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.