As Above, So Below (working title)
As Above, So Below (working title)
Living my teen years in New York City was filled with horrible feelings. It was not the teenage angst from a John Hughes film, like the Breakfast Club. That movie was about teens, who looked like adults, trying to find their way in an upside-down world. Each character was a menu item for teen problems.
My high school experience did not resemble the Breakfast Club.
“Hey Ronnie,” a young soft voice called from behind me. It was Margarete and her beauty always made me uncomfortable. She was a white girl from Broad Channel, blond hair, blue eyes and an almost circled shaped face.
“Hi Margie,” I smiled back at her.
“Did you get to do Mr. Rochelle’s home work last night?” she swung her back pack around, letting it drop down in front of her and unzipped the top. I knew she wanted to copy my answers.
“Yes, I did,” I paused waiting for her to ask directly. It was a little game we played. She would smile and flirt with me and I would let her. A few moments later she would copy down my answers and then we would not see each other until the next time she forgets to do her home work.
I gave her the work and she copied. I sometimes fantasized that Margie would not do her home work on purpose so she could find me and chose to talk with me because she had interest in me. She did not. She probably would never.
“Thanks, Ron Ron,” she passed me back my papers. I smiled back and she bounced as she turned away.
“Dag Ronnie,” Warner said. He stood behind me and was the one I was talking to before Margie delightfully interrupted me.
“I have to say, it is worth it,” I said and giggled. He laughed out loud and we slapped hands.
High School in nineteen eighty five was maybe just a little like the movies. There were the cool kids, the jocks, the cheerleaders, the geeks, the nerds, the out casts, the in crowd and the teachers and staff. Everyone was awkward to one another. I was a little between a nerd and a cool kid. I was cool to my group of nerds. I did not see myself as a nerd. I was mostly called that as an insult or compliment.
An insult when used as a noun, you nerd. A compliment when used as a way to help a person out of their educational crisis, thanks for being a nerd. Smart is the new cool.
But being identified as a nerd in my case was a misnomer. I was not as smart as most nerds and although I was in fact socially awkward, it was usually only around girls and bullies.
“Let’s go get some break fast,” Warner turned and walked into the school building.
My high school was called, Sea Shore Senior High, knick named Shish (Sssh). The knick name lost it’s charm quickly and I think most students did not make fun of it any more. Gave a new meaning to the phrase, “Kids are best seen, not heard.” I followed Warner into the building, flowing in line to the metal detectors. I placed my two keys and key chain into the plastic tray.
“Let’s go,” School Officer Reyes repeated. He did not even pay attention to the line, he just kept saying, “Let’s go.” His white, police officer styled shirt was yellowing underneath the arm pits. He was a group of seven school officers who worked the school’s entrances and was responsible for maintaining order in the school. We sometimes joked that they were toy cops, not even smart enough to get a job as a security guard. They joked back with us and we joked back at them.
“Let’s go,” Officer Reyes waved me on. I passed through the metal detectors threshold and I did not hear any negative beep. I walked through and kept walking. If the beep had sounded I would have stopped, but it did not so I did not.
Shish was a large school and had five sections labeled with the letters of the alphabet. The center of the building had two stories and that is where we went to eat breakfast.
“Yo, Warner, hold up,” I picked up my pace and went up the stair case. It was only seven in the morning, so the halls were empty and I quickly caught up to Warner.
“Look, check this out,” I walked in front of him and stopped. I unfolded the piece of paper I kept in my pocket.
“What’s this?” Warner reached out and grabbed the paper before I could unfold it completely.
Maybe his eyes had trouble moving independent of his neck, because when he read it to himself he moved his head left and right.
“To the Stars Essay Writing Contest?” Warner tossed the paper back to me. “This is whack.”
“No,” I disagreed, “this is a chance for me to see the Space Shuttle take off. Who gets to do this kind of things.”
“Don’t you have better things to do than to go down to Florida and watch a rocket go up into the…” Warner gave up on his line of thought and ended with, “ridiculous!”
I folded the paper back up and put in my pocket. I should have known better than to share my dream with this fool. I followed him into the cafeteria and I could see our usual crew sitting at our usual table.
“Yo, Kevin, what’s up,” I yelled out. All I could see was Kevin’s afro sticking above some papers. He sat with three other kids, Shelly, Robert and Tony. Kevin peeped above the papers for a moment to make eye contact with me and then went back down.
“Shelly, you attack the Troglodyte… roll a twenty side die,” Kevin said through the papers. He enjoyed and took his job as dungeon master seriously. Shelly, a freshman, took up the red twenty sided die and glanced down at her character sheet.
“My warrior has 15 attack, plus I have a long sword, which gives me a plus 3, so I need to roll eighteen or less,” she said happily. There was no way she was going to lose that roll. Inside I kind of felt bad for Shelly because I knew that me and Warner were plotting to kill her character with a surprise betrayal. She was growing to powerful, so something needed to be done. But it would not be today.
Warner looked at me when she let out a “yes” when she rolled a twelve. We knew the time was drawing near.
“You strike a forceful blow and do twenty five points of damage,” Kevin rolled his own dice behind his papers. “And the troglodyte falls dead.”
I walked passed the table to get some break fast, but something was wrong, that troglodyte should not have been killed so easily.
I grabbed a tray and placed it on the counter in front of the cafeteria trays. It was breakfast as usual, but at the end of the line I could see a brownish donut. I don’t know what this donut was made of, but it was delicious. Everything else I grabbed did not mean a thing next to that weird and flavorful donut. At the end of the line was a woman who collected payment. I took out my little sheet of numbers and gave her today’s breakfast number. Someone in front of me paid cash, but I did not see how much.
Warner was behind me and I sat next to Shelly.
“You guys just started playing,” I asked. The donut was hot and inside of the plastic wrapper beads of donut sweat was forming. I ripped open the bag and bit into the donut.
“Yeah, and Shelly is carrying the clan,” Kevin said, putting his papers face down. Shelly smiled and grabbed two dices and giggled them above her head. Robert laughed along, but Tony sat with a blank look on his face and his arms folded and tucked in his arm pits.
“That’s because Kevin’s got a crush on her,” Robert laughed again.
“Come on, she is a freshman!” Kevin blasted Robert. I wondered a little about if it was true, but Kevin was a senior on over time.
“I guess that is why you are still in high school, fishing in the kiddie pool?” I said. Laughter erupted and Kevin, who was great at dungeon mastering was not great at humor. Especially when he was the target. It was a two for one jab, one for his super senior status and one for not being able to get girls his own age.
Kevin moved his papers into his backpack and collected up the dice. He signaled at Shelly to return the two she had. He knew the dice was a eight sided die and a twelve sided die.
“Don’t be mad,” Tony broke his silence. I regretted my disruptive comment for a moment and then moved on.
“Hey, Shelly,” I began my plot. She slowly turned her annoyed stare away from Kevin and to me.
“What,” she said.
“We were thinking about getting together on Saturday to play a campaign. It will be at least a few hours,” I said. This was the day me and Warner would make an end to her character.
“I’m not sure, my mother won’t like it if I was playing games at some boys house,” Shelly said beginning to gather up her papers.
“Well, then, that is okay. We will just play without you,” I tempted. She looked away and I could see the wheels in her head turning. She was trying to figure out what she could do, what lie she would have to tell, who she could get to cover her lie. Shelly was more than a nerd, she was a competition junky.
“Ok, when and where, I will be there,” Shelly stood up and slung her backpack onto her shoulders.
“Saturday, eleven in the morning at Kevin’s house,” I took another bite of the donut, not much was left.
“I’ll be there so you guys better wait for me,” she turned around and walked away. I would see her again at seventh period and for the rest of the week keep reinforcing her temptation to play and win.
“So what’syour strategy?” Warner said. He sat directly across from me. I swallowed the last bite of the donut, I don’t remember more than two bites and then it was gone.
“It is our strategy,” I corrected. Warner always tried to shift the blame. Maybe he was putting in a little back door way out of killing Shelly’s character. Or maybe he was trying to plot and kill mine. This was the paranoia of plotting and scheming: those plotting with you maybe plotting against you.
“Tell it to me again,” Warner put a yellow food into his mouth.