Chapter 21

Today I feel like a force. I might be a bad ass today, hah, we will see. I’m walking to school while dribbling a basketball. I saw the ball lying on the driveway, and it cried out for me to pick it up. I have always been a good dribbler. This is a good challenge while I lug my bag of books and lunch. I try not to bring as many books home at night anymore. The whole back pack thing has gotten ridiculous. For Christ’s sake, don’t teachers and faculty know that whole generations of kids are going to become hunchbacks?

I get to school and open my locker, I find another note.

It reads, “Good luck today. Susan.” 

            This is a good start to my day. Who doesn’t want a little luck on their side? Then I walk into art class and have to shift my focus to the other girl who drives me crazy.

            Patty stops by my desk each class to say something. I’m sure other kids notice, but then again, why should I care? In fact, I don’t care. Go get your own game and stay out of mine. I tell Patty I want to see her art work because she is the hand-picked teacher’s assistant. She brings me to her desk in the back room and shows me a piece she has been working on. I’m blown away. She paints using oils, while the rest of us students are not allowed to. She painted a picture of a castle that is amazing. It looks like it should be in a museum. I ask her where she got the idea. She says that she took a lot of photos of castles while on a European vacation. She didn’t want to just copy a photo, so she pulled together ideas of the one’s she liked best and made her own. I think she is a true artist. I’m just some shmuck making doodles on paper who flirts with her. Trust me, if I was her boyfriend, I’d be showing off her art to everyone.

            In English literature class, we are allowed to pick a book from a stack the teacher (Mrs. Crump) has ‘approved.’ I do not recognize any of these titles. The biggest book I have ever read is the autobiography of Teddy Roosevelt. It’s a book my dad read, so I did too. It took me a year to complete. It is over 900 pages and I read most of it on the toilet. I know that is disgusting, but for some reason I just left it in the bathroom and every time I sat down I read. I won’t recommend this to everyone, but it worked for me. When I was done, I threw the germ infested thing away.

The book I choose is entitled Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I narrowed it down to three books including Moby Dick and A Raisin in the Sun. I chose Lord of the Flies because it is about a bunch of boys stranded on an island. Mrs. Crump is glad I picked it because she feels every boy needs to read it at some point. It also looks like a thinner book than the others and it has bigger print. I think that is probably the criteria that most kids use. Thin good; thick bad.

As I walk to PE, I catch a glimpse of Mark Dornet - the punk who cracked me in the mug at the dance. I see him walk into the restroom outside the gym. I follow him, but I wait a second before I go in. I don’t know what I am going to do. He is in the stall. Maybe he’s doing something in there besides crapping. Smoking or twiddling with his phone is a possibility. I take a leak and he becomes silent. I wash my hands and he remains quiet as a mouse.

I start to walk out, then I see a bottle of liquid soap in the corner. Without giving it much thought, I grab it and open it up. I pour it onto the floor as fast and as quietly possible. I pick up the door stop and turn off the lights. Just before I close the door, I mumble in my best scary voice, “you better watch yourself, Mark. You punk ass.”

I slam the door and kick the stop under the bottom crack. I walk super-fast to the gym before anybody sees me. My heart is racing and I am feeling sinister. I walk down to the end and out the side door. I hide in some tall thick shrubs. I can see the restroom door from my location. After thirty seconds, Mark comes out slowly and looks around. Damn, I’m so dumb. All he had to do was open up the opposite door. I laugh to myself. He wipes his hands with a wad of towels and scrapes his shoes. He walks slowly while still looking around for his culprit. He slips and falls backwards onto his ass. I almost can’t compose myself. Poor bastard never knew what hit him.

            I can’t say I am proud of what I just did, but I wanted to screw with him. Honestly, it was childish. But then again, I could care less at this point. I have seen enough prison movies to know that bad stuff happens in the restroom. I wasn’t going to shank him, or anything like that. I also wasn’t going to kick in the stall, or mess with him, while he was doing his business. So I sent him a message that I think that Ferguson would be proud of. I can get revenge in different ways that are smarter and way more effective. I haven’t laughed like that in a while and I wish I took a video. I have got to get a cell phone soon. I could have shown Tim and Steve. We would have laughed our whole lives at this situation. 

            Today is the day of my cross country meet against a school called Branham, at the local park. I know nothing about them, except they have the same mascot as us; a Bruin - how original. Our race is at 2:45 p.m. The days are so short now, and the starting times are getting earlier and earlier.

I line up to race. There are twenty of us. We have eight runners and they have twelve. Branham has all kinds of runners: big football types, little guys, skinny guys, nerdy types, etc. We are down two runners. So that currently puts me as the sixth best runner on our team.

I nervously stand at the starting line. The gun pops, and we’re off. I feel strong. There are the usual runners bolting ahead. They are better than me right now, but not for long as far as I am concerned. I am built to run. I have good potential and a smooth stride; that’s what my coach has told me. This race has a faster pace than normal. Our two best guys are being challenged by three of theirs. I’m in the middle of the pack with seven others, then followed by all the rest.

I’m not slowing down at all. I have a good feeling, with plenty of gas in the tank. Coach Kappler has drilled into my head to pace myself so many times that it has finally seemed to pay off. I run the first two miles at a pace that is definitely my best time.

I glance at the runners around me. Some have that look of feeling pain. Coach

says when you see that, it is time to ratchet up the pace even more. Sure enough, I lose three guys and catch up to a small group of four. I’m in sixth place with my eyes set on the guys in front of me. One has only three strides on me. We are past the half way mark. I think this one might be a game changer. It really feels like I am competing – rather than just participating. I’m not just another wanna-be runner anymore.

There is about a mile left, and I’m still in sixth place. I’m right behind the guy in front of me. I pressure him, but still hold onto my reserves. With a half mile to go, the guy in fifth place is only five strides ahead. I can catch him. I can see the finish line in the distance. The top runners are way ahead, but there are two Branham guys still in my sight.

With a quarter mile left, I see Coach Kappler waving his arms and clapping his hands. I come up on him and he yells at me, “Hold on Fergus, just hold on.”

That gives me a boost. I decide to step it up and run up to the side of the guy that was in front of me. I peek at him at him, he looks back at me. We both turn it up a notch and catch up to the guy in fourth place. My last burst of energy is still in reserve; we are 200 yards away.

I let out all the gas in the tank. We have worked on this for weeks. But now I don’t know if it is good enough. The other guys are right next to me. I don’t look at them anymore. I’m a hundred yards away, breathing hard, pushing the air out like a locomotive. There is pain in my lungs - screw it I’ll push on. I pass one guy, so now I’m in a dead heat with the other runner. Now, only twenty yards away, I’m in survival mode. I won’t let myself quit. There’s only a half-step between us, maybe less. It is all about fighting back the pain and my ability to hang on.

This is crazy. We are yards away from the finish line when I feel like I am going to fall. My teammates shout out my name. I lean and plunge over the finish, stumbling to the ground. I land face first and roll to a dramatic ending.

My teammates pick me up and congratulate me on my fourth-place victory. I’m in a tired daze and bent over. I try to regain my breath. A couple of varsity guys pat me on the back.

“Good job Fergus, way to fight,” one of them says.

I walk around for a minute while I sip my water. Then she appears  - Patty sits on her bike right in front of me.

“Fergus, you were awesome,” she says, excited.

What an odd moment. I have nothing; she’s caught me off guard.

“You must be exhausted. I saw the finish … That was exciting.”

 “Thanks,” I say as I crack a smile. I’m still trying to catch my breath. “So, you came to watch the race?”

“I like to watch sports and support my friends. My best friend is on the girl’s team, but she is not racing today. I know you are on the boy’s team, so I came to watch,” she replies.

This is new - I have a fan. An incredible, beautiful, fan I might add. It’s one of the best feelings a guy can have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 20

I run to school again. My next meet is in three days and I am going to surprise some people. It’s amazing how much I have improved. From throwing up, to gagging, to barely trotting, to running with good endurance. I have even surprised myself. Running to school with my books strapped to my back is making me stronger as well. There has to be at least twenty-pounds of weight back there. I shower, then get to art class early again.

            Mr. Ballantyne is probably wise to my flirtations with Patty, but he also likes my early bird ways. Plus, it’s none of his business. He also likes the fact that I run cross country. Supposedly he was a runner back in the day, which he reminds me of a few times. I tell Patty about my meet on Thursday and ask her if she is going. She says she isn’t going. She said it without any hesitation either. Bummer. I don’t ask her why, I just let her know that we need her support. She changes the subject and goes about her business. She leaves without saying another word. What’s up with that? I can’t read this girl.

            Sometimes you think women are really into you and what you have to say, but then you aren’t sure. My dad once told me that when you’re trying to woo a woman, be prepared to be happy and depressed in the same breath. I didn’t really understand that until now. He also said women are fickle creatures. I don’t know what fickle means, so I looked it up.

Fickle; adjective. 1) likely to change, especially due to caprice, irresolution, or instability; casually changeable: Fickle weather. 2) Not constant or loyal in affections: A fickle lover.

I shake the cold shoulder off and move on with my day. I have to deal with two tests today, math and Spanish; my two hardest classes. My sister helps me with my math, but I don’t study as much as I need to for Spanish. Believe it or not, watching the Spanish television channels helps me. I can work the flow of the words by repeating what people say. Most of the time, the people on those shows talk so fast that I can’t understand what they are saying. I ask other Spanish class students if they watch Spanish TV. A couple girls laugh at me. They tell me that I only watch those shows for the beautiful women and that I’m not fooling anybody. I deny their accusation, even though they have a point.

I see Susan at lunch sitting in the cafeteria with some other girls. I grab Tim. Susan invites us both to sit down with them, much to Tim’s surprise and dismay. Susan is happy but the others look like we have a deadly virus. I break the ice and tell them we are not contagious anymore and they are in no danger. Susan laughs as her girl crew smiles a little. I’m glad Tim is with me because he’s super shy and he needs this interaction with the babes. We handle ourselves like cool cats; no stupid things said or gestures made. We are gentlemen. We don’t burp, nor did we gobble our food like starving animals.

I have a lot of thought about how and where I am going to take Susan on our first date. I don’t have wads of cash lying around, so I will have to take money out of my savings account because my allowance for chores is not going to get it done. According to my calculations, I need fifty bucks for a decent date. My dad is not going to fork up that much, but I know my Mom is good for a twenty spot. I think I will just take her to a movie, because I can just sit there with her and don’t have to talk all night. Hell, I don’t know. I could always ask my sister. She is an expert at this type of thing. She is the master of ‘dateology.’

Next semester, I can take my driver training. Maybe, by later next year, I will have my driver’s license. I can’t wait for that freedom. The sports car on blocks that has been sitting under a tarp on the side our house for five years is going to be on my list of things to get done. I need a pot to piss in. I am getting a job as soon as I turn sixteen so I will be flush with cash.

I’m at the debate team meeting, were we start to prepare for an event next week against another school. We are debating climate change and what needs to be done to help control it. I have not done much research on this subject. I didn’t get picked to be on the 1st or 2nd team. They still want me to go watch and observe. I’m treated like a rookie, which is probably what I deserve. I haven’t mastered any kind of speaking style or tone. When I practice in class in a group of ten kids, I get brain farts. I don’t articulate. Kurt tells me that once I get a grasp of the material; the articulation will follow.  

 Today I thought about what would Ferguson do? I slam my fist down on the lectern and say, “Climate change is real. If we don’t do something about it now, what will be our kid’s future?”

What little I have read about climate change made perfect sense to me.  I said it loudly, and everybody in the classroom stops. Some kids high-five me and others yell out approval. It’s a fun moment, the highlight of the debate. I can’t mumble and mail in my responses anymore. I didn’t make the starting teams and that bugs me. I can do this if these smart kids really accept me. Right now, I think they treat me like I’m just some dumb sap that they can help. What these smart asses don’t know is that I will rule this team in a matter of time. I am ready to take the gloves off and force my will.

After that meeting, I’m a little pissed. And when I get angry I need to take it out on something or somebody. I walk by the basketball gym, I see the JV team practicing and get a sick feeling in my gut. I should have tried out again this year, I felt ready. I walk into the gym and sit on the bleachers for a brief moment.

I put my stuff down, run onto the court, and grab a basketball. I start shooting on one of the side baskets and some of the players stop to watch me. I’m probably not supposed to be here but screw it - and Coach Ryan for that matter. I nail some shots from the outside. In fact, I hit five in a row. I take a few more dribbles, then I sit the ball down and walk out. Yeah, I can have an attitude and right now I’m feeling it.

When I get home from school, I climb the stairs and throw myself onto my bed. I put on some headphones and turn on the music. As soon as I close my eyes, I feel my foot being wrenched on. It’s my brother and I want to clobber him.

“Hold on hot head. That dude Ferguson called and left a message on the house number.”

“What? When did this happen?” I lash out.

“I don’t know, like four,” Robby mumbles.

           I push my brother away as I jump on the bed and shadow box. My brother looks at me like I’m an idiot.

I run downstairs and listen to the message. It’s barely audible and I can hardly understand what he is saying. But I did manage to get a phone number. He spoke fast, so I had to rewind it ten times. I get a nervous feeling in my gut. I want to call him back, but at the same time I want to write down what I want to say. I don’t know if I’ll just get one shot at this.

            First things first; I must talk to my sister about how I’m going to pull off a date with Susan. Before I could even ask her for her expertise, she tells me she has no time to tutor me for math.

“Chill for a second. I need your advice on a subject that you’re an expert on,” I say in a slick tone.

She gives me an odd look, like I am screwing with her. “What do you want?”

“I asked a girl on a date. I need some advice.”

Cindy laughs. “What makes you think I’m an expert?”

“Okay, maybe not an expert. But someone who knows the game a bit more than I do.”

I must have pushed the right buttons on her control panel, because she turns nice all of a sudden.

First and foremost, she wants to know who the girl that I’m going out with is. Of course, when I tell her about Susan she has no clue who she is. That’s probably a good thing. She tells me that a man with no money (and no car) probably has at least two strikes against him. But she says that she will make sure I pull this off; but that the next time I’m on my own. She says I need to learn; like all of the other boys. She tells me to meet the parents and bring them something. That will buy some goodwill and ease their concerns about me. They are, after all, foreign exchange parents. They have to be extra careful with the girl they’re looking after.

Second thing, I need a driver but not a parent. She suggests hiring a driver or a ride sharing type thing. Third, be a gentleman; especially if she is a girl you like. If you are just going to hangout, then that is different; you are just friends. But this usually is not the case in high school. Cindy asks me what my intentions are. I’m embarrassed because I have no idea what I’m doing. If she’s talking about sex, then it isn’t something I want to discuss with my sister - ever.

So according to Cindy we are going to go to a movie, have popcorn, drinks, then candy. After the movie, I need to get an ice cream or something of that nature, so we can walk around. If things go well, maybe we can hold hands. Then the date is over. I need to call my ride and go home. And if I’m lucky, I will get a hug with possible kissing. I can call her in the next few days, unless it was not a good experience.

            Honestly, I wouldn’t care if we even went to a mall or a park. Cindy tells me not to be a cheap skate. Even if I don’t have much money, at least I should show some generosity and see that she has a good time. If the date doesn’t go so well, move on. You can usually tell fairly soon if it is going well and if you want to keep dating. I don’t know that much about Susan. But I want to know more; and what I know so far, I really like.

            It’s different with her than it is with Patty. Susan is a junior and a blonde. She’s a little bit taller than me, probably around five-foot six. I am five foot five. If she wears heels, she will be taller than me, kind of like a basketball center. I’m okay with it though - but is she? She wears boots a lot, which I love. Something about girls wearing boots, I guess that’s my thing. I must admit the fact that she is German (and when she speaks in her language) it hypnotizes me. You don’t hear German being spoken that much anywhere, except Germany. Or in an old World War II movie. Time will only tell if she will be my girlfriend. Best not to dwell on that too much.

            Then we have Patty: a senior with long dark hair that I cannot seem to get out of my head. I feel comfortable around her. I can say anything to her; except unfunny dirty jokes. I think that she has got her eye on someone else though, or she already has a boyfriend. Anyway, I have nothing to lose. I am going to use all of my “powers” no matter how limited they are. Like my sister told me, show some potential.

            I have plenty of that and more. I don’t know much about anything. But I’ve learned that from reading Ferguson’s manifesto that you have to make things happen, create excitement, take charge and be open to all possibilities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 19

Today, I’m not walking to school - I’m running. I’m going to be like Forrest Gump; a running machine. I am upping my game and it starts now.

I run to school in fifteen minutes. I cool off, change clothes and head to art class. The good thing about first period art is that your brain doesn’t get thrown into the torture of math or English. Your brain gets to slowly wake up, and the only real big decision you need to make is whether to use colored pencils or pastels.

I get to art class ten minutes early. It’s only me, Mr. Ballantyne, Patty and a couple of other girls. Those girls are speaking Spanish to each other constantly. I say Buenos Dias to them then they laugh and look at each other. There is classical music playing. I’m sure Mr. Ballantyne is shocked to see me this early. Well get used to the new me Mr. Ballantyne; the early bird is catching the worm. In this case, it’s just a matter of spending more time with his lovely assistant. I take a seat and wait for Patty to appear from the supply room.

            She appears right in front of me. She is wearing baggy pants and a flannel shirt. Her hair is down but in a pony tail.  Before she can say anything, I mumble under my breath, “Another remarkable day.”

She looks sleepy as she gazes at me with those big blue-green eyes.

“Huh?” she asks me. 

I guess that wasn’t low enough. I laugh and repeat, “remarkable day.”

She scrunches her eye brows and firmly states, “Fergus what’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing. I was just stating that it is a remarkable day.”

I guess this is my new pick-up line. I used it on Susan, and now I have her phone number. Maybe it only works on Germans.

            “I’ll have to get back to you on that,” she responds, still groggy.

I have no immediate reply, so she heads back to the supply room. Before she gets too far, my mouth spills out, “I saw you yesterday on your bike.”

She pauses, turns. “Oh yeah?”

“You were at the cross country meet.” 

            “I was getting my exercise … You were there?”   

            “Yeah, you didn’t see me?”

            “No, you should have come over and said hello.”

I thought about not mentioning to her that I was on the team, but I can’t stop now. “Well, I was little tired from my race.” I’m playing my cards close to my chest. 

            “Oh,” she pauses. “I didn’t know you were on the team.”

            “Yeah, I’m on the JV squad. First time I’ve ever been on any team here at school.”

Then I drop the million-dollar question. “So…what were you doing there?”

            “I was there to see a friend run.”

            “Cool, supporting your friends.”

            That was it, two steps forward, and one step back. She now knows I am a runner and she wanted me to come by and visit. But (and this is a big but) she was there to see a ‘friend.’ I guess I could have pried into her business. But something inside me didn’t want to know if she was there to see a boyfriend, or a boy she had a crush on. I have to look at the positive side of this. We are friends, I am pretty sure of that. Maybe I will see her at the next meet. Then I’ll find out who my competition is.

            The rest of the school day is non-eventful. The next highpoint was that I can now bench press one hundred-twenty pounds, which is an improvement for me. I need to get bigger arms because that cross country tank top shows my biceps. I really have some work to do. I work the curls, until I can’t move my arms for ten minutes. I might have over done it, but it’s the price I’m willing to pay.

            I was going to run home but ended up walking with Tim and Steve. That’s when things got interesting. Tim went one direction, then it’s Steve and me. He rides his bike as I walk. We come upon a small intersection where there is a big SUV stalled - one of those massive jeeps with their hazard lights flashing.

We walk up to it. The lady inside is on her cell phone. I ask her if she needs some help. She says that she thinks she is out of gas. She asks us if we can push her off the road. I tell her we will push her Hummer to the gas station a half a block away. Steve and I start pushing her down the road. The damn thing probably weighs three tons. We are barely moving it. Why people need to drive these monster vehicles just baffles me. This lady probably drives her kids to soccer practice in this huge thing. Steve calls it an urban assault vehicle. We laugh as we keep it creeping down the road.

            I am really working hard at the task at hand; lifting those weights has paid off. It feels good that we are helping somebody out. It’s not very often that I get to do that. I glance over at a man sitting on a bench at the park across the street. I put my head back down to concentrate at my task. I look back again at this man and he leans over and falls to the ground. This is definitely one of the weirdest moments of my life thus far. I stop pushing and look at him, no movement on the ground. I don’t know if he’s just drunk, in trouble, or what. I excitably yank on Steve’s arm then tell him to check it out.

            “Now what?” he asks.

            “You keep pushing, I’ll go figure that out.”

I quickly run across the street, into the park. I don’t see any bottles lying around. I yell at the guy lying on the ground, “hey man, you alright? You alright?”

There is no response. I bend over and nudge him. He isn’t dead, but he doesn’t respond either. He finally grumbles a little and I tell him I am going to sit him up. I look over at Steve, still barely pushing the SUV. Some other guy joins in to help him.

Then the guy helping Steve stops pushing and runs over to the park. The guy tells me he is an off-duty policeman. He kind of takes over, trying to talk to the man. The man on the ground is grumbling while slobber comes out of the corner of his mouth. The off-duty cop tells me that this guy is in diabetic shock. He whips out his phone and calls for an ambulance. He seems to know what he is doing, so I run back to the Jeep. We get the monster vehicle into the driveway of the gas station, but we do not have the manpower to get it up and over into the driveway. Some people just watch us struggle. I wave them over for some help. They finally come and give us a hand pushing it in. The lady is very grateful.

We run back across the street. Meanwhile, the cop has the guy sitting up. The guy is in a daze. The cop wants me to go to the gas station and buy a candy bar for the man. I run back to the gas station to get a chocolate bar. I have to wait in line. It seems like everybody is buying a lotto ticket or is in no big rush. I force myself up to the cashier.    

            “Hey, can I just get this candy bar? There is a guy in diabetic shock that needs it.”

The four people ahead of me are supportive and tell me to get going. One guy even says he will pay for me and tells me to hurry.

            I get back to the scene at the park and unravel the candy. I give it to the cop and he breaks off a small piece, but the guy is so incoherent that the cop can’t get him to eat it. The ambulance rolls up. Two EMTs, a woman and man, get out and examine him. The woman gives the guy some sort of stick that looks like gum. She cracks it in two and puts it into his mouth.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“A glucose stick,” the male EMT responds.

            The man slowly begins to come around. He opens his eyes yet says nothing. The EMTs keep working on him and eventually they have him sitting on a bench. They want to haul him away, but the man is now talking and says he doesn’t want to go. He might be a derelict. He tells us his name is William.

            The team stays with him for another twenty minutes, then leave. Steve and I stay a little longer and hang out with William. He tells us to call him Bill. He lets us know he lives nearby in a home with others. I’m not sure what by living in a home with others means. Maybe it’s a squatting ground where homeless people crash.

            Steve and I decide we have to leave. Before we do, I reach into my pocket and give the guy ten bucks from my wallet. Steve looks at me like I’m nuts. I gesture to him to fork over some dough. He looks at me with a sneer. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out some waded-up money and hands it to me. It’s just a couple of bucks. I give it to Bill, who says he doesn’t want our money. I insist, and finally he takes it. Tears are swelling in his eyes. I get tears all of the sudden while Steve looks down. We leave Bill and head home.

            I put my hand on Steve’s shoulder and we fist bump. We both feel like super heroes. We talk about it on the way home. It feels good to have done that for Bill. Ferguson and dad would be proud.

There is a lot of stuff that Ferguson wrote in his book about how helping others is the highest calling on earth. Well, it really hit home today. I recall a passage from the manifesto:

            “Help others in a jam … When folks are in a real jam, or in a situation that could do harm to themselves, see if you can help them. Sometimes people get into a hopeless state and feel as though they have nowhere to turn; nowhere to run. Offer to help them, better yet, offer to help them before they get a chance to ask you. A lot of people will refuse help because of their pride, embarrassment or stigma about their particular problem. Understand their issue(s) and tell them that you've got their back. Remember, helping others is the highest calling on this planet.”

            Steve and I joke around about becoming firemen, or EMTs, after high school. Think about it: you drive around in a fire truck, or an ambulance, see some gnarly stuff, save lives, put out fires and hang out at the station. I’m sure there are downsides, but that could be our ticket to avoid the whole college thing. Maybe I do have a calling.

            I tell my family about the big scene I was involved in. They are very proud of me, so I use that as a chance to ask for a new phone. I let them know it was luck that an off-duty cop had his phone, otherwise old Bill might have died. All I get is, “we’ll look into it.” My dad always has to remind us of the old days of when there were no cell phones. You had to use a pay phone in a pinch. For one thing, I hardly see payphones anywhere anymore; except the one at the gas station. Also, I can’t imagine what kinds of fungus are on the remaining payphones in the city.

            Since I am feeling heroic, I pull out Susan’s phone number. My brother lets me use his phone after I give him two bucks. The little punk is making money off me. Part of the deal is he has to leave the room for a half hour.

            When I call Susan, I talk to some adult first; guess this is her home number. They ask me who I am and how I know Susan. I think that is a little weird, I feel like giving them a fake name. Charlie Horseman would be my preference. But I decide that this might not be a good idea.

            After a long pause, Susan finally comes to the phone. The first thing I ask her if she remembers me. She says yes. I am super nervous and probably jabbering too fast. Then the really deep conversation begins:

            “How are you?”

            “Good. How are you?”

            “How was your day?”

            “Good,” she replies.

            “How was school?”

            “Good,” she replies again.

     Then on to some more small talk garbage. I finally grow a pair and ask her if she would like to go out on a date. Complete silence. I hate that long pause … Then …

“It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that I have to ask my American family.”

Silence on my part. All that I could come up with is, “Oh.”

She laughs to break up the tension.

“That’s part of the rules here. They are responsible for me, and they want to make sure you are not crazy,” she says then gives another nervous laugh.

            “You might have to come by to meet them before we have a date.”

            “I’m game,” I respond.

            “What game?”

We are now lost in translation again; I hope this isn’t going to become a frequent thing with this girl. “I will walk 500 miles to get their approval,” I proudly state.

I know that this is a terrible line, but I heard another old song today called ‘500 miles.’ I like it; so I borrowed the line. She giggles. This girl is a laugher. This is good because it’s better than being a crier or a quiet librarian type. We arrange a time for me to meet her ‘American parents.’

I’m halfway there for my first date.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 18

I knock on the front door, my dad standing on the lower step. Tanya opens the door. “Hello, may I help you?” she asks with a smile.

Before I get a chance to speak, my dad chimes in, “Yes, we’re here to see Mrs. Mary Bogen. We are old neighbors of hers.”

            “Hi Fergus, I didn’t recognize you with your hoodie on. Come on in. She is having dinner right now, but we can ask her to come to the living room after she is done.”

            “We will wait for her to finish her dinner,” I quickly say.

            We sit in the living room for a half an hour. I check out the pictures on the wall.  My dad is reading magazines, I bet he is hungry. Hell, I’m hungry too.

“When can I get a new phone? I sure could use one right about now,” I ask my dad.

            He replies with the usual response: “There are people all over the world who have never used or seen a phone, I think you could last a little longer.”

Geez, who knows how much longer is going to be. It wasn’t more than thirty seconds after my question that Mrs. Bogen appears. My dad stands up and puts his hand on my shoulder.

“Hi Mrs. Bogen, I am Ray Gordon. Do you remember me? I believe that you’ve already met my son Fergus.”

Her eyes open really wide and she smiles. 

            “Oh my God, of course Ray; I remember you. My mind is still solid.”

My dad and her hug. She then hugs me.  

            “So, you have a Ferguson like me?” she says with a joyous smile. 

            “Yes. I have two other children as well,” my dad explains.

“Ray, have you talked to Ferguson in a while?”

I think my dad just got embarrassed. “No, unfortunately we lost touch,” he says with his head down.

            “That’s a crying shame Ray, you two were such good friends.”

I see those tears in my dad’s eyes again. “So, how is he?”

            “You know Ferguson; he has always marched to his own drum beat. I don’t see him that much right now because he lives near Montreal, Canada.”

            “Damn, that is way far away,” I blurt out. I realize I swear and apologize.

            “He wants me to move there soon. But my mother, Betty is settled here and I can’t bear to move to that cold place. He likes it there. His wife is from there, so it’s home now.”

           “Does he ever come to visit you?” I ask.

            “Yes, we get to see him every so often. We might see him during the holidays.” 

I feel better about that, but it’s only November. The holidays are a long time away. My dad and Mrs. Bogen continue their little chit-chat, but I feel I didn’t learn much more today. My dad talks about our family; Mrs. Bogen seems very interested in that.

           “So what does Ferguson do for a living?” I interrupt.

“You know; I am not sure. But I do know he travels a lot and has to talk to people. I am certain he sells something. He doesn’t always explain things to me.”

            “Does he have kids?” I ask.

            “Yes, he has four children, all girls: Marisa, Trudy, Bess and Nell.

            “Is he happy?” I ask.

She laughs, but I’m not sure why she thought that was funny. I wasn’t sure if this was the most appropriate of questions; but I had to ask it.

            “As far as I know. You can’t tell when Ferguson is having a good or bad day. It’s one way, and only one way.”

            “Yeah, that’s true. I didn’t ever think he had bad days,” my dad chimes in.

            We leave after our little twenty-minute talk with Mrs. Bogen. She shed some light on my image of Ferguson. He’s a happy go lucky guy, family man and travels the world. I don’t understand why he wants to live in another country - but then again - I have never been to Montreal.

            My dad seems happy to see Mrs. Bogen again. She did say she will let Ferguson know that we inquired about him, and to tell him to call us when he is in town. I am happy that he’s not in jail, or some bum. He sounds like he had made his way through life just fine. Then again, he could have turned into some prick; that would put a dent in my hero worship.

            I guess what I can take away from our meeting the most is that Ferguson is a guy who doesn’t let you know he is having a bad day. I don’t know if I can ever be that way. Some days I don’t feel like I want to see people or be bothered with anything. I don’t know if that makes me a weirdo or a bad person.

“It’s not that I don’t like people, it’s that I just feel better when they are not around.” That’s a saying I once heard. I never forgot that one. It makes me laugh more than anything. I’m not a loner by any stretch. However, I don’t mind going solo if need be. 

            Instead of going home, my dad wants to get some burgers. He doesn’t want the fast food kind, he wants to go to a sit down joint. We head to his favorite place, Diamond Jim’s. It’s a big place with a bar and six televisions that are playing all kinds of sports. I always liked the sign in the window, “Ice Cold Beer and Charbroiled Steaks.” If a restaurant couldn’t make a go with that kind of sign, then there must be something wrong. My dad is in a good mood. If only I could get Ferguson back into his life.

            We eat until we are ready to explode. I dread going back to do homework - it never ends. I don’t want to worry about it though; that does me no good. Ferguson wouldn’t worry about it, he would probably study with a girl and make the most of it.

“What kind of student was Ferguson?" Did he get A’s, B’s or C’s?” I ask my dad.

           “Well, he did go away to college back East. So, he must have got decent grades. I know he wasn’t a valedictorian.”

            “Did you ever see him study?”

           “Not really, just a couple of times when we went to the city library. But he just ended up talking with girls. He would almost get kicked out for goofing off.”

            “I had a feeling you were going to say that. Dad, I have to study my butt off. If I am lucky I get a ‘B.’ A darn ‘B’ for crying out loud. If I ever get an ‘A,’ it would be a miracle. So, you know I’m for sure not going to get into a good college.

My dad goes silent for about a half a minute. He finally says, “Fergus, wherever you end up going or doing, I am sure you’ll be just fine. I know it; I feel it. 

            This night has taken a turn in a better direction, for both of us. I think my dad is trying to have a better relationship with me. I see the effort. This is the most time we have spent together in a couple of years. Maybe Ferguson is bringing us together without him really being here. I just hope tomorrow we continue on this new path. If my father retreats into his own world again, I know I have more work to do. I need him around. Our whole family needs him. I need to get Ferguson to call him. I think that would be the therapy he really needs.

            When I get home, I give a decent try on my homework. The day has left me exhausted. I don’t know how some of these kids do all this homework mixed in with extra-curricular activities. Maybe it exhausts them too; they must just push through it.

I lie back on my bed and listen to music with my headphones. My brother is on his bed, playing with his ridiculous cell phone video games. Maybe he’s texting a girl - probably not. He seems to be on the slow track with girls, which will probably serve him well. I could be wrong. He might have a couple of little girlfriends that I know nothing about. He plays his cards pretty close. 

            I still can’t get over the way I wimped out today at the meet with Patty. I think she may be out of my league. I remember a song she was playing in class before we got underway. I watched her mouth the words. I wrote down the lyrics to find out, it’s a really old song called "Dreams" by The Cranberries. I can’t get the song out of my head tonight.

Oh, my life is changing everyday
In every possible way
And oh my dreams
It's never quite as it seems
Never quite as it seems

I know I felt like this before
But now I'm feeling it even more
Because it came from you
Then I open up and see
The person falling here is me
A different way to be

I want more, impossible to ignored
Impossible to ignore
And they'll come true
Impossible not to do
Impossible not to do

And now I tell you openly
You have my heart so don't hurt me
You're what I couldn't find
A totally amazing mind
So understanding and so kind
You're everything to me

I think the song is about being hopeful; even when you don’t think you have a chance. It sounds kind of bleak, but deep down I think the person in the song will never give up their desires for the person they are singing about. The song has a great upbeat feel.

After I play it five times, I’m on the verge of falling asleep. I think Patty was there to see a boy she is dating. I consider what Ferguson would do. Ferguson would win the race or do something crazy the next time she showed up. Maybe he would pretend he was hurt to get her attention. Eh, I don’t think so. I think I should try to impress her. Next time I’ll do better than thirty-first place. I need to get to the top ten. I have some work to do to be a hero in her eyes. Right now, the odds are stacked against me. I have to up my game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 17

I let my dad know that I went to the Bogen house and met Mrs. Bogen. He says he felt bad he stopped going over to her house after Ferguson left for college. When Ferguson moved away, he only dropped by for a few brief visits. My dad hasn’t kept in touch with any of his high school classmates; which I find sad. He closed that chapter of his life a long time ago.

            My days are filled with bewilderment and rather odd situations. I have yet to see that guy Mark, who punched me in the face. I wouldn’t say Manny Gomes and I are enemies, yet I think the threat of a smack down is a thing of the past. I see him play football, and it’s a good thing I don’t have to fight that giant. The guy is a beast.

I laugh more at school now, but I don’t participate when kids make fun of others. There is this one kid, Anthony, who gets picked on a lot. I sometimes walk back from school with him because we take the same path home. He’s not very athletic. Nor is he very “cool” or vocal. He’s an easy target for bullying. This big guy named Robert Vargas protects him from bullies in PE. Why kids feel the need to pick on him is beyond me. What would that prove? That you can pound a kid that doesn’t defend himself?  Anthony has had a growth spurt, which makes him taller than me, at five foot nine. He’s still kind of wimpy, but I hope he grows out of it.

I’m really tired of bullies. I’m ready to fight anybody that tries to fuck with me, because I’m sick of their tormenting. I don’t go around looking for it, but I won’t back down if they come at me. I’ll defend myself and my friends at all costs. If I end up fighting Mark Dornet, it won’t be because I jumped him. I want Mark Dornet man to man and ask him why he sucker punched me. I’ll probably accept an apology.

            Today we have our third cross country race. I didn’t realize that I’m going to run against fifty guys. The race is a 5k. We have to run both uphill and downhill, around trees and a lake. If you are going to be in a race, you might as well be outside in the brisk air around nature.

The race starts. It feels weird running next to fifty guys. Everybody tries to get around each other really fast. I just hope I don’t fall down. Sure enough, four guys bite the dust twenty feet from the starting line, giving me a head start on them. With this many guys running, I feel like I am in a fight for survival. I am running faster than my usual pace, working hard to keep up to the pack. Some of the guys that bolted out at the start are now further back with the main group. Then, you have the really good runners that have created their own little group that are now far ahead.

            I am going to burn out if I keep at this pace for much longer. I pull back on the throttle. More guys are falling back after the race reaches the half way point. I want to save some energy for my last kick. I’m starting to fall behind now. A third of the runners have 1k left. I hold my burst as long as I can; just like coach tells us.

I turn on the last of my ‘reserves’ for the remaining few hundred yards. I’m able to catch a few runners and pass them. I cross the finish line without falling as I gasp for air. I am tired, but feel I finished strong. I came in 31st out of 53 runners. I know there is no medal or awards for 31st, but I got a lot of back slaps, fist bumps and high fives from my teammates. My coach, Mr. Kappler, is even more excited than me. He actually gives me a hug. I beat 22 other runners; not that bad. Either they were all the lousy runners, or I’m improving.

            As I walk around and drink my water, I get a glimpse of my dad standing in the distance. He sees me and gives me two thumbs up with half a smile. He left work early, something he never does. I had no idea he even knew I ran today. I know cross country is not as fun to watch as my baseball games. It’s kind of right up there with golf.

            I go over to see him. I’m glad he showed up because now I don’t have to take the long bus ride back. I tell him about my strategy and how I waited to the last minute to use my secret gear. It’s so secret I didn’t know I even had it. The biggest surprise of the day is not my finish, not my dad, but the girl on the bike watching the varsity race. In the distance, I spot Patty.  She’s got her hair pulled back and wearing stretchy black pants.  I get really nervous. I’m in shock. I just stare at her like I am in a coma. What in the hell is she doing here? Obviously, she isn’t here for me. Or is she? My teammate is talking to me, but I have no idea what he is going on about. Should I stay or should I go talk to her? I don’t think I ever told her I’m on the team.

            She’s off her bike now; standing there next to it. This is my chance: no school, no art class - just her and me, face to face.

I can’t do it. I’m chickening out. My dad has no clue what is happening. He says that it’s time we go and for me to let my coach know that I’m not taking the bus back to school. The moment is passing me by; and I’m letting it happen. Coach Kappler walks over. He and my dad strike up a conversation as I continue to stare. I can overhear Coach Kappler going on about my big improvement.

We get in the car and drive off. The happiness and thrill of what could have been a defining moment has now vanished like the breeze. I look out the car window for one more look at her. Son of a bitch; I feel like a loser.

            On the car ride home, I ask my dad if we can go see Ferguson’s mother. He’s reluctant at first because he has different plans. He wants to take me to get a burger, which I normally would be all over. When I ask him again, he senses the determination in my voice. Even if he flat out rejects me, nothing is going to stop me from seeing her eventually. He turns the car in the opposite direction, heading towards Mary Bogen’s residence.

            We park in front of the house. My dad talks about the Bogen’s and the good times he had at their house. I feel excited about whole idea of Ferguson being someone who actually exists. I have imaginary conversations with him. This guy (who wrote this crazy book) does exist, and hopefully he’s somewhere out there still doing great things. I feel no different than some kid who idolizes a rock musician, or a movie star. In the end, it’s all about who inspires you. We all wish and hope that they are what we make them out to be. But I must remember; he’s just a person – like me. I should probably be idolizing some one that has cured diseases or invented something great. At the very least some sort of deity or higher being. But I’m on a mission; and it’s pretty big. This guy who wrote all this stuff was my age. That baffles me.

My dad is a little nervous, since it’s been so long since he’s seen Mrs. Bogen. He says that the thing he remembers most about her was that she was the sweetest person. She always fed all of Ferguson’s friends at the Bogen house and it was good food. She didn’t just pull out Twinkies and Kool-Aid. It was always homemade cake and sandwiches. Ferguson is an only child, so his parents allowed a bunch of kids to invade their house. My dad really liked Ferguson’s dad. He was this guy who smoked a pipe which created a cloud of cherry flavored tobacco. That smell is something that my dad has never forgotten. Mr. Bogen would be sitting behind this desk with books and papers everywhere, and he would pull pranks on the kids that came over. When you first met him, you thought he was this weird adult that you just wanted to get away from. After you got to know him, there was something about him you liked.

He never treated you like a moron kid. He would give you respect and kept asking mature questions. Then, when he was done gathering your thoughts, he would offer good advice. That’s where Ferguson got a lot of his ideas from. When other kid’s dads were driving big American cars and station wagons, Mr. Bogen had an English convertible. It was the first convertible my dad got to drive in.

We arrive at her house and I pull out a little note that I keep in my wallet; just a little something written by Ferguson. I tell my dad to wait a second as I read it to him. 

“Never give up - I have given up many times and what did it get me? About a dollar short of actual finishing something. I have been working at being a ‘finisher,’ not a quitter. A quitter is an awful thing to be known for. I would get bored, or frustrated, and walk away from many things. Each time I got an ‘F’ on something like a book report or science project it’s because I walked away and I gave up. You should always strive to do better the next time. We can’t all be ‘A’ students consistently. But, if you give up, you’re an automatic failure.

After I read this passage to my dad, it looks like he has tears swelling in his eyes. I’m not sure if they are happy or sad tears. Why would he cry over this? I haven’t seen my dad cry very much in my lifetime. It’s usually when somebody in the family has died. Then there is the time he cried watching a movie about a dog, Marley and Me. It was about a couple who had a dog for fifteen years. When the dog finally died in the arms of his owner, my dad lost it and had to leave the room.

“All right Fergus, let’s do this,” I proclaim to myself as I walk to the front door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 16

I finally finish my homework around 11pm. I feel good about my effort. If I can keep up this pace, I might get a “B.” I read tonight a bit more from the Manifesto before I turn off my light.

            My favorite “power” Ferguson wrote about was humor. He writes:

“Humor changes the mood in the most uncomfortable situations. For instance, my Uncle Angus cracked a joke at my grandfather’s funeral and it broke the sadness of the event. My grandfather was a very funny guy, and the last thing he wanted at his funeral was a bunch of crying friends and relatives. He lived to be 94. He would laugh that he lasted that long. Of course, reading the room is important before you unleash your one liners. The aim is to ease the tension, not create it. I love really loud laughter and people who have big laughs. When you laugh louder than anybody else, others can’t help but laugh with you. I’m not talking about carrying on like some hyena, but a good belly laugh is the best medicine. You will find that when you are a “laugher” you get invited to more parties; it just happens that way. Learn some jokes; because who doesn’t want to hear a joke? I have a friend who always tries to tell a joke but somehow   fumbles the punchline. Of course, one should remember a joke and the punchline. And tell it with some panache.”

             I realize I didn’t know that many jokes, and the ones I do are dirty as well. I think I can be humorous, but you never know what others think is funny. I guess if you laugh loud enough at your own jokes people will laugh too.

            I awoke today with a mission - to be funny. I looked up some jokes on the internet and wrote them down. Patty didn’t know it yet, but she is going to hear one. The first rule for telling a joke is to know your audience. You can’t be telling dirty jokes to people unless they like them, or you don’t care what they think. The trick is for them to like you; not to think you are a pervert. I looked up some jokes and wrote them down.

            Here are a few: Light travels faster than sound. That is why some people appear quite bright – until you hear them talk … A guy is sitting at home when he hears a knock at the door. He opens the door and sees a snail on the porch. He picks up the snail and throws it as far as he can. Three years later there’s a knock on the door. He opens it and sees the same snail. The snail says: ‘What the hell was that all about?’

            Not exactly knee slappers, but the reason I picked them is because I don’t think most people will laugh at first. You actually have to think for second, then you might chuckle. I have decided that looking up jokes up on the internet is stupid. You have to get the good ones from other people.

            In art class, I’m busy working on my big semester project. It’s a picture of buildings using perspective drawing. I spent a lot of time to trying to find a picture to copy. I ended up using something I made up. The buildings are in a deserted city with no cars and no people; I have drawn a little me standing there too. Patty comes up and studies the latest version and notices the little drawing of me.

            “Fergus … that says a lot about you. You must feel like a stranger in a strange land. Is that right?”

            “Sort of,” I say as I look at her, smiling. “I got a joke for you.”

She awaits my response. This is my big chance. I decide to tell her a different joke than the ones I practiced. I go for the one that I’ve always thought is funnier.

            “A boy complains to his father: You told me to put a potato in my swimming trunks! You said it would impress the girls at the pool! But you forgot to mention one thing. The father replies; really, what? The boy says that the potato should go in the front.”

I laugh. Then I look at Patty. There is nothing coming out of her mouth, not even a smile. It’s an awkward silence that seems to last at least ten seconds. Oh crap. She walks away. I’m screwed. All of my hard work was just blown over a crappy, inappropriate, joke. Why didn’t I go with the cleaner joke? That one was too dirty for this artsy girl. I went against everything I just learned. 

            The last hour sucked because it seems that all of my good luck went down the toilet. Right after art class I get confronted by the girl that asked me to study group, Nancy Yen. She starts to question me about why I missed a session. I lie and say that I had to tend to a personal matter. I knew it sounds like BS. But I didn’t want to get into a long story.

I’m barely following what the teacher is saying in history class. I have no idea what the assignment is and leave without taking notes.

            I sit in the library during break by myself. I pull out my notebook. I have been carrying around a sentence written in German so I’m ready in case I run into Susan. I have been working on building a repertoire with these two girls, I figure one of them is going to like me. I thought Patty was coming around, even though she is two years older than me; but that might change thanks to my raunchy joke.

I found a German sentence on a translation website. All you have to do is type something in English and it translates it into German. I practiced it over and over, but it’s nearly an impossible task. I’m really not sure about the pronunciation. For instance: “Ich denke, du bist ein nettes Mädchen, wollen Sie mein Freund sein?” translates into, “I think you are a nice girl, do you want to be my friend?” She will either like it or I’ll butcher it so bad that she won’t know what I’m babbling about.

I spot Susan while in-between periods in the hallway. She is by her locker. She wears nicer clothes than ninety-percent of the other girls at my school. I sneak behind her and quietly say, “Hello Susan.”

She spins around, flashing that award-winning smile.

            “Oh, hi Fergus, how are you?”

            “I’m stupendous.”

            “Oh stupendous, that’s great; as long as you are not stupid.”

Her humor catches me off guard. There is a brief moment of silence. I make a goofy face and cross my eyes. She laughs and says, “It appears you can be both.”

“I can be a lot of things. But right now, I am not stupid.”

I pull out the paper translation out of my pocket. I say it slowly, but it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. It sounds like I have dentist tools in my mouth. She doesn’t laugh, then she puts her finger on her cheek and tilts her head.

“I think you said, I am a donut girl and they are my friend.” We both laugh, but my laugh is louder, causing some of kids that around us to stare at me.

            “Donuts? I like donuts, but I can’t eat too many of them,” she says with a crooked grin.

            I hand her the paper. As she reads it to herself and nods her head.

“Okay Fergus, we can be friends.”

I’m on cloud nine; so I go for the big win.

            “Do you have a phone number so I don’t have to sneak up on you?”

She smiles and writes her number on my little German note, then hands it back to me.   

“I'd better get going, I have a test in Geometry.”

Geometry damn a smart girl,” I think to myself.

            “Bye Susan.”

            “Bye Fergus,” she replies as she walks away. I remain by the locker in a happy stupor. She is about ten feet away when she turns. “I like chocolate donuts with sprinkles.” Then she rounds the corner.

            I look up at the rafters, double fist pump and perform a bow. Some kids stare and I grin at them, others return the gesture, some sneer, but most just turn away. The game has officially changed. I have gone from the depths of “loserville,” to above ground. The Times They are a Changin’ as the old song says.

One big thing that has happened since I have become more involved in the school scene is that I’m spending less time with my buddies, Tim and Steve. I catch up with them at lunch at the bleachers to tell them about my experiences on the cross country team and debate club. I try to convince them to come to the debate team meeting next week. They both tell me that it's something they are not interested in. They can’t believe I am doing it, because they know speech was my most hated class.

I ask them what they are going to do the next three years at school. They both say they just want to finish high school and get jobs. I don’t want to convince them to do anything they don’t want to do. I have learned my lesson since the dance fiasco. I want them to know I’m finding my way through the high school crapola, at least I think I am.

It isn’t the most thrilling of conversations. Tim changes the subject and tells me he knows the guy who punched me in the face. You’d think he would have had told me sooner.  His name is Mark Dornet, a freshman. Tim thinks I can take him, but he has this weird body. He has short arms and legs, but a long torso. Maybe he’s sad about his appearance and that’s why he’s a punk-ass. He also has a froggy voice and his eyes are kind of close together. I don’t know whether to pick a fight or just feel sorry for him. I am not going to stalk him and plot some big revenge. But if a fight happens so be it.

The school day ends. It is two days before our next running meet, a big event with a bunch of schools across town at a large park. I only have two races under my belt, but I am improving quickly. When I run, I fill my mind with all of the stuff that is going on in my life. I think about Susan, Patty, my friends, my dad, what is for dinner and Ferguson. There is a lot there to think about. I’m currently ranked eighth out of the ten male runners on our junior varsity team. I’m looking to move up to fifth or sixth because those other guys just had a head start on me.

I never ran very far before and all of the other guys were on last years’ team as freshmen. I had no idea that I was a runner all along. I never saw myself doing it until I started. I guess that is how most things in life work out.  Who knows, I might be class president someday. Better yet, Patty Anderson will be my girlfriend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 15

I’m finally getting closer to solving the mystery - who is Ferguson Bogen. Not only that, but how did he write this book and how much is truth? I will find out in due time. Hopefully he’s not dead or in a hospital with tubes running throughout his body. That would suck.

            I was supposed to go to a study group with Nancy Yen, but I blew it off. I also didn’t go to the debate team meeting, nor did I attend a ‘non-required’ run with some of the cross country guys. I am sure I will take heat for not going to my activities, but some things are just bigger and more important. Since I am free, I get on my bike and head to Ferguson’s old house.

            I arrive at the Bogen home. I don’t have to deal with Manny and his cackling goons this time. I knock on the door and ring the doorbell. I can hear it chiming. I don’t hear anyone inside, not a peep.

I am about to leave, when the door cracks open and a set of eyeballs stare through the crack.

            “Is Mrs. Bogen here?” I ask.

           An old lady, bent frail, opens the door. She grins, shakes her head, then closes the door again. I don’t know why this is turning out to be such a pain in the ass. Being a detective is not my kind of job because I don’t have the patience for this kind of stuff. I have no idea who that lady is but she couldn’t have been Mrs. Bogen. I wait for a minute and instead of knocking again, I walk down the steps to ponder my next move.

            The door opens. I spin around and see another woman standing in the doorway. 

            “Yes, may I help you?” she asks.

            “Are you Mrs. Bogen?  My name is Fergus Gordon. Ray Gordon’s son.”

I have one foot on the stoop and another on the walkway, ready to bolt out of here. I don’t know why I’m so nervous. It must be because I didn’t expect to actually meet her. 

            “Yes, I am Mary Bogen, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

She comes out onto the porch and approaches me. She looks younger than I thought she would. My dad’s mom is way older looking. This lady can’t be much older than my mom, can she? 

            “Are you Ferguson’s mother?”

She laughs. “Yes I am.  How is your dad?”

           “He’s fine. He doesn’t know I’m here though. I was named after your son. People call me Fergus though ... He wrote a book I am reading.”

A big smile appears on her face as she tilts her head. It almost looked like she was sad. I am not sure at this point.

            “I had no idea of either of those things. I didn’t realize Ray had a son. I heard he had a daughter but never anything about you. That is just wonderful, Ferguson would love it. Do you want to come in?”

            I follow her inside and she introduces me to May, the little Asian lady. She works here with her granddaughter, Tanya. I walk behind her as she leads me into the living room. She tells me to have a seat and put my things down. I take a seat and look at the pictures on the walls. This place looks nothing like our house. For one thing, it’s much neater. It reminds me of an antique shop. Mrs. Bogen sits down. She wants to know more about me and my family.

            I run through the cast of characters; never mentioning the weird stuff about my dad. It is impossible to tell others about my dad’s issues. How do you tell somebody your dad acts like a hermit in his own home, rarely interacting with the rest of the family? Trying to get him to talk is like torture. I just tell Mrs. Bogen he is doing fine. I really want to get to Ferguson and his life as fast as possible.

            “So where is Ferguson?” I finally ask.

Her face changes as she looks away briefly. I couldn’t help noticing the twitching in her left eye.

“Well Fergus, I wish I could tell you his exact whereabouts. It could change anytime, and it has changed plenty through the years. Last time we spoke he was living in Montreal Canada. He lives there with his wife and children.”

           “Wow, that’s far away. Why does he live there?”

She laughs, but it’s not a real laugh.

             “He would have to tell you that son. He hasn’t lived around here since high school. He went away to college and never returned.  He’s bit of a restless soul.”

            I sat there and listened to Mrs. Bogen for another half an hour or so. She wanted to talk about other things besides her son and I didn’t want to harass her about him. I wanted to get more answers so badly, but I think I might have to come back. Next time I’ll show her his book and maybe she will open up about him a bit more. I had to get home anyway.

Before I left, I asked her if I could call him up. She wrote down his number and told me that he might not answer. Sometimes she doesn’t hear from him in months.  I’m starting to wonder if Ferguson might be a nut job. 

I have piles of homework to work on. I missed my chance to get some help on my math and there is a quiz tomorrow. The teacher has been doing these pop-quizzes just to see how we are doing, which usually means a “D” for me. I have to see if I can call in the big brain; my sister. I have never asked much from her in life, except maybe a dance lesson or two. She will be gone in six months, so I should take advantage of her brain power while I still can. My dad and mom always tell me to “go ask your sister.” I used to ask her for various things, but she would end up kicking me out of her room when I teased her about her boyfriend-at-the-moment. If I can do something nice for her, it will give me some brownie points.

When I get home, I start to think what I can do for her. I finally realize I don’t know her all that well. I walk past the laundry room and there lies the treasure of hope. All her laundry is still in the dryer. Maybe if I nicely fold and deliver them to her room I can score major bonus points. So, I pull the bundle out and fold every single blouse and pair of pants. Of course, the underwear thing is risky. I didn’t care to do much with those because I learned long ago they are off limits and that you cannot make fun of a girl’s underwear, especially at the dinner table. Trust me, we had a fight one night while we ate beef stroganoff.

Cindy isn’t home yet, so I go into her room. Holy hell what is going on in here? It looks like a crazed animal went in here and threw all of her belongings everywhere. Clothes, shoes and stacks of paper are scattered about. I feel as though I’m getting a good look inside her brain. I know she is an extremely busy person, but this looks like a maniac at work. I put the clothes basket inside the door and leave. My room is neat for the most part. Robby and I have had so many fights about tripping over toys and other junk we have a truce not to leave any crap near the other’s bed. My dad laid down the law about our fighting. He threatened Robby with video game elimination and me with more chores, not just regular chores; grandparent chores. I start my homework blitz before dinner, I know it’s going to go well into the night. At the dinner table, I ask Cindy if she can help me with my math homework. She agrees. Then I open my big mouth. “I folded your laundry and put it in your bedroom.” For some reason her head nearly explodes. We all see a volcano of rage that is about to come out of her mouth. I was expecting a sweet “Oh thanks, you didn’t have to do that”.

Instead, she blasts me with, “What the hell Fergus? Who said you could do my laundry and go into my room? Jerk.”

Mom gets a handle on this quick. “Whoa, whoa, what’s the big deal here? Since when is laundry so sacred?” she asks Cindy.

“Mom, I don’t want him to inspect my laundry.”

“Fergus, don’t do her laundry anymore,” mom quickly tells me.

“And then he goes into my room,” Cindy continues to roar.

“Fergus, don’t go into her room.”

I just sit and watch all the back and forth thinking, “Are all girls like this, or just my nutball sister?”

I finally weigh in. “All right already, I was just trying to be nice so you could help me with my math homework.”

“Cindy, are you going to help him?” my father asks.

She doesn’t say anything. Dead silence.

“Cindy?” dad asks again.

Cindy just lets out a big, “Ahhhhh, can’t a person have some privacy?”

“What about the math?” dad asks. “That would be really nice of you.”

 “All right, all right,” she turns to me. “But never do that crap again.”

My dad closes the deal and then tells us to clean up the language at the table. According to him no one wants to hear the word, “crap” around the dinner table.

In the evening, Cindy comes down to the kitchen and helps me with my algebra. I show her what I am working on and if she can make some sense of it. My answers are never matching up with the ones in the back of the book.  We work on five problems together. My brain didn’t see it at first, but I keep doing it until I sort of remember. After an hour of helping me she tells me she has to take care of something. As she walks away, she turns.

“Oh yeah, I put a note in your locker today.”

“What? That was you? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I forgot, I was too busy being mad at you because you wanted to look in my room.”

Why do girls misunderstand your intentions? Why would I care about her room? I was just bargaining and trading services.

“Where’d you get that info?” I inquire.

“Some girl named Tanya said you were looking for a lady that she helps. Who’s that lady by the way?”

I don’t want to tell her anything more, but I can tell she won’t leave unless I give her something. I ask her for a vow of silence if I tell her. She agrees. After I give her the lowdown on the manifesto I explain that I am looking for the guy that I was named after, and that is where he lived.

“Why don’t you just go on the internet and find him?” Cindy says as she laughs. 

            “You don’t think I tried that? He doesn’t exist on the internet.”  

            “Let’s find him. I'll help,” she replies, excited.

I let out a sigh.

“It’s no big deal, I’m just curious,” Cindy says.

I don’t want her involvement; this is my thing. Hopefully, she won’t ask me anymore on this matter. Cindy already seems to know everybody’s business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 14

I leave for school sleepy but happy. The story that my dad told me got me thinking that I should do more crazy things. I feel as though I’m stuck in a rut; doing the same old thing every day like my parents. I have all kinds of thoughts and impulses that I never really act on because I have had my share of troubles. The problem is I either get caught, then told not to do careless and stupid things; or, my friends are not willing to go along with me to try new things. I think that Ferguson probably tried to do the right thing most of the time, but it seems that he had his wild side as well. He probably got bored with his day to day routines of homework, bells, teachers and needed to entertain himself. He had a way to get to you to do things you wouldn’t normally do. The fact that my dad played naked volleyball in San Francisco is way out there. I could never ever see myself doing that. But you never know. I’m sure my dad did a lot of things that he will never tell me about, but I think he really wants me to be open to new experiences.

            Because of my nutty mood, I feel the need to release my creativity in art class. I am getting better at quick sketches, as opposed to the scribbles I usually make. It takes me five-minutes to draw a sketch of Patty using my favorite art tool; an 8B soft lead pencil. I give her the picture. My drawing partner, Bill Knudsen, sees me hand it to her and calls me a suck ass.

            “Big fucking deal, you’re just jealous you didn’t think of it,” I say.

            “She is not into you dude, don’t you see that?”

When I hand it to Patty she laughs, which isn’t the response I thought I would get. “Who is this?” she asks.

            “Oh, it’s you … Maybe it’s not so good, but if you squint your eyes just right you can see the resemblance.”

She squints her eyes. “Oh yeah, I guess that’s me. Thanks Fergus, you’re getting better.”

            “My pleasure. It’s all in the speed. If I could draw faster than my brain could ruin a picture, then I might be able to do more.”

She lets out an infectious giggle. “I guess I haven’t heard that theory before - but it makes sense, I suppose.”

            Thanks to my little exchange with Patty I have a spring in my step. I head to history class, where I’m not doing that good. I’d probably be lucky if I can hang onto a “C.” One more flunked test and I’m in “D-land”; stomping grounds for the dumb-asses.

I always study the least for this subject, I find no joy in this class. I need to turn this thing around, so I think of Ferguson and what would he do. What method would he use? Through my reading of his material, he had the idea that if you became friends with the smartest kid in class you should automatically improve. Who is the kid here that gets A’s and knows how to pass these stupid classes? It’s between Noel Lubber and Nancy Yen, two brainiacs who can help me keep a solid “C.” Maybe even turn it into to a “B.”

I already sit near the front of the class to keep from sleeping in the back, but that doesn’t seem to be working either. I knew Noel from PE, we had to wrestle in front of the whole class. I pinned him in a long battle; I hope he isn’t mad about that. I feel bad because he is a nice guy.

I ask him how he got good grades in history and he tells me to use flash cards. I turn to Nancy Yen, who is also nice, but she doesn’t talk too much. I go right up to her and ask how she is doing in class, pretending I don’t know already. She says she is doing pretty well and that it’s an easy class. She’s being modest. But the part that gets me is that she says it is a really easy class for her. Not fair.

Okay, now that I have art and history planned out, what am I going to do with Algebra II? I don’t know how I am going to get through this mess. I’m probably one of the bottom five people in this class. Again, I have to use the strategy of interrogating the smart kids. There are a lot of them in this class. These kids seem to understand what the trick is to getting “A’s.” How can their brains understand this stuff? I must have been daydreaming for years in math class, because it doesn’t register.

This time I approach Brian Busey, whom I have known since kindergarten. He suggests I memorize the rules and show my work on the tests then the teacher will give me credit. If you don’t get the answer right but are able to demonstrate part of the formula and general knowledge of the equation, then the teacher doesn’t give you a zero. A light bulb goes off in my head, I need to at least write something down instead of leaving my test questions blank. I ask Brian if he could help me. He says he doesn’t have the time but tells me about a website that shows you all the tricks in half an hour. Not a whole lot of help; but at least it’s something.

It’s now obvious to me that I need to spend more time on this course; which is the sad reality. I want to join more clubs, but it looks like I need to get some of my grades up to “B-” territory. Now I see why my sister’s door is always shut. She’s in there filling up her brain with knowledge. I’m a little depressed over this, it’s stuff you have to do if you want to achieve your goals.

            I pull out Ferguson’s book at break while in the library. I need to eat some brain food instead of a donut. I open the book. This is the first thing I read:

            “Gifts to a Lonely Soul - find that person that appears lonely and show them that you see them. Sometimes it’s hard to tell, but you get the feeling they don’t have a lot of friends or family they can rely on. There is a widow that lives on our block that seems to have very few visitors. I know she has children; but for some reason they don’t come around very often. It takes very little effort to stop by for a quick “hello”, just for company now and then. She loves to get some dessert along with flowers. Most kids walk right by adults without a care. Trust me, I got a talking to about this from my grandma. She told me that someday that could be me; old and lonely. I get it, thanks grandma.”

I see a lot of kids on campus that appear to be loners, quiet types. I am not a lonely guy, but I get lonely thoughts. I didn’t think I’d ever be one to join any group, or ask people, for help. But somehow, I’m making new friends. Most important of all, I’m creating action. That is one of my favorite things in Ferguson’s book. I thumb through the book and come upon this:

“Superpower #9 – Create excitement. There is nothing worse than being bored. Have you ever been in a boring class where the teacher has everybody falling asleep? I will never forget the time when I was in math class and, in the dead of silence, someone started hiccupping. The sound got so loud that finally the class irrupted in laughter. The stiff teacher even broke down and smiled. He never acknowledged the student who was inflicted with the hiccups; though he knew who it was. I am not saying you have to start hiccupping. But, it is an example of loosening up a tense situation. Sometimes things need a jolt of excitement. There are a variety of ways you can do this without making a scene. The first thing to do is to get another person to except your idea and have them tell someone else; and so on. Believe in your cause. Never stand for boring and/or depressed thinking. Get up and shake yourself off, get over your pity. Get some movement in your body. Get some movement in your brain. Again, beware of road blockers - those who want to bring you down. They say, “Take a pill and shut up, sit down and be quiet.” When I hear that, I get even more excited to induce change.

I laugh, feeling great after I read this stuff. I’m starting to bring the book to school because I need a hit, like some kids need pot. Pot can’t give you power to do things that you normally wouldn’t do. The stoner kids that I know might want to play video games or bang on their drum sets and eat pizza; but they probably won’t do much more. I just want to run outside of the library and yell like a wolf. People will stare and laugh at me, but Ferguson and I wouldn’t give a damn what they thought.

I leave the library. I don’t yell but I have a good feeling. A happy feeling, probably like smoking pot. I don’t smoke the stuff but have tried it. Maybe I will give it a try again, someday. The kids I have seen do it are not the ones I hang around with much. 

It’s the afternoon, I go to my locker and I open it. Someone has slipped a note through the slot. I open it:

“Mary Bogen wants to meet you, come by anytime. - Tanya”

            I am so excited I howl. Kids look at me and laugh. A few other kids howl while others laugh at me. But I don’t care; what a day it’s turning out to be. I still have an hour left of school, so I head to Spanish class.

I sit in my uncomfortable desk-chair and think about my plan of action. I’m not paying attention to anything my teacher is saying. I get called on to give an answer for a Spanish sentence, so I make up some crappy response. The kids laugh because they know how lame it is. Screw them, I don’t give a damn about “Mi casa.” No disrespect to the Spanish speaking people of the world but I can’t possibly remember every damn word they say.

            I am going to head over there after school and find out what is the real story behind this Ferguson guy, once and for all. I can’t rely on my dad to give any more information. Who knows, the guy might be living in the next town. He could be a derelict. Or in prison.

This has become my secret mission; and no one else is going to know about it - yet.

 

"� 

Chapter 13

As I run home, I pass the gas station near my house. I see my mom pumping gas. She is talking to a guy at the other pump while he fills up his motorcycle. He is a big guy with long hair and tattoos. They seem to be having a good old time chatting it up. This is my mom in a nutshell; talking to anybody, anytime, in any place. I guess that’s a good thing, and I should be more like her. I’m trying. It isn’t easy to take interest in other people’s problems and stories, but for some reason she enjoys it. It’s like she gets energized by talking to people. My sister is a little like that but still a far cry from the master of small talk - my mother. I guess I’m more like my father? I hope not.

            Ferguson wrote a lot about communication and how it is the most important skill one could possess.

“… get used to expressing yourself, or others will do it for you. When you stay silent others can think up all kinds of wild stuff about you.”

I am guilty of this, as most people are. I admit it; I think that Manny Gomes is a complete jerk-off/bully; not to mention a stupid jock. He has some of those qualities, but deep down he probably has some good in him. Don’t we all? He could have beat me up when he had a chance in front of his driveway. Maybe I earned some respect from him by standing my ground. Some guys respect hard-asses.

            My activities at school have changed my life. I get home and have to somehow complete homework before I run out of gas. How does my sister do it? She’s a machine that plows through homework at night and still finds time to always have some kind of activity to go to. I guess she has a gift for seeing the big picture. My dad tells me to always look at the big picture. He says that you have to look beyond all the minor details and smoke screens that life presents and keep your eye on the prize. I don’t know how a kid like me is supposed to figure that out.

            I also have to work on my music playlist, because I might be allowed to do a lunch hour set in the near future. I am stoked about this. If I can pull this off, and people like it, I will get more chances. Dougie D. (aka, Doug Dalton) is the most popular kid on campus because he is the school’s best DJ. I happen to know him pretty well and he is a nice guy. He is not some phony, he’s also good at hoops. He’s a senior, so the radio station will need to replace him next year. I think that by the time I am a senior I can fill that role.

It’s around 10:30pm, and I’m still grinding away on some homework. I am working at the dining room table because my brother is sleeping. The last thing I want to do is wake him up and hear him play video games on his various devices. My dad has pulled himself out of his recliner. He does his usual move to the kitchen to search the fridge for sweets. He has been doing this for as long as I can remember. He sees me studying. I’m not sure if he is happy I am doing homework or concerned that I am not in bed. He looks like he came out of a coma. He grabs the milk and Oreo’s and sits down with me. He asks about my day and the race. I am surprised he even bothered. He is more interested in the race than my homework because, let’s face it, he rather hear about my triumphs than World War II.  He seems pleased that I finished the race without walking and/or throwing up. He nods his head and smirks. This is his way of being pleased for once. I’m just happy he asked at all.

            I ask him to tell me a story about him and Ferguson. He grumbles and moans as he dodges the question; it’s clear he doesn’t want to talk about it. Finally, I get mad and confront him. “Dammit dad, give me something.”

My eyes are tearing up. I don’t know if I am mad, sad or exhausted. He looks down and mumbles some gibberish under his breath. Then he begins talking without looking at me. He starts to tell me a story about a club that Ferguson started called ‘Save the Whales.’ I stop my dad before he gets too far into his yarn. I demand to hear a story about the both of them. He smirks and leans back in his chair. He throws another cookie in his mouth, takes a slug of milk, then looks up.

“Hmm, can I get back to you on that one?”

He isn’t taking me seriously. “No dad, I want to hear something you two did. Something crazy. I have the manifesto now, so I want to know.”

He looks down, squinting one eye like he always does. Then he nods his head. “Okay, here’s a story for you, but this stays between the both of us.” He clears his throat. “Some of the things we did I won’t tell you because I don’t want you doing them. It was a different time, and Ferguson was a very persuasive guy. It was hard to say no to him.”

            “What did you two do, rob a bank?”

            “Alright, alright, alright – I’ll tell you.”

My dad goes on to tell me the time they decided to cut school. My dad had never done that before, so he tried to back out. Ferguson had been driving for over a year by then, and recently bought a car by saving since the first day he got his license. He no longer had to drive the family station wagon, which he didn’t mind too much. He ended up buying this old sheriff’s car for $400. It was one of those old, long cars that he and his dad acquired at an auction. Ferguson’s dad thought he would be safer in that car rather than some hot rod or little foreign thing. His dad put a fifty-dollar paint job on so it didn’t look so obvious it was once a cop car.

Now he had a baby blue old cop car that could haul ass. It had a huge big block engine that had the ability with fast acceleration and this thing called a passing gear. The big problem with that car was the gas mileage. He was lucky if he was able to get ten miles to a gallon.

            The day they decided to cut, Ferguson let my dad know that he had a full tank of gas and they should go for a ride. Ferguson just wanted to hit the road. He turned north on Highway 101 playing his music loud with the windows rolled down. He just kept driving towards San Francisco. They went across the Golden Gate Bridge and he asked my dad if they should keep going. Ferguson really wanted to go to Sacramento to see the governor; calling it a school project. My dad wanted to see the sights in San Francisco. Ferguson looked at his fuel gauge and knew that going to Sacramento would use up all of his gas. They settled on sightseeing in San Francisco.

     They ended up on this beach and walked around checking out the Pacific Ocean and boats on the bay. It was a weekday, so there weren’t a lot of people around. It was the first time they had actually been on a beach in San Francisco. As they walked along the shore, a naked hippie couple ran into the water. The couple were only in the water for a minute, then came running out holding hands and laughing. It was the first time my dad saw naked people in public other than the men’s locker room.

            They kept walking, until they finally noticed a beach volleyball game being played in the distance. Ferguson wanted to go play, even though he sucked at sports. They got closer and noticed everybody was nude. They soon realized they were on a nude beach, even though there weren’t any special postings or warnings about naked people frolicking about. My dad wanted to leave because he thought it was some kind of cult thing going on. Ferguson asked the group of men and women if they could play. My dad was mad at Ferguson because he wanted to leave. Ferguson took off all his clothes and joined them. My dad realized he would be an odd ball just standing there and watching, the only one in clothes. He finally took off all his clothes and got into the game. They played nude volleyball on a school day.

            They left after a few games. They both agreed it was weird to be playing volleyball in sand with no clothes on.

They started to drive around the city for a while. They stopped at the famous Haight-Ashbury district and got out to walk the streets. The days of hippies were long gone.

They ended up at a musical instrument shop because Ferguson wanted to play electric guitar. My dad didn’t know Ferguson could play anything but he grabbed an expensive guitar and plugged it in to a big amplifier. He started playing the guitar, but then stopped and went over to the amp and turned the volume and control knobs to his liking. He plucked the strings and it made a distorted sound, like a heavy metal band. Even though customers begin to notice him, he just kept playing; not a care in the world. He continued to play not because it sounded good, because it was obnoxious. He turned it louder and louder, until it got the attention of the manager. He was playing so loud it made the amplifier feedback and whistle. Ferguson laughed while he continued to play. My dad was anxious to leave because the manager was yelling at him to stop. Ferguson was acting like he didn’t know what the guy was saying due to the amp volume. The manager stormed over to the amp and pulled out the cord and turned it off. He yanked the guitar out of Ferguson’s hands and told us to get the hell out of his shop. So much for a tribute to Jimi Hendrix with his rendition of Purple Haze.

            That’s the whole story; well, at least the parts that my dad wanted to tell me. He probably left out the part about smoking a doobie or knocking back a fifth of gin. He said he wanted to go to bed. Before he left for the bedroom, he told me that if I ever decide to do that stuff that I shouldn't tell him for at least twenty years. I ask him if he got in trouble for cutting and doing those things. He explained that it was a different time and you could get away with stuff like that. I am not too sure about that. If he only knew the crap that kids pull behind their parents back. And it’s not like there were no laws or rules back then. He finishes by telling me they wrote their own absent notes themselves. Just another day in the life of Ferguson Bogen. 

            My dad surprised me with that story. I can’t picture him playing naked volleyball in San Francisco on a school day; nor do I really want to. They probably got loaded on something to do that crazy stuff. The more and more I think about my life, I feel that I want to do spontaneous, crazy fun, things like that. I read that in Ferguson’s book that one can’t wait around for others to make something happen. My dad’s story is a good example of that. Dad wasn’t as brave and crazy as Ferguson, but he knew he should go along with him and enjoy the ride. 

             I tell dad right after his story that I tried to contact Ferguson’s mother. He gives me that ‘why would I do that?’ look. I ask him if he is interested in talking to her. He says nothing (which I hate). He gets up and walks away without giving me an answer. I’m not letting him and his bad attitude stop me. I'm going to talk to her tomorrow night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 12

I call Patty over to my desk. “Who is your favorite artist?”

She looks at me with a surprised expression, then retorts, “Living or dead?”

            “Dead.”

“What medium?” Another question with a question. I am now stumped and have no clue what “medium” refers to in this context. There’s that awkward silence that everyone hates. She knows that I don’t know what it means. But she doesn’t give me that stupid sighing noise, or a disgusted eye stare that some girls make.

“Georgia O’Keefe,” she says as she grins.

I know better not to ask who that is, but I just can’t help it. “Oh yeah, one of the greatest of all time.”

She laughs. “You don’t know who she is, do you?”

            “If you like her, she must be great.” My cornball response makes her smile.

            “Fergus go look in the art books on the shelf, she’s in there.”

She knows I am just trying to get on her good side. This is my attempt at flirting which the Manifesto mentions as a skill to be developed. She’s a senior, but she doesn’t appear to be hung up on the whole age thing; nor is she stuck up. I want to ask her out, but I need to work on my art knowledge so we can at least have something to talk about. I should also find out if she has a boyfriend. If she agrees to a date, then I still don’t know how the hell I am going to pull it off. I have thought about asking my sister to go on a double date. That would probably be a very weird thing to do. I know my sister well enough that she might not want me in the back seat staring at her and her boyfriend. Most of the guys she has brought around I want to pound into the ground. They treat me like I am just a stupid young punk. I never take their lip, so she gets mad at me when I talk back to them. 

            Seeing Patty in the morning makes my day. But I’m still curious about Susan. She seems so different than everyone else; and not just because she’s from Germany. Her long blonde hair and tan body makes me crazy.  But if that wasn’t enough, she is geeky. 

I spot her in the hallway after lunch. I work my way through the crowd without crashing into anybody. Last thing I need is another brawl. 

            I catch up to her at her locker. I glance up and take note of her locker number. Having a little note book in your pocket is another Ferguson thing I picked up. I had written down some German expressions in my book and now it was my chance at using them. Her back is turned to me as she faces her locker. My heart begins to beat faster. My palms start to sweat.

            “Hallo Susan, wie geht es dir?”  (Hi Susan, how are you?”)

She spins around so fast it takes me by surprise. The look on her face is one of shock. She glares at me with this puzzled stare, then shakes her head. I hope I didn’t say it wrong and call her a whore or something.

She smiles. “Mir geht es gut und wie ihr tag ist?” (I’m okay, how is your day?)

What next? I pause for a moment. Then I remember. “Ausgezeichnet.” (Excellent.)

I’m told this is the one word that you should know in German. My pronunciation is probably shit.

“Ah dein Deutsch ist nicht schlecht.” (Ah, your German is not bad.) She smiles.

Again, I’m not exactly sure what she just said. “Ausezeichnet.” I put one thumb up.

She laughs. “What is your name again?”

            “Fergus, Fergus Gordon. You remember me, right?”

            “Yes, I see you around. What happened to your eye?”

            “My face got in the way of someone’s fist.” She shoots me a puzzled look. I think my humor just got lost in translation.

 We have this conversation that last almost seven minutes, which is definitely the longest I’ve talked to the opposite sex in this capacity. I like her even more now, and I am stoked. I have a game plan already for Susan in mind. “Learn ze German”. Not just the words, but how to enunciate them properly. I’m sure what I said sounded like I had a bag of marbles in my mouth. German is not a language that rolls off of the tongue. It’s one that doesn’t require a lot of facial movement though. As I watched Susan’s mouth, she hardly moves her lips. Her English is perfect and probably better than mine. 

I have my first cross country meet today. I’m going to run with nine other teammates against Piedmont High School at a park across town. There is a creek, hills and a dirt path to run on. When they say it’s cross country they don’t mean you are running through forest and canyons. The last thing the school wants is for you to get bit by a snake or have a boulder crash down on you. That would not entice future cross country runners to join the team.

In my race, there were twenty guys to compete against - I came in sixteenth place. I worked hard to make sure I did not come in dead last; even though there was no way I was going to. Jeff Lictonberg is on our team and he is worse than me. He finished a minute behind me, and I also beat two of Piedmont’s runners. One of their guys was far worse than Jeff. I don’t’ think he had two real legs. He had some sort of leg wrapping on the bottom half on one of them. Poor guy ran with a bum leg, or maybe no leg; but kudos to him for trying.

I ran neck and neck with a kid from Piedmont for most of the race. We both respected each other because I would look at him and him at me. I think we both wanted to make sure we didn’t come in last place. The race was about four miles. I did better than I thought. I had some spring in my step this time. I didn’t cough up a lung, nor did I have to sit down after I crossed the finish line.

After the bus got back to school, I showered and looked at the clock. It had gotten late. Ferguson’s mother’s house is in the opposite direction from mine. It’s getting dark and her house is a mile away. Running with books on my back really sucks, but her street is only fifteen minutes away. I have her house number written in my little notebook: 871 Anita Lane, at the end of the block.

As I walk up the tree lined street, there are high school kids hanging out in the drive way of a home that is near the Bogen house. They are all huddled around a slick car. Just my luck; it’s Manny Gomes and some of his football goons. They see me coming, but I don’t think Manny recognizes me right away. There is no turning back at this point. I put my head down, pull my hood over my head and move on ahead. As I come up to their driveway, Manny spots me. I wasn’t going to look at him, but my head turns directly at him for some reason. He gets up from the back tailgate of a truck.

“What’s up with you?”

I stop and look behind me because I wasn’t sure if he is talking to me. I stand my ground, silent. He gets up and walks towards me. He stares me directly in the eyes. He begins laughing. This Manny guy is psycho. He points to my still blackened eye and turns to his buddies. He can smash me right now into the pavement but he rather mock me. The question is, what’s coming next?

“That little shithead hit you when you weren’t looking. At the dance.”

            “Yeah, he got me good,” I nervously mumble.

“Hey, look guys, check at this kid’s shiner. He got sucker punched by some little punk at the dance,” Manny entertains his buddies with his analysis.

I stand there, speechless. Manny has this weird eye ball thing where one of them looks like it is pointed in a different direction. I try not to stare into his eyes anymore. I look down and away.

“Are you going to kick his ass?” he asks with this crazed excitement.

“I don’t even know who hit me, do you?”

“Not sure what his name is, but I can find him. You can’t let that little punk get away with chicken shit stuff like that.”

This coming from a guy that tried to throw a freshman into a trash can.

“Sure, let me know, then I’ll take care of business,” I answer.

Are we friends now? I don’t know what’s happening. It’s time to change the subject. “Who lives in that corner house?” I ask as I point to an old house up the street.

            “What’s your name again?”

            “Fergus Gordon.”

“Gordon? Is your sister Cindy?” He inquires with a stupid smirk resting firmly on his face.

Manny wears an Oakland Raider t shirt with the sleeves cut off. I remember him last year he had a ridiculous mohawk, now he just has some fucked up looking curly mop-top. He glances over at his two friends like they know something about my sister. I don’t like this. I’m going to ask her about these guys when I get home.

“So, do you know who lives there?” I insist.

“It’s just some old lady that lives there,” a slight annoyance in his tone. I just want to leave, but this moron is calling the shots here. It wouldn’t be wise to walk away until he is done interrogating me. I’m outnumbered and cornered, what a messed up situation. 

            I stand here waiting with this trio of dipshits in silence.  Finally, Manny looks at me and laughs. “Fucking just go over there. She probably won’t even answer the door.”

I slowly walk away from him towards the Bogen house. As I get closer to the house Manny barks out, “Hey Gordon, can you bring in her garbage cans?”

His buddies laugh as I keep walking. What a jerk-off. He was probably bullied himself once. Now he’s just a sad sack with self-confidence issues. I do not know where I stand with him, but I no longer really fear him.  

The house isn’t a two story like ours, it’s a single level with well-trimmed bushes and a perfectly landscaped lawn. There are shoes lined up near the door. I knock three times because the doorbell sounds like it doesn’t work. I wait for a minute … The door finally opens up slowly. An old Asian woman answers. I don’t know what to say; she is silent as well.

“Is Mrs. Bogen here?” I finally blurt out.

She mutters something in her language and walks away. But leaves the door open. I turn to walk away, when I hear a voice. “May I help you?”

I spin around to see a young Asian girl, about my age. I couldn’t help it, but I look at the large mole on her face, it’s above her eye brow. She looks familiar because of the mole.

“Hi, sorry … I am looking for somebody who used to live here. I guess they must have moved away.” 

She smiles. “You go to Booker, right?”

            “Yeah, my name’s Fergus, Fergus Gordon.”

            Her smile gets bigger. “I’m Tanya. Are you related to Cindy Gordon?”

            “Yeah, that’s my sister. Do you know her?”

“Sure, she’s nice.”

Is there anybody my sister doesn’t know?

            “Who are you looking for?” she asks.

“Mary Bogen, she used to live here. We are old family friends.”

“She lives here, but she is in bed right now and is not feeling well. My grandmother, mother and I help her out.”

Score. I don’t want to press the issue though, so I tell Tanya that I will come back. I write my name down on a note with our house phone number. I give it to her and instruct her to give it to Mrs. Bogen. I’m going to find out about this Ferguson character once and for all.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 11

When I get home from school, I lie on my bed and think about Ferguson. I’m going to find out where he is once in for all. Why did my dad just give up trying to find him? Does he have any family members nearby? His mom must surly know where he is. I just need to find out more about him and how his life has turned out. Maybe I can ask my dad about how Ferguson would do things? I still want to meet him. Then again, I’d hate to find out that Ferguson just made up those things in his manifesto.

            When I search for Ferguson, his name comes up blank on the internet; I’m going to the next closest thing - his family.  I am just going to knock on his family’s door and flat out ask of his whereabouts, maybe even get some contact information. If I find him, maybe I can send him a real letter, one with a stamp on it. But right now, Ferguson is this mythological hero to me that I worship like a god. I have always heard of people following false prophets, then end up doing crazy things.

            I remember hearing about some group of people (let’s face it, cultists) who gave all their money and time to some ‘leader’ who built a small city in the desert. They ended up going nuts and doing evil things that put them all in the slammer for years; or got their followers killed.

Everything I read in Ferguson’s manifesto requires no money – at least not yet. Free advice is always the best. Then again, is it worth what you pay for it?

My eye is slowly healing, the puffiness has gone down. The purple circle around it has shrunk but I have a feeling that this thing is going to be around for a while. Most of the kids at school are still staring at my black eye like they have never seen one before. Others seem to be following the progress, constantly feeling the need to tell me that it doesn’t look that bad. I’m now getting “good mornings” from Patty, along with some “how are you doing?” She still looks at my eye, following the healing progress like everybody else.

I have been lying low at lunch, sitting in the football bleachers, the usual spot with Tim and Steve. For all I know the guy’s that fought us at the dance are plotting against us right now. It’s better that we stick together until this hopefully blows over.

            I haven’t seen Susan the German exchange student since our little moment in the hallway. Maybe she is avoiding me; I really hope not. I’m going to make a move on her soon. I think she would want to go out with a nice American guy like me. Then again, maybe I’m not her type. Maybe I’m too skinny or too young. I think she must be a junior or senior. She could be my first date. I catch myself wondering how I am going to pull off a date when I don’t drive or have much money. No loser goes on a date on his bike. At least I don’t think so. I can call for a ride or maybe my sister can drive us somewhere and pick us up. She would totally do it, but would that be weird?

            Today is our first debate. It’s not an actual debate, just a practice one in the classroom. I’m on a team that has a ‘pro stance.’ The subject is standardized testing. I should have been on the opposing side, because I’m definitely against all of these tests we take in the springtime. Then again, I’m not a fan of the tests we take in the wintertime either. I always feel really nervous during standardized testing, like my future depends on me getting a high score. I don’t do that good on most of those tests anyway. Plus, the teachers find out how stupid I am. Maybe the test is stupid.

            I did my research on the testing thing and all the arguments for standard testing. I am given two pro stances: testing is not too stressful for students and most parents approve of standardized tests. As you can see, I have to argue against my own personal viewpoint. I quote some study by the University of Arkansas that found the vast majority of students do not exhibit stress and have positive attitudes towards standardized testing programs. My other position is regarding parent approval of the testing. I quote some poll by the Center for Public Affairs Research that says that 75% thought it was a solid measurement of kid’s abilities. My biggest point that I think will give me an edge is when I state the 93% of parents say that standardized testing is good because they identify areas where students need extra help.

I’m nervous, but I prepared the night before using my mom as my audience. She is proud of me for taking on such a big subject but keeps reminding me not to slouch and always maintain eye contact. Eye contact is the hardest part for me, because I need to look down and read my notes. My mom says that the key to public speaking is your tone and the way you present your argument. That’s all fine and dandy when you actually agree with what you’re saying. But if you don’t agree (or care) then it’s a whole different story.

I finish making my arguments. The other side comes at me with all kinds of answers that I actually agree with. But because I’m on the opposing side, I can’t say anything. Deep down I hope they win. Unfortunately, our team is declared winner by Kyle, - Vanessa and a teacher named Mrs. Shibley because our points are better researched with superior documented supporting data. Our team has more experienced debaters and basically carried my butt to victory.

            We now have to discuss the whole thing. Our team is acting like they won the “World Championship of Debating.” Winning is always good, but sometimes it’s an empty victory. The good thing about winning this debate is that I earned some cred with my fellow debaters. I learned a lot from the smart kids on the team. Deep down, I get the feeling they pity me, carrying me along for the proverbial ride. They put in the work and it is clear that they know their stuff.  Ferguson Bogen would be proud.

I head over to cross country practice after the debate. These days I’m splitting my time between the debate team and cross country. Last year, I just hung around my home like a loser without a clue. I still may be clueless, but at least I’m not invisible anymore. Am I still a loser too? Well, that’ still up for debate – no pun intended. I’m definitely more involved, mixing it up out there with more kids that know my name; not to mention girls that actually smile at me from time to time. The black eye seems to be making me into a tough guy.

My first cross country meet is tomorrow, and there is a chance I could come in last place. I have improved this year, but long-distance running is not something you get good at quickly. It’s about pacing yourself so you can have something left at the end. The old tortoise and the hare story is probably somewhere in Ferguson’s book. That was the problem when I first started running. I was trying to keep up with the better runners but ended up walking for a while. How embarrassing. I don’t do that anymore. I’ve found my place near the back now; but at least I’m not last. My coach says I’m improving every day. By the time I am a senior I should be placing higher – maybe even going for the win. I’m not sure if running is my thing, but at least I don’t have to tryout anymore because I am officially on the team. 

I get home at damn near six o’clock. I’m so tired I start to fall asleep at the dinner table, barely responsive to the usual dinner talk. I still have a load of homework and then it’s onto my nightly research of Ferguson’s book. Have I taken on too much of a load? It feels like I have. My dad says it will get easier over time. I was a man of leisure, but now I am now a man of action. The man of leisure will put things on hold until the weekend, and then on the weekend will blow things off so he can rest from relaxing all week.

            I plow through all of my homework so I can master at least a “C” in all my classes. I know my parents will be pissed if I bring home a report card with five “C’s.” I’m a month into school, yet I’ve found myself acting like those kids that study all night and go to bed really late just so they can get an “A” in every subject. I am struggling for a solid “B-“ at the moment. Some of those super-achiever kids are also on sports teams, or in the marching band - or worse yet - in plays. They’re probably getting pushed around by their helicopter parents to get into a good college. I will not be attending Harvard or Stanford - not even a state school. I’m more of a community college type guy. Maybe I’ll just be the guy who cleans your furnace, or kills the beetles infesting your house. Maybe I’ll even drive a company truck and wear a uniform with my name sewn into it. I’ll get home late smelling like insecticide, kiss my wife, drink a beer, pet the dog and sit down at the dinner table to eat some left-over Salisbury steak. If I’m lucky I’ll marry Patty Anderson. That would make my life very satisfying no matter what I do for a living. Question is; would it matter to her?

            Unless I come up with a different plan in the next three years, this is most likely my destiny. Who’s to say that is a bad future? I might be the happiest damn bug squasher around. Sure, it would be a simple life; but so what?

I can see myself as an exterminator, but I would also love to travel the world on business. Ferguson did it, I think I will be able to do it too. I could imagine being on an airplane to Europe, on my way to sell somebody some computer equipment. That’s all they make around here anymore anyway. Somebody’s got to buy it and somebody has to sell it.

            Forget it. Right now, I have to focus on changing my future. I open up Ferguson’s book, but I start to nod off. But I fight it and keep reading.

Ferguson liked to write about ‘superpowers.' He hated comic book heroes because he said they did nothing for him. They said nothing to him about his life. He wrote down all of those things he thought were real superpowers. I’m about to put the book down when I come to reach a section entitled, “Keeping an Open Mind.” He writes about his grandma. Her favorite thing to say was, “Just try it and keep an open mind.” She would make all of these foods that Ferguson thought were disgusting, but she would convince him to try it. It was her way of teaching him to be open to all the possibilities the world has to offer. The most important lesson was to not criticize someone, or something, before you knew what you were talking about. It was not the most earth-shattering information, but Ferguson considered them superpowers.

            I know where Ferguson’s mom lives. The whole time it was written in the Manifesto. The mission begins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 10

I’m still dazed by the punch. I manage to maneuver out the side exit and make my way through the rear entrance of the school. I stop at a pay phone by the gas station and call Steve to tell him I’m okay and to take care of Tim. I am not calling anybody else. I just want to get home and take care of my broken face. I can feel my chipped teeth, the two front ones. They are jagged as I run my tongue over them. My face is throbbing. The guy who threw that punch probably didn’t know he got me good and I just wanted to break up the fight. Didn’t he understand he clocked me when I wasn’t looking? A cheap shot, a real cheap shot - bastard.

           I get home, and my parents are already in bed; which is good for me at this point. If they see me, they will have a cow and then grill me for details. My mom will most definitely chew me out for starting a fight. I am not sure how my dad will react. He might be really pissed and then ignore me for a week. I’ll tell him I broke up a fight and tried to help my friend out (which is true) to avoid his disappointment.

In the mirror, it doesn’t look too bad. My teeth are chipped, but at least it is just the ends that got knocked out. I guess I will be visiting my dentist soon. It looks like the impact was right on my upper cheek bone. There is a cut with a small amount of blood, along with a red bump that is growing in size.

            I grab a bag of frozen corn from the refrigerator. I apply it to my swollen face as I sit on the toilet. I feel like Rocky Balboa after a round with Apollo Creed. I grab my brother’s phone to call Steve first to get the scoop. Steve got Tim away from the dance, then walked to the 7-11 to get a Slurpee and played video games. They acted like it was no big deal. I wanted details; but I’m asking the wrong guys. I took a shot in the mug for Tim, the least he could do is be a bit concerned.

           Steve murmured to me that he will ‘feel me out’ tomorrow, and that he had it under control. I have no idea what the hell that means. Tim acted weird like he was on drugs last night - maybe he was.

            I wake up the next morning and feel my face. It’s really swollen and puffy. When I touch it, it hurts like a mother. I have a nearly closed purplish black eye and a bulging cheekbone. I’m screwed, but I don’t care what my parents think; all I’m concerned about is going to school. I will be the guy who got his ass kicked. Life sucks. How long will I have this thing on my face? Will it be gone by Monday? Doubtfully.

            I go downstairs. There is my mom and sister sitting at the table. My mom sees me and blurts out, “Fergus, what in the world?” Then she goes nuts.

            “Ma, I accidently got hit in the face.”

“What do you mean accidently hit in the face? Are you okay? Let me see that eye.”

            “I’m okay, just a shiner. But my teeth are little chipped.”

            Now my mom is now really freaking out. My dad hasn’t got out of bed yet, and there is no way he or my sister is going to believe the accident story.

            “Who did you get in a fight with?” my mother asks. 

            “I’m a lover, not a fighter,” I declare in a cheeky manner.

Deep down I think I’m neither. As a fighter, I haven’t thrown one good punch. And as a lover I’m an amateur at best. But I’ve got potential to be good at both.

After letting my mom go berserk and my sister treating me like I was a dumb punk. I know she is disappointed because she spent the time to teach me dance moves. I just want to go back to bed. My parents have never seen me get into this type of trouble before. The crap I did last year never involved black eyes and a trip to the dentist. I have been in school three weeks and been in two fights. I will never last the school year at this rate. But both times I helped out a friend in need and took a beating; there should be some kind of good deed award for that.

           When my dad walks into my room, I tell him I broke up a fight and got hit when I wasn’t looking. He calls it getting sucker-punched. My dad isn’t mad at me as much as he is at Tim’s lack of defending himself. I have to assure him that Tim was having fun and probably stepped on someone’s toes, stupid stuff that didn’t merit a fight. Anyway, I have to go to the regular doctor too because my parents want to see if my eye is okay. Maybe the doctor can actually speed up the healing. I feel more embarrassed than anything.

 I get a quiet moment to call Steve on the house phone. When I talk to Steve I get the underwhelming news of the fight. Steve tells me that Tim took some of his mom’s Xanax pills and it got mixed with the beer. When they kicked in, he started feeling weird. I tell Steve that I am going to beat his ass if he ever pulls that shit again. The real shocker is who did what to whom. Tim crashed into some guy named Luke Newberry, a junior who didn’t like Tim’s over energized ways. The next thing you know the two were fighting. I came over to stop it and some guy that neither of us knew hit me from my left side. When I staggered from the punch, a group of football players pulled everybody away. Manny Gomes grabbed the kid that hit me. He yanked him so hard he fell to the ground. Manny put him in a headlock and took him outside. All of it was over in less than two minutes even though it seemed like longer. Why the hell Gomes was there is weird. I guess football players are now the official goon squad on campus.

It’s now Tuesday morning, time to move on. I got Monday off to tend to my broken face. My dad tells me that I don’t have to go to school. I can’t believe my dad’s giving me a free pass on school. He’s pissed but it seems that he also feels sorry that I have to show my mug around the whole school. I tell him not to worry; there will be no fighting today. I also tell him I’m not wearing any eye patch. He isn’t going to stop me, but he does want to talk to the principal. He is pissed about this kid who punched me and how the whole thing happened. I tell him that will be more embarrassing than a black eye. I just want this whole thing to go away as fast as possible. 

I walk to school like always. I put on sunglasses, not because I want to look cool, it’s actually the doctor's orders. I don’t wear sunglasses, but my doctor gave me these extra-large dark one’s that look like goggles. I walk to school with Steve, which is different because he is a bicycle rider. He probably feels sorry for me, but I don’t want any of that. The last thing I want is to be constantly singled out while people make a big deal about my shiner. It’s different if you have a new cast on your arm (or leg), but when your face changes so does your life. I just hope it doesn’t last.

            I go to my first period class, and sure enough I’m like a magnet for all the busybodies. Most of the kids are probably mortified by my face, kind of like the ‘Elephant Man'. Steve tells me to act like a bad ass and wear it like a badge of honor; someone you better not screw with. I don’t feel that way.

So here I sit in art class, thinking about my self-portrait. I pull it out and start drawing in my black eye to preserve this moment. Patty walks up from behind me.  “That’s quite an addition to your portrait.”

I spin around, and she gasps. “Fergus, what happened?”

             “What do you think? It’s fairly accurate I believe,” I say as I motion to the picture. I was wondering what her reaction would be. It appears to be sympathy. I have to admit, I like the attention no matter what it is. I’m like a wounded puppy dog in her presence. Maybe Steve did have a point; I could use this to my advantage.

            “Ah well, as they say in science, every action has a reaction; and this is what happens when someone hits you in the face,” I state proudly.

            “Are you some kind of martial art fighter, or what?”

How sweet of her to think that. “No, I just tried to stop a fight. But someone else had a different idea.”

            “That’s a total bummer. It’s quite the injury you’ve got. Did you get it checked out?”

“I am okay, but the doctor wants me to wear these glasses. I dunno… they look, well … Eh, something like a blind guy would wear,” I say as I show her my glasses.

            “I think you just go without glasses and let everybody see you with that big black eye. You can peer at everybody and freak them out.”

            “Does it freak you out?”

“I’m just worried about why a normal guy like you walks around with a black eye” she states as she goes to check on the other kids drawings.

At this point, I really don’t know how to get her to think I’m a hero. Maybe I shouldn’t have whipped out these ugly ass glasses. I look down at my work and feel like a dope for letting her see me like this. Am I normal in her eyes?  Maybe she is not so unattainable. I have something to build on now. Good or bad; at least it’s something. We are pretty much friends now, I think. By Ferguson’s standards we are practically dating. Maybe this black-eye thing can work to my advantage. Maybe it makes me look brave and heroic in her eyes.

            The day kind of goes downhill after art class. I have to answer around nine-hundred questions about what happened to me. Some kids believe my story, while others think I got my ass handed to me. The rumor mill is churning as to what really happened. Fact is being blended with fiction. I’m just glad no one caught it on their camera phone; and a little surprised too. I’m under the impression that not too many kids at this high school have ever got punched in the face. It happened so fast that very few saw me actually get hit. I bet Manny Gomes knows that it was me. It sure is weird he was involved in breaking up the fight. I figured he would be the one who started it in the first place.

            I get an excuse to not suit up for PE, so I hang around the teacher. He makes me carry the clip board and write down times for guys running a 440 - once around the track. Most of the guys take forever - like it is a big deal. I used to be one of those dopes. I can now blow past all of these chumps; and I’m never looking back.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 9

The first dance of the year is approaching, and I want to make it. It will be a last-minute decision since I have to convince Tim and Steve the benefits of going. A real debate. Their excuses will be pretty weak and I am sure to hear a few about being tired, or maybe something about a cousin visiting. Or there might be a suggestion to do something else like play poker, eat pizza and/or play endless video games; been there done that. I told them we have to work on our skills for meeting girls or we will be left behind in loser land for good.

            Ferguson wrote about being the first guy on the dance floor, which will take balls on my part; big ones. Everybody will be staring, and then I will start feeling bad about my choice of dance moves. I am going to consult my sister.

I knock really hard on her door to be heard over the music she’s blaring. She has this current obsession with Lorde. She usually tries to sing over the music, which usually sends my dad up to her room to make her turn it down a couple of notches. She opens the door then walks out closing it behind her. I give her the situation that confronts me. We head downstairs to get some space.

I am surprised she is so excited to see my floor game. I unleash my skills in a series of shuffling and top tapping moves that I think are not bad. She stops the song half way through. I don’t think I have ever taken her advice on anything, but now it’s time to listen.

            “You have to lose yourself in the music, Fergie and remove your brain from your feet. Yeah, and add more hips. While you do that, get on beat. Getting on the beat is the most important thing.” I hate when she calls me Fergie, it’s a chick singers name for fucks sake.

            We go on the internet and she pulls up a video of the old television show American Bandstand. The music playing is the type my mom and dad would listen to. Some of those people dancing were losing their minds to the music, while others are just smiling and posing for the camera. After we watch for awhile, my sister makes me dance with her. We begin dancing to a song called, Boogie Shoes - disco music from the ‘70s. Cindy says this is the easiest music to dance to. She has me do this little move where I count to four while I move my feet.

It goes, one and two, left foot, right foot, three left foot back and four right foot forward. She has me doing that over and over until it is stuck in my brain. She says I have the “white boy” dancing disease and need to be cured. I should work on dancing for days when nobody can see me.

            My school days have become busy. I am taking on more than ever before. I used to enjoy a snack right after school, then I would flop on the couch and watch game shows. I believe a person could learn more from one episode of “Jeopardy!” than from a month of high school. I saw this routine as de-programming my brain from the mental torture of school. Eventually, I would jump into my homework and get it done as fast as humanly possible. I hate when homework ruins my schedule of relaxation, playing hoops or banging on my guitar. My parents would get on my case about my studies now and then. I can’t blame them, because my grades weren’t anything to get excited about. Let’s face it, most teachers give you a C for just showing up. I remember getting so many D’s and F’s on my math quizzes that I couldn’t believe I pulled out a C- for the semester.

            I thought I should give school sports one more chance. I signed up for the JV cross country team because it looks easy; with a bunch of thoughtless running, kind of like jogging. Everybody makes the team and I don’t think there are tryouts. If you have two legs, I think you are qualified - so I figure why not go for it.

At the first practice, there are fifty other kids; which I didn’t expect. The cross country team is broken up into four sections: junior varsity and varsity (girls and boys). We begin running and I don’t think I have what appears to be the right outfit. I’m running in my basketball shoes, jeans and a sweatshirt.

We have been running for three miles. Some of these kids are doing it with ease, but I’m near the back of the pack; along with some girls and bigger guys that I think are probably on some sort of weight loss regiment. Everybody has to start somewhere, and the back of the pack is where I belong. Now there’s nowhere to go but up. I figure if I could do this then I can do anything. Learning to dance is one thing, but this running stuff is harder than anything I have ever tried. My dad calls it a “character builder”, a test of my inner will and desires. He also says that if I don’t like it I can find something else. But I am not ready to quit yet. Even though almost coughing up a lung is a bad start. I feel like I have good form compared to some guys who run like they have crap in their pants, or those that don’t bend their knees enough – kind of like old people jogging.

            I glance at my calendar hanging on my bedroom wall; it’s the day of the first dance. I’m kinda ready to use my new moves. My four-step-move-thing works well until I lose focus after thirty seconds. My sister tells me to keep at it, and that if I do it enough it’ll come more naturally. I might just have the white guy disease and will never get over it. I figure if I am having a good time dancing and enjoying the music then who in the hell cares? Trust me, most of the guys I have seen dancing at school have the same issue as me.

            After some hard bargaining, Tim and Steve finally agree to go. The deal is that I have to play paintball next time they want to go. I stopped playing a year ago after I got popped in the forehead. I thought it was time to retire from that activity. Now I have to do it again just to get my best friends to interact with the opposite sex. It is not the fact they are losers like me, it’s that they are tired of going and not actually dancing. I’m determined to make sure that does not happen again. 

I put on my new shirt, which my sister helped me pick out. It has a collar on it; not my first choice, but we finally agreed it would be purple. Tim and Steve show up at my house wearing the same crap they wear all of the time. Tim always wears faded t-shirts with random skateboard company names, superheroes or bands. This time he is wearing a t-shirt that looks like he stole it off a sumo wrestler. Steve is wearing a long sleeve sweatshirt. I can’t understand this, because it gets hotter than hell in the gym where the dance is taking place. I have added something to my outfit. I am wearing my dad’s old work boots, which are kind of thrashed. He was going to throw them away, but I grabbed them and they fit. I think they give me a punk rock look. It doesn’t take long for Tim and Steve to give me crap about them. Who are they to give me shit? They aren’t exactly ‘dressed for success’.

            We are still riding the lame train - Steve’s dad’s Astro Van. It’s time we figure out a different way to get around without being so embarrassing. I guess it would be worse if we show up on bikes. That puts us at a close tie between Steve’s dad’s mini-van and the bus. We don’t know the bus schedule at night, so the Astro Van it is.

We arrive early; so early we don’t have to wait and get to walk right in. A lot of other kids show up later, as they have to get some drugs and booze into their system. Our small gang of three is not much of a drug and drinking posse. It’s not for lack of trying, it’s that we don’t have a lot of access to it. Plus, booze tastes like crap to me. Scotch and whiskey are the nastiest rot gut tasting liquids. I remembered taking a shot of whiskey, but it never quite made it down to my stomach. I immediately coughed and whisky came out of my nose. Maybe someday I will be able to down it like a pro.

We arrive in front of the gym, but Tim steers us to the side of the building. He whips out a forty-ounce beer that he had stuffed down his pants. Who knows where that thing has been – or for how long. Tim and Steve pass the bottle back and forth. I give in and slug down as much as I can handle. I tell the guys that they have to dance at least once, or the deal is off – no paintballing. They finish the malt liquor beer, so we go inside the gym.

I look around to find a potential dance partner, but I don’t recognize anybody that I know. This is probably a good thing. The first song plays, but nobody goes out to dance. I chickened out – sorry Ferguson. 

The second song starts up as I look around the room. Now what am I going to do?  I put my head down and walk towards a small group of girls. My heart starts beating like a jackhammer, what the fuck, I can’t have a heart attack now. Two of them look away while the other two stare at me, checking me up and down. I just hope my zipper isn’t down – too late to check now. They just glare at me.

“Would you like to dance?” I nervously blurt out. I didn’t really direct the question to any one of them in particular. I just kind of threw it out there like a shmuck.

The blonde one says no, but the red-haired girl accepts the offer. I take her hand and off we go to the dance floor.

There is still nobody on this over waxed gym floor. It’s just me and my little red headed partner. Everybody is watching us. She starts to shake and move her body, but I’m not ready yet. I count in my head and try to get lost in the music. I envision Ferguson dancing on the floor and losing himself in the song. I can just see him flaying all about; his long hair whipping about without a care in the world.

I look down and do my best to not give a damn, then glance up at “Red”. She is busting out some crazy moves, which makes me laugh. She smiles at me, so I decide not to worry about my dancing. Besides, she is the center of attention now, not me. I start counting out my steps while finding the beat. I’m maintaining the rhythm as long as I can.  I don’t look at other people. The dance ends and Red smiles at me. While I walk away she turns to go back out there and dance by herself when the new songs starts. That’s weird. As the night goes on, I dance a few more times, get rejected by some but most of the time I just hang with the guys in the back of the room. They each dance one time with the same girl, then quickly retreat back to the corner; knowing they are keeping their end of the bargain. I need to get some new friends. Now I am on the hook for playing paintball with them.

The room gets crowded as we start to get pushed farther towards the back wall. I’m getting claustrophobic in this gym. We’re right by the bleachers, which have been rolled to the wall. It’s also hot as hell in here. Steve wants to go outside, but really, he just wants to go. I tell him we can go but, only if we all dance one more time.

         Tim looks at me and laughs,

          “Watch this comrades!”

He runs onto the dance floor and starts to act like an ape with his feet on fire. Steve and I stand there looking at each other in disbelief. I’ve got a bad feeling about this. He is not a dope head, but every once and a while it looks like it when he does some crazy ass stuff like this. Plus, he did have some beer; but he isn’t drunk by any means.

“Let’s go out there,” I shout at Steve.

Steve is all ready to go. He looks at me like he is not happy. I shrug my shoulders,

“One more time, I promise.”

            We move to the floor. Steve and I start bouncing with Tim and make up whatever comes to mind. We bang into other dancers. I apologize, but we keep at it. The song ends, then we high five each other.

“Now can we get the hell out of here?” Tim yells to us.

            “You got it dude, we are out,” I announce.

 I guess Tim is very anxious to get off the floor as he leaves us in the dust. As he leaves the dance floor, he plows over a few other kids in a rush to get outside. He is now way ahead of us, disappearing into the crowd.

Suddenly, we hear shouting and yelling in front of us. There is some kind of fight going on. I push my way through, and sure enough, Tim is fighting with some other guy. This kid has Tim by the shirt and punching him. Tim is not a good fighter. I know this from the times we boxed against each other. I always clean his clock because he dances around like he is a pro, yet he doesn’t defend well.

            I get through the crowd and am able to push the other the kid off of him.

“Cool it asshole,” I yell at the guy.

            That’s when I feel the crushing blow of someone’s fist against my cheekbone. I’m knocked three feet away. I go blank for a couple of seconds. My face feels rearranged. I spit out some teeth fragments. I didn’t see that one coming. I look around; but I still don’t know who did it. There is screaming while bodies are getting pushed away. I look over the crowd for the ass-wad who punched me, but I can’t tell what is happening.

            There are some big guys who grab Tim and the kid he was fighting with. Out of nowhere, Manny Gomes rushes into the skirmish and grabs some other kid. He has him in a headlock and moves him outside. The rent-a-cops come crashing in trying to calm everything down. What a freaking mess. Meanwhile, my face throbs, my ear rings and I just want to get the hell out of here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 8

It has been two weeks since I have seen Manny Gomes. But now he’s in the locker room during my suit up time for PE. I am standing by my locker in my boxer shorts when he walks by. I freeze. Am I really going to fight in my underwear? He stares me down as I look back, but I don’t eyeball him or give him my tough guy face. He sees me in my underwear and shirt off. There is no way I’m scaring him with my body. I stand five foot five and weigh one hundred and twenty-five pounds. You can see my rib cage, and my puny arms resemble spaghetti. I peer into his small pupils; they’re like two black marbles. Is he possessed? Maybe he’s a sad bully. Ferguson wrote in his book that you should look a bully straight in the eyes. Don’t show fear, don’t say a word. Be prepared for action, stand your ground. He keeps walking, probably thinking that I am not worth his time.

            I’m petrified, but I would not back down if he started some shit. Maybe a year ago I would have. He just keeps walking. Maybe because I am in my underwear I was saved from a fight. Fighting a dude in underwear would not be good for his image. Next time we cross paths things might turn out different. I am going to go into weight training. Boy do I have to work on this body. I look like an x-ray. I need to drink some of those protein shakes or something, because Frosted Flakes isn’t doing anything for me except rotting my teeth.

            I should also think about some sort of self-defense training. It wouldn’t hurt to know how to fight. I have only been in two ‘real fights’ and both of those were not anything to brag about. One was in ninth grade wood shop when I punched another kid a few times before he started to cry. This kid, Marty, thought I touched his newly varnished step stool so he punched me in the face. I never saw it coming. He hit me square in the nose, that bastard. My nose was bleeding a little while two other kids watched laughing, like a couple hyenas. I felt like punching them too. Who punches somebody in the nose unless they knew for sure why they were doing it?

            My other fight was in eighth grade when I went after another kid who harassed me. A kid named Mark Paulson who was on my Little League team was still mad at me for losing a game when I made an error in the last inning.

Fast forward two years later, we were now in junior high. We had the same PE class and we played softball against each other on opposing teams. He started talking some BS about me losing that damn Little League game. I let it go a couple of times, but it eventually got to be too much. He played catcher and I was a runner on base. I rounded third on a hit and felt this need to level him, so I crashed into him. He went down hard and dropped the ball, allowing me to score.

            After the play he got up and threw his glove down, charging towards me. He knew I meant business. I shoved him back down to the ground. He got up then moved towards me, but I landed a punch and down he went. He got up and said he was sorry. It was weird, after that we became friends. Maybe he respected me after that.

            After lunch, I head to math class when I see my mystery girl in the hallway. I don’t know her name, I even checked in last year’s yearbook. She walks alone most of the time, but now she has another girl with her. I have seen that girl before. I think she is some sort of ‘class officer’.

I decide to swerve into their path and block her way. It’s a real smooth tactic. She stops and I stop … Time stops … Again, I have another moment where I have no control of what comes out of my mouth. She smiles.

            “Hi, isn’t it a remarkable day?” I ask.

She looks at her friend and laughs. I manage a grin. There is silence again; crickets. She turns red, and then replies, “Oh yeah, it’s great.”

I detect an accent but have no clue where it’s from. Then her friend chimes in. “This is Susan. She’s an exchange student from Germany; and I’m Carry. What’s your name?”

            “Fergus, Fergus Gordon. I am from here, but not forever.”

Shit, I think that was stupid. But they laugh. “Well ladies enjoy your day, and welcome to Booker High. Let me know if you need anything.”

            I don’t know how well that came off, but it was something. That is one of the longest conversations I have had with any girl in high school. Two sentences are a start though. Susan is from Germany; who would have thought? Damn, that is awesome.

            It takes a girl coming from Germany to actually talk to me, not to mention her friend. Thank you Ferguson. I would have never done that if it wasn’t for you. I think I know the trick now; don’t worry too much, just let whatever comes out of your mouth come out. Well, maybe I could use a bit of a filter; but I get the message. I did use Ferguson’s line about it ‘being a remarkable day.

            I was reading his book last night about making your own luck. The only way you get any kind of luck is to create some kind of ‘action’. Nothing will happen unless a catalyst provokes a change for something to happen. It’s like they say in physics; every action has a reaction. Don’t wait around for anything, because it may never happen.

Today is the first day of my debate team meeting. I have no idea what to expect, or what I am supposed to do. The only thing I know about debate is that you have to stand-up, talk and argue. At least that’s what I think is going to happen. Then the other side does the same. After that they go back and forth berating each other with their facts. Like a politician, you can throw out some ridiculous statement with confidence that a lot of dopey people believe. I know this is going to be a challenge, since I am one of the worst public speakers of all time. That ‘C’ I got in speech class was a gift from Mr. Ryan. I think it’s a make-up for cutting me from the basketball team.

            I arrive to the debate club and there are around thirty kids hanging around in the classroom. The bearded guy, Kurt, is sitting on a stool up front. Vanessa is at the teacher’s desk. There are more kids sitting down that I recognize but have never talked to. They are the smart kids. I don’t usually do well in situations where I don’t know anybody. There are also a lot of juniors and seniors. I feel out of my league, so I take a seat in the back. As soon as I park my butt down, Kurt yells at me.

            “No, no, no, Fergus, up front. This is not detention, you don’t get to hide. We don’t have any slackers in here.”

Some kids laugh. Damn Kurt is fucking me up. I sit in the middle of everybody.

            “Everyone, this is Fergus Gordon, he is a rookie; so be good to him. This is his first meeting.” A few kids put their hands out for a fist bump. I return the gesture.

            The debate meeting is not what I expected. We are not even debating anything. Kurt and Vanessa are guiding us to brainstorming ideas for debates, while they write them down on the white board. The ideas are broken down into two categories - current events and themes. They want us to come up with things we think affect everybody, such as: racism, climate change, crime and etc.

We then talk about possible current event topics like the internet, drugs and healthcare. There are all sorts of ideas coming out of kid’s mouths. Vanessa looks at me and asks if I want to add anything. Then everybody looks at me and that thing where I say something stupid comes out of my mouth.

            “Sex,” I blurt out.

Everybody laughs.

            Why in the hell did I say that? Vanessa writes it on the board and kids start yelling goofy and stupid things about sex. I heard someone say tight pants and another yell something lame about rubbers.

            “As much as you all want to debate about the imaginary sex you think you have, I don’t see it happening,” Kurt lashes out.

Kurt shoots me a look. “You got anything else, Fergus?”

This time I stop and think for a few seconds. Someone blasts out, “Kim Kardashian”.

Again, laughter.

            “Funding for music and art classes,” I say.

            “Good one Fergus.” Vanessa replies loudly.

            “Wow, check out Fergus with the big brain,” some moron shouts from across the room. Nobody laughs, and I hear a chatter of favorable responses from the small crowd. Funding for music and art classes isn’t anything I have ever researched, but I overheard Patty talking about it with Mr. Ballantyne in our art class.

            The next thing we have to do is make arguments for pro’s and con’s on all of the topics we wrote down. The kids in this class are impressive, they know what has to be done; and they do it fast. We discuss the internet, and whether it should be censored to things like porn and gratuitous violence.

            The first subject we begin to tear apart is public service requirements. We are supposed to present why people over eighteen should or should not be required to perform one year of public service. I am in a group of six other kids; three boys, three girls and me. I’m in the only group with seven people - all of the others had six. I guess I’m the wild card. Another Ferguson thing - “be the wild card”. Be the person who has no limitations. I think I have a lot of limitations, but these kids don’t need to know that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 7

I am in art class, and I have begun working on today’s assignment, a self-portrait.  I decide not to use a pen, pencil nor crayon (they don’t call them crayons in art class anymore, they are pastels). Just as well, Patty won’t be impressed with my coloring skills, especially if I color outside the lines. I am going to use acrylic paint (it says that on the big bottle). I have no idea what I am doing. Meanwhile, most of the other kids have sketched their mug shots onto paper.

            I’m not doing that. I’m cutting out the middle man and going right from paint brush to the canvas. There are various paintings on the classroom walls. One is by this guy named Picasso, who is obviously famous. I have seen the bizarre stuff he has painted before. If they call that art, then my splatter job just might pass.

            I have gotten myself into a bit of a jam with the mess I am making on the canvas.  I went right into painting my facial features. It’s now very clear that the face on the canvas is someone else’s, not mine. It’s so bad I have to chuckle to myself. Soon, I break out into a loud laugh. It’s so loud that other students start to stare at me. It’s the type of attention that usually makes me crawl into a hole. For some reason, I don’t care this time. I am having too much fun. This has taken Patty’s attention, as she comes by to look at my crappy masterpiece. 

            “Wow, that is really something special Fergus. Is that a self-portrait?”

            “Uh yeah. Kind of like a Picasso, huh?”

Patty laughs. “I don’t know if I’d go that far, but you’re improving. I can show you a few things to help you out, if you’d like?”

            I move over as she sits herself in front of my painting. She lets me know that I shouldn’t start out with black paint. I have no idea what she is doing. Within minutes she has it looking better by using some colors to “highlight”. I just learned that word, so I nod in agreement as Patty explains it to me. Evidently my mouth has no control, because I softly say, “You’re amazing.”

Patty smirks. “Well, sometimes it is just a matter of choices and vision.”

           “I get it; you just let your creativity take it in any direction.” I reply, like I know what I’m talking about.

She let me off the hook even though I’m a clueless fool. As she walks away, I get a warm happy feeling that is sure to keep a smile on my face all day. Everything appears to be going slower today. I find myself not giving a crap about anything that anybody says thanks to Patty. I just smile and listen to whatever babble spews out of people’s mouths.

At lunch time, I sit with Tim and Steve. They look at me as if something is wrong; like I am on medication that is misfiring, or drugs. Must be the cough syrup I tell them. Patty has put me in a place I have never been before. Is this all the fuss people sing about when they are crazy for someone?

            When my sixth period Spanish class ends I walk back to my locker. There is still no sight of Manny Gomes. I don’t know how much longer this is going to play out, but I know that eventually our paths will cross again. I can’t say that I am not afraid of him, but it’s only because he’s got a few pounds on me. But I am not going to let him dictate what I do and when. He probably doesn’t give me much thought. He’s probably more interested in sacking quarterbacks and whipping other guys with wet towels in the locker room.

            I stand in front of my locker and read a sign that is posted on the wall nearby me. It reads:

“Curious?  Join the debate club today.”

I pause for a moment. Something in my head tells me to check it out. All I know about debating is that is probably a lot like arguing. Hell, I can do that. Here I go; this is happening. This would be the first thing I ever joined that was not a sport.

I walk into room B3 to check it out. There are only two students sitting at the teacher’s desk, nobody else is in sight. It’s a girl and a big guy with a half-ass beard. I have seen them around campus, but I don’t know their names. She is probably a senior. This guy is years ahead me in the puberty department.

            “Hi, is this the place for the debate club sign ups?”

            “That depends …You up for being mentally challenged and becoming a bad ass?” Says the girl.

            “Well, if you are looking for a guy to be a bad ass, I’m your guy,” I blurt out.  

I can’t believe I said that, how dumb.

            “Ha, ha, good man. You came to the right club then,” the girl snaps back.

            “We’re having a meeting this Thursday at 3 p.m. Be there, and no excuses. If you need us to write you a note for your mama I can do that,” Mr. Pubic Hair Face says.

            “I’m good on the note Scruffy, I will be there,” I fire back.

            “I like you, what’s your name?” the girl asks.

            “Fergus Gordon.”

            “You Cindy’s' little brother?”

I pause, a little bummed. “Yeah, she’s not in this club is she?”

            “Nope, not yet; but she is welcome.”

            “Don’t worry; I’m the only Gordon you’ll need.”

This is my lame attempt to be a wise guy. They smile and look at me as though I’ve met their club criteria.

            “This is Kurt, and I am Vanessa. Welcome to the club, Gordon.”

            “I don’t have to try out do I? And will you guys cut me if I am not good enough?” I ask. Kurt rolls his eyes.

            “Like I was telling you dude, we are going to make you into a bad-ass. It’s different than a bad attitude. Show up, and we will take care of the rest.”

            “I’m not much of a speaker to be honest,” I say.

            “Don’t worry Fergus,” Vanessa replies. She hands me a pen. I sign up and leave.

I sit at my desk in my room and stare at the mountain of homework to plow through. What the hell; math and English homework ruined my Patty buzz. Math (especially Algebra II) is even harder than the first time around. I’m supposed to take this crap so I can get into a good college. I think I might need a tutor because I’ve spent way too much time coming up with wrong answers. 

As for literature, I can tolerate it - and it seems to suit my brain better. I can think about plenty of things to read and write about. My problem is proofreading my papers. I didn’t realize that I made so many stupid grammar mistakes and the lame issue of leaving out little words in a sentence.

            My sister walks by. Since I’m in such a great mood I yell,

“Hey Cindy, how’s school?”

She steps into my room carrying a People magazine.  I never ask her about school because she usually lets us know at dinner.

            “I think this is going to be an awesome year because I have good teachers. I figured out which ones to avoid, the stars are lining up. How are your classes going?”

            “Better than last year by a mile and I have art class which I thought was a sure ‘D’ or ‘F’ for me.”

            “Oh yeah, since when do you like art? I have never seen you draw anything in years.”  

            “Well, to be honest, I like the people in the class.”  

            “The ‘people’? Like who?”

            “You know Patty Anderson?”

            “I think so, isn’t she a hippy-type girl?”

            “What is a hippy girl?”

            “You know: long straight hair, flowery clothes, a lot of jewelry, sometimes wears patchouli oil.”

            “Poo chew lee oil?”

Cindy laughs. “It’s Patchouli oil. It’s oil that has a distinct odor that hippy types wear.”

            “Nah, she smells good. No weird stuff like that,” I quickly reply.

“So, you’re checking out a senior? Go for it little brother.”

            “Yeah, I like her. But I don’t think she really notices me. She probably thinks I am just another dude that is trying to get in her pants.”

I don’t know if I should have opened this can of worms with my sister, because she might now try to become Patty’s friend. That would ruin my overall plan. The last thing I need is my sister talking to the girl of my dreams.               

“Don’t be that guy who never says anything. Shyness is one thing, but being a chicken is another. I think you are more of a punk rock guy and she likes guys that are more sensitive,” she lectures.

            “I can be a hippy.” My sister gets a smile out of me.

            “I don’t know. You don’t have any hippy clothes and you have short hair. You are kinda the anti-hippy.”

            “What are hippy clothes?” I’m genuinely asking.

            “Forget it Fergus. Just be yourself; not a poser. You might be a dork in her eyes until you show her something special to make her look at you different.  

            “I don’t know what that “something special is yet”  

            “We’ll get you some different clothes, but no hippy stuff.”

            My sister gets it, and I was sure Ferguson would approve. As he wrote in his book, “… do your homework and get to know what your object of desire likes.” It’s a good start. My sister and I are in a good place, and I hope it lasts.

            Tonight’s real homework is not math and English, rather how I’m going to get Patty to really notice me? It won’t be easy, because I’m not a senior, a hippy or a great artist; so, I all I have to work with is my personality. I’m fucked. I think I only have a few choices. I can be funny, which only goes so far. How funny do I have to be for her to be my girlfriend? Plus, I have to skate a thin line with this approach. As the manifesto states: “If you’re too goofy for her standards, you could end up looking like a buffoon. And no one likes a buffoon; except other buffoons.”  I think fun and exciting with some dashes of comic relief are the way to go. Getting closer.

Ferguson, with all his worldly ways, writes that in order to win a girl over you also have to be heroic. But how I am going to do that?

My desires are just within my reach; I just have to create some action. This could get interesting. Or, I’ll just crash and burn like the kamikaze pilots we’re learning about in history class. Either way, I’m going to shake things up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 6

I spent the weekend reading through the manifesto. It transported me back thirty years, into the 1980’s. I don’t know how much high school has changed, but I’m guessing kids have a lot of the same problems. The number one issue I think every high schooler wonders about is how they are perceived. After reading through the manifesto, it looks like Ferguson Bogen finally said, “screw all of this game playing, I am going to make my own rules; and if others don’t like it, then too bad.”

This is inspiring. Maybe I should use his book to my advantage.

        *                    *                       *                       *                       *

            It’s Monday morning, time to unleash the new Fergus with a fresh start and a new attitude. I can always go back to the old Fergus and be miserable, but not today; and not this year.

I awake at five in the morning for some reason. The house is dead quiet, except for my dog Tucker who is snoring. How a small dog can snore like a lumberjack baffles me. I picked out my clothes today with some actual thought put into it. I packed away any shirt that makes reference to wrestling and cartoon characters, at least for now. Those shirts will officially be handed down to my younger brother. Now he can’t ever say I never gave him anything. I am going to wear black jeans because that’s all I have, besides shorts and some dress slacks. More thought went into my shirt. I needed a shirt that makes a statement about who I am. I own plenty of shirts of my favorite punk rock bands but wearing my Bad Brains or The Germs t-shirts are not the effect I want. I find a shirt in the bottom of my dresser that I have never worn. Yep, this is the one I am wearing. I had my sister order me this shirt on the internet. I sat down one night and watched a movie with her called, Rebel without a Cause. The main actor, James Dean, was a straight up cool cat that wanted to be a normal functioning teenager. I found this t-shirt with the saying, “I have a cause now.”  

            I don’t care if nobody knows who he is, that actually makes the shirt more interesting. This seems to be something straight out of Ferguson’s book. It’s about creating something to wonder about. Dean was good looking enough that the girls have no choice but to look at the shirt; then they have to look at me.

            I’ve been thinking about how I was going to get to school. I could ride my bike, but I’m going to walk even though I’m a mile and a half from school. Why not take another page out of the manifesto? Walk to school, observe your surroundings, make friends, pet dogs, whistle and think about the world … Be like Kane - the guy on the old TV show Kung Fu. He walked everywhere and would beat your ass if you gave him any shit. My dad loves that show.

            My good friends Tim and Steve will be definitely be confused as to why in the hell I am walking to school. I can read them like a book. They will always sleep in as long as possible before their mom’s start yelling at them. Then they ignore the yelling, put their headphones on, then try to squeeze out every minute of sleep before they throw on some clothes. They won’t even glance in the mirror. Only enough time left to scarf down Captain Crunch and be on their way. They are not ready to learn what I know. This isn’t any fake Star-Wars-Jedi-crap; this is the honest truth.

            If I tell them I walked to school, they would try to interrogate me. They will look at me like I am a kook; but that will be my first lesson. The first step is telling your friends that this is how it is going to be. They may not understand your actions. But If they are friends they will hopefully understand your reasoning. 

            I made some notes that I am going to carry in my pocket, just to give myself some reminders. It is so easy to fall into the old ways of Fergus, the grumpy little devil. One line from the manifesto has stuck in my brain, “Trying to be noticed is different than being yourself.” It went on to say that there will be times when your voice needs to be heard. But there are way more times that you need to just SHUT UP. All of this stuff I am reading seems so true, but I am just a beginner. A novice, as my dad would say.

            I am so glad my brother gave me this book, even though he told me it was just good for a laugh. Someday he will understand what a weird place high school really is. Right now, he just thinks it’s an extension of junior high.

I looked up Ferguson in my dad’s freshmen yearbook. Then I took out the rest of the years. This gave me a better idea of who he was. At first, I thought he was just another shmuck like the rest of us; floundering around like a bunch of lost morons. Somehow, he became this whole different person from year to year.

            As I flipped through the sophomore book, I searched his name and found him posted on ten pages. The dude was on the tennis team, the German Club, the Science club, Chess Club and the CB club. I told my dad that aside from the tennis team, those other clubs were for nerds. What was the CB Club? My dad didn’t like my attitude when I asked him that, as he was quick to tell me that was his way of fitting in. He tried to explain the CB Club to me. They were radio transmitters that were popularized by truckers, but of course those things are ancient history. My dad had this big radio contraption called a HAM radio he used to blabber on now and then. This explains why we were the only family on the block with an antenna on the roof.

            I have real issues with what is supposed to be cool, what is supposed to be nerdy and what is supposed to be normal. My dad told me I can be my own trendsetter - be yourself and don’t worry what others think of you. I guess that is what he is doing right now. I know he smokes weed in the garage because my brother told me saw his stash in a coffee can. Of course, my little brother could be full of shit. But my father doesn’t seem to care what others think of him, and he seems perfectly content in his ways. 

            In the manifesto, Ferguson writes that bullies were not the only ones who can torment you. There are also kids who judge you then try to manipulate your attitude.  Words are words, and until you start being your own person bullies and mean kids will get the best of you. 

            My favorite part of the book is the section where Ferguson talks about how to handle bullies. I must have read it a dozen times. He gives ten ways to handle them. I wrote them down and put them in my pocket along with some notes on how to speak to the opposite sex. Well, off to school I go, down the street to my new beginnings. 

             I have never walked more than a mile to school before. School starts at 8 a.m., but I head out at 6:30 a.m. I am gone before anyone in my house is even downstairs.

The air is warm so no coat is required. I chuck the newspaper towards the front porch and it hits the screen door. It is probably going to wake up the whole damn house, except for Tucker, who can be the most useless watch dog in the world. It’s quiet outside except for the neighborhood plumber guy who fires up his van every morning and lets it idle for ten minutes. Why is he always watching random houses from his van? And why are there no windows?

            When the hood is this quiet and deserted, you get a chance to peer into your neighbor’s houses and cars. People leave all kinds of crap in their car overnight: fast food bags, bottles, coffee cups, clothes, cigarettes, etc. If I had a car I wouldn’t be letting it look like a dump inside, much less put a bunch of dumb bumper stickers on it declaring who I wanted for president. What if your candidate loses? You will be driving around like a nimrod in denial; as some people do.

            People drive by me staring like I am a walking zombie or something. They are probably wondering why this kid is walking to school early in the morning. Is there something wrong with his mental status? Doesn’t he own a damn bike? I love it. Let them wonder. I am surprised that one of these drivers didn’t pull over and offer to give me a lift. Do people still do that? I guess I had better watch out for the weirdo’s that drive around looking for kids to mess with.

            I normally wouldn’t notice birds chirping, but this walk was one big nature scene.  Birds whistle and some caw while others dive into fountains and bathe. Those tiny little hummingbirds are flying around at warp speed into the feeders that hang in front yards.  A few dogs bark as some cats roam about and jump on fences. Sprinklers are running as homeowners try to keep their lawns from turning brown.

            More people are leaving for work as I come up on the seven o’clock hour. Men and women get into cars while they carry large coffee mugs, briefcases and purses.  Car doors slam and engines are starting up. Some forget the radio was left on, so they get a blast of loud music. Lights go on in living rooms, and bathrooms are constantly being flushed.

            I covered over a mile. A good pace, as I’ll be in front of the school in a few minutes. It is now 7:15 a.m. I could have busted out this mile and half in thirty minutes. I way over calculated my time. I think I am going to be the first kid at school. I have no idea what goes on at school this early. I have time, so I make a pit stop at 7-11 and knock back a Slurpee. This fires up my body like rocket fuel. 

            I am at school by 7:35 a.m. Kids start showing up every couple seconds. I see a lot of freshmen being dropped off. How do I know they are freshmen? They have huge back packs. Soon they will learn that carrying those things like pack mules isn't necessary. They are on the road to becoming hunchbacks. Not to mention you look like a geeked-out moron.

            The ‘senior area’ already has girls and boys claiming their rights to their turf. It’s a long wooden bench. For three years the rest of us have to watch most of the seniors act like a bunch of royal asses. Oh well, I will probably sit on the bench one day and act like a pompous jerk declaring my superiority too. Or will I?

            I head to my locker and realize that I need to clean it up because it’s rancid. I never really cleaned it from last year. I have left old food in it and it has a dirty clothes stench. Old papers and stale French fries have long since died on the bottom shelf. I grab a garbage can and chuck it all in. I eat an old fry; it’s surprisingly edible. The first act of my turnaround is complete. I have shed the remnants of my past.

The day is new and I all I have to say is - “Watch out suckas, Fergus is fo real.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 5

Chapter 5

 

 Page two of the Manifesto is a sketch of Ferguson. At least I think it is of him. He definitely had a better haircut than the one in the yearbook. The wide grin is a dead giveaway, but he drew it bigger than the real one. It seems that he thought of himself as a guy with a great smile and perfect hair; but he was clearly mistaken.

            The hairstyles in the 80’s were funny. The guys looked like they were creating sculptures on their heads. The girls also did with some kind of ‘gravity defying’ way of making their hair look like a helmet. Ferguson had shoulder length hair; like a rock star. So now I’m curious, because this book is too bizarre not to look at. Why hadn’t my dad shown this to me a long time ago? I open to page three, it had a quote on the top of the page.

            “When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

             Under that it just says, ‘Spock – Starship Enterprise’. I don’t know how old he was when he wrote this, but it seems fairly advanced for some screwy kid. Down to the middle of the page is another quote.

            “The first thing you have to do to survive in this big wide wonderful world is to accept the fact that everything and everybody around you is part of a multi-dimensional universe.”

Again, I don’t know what it all means. But I am going along with it.

            The fourth page was more of the same mumbo-jumbo, but there was one sentence that caught my eye. It is a quote attributed to somebody named Joseph Campbell. It reads:

            “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”

             I am on board with this Joseph Campbell guy. However, the maddening thing about this comment is how do you know when you are going in the right direction? I read on and get hit by another brainy quote from big head Ferguson.

            “Create your own trail and fill your life with action. Don’t wait for things to happen.   Letting life happen puts you in fates path. Make it happen. Make your own hope and circumstances. Create your own journey. Make your own love and joy. Be someone that can be loved. Live in the moment and for the future. Take risks, be humble and courageous. Whatever your beliefs, honor your higher power, not waiting around and praying for grace to flow- down from above. Make your own grace happen for yourself, right here, right now.” 

            There is no way old Ferguson came up with that one. But I don’t care if he copied it off of the toilet stall, I like it. As I flip through the book, each page is filled with his thoughts, definitions, drawings and notes. It is like an instruction book on how to re-invent yourself. I don’t know how much of the book is his own thoughts, but it doesn’t matter. This book looks like good reading because it is almost thirty-years old and I get to see what a kid my age thought about at that time. Was he messed up like me? Did he invite trouble or was he a cool kid?

            I confront my dad, even though he tries to hide in the garage. He is reluctant to even talk to me because he would rather work on a grinder machine. When he starts machining, it’s impossible to talk over that damn thing. He knows that. He also sees that I am not leaving, so he turns it off and tells me to ask away.

I place the book on the workbench.

“Dad, what’s with this book? How come you didn’t show this to me earlier?”

He puts his reading glasses on and looks at the book. He smirks as he opens it up. He flips through a few pages; then through all of them in within a couple of seconds, never really looking at anything. He looks at me.

            “Good read, entertain yourself. He gave this to me after we graduated. Then he went away to college and I haven’t heard from him in a long time.”

             “So, you just gave me the same name because you liked the name, or because he was special?” 

           “Well, technically your name is Fergus, not Ferguson. These are two different names.”

           “Come on dad, give me something more than that. All of the names in the world, and you come up with one that is almost the same as your best friend. Why were you guy’s friends?” I ask with my voice growing louder and more demanding. I wasn’t going to let my dad off of the hook that easily.

I run back to the house and grab my dad’s yearbooks that he stores in the living room bookcase. I get back quickly. There he is, grinding away on some metal part that he really gives full attention to. He turns around and looks at me with disappointment. This is the last thing he wants to talk about, but I stand there and wait for him to finish. He gets it, and finally turns the noisy thing off.

            He just starts talking without my questions slowing him down. He tells me he didn’t know Ferguson until his junior year. They met in gym class, where Ferguson had a problem with the teacher. He wasn’t a very good athlete, but always found ways to have fun in class. He wouldn’t ever follow the rules or social mores of class. He would do calisthenics out of rhythm with the other boys. My dad recalls Ferguson running slowly on purpose so that the rest of the class had to wait a long time for him. Sometimes he fell down and pretended he was unconscious. The teacher would get so mad at him, but Ferguson was never a smart ass back. Instead, he would apologize for messing up and promise to do better next time. Then he just continued to do things his own way. He always created more excitement than anybody else in school, so my dad wanted to join him for the ride.

            The two soon became friends. My dad liked him because he never knew anybody like him before. He was smart and fearless, and my dad thought he was the funniest guy on the planet. Ferguson was probably not considered the best-looking guy, but that never stopped him from talking with girls. Ferguson and my dad had a group of friends that included some girls. Ferguson called up everybody on the phone, (old ones with a cord and spinning dial) and they would go on big group dates that involved roller skating, shooting pool or bowling. The parents would haul kids around until they had cars of their own. When they eventually got cars they went to the beach or on ski trips. I had no idea my dad even knew how to ski. He has never taken us kids skiing. 

            Ferguson would be involved in so many clubs and activities that he became popular by being involved. He did challenge a lot of people’s nerves; especially the jealous guys. He was very flirtatious with the ladies. He had charisma, and never had only one girlfriend at a time. My dad said that every kid should have a buddy like Ferguson; a friend that did crazy things but was never mean or a delinquent. Ferguson would say it took no skill to be a jerk; anybody can be a jerk. But to be a better person took work and imagination. My dad and Ferguson would pull pranks together. But it was more to amuse themselves, not to break or steal stuff.

One time they posted big signs around campus that said there was “no school tomorrow due to maintenance and rodent abatement.”  A lot of kids actually believed it and didn’t show up the next day. The two didn’t get caught for that one but did get busted for putting baloney slices all over the teacher’s car windows. Those were some of the pranks they pulled, which seem harmless. My dad was quick to mention that he couldn’t tell me everything because he doesn't want to give me any bad ideas. I know my dad didn’t say much about my stunts from last year, but I know that he wasn’t too pleased. 

             My dad said the book was made up of Ferguson’s high school thoughts. He also said that I should take a look and see if I get anything out of it. Some of it is probably dated because it’s over thirty-years-old. He said that book was Ferguson’s way of keeping his life on track. He had a lot of problems in his life when he was younger, but somehow, he changed it all around.  

            We open the book together. There are pages written on various topics, like how to talk to people - from girls to the elderly. He wrote his thoughts on how to deal with bullies. For example:

            “Bullies use their size, and fear to get what they want. They align themselves with others who think like them. They become a group that wants others to know that they are around and that they are prepared to enforce their will.”

            Honestly, I don’t know how a kid figured out all of these things, so I asked my dad about that. He said that Ferguson’s whole family were smart. His dad was some sort of important guy at a big company that made military artillery and top-secret things.

He goes on to explain how their house was full of books and stacks of paper everywhere. They had these big paintings on their walls of ancient times; like men on horses and boats. My dad speculated that someone in the family painted them.

            Ferguson was always looking for new ways to be entertained, so when he decided to do something that could be interesting, he was all in. It seemed like he had fireworks and bottle rockets year-round. My dad would go to his house and create explosions with all kinds of items in the backyard. This was just the tip of the iceberg according to my father. They made a bazooka that shot balls and anything else that fit in the tube. When other kids were shooting bb and pellet guns, the two of them were firing projectiles around the neighborhood. They never got bored because they would find crazy things to do.

They liked to go around with a tape recorder and interview anybody that would give in. Ferguson would ask people a bunch of questions and record them and file it away. He had boxes of tapes they made of which my dad would love to go back and listen too. In those days, you could do prank calls without anybody tracing you. Those too were recorded. I don’t know why they would do this. Probably thought they were reporters.

            I asked my dad if he kept in touch with him, he said he hadn’t seen him in ten years. The last time he saw Ferguson was when he was in town briefly for his dad’s funeral. Ferguson doesn’t live around here anymore. My dad lost touch with him. He went away to college back east and ended up staying there. He remembers him telling my dad he was finally traveling like he had always dreamed of.

It’s very clear that my dad does not want to talk about this subject anymore. It’s the most he has talked to me or anyone else in the past couple years. I don’t know if it is (or was) my dad’s dream for me to be like Ferguson Bogen. I wish my dad had him around in his life because he could use some cheering up. Maybe I could find Ferguson and ask him to come by some time. He sounds like an interesting guy; to say the least.

Meanwhile, I just have Ferguson’s book and my dad’s sketchy memory along with an old yearbook to figure what this guy was all about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

Chapter 4

 

 A few days have passed, and I have not seen Manny Gomes. Nor have I seen the girl in the hallway, or even had a conversation with Jennifer (who acts like she has no interest in talking). Patty, the art assistant, has looked at my drawings but is not captivated. Whatever I am doing seems very lame to this girl. I better improve or find another way to impress her. I am thinking I should ask her for more help and some special assistance. The promise of the first day is already wearing off and high school is looking a lot like last year.

            Fifteen…hmm, I am fifteen and going through what adult’s call “a bit of a rough patch” in life. Things are bad. But in a big wide-world perspective it doesn’t amount to much when you think about some kid getting shot at in the Middle East, or some poor family starving in Africa. 

            My dad tells me I have an old soul. I’m not sure why he says that. I’m thinking it’s because I hang around a lot of old timers. All of my neighbors are old people that are always curious about my ‘business’. I sit and listen to their stories, even when they repeat themselves over and over again. My dad does like the fact that I don’t wear pants that are falling down my butt. He also notices that I don’t play many video games. I suck at them, and don’t want to spend hours figuring them out. I also know that girls are not really into them, well most girls that I like. Kind of like a buddy of mine who was into chewing tobacco; even I could tell he was not going to get much action with the girls.

            I went to one school dance last year and managed to dance with only one girl. She didn’t even look at me the whole time we danced. I thought that it was weird, and she still doesn’t look at me in the hallways. What am I, a repulsive monster, or the invisible man? My buddies also went to the dance, but they never asked anybody onto the dance floor. They just kind of did their own version of shaking on the sidelines. I guess it comforts me a bit that we are all kind of shitty when it comes to the ladies.

            High school girls are the strangest creatures on the damn planet. Some of these girls I have known since kindergarten. But now that we are all at the same high school, they act like they don’t know me. I get it, there are more dudes than ever, and I have dropped significantly in the pool of desirable, potential, significant others. But I haven’t noticed a large hump growing on my back, or acne overtaking my face to the point where I need to join a leper colony. So why do they act like this? Can’t they just be nice and smile once in a while? And it’s not just me they do this to. My two best buds, Tim and Steve, are outcasts as bad as me.

Now, what is happening is that we have to focus our energies elsewhere. We are scouting other prospects from other schools, and even gone looking at arcades and amusement parks for potential girls we can hang with. For my year end assessment, I feel that we all got a D+ (C- tops) in our quest for girls. In our sophomore year, we will need to change our strategy, or we will be permanently marked as hopeless geeks with no game.

            The only girl we saw on a consistent basis was my friend Jenna. She’s Tim’s older sister and is a senior this year. She didn’t give us much attention, except to tell us to clean-up our mess when we were hanging out at their house. When she had her girlfriends over, we were told to get lost and not spy on them. Jenna (much like my sister) is into the drama club scene. Again, public speaking is holding me back from ever joining that ‘club’.

            Public speaking has got to be the worst class I have ever taken, by a mile. I had that class and never felt more like an idiot. The teacher kept telling me that I had to project from my diaphragm; which was the last thing I was thinking about when I was standing at the podium in front of thirty or so kids. It was hard enough to just look up and make eye contact with another student. Most of the time I just read from a piece of paper with a shaky voice. I tried to place a joke or two into my speeches, but no one would laugh; just crickets. I would be bombing and knew it. Screw that class and the people that want to keep making kids take it. 

            Freshman year also featured my attempt at going out for school sports. I like to play basketball, so I tried out for the JV team. The team was going to allow six freshmen out of a total of fifteen players. Well the odds of me making it weren’t good, since I wasn’t tall enough and I never played a lot of full court basketball. One thing I could really do well though was handle the ball. Ever since I saw the Harlem Globetrotters I was obsessed with dribbling a ball. I could dribble behind my back, between my legs just inches off of the ground. You could say my hand and eye coordination is superb.

            Dribbling will only get you so far in basketball tryouts, so I started shooting every time I had the ball. I guess I didn’t pass it much like you are supposed to. I wanted to make an impression, but the problem was I never made a shot. I thought at least one would go in, but it never happened. Oh well, I got cut and it probably didn’t help that the coach was also my speech teacher. I thought he would give me some sympathy (and maybe a little respect) because I gave a good effort on the court. I have no ill will towards Mr. Ryan, even though I think his decision to wear monstrous hiking boots in speech class is not good for his image. For Christ’s sake, who wears clod-hoppers like that in a classroom? The damn things squeaked every time he walked.

            I tried out for baseball for one day and it’s too bad because that is my best sport.  The first day I showed up I saw all of the kids I hated during my years in Little League. They were the kids that had fathers lobbying for them for playing time and making All Star teams. My dad wouldn’t do embarrassing crap like that. He knew I was good, and he enjoyed going to the games and cheering for me. He even snuck beer into plastic cups. Maybe I should have stuck with it and made friends with those guys. Maybe it’s not too late.

            The only thing I felt like joining was the school radio station because a nice kid I met in class asked me to come by. I like music a lot and thought about playing righteous tunes. It is not really a radio station, but an intercom system that the school allows students to play music on during breaks and lunchtime. They also do a morning news break at 9:30am that the teachers tolerate. It is a five-minute segment narrated by our school celebrity, a senior named Doug Dalton (aka Dougie D). He is so cool; I wish I could have some of that rub off on me. 

            That was my freshmen year attempt at fitting in. Essentially, nothing too impressive, except I did get an A in PE - and the rest were C’s. Algebra was an ass kicker; I didn’t know how I even got a C. I never did the homework. I sat in the back of the classroom with a buddy who cracked jokes and drew pictures.

            That sums up my freshmen year at Booker High School. I was planning on moving up in the pecking order this year. But so far, I’m off to a bad start, as I’m getting feelings of impending doom when I get on campus. I fight it. I can drop out if it gets unbearable. I know I will have to fight my mom on that. I can work somewhere, make some money and get on with my life.

I am not surprised by much these days, so it is cool to see something that made me take notice. It is Saturday afternoon. I come home after hanging out with my friends all day to find a large envelope on my bed. It has a note on it,

            “Found this last year in the attic, finally got around to giving it to you.” 

            I first thought this was from my dad, but the writing is definitely not his. This is Robby’s work. It could be either one of two things: more of dad’s old comic books or collector cards.

            I open the envelope. It has some sort of folder in it. It is obviously old, held together by string that was threaded through punched holes. This was no baseball card collection, nor is it a bunch of junk about our family. The cover is made of thin gray cardboard; like the stuff they make gift boxes out of. In the middle of the cover is a large hand drawn “F”, nothing more. It was someone’s attempt to draw a fancy looking “F” that represented the contents of the book. 

            I carefully open it to the first page and all it says is, “My Manifesto.”  It is handwritten on binder paper that had been photocopied. This thing is also at least two inches thick.

            “My Manifesto” must have been written by the infamous Ferguson, - whom I am supposedly named after. The book has his name written on page one. So, if I read this thing am I going to know the mysteries of old Ferguson? At this moment, Ferguson Bogen was just a guy that appeared in some photos in my dad’s high school yearbook with a bad haircut and weird smile. I see there is a folded piece of paper between page one and two. I open it and it reads,

            “This guy is just as screwed up as you. Read this and you will see why.” 

Robby always finds a way to insult me. Odd for a thirteen-year-old. I have to admit; I am curious to see what this is all about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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