Wednesday, November 13, 1991

Slow Flashes (Part 6: Hanging Out In Public)

Michael Christopher had a mouth like a sewage volcano. He knew how to swear in English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Turkish, and Japanese. And thanks to the two weeks I'd spent hanging out with Deaf kids in summer camp, he know knew how to make ten dirty hand movements in American Sign Language. "You're a lot cooler than you were in elementary school." He said.

I was grateful for his approval. Mostly because in sixth grade, he'd made it a semi-weekly habit to beat the everliving shit out of me, for no other reason than beating the shit out of me was much more entertaining than not beating the shit out of me.

Somehow, in middle school, he'd transitioned from unpopular bully, to extremely popular bully. He'd earned the nickname The Saint, because he only beat up people who deserved it. It was kind of an honor to have him smack you upside your head. But, despite the fact that I was smaller, weaker, and had the social skills of a shaved rabbit in a beehive, he went out of his way to be nice to me.

A few weeks into the school year, his mom asked him to move a couch from the basement to the living room on the second floor. I had no concept of why he called me to help him out. I suspected subterfuge. When I got there Michael and Bird Dick were giggling up a storm. I suppressed my fight or flight instinct, and asked what they wanted me to do.

"I am so fucken high right now." Michael said. "We just" giggling "we just" giggling "oh, man, so fucken high."

I grabbed one end of the couch while Michael and Bird Dick grabbed the other. When the job was finished, Michael hugged me. "Thanks, deeeeeeeeeeewd, we totally fucken owe you one. We're gonna go out on the powerline paths and smoke some more sticky stuff. Wanna join us?"

I remembered that commercial where little Gary Coleman says "Say no. Then go. And tell." But I couldn't remember whether that was about drugs, sex, or getting into cars with strangers.

"Yea, but I've got a doctor's appointment tonight, and I can't go stinking of pot, you know?"

"That's cool." Michael said.

I waited for Bird Dick to make a comment, but he was too out of it to speak.

Michael giggled out a "Later deeeeeeeeeeewd."

Later that week, we had gym together. It was still warm enough that the teachers were making us go outside and play soccer or run track. We were supposed to come to class wearing our school clothes, change into shorts or sweatpants for class, then shower, and change back into our normal clothes when class ended. Only losers wore sweatpants in ninth grade, so we were expected to show up in shorts. Usually, I packed a clean pair in my backpack, but on this day, I'd forgotten. But, I remembered, Saint Michael 'owed me one'. "Hey, Saint, I forgot my shorts at home. Do you have a pair I could borrow?"

"Sure," Michael said, pulling his off, "take these." I turned away as quickly as possible. His ass was exquisite.

"Stop looking at his ass, you fucken cocksucker." Said one of Saint's sidekicks. "I'm going to pound the fuck out of you."

I balled up my fists. I knew I couldn't take them, but I was determined to fight as long as it took to save heterosexual face.

"Yea, Bruno." Michael said. "My ass is no entrada, viado."

Oh, they weren't talking to me. Bruno was a kid named Liam Brunelli who'd moved to Cranberry Lake from Chicago at the beginning of the school year. He was chubby and red faced. His head was too large for his body. And, at the moment, his too large head was being slammed into a locker by a member of Michael's meatheaded fan club. I decided to risk detention by wearing my jeans, and ran out of the locker room before anyone remembered me.

That weekend, my father decided to play a round of golf at the local country club, and I screwed around at the putting green and the driving range while he played. I was on the green when I saw Michael drive by on a cart. "Hey, Saint!" I shouted.

He drove the cart toward me. "What's up?"

"Not much. I didn't know you worked here."

"Yea," he said, looking in the direction of the clubhouse, "my dad owns it."

"Cool." I said. "Listen, they closed the boathouse at Davis Pond for the winter, and Kevin Harris and I were thinking of breaking in next weekend and having a party. I was thinking, if you wanted to come and bring some beer or whatever..."

Michael looked at the ground. "Look." And then he paused doom. "You're a lot cooler than you were before you went away to military school or wherever, but. Look. You've got to stop hanging out with that Harris kid. Jeremy says he's a total fucken froot loop who used to, like, grab Jeremy's junk when he was just a kid. I mean, you do plays and shit so, you know, I get that you're probably a fag, too, but you're at least cool about it. But if you spend any time hanging out with Kevin Harris where people can see you... I don't know how much longer people will talk to you."

I froze. Bird Dick. That stupid, crying, faggy...Bird Dick. I started to say "I'm not gay, you know." when I realized that Michael was already halfway to the clubhouse, and he didn't look too pleased with himself. A look I wore later that day, when I told Kevin Harris I wasn't going to break into the boathouse with him.

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