In which our hero complains about his assigned seat.
You can’t make this shit up.
That’s what Garland Lenox would say about this story—my story—the story of how I tried to win back Sadie Evans, my super famous ex-girlfriend. Of course, Garland said that a lot. It was his go-to reply anytime anyone raised so much as a skeptical eyebrow at one of the more outrageous details of his own life story. Details like …
“Scientists said they’d never heard of a Great White that far up the Mississippi River, but when they pulled its tooth from my leg they had to rewrite their little science books.”
“Saddam Hussein never could remember all the rules to chess. He’d move pawns backward and he wouldn’t even touch his bishops because he said they were papists.”
“The Super Bowl is faker than professional wrestling. I know the fella in Bakersfield who used to write scripts for the NFL. Why’d you think they take two weeks off before the big game? It’s so the players can rehearse.”
Garland would watch you while he told his tales, and if he saw even a shadow of disbelief he’d pounce: “Son, you can’t make this shit up.”
In the week I knew the old man he said those words to me approximately sixty-three times, though for the record I’m not his son. Garland called everyone son, even Parker sometimes, though I’m pretty sure he knew she was a girl. Also for the record, I never once accused Garland of making up anything, though I usually had my doubts, and sometimes my face would betray me. But in my defense, you’d likely catch a raised eyebrow at the final table of the World Series of Poker after Garland said something like, “NASA built a space station on the dark side of the moon and they’ve been sending teams up there twice a week since 1974. I went there once in the eighties and trust me, it’s boring as hell. Just a bunch of nerds playing Atari.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself. This story—my story—began on a Monday, April 13th, which coincidentally was a year to the day from Black Saturday (the day I lost Sadie Evans), and not so coincidentally the day I met Garland Lenox. I was a junior then, at J. P. Hornby High school in Hornby, Alabama, a little town east of Birmingham named after Josiah Prescott Hornby, a former Alabama governor known best for keeping a passel of pet possums in the governor’s mansion.
“He was also a self-taught dentist,” our history teacher, Mr. Graham, said when one of my classmates broached the subject of our collective embarrassment, but we told him that only made it worse.
On that fateful morning I walked into Mr. Graham’s first period class and groaned when the realization I was about to spend five straight days in that abyss of despair manifested itself in a stabbing pain behind my left eye. Like boy bands, each class at J. P. Hornby was awful in its own way, but I hated Mr. Graham’s class in particular because of our alphabetically assigned seats, something he claimed sped up the attendance-taking process.
Of course there were shouts of protest when he arranged us on day one, because everyone knows last names are too arbitrary of a way to assign seats. Mr. Graham’s alphabetical reign of terror was particularly unkind to me. My last name is Green, because my ancestors had green teeth or began recycling way before it was cool. And because of this, in a cruel twist of surname fate, I had to spend sixty minutes each morning sitting behind Tyler Godfrey, who hadn’t cut or washed his hair since getting into Lord of the Rings cosplay in eighth grade, and in front of Parker Haddaway, the terrifying new girl who’d spoken exactly two words to me since her January arrival.
“Hi, I’m Edwin.”
That said, I thought pretty much everyone at J. P. Hornby was a dick slap, so in reality every seat was an assigned seat between two people who’d serve time if mouth breathing were ever declared illegal. But even I’d have enjoyed a change of scenery once in a while.
Monday was our first day back at school from spring break, and I sat there between Parker and Tyler’s gross hair, rubbing my head and trying not to listen to the what and where of everyone’s vacations, when Mr. Graham walked in and all conversation slid to a stop.
“It’s April 13th,” he shouted, slamming both hands hard on his desk, “and that means we only have five weeks left together. So we’re going to spend the next four of them learning about World War II, and then we’ll cram the last sixty years of US history into one week because the people in Montgomery who created your curriculum are imbeciles.”
A murmur of excitement passed over the room, but only because wars sound like a departure from the doldrums of history, when in fact they’re no more exciting to study than the Teapot Dome Scandal. Mr. Graham drove this point home over the next fifty minutes as he droned on about the end of World War I and the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. He didn’t even mention Hitler until the last five minutes or so, and only to tell us he’d written a book called Mein Kampf.
Then, only a few minutes before the bell freed us, Mr. Graham closed his notes and said, “You’re all going to hate me, but for the next four weeks you will have an outside assignment. In teams of two you will interview someone who lived through World War II. Correction— someone who lived through and remembers World War II. If your great aunt Myrtle was born in 1944, that’s not going to cut it. I will provide a question each Monday, and on Fridays you will report back what your eyewitness to history had to say. This will bring history to life in a way this outdated textbook …” And here he held aloft his copy of US History 1866–2009before dropping it to the ground with a thud. “… could never do.”
Groans of dissent rose from around the room but Mr. Graham silenced us with a raised hand. “As for teams,” he said, “you have sixty seconds to find a partner or I will assign one for you. Ready, go.” I watched as three dozen juniors calmly began pairing up by social status with alarming efficiency. I didn’t move. There was no need to. Soon Tyler Godfrey would turn around and say, “I’m glad to be partners with you, Edwin Green … here at the end of all things,” and I’d say, “Yeah, sure, whatever.” I counted to five in my head, and on cue Tyler turned around and began to speak, but a voice behind me said, “Forget it, Frodo. Edwin Green is mine.”
Tyler’s eyes widened, and my eyes widened, and he quickly turned around leaving me to face the terror behind me alone. I took a deep breath, then four more, and turned around to acknowledge my partner, but she had earbuds in and appeared to be sleeping. What the hell?
Mr. Graham spent the last minute of class extolling the academic benefits of his assignment over a rising crescendo of objections, and as always he kept going after the bell rang because he liked to shout his final words of the day over the bustle of closing books and zipping backpacks. “Remember,” he shouted, “to know nothing of what happened before you were born is to forever remain a child. Ten points if anyone knows who said that. Anyone? No one?”
It was class tradition for someone to answer “Beyoncé” to Mr. Graham’s extra point question, but that day everyone shuffled out in silence, pissed off about this new time consuming assignment. Seemed we all believed we had better things to do than drive around town interviewing geriatrics about world wars. Well, everyone except for Parker Haddaway, who was still asleep at her desk when I left the room. Sooner or later I’d have to talk to her about the assignment, but I figured it could wait until after lunch. I’d skipped breakfast, and she was not the sort of person you could to talk to on an empty stomach. So I went to my locker and grabbed my shorts for second period gym.
In which our hero and his best friend discuss religion
and human sexuality with a cavalcade of morons.
“People say she’s a lesbian.”
Coach Cowden only required strenuous exercise from the J. P. Hornby football team during gym class, while the “civilians”, as he called the rest of us, were left to loiter around the track for sixty minutes as he sat in his office and daydreamed of parlaying his current job into one with the Crimson Tide. Never mind he’d led the J. P. Hornby Possums to three consecutive winless seasons, the man was eternally optimistic, and I admired that. That day, like every other, I walked around the track with Fitz Lee, my best friend since third grade, and the only person at school I purposely spoke to. Fitz’s parents divorced three years ago on account of his dad being gay, which made the Lees a hot topic of the Hornby grapevine. It also left Fitz and me with an understanding, and we never discussed his folks or Black Saturday, though jokes were never off limits.
“Green, I’m pretty sure she’s not a lesbian,” Fitz said. “People only started saying that after she turned down a date with Buzz Booker.”
“No offense, but your family isn’t known to have the most accurate gaydar.”
Hornby Martial Arts had named Fitz their top student for twelve consecutive years—he was practically a ninja—and had anyone else in school said this he would have sent them to the hospital with a dislocated trachea, but all I got was a bruising punch to the arm.
“She turned down the date with Buzz Booker,” I said, rubbing my arm, “because she’s into girls.”
“Or because she’s not into meathead linebackers who read on a second-grade level.”
“How dare you. Buzz Booker is a gentleman and a scholar,” I said, and Fitz laughed.
But it wasn’t just Buzz Booker. In the first five days of her midyear arrival, Parker Haddaway declined dates with no less than a dozen of J. P. Hornby’s most eligible bachelors. Actually, declined might not be a strong enough word to describe the voracity with which Parker rejected her potential suitors, since she told half to consume feces and die, and the other half to go have sexual relations with themselves. After seeing our top guns crash and burn in such spectacular fashion, the rest of the guys at school pretty much left her alone, though her multitude of early admirers gives you some idea of Parker’s allure, even if most days she wore jeans and an old army surplus jacket. A week later the rumors began, and before long Buzz Booker et al. began propagating a revisionist history where they repelled Parker’s unwanted advances, although never within her earshot, since she scared even our scariest football players.
“Are you guys talking about Parker Haddaway?”
Our conversation had drawn the attention of a passing gaggle of senior girls all wearing the same teal running shorts and last year’s prom T-shirt, “Enchanment Under the See.” Yes, the senior class misspelled half the words on their prom T-shirts, and yes, the senior class was full of morons.
“Yeah,” Fitz said, before I could say no. “Green has to interview old people with her for history class.”
“I heard she’s a lesbian,” the tallest of the three girls said between smacks of gum.
I gave Fitz a knowing look and he asked the girl, “And whom did you hear that from?”
“Buzz Booker,” the girl said, and Fitz returned my look.
“Don’t you think it’s possible someone might not want to date Buzz Booker?” Fitz asked, but the girls all shook their heads no.
“Maybe she’s asexual,” the shortest girl said.
“Yeah, like a fern,” the middle girl agreed.
“Are y’all talking about Parker Haddaway?”
Now a couple of sophomore guys had stopped to join the conversation.
“Yeah,” the shortest girl said, “She and Edwin have to interview old people about lesbians for history class.”
“That’s not exactly—”
“I don’t think she’s a lesbian,” one of the guys said. “We live down the street from her and her aunt. My mom said they’re Jewish, and Jews can’t date outside their religion because of the Holocaust and all.”
“What is Buzz Booker?” the shortest girl asked.
“Sith,” Fitz said, but only I laughed.
“You’re thinking of Muslims,” the other guy said. “Jews can date whoever they want because odds are that person was Jewish in a past life.”
“You’re thinking of Hindus,” I said.
“But she doesn’t have one of those dots on her forehead,” the tallest girl said.
“I’m not saying Parker is Hindu. Hindus believe in—never mind.”
“She’s a cop.” Jeff Parker, our school’s most notorious pothead had stopped to join the conversation.
“She’s not a cop,” Fitz said.
“Like you’d know, gay-dad,” Jeff said, then flinched and backed away when Fitz halfheartedly karate chopped in his direction. Shaken, Jeff the stoner continued, “These cops try and pass themselves off as students but they’re easy to spot. She says she’s seventeen, but that girl is twenty-two, at least.”
“Makes sense,” the tallest girl said. “I heard she hooks up with that Todd dude who sells iPhone cases in the mall, and he’s like twenty-nine. If she were really seventeen they’d arrest him.”
“I thought she was a lesbian,” I said.
“And lesbians don’t want free iPhone cases?” the middle girl shot back.
“Exactly,” Jeff said. “And why do you think she misses so much school and never gets in trouble? It’s because she’s in meetings down at the precinct.”
“So has she tried to buy drugs from you?” I asked.
“I don’t sell drugs,” Jeff said with a scowl, then conceded, “but no, she hasn’t. I tried to talk to her once in the hall and she stared at me until I walked away.”
“Me too,” the shortest girl said.
Then they all stood there silent for a moment, having exhausted J. P. Hornby’s second favorite topic of gossip, before turning to their favorite.
“So Edwin,” the tallest girl finally said, “have you talked to Sadie lately?”
Everyone turned their attention to me, and I was about to tell them to go play in traffic, but Coach Cowden bellowed from his office window, “This isn’t social hour, ladies, get moving!”
“Come on,” I said to Fitz, and we resumed our slow orbit around the track, leaving the rest of them to discuss me and the dating practices of reincarnated Jewish lesbian narcs.