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.