By the time I arrived at High School the social structure had been permanently fixed. We were who we were going to be for the last four years of our preplanned lives and there wasn’t a lot that would change anything, not that anyone had any plans to change anything, ever. The guy who was the star quarterback, Ben, was going to be the guy who was going to be the star quarterback and he was dating the cute little cheerleader and they would go onto college, graduate, get good jobs, marry and have kids. Ben went to a good college out of state and his brother was left to carry on the legacy.
His kid brother, Barry, was a smaller version of Ben, but they both had that aw shucks good ole boy look about them and Barry dated the terribly adorable freshman cheerleader and he was going to be the next big thing. The only real problem is Barry wasn’t that big at all. He was a foot shorter than his brother and many pounds lighter. Yet the social order had been fixed so everyone knew he would step into his brother’s cheats and life would go on.
But it didn’t.
The next school year saw us with the reality of Ben being gone and suddenly life was a little more real for his younger sibling. Barry was brave and he stepped up to the challenge and he was very serious about everything, but Ben was gone. Barry’s life changed. It wasn’t supposed to be this way at all. Barry had always tagged along with Ben, helping out with mowing lawns for extra cash and being Ben’s shadow at church functions but without Ben there Barry seemed to lose focus. He stopped mowing lawns after school. He stopped being active in church. Barry was now his own man, so to speak, and he wasn’t his brother after all.
Barry wrecked his car one night, totaled it while drinking and that ended the Big Blue Mustang. That car defined Barry and the wreck defined who Barry would be. The terribly adorable cheerleader broke up with him. Barry walked off the practice field one day with the coach screaming at him. The ordained and predetermined life he had lead came to an end just as surely and finally as death.
I found it both very uncomfortable and intensely fascinating to talk to Barry. He came to me one day wanting to buy some pot but I wasn’t about to sell him anything. As far as I was concerned he was still part of a system that was more than happy to allow people to wither away rather than educate them. But he had been demoted. He had been shamed. He wasn’t dating the terribly adorable cheerleader anymore and that was going to come back to haunt him in a way he hadn’t foreseen.
Barry got drunk with one of the local potheads one night and they started talking about who had done what girl. Barry made mention that the terribly adorable and he had been using the Big Blue Mustang as a love nest and that she had lost her virginity there long ago. The local pothead related this story to his girlfriend who called out the terribly adorable cheerleader in the locker room for losing her cherry in a car. That started a firestorm of he said/he said and Barry’s social status slipped to the point that he wasn’t allowed to eat at the same table as his old friends. The terribly adorable cheerleader stated very loudly and to anyone who would listen she and Barry had never even wander off first base.
Ben came home from college one weekend and Barry came back to school with a black eye. He tried to get back on the football team but by that time it was far too late. Again, Barry quit and this time it took. Barry was off the team in more ways than one.
There was an open grassy place where everyone who brought their brown bag lunches sat and ate and that was where I liked to be. It was like an ocean where everyone had some island they liked to visit and most of the in-crowd stayed in-doors rather than come outside and play. The disaffected, the lonely, the outcasts, the pot smokers, the drunks, the abused, and those who simply couldn’t stand to be around those who were living a perfect life, sat on the grass and munched contently, like non cows.
Samantha was one of those girls who, had she only been petite, would have been thought of as pretty. Had she only come from a better family she might have been popular. Had her body only had some grace she might have been athletic. But Samantha was tall and her body had curves. She stumbled when she walked. Samantha’s father changed tires at a tractor shop so she wore hand me downs and second hand clothes. The in crowd respected her intellect but they didn’t want to eat with her. Samantha brought a small blanket to school each day and ate her lunch with a book. A sandwich, an apple, and a half pint of milk, along with whatever book she was reading; Samantha was her own island.
I have no idea if you remember those stickers in the back of library books but every book had a sticker than was stamped with the date they had been taken out and returned. The sticker also held the name of who checked book out. I read books that no one had ever read before but mostly there were a few names. Samantha’s name appeared in many of them and I knew she had to know that I had read many of the same books she was interested in, too. Alas! I had the social skills of a falling tree and Samantha had an inability to speak to the opposite gender. My attempts to reach her included me babbling like an idiot while she stood there and turned very red.
The real wreck came one morning when we were supposed to give some sort of speech in front of a class with a visual aid and I managed to get through it without hurting myself. My visual aid was a live snake which meant the teacher would have done anything to get me to sit down and put the snake away. Samantha had a poster and one of the pieces of paper she had taped to it had slipped away. She glued it back on, but in the process, allowed a thin line of glue to get on her face. It looked like a mutant booger had slipped out of her nose. It waved and dangled when she moved. Samantha realized I was staring at her and it made her nervous. Finally, when we were both reaching the breaking point, she blurted out, “Stop staring at me!” and it startled me so badly I couldn’t help myself and I said, “You’ve got this thing on your nose!” The classroom erupted with laughter.
Later that day as we passed in the hall Samantha snarled at me, “Asshole!” That was a sign, I thought, we were done. I think it was the first time she had ever used that word towards anyone. I still have that effect on women.
The real fallout from the disputed deflowering of the terribly adorable cheerleader is that Barry was exposed not only as someone without much honor but also a man who was very likely a virgin. His freshman year had ended well but his sophomore year had been a disaster of very epic proportions. His junior year began with Barry adrift. The football people hated him. The intellectual crowd was beyond him. The dopers didn’t trust him. Barry was a kid without a clique.
I knew what he was up to the minute I saw him tie up on Samantha’s island. I knew that in Barry’s mind this was a sure thing. The one person at school without anyone else Samantha was perfect. I lit a cigarette and smiled. This was going to end poorly, oh hell yeah, and it was going to be worth the watching. As Barry presented himself as a man with some sort of shared interest, Samantha turned bright red. It was going to take some doing to get past that point, I thought, and I was right.
So began the pursuit. Barry had someone to talk to and something to do now. Samantha’s parents would not let her date, at first, but Barry wore them down. He went to church with them and mowed their grass. He bought flowers for Samantha and I began to think he actually meant it. For all practical purposes he seemed like a man in love. But deep down inside, I think he was on a Cherry Quest.
I never did prom. Normal dates froze me in my shoes as it were. I couldn’t dance and I sure as hell wasn’t about to try to talk my father into renting a tux for me. The real test, I thought, to see if Barry was serious about Samantha, was if he took her to the prom. He asked, she accepted, and I sat down with the idea that this may have been true love. But there were some cracks here and there. Barry still had a very bad habit of getting drunk and talking about his sexual prowess. The rumor that he was just trying to be Samantha’s first was floating around and the rumor that Barry was desperate to end his own virginity never went away either. I lit another cigarette and watched as the two of them spoke about the prom, secured to her island. I thought I could see stormy weather.
There was no way on God’s grey earth I would have ever been invited to the after prom party in the woods but I had scored some killer pot. I refused to sell any the week before the prom so the night of the prom I was highly popular, pun intended. There was an old house in the woods where the right people partied and there was a keg there. I was there with the other dateless guys and dateless girls and those who were decked out, well, it was their party. It’s was an odd scene, really, with the perfectly decked out guys with their very pretty girls drinking from red solo cups right beside those guy and girls who were trying very hard to wear nice clothes well. Then there were those of us who were just watching the show, staying out late to see how the other half lived. Oh, and then there was Barry and Samantha, who actually, made quite a couple, at first glance. Barry was in a white ruffled tux and looked every bit the popular guy he once was. Samantha was in a white dress that might have passed for a wedding gown. They weren’t drinking beer but had mixed up Pink Panty Pulldowns . I do not think Samantha had ever drank before.
Missing from this party was the upper crust. The football players and the cheerleaders were off at the beach. Barry must have realized that his mistakes and miscues had cost him that trip and I think at that moment he really hated his current life. He knew I had the very best pot but he sent one of his friends to be to get a joint. Barry and I had a past, it seemed, and tonight of all nights made that past seem a little too real for him.
I weighed one hundred and ten pounds when I was in high school. I was five feet ten inches tall. I was an albino Ethiopian with really bad social skills. But dear dog almighty, I loved to play football. I could catch anything in the area code that stayed in bounds. My hands were sure. But my real skill was speed. On kickoff returns and puts I burned trails through the grass. My passion was defense. I wanted to kill quarterbacks. I hated them. Quarterbacks were usually the most popular kids and skill had little to do with it. I could lay them down. I could hit them. I could make them look foolish and I did.
You would think someone my size could be easily blocked but no one wanted to keep me out of the backfield as badly as I wanted to get in. Tim, the best sandlot quarterback ever, and the man who taught me how to disengage even the largest blocker, always picked me first to be on his team. “I won’t get any rest in the pocket if I don’t,” Tim told people when they asked why.
Barry arrived on day, with his own ball, tossing it in the air and catching it, and told us he was just watching. He waited for an invite but no one was biting. He was slumming and we knew it. One of his friends, Jack, and Jack was the last person I ever knew with that name, showed up a few minutes later and wow, what do you know, two more people, two teams, magic! But Barry and Jack had to be on the same team. Barry walked up to me and said out loud, “I hear you can catch”
“I hear you’re a quitter.” I said and you could have heard a grasshopper fart. I didn’t want to be on Barry’s team. I wanted to hit him. I wanted to put him down on the ground and I wanted to know, really know, if I was good enough to beat him.
It was on.
What Barry didn’t know was how each person on their field felt about him being there. Bruce was a farmer’s kid who got to play once a blue moon. His friend Greg was an undersized bulldog of a runner who I hated to see come at me at full speed. There were kids there who would have fought, killed, and died, to have Barry’s chances in life. And we all hated him.
Barry didn’t realize how fast I was. He dropped back to pass and I blindsided him, my friend Curt coming in on the other side to meet me in the middle. Curt, Tim, and I harassed him for every minute of an hour. He was too short to throw over me and he screamed at the other guys for letting me through and that hurt his chances. After I hit him hard enough to shake the ball loose he declared it to be half time. Without a word he walked away. Poor Jack had to find another ride home. Barry had come to light up our scoreboards and left in the dark.
But Barry was still more popular than most of us that never made it to the prom that night. We were the hangers-on and he was still Ben’s brother. But that night I saw him realize again that he had dipped down below where he was supposed to be in life. I could tell he wasn’t looking to repeat the mistake of patronizing anyone there. Yet he couldn’t bring himself to really be with Samantha that night. He kept drifting away from her and she was left to fend for herself and she drank far too much out of that red solo cup.
I never could stay with a crowd. I had to get away. I climbed up in an Oak tree that had a dying treehouse and smoked a joint alone. I could see the bonfire, the beer drinkers, the girls in shiny dresses, the people sneaking away to smoke pot, and I noticed that Barry and Samantha had disappeared. I wondered how many teenage girls saw this night as something special and how many teenage boys saw this as an opportunity. I wondered if Barry finally had sex with Samantha if he would dump her without a look back. Deep down inside, I liked the girl a lot. We both had read Lord Of The Rings before anyone else. I read Crime and Punishment and she read it after I did. ( I reread a lot of my favorites) and I knew she liked the same kind of stories I liked. I hoped Barry treated her well and I hoped the night ended on a high note, no pun intended.
Ever hear a teen age guy scream?
The sound was a piercing thing that cut through the smoke and beer haze and stopped all other sound. “No! Ah, Dear God! No! STOP!” and then another scream. Samantha staggered into view and her white dress was stained with red.
She killed him. Holy mother of dog she killed him; that was my first thought. Samantha staggered, nearly went over backwards and then fell to her hands and knees.
Samantha threw up. It was a projectile of red fluid and Pink Panty Pulldowns were coming back up.
“BRRRRRAAAAAPPPPPPP” issued forth Samantha and the party was about to be over. Several of the girls put their hands up to their mouths and swallowed hard.
Then Barry staggered out of the dark and all the bar food, all the snacks, all the stuff that Samantha had eaten was right there on his white suit.
“She puked in my lap” Barry said.
I damn near died laughing.
In the end, that ended it. Samantha’s parents forbid the two to ever see each other again. Barry’s senior year was marked by hard study and infrequent social outings. We never discovered what they were doing when Samantha puked but she hinted darkly he had tried to take advantage of her state and she had a poor reaction to it, to say the least.
So this morning, when Sam the Happy Hound puked in my lap after a treat went the wrong way I couldn’t help but laugh. And laugh. And laugh. And laugh.