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By Frank Anthony Polito KENSINGTON BOOKS
Copyright © 2008 Frank Anthony Polito
All right reserved.
-7th GRADE- 1982-1983
We Got The Beat
"See the kids just getting out of school They can't wait to hang out and be cool ..." -The Go-Go's
"Friends hold you back."
This is what she tells me. Like it's the key to unlocking the Secrets of the Universe. Like they're some Magical Words of Wisdom I can't possibly afford to ignore. Like she's that crazy little psychic woman from Poltergeist telling Carole Anne to "Go into the light."
Normally, Jessica Clark Putnam is the nicest teacher in the whole wide world. The kind that allows you to hang out in her office after school eating popcorn. The kind that takes you to Downtown Detroit to see the Symphony, along with every other kid in Band at Webb Jr. High School. The kind that talks to you like you're a Real Adult ... And not a 12-going-on-13-year-old.
She's one of the prettiest teachers, too. With short brown hair, curled back on the sides, kinda poufy on top-a slight wisp of gray at the temples. She's also got a nice smile. Full of straight white teeth. But at this very moment, the look on her face makes her totally unrecognizable.
"After everything I've doneto get you that scholarship?" Mrs. Putnam asks in utter disappointment. "You realize what a wonderful opportunity this is, don't you? You'd be a fool to pass it up."
I can't even believe this is the same woman who stands before us every morning in 2nd hour Varsity Band, flailing her arms about in 4/4 time, head nodding in rhythm, pounding the beat into our brains from high atop her podium. Like she's God.
I proceed to explain how totally grateful I am for the "wonderful opportunity" and all. But I really don't wanna spend two whole weeks at a stupid Summer Band camp all by myself.
"What about Bradley?" she reminds me. By whom she's referring to VB trombone player and my new Best Friend, Brad Dayton.
As outstanding 1st chair musicians, Brad and I have been awarded partial scholarships to attend the prestigious Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. The only problem is ... BLFAC costs like $300 for a two-week session. And Brad hasn't explained to Mrs. Putnam how his parents recently got divorced and his Deadbeat Dad is refusing to pay child support for him and his three sisters. Which means no money for Brad to spend two weeks at an exclusive Summer Band camp.
Which is what I tell Jessica Clark Putnam. But she's not having it ... Not one little bit.
"Just because Bradley Dayton can't go to Blue Lake," she informs me, "doesn't mean it should stop you from going by yourself."
The other problem is ... I live in the Detroit suburb of Hazel Park. Better known as Hazeltucky to the folks who don't live there. And Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp is located in Muskegon-all the way on the other side of the state. And two weeks is a long time for a 12-going-on-13-year-old to spend away from home. Especially one who's never done it before.
Which is when Jessica Clark Putnam tells me, "Friends hold you back."
She proceeds to explain how when she was a kid growing up in Rochester, NY, all she ever wanted was to be a Professional Flautist. For those of you not in the know, this means "flute player." Which explains why she left home at the tender age of 18 after receiving a full scholarship to the University of Michigan. Never once looking back or contemplating for one moment the family or friends she left behind.
I have no idea what else to say. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's disappointing a teacher ... So I say nothing.
Ever so sweetly, Mrs. Putnam responds to my silence. "You do want to go, don't you?"
I nod my head. What kid in his right mind wouldn't? After all, this is a "wonderful opportunity."
How I ever got myself into this mess, I have no idea ...
I've gotta admit, being picked as 1st chair when 7th grade started back in the Fall came as a surprise to me. Out of the nine other trumpet players, I never expected to be The Best. Though I did practice my butt off for an entire week till I got every last note of my sixteen bars right. Let's just say ... If my Dad had to listen to "Irish Folk Dance" one more time, he was gonna kill me!
One of the hardest things I've had to get used to about being in junior high is ... being forced to stay for Lunch every day. Back in elementary school at Longfellow, I used to go home on account of we lived right around the block. But at Webb, if you look around the cafeteria, it's like, all the boys sit together and all the girls sit together. At totally separate tables. Even the guys and girls that are going together don't sit with each other during Lunch. Sure, you see them walking down the hallways together all the time-arms around each other's waists, hands in back pockets. But when it comes to eating lunch, they won't be caught dead at the same table! Which I think is totally stupid. I mean, I'm a guy and I'm supposed to like girls. Which is why I don't pay attention to those dumb rules. I sit with whomever I want.
In fact, sitting with a group of girls during Lunch is how I met my Best Friend ...
One afternoon in early September, I was sitting in the cafeteria with Ava Reese, Varsity Band 1st chair clarinet, Carrie Johnson, VB 2nd chair clarinet, and Katy Griffin, VB 2nd chair trombone. Even though she's super skinny, Ava's always on a diet and hardly ever eats anything. Which is why she was busy going around the table with her Sign-In Book, asking everybody the questions and marking down our answers with her trusty #2 pencil.
"Calvin's or Jordache?"
"Calvin's," answered Ava's new Best Friend, Carrie. Though she barely opened her mouth since she just the day before got her braces tightened and they were killing her.
"Calvin's," agreed Katy, as if there was no other choice. Which was kinda weird, if you ask me. Not weird-weird, but ... Katy's kind of a Tomboy and since I've known her, I've only ever seen her wearing Levi's or cords. In fact, when I saw her walk into the Band Room on the First Day of School, I totally thought she was a guy. Not that I'm saying I don't like her or anything, 'cause I totally do. Maybe it's her short feathered-back hair, I don't know. All I know is ... Boy can she throw a football!
"Ladies and gentlemen ..." An adult male voice cut in over the cafeteria loudspeaker. Followed by the obnoxious sound of banging on the microphone. "Is this thing on?"
Lucky Mr. Grant ... He gets the honor of babysitting us every day during Lunch. His main job is to read Today's Announcements so we know things like when yearbook pictures are being taken. Or to remind us how important it is to sign up for fluoride treatments. Stuff like that. Though the girls I'm friends with would probably listen to Gorgeous George talk about anything.
Personally, I don't get what's so great about him. I mean, he's got this totally cheesy mustache! Though I guess his hair's kinda cool. Sandy brownish-blond, feathered-back on the sides, kinda spiked on top. He's also got nice eyes. Bright blue. And a nice smile, I suppose. I guess he's kinda attractive. Not that I judge other guys, 'cause I don't.
"We interrupt this program," Mr. Grant said, "to bring you another episode of ... Dear Bobby." He sounded more like a cheesy radio announcer than a junior high Social Studies teacher. Every day for the past week and a half, Mr. Grant had been reading us a letter he confiscated from one of our fellow 7th graders. He always started off with a recap from yesterday's installment. Which was what Gorgeous George was about to do at that very moment ...
"When we last left Dear Bobby," he began, "Shelly had invited Bobby to meet her at the Roosevelt playground after school ..."
A chorus of hoots and hollers erupted from the Jock table at the far end of the cafeteria. Sitting among the group was the Star of the Show, himself. Though from the shade of red his face was turning, Bobby Russell was clearly not enjoying being the Center of Attention.
I don't think I've mentioned ... Bobby's also in Varsity Band. 2nd chair trumpet. Which means he sits right next to me. Which always seemed kinda odd that he could be like, Mr. Popular and be in Band. But somehow Bobby pulls it off.
"'Maybe we can make out on the curly slide,'" Mr. Grant read next. "'You're a really good kisser, you know that?'"
And the crowd went wild!
With that, Bobby's blond head whipped around. He got up from his seat and sprinted across the cafeteria to a table over by the windows full of Cheerleaders. Sitting among the group burying her head in shame was his costar, Shelly Findlay. Who happens to be VB 1st chair flute, aka flautist. It was hard to hear what Bobby yelled at Shelly over the clang of silverware against molded plastic plates. But reading his lips I could make out something like, "You better get that f-ing letter back!" Though Bobby didn't say "f-ing letter." He said the real word!
"Will Bobby make out with Shelly on the Roosevelt playground curly slide?" Mr. Grant continued, concluding today's installment. "Tune in tomorrow-same time, same channel-for another exciting episode of ... Dear Bobby."
And with that, we returned to our regularly scheduled program ...
"Calvin's or Jordache?" Ava looked at me, twirling a lock of her curly brown hair.
I took a swig of my low-fat chocolate milk, unsticking the PB of my PB & J on white bread from the roof of my mouth. I was just about to answer when I heard the plop of a puke-colored plastic tray on the table.
"Fuck those! I like Sergio Valente's better 'cause they make your ass look hot!" At which point, Bradley Dayton popped a freshly-dipped-in-ketchup tater tot into his mouth and squeezed in beside Carrie, directly across from where I sat. I noticed he'd chosen the hamburger over the grilled cheese option.
"Sergio's aren't one of the choices," Ava told Brad, kinda snotty.
"Yeah," echoed Katy, like she was Ava's own Personal Bodyguard.
"Who cares?" Brad retaliated. "Write it in ... Number 4."
"Whatever," Ava said. Then she wrote Brad's answer down and turned the page. "John Cougar or Rick Springfield?"
"Rick Springfield," Brad chimed in. "Definitely."
"I wasn't asking you," Ava snapped back.
"Yeah," echoed Katy.
"Number 4 ... Write it in."
I noticed the words Eat Shit and Die! scrawled in red on a white quarter-sized button pinned to Brad's pink Braggin' Dragon polo shirt-worn with the collar up. Which is when I got a good look at him for the very first time ... Reddish-brown hair, feathered back on the sides, with freckles on his cheeks and nose. Now that I think about it, he kinda reminds me of Ron Howard. Ron "Opie" Howard. Not Richie Cunningham.
Brad must have noticed my staring because he looked across the table at me and was all like, "Who the Hell are you?" Totally deadpan.
I was like, "I'm Jack." Even though my real name's John, everybody calls me Jack or Jackie.
"Paterno ... Varsity Band 1st chair trumpet."
To which Brad replied, "Oh." Then he laughed.
"Smurfs or Garfield?" Ava continued, turning the page.
And that's pretty much the entire story ... How I Met My Best Friend. By John R. Paterno.
Though it wasn't till almost an entire month later that I even spoke to him again ...
After weeks and weeks of hot pursuit-love letter after love letter, phone call after phone call-Lynn Kelly and I finally started going together. Like my Mom always says, "Good things come to those who wait."
In case I haven't mentioned it ... Lynn Kelly is the girl I've liked since the day I got to Webb Junior High. First of all, she's totally pretty. With shoulder-length blond hair, curled back on the sides, and a nice smile. Secondly, she's very "developed," if you know what I mean.
As 7th graders, we don't get to pick our schedules. They assign our classes to us and it just happened to work out that Lynn and I had the exact same schedule that semester ...
1st hour: Science w/Mr. Davidson.
2nd hour: Varsity Band w/Mrs. Putnam.
3rd hour: Reading Lab w/Miss Blundell.
4th hour: Health w/Mrs. Strong.
5th hour: Math w/Mr. Nichols.
6th & 7th hour: Enriched English & Social Studies w/Ms. Lemieux.
Which was kinda weird, if you think about it. Not weird-weird, but ... Even if we could've chosen, Lynn went to elementary school at Lee O. Clark so we never even met each other till we got to Webb. It's like we were meant to be together and now we were.
One day in late October, I was over Lynn's house ...
Like most of my friends, her parents are divorced. So she lives with her Mom over on Orchard, behind the hill in Martin Road Park. Which pretty much serves no purpose other than during the Winter when it's covered with snow and it's an awesome place to go sledding. Lynn's Mom was still at work so we were lying together on her couch, watching MTV. Which was kinda awkward because Lynn is like, 5'7" and I'm only 4'11".
"Now what?" Lynn asked. Men at Work's "Who Can It Be Now?" video had just ended.
"Now what, what?" I replied.
To which she rolled her hazel eyes at me. "We've been going together for two whole days, Jackie ... Aren't you ever gonna kiss me?"
So I did ... For all of about five seconds.
"That's not a kiss," she informed me. "Don't you know how to French?"
Of course, I knew how ... I'd just never done it before.
"Close your eyes," Lynn instructed. Then she proceeded to stick her tongue halfway down my throat!
After waiting all that time, I honestly didn't see what the big deal was about kissing. It certainly was nothing like I expected. In fact, it was kinda gross and slimy.
"Not bad," Lynn said. "You'll get better with practice."
But what I want to know is ... How was I supposed to do that? When a couple days later during Ms. Lemieux's 6th hour Enriched English, Lynn passed me the following note ...
You know I think you're a real sweet guy. But I don't think this is going to work out. I hope we can we still be friends.
I tried acting like it didn't matter. Even though it totally did! I mean, how was I gonna get through the rest of the semester when Lynn Kelly and I had every single class together?
When I got home from school that day, my Mom asked if I was ready for dinner ...
"I'm not hungry," I told her, trying to make it clear just how p.o.'d I was without actually saying so.
"Jackie!" she called out from the kitchen where she was stirring a simmering pot of mostaccoli. "What's wrong?"
"Everything," I replied. Then I stormed into my bedroom. Though I had to cut through my 8-year-old sister's room first on account of mine's an addition on the back of our house. Jodi was playing on the floor, her hair up in pigtails looking so darn cute I could kick her! Instead, I practically stepped on her and her stupid Strawberry Shortcake dolls as I passed.
"Mom ... Jackie kicked me!" she hollered.
"You're such a Total Liar!" I shouted back.
"I know you are but what am I?"
I flung open the flimsy accordion-fold door separating our bedrooms to find my 4-year-old brother passed out on the bottom bunk, thumb stuck in his mouth. I thrust the door closed behind me, hating the fact that I had to share a room with Billy even more than I usually did.
I climbed the ladder to my bed, not caring if I woke up my stupid little brother. Who's really not stupid at all. I love him and my sister, both. I was just p.o.'d at that moment. I stared at the white drop-ceiling no more than four feet above me. For the first time, I took note of the textured pattern in each tile. Kinda like a bunch of white rainbows intertwining with one another. All of a sudden, my eyes started to burn. So I rolled over, facing the knotty pine paneled wall.
And I cried ... And cried ... Like a little baby, I know.
For some reason, I couldn't get Lionel Richie and Diana Ross singing "Endless Love" out of my mind. Which made me cry even more! Ever since I first heard that stupid song, all I wanted to do was find somebody to love. Who would love me back ... For real.
Like in the movies and on TV.
Later that same night, I was going through the Sign-In Book I made a couple days before. Even though most guys at school would only sign them-not make them-I didn't care. I knew there had to be somebody I could call. Somebody I could talk to. Somebody who might understand the pain and heartbreak I was going through and actually give a crap.
Then I came to the page titled PHONE NUMBER ...
"398-5836" with the number 4 scrawled beneath it was the first one. I figured, what the heck? I'll give Mr. Sergio Valentes a call ... Why not?
Excerpted from BAND FAGS! by Frank Anthony Polito Copyright © 2008 by Frank Anthony Polito. Excerpted by permission.
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