The 2nd Grade Mafia: Burning Down The School

[This is the 5th and last post in a series called “The 2nd Grade Mafia”.  To start at the beginning of the story, click this link.]

Edit: To assuage the fears of some of my readers, the title is metaphoric.  I was not an accomplished arsonist in 2nd grade.

Week 7, Day 1, Hour -1  My sister and I were waiting at the bus stop.  I had my minutes sheet in my hand, staring at what I’d accomplished.  Two thousand minutes in a week wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t my best.  My sister had actually beat me this time, with her two thousand three hundred minutes.  Her goal was to beat my total, but that was her being my adorable little sister.  She never liked being younger, and would often try to do what I was doing just to prove that she was my equal or even superior.  There she stood, smiling away because she liked to read and she’d beaten her big brother at his own game.  She was so proud of herself, and I was a bit proud of her also.  I couldn’t believe the girls were willing to destroy an innocent bystander in order to win a reading competition.

I had a lot of time to think my situation over.  I wasn’t responsible for the actions of the girls.  If they decided to start treating my sister terribly, that was all on them.  The trick of the girls’ hostage situation is that they tried to make it look like it was my fault if they decided to be monsters.  I wasn’t going to take responsibility for their actions.  Still, the girls had an objective, which was no longer to win the reading competition but to make me give in to their bullying.  They had one move left, and they would play it if I didn’t look like I’d surrendered.  I didn’t want to set the stage so the girls could release their inner demons on my sister.

So I told Kristen about what was happening.  She listened, tilting her head to the side as I explained the finer details of what was going on.  She looked very solemn during the entire story, until I finished with the threats made to her in the girls’ bathroom.

Kristen nodded twice when I finished, than dug around in her backpack, pulling out her minutes sheet.  She looked me in the eye and tore the sheet down the middle, folded it, then tore it again.  I tried to grab her hands to make her stop, but she wouldn’t, she crumpled them up and threw them in the air like confetti.

“Kristen!  You can’t just throw away your minutes!  You worked hard for that.  You poured everything you are into getting those minutes.  You gave up cartoons and playing with friends and recess for that.  You can’t just throw away everything you’ve earned just because some girls threatened your brother.”

Kristen walked up to me and poked me in the chest, locking eye contact with me.  I was short enough that she was about the same height, and I felt the need to step back, but I didn’t dare.  She uttered a single word with all of the wisdom her tiny self could muster.

“Exactly.”

I nodded.  She was right.

I knew what I had to do.  “Can you put up with some trouble for the next two weeks?”

“If you’ve been doing it for six, I can do it for two.  Girls don’t always need to be rescued.  I’ll be fine.  You can’t let bad people stop you from doing good things.”

I smiled at her.  “Thanks Kristen.  It meant a lot to me.  But you didn’t have to tear up your minutes.”

She shrugged at me.  “I didn’t.  Those were the minutes from last week.”

My sister was a genius.  I had a plan.

Week 7, Day 1, Hour 0  I had the bus driver sign the minute sheets for my sister and me.  Without a spare minutes sheet (I never kept track of old papers), I needed to sneak my minutes past whatever offense the girls launched and get it to Ms Hotchkiss.  I leapt from the bus and ran to my school, but was stopped short when a barricade of girls kept the doors shut.  Other students were filtering through, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to.  The girls had foreseen the obvious move.

“Hey Steve.  Have fun reading last night?”  It was the leader from the restroom, a girl named Jessica, who I had looked up in last year’s year book.

“Hello Jessica.  As a matter of fact, I did.  Would you please move so I can get to class?”

She held out her hand expectantly.  I looked at it, feigning confusion.  Jessica sighed with exasperation.  “Hand over the minutes sheet, stupid.”

I turned around and looked behind me.  “Is there someone else here that you’re talking to?  Because I don’t respond to that.  But if you want to stand out here until we both get in trouble for being tardy, I’m happy to wait.  I know it’ll be easy for me to explain why I’m out here.”

“Give me the sheet.”

“Where are my books?  I’m not giving you the sheet if you don’t hold up your end of the bargain.”  The books materialized, each of them in good shape, and held out of arm’s reach.  I looked at each of them and nodded.  “Good, you brought all of them.  Now if you wouldn’t mind, please hand over your reading sheets to me.”

The girls looked confused.  Jessica stepped forward.  “That wasn’t a part of our deal.”

I shrugged.  “We’re negotiating a new deal, a second deal.  My deal is that you can hand over my library books right now or I start screaming ‘they stole my books!’ while pointing at each of you.  There are too many witnesses for you to back out now, and I won’t take those books from you if you try to thrust them on me.

Jessica stepped on my foot, leaning over me for maximum intimidation.  “I’m not going to get bullied by the likes of you.”

I smiled at her, wincing through the pain.  “Neither am I.  You can either hand over my books or your reading sheets.  I don’t care which.  One shout from me and it’s all over for you.  You’ve still got the books in your hands. I’d hand them over quick before I just change my mind.”

Jessica shoved me and I fell backwards with an undignified yelp.  “No one goes back on a deal with me!”

She grabbed my backpack and rifled through it, but it was entirely empty except for one piece of paper.  Jessica whipped it out of my backpack and held it up in triumph.  I looked up at her from my new spot on the sidewalk.

Jessica threw my backpack back in my face.  She sneered at me, finally victorious over this nerd that had defied her for so long.  “Give him back the books.  I don’t want anyone saying I’m a liar.”

The girls quickly dropped their books off at my feet.  I placed each on in my backpack, looking up at Jessica with disdain until I had the last one.

“Alright, you pushed me over and had your fun.  I’m going to class.”

Jessica shouldered me as I tried to walk past her, but other than that I wasn’t harassed.  The girls watched me go, into the school lobby to take the first right to head to the second grade classrooms.  One look down the hallway and I knew my plan was working perfectly.  I turned around next to the corner of the hallway.  “Oh Jessica, I want you to know that I won this round, and I’m going to win this war.  You all just gave me my books back for nothing.  I’m not sure what you’re going to do with that drawing, but go ahead and keep it.”

Jessica looked at paper she had stolen from my backpack to see that it was a fake reading sheet I’d made in pencil on the bus ride over with the words “I stole this from Steve” written in the minutes section.  She ripped it while shoving her way through the pack of girls.  “You get back here and give me the real minutes sheet or I’m going to beat you up!”

I briskly took three steps to get around the corner and then stopped.  Jessica careened around the corner unable to stop herself before colliding with Ms Hotchkiss.  My sister, who was standing behind Ms Hotchkiss, poorly stifled a laugh.  Ms Hotchkiss towered over us all, and she snatched Jessica’s wrist so she couldn’t get away.  “Is this the minutes sheet you want him to hand over, Ms Jessica?  The one that Ms Kristen handed to me this morning saying ‘the bullies won’t let my brother turn in his minutes so I had to’?”

Jessica turned about face to run but only succeeding in losing her footing to swing by Ms Hotchkiss’s arm back into the grown-up’s legs.  The wrath of Hotchkiss was the likes I had never seen before.  She strode into the lobby, practically dragging Jessica behind her, and pointed at all of the girls.  “You all, in the principal’s office now!  Jessica, you’re coming with me.  We’re going to see if your mother is still in the parking lot because she’s going to be taking you home right this minute!”

Week 7, Day 1, Hour 1  It was the day of reckoning.  Parents were being called, a few of the more active members of the mob had been suspended, and other girls were tripping over themselves to confess so that they could avoid any penalties.  The ‘seven books per girl’ plot had leaked to the adults, and everyone had to return their library books immediately.  Every girl with seven books was noted as the list of suspects grew and grew.  Some tried to deny that they had taken part, but the librarian knew exactly who had seven books and who didn’t.  Those that lied got in more trouble.  The faculty were in a

PE had been suspended for the school, while the entirety of 2nd grade had been corralled into the gym to watch Reading Rainbow, while all of the 2nd grade teachers were in talks with the principal, guidance counselor, and super intendant.  All eyes were on me.

Week 7, Day 1, Hour 2  Recess was interesting.  The girls were in their usual reading circle, but none of them were reading.  They were terrified.  A vicious blame game went back and forth between them as they tried to sort out their stories and organize who would take the fall for what.  It took them awhile to realize that I was standing amongst them.  Silence fell over the circle as they looked at me with wide and frightened eyes.

“Hi ladies.  Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

A few nodded.  The rest froze like deer in headlights, with a rapidly approaching and unclear doom hurtling towards them just down the road.  No one moved, and the spectacle became eerie.  Cassie was the first to respond.  “I heard that you’re going into the principal’s office after recess.”

I nodded.  “Yes.  They wanted to talk to me about the past few weeks.”

Cassie looked at her fellow girls.  I could feel the air saturate with fear.  “What are you going to do?”

I stood there and absorbed the moment.  I had them, and they knew it.  I’d beaten everybody.  If I played my moves correctly, the entire school would be under my control, and whatever I decided to do next would shape the girls’ destiny.  I’d thought about it long and hard, and while it was appealing, it wouldn’t work.  I’d read too many books.

I shifted in my stance.  “What you all put me through was miserable.  I couldn’t sleep, my friends are all mad at me, and I’ve been incredibly lonely ever since school started.  You’ve all made me very sad.  Now when the principal calls me in, I could tell on every last one of you and get you in trouble.  Your parents will get called and you’ll probably be in detention for a week.”

The girls shuddered at that idea, a surge of panic running through the gaggle of girls.

“But,” I continued, having given them a moment of panic they so richly deserved, “I’m not going to get you all in trouble.  Throughout all of this, I’ve been the good guy, and I’ve tried hard to stay the good guy.  You ganged up on me, you fought me, and you tried to crush me.  You all were the bad guys from the very beginning.  I’m not going to sink to your level.  I’m not going to become the bad guy now that I’ve won, not at the very end after I’ve come so far.  I’m going to win, I’m going to end this, and I’m going to do that on my terms.”

Cassie swallowed hard.  “What does that mean?”

Week 7, Day 1, Hour 3  In the principal’s office, I had some explaining to do.  After the second time that a large group of girls had gotten in trouble for picking on me, the school had to take action.  Mr. Paul sat across his desk from me with a yellow legal pad and pen.  A taskforce of teachers were around his office, most leaning against his book shelves.  My sister sat next to me, swinging her feet high above the floor she couldn’t reach.

Mr. Paul was going through a long explanation of various ‘feel better’ and ‘this isn’t the way it should be’ messages designed for someone identifying as a victim in a situation that they couldn’t control.  I didn’t care to listen too much because I wasn’t a victim. I had controlled the competition quite nicely.  Very soon, I would be the victor.  Still, I looked very pleased with what he was saying, waiting my turn to speak.

After a good five minutes of Mr Paul talking to some victim that I just couldn’t locate in the room, he finally asked me what I’d like him to do to make the situation better.  My sister looked at me, I could tell that she had been drowning out the victim conversation with her own thoughts as well.  I found my voice.  “Mr. Paul, what is the minute count for our school?”

Mr. Paul blinked at me, the sudden conversation change catching him offguard.  “Uh, it’s right on track for a million.  Just a few hours shy.”

“I think what would really help is if you stopped the reading drive right now.  It’s done nothing right, and so many people have done things wrong.  It’s gotten out of hand.”

Mr. Paul blinked again.  “Steve, you worked so hard to gain so many minutes for the school.  Why would you want to give all that up?”

“Things have gotten worse every week since this started.  Today a pack of girls were tearing apart my homework and trying to beat me up.  I don’t want to see how this gets worse a week from now.  Either this stops now or I’m not coming back.”

Mr. Paul looked around at the teachers.  If he’d been alone, he’d have tried to talk me out of it.  With the audience he’d look heartless if he refused the request.  The teachers were tired of this and didn’t have the energy to go on; I could read it on their faces.  “Steve, that’s what we wanted to talk about.  Who are the people specifically that are picking on you?”

I smiled back at Mr. Paul.  “I don’t want to get into who did what.  That’ll only make things harder for me.  I’d be the tattle-tale who had to hide behind the teachers because he got scared.  If you want them to stop bullying me, I need to win on my own terms.”

“Steve, we have nine hundred thousand minutes.  You’d be losing the reading drive for everyone.”

“I know, but its worth it.”

Ms Hotchkiss stood up from her spot, leaning against the bookshelf.  “Dave, can we just do it?  My class is going to be a nightmare if we don’t.”

Mr Paul sat still, thinking hard about what to do next.  “I think you’re right.  We’re going to stop it as of this minute.  Book reading was never supposed to cause this kind of behavior.”  Mr. Paul looked into my eyes, searching for my thoughts.  “Steve, is there anything I can do to help?”

“There is one thing.  Can you subtract my minutes from the school before you end the competition?  Those are mine, and I don’t want anyone else to have them.”

My sister was quick to join in.  “Me too.  I want my minutes to go with his.”

Mr. Paul looked at the two of us.  “I can do that.  You two are dismissed to your classrooms.”

Walking down the hallway, my sister grabbed my hand and skipped along.  “You won.  You could have done anything.  You could have gotten everyone in trouble, but you didn’t.  Why not?  Why not beat the bad guys?”

I smiled at her.  “I did beat the bad guys, but picking on them after I won is something that a good guy doesn’t do.  I just had to beat them by doing to them the one thing they couldn’t do to me.”

Kristen looked puzzled.  “what’s that?”

“I took away every single last one of their minutes.  Those girls you saw picking me, they sold their souls for nothing.  Nothing.  And I want them to know that forever.”

Week 7 Reading List:  Nothing.  I played soccer all week.

Final Count:  Team Steve & Kristen with 29,682 worthwhile minutes out of 1,000,000.
Sunnyside Elementary with 0 worthwhile minutes out of 1,000,000.

The End

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The 2nd Grade Mafia: Getting In Trouble Is Great Practice For Staying Out Of Trouble

Week 6, Day 1  When I got back to school, my books hadn’t magically reappeared like I hoped they would have.  The girls had them on lock-down somewhere.  I could feel their eyes probing my expression as I searched for them.  I shut my desk and smiled up at everyone.  It was the best tactic I had.  I wasn’t going to worry about those books.  The girls had them and there was no guarantee that they’d ever turn in my books even after I stopped reading.  They might keep them forever out of spite, and based on their recent switch from normal to evil, I dismissed those books as collateral damage in their misguided war against me.  The difference between the girls and I is that I was used to being in trouble.  The punishments looming over my head were annoyances, but I could deal with them.  There was no use worrying about that now because it was out of my hands.  I was going to forget about it and be happy, because that was the only way I knew how to conquer their fear tactic.

It was time to fight back.

One thing I learned from reading is that bullies don’t like an enemy.  So far I’d managed the damage they threw my direction, but this only encouraged them to throw more trouble my way.  If this kept up, they only needed to overload my life with misery until I couldn’t manage it.  A school of 200 girls would eventually win, so ‘ignoring the bully’ was out of the question.  I needed to go on the offensive.

Fighting back would be difficult.  I lived in conservative Iowa, which is protected as a time capsule by the rest of the world.  Things were backward here.  The girls were immune to any penalty for their crimes unless their crimes were severe.  Previously this year I had been attacked by a girl who just started punching me repeatedly, the first two sucker punches in the face.  I slapped her hand hard to make her stop.  A teacher saw this and immediately came to stop the fight.  The girl was coddled for being so innocent and defenseless; I was punished for hitting a girl and had all my recesses taken away for the day to think about what I had done.  I did think, confirming over and over that I had done the right thing.  The reason I was in trouble was twofold.  The first reason is that I didn’t tell on her first, because the first person to tell doesn’t get in trouble.  The second thing I did wrong was that I was born a boy.  Girls and boys were treated differently, I had noticed over the course of three years in school.  Girls were always innocent no matter how malevolent.  Boys were always guilty and were expected to just take any abuse.  Getting the teachers involved in this would be difficult, because I couldn’t be the first one to tell,  it had to be a girl.

I had one advantage.  The girls didn’t know that I was fighting back.  I’d played possum long enough to surprise them when I turned lion.

First recess came around and the girls all formed their reading circle.  I approached their circle, my own book in hand.  “I want my books back.”

The girls didn’t answer me, they just stared at their books.  It was a free chance to read each of their expressions.  A schism was forming, like I thought would happen.  Girls tended to follow the rules, be nice to everyone, and be much better human beings than boys.  Three out of five of the girls looked nervous and reluctant.  This shift to organized crime was out of character and they didn’t like it.

“I said I want my books back.”

Megan was the first to answer, talking in an angry and sarcastic tone.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I laughed.  Laughs can convey a great range of things.  I felt like mine conveyed victory.  The girls all looked up from their books.  Speaking couldn’t break their obvious attempts to ignore me, but laughing could.  They were expecting anger.  Jubilation from their victim was something that scared them.  “That’s funny, Megan.  It’s funny because everyone here knows that you are lying.  You don’t have to admit it, we all know it.  That makes you a liar, Megan.  You’re a bad guy.  A villain.  A cheat.  A sneak.  The problem with liars is that they can’t be trusted.  Maybe one day they’ll say something like ‘I promise that none of you will get in trouble for stealing Steve’s books’, and the next day they are telling the principal exactly who did what, because the first person to tell won’t get detention.  The first person to tell is a good guy.  Liars aren’t, and will say anything they need to in order to save their skin in that moment.  The only question is, which of you is going to tell on the others first?”

I walked away.  I could hear Megan scramble to her feet, as she got up to go tell on me, exactly as planned.  I imagined that she was going to tell on me for calling her a list of bad names, but this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up on.  I turned around and said to the girls, “looks like she’s beating you to the punch.  She’s probably ratting you all out right now.”

The girls looked scared now.  I walked away.  Any moment a teacher would come swooping down on me, and I needed to be out of earshot when that happened.  I needed the girls to think that Megan had told on them and not me.

Sure enough, Ms Hotchkiss came stomping my direction with Megan in toe.  Megan was behind the teacher and was smiling with such vehemence that I knew I wasn’t wrong to call her a villain.  “Mr. Steve.  Megan tells me that you called her a liar in front of all of her friends.”

“Really?”  I asked innocently.  “What was she lying about that would make me say such a thing?”

Hotchkiss turned her attention to Megan.  Megan wasn’t ready for this.  Her plan was to tell on me and get me in trouble and that’d be the end of it.  My plan was to force her to confess.  I had to tread carefully here; one wrong move and I’d be in trouble for name-calling.  Megan was caught off guard, assuming she was in trouble because of Ms Hotchkiss’s sudden attention, when really Ms Hotchkiss was waiting for her to clarify what I was supposed to be in trouble for.  Good kids tend to get really nervous when it comes to the recess authorities.  I had plenty of experience with them and knew how to keep my cool.  I needed a loaded statement that either confirming or denying would still land her in trouble.  Megan looked infuriated at me before yelling “nevermind!”

“Because what I asked her was if she knew which of the girls stole books from my desk in order to frame me with the library lady.  Megan said she knew who it was but that she wasn’t going to tell me.”

“I did not!”

Megan didn’t even see the trap.  She had denied a detail of a story, which still left her guilty.  She needed to deny the entire story to stay in the clear.

“Ms. Megan, do you know who stole Steve’s books?”

Tears welled up in Megan’s eyes.  It was too late.  I was dismissed from the conversation, as Ms Hotchkiss liked to deal out verbal scoldings one on one, something I was very familiar with.  I smiled and walked over to the old slide.  The girls in their reading circle were frozen in fear.  I winked at them.

“I don’t know who has the books, but the safest place to hide them right now is in my desk.”

Week 6, Day 1, Night 1  The fallout from Megan’s capture was severe.  Megan couldn’t keep quiet.  She’d never been in trouble before and didn’t know how to navigate the principal’s office.  She was scared.  Everyone is, their first time in the principal’s office, but there are a few rules you don’t break, such as telling on one of your friends and dragging them into your misery.  Megan did herself no favors by ratting on everyone she knew who was involved.  Ms Hotchkiss called together a parent meeting with all of the girls’ parents to talk about bullying.  So many grounded with so little effort.  To top it off, each of them had to write me a letter of apology, which meant that ten minutes of reading time was wasted on a letter I probably wouldn’t even read.  That’s one hundred and forty minutes right there.

The school did still see fit to hold me responsible for the books I’d checked out.  There wouldn’t be the usual threat of detention, but I needed to be responsible for the property I borrowed.  I’d have to pay for it with my allowance, but that was a small price to pay to get out from under the girls’ current form of blackmail.

Week 6, Day 2  It happened suddenly.  I was walking on my way to TAG (talented and gifted) when a hand reached out and pulled me into the girls’ restroom and pinned me against a wall.  There I was, surrounded by a host of my classmates and a couple of larger fifth graders for muscle.  The girls from my class were red-eyed from crying, and looked particularly cross with me.  I didn’t expect them to call in reinforcements.

I didn’t recognize the girl who was holding me against the wall.  She was much larger than I was, but as a very short kid (the shortest in my grade), this wasn’t an accomplishment.  Maybe a third grader?  Either way she had too much muscle backing her up for me to break free.  She spoke with a tone of bullying authority.  “Hey Steve.  We noticed that you’re still reading.  We already told you what would happen if you didn’t stop.”

“You sure did.  Can I go now?”  I tried to sound dismissive, but this unexpected show of force had me nervous.

Their leader pushed me harder against the wall.  “It’s not funny.  We’ve still got the books.  You’re still in trouble if you don’t return them.”

I looked up at the ceiling and made a face of exaggerated thinking.  “Not really.  Hotchkiss knows that they were stolen.  The library lady likes me.  I call her ‘Book Worm’ to her face and she likes it.  She got me a book for my birthday and Christmas last year.”

The girls all looked at each other, unsure of how to proceed.  This wasn’t going to plan.  I imagine they thought I’d cry and wet myself, but that wasn’t what they got.  No one had told them that the school had forgiven my future crime of late library books.  The time to strike was now.  I looked back into the eyes of their leader, still holding me against the wall.  “I’m not sure what I’m doing here.  If your plan is to beat me up, you can.  It’s going to be hard explain why all of you needed a hall pass at the same time to go to the bathroom once they find a boy bleeding on the floor of the girl’s bathroom, but I’m sure that all of you combined could actually beat me up.  I’m not even going to swing back, because I’d hate to crowd the detention hall with you.”

A scared voice from the back whispered “what are we going to do?  He’s going to get us all in trouble again.”  It was Megan.  She looked miserable, probably staying up all night crying about getting caught.

“You’re right, Megan.  I am going to get you all in trouble.  I just haven’t decided how yet, but I’ve got options.”

This wasn’t going as planned.  I refused to be afraid and they only had fear tactics.  Their leader snared “get one of his books out.”

To my surprise, they had it.  I recognized the cover of Island of the Blue Dolphins.  I watched the book carefully.  I didn’t see whose bookbag they pulled it from, which was disappointing.  Their leader turned to look at it, then sneered back at me.  “Throw it in the toilet.”

I couldn’t see, but I heard the splash.  My mind raced to keep ‘unscared’.  The best I could do was formulate half a joke about the Island in the toilet.   Still, that was a week’s worth of chores down the drain.  Their leader turned back to me.

“This is what is going to happen next.  You can read all you want to.  Next week, if you want your books back, you’re going to give me the slip of paper with your minutes on it before you turn it into Hotchkiss.  I’ll keep your minutes, and you get your books back.  If you don’t do this, you’ll never see your books again.”

“Fine.  It’ll cost me two months of allowance, but it’ll cost you your character.”

“That’s not all, pipsquek.  Think long and hard before you try to defy us again.  We can get to you in more ways than this.”  The leader fished something out from her pocket.  I recognized the tiny salmon colored lunch ticket, because I had drawn a Viking on the back of mine.  It looked like I was going hungry for the next few days, but that also gave me more time to read.  “We can get your lunch tickets, we can get your homework, we can make you miss the bus, we can tell on you for all sorts of things, we can make the boys hate you, we can make you unpopular, we can spread rumors, and we can keep this up forever.  Who are you going to take to the dances in High School when all of the girls hate you?  Who are you going to go on dates with?”

I smiled at them all.  “None of you deserve me.”

A punch landed soundly in my stomach, knocking the wind out of me.  I collapsed to the floor, fully expecting to get kicked next.  Nothing happened.  I decided to risk another quip.  “You know something?  I’m glad you did this, because now I know that I’m the good guy in this story, and that each and every one of you is the bad guy.  You’ll know it when you look in your mirrors tonight while brushing your teeth.  You’ll think ‘I’m a bad guy’.  You’ll know I’m right because you’ll be angry with me or angry with yourself, but either way you’ll be an angry bad guy.  You can’t win.  Even if you win the competition, that ice cream won’t even begin to get rid of the taste of turning into a monster.”

“Get me that minute’s sheet or your life is going to be miserable forever!  You see, you might be acting strong now, but you won’t be.  The library books were just the beginning.  What will you do when your sister comes crying to you because everyone decided to stop being her friend?  We can get her too.  If you turn in another minutes sheet, you and your sister will see just how bad things can get.”

The girls filed out of the restroom and all went back to their classes, leaving me alone in the girls’ bathroom.  I let out a sigh that went from relief to despair.  I wasn’t holding up well.  I was a social kid.  The isolation of Read A Million Minutes was taking its toll.  I didn’t want to be the nerdy kid that had to sit by himself at recess.  I wanted to be the kid that got to do what he loved and still had people like him for who he was.

Threatening my sister, Kristen, was taking this fight to a whole new level.  She was leading her Kindergarten class, putting up more minutes than her entire class.  Effectively, she canceled me out in the school competition.  It wasn’t fair for her if she was punished for reading.  I couldn’t do this to her also.  It wasn’t fair to ask a Kindergartner to be a social outcast in her second month of school.

Maybe it would be easier to just give up.  I could recapture soccer, the friendship of the boys, the neutral tolerance of the girls, hours of free time, and peace of mind.  For the first time I considered quitting.

I got up and looked in the toilet.  The girls had made a mistake here.  Explaining how my library book wound up in the girl’s bathroom wouldn’t be easy.  The hall passes contained the list of possible suspects.  The trouble was that I couldn’t be the one to tell anyone about the book, because I had a hall pass also and it might look like I was dumping my own books to frame someone.  Instead, I just left.

Week 6 Reading List: The Beast, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Swiss Family Robinson, Johnny Tremain

The 2nd Grade Mafia: Just Because Your Little Girls Are Angels, It Doesn’t Mean They Came From Heaven

[This is part 3 in a series called “The 2nd Grade Mafia”.  The first post in this series can be found by clicking on this link.]

Week 5, Day 2 Once a week we had library time, which was a chance for us to check out a book from the school library.  I loved this time of the week because I could pick up more of the authors I liked, their books were right on either side of the book I had previously selected.  This week was different.  I quickly rounded the library to the fiction section where I had collected all of my books.  They were gone.  All of the books in the fiction section had been checked out.  That was impossible!  It would take every kid in the school to check out that many books.  Or maybe…

I turned around to see a bunch of girls giggling by the doorway.  They weren’t even in my grade, these were fifth graders.  Each held a stack of seven books, the maximum amount we were allowed.  Their leader mouthed “look in the back”.  I went around to a little bookshelf to see that the only books remaining were the entirety of the Babysitters Club series.  More giggling ensued when they saw my disappointment.  Yet the library was sacred, and I wasn’t going to let them hurt me on my turf.  I approached the librarian to see if there were any books that had been turned in and had yet to be put on the shelves.  The girls bristled, as they hadn’t anticipated this move.

The librarian, a kindly old woman, said “I’d give these to you, but only the fifth graders have been to the library.  These are way too advanced for a second grader.”

With some quick talking and a promise to take care of them, I convinced her that I was up to the challenge, and I checked out all of them.

Week 5, Day 3  It was time for silent reading, a fun ceremony where we all got to read and Ms Hotchkiss got to drink some coffee and grade some papers.  This was the only time that the boys put minutes on the board, it seemed.  I was delighted, because I got to read again.  I was halfway through Hatchet and I wanted to know what happened after Brian had accidently kicked the porcupine.  I went to lift the top of my desk to find that it wouldn’t budge.  I tried again, but nothing happened.  I stood up to give it a good go, but when I heaved with all my might the desk didn’t open, it just flipped over.

Ms Hotchkiss whirled around, “Steve, what is it that you are doing?”

“My desk won’t open.”

“We don’t throw desks around just because they don’t open.”

Julie raised her hand, but proceeded to talk without actually being called on.  “Ms Hotchkiss, the reason his desk won’t open is because Steve glued it shut.”

That’s silly, why would I glue my own desk shut?  Oh you lying jerk!  Ms Hotchkiss zoomed across the room, sailing like a foxtail on the breeze through the maze of classroom clutter.  She descended upon me so swiftly that I was unable to enact any kind of verbal defense of my innocence.  One sniff and she confirmed that my desk was indeed glued shut.  “Steve, it’s very bad that you glued your desk shut.  We also don’t throw our desks.  That’s something bad kids do.  You know what else bad kids do?  They go to the principal’s office.

“But I didn’t do it Ms Hotchkiss!  It had to be the girls-“

“We also don’t tell lies to get out of trouble.  We take responsibility for our actions.  Come along now.”

I had to sit in the principal’s office without a book for all of silent reading, and for the first recess.  All the while I sat, staring at the clock, watching my minutes slip through my hands into oblivion.  I had zero minutes because of this charade.  The girls had two hundred and eighty.  I had to read five hours when I got home just to catch up.

When I got back to class, the janitor had pried my desk open and removed all of the rubber cement.  He gave me a scolding about respecting other people’s property.  I tried pointing out that I don’t even own rubber cement, but that just made him angry, because now he thought I’d lost a bottle of rubber cement somewhere and it was vandalizing some other part of the building.  I didn’t listen to him; I didn’t have to.  Not only was there no rubber cement in my desk, there were no books that I’d checked out from the library.  All of them were gone.  If I didn’t return them by next week I’d get a detention every day until they were returned.  I couldn’t get detention, I had to take the bus home.  The girls had sent their message loud and clear.  I couldn’t even risk telling on them, because sitting on the board was my name with a checkmark behind it.  One more instance of misbehavior and I was in for a detention.  Who was going to believe that the girls were all a part of some massive conspiracy, when I, the class clown was so much easier to blame?

On the bus ride home, Paige sat next to me.  She lived in my neighborhood, and it was especially hurtful that someone from my street could turn on me.  “I’m sorry about the desk and the books.”

“Thanks.  Do you know where they are?”

“No.  They hid them in case you asked Ms Hotchkiss to search all the desks in the room.  I think the third graders have them now.”

“Paige, I’m going to get in trouble if they don’t give me those back!  I told the librarian I’d take special care of them.”

“I know.  I’m supposed to tell you that if you stop reading this week, you’ll get the books back.  We’ll put them in the book return and nothing will happen. You won’t get detention, and you’ll get to catch your bus.”

“Paige, they can’t do this!  This is stealing!  This is lying.”

Paige sighed, because I just wasn’t getting it.  When she spoke next, her voice was curt and condescending.  “If you keep reading, your books are going to stay missing for a month.  Then they’ll show up on the library’s doorstep one day, except they’ll have been washed in a tub, colored with crayons, every fifth page will be missing, and we’ll smear them with mud.”

“Paige, tell them no!  I’ll have to give up my allowance to buy those books back, and I’ll have to miss the Scholastic Book Fair!  They’ll take away my library card.  They won’t let me read anymore.”

“Then you know what to do.”  Paige got up and went to the front of the bus with the rest of the girls.

Week 5, Day 4 I had to borrow a book from my aunt and uncle, my babysitters before school began.  Technically I stole it, but both of them were working on some unrelated project and were unavailable to be asked.  It was the first time I had delved into Stephan King.  The Green Mile started off in a pretty scary place, unlike all of the previous books I had read.  The characters seemed much more mean than they needed to be.  It was an eye opening experience.

At school I didn’t want to talk to anyone.  The boys were jerks and the girls were nefarious.  I just wanted to sink into my shadow and disappear.  That wasn’t going to happen today.  Today was the day that Ms Hotchkiss had updated her bar graph.

I was still in first, but there were more bars.  Cassie was in second, Pam was in third, the girls were in fourth, Paige was in fifth, and the boys didn’t matter.  The girls all collectively bristled.  If Hotchkiss had kept the girls together they would have won, but she didn’t.  Somehow this was my fault, and I could feel the malevolence of their resolve strengthening around me.  The only way they’d win is if Cassie could beat me by herself, otherwise the girls’ bar graph would just keep splitting.

Silent reading approached and I took out The Green Mile,taking a peek at the girls around me.  It was hard to read their expressions.  I hadn’t stopped reading, despite their threats to my library books.
It was a strange mixture of expressions, showing some kind of disappointed respect.  The girls were at a crossroads.  They didn’t really want to steal my books, rip them apart, and frame me for a crime I didn’t commit; they just wanted to win the competition.  I smiled over my book at each of them, because even though they were debasing themselves they still weren’t getting what they wanted.

The problem with silent reading was that it gave the girls a solid 10 minutes to come up with a plan.  Courtney was the first to pounce on my rebellion against the mafia’s tyranny.  “Ms Hotchkiss!  Steve is reading a bad book!”

Ms Hotchkiss stood up and looked at my book.  “What’s that you are reading?”

“The Green Mile by Stephan King.”

“Will you come to the front of the class, Mr. Steve?”

The girls all put their books down, watching what would happen.  They had been prepared to make threats of getting me in trouble, but seeing the consequences carried out was something else entirely.  I gauged their expressions as I approached Hotchkiss’s desk.  Some of them were ready to give in to this, uncomfortable with what they had become.  The others sat resolute in the face of my destruction, determined to finally crush this boy that dared to defy their collective might.

Ms Hotchkiss didn’t have much patience for my surveying of the classroom.  “Steve, have you been faking your reading this entire time?  There is no way that you are reading a Stephen King novel.  That’s way above you level.”

“No it’s not!  It’s about a prison guard in a nursing home. It’s easy for me.”

“Steve, I think that you’ve been pretending to read and putting up fake numbers.  A few of the girls mentioned that you’d checked out books from the fifth grade section, and they think you are faking your reading.  Are you lying just to win?  Are you just pretending to read?”

My voice cracked, as I was on the verge of tears.  The girls weren’t satisfied with trying to stop my minutes, they wanted to wipe away everything I’d done, as if this whole time I’d been sacrificing my recesses for nothing.  “No, I’m not!  I can read it to you!  It’s easy for me.”  I was not going to let Ms Hotchkiss disqualify me from all my hard work.  I opened the book and read quickly and confidently, putting Ms Hotchkiss through one of the most surreal moments of her life as a second grade boy read aloud the story of a botched execution of a prisoner via electric chair.

“Uh…nevermind, Steve.  That was some good reading.  Can we get you a different book?”

From that moment on, for the rest of my second grade career, Ms Hotchkiss would always have a hint of worried panic in her expression when she looked at me.  She also called home to make sure everything was okay.  Mom was furious with my uncle for letting me get my hands on the book, but it wasn’t his fault really.  My uncle switched out The Green Mile for a couple of books from his Doc Savage collection.

Week 5: Voyage Of The Frog, Sign Of The Beaver, Redwall, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Number The Stars, The Green Mile

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART IV….

The 2nd Grade Mafia: Sugar And Spice And Thrice The Vice

[This is Part II of a series called “The 2nd Grade Mafia.  Read part 1 by clicking on this link.]

Week 4  I was still in the lead.  To show everyone in my class that I was going to do this with or without the boys, I put up some better numbers than the previous weeks.  The girls had gotten their act together, however.  They had read exactly one minute more than I did last week.  It was a show of dominance, their reading schedules so tightly controlled and disciplined that they could strike with such precision.  I sat there, staring intently ahead at the bar graph, carefully focusing so that the girls with their malicious smiles couldn’t see me crack.  They wanted to see the fear in my eyes, and it was there, but as long as I kept them focused on the bar graph, no one could see my shivering soul.

I was in first.  The girls were in second.  Cassie was in third.  If Hotchkiss had included Cassie with the girls, I was defeated, but no one else seemed to realize this, so I kept my mouth shut about it.

We had just started multiplication and I knew the awful truth.  Every one minute that went by, I could put up a total of one minute, but the girls could put up 14.  In one hour I could only generate 60 minutes, but the girls could accumulate 840.  If they all read 2 hours a day, I’d have to read 28 hours a day in order to keep up, which didn’t seem likely.  The girls had organized.

The recess bell rang, much to my sweet relief.  The classroom was thick with tension and I needed to kick a soccer ball around to work out my frustration, but before I could stand up from my desk I was frozen in fear.  In a synchronized motion, each girl lifted her desk and pulled out a book, then looked over at me and smiled before getting up and walking outside.  No…it couldn’t be.  I grabbed A Wrinkle In Time just in case, and fled out the door to the recess field.  There they all were.  My class of girls had formed a reading circle.  That wasn’t fair.  You couldn’t do school work at recess!  That was against America!  Yet there they sat, each happily reading away while Ms Hotchkiss watched over them to sign off on their minutes.  I did some quick multiplication in my head.  A total of 45 minutes of recess times 14 girls equaled….somewhere around a million minutes.

Breanne saw me first.  She snapped twice and pointed as I exited the school.  The girls all turned in unison and as sweetly as they could sang out “hey there, Steve.”  I stood there, nervous.  I lived to play soccer three times a day at school and once at the YMCA.  I woke up every morning and got my soccer shorts on in preparation for school.  What these girls were doing was unfair.  I had a choice.  I could either buckle down and read during recess, or I could do what I loved.

With a grave sadness in my heart, I approached the reading circle.  Maybe, just maybe we could strike a peace between us.  “Hey, uh, can I join your reading circle?”

Sarah was the only one to look up from her book, the rest went on diligently reading, although I caught a few sneaking peaks out from behind their pages.  With the utmost concern in her voice, Sarah spoke for the group.  “Oh, Steve, I’m sorry.  This reading circle is for the team that’s going to win the ice cream party.  Sorry about that.”

Sarah went back to her book; the conversation was over.

There would be no peace.

They had taken the boys’ allegiance away, they had taken soccer away, and now they had taken away any chance of readership comradery.  They had me in complete isolation and the choices were to surrender to regain everything I had, or to be systematically dismantled in isolation.  I couldn’t keep up, and they knew it.

I climbed the old forgotten slide on the playground and opened up my book.  Maybe it was out of spite.  Maybe it was out of anger.  Or just maybe this was my fight to finish, because I wanted this; I needed this.  I loved books and I loved soccer and I loved recess, and these girls weren’t going to ruin everything.  No.  For every minute I read, I took 4 seconds away from each of them.  For every hour I read, I took 4 minutes away.  Two could play at this game.

When recess ended, the harassment was relentless, not from the girls, but from the boys.  By choosing to read, I’d apparently chosen to be a girl.  The boys all made their jokes as best they could, stereotyping and sexist jokes that proved how weak their derogatory powers were, which would have been greatly improved if they actually read something.

“Why don’t you go kiss a boy, you nerd?”
“Are you growing your hair out?”
“What’s next Steve?  Are you going to have a baby?”

It seemed that the boys had no knowledge of how to do a proper insult, so they scrapped the bottom of their very shallow barrels to pull out all of the information they knew about girls, which wasn’t much.

The girls were delighted at this turn of events.  How easily they manipulated their male counterparts.  These results were more than they could have ever hoped for.  They sat back at a respectful distance and reveled in every minute of this, watching as I got ever closer to snapping.  And I did, in fine form.

“You want to make fun of me because I’m reading?  That’s the very thing that you swore to me you’d do on the soccer field!  You think I’m a girl because I read, well let me tell you something. Men keep their promises, so if I’m a girl, I don’t know what you are, but it’s something far worse.”

Everyone, boys and girls alike, stood there in shocked silence.  It was clear that the boys had come to a battle of wits unarmed.  I had Beverly Cleary, Bruce Covell, Laurence Yep, Mark Twain, and a host of other ammunition.  More importantly, I had allies. I had D’Artagnan, Henry Huggins, Shimmer, young Henry Jones, Phileas Fogg, Tom Sawyer, Basil of Bakerstreet, Robinson Crusoe, and an entire army of men and women that stuck it out alone against insurmountable odds no matter who was against them or who made fun of them.  I was an unstoppable legion.

Week 4 Reading List:  Goblins In The Castle, The Castle In The Attic, Lost in the Devil’s Desert, Dollhouse Murders, Bridge To Terabithia, A Wrinkle In Time

Week 5, Day 1  Things continued to get worse.  To mark the halfway point of Read A Million Minutes, the school held an assembly.  They announced a few figures to show that we were ahead of where we needed to be, and with some renewed effort we would prevail.  And then they threw me under the bus.

The principal wanted to recognize the leaders of our minute count and award them each with a pencil.  I was in first, Cassie was in second, Pam was in third, and Paige was in forth.  The fifth was some girl from fourth grade named Samantha.  The principal watched as we all got up from our seats in the gym.  “Hey, Ms Hotchkiss.  You’ve got the top 4 in your class?  How did you do it?”

Ms Hotchkiss beamed with delight.  “I’m running a boys vs girls competition.”

The principal nodded in approval.  “Well why don’t we do that here?  I was going to say let’s split it up by grade, but Ms Hotchkiss’s class has obviously won it for second grade.  Let’s do boys verses girls!”

Boys and girls throughout the school cheered.  I knew that the boys were doomed, for in that moment of friendly competition I heard Pam and Paige turn to the fourth grader Samantha and say “We’ve got this in the bag, the only boy we need to take down is Steve, and the rest will fall.  Next time it’ll be five girls standing up here.”

Ms Hotchkiss’s class got an extended recess for their efforts.  It stung that my effort had bought my enemies more time for them to kick their soccer ball around and laugh at me for being a nerdy girl.  However, when recess hit, the three girls that played soccer weren’t there.  The reading circle was gone.  The boys were all lost in their game of soccer, but I needed to find out what they were up to.  I ran around the recess field, and even around the school, but I could not find them until I chanced to glance into the window that led to the basement where the music room was.  Every single girl in the school was in there listening to Cassie speak.  I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but it couldn’t be good.  The mafia had branched out, and now it included every girl in the school.

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART III

The 2nd Grade Mafia: Powerful Enemies Waiting In The Shadows Of The Slides

I grew up in a sleepy town in Iowa, deep in the country about an hour’s drive from the nearest interstate, but even that kind of seclusion could not protect me from the horrors of organized elementary school crime.  I was in 2nd Grade when it all started.  I lived out in the country, miles from the nearest classmate.  My parents couldn’t get far enough from everyone else, it seemed.  I was too young to bike the required distance to seek out companionship, so every summer I turned to books to get me through the lonely days.  I read a lot and at an advanced level, but I didn’t know because other than my younger sister, another advanced reader, reading the 3 Musketeers and Gulliver’s Travels in a week was commonplace.  Yet because of this isolation, I found myself ill prepared for the social aspect of a book reading competition that would crush my soul.
Ms Hotchkiss had introduced the school’s reading initiative to us, a competition called “Read A Million Minutes”.  For the next 2 months, we were to record our time spent reading and then as a school we’d combine these times to see if we could hit 1 million minutes.  Ms Hotchkiss was going to up the ante for our 2nd grade classroom.  She split the class into boys and girls, and whichever team read more minutes would receive an ice cream party.  It was an innocent enough move on her part to spark some friendly competition, but it would drive a wedge between the sexes that would last until puberty.

Week 1  Without a hitch, this was the easiest week.  The girls were ahead at the very beginning, but that was to be expected.  The girls had shown much more excitement at the onset of the competition, and more of the boys were enrolled in soccer at the YMCA, which took a good 2 hours out of our available reading time.  We were very competitive, however, and we made a pact with each other that we would buckle down and beat the girls at this competition.  School stuff was the girl’s domain, and we wanted to beat them on their own turf.

I did have my worries.  The boys were committing to reading an ‘hour’ when they got home.  I started reading as soon as I got home, took a break for dinner, and then stopped when it was time to brush my teeth and go to bed.  Sometimes I didn’t even stop when it was time to go to bed, I just kept going.  Still, I had learned about multiplication just recently, and twelve boys times sixty minutes was a lot of time, more than I could do in a day, unless that day was Saturday because I totally finished three literary classics last Saturday.

Week 1 Reading List: Around The World In 80 Days, Call of the Wild, Black Beauty, Every Henry Huggins Book, Dragon of the Lost Sea, Dragon Steel

Week 2  The boys were ahead now, which sounds like a good move to win a competition, but it was a tragic mistake.  We were 2nd grade boys, and as any parent of a son knows, 2nd grade boys are turds.  We weren’t winning gracefully.  We celebrated, we bragged, and we rubbed it in every chance we got.  The girls would never hear the end of it if we had our way.  The boys had dominated, and nothing could please our little jubilant hearts more.  Ms Hotchkiss had to resort to the school’s discipline method of writing our names on the board to keep us in line.  A name on the board was bad, but was just a warning shot fired by the teacher across the bow.  If we misbehaved again we got a check behind our name, and that meant that we lost recess for the day, and a couple of us got that check because we were monsters with no social graces.  Despite our colossal victory over the girls, the threat of losing recess was too much for us, because we lived to play soccer every day over the course of three separate recess periods.

That week we created a monster.  While we pumped our fists in the air and laughed heartily at the girls, they were gripping their little knuckles until they cracked and turned white.  This was their turf, and they were going to defend it.  They didn’t show their anger in its entirety.  Brimming with irritation they forced their revenge down to fester deep in their chests.  Decades later, I know that this is a sign that a woman is at her most dangerous, but back then I was an oblivious bungler.  I couldn’t have known.

We sucker punched them with our minute count, and that was embarrassing.  A bunch of stupid boys weren’t going to take the ice cream party away from them.  They might have lost the battle, but they would crush our souls and make us beg for mercy before this war was over.  Ms Hotchkiss’s second grade class was a house divided.

In this state of unfettered braggadocio, there was one boy who wasn’t celebrating, and that was me.  Ms Hotchkiss had drawn up a bar graph, something we were learning about in math, which showed how many minutes the boys had read vs how many minutes the girls had read.  Something looked wrong with the graph.  Could it be possible that Ms Hotchkiss had made a mistake?  Because I knew how many minutes I had read, and according to the bar graph I was looking at, I had contributed more than half of the minutes to our cause.  You might even say that the boys contributed a sliver of the minutes, a barnacle upon the whale of minutes I had slaved over.  We hadn’t beat the girls this week; I had beat the girls this week.  I had given up my entire weekend to put those points on the board.  It wasn’t a great sacrifice, I loved to read, but it took a lot of effort and I wasn’t sure if I had that in me another time around.

Week 2 Reading List: Dear Mr. Henshaw, Young Indiana Jones and the Lost Gold of Durango (and several others in that line), Bunnicula, The Celery Stalks At Midnight

Week 3  The previous two weeks, Hotchkiss had made a bar graph of boys in blue and girls in purple.  This week she had an entirely new one.  This week there were 4 bars on the graph: Boys (blue), girls (purple), Cassie (red), and Steve (green).  I was in first place, Cassie was in second, the girls were in third, and I’m not even sure if the boys were even trying.  I was floored.  How could this be?  Surely one hundred and forty hours of reading in 3 weeks wasn’t that big of an accomplishment, was it?  Yet the numbers spoke for themselves.  I had one hundred and forty hours.  Cassie had ninety.  The girls had seventy-five.  The girls and Cassie had more minutes than the boys and I had.

Ms Hotchkiss called Cassie and I to the front of the classroom.  She pronounced us the king and queen of reading, gave each of us fun pencil, and then had us turn to face the class.  Hotchkiss started clapping, and everyone else took up the cue to clap also, but I saw trouble in the sea of my fellow classmates.  The boys had already lost interest in the competition, staring off out the window at the soccer field as they absently clapped.  It was good enough for them that they had won last week, and now they didn’t care, especially now that ‘their’ victory had just become ‘my’ victory.  The girls, on the other hand, did care.  They cheered for Cassie by name, and then one by one they each turned to me.  Each had a tight, mischievous smile on their face as their eyes narrowed to pinpricks.  They knew that everything they wanted was in their grasp.  Every single boy in this chain was a weak link.  They only needed to beat me.

This was the moment that the 2nd Grade Mafia formed.

Julius Caeser himself would have been impressed with their ability to divide and conquer.  The first recess took place right after reading class.  I got ready to run out to the soccer field when another classmate named Pam pulled me aside.  “Hey Steve, take a look at this!”

I couldn’t believe it.  Written in lavender pen on unicorn stationary, I walked through a math problem.  We had just learned division, and what I saw was horrible.  The boys were reading less than an hour a day.  Their entire reading chunk was in the remainder section because one hour didn’t’ work for them.  Pam tilted her head to the side and said “they really let you down, huh.  Leaving you to do all the work for them so that they can eat your ice cream at the ice cream party.”

Pam was right, and I was livid.  I ran out to meet the boys on the soccer field.  “Hey!” I called out to all of the boys gathered at the soccer field.  “I thought we had a plan!  We were all going to read a whole bunch.”

The boys all mumbled back excuses, realizing that they had broken a promise they cared nothing about, and had probably forgotten about until this moment.  Seeing that I still cared, they were a bit embarrassed for me.
“Yeah, well you just need to read a bit more and we’ve got this.”
“We won last week.”
“Reading is boring.”
“Megan is right.  You are a nerd.”

The last one hurt, stinging right to my exposed heart.  Everyone stopped giving excuses, anger in their faces.  Megan had gotten to them.  I liked to read, but I knew it was a nerdy thing to do.  Hotchkiss’s graph had exposed my anonymity.  What I thought was a chance for me to show my passion for stories in an acceptable way had just turned out to be a source of condemnation on the soccer field, the holiest of places.  I was mad with them, or so they had already heard from Megan, so they felt no remorse in dismissing me entirely.  They weren’t going to stand by and let some nerd tell them what to do.  The captains started to pick teams, deciding that the vow we had made on the holy soccer field was inconsequential and the boring conversation was over.

I whipped around and saw Megan there on the soccer field.  There were three girls that played soccer with us: Lisa, Robin, and Megan.  They were all huddled together, smiling those vehement little smiles while appraising me with their trenchant eyes.  Was Pam a part of their plan, a way to keep me off the soccer field while Megan planted her seeds of betrayal in the minds of my allies?  I had never experienced conspiracy before in real life, but I had read about it plenty in books, and I knew what was happening.  The trouble was, I couldn’t convey that to these illiterate boys.  If they didn’t read, they lacked the capacity to understand the big picture because they were working with such a small screen.

That day, I was picked last for a soccer team, technically not being picked at all.  No one wanted an angry nerd on their team.  Cassie, on the other hand, was allowed to cut to the front of any Tetherball, 4-Square, Hopscotch, or Double Dutch line that she wanted to.  Just last week the boys had been flagrantly bragging about ‘their’ victory over the girls, but now that Hotchkiss had taken away their victory and made it my victory, reading was no longer cool and the competition meant nothing.

The girls had Cassie’s back.
The boys were too busy stabbing mine.

It was fine, I decided.  The boys were dead to me.   I’d have to walk this road alone.
Week 3 Reading List: Robinson Crusoe, Basil of Baker Street, Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, The Dragonslayers, How To Eat Fried Worms

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART II….

I’m Saving Sexy Halloween

Today is Friday, the day I talk about “The Issues”.  Today’s issue is: Halloween Costumes for Women.

Something happens around college time to women everywhere during Halloween.  Rather than dress up as a witch or a mummy or any of the other classic costumes which served them so well in their childhood, college ladies decide it is time to push the envelope.  It’s time to really push the envelope.  It’s no longer time to dress up adorable in an effort to get candy, it’s time to get a costume that will turn heads.  We’re going for a different kind of sweetie this year.  It’s time to go out as a sexy [fill in the blank].  Maybe it’s a sexy nurse, or a sexy police officer, or a sexy witch.

This isn’t a bad thing.

I have a sneaky suspicion that I’m going to get in trouble with folks for saying this, but I don’t really care because I’m a guy with a blog and that makes my opinion worth more than yours [citation needed].

Some folks hate sexy Halloween because they think that it is demeaning to women.  I’m not sure how this is so.  Maybe they think that women dressing up as a sexy stewardess or a sexy policeman or a sexy construction worker puts forward an ‘anti-feminist’ ideal.  I think that’s unfair, because women can also dress up as a sexy hedge fund manager, or a sexy CEO, or a sexy scientist, or even a sexy president of the United States and still have a great costume.  High paying jobs always have a sexy counterpart, and I feel that this is insulting to the average worker who isn’t in a leadership position.  Nah, I’m just joking, it’s the ‘sexy’ part of sexy Halloween that people have a problem with, because being sexy is bad and anti-female, and even though that logic doesn’t follow, we still adhere to it because we live in the 1800’s.  With our 1800’s mindset, our culture has determined that sex is bad, being sexy is bad, and a woman being sexy is bad because…well…we’ve decided as a culture that sexuality is a primal and awful thing that is no longer a part of what it is to be human, therefore sexy people aren’t human people, they are objects.  I disagree with this entirely, and while I think it’s time to move on from the Victorian Era, it seems that many folks who share my planet feel differently.  Let me walk you down this rabbit hole as to why so many people hate sexy Halloween.

I’m going to give you a college level history class in about a paragraph, so hang on.  It all started when Queen Victoria decided that no one should ever have any fun, ever.  Now that the Puritans had left England a few centuries earlier, there were no outlandish prudes that took modesty and boredom to the extreme, and Queen Victoria missed that.  She thought it’d be great to bring that all back and ruin everything.  The first step to ruining everything was to make sex bad.  Sex, the greatest thing ever, was to become vulgar, rude, lowly, disgusting, and awful.  Why?  Because Queen Victoria hates you, that’s why.  Not only was sex bad, but everything related to it had to be bad as well.  Being naked was bad.  Being immodestly dressed was bad.  Being a flirt was bad.  Being attractive was bad.  Being attractive?  Yes, being attractive is bad, because if you are attractive and people notice, you are now a slut, because only sluts are attractive in a way that other people notice.  In fact, all women were now bad, because women have sex, and they have boobs, and they can be very attractive, and that makes them sluts.  Queen Victoria opposed women’s rights to vote because she didn’t want a bunch of sluts telling her what to do.  Queen Victoria hated attractive people, and sluts, and flirting, and sex, and women, and everything that had to do with fun in the bedroom.  Sex was uncool, and that’s how Queen Victoria liked it.

Many scholars wonder why Queen Victoria hated sex so much.  It doesn’t take a history scholar to figure it out.  I did it with a quick Wikipedia search.  It’s because she had nine children with Prince Albert, who is famous for…um…not being a comfortable partner to have nine children with.

The Victorian Era had other repercussions.  When you make sex bad, people stop doing it.  When people stop doing it, they become very industrious because they have a lot of built up energy and frustration to work out.  Now Queen Victoria had all of these industrious people sitting about, so she decided that it was now time to make the worst thing ever into something good: violence.  England decided it was time to use their military and embark in a great expansion of the British Empire.  This gave rise to other things, such as: not caring about what you do to third world nations full of people, romanticism of war, capitalism to the detriment of people (East India Company), exporting harmful goods to the detriment of the people you are selling to (Opium War), and other vices we still hold in high regard today.

I’ve devised a quick test to see if you are living in the Victorian Era.
——————————————————————————————————————————————
Q1: Which of these sentences would get edited before being said over your public air waves?
a.) The wife shot her husband and killed him.
b.) The wife touched her husband’s penis.

I see some of you giggling out there.  One of these is a terrible tragedy and breach of law, which ends one life and shatters the husband’s community of friends and family.  The other event should be so commonplace that it isn’t a big deal when it happens (although phrasing of this sentence might need some work due to reasons that I can’t explain in the Victorian Era).  We already know which gets censored.  A murder is entertainment and gets our many police procedurals started (NCIS, CSI, Law and Order, Criminal Minds, the list goes on forever) but if you dare to show a butt on one of these shows, it’s cause for an FCC meltdown and a $1.2 million dollar fine.

Q2: Which of these is an “epidemic”, as covered by your new sources?
a.) 3 Americans with the ebola virus, contained and monitored by the CDC.
b.) 4,500 cases of ebola in Africa.

The news has been in a frenzy over 3 people in the US having ebola.  3 contained people are apparently an epidemic.  Before that, there was no coverage about Africa.  There is still no coverage about Africa.  Africa is only mentioned as the problem from which this other problem came from.

Q3: Does your country have an unlimited budget for war, even when it claims it can’t afford simple things such as health care, food stamps, child care, or public education?
a.) yes

Q4: Does your country claim to be a peaceful nation, and yet sell more weapons than anywhere else, sometimes even fighting those same weapons in future wars?
a.) yes

Congratulations, you live in the Victorian Era.
——————————————————————————————————————————————

Back to sexy Halloween, because that’s what we all want to talk about.  I don’t think sexy Halloween is a bad thing.  When it comes to personal matters of modesty, I’m very much a libertarian.  If you want to dress up in the full burka, that’s fine.  If you want to travel about wearing only a speedo, that’s fine.  Dress up how you feel.  If you’re handsome, young, and in shape and you want to dress sexy, go for it.  If you are fat, old, and ugly and you want to dress sexy, go for it.  If legions of college girls want to dress sexy for Halloween, go for it.

That goes for the fellas as well.  I purposefully haven’t mentioned men dressing up sexy for Halloween being a problem, because we live in the Victorian Era, and that isn’t a problem.  In the Halloween of 2012, lots of very muscled men dressed up as Michael Phelps and walked around downtown in a swimmer’s cap and a speedo and nothing else.  No one said anything (the exception being a few exaggeratedly appreciative utterances of the word ‘damn’ from a lot of women and a select few of the men).  Men can do what they want, because centuries dead Queen Victoria liked men, and men can dress sexy if they want to.  No one feels like they have the right to tell men how to dress, just women.  Just to prove my point, remember the Yoga Pants “debates” from earlier this summer that flooded our Facebook feeds, where many conservative women were condemning pants for undoing feminism entirely, or men with no control over their sexual impulses condemned pants for forcing them to have sexual fantasies and a life riddled with sin?  (Links provided)  Those were absurd.

Well why do women dress up sexy for Halloween if we live in the Victorian Era?  I’m going to give you a college level biology class in about a paragraph, so hang on.  Humans evolved to be very young breeders back in our caveman days.  A couple was ready to have kids at the age of fifteen, reproduce as much as they could, then die at the age of 30 due to some problem involving their teeth growing in funny, the teeth of a saber tooth tiger, the gnawing teeth of hunger, the cold teeth of winter, or some other problem involving teeth.  In that fifteen year span the goal was to crank out up to eight children in the hopes that maybe three of them would survive to pass on their genes.  Humans became a species that needed to breed quickly and efficiently at the age of fifteen, and our genes reflect that.  So even though the Victorian Era issued in an attitude that hates sex, our biology hasn’t changed, and it drives us to do nothing but seek out sex right around the time we turn fifteen.

Now America has set up a very elaborate and complicated experiment when it comes to our children.  Despite their bodies being fully ready to be parents around the same time they enter High School, we still call them ‘kids’.  We tell them sex is bad.  Sex is something to be ashamed of.  Wanting sex makes Queen Victoria cry.  Having sex makes Jesus cry.  We heap loads of guilt upon year after year of sexual creatures known as high school students.  We also don’t tell them anything useful about healthy sexuality because we’ve deemed it “icky”.  This has consequences.

I’m going to give you a college level psychology class in about a paragraph, so hang on.  When you repress someone’s sex drive, they start to develop fetishes.  Humans are sexual creatures.  Our sexual selves make up a huge part of our personhood.  When we’re told to repress that, our minds don’t handle it too well because there really isn’t a good reason to repress our sex drives in unhealthy ways.  So the mind develops fetishes.  For most people stuck in the Victorian era, they end up fetishizing sex.  For some people it is feet.  For other people it is Yoga Pants.  For Queen Victoria, it was an unhealthy obsession with making sure no one enjoyed life.

So rather than help our kids navigate their sexuality, we instead guilted all of them into having fetishes that they can’t act on.  At least…not until they finally get to college.

That’s right, after years of sexual repression by teachers, parents, and other adult authority figures, our college students are sex crazy, and for the first time, they are free!  They’ve been in college for about two months, about as long as it takes for the freedom to really settle into the minds of these freshly released sexual prisoners, when Halloween rolls around.  How could sexy Halloween not happen?  This is the one time they get to express their sexuality for the first time, after bottling it up to the point of sexual repression.  Is it bad?  No.  It’s therapeutic.  Our college girls aren’t going to live their lives trying to impress a centuries dead queen from a different country.

What I’m saying?  I’m saying that Queen Victoria is the reason we have sexy Halloween.

Ladies, if you want to dress up sexy for Halloween to express an important part of who you are, go for it.

Listen To My Grandpa’s Stories Or You’ll Die

My grandfather tells a very aggressive story.  He means well; it’s clear that he wants to get some kind of moral across, but the exaggerated lengths he goes to tend to discredit his stories, and that’s why I love them.

Grandpa is a rather conservative gentleman named Colin.  Colin worked for a living, and carries his days as a miner on his sleeve wherever he goes.  He’s as Irish as you please, a bit red-faced after a drop of the ol’ whiskey….and come to think of it, I’m not sure if he’s ever not red-faced.  When convenient, he’s a very staunch Catholic.  Most importantly, in his eyes, he is a very hard worker.  He’s got a big nose and two giant ears.  When he tells stories he leans towards you and always looks at you slightly sideways so he can get you with his piercing blue eye.  Doesn’t matter which eye it is, he’ll squint the further eye from you as he talks.  My sister and I used to sit on either side and take turns asking him questions in order to see his shifty-squints.  His voice is a deep bass growl, always a few decibels above what is comfortable to listen to as he shouts his stories.  The rather cheery Irish and Minnesotan mixed accent the rest of my family has sounds harsh and accusatory when it comes from his throat.  It’s more a growl than a voice.  He once told me, at the age of five, that he had been raised by bears, and that’s where he got his voice.  I believed him.

Grandpa’s stories were always made up on the spot.  He was visiting my hometown in Iowa and was reading the newspaper.  I was 13 at the time, and I saw him eyeing me suspiciously across the room with his blue eye.  He looked at me, back at the paper, and back to me.

“What is it, Grandpa?” I asked.

He beckoned me forward and pointed aggressively at the newspaper.  It read ‘Teen Pregnancy Rate Up In Des Moines County’.  He pushed the paper to me so I could read the story.  At this point I had to fight off a fit of laughter.  Clearly he thought this was my fault, and while I appreciated his confidence in me, I knew it was misplaced confidence.  My charisma could barely handle conversation with a girl without me blushing; it was nowhere near where it needed to be to get a couple hundred girls pregnant.

“I knew a young guy that got a young girl pregnant.  Do ya’ know what happened to them?”

I did, of course.  It was the same thing that happened to all the characters in his stories.  Still, I shook my head ‘no’, because he wanted to tell me.

“They died!  She died because she made bad choices and lacked responsibility!  He died because he didn’t listen to his grandpa, and her dad shot him dead for lacking decency and morals.”  Grandpa fixed me with his icy stare, evaluating whether or not I had gotten the message to stop impregnating girls dozens at a time.

“Did they arrest the dad?”

“No!  They let him go free because the boy needed to be taught a lesson!”

I doubt the boy learned much from being shot to death, but that’s the way it was with grandpa’s stories.  Severe consequences arose from minor infractions against his blue-collar, Irish Catholic, hardworking decency.  I never heard about my family’s history from him.  The closest I’ve gotten was the story of how all my ancestors died because they didn’t have enough food due to their laziness, despite the warnings of their grandfather.  A secondary story about my great great great grandfather also surfaced.  Zachariah Benzedecker Bishop was his name, and he was a prison guard in Vermont.  One day an inmate tried to start a riot to protest the abhorrent conditions of the prison (rightfully so), and my great great great grandfather shot him dead.

“Ya’ know why he did that?”  Grandpa asked in his usual growl.

“To stop a riot?”

“He shot him because he wasn’t behaved and didn’t listen to authority, or your great great great grandfather!”

I tell you all this so I can share my grandfather’s second most entertaining story.  His first and best story was about Justin O’Reely and how he only had one testicle.  It was an uncharacteristic story for grandpa and unfortunately I wasn’t there to hear it, but he had everyone in tears that Christmas Eve dinner.  His second best story was told in his car, where I was the only witness.

Grandpa wasn’t a good driver.  He still isn’t.  I’ve told him many times that he needs to be a safer driver by either paying more attention or to stop driving altogether.  He didn’t listen to me that day like he usually didn’t.  After cutting off another driver (twice), the driver whipped around and gave grandpa the finger before speeding off down the road.

This infuriated grandpa!  Some 20-something no-good kid had dared to disrespect him, a good and honest blue-collar Irish Catholic hard worker, and he did it in front of his grandson.  I saw his knuckles go white as he tried to catch up to that car again to show him who was boss.  Grandpa had accelerated to five miles below the speed limit instead of his customary fifteen below, but that 20-something was gone.

“Did ya’ see that?”
“Yes, Grandpa.”
“That’s a bad idea.  Ya’ know why?
“No, Grandpa.”

And for once, I saw him struggle for the story.  I didn’t know if it was the multi-tasking, the frustration of being flicked off, or that he couldn’t fix me with his blue stare while he was telling the story.  His bad driving was getting worse.  I knew it was going to be a good one.  The anger was stewing in him, fermenting, because he couldn’t get even with that punk kid.

“When I was a young boy in Minnesota, my grandma died.  We held mass for her because she was a goodhearted decent Catholic lady, God bless her soul.  We loaded her up in the hearse and the funeral procession followed.”

I was enraptured by the story.  Grandpa never went into such detail, and I had fully expected great great grandma to have died to some rather common vice.  This was different.  He was drawing from himself this story that he needed to tell.

“We were in a procession a mile long, your great great grandma was so loved by everyone.  The whole town showed up.  Well, there was this one jerk, some moron 20-year old guy that got behind us and started flashing his lights at us and honking his horn.  He had no respect.  He stomps on his gas and gave everyone in line the finger!  Me, my ma, the line of everyone, the hearse driver, and even your great great grandma, God bless her soul.”

Grandpa was fuming.  At this point he’d run a red light (3 seconds after the yellow winked off) and had started speeding.  I was getting scared, I asked him to slow down and pay attention, but I also wanted him to go on with the story.  Maybe he was equating these two 20-year olds despite the 50+ years between these two incidents.  We drove on in silence, until we made it into the country of Iowa.

“Ya’ know what happened to him?”
“No, Grandpa,” I said, though I was pretty sure.
“His car broke down.  Flat tire or something.  There he was on the side of the road out in the middle of nowhere Minnesota.  Ya’ know what happened to him?”
Now I wasn’t sure.  “No…?”
“Every last one of us gave him the finger! Baam!  One after the other.  Finger…finger…finger…finger…a whole town of middle fingers except your great great grandma, God bless her soul.”

A smile crept across the old man’s face.  “And when we left the cemetery after the funeral, we all did it again!”
“Did anyone stop to help him?”
“Of course not!  He was disrespectful and crude.  Ya’ don’t swear at someone like that.”

I wasn’t sure if giving the finger was the same as swearing, but I let it slide.  Grandpa’s mood had lifted.

“So what happened to him?  This was before cell phones.”
“It was before all phones.  What do ya’ think happened?”
“He had to walk back to-“
He died!”
In hindsight, I should have seen that coming.
“And ya’ know what?  He didn’t get a Catholic mass.  All’s he got was a tombstone that said ‘Good-For-Nothing’ in the shape of a middle finger.”

I’m pretty sure that at some point, grandpa had lost the truth of his story.  He knew it, I knew it, but it was still funny.  Still, Grandpa lacked closure for this recent case of being flicked off, and he settled into a kind of a mood.  Then, I saw a familiar red car in the left turn lane.

“Grandpa, that’s him!”

The situation was something like this: we were on a two-lane highway cruising in the middle of nowhere Iowa.  The red car was in a 3rd turning lane, stopped and waiting for an open spot to drive on.  Grandpa pulled his car to a stop inches from the other vehicle.  Keep in mind, this wasn’t an intersection, it was a highway, where we were expected to be going 50mph.

Grandpa rolled down his window and reached out with his hand, thumping the red car’s passenger window twice.  The 20-something was unaware of us until that point, but his reaction as he snapped his head around was priceless.  The thumping made him jump, and his shock went to terror as he turned to see an old man and his grandson leaning out the window and flipping him the bird on four different hands.  Grandpa stomped on the gas and sped away.

It’s my fondest memory of my Grandpa, as it is the one time I heard him laugh with complete triumph and comradery.  He was a good guy, albeit stubborn and gruff in his own way.  I learned a lot from him.  Unfortunately, he died later on because he didn’t drive carefully and he didn’t listen to his grandson.

A Passive Aggressive Fight Broke Out In Texas….

Today is Friday, the day I talk about the issues.  Today’s Issue is: Passive Aggressive Territorial Claims.

A very specific case comes to mind, about two years ago when I was at Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL for short).  It’s a very large outdoor concert festival where there are about 8 stages playing live music, 4 going at a time while the other 4 set up for the next act.  About 75,000 people are in attendance and the park isn’t all that big, so it fills up pretty quick.

Now I was a 5-year veteran of this festival.  I had run the gauntlet of standing in front of a stage all day.  That doesn’t sound too bad until you add up all of the difficulties this entails.  There are about 5 people in every 3 feet by 3 feet square when you get that close.  It gets claustrophobic very quick as people are pressing on all sides.  It’s impossible to sit down as it takes too much space, and even if you manage it, you are probably going to get trampled at some point.  All the while the Texas sun is beating on everyone with an 85 to 105 degree heat.  It’s like that for about 6 hours, and if you leave to use the restroom, get a drink, or get some food then you can’t get back to your spot in front of the stage.  It’s a certain kind of insanity that I only reserve the big name acts that I’m most excited to see.

That’s one severe end of the spectrum.  The other end of the spectrum is for the casual music fan who doesn’t want to survive an experiment designed to test the limits of personal heat stroke.   There is a chair section for this kind of fan, where he can set up a lawn chair and enjoy the concert, although from a much further distance than your front row mob.  The chair section is much more spaced out, can be navigated by an experienced festival goer to the point that refreshments, restroom trips, and venturing to other stages is possible.  The trick is, you need to find a spot big enough for your chair.

The first day of the festival I had survived a 6 hour vigil, pressed tightly in with the rest of my fellow MUSE fans.  I tend to be the oldest guy, as the sweatlodge of the front row is a game for the young.  The festival draws heavily from the nearby universities and high schools.  These students form tight alliances in the front mob, and with some careful planning it can be quite pleasant for them.  I’m a lone wolf wolf-pack when I venture up there.  I stood through 6 hours and two other concerts in order to be in the front row to watch MUSE.  When I saw MUSE I lost my mind and it was amazing.  I shouted, I sang, I laughed, I cried, I lost my voice, I stomped my feet, I jumped in the air, I punched enthusiasm into the sky, and threw more than one person around in a body-surfing extravaganza.  I also was dehydrated, exhausted, hungry, sun burned, sore, and a bit delirious when the night ended.

The second day I wasn’t feeling up to repeating the process.  My feet hurt, my body hadn’t fully recovered from what it had been through, and I just wanted to take things easy.  So for the second day I took a lawn chair with me to go and watch the Black Keys from the chair section.  The park was already filling up, and about 35,000 people were gathering to watch the Black Keys perform.  Being an avid festival goer, I took to pushing my way forward.  There are tricks to this.  The first is to not look at the crowd, that’s just a good way to panic and give up because it is so impossible.  Just look 10 to 20 feet ahead and navigate that.  With practice it becomes easy.  With no effort I can navigate to the back end of the standing section, which is where the chair section begins.  Today, however, I just wasn’t feeling it.  I was going to leave this stage after the Black Keys, so I wanted to hang back a bit to give me a quicker exit.  It took some doing, but I found myself a spot.  In the middle of a swarm of people there was a hefty sized blank spot, so I walked up to it to set up my chair.

The spot I had found was large, probably six feet by six feet, which is unheard of for how far I was forward.  I took my chair out of my bag to set it up when I felt a hand on my shoulder.  I turned to see a guy sitting in his chair, leaning forward and looking very cross.  He was in his mid 40’s, kind of a thin guy, wearing dark aviator glasses and a visor.  He leaned to me and shouted (not because he was that angry, but because you have to shout in order to be heard in that kind of crowd) “Hey, I’m saving this spot for my friend.”

I gave him a thumbs up, showing him I understood.  There are no rules about saving spots.  Personally, I’m of the opinion that if you aren’t there, then the spot shouldn’t be yours.  Still, I respect the system of saving space because other folks in my group do it and it’s a festival where everyone should get to experience it with their friends and family.  I can easily find another spot that isn’t ‘theirs’.  ACL has a rather laissez-faire attitude about claiming territory, and generally it works out.  However, I wasn’t about to give up on this other spot that his friend didn’t need, so I set up my chair.  Like I said, the area was six feet by six feet.  I plopped my chair down on what I gauged was more than enough room for the guy’s friend to come and sit between us.  It was a ludicrous amount of room.  However, I could tell that the guy was getting angry.

“Hey!”  He shouted at me.  “I said I was saving this spot for my friend!”

I nodded and smiled at him, giving him two thumbs up this time to show him that not only had I understood him the first time, but I was understanding him a second time as well.  Both times that I had understood him, I was abiding his wishes for a spot for his friend.

“Get a load of this guy!” he started shouting to no one in particular.  “I’m saving a spot and he practically sits down on top of me!”

The few chair folks around him had to look around to who he was pointing to, and I guess a few of them figured out it was me, but it was hard to tell.  I could lean at him and stretch with all of my tenacity and still not be able to reach him.

“What an [carrot-face]!”  He kept going on, lamenting his woes to whomever would listen.  I heard him call me several names, but decided to ignore him.  At this point it was getting funny.  This concert had some pre-game entertainment.  I wasn’t really excited to see the Black Keys, but now I was going to ardently sit here to make this guy’s life a living hell by simply existing.

“Hey buddy!” he yelled in my direction.  I ignored him, because he obviously wasn’t talking to me.  I wasn’t his buddy.  He’d just called me an [carrot-face]; ‘buddy’ must have been someone else.  I just kept staring ahead, watching the crowd surge in and out of itself as people situated for the imminent Black Keys performance.

“Hey!  I’m talking to you!  This is my friend’s spot!  Get out!”

I waited for four seconds to see what he would do.  Would he throw a punch?  He’d have to get up and walk over to me in order to reach me.  Would he throw something?  I was ready to catch anything he threw my way, but by the look of things it’d either be his hat or his glasses.  Either case, I’d just keep it.  He just kept shouting at me, reiterating how this tract of land was his, so I finally turned to him and curtly asked “How fat is your friend?”

This shut him up.  Up until this point I had been pleasant.  I had abided his wishes, I had smiled, and I had given him three thumbs up total.  Questioning the obesity of his friend caught him off guard.  It also made him angry.  I can only imagine because his friend is so incredibly fat that his friend didn’t like to talk about it because it was a sore subject.  The guy’s friend must have been massive to need more than a four feet by six feet area to sit in.  A similar area at the front of the stage could have held 15 people all crammed together.  For those of you that don’t do well with spatial reasoning, that’s the size of a fold-out table.  The absurdity of it all was very entertaining, and I had to fight the impulse to break my tough-guy exterior and laugh into his face.

I went back to watching the pre-show techies as they adjusted their cameras and lights, climbing up and down the scaffolds.  Sort of.  Out of the corner of my eye I was watching what this guy would do.  He was so angry and there was no reason for it.  I found it hysterically funny.  His friend had more than enough room to set up two chairs.  This random guy didn’t get to claim the entire park just because he had a ticket to ACL.  I had one of those also, and had just as much right to sit well outside of the space he had saved for his friend as anybody.  This isn’t Oklahoma and he wasn’t a Sooner; this spot wasn’t his just because he said so.  He was just pissed because he wanted to be pissed, and I wasn’t going to let him tell me what to do just because he was throwing a temper tantrum.

He stood up.  I wasn’t sure what to do at this point, so I kept an appearance as if I was ignoring him.  At the same time, I was gathering my feet underneath me in case I needed to stand quickly.  If he wanted a fight, he’d lose, and no Texas jury would ever convict me of standing my own ground.  If he wanted to verbally accost me that was fine because I could just sit here and laugh and make him all the angrier until his heart exploded.  I just didn’t know what he was up to.  I don’t think he knew either, as he just planted his hands on his hips and adorned his best ‘tsk tsk’ act.

And then he started packing up his chair.

I didn’t believe it.  He was going to give up a glorious spot for no reason at all.  There was his spot, his friend’s spot, room for another friend in front of me, and room for still another friend.  I wondered if this guy went to the movie theater and got mad if anyone sat in ‘his’ row.  Maybe he lacked depth perception.  I was a bit disappointed in him; if he left I wouldn’t have anyone to entertain me with their absurd notion of personal boundaries.

But the show wasn’t done yet.  I knew what he was going to do before he did it, because I saw him planning it on his stupid face.

With his chair packed up, the man dropped the chair so that it’d fall over towards me.  It landed harmlessly on the ground, because there was an absurd amount of space between where I sat and where he stood.  I shook my head as he demonstrated for everyone how generous I had been with the space I’d saved him.  Undeterred, the man walked to the top of his chair, stood it up again, and proceeded to drop it a second time so it’d fall in my direction.  This time it hit my shoulder and then fell to the ground.  He walked to the front of his chair and proceeded to bend over, bumping me with his hip.  He picked it up, and dropped it again so it landed on my armrest, then gently nudged me with his arm as he recollected it.  All the while he kept sarcastically uttering “excuse me, sorry, pardon me.”

I ignored him.  He was livid.  I could tell he wanted to get under my skin, and ignoring him was driving him maniacal.

He got in my face and yelled, “Maybe now you’ll be more respectful when someone saves a spot!”

I turned my head and acted surprised, as if I didn’t expect to see him there.  My facial expression was carefully crafted to express many complex thoughts at once: smugness, superiority, dismissiveness, pity, slight confusion, nonchalance, and a complete lack of craps that I gave about him.  With a careful amount of slight annoyance I asked “Are you finished?”

There he stood, slack-jawed and stupid.  He wrenched up his chair and turned to leave in a huff, when he almost collided with several unexpected members of the audience.  While he was going through his crotch-display ritual to impress the other baboons, two teenagers had plopped down their chairs on the exact spot he had been sitting.  A third was almost smacked by the man’s chair when he whipped around to make a big show of leaving.

“Hey mister, are you leaving?”

It was too perfect.  The man huffed off, but not before he saw that not one, not two, but three people could have fit in the space that he had been saving for his comically corpulent friend.  I howled with laughter and saw him grip his fists into white-knuckles as he stormed off to the back of the crowd for absolutely no reason at all.

Vacation

Howdy folks.

This really isn’t a post.  Just announcing that I am on vacation.  Posts will begin again October 6th.  I’m sure my loyal fans (all 10 of you) will be bummed, I know.  Sorry, but I can’t burn my vacation time writing these posts when I could be, you know, on vacation.  So far I think it takes me ten times as long to write these posts as it takes the entirety of my audience to read them, and I can’t dedicate that time on the move.

Till October 6th, have a good one.

I Write Chaos In Yelp Reviews, And People Love It.

I’ve always been impressed with the service “Yelp”, but one day I found more than I had bargained for!  There was a man named “Bruce B” who reviewed a place called “Ted’s Fish Fry”, and his review was poetry.  Bruce’s review was art.  It had nothing to do with Ted’s Fish Fry, but immediately launches into what a makes up a good Cheese Steak in Philly.  I was astonished.  Here was a guy just bucking the system because he could.

I was completely caught off guard.  Bruce B was a genius!  I clicked on his profile and read more.  His reviews were all short stories.  Granted, there wasn’t much plot, but I got more and more of a picture of Bruce B as I read his reviews.  I saw Bruce B as a writer.  He wasn’t a great writer, but I liked him.  He had character.  In every review I could tell if the waitress was attractive, the actual place being reviewed doesn’t get a fair shake but I got a miniature story about the place, and after reading enough of the reviews I got to see that Bruce was a well-traveled guy.

I was inspired by Bruce B.

I’m not your usual writer.  I like to tell entertaining stories like the next guy, but I’m willing to go lengths that most people won’t.  I tell lies.  Sometimes I tell the truth but I make up parts of stories to speed things along.  Sometimes I take on entirely different character/personality traits when I write just to get a better ‘voice’ for the piece.  Sometimes I say things I don’t mean, which are obvious logical fallacies, but I don’t let on that I (the narrator) am aware of my error in reasoning.  I’m an unreliable narrator sometimes, a liar other times, and completely earnest other times.

What better place for this than Yelp?

Bruce B inspired me to write yelp reviews that have little to do with the actual place I’m reviewing.  Maybe these miniature stories could brighten someone’s day when they were not ready for it.  They are bizarre, but always review the place in question if you read between the lines.  Originally I had the goal of writing 4 posts a month, but that’s slowed down since I’ve started this blog, I’m trying to keep it at 2 a month now.  I have a deep need to get into the swing of writing creatively again; Yelp and this blog have scratched that itch a bit.  It’s how “Steve E, the unreliable” was born.

If you want, you can just look at some of my reviews here, but I’ll present you one of my finest works:  my review of the Hilton Garden Inn at Central Park South.  (Read the review at its original location here.)

Because “society” looks down upon sleeping on the sidewalk, I had to find an alternative, and the Hilton Garden Inn was quite the find!  The Man has been keeping me down for ages, claiming he owns everything and I have to pay this in order to just ‘be in the city’.  The Hilton wasn’t so bad.  This location has nice little cozy rooms for a reasonable cheap price (I’m talking “Manhattan cheap”, not “rest of the world” cheap.)

The best part about it is the location.  Before coming here I had been removed (somewhat forcibly) from the streets.  I tried to assert my rights as an American by yelling “It’s my body, I’ll do what I want with it!”

The police kept responding with “Sir, this is Time’s Square.  You can’t go to sleep on the crosswalk.”  Pfft.  Like I haven’t heard that one before.  Come up with something original, NYPD.  A short walk later I found myself at this Hilton.  It really is nestled into the heart of the city.  It’s right next to the David Letterman show (they won’t let you sleep there), a short walk from Time’s Square (don’t even try to sleep here), Central Park (thought I could hide in there and sleep, but no), and the subway lines (I thought for certain they’d let me sleep down there).

I got a “King’s Room”, because I was feeling like the King of New York.  The room had an excellent view of the wall of another building not too far away.  The room was cozy, very clean, and it was big enough for me to do what I needed to do (sleep).  It even had a business center so I could use the Internets to find better places to sleep out under the stars the way God intended (turns out that’s illegal here).  The staff here were fantastic.  They let me check my bag at the front desk after I had already checked out of my hotel room so that I didn’t have to haul my bag around everywhere I went before my bus showed up a few hours later.  I recommend this spot if you’re heading into NYC.