Since the cold and snow were letting up, we started playing basketball after school on the humble little court in Dutch John. One night there were new kids on the court. They had just moved in to town. It was Minnow and the Epitome-of-Sweetness. And because I am awesome at first impressions, I believe that was the night my brother and I got into a scuffle on the basketball court. For some reason we occasionally get into fights when we play sports. It’s mostly my brother’s fault but I think it was my fault that night.
Minnow has told me the story again and again: his father announced to the family that they were all moving to Cow Country on April 1. He thought it was a joke. And when all of their stuff was packed in a truck and he had a new room in a new house and he saw the glorified trailer park lacking paved roads where he would attend school, he thought the joke had gone too far.
Minnow’s first sister was so sweet because she looked like a little pioneer girl in their family photos and she idolized Ty Detmer for his prowess on the football field at Brigham Young University where one of her other brothers was in school. But sweetness is wasted on me. I am much better at annoying-older-brother, so we called her sloth because she wouldn’t run when we played basketball and if you confronted her about it she would disrupt the game by pointing to a mystery bump on the calf of her leg and claim that it was cancerous.
Minnow inadvertently and begrudgingly took Cow Country by storm. Geppetto had an older sister named Cordelia and Cordelia was the uncontested and reigning leader in Grade Point Average at Cow Country High. To be honest, there was nobody at the school who cared to give her a challenge. But Minnow moved in and his GPA was the better. Fair-haired Minnow was 6’3”, went to church, had the highest GPA in town and was awarded the schools “Outstanding Male” certificate within weeks of his arrival.
This is probably one of those seldom times that a discouraging word was heard on the range and it was heard most loudly from Minnow. The award was given as a flattering gesture but it was more of a symbol as to how pathetic and desperate the school really was and, as the new smartest guy around, Minnow knew it.
In California, my biology teacher would blow up Sodium Metal in water and let us dissect things, but in Cow Country the science teacher looked and sounded just like Vizzini (“Inconceivable!” From the Princess Bride). He was very smart but not a great teacher. The only hands-on work that he did was to photo-copy worksheets. He would also expect the kids to respect him and quiet themselves independently at the minute class was supposed to begin. When the rowdy teens inconceivably were not quiet by their will alone, Vizzini would stand at the front of the class with his face turning red. When steam started piping out of his ears he would leave the classroom and pout to himself in the hallway until he felt the kids were ready to behave. Expecting kids to show a boring teacher such respect is good in theory but didn’t work out so well in practice.
The class was organized with tables that could seat two students each. For reasons that should be obvious by now, I was alone at one of the tables. On Minnow’s first day of school he showed up late for science class and he took the seat next to me.
He made me laugh because everyday he penned out homage to his disdain for Cow Country in his notebook: “I Hate Manila.” And then the next day: “I STILL Hate Manila.” And he decorated the words with hard, thick strokes of ink.
And when he arrived, things seemed to come together. At the very least, Minnow and I had a fish-out-of-water bond working. And Minnow went to church with Geppetto and they became fast friends. And as soon as we looked like we had our eastside pack together, Beanpolio didn’t want to be left out. In a very short time the four of us formed a close group. Things seemed to take on an “Us and Them” atmosphere. We didn’t necessarily dislike everyone else, we just didn’t seem to mix that well and were most comfortable with each other.
And with this newfound strength, confidence and support, there was bound to be trouble.