Time past the way it always does. I wasn’t making any friends at school but I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything, given my options.
I tried joking around with the kids in my classes but none of the rules I thought I knew seemed to apply here. Figuring out what was “cool” at Cow Country High was like playing some hick version of Three Card Monte. The gag was on me. I didn’t know anything about “Yeah, we drive a BMW… a Big Mormon Wagon, HUH, HUH, HUH.” It was a little early for me to be dancing close with a girl and have someone say, “Leave room between you for the Book of Mormon” and then come back with, “There’s room between us for the Book of Mormon… on CD. HUH, HUH, HUH.” And I certainly didn’t know about calling people a “Renob.” But if I knew then the things I know now, I totally could have ruled at that school. The question is: Would I have wanted to?
There were only a handful of teachers at the school. Every teacher seemed to wear at least three hats, which is ironic being as hats are not allowed in any school in Utah (The exception being: if you are a girl you may wear a hat on school grounds because “it’s part of the outfit.” Technically, once you add a hat to ANYTHING you may be wearing, male or female, doesn’t it automatically become PART OF THE OUTFIT? Just another incomprehensible thing I SHOULD have understood before I arrived at the school, I guess.) By “three hats” I mean to say: my Algebra teacher was my Health teacher was my Driver’s Education teacher and so on.
The school principal was my English teacher. The first thing he did was assign us to write a story about anything. From February on, I spent most of my time focusing on writing that story. I will post the story on the web soon for your reading pleasure if I can find my copy of it. But another thing the principal did was to break the class into groups to prepare for an oral report on “What do I see myself doing five years from now?”
I was in a group with a “super-senior,” which is someone who should have graduated already but has failed to do so. Let us call him Donny Osmond because he hails from the quintessential Mormon family. How many Osmonds can you fit in the cab of a pickup truck? I think the answer will always be “at least one more.” It’s always a party when you have a big family.
Anyhow, to help him prepare, I asked Donny what his plans were for the next five years. He told me, “Well, I plan to graduate high school and then go on a mission and then probably go to college.”
I was still ignorant to what Mormons were all about at the time, so I had to ask, “What do you mean you’re going to ‘go on a mission’? You’re going to join the marines and go on a mission, like Chuck Norris/Delta Force?”
And that gave us something to talk about for the next ten minutes; about how he was going to feed Jesus’ sheep. And he got up and told the class his one sentence just like he told me and they didn’t have any questions at all.
Almost right after Donny was done, his younger sister Marie got up in front of the class and outlined her own plans for the next five years: “I’m going to graduate high school and then get married and have lots of babies; Twelve of them.”
To me, it sounded like the girl was hot to trot. He’s a little bit Country, she’s a little bit Rock n’ Roll. But again, the one sentence came across as normal to everyone else so I wasn’t about to risk opening my big mouth.
Being friendless wasn’t bothering me, but one day my step-dad came to me and said, “There’s a kid next door named Beanpolio who is about your age. You guys should go do something together.” I asked, “Does he seem pretty cool?” My step-dad said, “Well. He wears glasses and he kind of walks like he’s got a stick up his butt… but he seems alright.”
I appreciate my step-dad for his upfront, yet diplomatic, assessments of people.
It seems like Beanpolio talked to me first and we ended up taking some inner-tubes into the mountains to slide down some hills and build some snow caves under a vivid blue sky and accommodating winter sun. There was a mountain field with a deep stream meandering every which way and it created a fantastic canyon of steep jumbled snow drifts leading down to the icy waters. The canyon was curvy and beautiful enough that we couldn’t resist riding to the bottom on our tubes.
The ride was short and sweet and we were still smiling and laughing as we stared up the steep walls around us wondering how in the devil we were ever going to get out from there. There was a split moment when we really thought we were in trouble but we just kept talking and laughing and trying to scale the granular walls and we crawled out without any need to worry. However, we both decided a second ride down would be unwise.
Beanpolio also invited me to play volleyball with the adults of our town on Wednesday nights. I showed up nearly every week. I think he showed up about two times. But I got to know people around town so it was okay. And at school, nothing seemed to change. Beanpolio would say hello to me occasionally but he rarely associated with me to the degree that anyone might mistake us for friends.
One thing about school: the kids, like myself, from the east side of the lake (primarily, the boys) seemed to be lumped together as “the usual suspects” for anything that went awry at the school. At this time, there weren’t that many boys from the east side so a couple of boys named Geppetto and Sven seemed to take the fall for everything. “The janitor is missing his keys. Get Geppetto and Sven in here!”
One day, I was talking to Beanpolio and somehow we got talking about emergency services like 911. I told him that there were other emergency phone numbers like 611 for other purposes but he did not believe me. So what did he do but pick up the payphone in the school hallway and dial that number just to prove me wrong. When a lady answered (who was probably the 911 operator as well) Beanpolio freaked out and handed the phone to me. I took the phone and said to the lady, “Beanpolio wants your body.” And then I hung up. Then we fled the area.
Moments later I heard a page over the school intercom, “Geppetto and Sven! Please come to the office!” Apparently, I had not attracted their suspicion yet. This was my freebie. I never heard anything else about the prank call. You should also note that the school was small enough that when they paged someone to the front office, they did so only by their first name. There were only one or two exceptions to this, like when TWO guys were named Beanpolio, but I will do you a favor and assign every one a different alias.
There was another teacher who was the King of the Cowboys. Let us call him The Dook. Of course he taught several completely unrelated classes. He also owned a ranch, wore Wrangler Jeans and Brushpopper shirts and hid his chew behind his shiny hubcap of a belt buckle. He was also the assistant to the assistant principal; third in line to the reins of the school. Beanpolio also pointed out to me the thirteen year old girl who tended his children so extensively that she had her own room at his house. Beanpolio said that he was banging that girl like crazy. You have to earn a name like The Dook. He wasn’t a diamond but he made the rough sparkle and shine. Tin can shine. It just needs to be rubbed a lot.
In the high elevations of Utah you should expect to be buried in snow. One day we got to school and a solid blanket of snow was dropping on us from dark clouds overhead. Kids started throwing snowballs at each other and some of the more aggressive kids brought a few snowballs into the school. Someone threw a snowball at Beanpolio. He picked up the broken pieces and tried to press them into something that would pass as a snowball. When he raised the snowchunk to throw it, the stern voice of The Dook came rumbling down the halls, “Beanpolio! Don’t you dare throw that snowball!”
A sheepish grin spread across Beanpolio’s face and for a second he acted as though he might throw the snow at The Dook himself. The Dook said, “Do it and die. Beanpolio.” And then The Dook confidently turned his back on us and started to walk away. I used facial movements to tell Beanpolio, “Throw it at him!”
Beanpolio’s face shook with fear. There was no time for dawdling. I grabbed the chunk of snow from Beanpolio’s hand and hurled it at The Dook. The snow hit him in the center of his salt and pepper head.
The Dook’s voice grew louder than ever, “BEANPOLIO!!!”
Beanpolio was squirming in his shoes, “I didn’t do it!”
The Dook demanded to know, “WHO DID?”
Every finger in the front lobby of the school (the common’s area, as they call it) pointed damningly at me, including the finger of Beanpolio. I had never felt such betrayal. Is there no code among kids in Utah, aside from “do what you’re told or at least make it appear that way?” I turned to my unreliable pupils and pathetically cried, “What is wrong with you people?”
The Dook walked over and grabbed the back of my neck. He shoved me outside beneath the dark clouds and the falling snow. I didn’t fight him. This was my first time in trouble at the school. I wanted to see what he would do.
He took me to a snow bank and pushed my face into the white powder. Then he let go and walked back into the school. And as a rotten teen, I had to have the last word. I popped back into the school with a smiling dripping face. I said, “I can’t believe how GOOD that felt. That was REFRESHING!”
I guess I said it for my own sake. I knew all of the minds inside were sour. But maybe sour was all the rage at Cow Country High.