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.