December 16, 2008
I remember the last time I was ever in Litchfield High School.
I’m not sure of the time of year. I remember that it was cold. Oh wait – shit. Christmas. There was a Christmas tree on Watergreen’s stupid fucking desk. So, it was December. Ish.
I sit in that chair, flanked by an officer of Litchfield’s finest, as Watergreen shuffles through a file in front of him. A file about me. It was a head game of his, naturally. Not only was Watergreen an incredibly sub-par principal, but he was also a colossal prick. He was shuffling through the papers on purpose – dragging this out. Trying to make me sweat. The way his eyebrows raised on occasion. His shuffling of his mustache, adjusting of his glasses, tsking of his mouth. All an elaborate dance.
Well. Two could play at that game.
“Intermittent explosive disorder,” he said, nodding his head as if he was some wise old fucking sage. “Prone to violent outbursts. Got you in a lot of trouble over the years, huh? This… well, this is quite the rap sheet.”
I don’t respond. That’s my little game. Simply stare blankly.
“Sixteen years old and already a laundry list of assault charges.”
He looks up from the paper.
“Your parents must be so proud.”
I can feel it stirring. The hairs on the back of my head are just so subtly beginning to straighten. But the law is next to me. Although a sudden fantasy of slamming his old man head into the desk until the blood flows like a river beams directly into my brain, I try real hard to keep a lid on it. I mostly succeed.
The folder closes. Now he’s looking into my eyes. “Jimmy, you’ve been trying to get tossed out of here for a long time, haven’t you? Fighting. Vandalism. Breaking and entering. We’ve sent you to counseling. We’ve tried to scare you straight. We’ve accommodated every character defect you have in an attempt to squeeze even an ounce of education into your head. But none of that worked for you, huh?”
He chuckles. Stands. Turns away from me, adjusting the blinds of his office window. He looks outside into the frigid New England air. It’s not that late, but the sky already shows signs of darkening.
“Believe it or not, you’ve still got teachers willing to go to bat for you. They talk about your ‘promise.’ You can be quite the charmer, eh? Well…”
He closes the blinds.
“That doesn’t matter anymore. You’re getting your wish.”
He turns to face me.
“You’re expelled, Jimmy.”
I try to give him nothing. It’s pushing hard on me now – the darkness. Although my fist clenches involuntarily, it doesn’t go any further than that.
“And I have to say, before you walk out that door for the last time, I have to ask one question.” He rubs his temples as he speaks. “Why? Why toss it all away?”
Despite how big an asshat this jackoff is, the question seems sincere. Maybe it’s worth answering.
“Because,” my voice comes out more cynical than I’d planned, “what the fuck does school have to offer me, Watergreen?”
It’s a valid question. But this jackass’ ego is so big, he opts to focus on something else.
Now it’s his turn to have his eyes flash in anger. “That’s DOCTOR Watergreen.” He points to the wall, where a framed doctorate in education hangs barring his name: Chesterfield Watergreen, EdD. “I didn’t work my tail off for ungrateful little punks to ignore my hard work.”
The room begins to go red – no. Push it back, Jimmy. Don’t do this. Remember your breathing.
“If your parents had any sense they would have shipped you off to reform school years ago. And I… actually, would you give us a moment?”
He’s not talking to me. He’s talking to the cop standing next to me. I don’t see what the officer does, but I do feel his presence walk away and hear the office door shut.
It’s just me and Watergreen.
“I just need to say this to your face before you go.” He’s dropped all pretense of the professional educator. I was looking at the real man. He couldn’t hide his utter contempt for me, the student who had made his job – and life – absolute hell for the last two years.
“That Intermittent Explosive Disorder is psychobabble bullshit. You’re not sick in the head. You, Jimmy…”
He leans forward.
“You’re just an asshole.”
That’s the last thing I hear before the world turns red.
Friday, April 8, 2011
Don’t worry – I bounced back.
Here we are, a whole two years removed from that unfortunate incident at the school. My parents tossed me out, naturally – can’t say I blame them too much. Luckily, I had an uncle who was nearly as big a fuck up as I was. He was living in Boston, and he agreed to let me crash with him as long as I paid my own way. And most of his. Still, he took a big risk letting a sixteen year old kid into his home, but I don’t think I’ve let him down yet. There’s always Devil Dogs in the cupboard.
I immediately dove into the Boston restaurant scene, determined to prove that I could handle being a big boy. And oh boy – did I get fucked. It chewed me up and spit me out. The service industry is no place for a young and reckless boy with anger issues. But somehow, some way, I caught on. I even got good. I was a hell of a server. You should have seen me – I could turn on the charm at a moment’s notice. I’m kind of a big guy and I was worried someone with my frame might be too intimidating for the job, but I smiled and joked my way into some fat tips. It was easy to spot the best marks: the politicians, the gangsters, the yuppy Harvard types willing to drop some serious cash to look like a big man in front of their dates.
And now I find myself at Game On, one of the premier sports bars in the Boston area – housed within the Fenway Park. It’s opening day. That might not mean much to you, but let it be know: Game On ain’t in the minor leagues, kid – this shit was the absolute final boss of service. The sheer volume, the noise, the pace, the madness – I’ve seen opening day eat people alive.
But I said bring that shit on. I was a pro, after all. I rode that wave. I ran those nachos. I refilled those drinks. I cracked those jokes and my pockets were filling up with dead presidents. It was a hell of an opening day. One for the ages.
It was about halfway through the game. I was kicking so much ass I had a free second to stop by the hostess stand to once again try lay the foundation with our hostess: a beautiful Northeastern University student named Melinda. I’d had my eye on her since day once, and I have to be honest: she was not unreceptive.
I was in the process of charming the pants off her (not literally) when I first saw him. Game On was a big place; it wasn’t uncommon for me not to know someone who worked there. But this kid was different: the biggest reason was that he was a pretty big guy. He stood out. His brown hair was ruffled and the way he moved you could just tell he was new. It was that awkward uncertainty in his movement.
I smiled. Opening Day claims another. I probably would have turned back to Melinda and gone on with my life had I not seen what happened next: that new kid, carrying a large tray of dishes in a bus bin, walk through the swinging doors to our kitchen. As the door swung open and closed, I caught a quick glimpse of his fate: a foot put out, catching his own, and he and the bin of plates tumbling down.
A crash rang out throughout the restaurant. Luckily, you couldn’t hear yourself think in the chaos so very few people even heard it. But I did. I figured it would be unconscionable to just ignore it, so I told Melinda I’d be right back and headed over.
I walked through the door and it was even worse than I’d imagined: broken glass everywhere, and the poor kid sprawled out. Nearby, some snickering line cooks told me all I needed to know: those pricks had decided, on what is one of the craziest days of the year, to haze the new busboy.
Since nobody else seemed to be doing anything, I reached down to offer a hand to pull the kid up. He took it and I hoisted to his feet, getting a good look at his face for the first time.
And it was those eyes. The eyes told me the story: he was embarrassed. But more than that – I saw the darkness. Most people wouldn’t know what to look for, and it was totally understandable that he would be angry. But this wasn’t anger – this was “grab someone’s skull and ram into the wall until it turns to mush” fury. Honestly, it startled me. Not because I was afraid – but because for the first time in my life, it was like looking into a mirror.
I was rattled.
But the kid didn’t act on those urges. He muttered a thank you to me and began to clean up the shattered plates in shame.
It was hours later, in the closing hours of the shift, when I waited for him. He walked out of the employee locker room, dressed in regular clothes, a backpack slung over his shoulder, and the stench of that all too familiar restaurant employee smell. I don’t mean food. That unique combination of hopelessness, frustration, and bitterness.
He would have blown right past me – maybe never to return to this shit hole – if I hadn’t called out.
He turned. At the time neither he nor I realized that we were only three years apart in age, but in this environment there was no question I was his elder. Calling him “kid” just felt right.
“Rough day at the office, huh?” I smirked, looking for a little levity. “Opening day can be rough, man.”
I didn’t get a smile back. Instead, he mostly just stared. “Yeah,” was all he could muster.
“Those guys are dickheads,” I said. “They’re testing you. Seeing if you can hack it. You can’t let them know it’s getting to you. They’ll back off pretty fast if they can’t get a reaction.”
I had brought up the incident. I could see the darkness flash – ever so quickly – in his eyes before he shut that shit down.
“Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.”
That was seemingly the end of this interaction, but I put an arm out to block his way. “What do you say we head down to McGiverns down the block? You have a shift as tough as yours, your best bet is to do your damndest to make sure you kill enough brain cells that you won’t remember it tomorrow.”
He smiles. “Thanks… thanks, man. I appreciate it. I just…”
He hesitates. Seems to debate whether or not to share this next tidbit of information.
“I’m… I’m not old enough. I can’t get in.”
It takes me a second to register this. “Wait, what? No shit, man. What’re you, in high school?”
Reluctantly, he nods.
“And you don’t have a fake ID? My guy, I’m nineteen. Half of us in this place aren’t old enough to get in. We do. I’ve gotta hook you up with my buddy Constance. I swear, that guy could forge a CIA badge. He can get you anything you want. But…”
“Maybe we’re not there yet, huh? First day and all. Tell you what: instead of McGiverns, we step into my office? Whatdaya say?”
He’s not totally sure what that means, but he’s game.
He quickly discovers that “my office” is a small, fenced in piece of alley behind the restaurant. The accommodations are meager: a pair of orange five gallon buckets turned upside down for seats – but it’s a great place to go for a little privacy. New guy and I take a seat and I prop down a cooler in between us.
“This is where we go when we have a day like you did today, rookie,” I tell him. I reach into the cooler, producing a Bud Lite. I toss it to him. I crack mine open… but he hesitates a second before opening his. That does not go unnoticed by me.
“Tell me Mr. High School… have you ever drank before?”
It’s clear that he wants to say yes. To give the impression of an experienced, worldly equal. But he’s exhausted and maybe he doesn’t have the energy to lie. He sighs and shakes his head no.
“Well… hot damn. Big moment.”
I gesture around.
“Couldn’t have picked a better place for it.”
I raise my can.
“I’m Jimmy, rookie. Jimmy Dufresne. And I’ll be your party host for the night it seems. Who’re you, anyway?”
“Pat,” comes the reply.
“There we go!” I shove my can even closer to him, hoping he’ll take the hint this time.
He looks at the can. Looks to me. Smashes it against mine, sending suds flying everywhere as he throws it in his mouth in an attempt to stop the spillage.
And this? This is the start of a wonderful friendship.