because nobody had yet acknowledged him.
“Lindsay...” he said a tad louder. This time, Lindsay didn’t hear him, but one of her friends did and she looked up from the table. It was a field hockey player with dirty-blonde hair named Maura.
“Um Lindsay...” she said, twirling her hair with her finger.
But before Lindsay was even able to turn to her friend, somebody came out of nowhere and sat on the bench beside her. It was Greg! That athletic pest!
“Hey babe,” Greg said to Lindsay and gave her a quick peck on the cheek.
Apparently the news that Lindsay and Greg were now an item had not reached Mikey’s ears...that is, not until now! If Mikey had known this, he never would have attempted to ask her out. Crap! This is the kind of price he paid for being ‘out of the loop’ and for disassociating himself from the masses. But it was too late to bail. He couldn't just run away, not after he had gone this far.
“Lindsay,” her friend Maura repeated. “Somebody's asking for you.”
Maura’s eyes rolled over to Mikey. Lindsay peered around Greg’s big, broad shoulders and saw Mikey standing by the table, feeling like a royal you-know-what.
Greg turned his head and saw Mikey as well. So didn’t most everybody else at the table.
Mikey was paralyzed with shock. The words “Can I buy you a milk?’ were on the tip of his tongue, but he couldn’t get them any further out of his mouth. Fear was choking him to death, rendering him completely speechless.
“Well, what are YOU lookin’ at?” asked Greg with a sneer.
“Um...uh...um...” Mikey couldn’t do anything except stare at the girl of his dreams like a dumb deer. Last time he was this scared he had accidentally trickled some pee into his pants and he was hoping like heck that it wouldn't happen right now.
“Take a picture why don’t ya,” the quarterback said with a Pee-wee Herman-like voice. “It’ll last longer.”
The table of girls erupted into a giggle and Mikey was - at that point - pretty sure that he had never been so humiliated. He finally managed to shake the paralysis out of his bones and his motor skills returned to him. Without saying one word to Lindsay, he got the hell out of there.
Meanwhile, Brian couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He had been watching the whole thing the entire time from only a few rows of tables away.
“Chicken shit," he said under his breath. "I don't know what I'm gonna do with that boy."
Stay tuned for the next ten pages of REEL MONSTER...