I was encouraged to dig through my old files to find some inspirational half-starts and unpolished turds. The following is an excerpt from a novel I tried to write about six years ago.
Click below to read chapter 2.
I always thought Chris Perdue was an asshole.
Maybe it was the hair. It was too blond. He spiked it with gel, every day. Every God damn day. And the polo shirts. Always with the polo shirts. He sat in front of me in Social Studies. He answered every question he could. He flirted with the teacher. At fourteen years old.
He smoked menthol cigarettes.
He tried to fuck my sister.
He liked soccer.
Had I elected to skip the second assembly of the fall in eighth grade, I would probably still consider Chris Perdue an asshole.
You grow up watching Saved By the Bell and the occasional 90210 and think high school is exactly the way it is one television: nerds, jocks, cool kids. But as soon as you get there, with a thousand other pubescent marks walking the hallways between lectures about Hitler and the Industrial Revolution, you realize how totally foggy the mirror between the media and the middle class is. There aren’t cliques, well sure maybe groups of friends, but it’s not a Sharks and Jets kind of deal.
Chris was a Zach Morris. A Dylan. Or the other guy. I’m not sure.
The senior basketball team was about to go to some tournament out of town and to show it’s support, the school held a rally. I didn’t know how much motivation the players were supposed to get out of those things, but I suppose if I had a gym full of peers clapping and shouting for me, I’d be more inclined to put a ball in a hoop for no reason as well.
In our county, the school system was set up as so elementary schools would filter all grade seven, eight and nine students right into high school. Traditionally those grades are separated in a middle school to ease the transition. Because I lived fifteen feet from the jurisdiction edge, and thus went from playgrounds and recess to smoke breaks and student parking lots over the summer of 1993.
I was still small for age, but my voice had cracked and I had a few chest hairs. No real friends in elementary school translated into no real friends in high school. Walking the hall a foot shorter than most girls and not having a single friend was a real snappy way to start at a new school. Hence, my thought of skipping the pep rally to read old copies of Rolling Stone in the library.
But as with most significant events in my life, moments of chance seem to effect things. I can’t give you a reason as to why I decided to attend the rally that day, but I did. Maybe the library was closed because Mr. Horovitz was masturbating in the AV room again. I don’t know.
The last seat on the bleachers was at the front row, right where they’d wheel in Kenny Nichols and he’d sit and clap and smile for the same basketball players that called him “the robotic retard” directly to his face. Kenny was a nice guy. I’ve got a story about him that we’ll get to later.
But sandwiching where Kenny would park his electric wheelchair and where I would try to hide another accidental “Oh shit the cheerleaders are doing a pyramid again” erection was Chris Perdue.
Despite sitting behind him in Social Studies for half a semester, I never talked to the guy. Didn’t now his name either, but as it was established, I thought of him as a dickhead.
The basketball team jogged out, doing a few laps to the generic sports anthem of the day. I watched bemused by the amount of clout and enthusiasm the rest of the school displayed. The teachers were far too excited.
“Look at these faggots,” Chris scoffed, “Cheering for those assholes. Makes me sick.”
I just kind of nodded.
“You don’t talk much, do you? I wouldn’t either if I dressed like that.” I looked at my cargo pants and Nikes and wondered what he meant. “I thought I could handle this but I can’t. Want to cut with me? I‘m Chris, by the way”
We awkwardly shook hands as two teenagers do when they get to the age where such a greeting is appropriate and a sign of budding maturity. As I mused about the best way to sneak out of the gym, Chris promptly stood and led me straight passed the principle and out of the big double doors to freedom. I was certain we were going to be followed by a teacher and lectured o the importance of not skipping school.
An hour later I’d be at Chris’ house playing Super Nintendo and drinking my first beer, a warm Coors Lite stolen from his dad’s garage. A friendship was born.
Foley was my other best friend.
We called him Foley for two reasons. The first is practical. Foley’s real name was Maximillion Gibbons. And fuck that. The second was a local legend. A by local I mean between myself, Chris and Foley.
In eleventh grade, Foley got really serious into professional wrestling. It was an obsession. He’d watch the Monday night shows, the Thursday night shows, Pay Per Views. He’d rent old tapes, make compilations and try to show us “best of” tag team matches, hardcore matches, lucha libre stuff. Neither Chris nor I ever cared. We knew it was fake; Foley did too, but he understood how wrestling worked. He taught himself how to fall, how to do a standing front flip. He could toss himself around his basement, dropping to his back like he was shot and spring back up without a scratch. It got to a point where Foley wasn’t watching the matches as a fan, but as a critic. He had his favourites, the guys he respected and thought performed well. And there were wrestlers he hated, detested, flat out wanted to murder. Bulked up, steroid freaks who couldn’t do half the stuff a guy like Bret Hart or Mr. Perfect could. (I remember those names because some years later the latter would die suddenly and the former would have a stroke. Both times Foley cried, and both times I got him drunk and watched matches with him.)
It was March 16, 1996. The specific date and time is significant because later than night, I would receive my first hand job from Laura Griebner in her parent’s bed while watching The Blair Witch Project and smoking terrible pot. Butsix hours before that, Foley, Chris and I were hanging by Chris’ car in the dirt lot behind the high school. We were skipping class of course, and plotting to buy beer. (The events that would lead me to stray from a night of underage drinking to hand on dick action are a source of debate.) Foley was talking about his new favourite wrestler, a guy by the name of Mankind.
The way he described it, Mankind was this beast, an atrocity of a human being. He pulled out his own hair (true), lost half his ear in Germany (true), and was supposedly raised in a boiler room (not true). Mankind was also the best wrestler ever, at least according to Foley, because he was a big guy, overweight and not filled to the brim with muscle. He took big falls, jumped from the top rope, did crazy stuff a guy like that shouldn‘t b able to do. Plus Foley loved to watch his hero bleed.
Mankind’s real name was Mick Foley, but he also wrestled under the name “Dude Love” and “Cactus Jack”. Both personas were exactly what they sounded like.
So Chris and I are nodding along in the parking lot, leaning on Foley‘s mom‘s car. Individually, we’re guessing when Foley’s crush on pro wrestling was going to wane (most likely as he discovered girls) when John Archer and a bunch of his thuggish underlings rolled in.
I won’t say much about John Archer, other than he was a cunt and probably still is a cunt. It’s also likely that he overdosed from abusing crystal meth or was stabbed by one of his mom’s boyfriends. He was caught peeping twice in ninth grade, and in his locker his a replica handgun that we all knew was a replica. He was a typical insecure bully.
John Archer hated Foley. Since grade school, always picked on him cause Foley was a little overweight. Okay, a lot overweight, and he wasn’t the most socialable guy. But me and Chris dug him, and that was enough. Anyways, John Archer starts talking, making fun of the Mankind t-shirt Foley had on. Called him a fat-ass. Both of them. Usually, and Chris will attest to this, Foley would ignore it. Archer would get his jollies and then moved on to whatever other business he had (snorting coke in the boy’s bathroom or torturing squirrels behind the school).
But on March 16, 1996, the first day that someone other than myself was to touch my penis, things played out a little differently.
We don’t even remember what was said. Some years later when the three of us would get really drunk, Chris would pipe up and ask if we remembered the time Foley flipped out. Of course we did. We’d recall every punch, every move of the fight, and always come back to something like “God damn, I wish I could remember what Archer said to set you off, Foley.” I suspect Foley knew, still knows, but that secret is buried and not coming back out. And I got that.
But here are the facts, those of which we are entirely certain:
Foley’s hand seemed to lock right on John Archer’s throat. He stared into his tormenter’s eyes and cracked a grin.
Up until that point, I had never seen a fight up close. Maybe a glimpse from across the football field, down the hall, one just being broken up as I arrived on scene. Maybe I’d see the last punch, but never so close as to get blood splattered on or to hear the crack of bone on bone.
Foley threw his big left hand back and forth across Archer’s nose, cracking it, I’m sure on the first shot, but adding a dozen more for good measure. With the one handed choke locked in, Foley pushed Archer to the ground, mounting him, and unleashing elbows, slaps, more punches. Chris and I didn’t know what to do. Archer’s friends were equally baffled. It wasn’t until you could hear John’s sobs between the blows that they grabbed Foley by both arms and whipped his face into the rim of his car. Both Chris and I were so baffled all we could do is stare at Archer’s bloody soup of a face while Foley was getting familiar with the mud-stained rims of his first car. We pulled the other two off. They collected Archer and sauntered off.
Foley went head-first into that tire one man and came out another. He was bleeding profusely, but he seemed happy. He was smiling, chuckling, and though his arms and legs were shaking from all the adrenaline, he seemed relieved. Like all of the bullshit was over with.
The next day at school, Foley showed up with bandaged knuckles and eighteen stitches that went from the middle of his forehead to his hairline. John Archer didn’t return for three weeks. And when he did, no one would recognize him.
We started calling him Foley. It stuck cause nobody was willing to question why.
At 22, Foley was still a mean-looking bastard. He dropped the wrestling thing years ago, but he kept the scraggly hair and extra fifty pounds of his idol. He was jovial, funny, and no longer concerned with those trying to take the piss. We said that Foley sustained a concussion when he kissed the metal, and that he was a little retarded but not retarded enough to get a check from the government every month. We could joke like that because we loved him and he loved us, and he often told us this as the final point on the drunken tangent of our high school days.
There are exactly three reasons why Chris Perdue and Maximillion Gibbons are my best friends. The first involves an elaborate hand off that prevented our shop teacher from finding the joint we had rolled in metal shop. It’s not that interesting and is more or less your typical story of novice hand magic.
The third reason would come to pass several years later and involve the first love of my life, Clara Berg. We’ll get to that, believe me. However, still in high school, after the joint thing, the second:
Let’s set the stage: 1998, two years from George W., three from 9/11. Bill Clinton was tagging ass in The White House. Kurt Cobain was totally dead while Pearl Jam released the (underwhelming) “Yield“. Columbine was a ways off and so was the millennium.
We were all eighteen, heading to graduation. Chris wanted to and would be a lawyer. Foley was pursuing a summer as an ice cream truck driver, while I was content with sleeping in and borrowing money from my mom.
“We should do a prank,” Chris lobbed like a softball, his voice coy yet confident. Like he was suggesting he might be kidding in case he got any flack from myself or Foley.
“Like toilet paper a house? Why?” Foley hid his empathies most of the time.
“No, like for grad. Just to mess with the school a bit. Say goodbye, sort of thing.”
“I’ve always thought the wall of the gym could use a giant spray-painted penis,” Chris once drew no less than fifteen penises on Chris Kent’s legs, arms, head and back when he passed out from too much raspberry schnapps at a pool party the previous summer.
“How are we going to break into the gym?”
“No, you idiot, we do it on the outside. That wall that faces the parking lot and the entrance so that every one who drives into the school for the grad ceremony instantly sees a huge pink cock.”
“Does it have to be pink?”
“Pink’s a good colour. It pops. Remember when I wore that pink polo to photo day?”
“Yeah, you looked like a half fag. Anyway, I think I have yellow spray-paint in my garage,”
“Fuck you, and yellow is easier to paint over. You have to do a few layers on pink,”
“Well why don’t we just wait and do it the night before grad so there’s no time to cover it up?”
“Now you’re thinking, Foley.”
“Plus we could buy pink spray paint no problem.”
“I don’t know what I was thinking, like spray-paint is hard to come by. Should the cock be detailed, like with veins and pubes?”
“I thought we could go a minimalist route, a simple outline.”
“Like a cookie cutter.”
“Though there is some merit in detail.”
“It could be ejaculating.”
“We should add slogan or short message.”
“Something nonsensical, of course.”
“Francis Bean Cobain.”
“I like it.”
I don’t know how much of this exchange is true and how much I’m making up. I’m drunk and stoned and staring at myself in the mirror and this was four years ago. Cut me some slack.
“Alright, so this plan is more or less solid.” Chris seemed cock-sure. “Let’s meet behind the school at midnight the night before the ceremony. Foley, you pick up the spray-paint, I’ll get gloves and garbage bags we can put on over our clothes so we don’t get dirty. Five minutes of work and bam- a pink dick greets the parents.”
Two weeks passed and we didn’t speak of the plan again. But all three of us just arrived at the school at 11:59 PM ready to wreck havoc. And what we discussed is exactly what happened: Foley raised Chris onto his shoulders so he could make the drawing extra tall, extending the shaft and head a good twenty feet and truly covering the entire wall. Foley thought he heard a police siren when I was writing “Francis Bean Cobain” so we scattered before I could finish. And thus, the next morning as cars began to fill the lot for the morning’s graduation ceremonies, proud parents, younger siblings and travelling grandmas were met with the tracing of a neon pink, fully erect, “How do you fucking do?” picture of the male genitalia, with the words “Francis Be” written underneath.
I was told the popular topic of discussion among the parents and observers before the ceremony kicked off what was on earth “Francis Be” could possibly mean. Drug slang? A threat? A rival school’s motto that no one knew about? Little do they know.
We always joked that if we were formally start a baseball team instead of drunkenly overtaking a diamond and trying to hit balls over the fence into the Wendy‘s parking lot, we’d throw a pink dick on the jerseys and call ourselves the “Francis B’s”.
Kurt would have dug it.