Chapter 16: To Be, Or Not to Be
Take me down to the Paradise City,
Where the grass is green and the girls are pretty.”
– Guns n’ Roses
During the summer of 1988, I picked up a weekend job at the Brandon north hill McDonald’s. It was about a 40 minute commute from home, which was a pleasant drive for me and my “zero to 60…eventually” Mustang.
What I noticed immediately were the girls. No longer was I limited to the dismal interactions of small town females who dove into dark alleyways to avoid me. What blew my mind was the way they would talk to me like I was an actual human being. This was obviously because none of them had any idea of my comically embarrassing past. And man, did I relish in this experience. And every now and then me and some teenage vixen would chat in the lunchroom, which would usually bring up one question.
“Which school do you go to?”
I’d mention my hometown and nobody knows where it even is. Good. These kids all go to the big city schools. If she turned her head I’d grab a quick glance at the wild sweater muffins. Then later during another lunch break I’d talk to another girl. This was becoming downright habitual. I imagine how neat it would be to go to school with these people instead of…
Suddenly a crazy idea takes root in my brain. Yes, this might actually be possible. Once again I sneak a quick glance at youthful bosoms and have two firm reasons to put my mad scheme into action. But first I needed to run my idea by a trusted confidant. The only person alive who could possibly have the insight and intelligence to see things my way…
Barry sat in the tourist booth eating a muffin, gawking at the latest Punisher comic and occasionally passing gas as a sign he was still alive. It was a day off work for me which meant I hung out with Barry and pondered life’s mysteries. Like if Mr. Fantastic ever got a pulled muscle or if Superman and Lois could truly ever have kids.
“You know, at work yesterday I must have spent a whole half hour talking to a babe.”
“She have a nice rack?” Barry says, barely taking his attention away from a comic book.
“Excuse me, but I’m a gentleman,” I say.
He turns to look at me like I’m full of it, as I clearly am.
“Yes! They were freaking amazing!”
A few moments pass, as does more of Barry’s internal combustion. Whatever he’s eating, the man needs to stop. I crack open the door to get some fresh air and conclude it’s time to put my Don Draper sales pitch into play.
“Dude, if I have to spend one more minute in this hayseed town I’m going to set myself on fire,” I tell him. Barry understands all too well. He’s less than thrilled with the place too.
“Well unless you’re going to run away and join the circus, you better just accept it,” he says.
“Do we?” I raise an eyebrow, careful to put an emphasis on the ‘we’. “What if I said I was thinking of finishing high-school somewhere else? Like Brandon.”
“You’re going to drive an hour to Brandon every day for school?”
I smile. “What if we got an apartment? Think of it! Me, you, the big city and none of this garbage. No more camel-town and stuck-up girls who won’t give me the time of day.”
“Us,” Barry corrects.
“Of course. I meant us.” Yeah, sure I did.
“Barry…Bartholomew…we have to do this. Destiny demands we do this! Man, I’m even starting to think your sister is cute.”
His eyes widen in horror. “Good Lord…!”
Suddenly the inspiration takes over and I stand like I’m about to break into a scene from Hamlet. “To be, or not to be…that is the opportunity that stands before us. Right now my friend. There’s no tomorrow.”
I reach for a couple of bran muffins and fondle them gently like endangered tribbles. “I want the radiance of warm hooters shining on my face like the noonday sun!” I bite into a muffin and pause like its pure ambrosia. “I want to get all up in it yo, even though I have no idea what that even means.”
Barry’s face becomes very serious. Like me, I know he often pondered the anatomical complexity of a fine set of hooters. I drive the stake home, “To be or not to be, dude. I get to not be Ralph Macchio’s discount stunt-double and you get to not be, well…Barry.”
He’s sold, but not without reservation. “Parents. No way they’re going to accept a couple of seventeen-year-olds doing this. Especially us.”
I sit back on the bench and give a cocky grin like I know what I’m doing. I really don’t. “Oh ye of little faith. Leave that to me.”
To my parents credit, my degrading school situation had been something they were also concerned about. I think that background made the following conversation go much easier than expected.
First, I had to get them together in the living room for a family one-on-one. These didn’t happen often at all. In fact, the last time it did was when my then seventeen-year-old sister said she was pregnant. They momentarily wondered if I had knocked some girl up, but then laugh to themselves at the absurdity. This kid had the sex appeal of Napoleon Dynamite and wasn’t getting anywhere near a female reproductive system.
“Mom, Dad…what would you say if I wanted to graduate from a Brandon high school?”
The idea is not dismissed outright. In fact, they slowly say that it might not be a bad idea. Wow, that was easy. What a couple of suckers. Time for phase two.
“I think it’s a great idea. I know some kids who tell me Vincent Massey is a good place. Of course, it’s a long drive to make every day. Soooo…” I take a deep breath and make every effort to sell that Indigenous northerner a fridge.
“Me and Barry were thinking of renting an apartment. Roommates to share the cost.” There. I said it.
They sit there and look at each other and nod. Wait, are they agreeing this quickly? Was I that impossible to live with? I conclude that being an insufferable jerk really does pay off.
“On one condition,” my Mom says. “You both graduate.”
“I’ve already got the school picked and I’m absolutely not going to be a dropout. Deal!”
And just like that, with no arguing, I got the green light to start over and leave home at seventeen with fellow ex-con, Barry. It seemed a little coincidental that my parents were soon dancing and spraying champagne on themselves, but like Cheap Trick says, Mommy and Daddy just seem a little weird.
The next day me and Barry scour Brandon and bag a nice two-bedroom apartment on the south side. We would move in August, and school would start in September. I managed to get more hours at McDonalds selling cancer-sandwiches and everything was firmly in place. It didn’t just feel good. It felt euphoric.
Barry likewise managed to secure the same deal from his parents. But I knew things were strange when I went to my new high school to do the application paperwork. Barry never came with me. In fact, Barry never bothered to do any application at all for any of the high schools. It soon became clear that Barry was opting to be a dropout. Knowing this, I did the only honorable thing. I kept my mouth shut. I did not want my parents to find out and pull the plug on my operation. I would tell them…after they signed the forms. Maybe.
My first walk through Vincent Massey High on registration day blew my ever-loving mind. It was a bigger school compared to what I had grown up with. My mom accompanied me to sign forms since I was still legally a minor. All I knew was that as long as I could get dear, sweet Mother to sign on the dotted line, I could get back to more serious business like saying goodbye to Hicksville. Come on, sign it. Sign it you gullible sucker…come onnnnn…yes…Ha! Done!
We got a complimentary tour around the facilities, in particular the Art studio. I was floored by all the high-end equipment and signed up for that class right away. Mom and Dad had a sense of peace about it too, seeing their boy happy and free of the schoolyard BS that had been my life for so many years. I looked around and saw tons of other parents with their kids during orientation as well. And by extension, lots of girls. Yowza, there must be, like, hundreds of them!
The warm feeling in my heart, and elsewhere, was all I needed to tell me the next year was going to be great.
Still, I needed to make one last goodbye.