Sunday, September 19, 2004

First assembly of junior high school. Everyone was mingling in the auditorium before they started the boring lecture -- it was perhaps about the metric system. "Miles Meets the Meter Martians -- Take us to your Liter". Or some crap like that.

An awkward prepubescent seventh-grader named Mike was trying very hard to fit in. Who should he talk to? So many of his elementary school friends had gone off to other junior highs. He didn’t know any of these people. Hey, there was a group of ninth-graders hanging out down at the stage level, and Mike knew one of them -- the older brother of a friend. Yeah, Mike would get in with the older kids. All he had to do was go down and say "hi". Or "what’s up". No, that’s so sixth-grade. Just say "hey". Or "hey, how’s it goin’". Yeah, that’s good.

But after a quick "how-hey-hi-up-goin’-what", the older kids went back to whatever they were talking about. Probably cool things Mike knew nothing about, like cars, and beer and TV shows there were on after 10PM. Stupid fascist curfew was keeping Mike outta the loop about "Dallas" and "Trapper John, MD".

The kid stood there, looking around, realizing he was doomed for the next three years. Jeez, look, he even had the wrong sneakers. No one wore Adidas anymore. Yes, it stood for "all day I dream about sex", according to lore of the playground, but this year Nike was in, which probably stood for something even more awesome. At least Mike didn’t have Pumas... what kind of sicko donned an acronym for "puke up my ass"?

Mike noticed a rubber band on the floor near his outdated footwear. He picked it up and twirled it in his fingers, giving him something to do. But the ninth-graders were about to walk away.

"Hey," Mike said. "What do you want me to shoot with this rubber band?"

It was the best he could think of. The older kids stopped and looked at him.

"I’m an excellent shot."

This was true, actually. Not a natural talent, it was a skill he obtained from years of practice in many a bored classroom. Mike wasn’t an expert marksman yet -- after all, he still hadn’t achieved the holy grail of urban legend and taken anyone’s eye out yet -- but he was confident of his elastic propulsion abilities.

His friend’s brother looked around and then pointed. "Hit that girl in the ass."

Mike turned up toward the auditorium. Holy shit. He knew that girl. She was a year older than him and back in elementary they had some combined-grade classes together. Mike hadn’t seen her in a year, but never forgot her as the biggest grade-grubbing snot who ever heckled him for misspelling a word on his book report on "Danny the Champion of the World". Now she was sucking up to the eighth-grade class president, another phony Mike recognized from all those smarmy school government speeches. Okay, then...

Actually, the girl was kinda far away. Mike wasn’t sure if the rubber band had enough tensile strength to cover that range. The band might just lob down and land short. A metaphor for Mike’s future, perhaps?

Still, the ninth-graders were waiting. So Mike stretched, pointed, aimed and fired... As it sailed upward, the girl turned away from the president. If she moved, it would be a misfire...

But the timing couldn’t have been more perfect: Snap! The band hit Gracie Gradegrubber in the ass. She gasped, turned around and – Slap! – hit the guy across the face. President Smarmy had no idea what just happened.

Down at the stage level, the ninth-graders were laughing uproariously in secret triumph. Mike was the sureshot hero.

He still wasn’t cool enough to sit with them during the assembly. But Mike didn’t care. He lounged in his seat, surrounded by complete strangers, listening to some goofy actor say, "So even though by the year 2000, we Americans will be measuring everything in kilometers, I still won’t have to change my name, Miles...?"

And for just that brief moment, Mike thought... junior high is gonna be cool.


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