Middle school. I mean, am I right? You might think it's appropriately named because, well, it's smack dab in the middle of high school and elementary school (why isn't it called low school?), but to me it's more like muddle through school. And that’s on good days. On bad days, it’s medieval torture school. Everyone talked it up about how awesome it was with more freedom, new friends, and easy electives like napping and finger painting. But all I got was a Wednesday morning fart in the face (after Taco Tuesday), or in other words, a new principal who hated my guts.
Before we get into that, allow me to introduce myself. Austin Davenport here, and this is my story. Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. I’m just going to come right out and say it. No suspense. No mystery. There are two villains in this story, Principal Buthaire (he says it’s French, but everyone calls him Butt Hair) and my brother, Derek. They are a match made in heaven, because my brother has the prized family butt chin, which means that everyone, including my parents, likes him more than me. At least it seems that way to me most of the time. Seriously, it's like he has a teeny tiny baby's butt on his chin. I don't know why everyone thinks it's so awesome. They've never seen the dark side of the butt chin. I don't even want to get into it, but let's just say that the cute little baby bottom ain't all that pretty when the dude eats chocolate pudding. I make myself feel better by calling him Butt Face, mainly behind his back, but sometimes I have the guts to whisper it when he's got his headphones on.
My parents are pretty smart people, but for some reason, they don't seem to realize that my brother is a putz. Never was it more apparent to me than during our first year of middle school together.
I should probably start at the beginning. I know it's confusing, the beginning of middle school, but try to keep up. It was the first day of sixth grade, our first year in Cherry Avenue Middle School. I know it sounds all sweet, warm, and fuzzy, but I assure you it was barely better than a flaming bag of poop. And when your brother is Derek Davenport, unfortunately, you get to know flaming bags of poop. I don't know where he gets it all.
Anyway, Cherry Avenue had a new principal because the old one was fired. Last year, the old principal let the eighth graders duct tape him to the wall for charity, which was fine and raised a lot of money for sick kids, but the students liked it so much that hordes of kids just started taping him to the walls every day. Pretty soon, the school was in chaos. My town implemented a new rule where you had to have ID or at least a mustache to buy more duct tape, but by that point, it was too late. Principal Puma had lost control and there was no turning back. So they brought in a former prison warden. I don’t know that for certain, but I’d bet my brother’s life on it that it’s true.
So it was the morning of the first day of school. I was reasonably excited, but also nervous. I liked school, outside of the fact that I have to be there with other kids. I stood at the bus stop with my best friend, Ben Gordon, and my next-door neighbor and friend that’s a girl (not girlfriend), Sammie Howell, talking coding. I know what you’re thinking, no, we weren’t the coolest kids, but coding’s not just for the geeks anymore. Full disclosure, though. I’m pretty much a geek.
My brother, Derek, tossed a football leisurely with a few of the older kids from our neighborhood. He was annoyingly good at sports, well, almost everything, especially tormenting me. He’s eleven months older than me, and as it so happens, was born in January, putting us in the same grade. Lucky me. It’s such a wonderful life experience having your older, bigger, better-at-everything, butt-chinned brother in school with you.
Stevie Stroudsburg overthrew the football. It tipped my brother’s fingers and helicoptered over toward us, stopping at my feet. I gave it a quick tap over to my brother with the hopes that he wouldn’t get too close and say something to embarrass or ridicule me.
“Thanks,” he muttered. He turned back toward his friends, and then back toward me. “Hey, you memorize your locker combo yet? I hope I remember mine.”
“Of course. 35-7-21,” I said confidently, and without thinking. I thought I caught a smirk surface on his annoying face before he turned to continue his football catch.
“Oh, my God,” I said to Ben and Sammie. “Do you think he’ll remember my combo?” I asked, beginning to sweat.
“He wouldn’t do anything bad with it, even if he did,” Sammie said. My brother could burn down the town and turn himself in and she still wouldn’t believe it. She’s had a crush on Derek for as long as I can remember. Hey, nobody’s perfect.
I looked at Ben for some assurance I could believe in. He always gave it to me straight, even if he knew I wouldn’t like the answer. “Dude, you’re in trouble. I’d ask Zorch for a new lock as soon as you get to school.”
“Who is Zorch?” Sammie asked, as the bus turned the corner and headed our way.
“He’s the custodian. You haven’t heard of Zorch? He’s a janitorial legend,” Ben answered.
“That’s not a thing,” Sammie said as she looked to me for support.
“He’s kind of right. I hear he once caught three kids in a snare trap for trying to steal back something Zorch confiscated. They were dangling upside down in the hallway for the whole period before he let them down.”
“That didn’t happen.” Sammie shook her head and frowned. “And I’m sure he’ll love me anyway.”
“Zorch doesn’t make many friends. Just don’t get on his bad side.”
“Like asking for a new lock on the first day?” I questioned nervously.
“Yeah, like that,” Ben responded, unhelpfully.
The bus rolled up and we all gathered in line, waiting for the doors to open.
“Here goes nothing,” I muttered so only Ben could hear me.
“Just keep your head down and mouth shut. Grab the first seat you can find closest to the front,” Ben said.
I nodded, but wasn’t sure if I should risk ridicule by sitting back closer to my brother. I was still worried about the lock combination. I wanted to repeat fake numbers with the hopes that he would forget my real combo. I climbed onto the bus, forced a smile at the driver, and chickened out by diving into the third seat next to Ben. Sammie slid into the seat across the aisle with Vickie Olsen, a sometimes quiet, sometimes annoying girl from around the block.
The bus ride in went reasonably well. There were a few random spitballs, but all in all, pretty harmless. Ben and I made it to Advisory, which my parents called, Home Room, with little trouble. It’s where we get advised to keep our mouths shut and listen to the morning announcements.
I sat next to Ben. We looked up at the speaker above the door as it crackled, awaiting the announcements. I’m not sure why everyone looked at the speaker, but we all did. There was a tapping and then a whiny voice squeaked, “Good morning. This is Principal Buthaire.” Most of the kids chuckled, already knowing his nickname. “Today, we enter a new era of education. Your Advisory teachers will be passing out the new rule books. Please read them and commit them to memory. They will be strictly enforced.”
I looked over at Mrs. Callahan, as she patted the stack of rule books. Each one was about two inches thick. Half the class groaned. The other half was still staring at the speaker and hadn’t seen the size of the new rule book.
Principal Buthaire continued, “We will be industrious. We will be compliant. We will set high, vigorous standards.” And then a whole bunch of other boring stuff that made us all realize we were in deep doo doo. I instantly hated all the kids who had duct taped the former principal to the wall. Was it worth it, guys?
After we received Principal Buthaire’s prison rules, we took attendance and then headed off to our classes. I had English and Math before meeting up with Ben in gym, where we were set to play every geek’s favorite game, dodge ball.
Ben had the guts to ask Mr. Muscalini what the purpose of dodge ball was. Sometimes I wonder if the dude has a death wish. I know geeks don’t like playing dodge ball, but there’s really not much we can do about it other than hide behind other kids or take a few hits to the face for everyone else’s viewing pleasure.
Mr. Muscalini couldn’t even fathom that the idea that jocks throwing things at geeks as hard as they could was somehow a bad idea. He furrowed his brow as he stared down at Ben. “What’s your name, son?” The glare, his deep voice and bulging muscles made it out to be a much more difficult question than it actually was.
Ben stammered, “Umm, Ben Gordon, sir?”
“Is that a question, Gordo?”
“No, sir. And it’s Gordon.” Ben straightened his shoulders and forced himself to look up into Mr. Muscalini’s eyes.
Mr. Muscalini raised an eyebrow. “Let me tell you something, Gordo. Dodge ball is life. It’s a part of the human condition. It’s been around for thousands of years. It brings out our inner spirit. Our manhood!” He grabbed Ben by the shoulder as he animatedly described the geek-crushing game. “Cavemen and gladiators played the great game of dodge ball thousands of years ago. With rocks that could kill each other.”
“That sounds...really scary.”
“Nonsense. Squash the fear, Gordo. Unleash your inner caveman!” Mr. Muscalini flexed his bicep for effect and then admired it. Greatly.
“Sorry to interrupt, sir, but is that all?” Ben asked.
Mr. Muscalini finally looked away from his enormous bicep. “That depends on whether or not you have embraced the great game of dodge ball.”
“I have, sir,” Ben said as he nodded.
“I knew you had it in ya, Gordo,” Mr. Muscalini said as he clapped Ben on the shoulder, nearly shattering his collar bone. “Try not to get killed out there.”
Ben turned back to me, his eyes bulging. He whispered, “He’s a nut job!”
Dodge ball went about as expected. My inner caveman was nowhere to be found. The only embracing that took place was geeks hugging in fear of getting crushed. It was horrifying. Ben took at least three hits to the face, while my butt had likely doubled in size from swelling. It was the worst 36 minutes of my life. And that’s saying a lot with Derek Davenport as my brother.
I left the gym with less blood and self-esteem than when I entered, but I was still standing. Jason Parnell had to be wheeled down to the nurse’s office in a wheelchair. And you know how kids are. By the end of the week, kids were saying that he nearly died and had to be medi-vacced to the hospital, not sure if they would be able to save his head. Which is not the kind of situation you want to be in, because last I checked, there’s no such thing as a prosthetic head.
I hustled down the hall to swap out some books from my locker, Ben at my heels. My big butt cheeks didn’t slow me down. I had planned out my route with precision and perfection. One swap after gym on the way to lunch and another after Spanish and I would be on time for all my classes. As I approached my locker, my mouth dropped open. My worst fear had been realized. Well, not really. My worst fear is getting eaten by an alligator. My second worst fear was getting Power Locked. I walked slowly toward my locker, my eyes focused on my padlock, which had been flipped backward and locked. The butt-chinned bandit had struck.
“Aaah, farts, man!” I said to no one in particular.
“Ooh, Power Locked. I think you just set the record for the earliest ever.”
“Shut up, Ben.” I love the kid, but sometimes he’s flat-out unhelpful.
As I stared at Ben, my mind raced. Something beyond Ben caught my eye. A hulking man, at least six foot five, stared at me from down the hall as he leaned on a mop. Zorch.
“I’m gonna be late for lunch,” I whined. “Who are we going to sit with?” I squatted down with my back to the locker and held out the lock, looking up at it.
“I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”
“Yeah, we’re doing such a great job of that so far,” I said sarcastically. I put in my combination and pulled the lock down. It jingled, but didn’t pop open. “Come on.” I tried it again. No luck.
“He must’ve switched out the lock. Maybe his. Do you know the combo?”
“If I knew the combo, it would be open.”
“Okay, Mr. Cranky Pants. Calm down. Aww, nuts. Here comes Zorch.”
“What?” I shrieked. This was the worst first day ever and it wasn’t even close to over. I looked past Ben to see Zorch lumbering down the hall, his eyes locked on mine. He showed no emotion. He was Frankenstein without the scars. If I hadn’t peed six times during dodge ball, I probably would’ve wet myself right there.
“Everything okay?” Zorch asked like a normal human being.
“I’ve had better days,” I said.
Zorch reached for his belt and grabbed a ridiculously oversized ring of keys. I wasn’t sure if he was a custodian or a dungeon master. Or both.
“Stand up,” Zorch ordered.
I got off the ground and dusted myself off. Zorch found the key he was looking for and inserted it into the back of the lock. It popped open with a quick twist. He removed it and put it in his pocket. He reached into his other pocket and pulled out a lock with a tag on it. “Here’s another one. The combo is on the tag.”
I grabbed the lock. “Thank you, Zor...Um, what’s your name, sir?” I asked as I looked up at his round, mustached face.
“Eugene, but the kids call me Zorch.”
“Which do you prefer?”
He shrugged and thought about it for a second. “Nobody’s really asked me that before. I guess I’ve grown to appreciate Zorch.”
“Nice mustache, by the way, Zorch,” Ben added. “Mine is coming in nicely.” He rubbed his completely bald upper lip affectionately.
I popped the lock open and secured my locker before slipping my new combo into my pocket. I would commit it to memory and burn it as soon as possible. I couldn’t risk another Power Lock.
“Thank you. You guys are alright.”
“Right back atcha, Zorch. The gym floor is a dream,” I called out as I took off down the hall. “Sorry if my blood is all over it,” I said to myself.
Ben looked back at me as he ran. “We might actually make it on time.” He disappeared around the corner.
I slid around the corner, making a wide turn and nearly slammed into Ben’s back. He stood at attention. A man with glasses and a clip-on tie with some sort of strange fish pattern glared down at us. It was the new principal. Uh, oh is right.