Monday, February 18, 2013

Chapter Five B: Middle School Call Style

In the end I decided to pull a middle school maneuver, and have Mike call her for me. I invited him over the next day, Friday, pretending it was a chance to hang out and play Illumen’s Children. We got home around six after my practice. I was eager to lug Mike upstairs, but first I had to get Mike past Mom and Dad.
“Eat some cookies, Mike. Do you want a hot dog?”
            “Thank you, Mrs. Foley. Yes, Thank you.”
            “Hey, Mike, how’s it going.”
            “Fine, Mr. Foley. Thanks for asking. How are you?”
            “I’m great. You hear about Doog’s overhead volley?” I had tried to tell him at lunch but he said it sounded like a ballet maneuver and the only thing he hated more than soccer was ballet.
            “No, what’s that?”
            My dad got up, and I really thought he was going to attempt an overhead volley with the couch cushion while Mike wolfed down all the food my mom could slide under his face. Fortunately Dad kept his demonstration theoretical enough to avoid pulling his back. Finally we got upstairs. I let us play for a while before I paused the game.
            “Mike, could you help me out?”
            “What you need?”
            “I need you to call Jean.”
            “Call her yourself.”
            “I can’t.”
            “It’s not hard. You just dial the number and hit send. Or call. It depends on the phone.”
            “I did. Then I hung up.”
            “Hahahahaha.” He rolled off the bed onto the floor, and laughed, scattering game boxes, knocking over my dirty clothes basket. He kept laughing.
            After about a minute I said, “It’s not that funny. What girls have you called?”
            “Well, I’m about to call Jean.”
            “Thanks, man.” I told him he just needed to ask her what she thought of me, not to say anything about how I felt. He said how would she know how I felt if he didn’t tell her. I explained that him calling was enough to show Jean I was interested. He agreed to follow my protocol, but his smirk indicated that he didn’t take the call as seriously as I needed him to.
            He called her up. She answered with a curious voice, “Hello?”
            “Hey, Jean, this is Mike, I’m in your gym class.”
            I was leaning over his shoulder, trying to hear what Jean said. He pushed me away.
            He said, “I’m the short fat black kid.”
            He paused while she said something.
            “It’s nice of you to say, but now you know who I am, so clearly you’re lying. Look, I’m calling because my friend Doogie asked me to.” I shook my head violently at this deliberate departure from the plan.
            He listened as she talked.
            “He didn’t call because he was scared. He tried yesterday but he hung up.”
            I could barely hear her voice chirping.
“Yeah, he was the missed call. He wanted me to say that he thinks you’re attractive.”
            At this point things were out of control. “I didn’t say that,” I yelled.
            Mike said into the phone, “Wait, he’s saying that he doesn’t think you’re attractive.”
            “Mike,” I shouted, “That’s not what I mean.”
            Mike said, “Sorry, Jean, seems I’m garbling the message. Now I’m supposed to ask you what you think of him. Oh? I’ll tell him.” He hung up. I jumped him, not using super strength, but still landing solid shots on his shoulders and stomach. He balled up, squealing, “I’m not telling you what she said.”
            “Tell me,” I said, relenting.
            “First I make a call for you, and then you beat me?”
            “Come on, Mike.”
            “Alright. She said you should call her yourself and find out. She’s got your number saved now.”
            “What? She didn’t say anything about me?
            “You should be glad she didn’t insult your coward ass! Hiding behind me.”
            I turned the game back on, but he just paused it again. “You got to make the call, scaredy-cat.”
            I stalked out into the hall and hit the call button. She answered half way through the first ring. “Doogie, I’ve been wondering when I’d hear from you.”
            “Hey, Jean,” I hoped she couldn’t hear how nervous I was, “This is Doogie.”
            “I know. I just said your name.”
            “Oh. Yeah. I’m kind of nervous.”
            “I think it’s kind of cute.”
            “It’s like you’re excited about this.” There was a pause during which I wondered what exactly was meant by the word this.
            She finally filled the gap, “I didn’t know Mike was your friend.”
            “Yeah,” I said, wondering if she would judge me for having a dork friend.
            “He’s funny.”
            “And mean.” It seemed like she liked him which was a relief.
            We talked about hanging out at the diner. She brought up the last game, the one with my overhead volley.
            “You were awesome in that game.”
            “I know, right. How’d I get so good?”  
            We made talked about the soccer team. Then she complained about hanging out with Alexandra. Alexandra, it turned out was a prima donna. She would try on outfits for hours, demanding that Jean evaluate each and every one, “How does this look? What about with this?” I would have to add this to my critique of her next time I talked to Mike.
            We were running out of things to say. I said, “We should hang out.”
            “Ok,” she said.
            “When are you free?”
            “After school on Monday?”
            Mike and I usually stuffed the twenty minutes between the last bell and the beginning of soccer practice. I walked him across the street and watched him eat Chinese Store fries and we talked fantasy games, but I figured he’d understand. “Great,” I told her.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Super-Loser/Hero Wannabe: Chapter Five A

Chapter Five: Pick Up the Phone and Dial Her Number

            The soccer season was going pretty well. Everything was going well, except that I didn’t have the ability, okay, courage, to call a girl. Random people congratulated me on my play, including the president of the high school. “Doogie, right.”
            “Yes, sir.”
            “I’m hearing great things about you!”
            “Thanks, sir.” I knew I was a big deal when the boss of two thousand five hundred people stopped me in the hall.
            Not only that, my dad had started attending the games. It was a big turn around for him from me getting cut the first day. I could hear him yelling during the games, “That’s my Doog!” After the first game he drove me home and asked Mom what we were eating. He’d been scarfing pizza store food for a while refusing to touch anything she cooked. He’d been saying loudly to no-one that it was probably poisoned. Mom kind of looked surprised that he was going to eat home. She thawed some steaks. My dad stayed in the kitchen while she cooked, sucking down a beer, and giving her advice. “Pepper, baby, lot’s of pepper. Cook that boy three steaks, Mindy. He’s got to be hungry after that game.”
            “Get out of the kitchen, Doug or you’re not eating anything.”
            He pulled up a seat next to me and Steve, who had found his way to kitchen probably shocked to hear the civil conversation between our parents.
Mom set dinner on the table, steaks and mashed potatoes. Steve and I launched in, happy not to be eating Mac-N-Cheese out the box, but Dad kept talking, “Doog was the best player out there.”
“That’s great, baby.” Mom was more happy that Dad was eating steaks, but then she was always proud of me. For her I didn’t need to score a goal to be impressive.
“He’s only a freshman, and he’s the best player out there. He could go D-1, Mindy, D-1. He could even go pro.”
            He didn’t go out that night and they went upstairs early. After that he didn’t go out most nights but stayed in. In the morning he’d give her a kiss, Mom looked at him with these puppy eyes, with a look I’d never seen before. Steve shook his head, like, “Look at this Valentine’s Day shit,” and I shook my head, but if I’m honest, it was okay. It made the world feel safe.
            I had to call Jean. There was every reason to be motivated. She was cute, and she liked me (or at least I had every reason to believe she liked me). The main reason I wanted to play soccer was girls. So you’re thinking, what’s the problem? There were a bunch. For starters I hadn’t called a girl before. What did you do after dialing and saying hello? That moment after hello and before whatever came next was a terrible gap, the yawning space between the dragon’s jaws, and I feared it. I also wondered if I could trust them. Maybe Alex and Jean were conspiring against me, getting me to call, and then they’d make fun of me (these some farfetched now, but at the time I was plagued by the ghost of Sara and her jagged shiv of a rejection, “What a loser.”)
I was sitting in the living room, watching TV, because I don’t have cable in my room, and because my plan was to be alone in my room to make the call. Since I wasn’t in my room, I couldn’t make the call.
            The news was going on about this super rich guy named Primo, who was starting this ginormous mall just for teenagers. Adults were going to be allowed in, but it was going to cater to teenagers. Some parents were mad about it. They were complaining to the reporter, “What goes on in there?” The mall seemed cool to me; two video game stores were going to be in it with free play. They had a super large screen in the food court and were going to have video game tournaments.
            “Kids, be who you want to be, and do what you want to do, at the Primo.” He was a big guy with a frothy white beard, kind of like Santa Klaus except he looked super powerful whereas Santa just looks fat. “We’ve got everything you want.” It seemed like he was looking right at me, but of course that was the way they made the ad. They flashed shots of the video game tournaments, some clothing shops, and a sports arena.
            Steve came in and wanted to change the channel to Batman. I punched him a couple times, hoping we could have a bro versus bro smack-down that would delay my journey to my room, the space of call-possible. He just said, “Ow. Give me the remote.”
It was like a sign. I groaned and got off the couch. I climbed the stairs, pulled my phone out, and sat on my bed with my heart down in my stomach. Do it. You heard me. I said do it. Oh my goodness, what if she asks why the hell I called. She’s not going to say that. Just call.  
            Fine. I pressed call. Ring. Please don’t answer. Ring. I could hang up. Ring. Don’t hang up, Doog, that’s for babies. Riiin—“Hello?” Her voice. Curious. Click. I hung up.
I sat there for a minute, shame and relief battling in my head. Shame won; I punched myself, super-powered smashes to the chin and stomach. I was a weirdo. I couldn’t make the call. Now I really couldn’t, because she had my number saved as “WEIRDO STALKER” in her phone.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Chapter Four- Part Two

            It was easier, that night, to play Bat Boy. Nope, sounds like a baseball bitch.
            I went out and caught a bus. Traveling into North Philly, I felt more and more out of place. Eventually I was the only white person on the bus, but nobody said anything to me. I got off and walked by a shopping center with a McDonald’s as big as a church. Somebody rode by playing a rap song so loud the house windows rattled. I tried not to look at anybody, walking down to Mike’s block. A group of guys looked at me. One said, “Hey kid, you want dippers?”
            Another added, “Make you feel like a super-hero.”
            “You gone need that out here.” A few laughs and then they ignored me.
            I shook my head no and shuffled past. I didn’t feel like a super-hero, but I actually was one.
            A group of kids my age were playing football in the middle of the block. I stood watching them until I saw Deshawn. He stuck out, giving orders, calling huddles, angry at his receivers for missing catches. When a smaller kid suggested he throw, Deshawn said, “You think you can throw?”
            The kid said, “Better than your corny passes.” Deshawn threw the ball right into the kid’s face at point blank range.
            “Better than that?”
            The kid shook his head and said, “You an asshole.”
            I was shocked a little and I think my jaw was hanging open. He saw me. “What you looking at, whitey?’
            I didn’t say anything. He stalked toward me, and I thought he was going to hit me. “You better answer me when I ask a question.” Actually, he tried to push me first; two hands came up shoving me in the chest. I didn’t move, but he fell back a few steps. The voices of the other kids around started. “Oh snap, Deshawn.”
            “He ain’t scared of you, Deshawn.”
            “Why you push like a (insert misogynist word referring to the female anatomy here. Miss Farr said that she hoped that if we ever used words derogatory toward female genitalia that we would never get close to one)?”
            Deshawn knew better than to talk at that point, he stepped up and threw the biggest punch he had. I caught it. He looked at me in shock, and then, following his instinct, swung the other fist. I side-stepped that one, and brought the flat of my hand across his face hard. The swashing blow knocked him back. The only thing that kept him from hitting the asphalt was my grip on his other hand.
            “Deshawn, he ain’t respect you enough to punch you.”
            “Slap you like your mama.”
            The commentary was quality. I let go of him. I could see the fear in his face, the slap still hurt, but he was more scared of the comments, the damage to his reputation. He got up, and came at me one more time. This time I slapped him with a hammer motion on the top of his head. The blow pushed him to his knees.
            I waited until his eyes refocused, and he looked me in the eye. “Stop picking on people for no reason. You don’t want me coming back.”
            He nodded, and murmured, “Ok.” I walked off. On the ride home, I replayed the events of the fight. I tried to feel triumphant, but being super-powered and beating up on regular people, even when they’re bullies, doesn’t feel that great. Mouse squasher. Jack the G-Ant-Killer. Get it. G as in gangster?
            I thought that Mike would be talking over the next couple days about how much Deshawn had changed. Even if it didn’t feel like a triumph, it’d feel nice hearing how Mike’s situation was improved. I thought about telling him what I’d done for him. He’d love the part about Deshawn’s humiliation in front of the whole bunch. I threw that idea out, ‘cause Mike would be mad I didn’t tell him about my super powers right away.
However, the next day, Mike didn’t come to school, and the day after that he came in with an ankle splint and the lumpiest eye I’d ever seen.
            Kyana started, “What happened to you?”
            Mike shook his head.
            “Not that Deshawn dickhead?”
            Mike nodded his head. “Yeah. So my little friend Boog from our block told me this crazy story. Two nights ago all the kids on our block are playing football on the street, yelling five oh every time they say a cop car, just your normal night in the ghetto. Then this white kid walks down the block, like some serial killer, and stares at Deshawn. Deshawn gets offended and steps to this white kid, who basically concusses Deshawn with two slaps and tells him that he’s supposed to stop picking on people. All the kids are nodding, but after the white kid leaves, Deshawn starts to beat up the smallest kid out there, who was Boog, and Boog just cussed him out, but then the next morning he manages to get up at six thirty and fuck my morning up. He punches me a few times, and if that wasn’t enough chucks me down into the train tracks, and when I land I sprained my ankle. My mom said she’s too busy to go to the doctor. So that’s how come I missed two days.”
            My first reaction was I got angry with Deshawn. Why wouldn’t he learn? But what Mike said next showed me the truth.
            “That dumb mutant white kid. Don’t he know that shit always flow downhill?”
            I didn’t say anything to that. He looked at me. “It’s weird, the kid sounded like you- but if you had mutant strength you’d tell me.”
            “Yeah, of course.”
            “You’d need a Professor X to give you advice.”
            “I’d think you more as an Aunt May.”
            “Same thing.” Of course I couldn’t tell him. He wouldn’t believe me, and he’d be mad at me for basically breaking his leg if he did. I felt so stupid.
            One of the things that Miss Farr talked about as we were reading toward the end of Hamlet was the logic of blood. She talked about how gangster movies, whether it’s Godfather, Goodfellas, or Scarface, those who kill, spill blood, don’t escape the repercussions. Each act of violence is like a rock thrown in a pond; its effects ripples out and hurt even those far from it. Claudius kills the King, and the whole kingdom is destabilized. Hamlet stabs the “most secret, most grave” counselor, and Ophelia dies, Laertes seeks revenge. In fact, she said, repercussion should be reverberation, because it comes back on the perpetrator, and then bounces back out.
That’s a lie in comic books. Violence is not a solution.  But I believed them, thinking slaps were going to make North Philly a place where a smart kid could be safe.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Super-Who-O Chapter Four- Part One

If you are starting now, scroll back to chapter one.

Chapter Four

            On Monday something was up with Mike. At first I thought it was because Alexandra sat next to me before class started, and began talking excitedly about how much fun Friday had been, and how Jean said she really liked hanging out with me. She asked me what I thought of Jean. I thought she was pretty, and Alexandra got happy about this, and said that she didn’t have a boyfriend, and didn’t Aiden give me her number? And I said, yeah, but I was busy, which you and I know was bullshit. She said I should call Jean, and by that time Miss Farr was goading us toward our desks, her red hair abuzz as she cried, “Journal! Now, kiddies.”
            I saw Jean walk by in the hall a few times and look in the class. I’d have waved but Miss Farr was good at catching that kind of thing, and as much work as she gave us, her class was fun.
            At lunch I told Kyana and Mike about what happened. That was when I noticed that Mike didn’t seem too happy. Normally he works through the greasy stuff on his styrofoam platter like each item was a one up mushroom, but he was eating like a robot. That’s when I wondered if he was upset because Alexandra was talking with me.
I told them about Jean so that Mike would know he didn’t have to worry about the me and Alexandra. He said, “Congratulations, man. It sounds like easy street now. You know she likes you. She sent her friend to basically tell you that, and you have her number. Only someone as dumb as you could possibly mess this up.”
            Kyana was holding up a thin piece of ham so that the florescent lights shone through; the ham rainbow resplendent as oil on a seal’s muzzle. “This ham is shit. So is your date. I know that Jean girl, and she’s stupid.”
            I didn’t know why she was so mad. But then her face changed, and she said, “At least the pickles are good.” She went on to tell us a story about a crazy guy on her block who believed that he was E-40, the second in command to Weeble-Man. When he told her this, she held in her laugh, “I’m afraid of crazy people.” He asked what she was reading, and she told him Hamlet. He told her he’d read it, and he was sad when the little pig died, his face dead serious. He asked her if she was sad about the little pig, and she told him she bawled her eyes out. I laughed at lot at the story, but Mike was staring off across the lunch-room. His lunch was only half-eaten. Something was definitely going on.
            Kyana said, “Mike, what’s wrong?”
            He turned and looked at us slow and mournful as a dying elephant. “Nothing,” he said.
“Come on, tell us.”
            He went on to narrate how this kid Deshawn on his block that used to bully him in middle school now has been calling him names that Miss Farr would kill us for using- you know gender and anatomy insults, because Mike won’t fight him. On Friday Deshawn cornered him and started punching him. That was when I saw, and I felt bad that I’d been so excited about a girl that I hadn’t seen it, that his one cheek was dark with the bruise, and his eyebrow was split.
            Kyana said, “I’ll fight him. I’m coming home with you. I’ma whip his ass.”
            Mike said, “Great plan, Kyana, then everybody on the block will respect me.”
            She said, “I’m so mad. You just want to be you, and he come at your neck. Dickhead probably know he dropping out this year, and he see you going to Central, and he so salty he just try and fight you.”
            Mike said, “It’s not a big deal.”
But it was. I didn’t want those things happening to Mike; I wanted the bully punished. Unlike Kyana, there was something I could do about it. There were logistics to figure out, but I could definitely do something. How was I going to figure out who Deshawn was? Was there any chance he would be armed? But once I got those little details ironed out, I’d be up close and personal, delivering super-punches into his face, asking him how he liked it.
            I said, “What’s his last name?”
            “Williamson, why?”
            “I like to have a last name when I fantasize about beating someone up. Is he a drug dealer?” I figured he would only have a gun if he was.
            “No, he wants to be, but I don’t think he does anything but yell if he sees the cops. He’s putting together a resume, and somehow he thinks beating up Central nerds is an important accomplishment.”
            It wasn’t that hard to find Deshawn. He had a public profile on the Face. He thought his name was Deshawn Do-One-Thing Williamson. I memorized his stupid face. He had high cheek bones and squinty  meanness in his eyes. Overall he was better looking than I expected, but I planned to make him more how I’d imagined.
            I put all black on, but I was just wearing sweats, no mask, no stripes. I looked like a normal person. Super-Kid doesn’t have that kind of get up. I’m working on the name thing.
            You can imagine the kind of nervous energy that was boiling in me. This was my first moment of action. Up to now, all my new talent was used to become popular (okay, I wasn’t popular yet, but I was on my way.) I loved Spiderman, despite the constructed quality of the story, and there I was, little Spiderman. Spider Boy! All I had to do was beat Deshawn up, and let him know that it was justice, and if he picked on anybody else, I’d kill him. Start small, Lance-Often. Lance-often was not bad. Our school name was the Lancers, and it played on Lancelot.
            Some of you are saying, what about the girl? Couldn’t you have called Jean, who was probably holding the phone in her hand, waiting for your call? First of all, as much as having super-powers had given me new confidence, I wasn’t picturing her holding the phone waiting. The thing I was thinking about was what happened after we’d exhausted discussing Bio homework? And how pretty she was and how nice it’d be to impress her and also how likely it was that I wouldn’t.
            It was easier, that night, to play Bat Boy. Nope, sounds like a baseball bitch.