Josh was new in town and therefore new at school. He was a newcomer, an outsider, a newbie. Take your pick because they all applied. He came from the city had been transferred to the country. He knew about bus transfers and subways; he didn’t know about how gauges worked, as in 12 gauge shotgun, and .22 caliber rifle, and what buckshot was. He knew how to get into the padlocked outside basketball court, and he could sleep through a dozen ambulance sirens, without breaking pace with his snoring. But he didn’t know how to ride a quad, and he’d never owned a dog. He didn’t know why some dogs terrified him and others were fine.
Most importantly, he didn’t know how to talk to the girls. He had never had trouble at his old school, because he had gone to the same elementary school from 1st through 6th grade, with pretty much the same group of kids, and it had been fun. Then when he went to middle school, there were still a bunch of his friends there also. So even though he was in the middle of a big city, he had friends.
Now he was in the country, in a little town half-way between San Francisco and Eureka, with a population of three digits. The population of this whole town would have fit in our gymnasium, he’d thought too himself, but he was careful not to make those observations aloud. For being thirteen, an age known for brashness, Josh was pretty reserved. He was good at thinking first, and making comments second. It was a trait that had served him well. He thought it better to stay on the fringes, until someone invited him in. The worst thing was to offer something up in the way of conversation, and have everyone just stand there, not saying a word. Better to wait.
His homeroom teacher had tried to help him out by introducing him and asking everyone to be welcoming, and all that stuff, but it had still been weird. Maybe not weird, so much as awkward. He knew it took time, but he also knew that every minute he had to chill by himself, was the same thing as an hour in everyone else’s world. That’s just the way it was for a new kid.
The focus was on all the wrong sports. He was good at football; here the kids all played soccer during football season. A bunch of them wrestled, a sport he had never considered, because he knew his father would never let him. It was not a sport he was either comfortable or familiar with. He was into basketball, and though there were kids here who played at recess and lunchtime, it was still not the big sport. Finally, he was a runner, and here they all played baseball. Everyone played baseball, and if they didn’t play, they went and watched the games, all day Saturday, and Tuesdays and Thursdays after school. He heard all about it, more than he ever wanted to.
And so the first week came interminably to a close, after what he calculated to be an eternity, made all the longer by his inability to engage one girl in one lousy conversation. It’s not that they were mean, it’s just that he had been off balance all week, and not at all comfortable. He was no lady-killer at his best, but he sure was at his worst--good at killing his chances with all of the walking visions of loveliness he saw on all sides of him. This might be a small town, a hick town, but it was still NorCal, where the girls are known for being the best at making their boyfriends wish they could all be California girls.
Josh knew he would have no trouble if he just had a little time to work with, but the waiting until then was miserable. He was especially frustrated because there was no one for him to go to, to ask the right questions. He felt like the stranger in an even stranger land. To make matters worse, he learned that there was a dance at the end of the second week of school, just to welcome everybody back, which normally would have something he would have looked forward to, but now dreaded.
He could just stay home, but all that would do is prolong the agony; no, he would go and make the best of it. He would just not set his sights on the crown jewel, but be content with an accompanying gem. There was certainly no shortage of available jewelry at this little rural school; all he would have to do is get out his jeweler’s drill, sander and buffer and and be ready to do some fine-tuning.
But how was he going to adequately demonstrate his technique with the local jewels, if he could not get them to notice him? He wanted them to at least notice him in some kind of starring role, as opposed to being the side-show exhibit. He’d have to work on that.
The dance was scheduled to take place at the town community center, a structure that served multiple purposes, that spanned the chasm between the most joyous to the most poignant and sad of life’s events. There was a kitchen, the restrooms, and two additional rooms that had been added on over the years, and served specific purposes for various local organizations, who would schedule the hall, months in advance.
The middle school had hired a high school student who was known for his DJ repertoire, and Student Council had procured the necessary refreshments to accompany such an auspicious event. All was in place as school broke up Friday afternoon, and students scattered to go home and get ready for the social event of the fall.
Josh hoped he would see Desiree, a star in his math class, who was not afraid of being labeled a brain, and being placed on the off-limits list, by the popular kids. She was pretty, without being cover girl perfect, an image he had zero interest in. The brains who didn’t care about labels, were the ones most likely to escape the stigma that being smart could create. It was all about perception, which is why Josh felt so vulnerable. All of his athletic tools were put on the back burner, by the circumstances of his specialty sports, being just the opposite in this town. They were the leftovers, and Josh was on the same shelf in the refrigerator, as far as the fairer gender was concerned. He needed a forum to demonstrate that he was a force in his old school, and could be so again, here in his new school.
Pretty much everyone was at the dance and the music reflected that, being an eclectic blend of country, pop culture, and reggae, representing the diversity of Northern Mendocino County in the 21st century. The hall was decorated by student council, the music was blaring, the refreshments were here, Desiree was here, he was here and the time had arrived to take the necessary [dance] steps to escape his solitary existence.
There was something astir in the nether regions of the hall, over on the far side, where a set of locked double doors still blocked entry into the final room of the hall. Apparently, a request had gone out to the powers that be, for ingress into the inner sanctuary, and said permission was granted. Now a ripple of excitement went through the hall, rivaling Steele Pulse thrumming in the air, and Josh was intrigued. What was about to be unveiled?
He drifted over, noting that there was intense interest, from a limited segment of the student body, with the majority less interested. The beat went on around him, because he noted that Desiree was in the group the was interested in that inner sanctuary. What were the chances that he would be able to take advantage of this setting to bring himself into the limelight?
He heard the answer before he saw it. The Snick-crack of stick hitting cue ball, and cue ball smacking another pool ball, propelled a jolt of electricity through his very soul. Josh was the Master of the Universe on a pool table. Miraculously, his apartment building, back in the city, had had a pretty beat up model down it the basement, that he had grown up playing on, with the homies in his building. The fact that it was in terrible condition, meant that when he got on a real table, he was the undisputed pro from Dover.
Josh had just found his spotlight; all he needed to do was direct the beam to his cue stick, now serving as his jeweler’s drill, ready to go to work on the gem of his choice. Desiree had joined the others in the room, and Josh had to keep himself from chortling for joy. He had found his forum.