Business As Usual
If there was a scale employed to rate middle school popularity, Jenny would have been a ten, easily. She was pretty, she was vivacious, and her parents ran the mercantile in the center of town, and were part of the framework of the community. Her friends were the children of the movers and shakers of the small rural town, in which she was born.
There were only 120 kids in her school, 42 of them in her eighth grade class. They had been together since pre-school, with kids coming and going, but with a certain percentage of them ending up in the same class all the way through eighth grade. That made the social scale pretty hard to climb. You were who you were, until you got out of town, and went off to school to carve your own niche in a world that was yours to create.
Until then, if you were Jenny, you had it good. If you were Nigel, you had it good if you made it through the day, without somebody calling you Gelly Belly or Nigel the Nerd. He actually liked his first name but the kids did not. At least they weren’t going to let him know they one way or the other whether or not they liked it; they were just going to use it to make fun of him. The way Nigel saw it, if they didn’t make fun of his name, then they would laugh at him for his clothes, or more likely, they would make fun of him because he was a computer nerd.
Actually, he was more of a technology nerd than a computer nerd. He knew about the latest phones, especially the ones with internet capabilities. He was well-versed in the social networks, and he used technology religiously, when it came to school assignments. His language arts teacher gave him extra credit, every time he word-processed an assignment, and his science teacher regularly commended him on his ability to be able to google relevant information, to supplement what was being taught in the lab. On the popularity scale, Nigel was a four.
He wasn’t shunned, he wasn’t bullied, he was’t tortured, but he wasn’t sought out, either. No one hollered across the quad, when he first walked in through the gate, and made his way up to the lockers, “Hey, Dude, did you SEE that sick video on u-tube that...” No one asked him as he approached his locker, “Are you going to the dance on Friday, or not? I need to know.” No, Nigel was not on call, to be the next elected king, of the middle school social set. More like the doormat, er, doorman. He was there when they got there, and he was there when they left, and all points in between. It’s just that no one noticed him.
When he ran for homeroom treasurer, he got three votes, including his own. He had no clue as to where the other two votes came from. It’s not even that no one talked to him, or anything weird like that. He wasn’t a loner. There were other kids who were in kind of the same boat. They weren’t part of the popular set, so they were willing to hang out with anyone who was available, but they weren’t friends either. No one was kidding anyone about that.
Maybe if Nigel had been here since preschool, like so many of the others, it would be different. But he had come in at the start of sixth grade, because his parents figured the move would be less traumatic, since all kids had to switch schools when the went to middle school. They just did not take into consideration, that in a small rural school, they kids would all switch schools, all right, but that simply meant, they moved as a group, across campus, from where they had spent the first six years. Nigel was more of an outsider than ever.
So Nigel and Jenny were both in the same eighth grade class, and yet in as different positions within that eighth grade as could be. If they found themselves standing next to one another in line for the pencil sharpener, it is unlikely they would have engaged in conversation. What would they have talked about? Homework?
The little school had quite a reputation regionally, as a result of an ambitious teaching staff, which had collaborated back in the early nineties, to write a grant covering a technological facelift to the small school, that focused on a computer lab, and a class set of Apple Computers. Staff had been consistently in-serviced in the latest technological strategies, and were invited to participate in workshops and conferences, that were tech-oriented.
With techspertise being the ultimate goal, frequently conferences included a student component, which featured workshops offered to middle schoolers, so that they could learn strategies and take them back to other students. Participants in these student-attended workshops were carefully chosen, for a balance of tech-knowledge, and social acumen. It was probably a moot point if a kid knew all there was to know, if the knowledge remained inside that kid, because no one wanted to get near to him or her.
A kid like Nigel would do fine, because he was comfortable in his knowledge, without being socially inept. When the school was invited to a regional tech conference, Nigel was a natural selection as far as boys were concerned, and Frances from the girls, except that when the day came to drive down to San Francisco, Frances was in bed, with a temperature of 102 degrees.
The school had learned the previous day that Frances was ill, so a search was begun for a replacement. It was a quick search, because the computer technician was a good friend of Jenny’s parents, and they had been touting a particular college, that they were interested in for Jenny. This college required a thorough knowledge of technology, as it applied to higher education. So not only did Jenny need to be conversant in computerese, she needed to be able to use it to produce top level work, in competition with her peers.
Accommodations at the hotel in which the conference took place were very straightforward. Nigel was assigned a room with another middle school eighth grade boy, for the two nights they would be there, and Jenny was assigned a corresponding room, with an eighth grade girl. Jenny and Nigel were free to coordinate their schedules or not, depending on their own level of interest. They had driven down in the same vehicle as the computer tech, and had been immersed in their own reading material, much of it on their respective laptops.
About the only thing that engaged all three in conversation, was the upcoming conference. The had the syllabus in advance, and had outlined the workshops that interested all three, with at least three over the two days, being ones that both Nigel and Jenny were interested in attending. There had been some discussion of meals, with continental breakfasts and simple sack lunches being offered by the conference, so everyone would do his or her own thing at these meals, but they agreed to have dinner together.
They followed through on that plan, an hour after they had arrived, and had checked into the Hiatt Hotel in South San Francisco. They convened downstairs and met in the hotel’s restaurant for a light dinner, before retiring for the night. They enjoyed a relaxed meal, once more scanning the conference agenda, reading the descriptions of the different presenters, and talking about the elements of the conference that excited them. As it turned out, Jenny and Nigel would be attending the same presentation the following morning at 10:00, so as they went back up to their respective rooms, they had agreed to meet a half-hour earlier, and attend the event together.
Accordingly, they met as planned, and proceeded to the venue for their ten o’clock class, chatting easily about the hotel, the other kids, and their respective roommates. They got in and seated without a minute to spare, as the room quickly filled to capacity, and people started to line the back wall. Afterwards, they went directly to the main lobby of the hotel, where the sack lunches were offered, along with a choice of beverages. After each had chosen a juice, they went outside and ate while sitting on a brick wall, that ran along the entire length of the hotel, facing out onto the Pacific ocean. There was a light breeze, to go with the mid-sixties temperature, and they ate together comfortably, discussing the recently completed workshop.
“I thought that presenter dude was pretty classy. Did you see the way he made sure that those people who were sitting along the walls, each got one of the packets? I mean, I would have given mine up, but it was nice that everyone got one. Is it going OK for you?”
Nigel looked expectantly at Jenny, who automatically responded, “Yeah! It’s going fine. I am surprised that I don’t even mind giving up my weekend, to do, you know, school stuff.”
“Yeah, it’s funny how much I resist the temptation, normally. I guess it’s being in the City.”
“Yeah, my parents weren’t even going to listen to an argument from me, not that I would have. They wanted me to go to this conference, and I kind of wanted to go too. How often do you actually agree with your parents, you know?”
It was the first thing she had ever said to him, that seemed as though it were a shared moment. Until this time, all exchanges had been polite and may as well have been scripted, for all of the originality and animation involved.
I think I could like this girl. She may come from the popular sector, but her roots are home-grown. She’s actually talking to me. Interesting...
“You mean you don’t get along with your parents every minute of the day?” Nigel asked in mock astonishment.
He can actually communicate. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him talk. OK, I probably have, but I never bothered to listen.
“The days are fine; it’s the nights that suck. I am never let out of my dungeon, once the sun goes down.”
Well, that was easy. I mean, it sounds mean, but Daddy is such a tyrant, when all I want to do is chill with my friends. Besides, it’s not like Nigel is ever going to actually speak to the ‘rents.
“Huh, that’s funny. I can go out after dark, any time I choose.” Long pause. “Of course, I don’t choose to very often.” They both laughed.
Sure I go out after dark. I go out to shut off the generator, I go out to empty the trash and I go out to empty the compost, but that’s probably not what she’s talking about.
“I know all about ‘choice.’ My dad’s always telling me to ‘make wise choices.‘ I say to him, ‘Ok, fine. When can I start?’”
Lol. And I go out after dark all the time-out of my mind. Nigel has a quick mind-I like his sense of humor.
“At least you’re talking. That’s a good sign. What else do you talk about?”
I can’t believe I asked her that. As if she’d ever tell ME what she talks to her father about. Probably he tells her what jerks guys are. It’s not like I am going to be interested in what she and her daddy blab on about anyway.
“We talk about the Giants a lot. He’s old school, you know, been a Giants fan for a million years. Hates the American League, especially the Yankees, but it’s so easy to do, you know. Hate the Yankees...” She giggled.
WTF! She talks about the Giants and HATES THE YANKEES!
“Kind of like breathing, you know. Comes real natural. You know, I actually met a real Yankees fan, an old fart who actually went to games when the Babe was alive. I guess I just didn’t realize that some Yankees fans are the real McCoy, rather than, well, you know.”
He talked to someone who saw Babe Ruth in person? I would like to have asked him a question or six.
It’s fun to hate the Yankees, but you get to do it more often with the Dodgers. We play them 18 times a year. With the start that Kemp and Ethier are having-it’s unworldly. No way can they sustain it.” They shared another chuckle.
This girl knows her shit. How many girls can even name a player on the Dodgers? I could get to liking this little sweetie. Too bad she’s part of the popular circle. She’ll never speak to me back at school.
“Yeah, that’s the beauty that is baseball. It’s a marathon, just like life.”
“SIMILE!” They both called out the word at the same time and laughed again. They had a language arts teacher that paid them in school currency, when they identified literary devices.
Funny how such a silly thing can make me laugh so hard. I think I like this guy. He’s right about baseball being a marathon, and he’s right about life... Sigh...Why is he so invisible at school?
“Oh, shit! My next workshop is in fifteen. I am going to have to run. Thanks for..this. It’s been fun.” she took off, but only got about seven steps away, before she stopped and looked back at him. “See you at dinner?”
“Yeah, OK, sure. I mean, Yeah! OK! Sure!” She was gone.
Yeah, I’m supposed to be somewhere too. The difference is I don’t care if I make it or not. I wouldn’t exchange this past hour for the world. I don’t even care if she pretends we never had this weekend together cause nothing can take it away. And she asked me to dinner? OK, seriously, Dude, lol.
It ended all too soon, and the trip back up from San Francisco, was a lot livelier than the trip down had been, including a stop at the local Mexican food restaurant, an oasis of culinary excellence, in a desert of mediocrity.
Monday morning at school, Nigel was there early as usual, his dad having dropped him off, on his way out to the mill. He saw Jenny as she got out of her father’s car, and came across the lawn to her locker. She was talking animatedly to her friends, as she dumped her backpack in her locker, and slammed it shut quickly, to prevent any attempt on the part of the overflowing contents of her order-challenged personal school space, to escape. He strolled in her general direction, letting his eyes flick over to her, to gauge her reaction to seeing him. She did not appear to notice. OK. He could deal with that. He didn’t expect anything different. Why should it be? He was still the new kid, and she was Mistress of the Universe.
Well, it’s Showdown at the OK Coral, and I am the soon-to-be victim, of a shoot and run... or a shoot and shrug...is there any difference?
He continued on his way, oblivious to really anything but his own inner angst, at what he perceived as business as usual. It was all an illusion, and he was still invisible Gelly-Belly. The weekend was nothing but a dream, and he was nothing but a dreamer. Why had he thought anything would ever come of his weekend in another country, in another dimension, in another universe?
He was so immersed in his own created vortex of despair, it took Jenny two tries to penetrate his bubble. After the second attempt, he realized that she had asked him, “Hey, you! Nigel! How about Timmy?” And she gave him two thumbs up, and a radiant smile. “I have to go hunt down Sue, and give her my schedule, but we’ll compare notes at break, on the game. Are you down?”
AM I DOWN? No way, I am sky high!
“No, I mean, Yes! And you’re right, Timmy is...yeah, well, how about Timmy?” For once, he didn’t care if the words would not come out of his mouth. They would; he knew that. Especially if Jenny would be there to hear them.