Chapter 3

The whole family eats at the dinner table. My parents ask about my day and I give them the lowdown on what I think about my classes. They seem happy that I’m not complaining.

My mom asks me if I made any new friends. This is her way of saying that I need some better friends, friends that will keep me out of trouble. Little does she know that the trouble that happens to me is mostly my fault. Tim and Steve’s parents are probably saying the same thing about me. My dad is probably wondering when I am going to get a nice girlfriend.

At the table, my younger brother Robby stares at me like I’m always full of crap. That little punk is always sticking his nose in my business. The rest of dinner is all about my sister Cindy’s daily happenings. She is a senior, and a bit of a drama queen. She can go on for an hour without stopping to shovel some food in her mouth. I guess she doesn’t know about my scuffle, because she would surely bring it up.

            Our family appears normal: two parents, three kids and one dog. We live in a two-story house with a two-car garage, lawn in front and a big tree that sheds an incredible amount of leaves. It is my job to rake those damn things six months out of the year. We have a pool in the backyard, but it’s an above the ground pool called a doughboy that we have had for over ten years. I still use it because it beats the hell out of sweating all summer long. 

            As far as my parents are concerned, they do the best they can with the cards they have been dealt. They are raising three kids that are probably driving them nuts. My siblings might have a different point of view when it comes to our lives. I am old and wise enough to know what is expected. I have seen plenty of other kids raised in single parent homes. Or they live with their grandparents. I can’t imagine living with my grandparents; they fall asleep at like nine o’clock. Who goes to bed at nine o’clock? Maybe those poor bastards to have to work at donut shops at 4am.

            My dad has worked as a machinist his whole life. He’s been employed at various companies, and even works on machines, like grinders and drills in the garage. I don’t think he has ever thought about doing anything else. I am not sure how my siblings feel about him, but I admire him most of the time. He is not a perfect guy and has been doing crazy things the last few years. He gets told he is having a mid-life crisis but will deny this accusation every day of the week and twice on Sunday. He has grown his hair long and barely interacts with anybody. He has become non-existent at times and takes off for long periods. My mom is trying to deal with him and has decided to accept him for what for he has become. At least I think so. My father lacks enthusiasm in his day-to-day family activities. Mom wants him to see a shrink, but there is no way he will go. Hopefully he will be happy again but it doesn’t look like it’ll be anytime soon.

            My dad’s name is Ray. I don’t know anybody with that name except him. No one names their kid Ray, or Raymond anymore, and absolutely nobody names their kid Fergus or Ferguson. Ferguson is Scottish, but my parents are not Scottish. My dad told me he liked the name because his best friend in high school was a guy named Ferguson. I found this guy in my dad’s yearbook and I thought he was odd looking. In his senior picture he had a jacked-up haircut and a goofy grin. He seemed to be smiling in all of his pictures; not normal smiling, but big toothy ones that stretched across his face. I once asked my dad about him, he told me the guy was an enigma. I didn’t know what that meant, nor did I think my dad did, so I looked it up. The dictionary states that an enigma is:

     “A person of puzzling or contradictory character.” The example said, “To me he has        

     always been an enigma, one minute completely insensitive, the next moved to

     tears.”

            So, I was named after Ferguson -an enigma. Instead of being named after Great Uncle Chuck, or getting a biblical name like Paul, I am named after a guy with a broken scissor haircut. Am I an enigma? I guess the verdict is still out on that one.

            My dad used to take interest in my life, and never pushed me into anything I didn’t like. He never forced me to keep playing soccer. My dad is more of a baseball guy. I think he liked going to my Little League games because they served chilidogs. It didn’t matter what his intent was, because it was something we did together and didn’t bitch about it. Most of the time he stood off in the distance, lit up a cigar and drank a beer. That probably wasn’t too popular with the other parents. The soccer thing would piss him off because the other parents at the game screamed at their six-year-olds to pass the ball. Talk about a bunch of dopes without lives.

            Don’t get me wrong, I am not looking for some ‘super dad’ who builds your science project or buys you a new car on your sweet sixteen birthday. Yeah, the car thing would be great, but it’s not going to happen. He is a machinist, not some high-tech big shot. I also noticed he doesn’t cuss in front of his kids. I have only seen him throw out an F-bomb once, and that was because the garage door hit him on the head. I use the fuck-word sometimes, but it’s not one of my favorite cuss words. I am more of a guy that uses words like “holy crap.”  That one cracks me up since I heard my neighbor say it. He is 86 years old. If it’s good enough for him, then it’s good enough for me.

            Then there is my mother, Judith. She works as a bookkeeper for some sort of doctor’s clinic. I am not sure if she likes it, but she sure does have a lot of stories to tell about the patients and doctors. She blabs away with everybody and shows off our family pictures. My mom will talk to anybody, anytime; about anything. She will gab and nod her head, which can go on for hours. I have seen my dad getting frustrated at times as he tries to make gestures to her to speed things up, but she ignores him. It never works; in fact, I think her ‘conversations’ are getting longer.

            I don’t know what to say about this type of behavior, but I know that being a bookkeeper at a doctor’s clinic has probably been the wrong profession. She should have been a counselor, or a salesperson, because she breaks you down until you give up. My dad has somehow fought her off the last few years. He has tuned her out and looks at her like she is off her rocker.

            The last thing I’m going to tell you about my mom is she knows that I will not be growing up to be a rocket scientist. She obviously figured out a long time ago that I am not a brainiac, and science and math is not my cup of tea. She is basing this theory on my grades. I like science and math is okay, I just haven’t figured out the trick to getting good grades. The whole incident with the hydrochloric acid was my attempt to do my own experiment at home. Damn principal thought I wanted it for mischievous purposes. The truth is I’m very misunderstood. I have been tagged as a trouble maker and delinquent; complete bullshit. My little brother called me a malcontent. The little jerk heard that somewhere and just had to use it on me. It is probably better to be a malcontent than a delinquent.  

            Robby (my little brother) is a pain in the ass. He is too smart for his own good. Because I share a room with him I have had to endure endless hours of him telling me what I should do, could do and would do. It’s endless. Think about it, I am fifteen, almost sixteen and I share a room with my thirteen year old brother who gives me advice. When I try to read, or listen to music, he is on his bed glued to video games or the computer. That’s another thing, we share a computer. This is just wrong. I have to police his activities because I know he is checking out porn which will get us both in trouble. I am ready to chuck the whole thing out the window.

            Some day we may be friends, but right now he is just a thorn in my side. As far as boys his age go, he fits right in that zone. He does what they all do and he likes what they all like. There is just one thing that separates him from all of the other boys - he recites and memorizes long passages of useless (and at time useful) knowledge. He uses this information against me in arguments. He leaves us all speechless at times with the stuff that comes out of his mouth. He is not a delinquent, at least not yet. He has a few years to develop into one, and he might get caught up in the wrong crowd. I think he may turn out to be okay and not be the odd ball in the family. I might have to carry that burden the rest of my life. 

            My older sister Cynthia likes to go by Cindy. She is a senior this year and will turn eighteen in January. She mostly does her own thing, and she still checks in on me now and then. I think she has taken it upon herself to be the leader of us since Pops isn’t really involved anymore. In some ways we use to be closer when we were young. She is everything I am not - in the academic sense. She excels in all of her classes, is into school government and the yearbook. How she can juggle all her extra-curricular activities with school baffles me. She is also involved in the drama club and various musicals. She hangs with that type of crowd. It’s hard to describe those kids because they are not part of the mean and popular group that screws up every school. I’m not sure if I can ever be in a school play because of my mortification of public speaking. If she wasn’t my sister, we wouldn’t talk.

At the dinner table she demands attention because she has more stories than my mom. Once in a while, my brother and I will get in a good smart-ass remark about her activities. She gets sensitive about our jabs and then my mom takes over the conversation and tells us to pipe down. 

            Cindy will probably be one of those kids that will go away to college and visit home twice a year. She has bigger things planned for her life than I do. I just hope she doesn’t get knocked up. She will have to move back home, and my room will be turned into a nursery. Next thing you know, I will have to sleep on the couch and my brother will sleep in the attic. Now that I think about it, I should move up there. Cindy has a good shot at getting to do a lot of cool stuff. I can see her traveling the world with her fancy boyfriends. She has enough personality to do whatever she wants. She could sell lemonade to Eskimos, as they say – or was it ice?

There you have it, the story of my existence. It’s nothing to be perplexed about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

At lunch time I hang out in the library and bury my nose in a book. The last thing I want to do is talk to anyone about that damn fight – it wasn’t even a real fight. I knew that was all that my buds, Tim and Steve, will want to talk about. It’s a mixture of embarrassment and unwanted attention that sends me into seclusion. I am sure it will blow over soon, I just have to ride it out. Someone obviously captured it on their phone and now the damn thing is all over school. It’s probably on YouTube and Vimeo by now. I lost my cell phone during the summer, so I don’t know what the hell is being spread out there.

            I really didn’t need this ‘fight’. It just adds to all the troubles I had last year. Like the incident of me getting caught with a bottle of hydrochloric acid in my locker; which was blown way out of proportion. Trying to explain to Principal Lyons about wanting to make a hydrogen blimp by capturing the chemical reaction of the acid and magnesium in a beaker did not sway his decision regarding a month of detention. But what pissed off Lyons even more was the mice incident. I should have never released those mice from the science cages, even if I thought they were being abused. A few girls screamed and everybody freaked out; big deal. Really petty stuff, but now I’m on the list of malcontents.

            I have never been in the library at lunch time. It’s only me and a few other kids in here. I’m not sure what their excuse is. Probably just kids that really care and want to talk about their classes with others. They probably can’t wait for the piles of homework that’s coming their way. I guess I should be doing the same, but don’t want to. I know I’m not Stanford or Harvard material, so why bother? I’ll probably go to a junior college to get a degree in convenience store management. Holy shit, that’s scary.

            I guess I should be on my guard against Manny Gomes. My sister knows him a little, maybe she can give me the lowdown on his history. His dad must have beaten the crap out him, or maybe he didn’t get enough attention when he was a young kid. Now he has to act out to give his brain a shot of dopamine. Poor bastard is doomed with a lifelong malfunctioning chip in his brain. Screw this, I’m just going to deal with whatever goes down. Time to head to the worst class I have - Algebra II.

            As I walk down the corridor, I feel like people are staring at me. Maybe I’m just being paranoid.

I arrive at my class early. I’m the first to show up, that’s a new one. Where will I sit? My teacher, Mr. Felice, is a funny man. He looks up at the huge clock hanging above the door.

            “Fifteen minutes early, I like the excitement. Lucky for you the front row is still available,” Mr. Felice quips.

I chuckle, not because it’s funny, but because the back row is still available too. My first choice for such an awful class is always in the back. Something inside of me makes me head towards the front row - so my body takes me there. I can’t believe I just did that. The front row is the land of the geek. Plus, I’m going to have to make eye contact with Mr. Felice. He looks at me.

“Aw see, that’s how you do it, get in early and get a good seat. Just like going to the movies; it drives my wife nuts. I get there a half hour before the show. I get my popcorn and the perfect seat, then I’m happy,” he cracks.

            Algebra II was so dull the first day. I got through it. I must say, the front row was definitely a different experience. The smart kids, or the ones with bad eyesight, surrounded me. But it was okay. Hopefully some of their ‘smarts’ will rub off on me. I have to take this class all year long, so I better be sure to make friends with some of these brainy kids.

            After math, I start to walk to my last class. A kid named Zack comes up to me and sticks his phone in my face. He plays video of the fight. My skin crawls seeing it. The only thing I am going to say about it is that my friend Kyle was being picked on and I just tried to defend him.

Someday I might get in a real fight where actual punches get thrown and I stand toe-to-toe with the enemy. I hope this wimpy fight doesn’t turn out to be the last one in my life; because it will be a bummer if I have to retell this story to my grandkids. I will have to make up stuff and say I was whipping some ass until the principal and his jackboots had to pull me off.

            I’m in Spanish class, the my last one of the day. It’s my first try at a foreign language. When you live in California, and your city has a Spanish name - Santa Clara - you should know some of these words. As I head up the corridor to my classroom, a girl comes walking right towards me. I normally shuffle to the side and stare downwards, but she looks me straight in the eyes. My head explodes (figuratively), but I am able to flash a smile; or maybe it is a weird lip grin. We almost crash into each other and we do this little dance to figure out who goes where. She says, “Hi” as we pass each other. I return the same word. We each give a small chuckle, but she keeps going her direction and I go mine.

Wow, that girl is super cute. I don’t think I have ever seen her before. I will make a mental note of her. Note to self: she walks this direction before sixth period and has long blonde hair and wears boots. Not big boots though.

            I walk into Spanish class. The front row is available, but I’m not biting on that again. I take a seat in the back next to a guy I knew from last year named Art Rodrigues. We fist bump. We’re acquaintances that are almost on the friends level.

            “Hey Art, what are you doing in this class? Don’t you know Spanish already?”

            “Hah, a little. But I can’t read or write it man. This is the second time I am taking Beginning Spanish because I got an F last year.”

            “That’s crazy. How did that happen?”

            “Mr. Sanchez had it in for me when he heard me swearing in Spanish. Oh, and I didn’t study either. Now my mom is pissed and says that I shamed her.”

Art is a crack up, but I don’t think he will be good for me in this class because he could be too much of a distraction.

            Spanish class ends, then we pile out the exit. There at the door, stands one of the principal’s security guys. He is a big black dude with a shaved head. I never had to deal with this guy before. He stops me.

            “Got a second Fergus?”

            “Who are you?” I ask.

            “I’m Charles, school security,” he states while maintaining his tough guy image.

We step into the hallway.

“So, you want to tell me what went on outside the locker room?”

            “Yeah, no big deal, just some of us getting a little crazy,” I say in the coolest way possible.

Charles just looks at me, clearly knowing I just gave him a huge pile of bullshit for an answer. He nods his head and looks me in the eye. I turn my head away and look down; the clear sign of a lie.

            “You know that guy Manny Gomes is not someone to pick a fight with. I want you to stay clear of him, because if there is a next time you either get detention or suspension. You understand? … I know all about the stuff you did last year.”

            I am in a little shock here. Did he tell me not to pick on Manny Gomes? Or, was he warning me not to kick the hornets nest – so to speak. 

            “Don’t you know that he slammed my friend into a garbage can? Head first? What’s up with that?” I’m losing my cool a bit.

            “Let it go Fergus, for your own well-being. Gomes is not a bad guy.”

I can’t wrap my brain around what this guy is telling me. Why is he talking to me and not that jerk-off?

            “Yeah, whatever I’m outta here,” I turn and walk away. But Charles has to get the last word in.

            “I got my eye on you Fergus, don’t screw up because I’ll find out.”

            I walk home by myself with my headphones on. I want to tune out the anger I feel with Charles and Manny Gomes. Charles was probably a big football player in his day, and now he has to pretend he is still one of the guys.   

            Can you believe I already have homework on my first damn day? Can’t a guy catch a break? Screw it, tomorrow should be better, I will make sure of it. Next song on the playlist is called “My Hero” by Foo Fighters; a perfect song after what happened today.

 

Too alarming now to talk about
Take your pictures down and shake it out
Truth or consequence, say it aloud
Use that evidence, race it around
There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
He's ordinary
Don't the best of them bleed it out
While the rest of them peter out
Truth or consequence, say it aloud
Use that evidence, race it around
There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
He's ordinary
Kudos, my hero
Leaving all the best
You know my hero
The one that's on
There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
He's ordinary
There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
He's ordinary

High School Manifesto - Chapter 1

Chapter 1

 

 My shirt gets some looks, but I am not sure if most of the students even know who the punk ska band, Skankin’ Pickle are. When I walked out of the house I didn’t think it was a dumb shirt, but maybe it is. I can deal with it. At least my fly isn’t down - nor do I have an undetected zit on my nose.

I stroll into art class and pick out a workstation. I do a quick scan around the room. I don’t know any of these kids except for Josh Norman, a fellow sophomore; so, I sit down next to him. “Hey Josh.”

            “Fergus, welcome back to the land of despair,” he replies with a noticeable change in his voice. It must have dropped an octave to a baritone. I can’t help but laugh, yet I gather he doesn’t know why.

            There are a couple of kids that I recognize but have never talked to. You have the freshmen, with their freshmen hair and clothes. Followed by the juniors and seniors – who flaunt their superiority over us underclassmen. This is the first time I have ever been in a class where all four grades are represented. The seniors dominate the class, sitting together - lost in their little world. A few juniors hover around them since they are such a large group.

Then there is the jewel of the class - Patty Anderson. She stands on a higher plateau of the girls on this campus. She has long dark hair, blue-green eyes, kind of a hippy-type; but she is also involved in school spirit. She doesn’t act like one of those a ‘rah-rah’ cheerleader types.

            Mr. Ballantyne takes roll while standing in the center of the room. We are sitting in a circle in these big slanted desks facing each other, which is a new thing for me. My eyes keep wondering to Patty. But I want to be careful she doesn’t catch me staring. She doesn’t even look up from whatever she is working on. My sister is always telling me to cut that staring crap out - it’s creepy. I am going to ask my sister about her. A little reconnaissance work.

            As it turns out, Patty is the assistant to Mr. Ballantyne and will be helping us out throughout the semester. He introduces her to the class. As she addresses us I close my eyes and focus on her voice. It’s a perfect match for her.

So far school is starting out better than last year. Since Patty is the teacher’s assistant I will have to improve my art skills, because stick figures and yellow suns are not going to impress her. Time to take this crap seriously.

            Class ends and we all scurry out. As I enter the hallway I hear a voice from behind me - “I like your shirt.”

I whip around, it’s a freshmen girl named Sherry (or Cheryl) or something like that.

            “Uh, thanks.” What a weak-ass reply that was. To be fair I was rather taken by her full mouth of braces and short curly hair. You don’t see many kids with metal braces anymore. I could have said something to extend the conversation, but I had nothing. I was still too much in Patty mode. 0 for 1 already on the first day of school.

            Second period class is American History with Mr. Flowers. My sister told me he smells like booze sometimes. I guess these teachers must do their thing to get by. Alcohol can’t be as bad as Mr. Ballantyne’s stinky hippy oil – or can it? When I get a whiff of that stuff I want to barf while I sneeze. Whoever says that stuff smells good is a dumb ass.

I walk in and grab a seat in the second row, which isn’t normal for me. I am more of a back row guy, but those seats where already taken.

            Just as I sit down, in walks a girl named Jennifer. I knew her from elementary school, but she moved and went on to a different junior high. I haven’t talked to her since the fifth grade. I never had a chance to mention my crush on her. She was more interested in Sean, my good friend at the time. He didn’t give her the time of day; so that which only made her more interested in him. She sits down right in front of me, turns around and smiles,

            “Hi,” she says in a nice little voice.

I reply with the same word. Did she recognize me? I know it has been five years, but I look the same, I think. She sure looks even hotter now.

            Mr. Flowers gets things rolling. He doesn’t look too drunk. Maybe he’s an afternoon drinker, which would make more sense. Getting tanked in the morning is for the dedicated pros. Jennifer won’t turn around again because she is paying attention. I thought the conversation would flow, but I failed and couldn’t force anything out of my mouth. 0 for 2.

            The class ends and we walk out. I don’t know what to say to her; I have no game. I do have hope this will all play out differently someday.    

            Third period is PE, and so far my schedule looks like easy money. I make the long trek across campus to the gym where Mr. Pallilo will give us the scoop on the class. The first day we should get a free pass. Some working out, maybe a couple jumping jacks – but never any homework. There should never be homework in PE.

Jumping jacks suck, but sit-ups are worse. When you start doing those you get stomach cramps for weeks. He should just give us a ball and let us figure it out.

            Something is going on outside the gym where a crowd is starting to gather. Wow, day one and we already have a fight. On the other hand, it could just be a lame hacky sack game. I get in for a closer look - it's no hack game.

I see a couple of older students trying to put a freshman kid head first into the garbage can. The mean tradition of throwing freshmen into garbage cans is obviously still alive. The older guys are varsity football players, six foot, over two hundred pounds. The freshman is putting up a good fight, but it’s only a matter of time before he’s in that dirty ass can.

            A lot of kids are laughing, but I hate this shit. It almost happened to me once, but it was stopped because a teacher saw it going down. I take a closer look at the freshman. Oh crap! That’s Kyle; my friend Tim’s younger brother.

Kyle kicks and squirms as he throws short armed punches at the goons. One guy whose name is Manny Gomes grabs him by the back of the collar and in one move picks Kyle up and puts his head and shoulders into the can. It happens so fast and awkward that the can falls over with Kyle inside it. I can hear bottles and cans roll onto the concrete. Some of the crowd laughs, but most of them are kind of in shock. I hate jock bullies; especially when they pick on my friends.

                Kyle gets out of the can as fast as possible. The look of glee and triumph on the football player’s face pushes me over the edge. The jerk is grinning like he just sacked the quarterback, not some kid that weighs a hundred pounds.

                “Nice job moron,” I yell. 

                As soon as I say it I realize I might have screwed with the wrong guy. He looks at me for a second. He then lunges towards me and pushes me hard in the chest. It happens so fast that I fall backwards. I land hard on my ass and I’m stunned for a moment. Gomes walks away. Kyle grabs my hand and yanks me to my feet. I get up fast.

                “Is that all you got meat?” I say in a shrill voice.

He stops dead in his tracks and spins around. I realize what I said and prepare myself for a fight. 

He comes at me fast without hesitation, but instead of throwing the first punch I stand there waiting for his approach. He grabs me by the shirt and lifts me up and attempts to slam me to the ground, but I throw a wild punch and it lands right on the side of his head. It didn’t really faze him because I am back on the ground again. Kyle thrusts himself towards him and tries a tackle. He bounces off of the guy like he hit a stone wall. Gomes lifts him up and throws him like a rag doll to the side. I scurry to get up, but the bully pins me to the ground. I’m fucked. The crowd still watches this sad ass fight.

                “You a tough guy punk?” he yells at me.

He slaps me across the face, not hard, but it succeeds in getting my attention.

“Blow me, I’m not the one putting people in garbage cans, you should be picking on kids your own size, you big asshole.”

He gets up in my grill and blurts, “Tough talk for someone on the ground.”

                “Get off of me, get off me,” I say, as forcefully as I can.

Kyle hollers at him, “Go away dude, you won”. He finally lifts his knee off of my chest and his hands from my shoulders. I cough a couple of times as I lay there. The bully stands over me and then steps back. There is a milk carton lying next to me and he kicks it. It rolls across my chest and milk dribbles onto my shirt. I see him walk away as I lie there in defeat.

The whole time this was happening I forgot there were students gathering around us. Everything occurred in a flash; it was like an out-of-body experience. Even though it wasn’t much of a fight it feels like I took an ‘ass-whoopin’. It’s weird and embarrassing. Kyle helps me up as a few kids ask me if I’m alright. I just nod at them.

                “You okay?” I ask Kyle.

He nods. “Your shirt is torn Fergus, he ripped it - that jerk.”

It isn’t completely ripped but it is torn at the neck and shoulder. “Let’s get out of here,” I quickly say.

            I still have a nervous sense throughout my entire body, with a sick feeling in my stomach. I have never been in a fight with a guy that much bigger than me. He had at least seventy-five pounds on me. I don’t know what to do about the whole situation. I am hoping that it will just blow over soon. The last thing I want is that guy stalking me the whole year. Do I tell anybody about it? What did the other kids who witnessed it think? Poor Kyle, getting dumped into the can with all that garbage in there. His brother Tim is going to be mad.

I go to PE, which is in the gym. I sit in the bleachers, because there is no real class today. My buddy Steve is also here and I tell him the whole story. Steve says he already heard about the fight before I even sat down.

            “Wow, that didn’t take long. What did you hear?” I ask.

            “That you tried to stop a trashing and got thrown down yourself. Well, not thrown, more like slammed to the ground. But props for standing up to Manny Gomes. Okay, not really standing up, but you didn’t back down. Screw those guys. But watch your back man; it might not be over. Manny Gomes doesn’t seem like the type of guy who let’s things go fast.” I nod in approval as the bell rings.

I walk to the next class. Mr. Pallilo gave me a spare gym shirt. I tell him I ripped mine accidently. He probably doesn’t believe me because I am just another lame brain kid to him. So now I have to wear a gym shirt to fourth period English. Somehow, I must keep it together, so I can make it to lunch.