Sunday, April 27, 2008

Russel The Chicken Boy

Junior High School is a dirty and deceitful, dark...dark den, where surely devils are born. I am misshapen and flat-faced, forever in tune with nothing. I walk around foot- blistered, with boils instead of mere pre-pubescent pustules. My face was the underside of a broken brick in a neglected garden, neglected by all save the worms. I hold my books up and over my chest like the girls do, trying desperately to hide my boy titties, burning from the hateful sweat streaming down their stretch marked slopes. Russell The Chicken Boy was a special boy, a man really. Twenty years old and still in the 7th grade. He was a freak, a treat, and a sideshow toadie, always good for a laugh, displaying his grotesqueries for all who might inquire. They found him, that is, they discovered him with half a brain living in a rusty old bird cage, his brittle bone-thin appendages folded in and on themselves, put there by his mama and daddy until he was nine and a half, then deserted altogether when he just got to be too much. When the welfare took him, he could not speak a lick, only balked and clucked, refusing to take any food unless through a tube or thrown down on the floor. The welfare cronies, chasing their own bureaucratic tales for nearly a year didn’t know what else to do, so they just kept him in his pen. Until one day, his neck outstretched, a low cawing from inside it, Russell The Chicken Boy...decided to step out. I was in the 7th grade when one day I discovered that Russell The Chicken Boy was following me. Block after block I'd turn and catch him in what could only be called the most sincerely retarded of maneuverings. But I wasn’t completely cruel like the rest of them. I knew how it was. Boys and girls, rotten skunks, filthy little shit pigs! Always flicking me hard in the titties, throwing snail guts in my hair. Once they got me in the middle of social studies. This one boy yelled out, once the teacher turned his back to us, telling everyone, in a voice which was meant to mimic my own, matter of factly, that I had sperm in my hair. The teacher turned and scowled at me as if I'd cussed his mama, then, looking down his crooked chalky nose, sent me to the toilets to go and wash it off. I could hear him, Russel, breathing behind me, his mouth a desperate funnel for oxygen. Stupid mouth breather! I knew that all I had to do was run up to him and wave my arms wildly into the air, and Russell The Chicken Boy would squawk and flap his arms in fits of sheer fright, then screech away. Instead, I don’t know why, I really have no idea why, but for some reason, I let him follow me. And all day long he done it. Then he followed me home! This went on for almost an entire week. Until I finally had to turn around and tell him, “Go away! Go away…Russell The Chicken Boy!” But he just looked at me. He looked at me like I was suddenly a cold hard meat cleaver and his neck was on the stump, not so much as twitching. Then his eyes boggle out all goosey, and he’d throw his bony ass up in the air and took off walking down the street all hurt, turning around like he was waiting for me to throw him some god damned bird seed or worm guts! Then I'm in P.E. one day, in the locker rooms. I stood, shifting foot to foot, forever the nerve wrecked quick-change artist, apprehensively eyeballing the other boys in the showers, staring into the white void of pulsating shower heads, when suddenly, the great Hun, boulder-jawed Coach Ross stuck his head out of his office and summoned us all to the gymnasium.
Gymnasiums were like cathedrals to some, holy places glistening and stained with hidden, spilled seed and the eternal echoes of The Steve Miller Band. Where space cowboys gyrated through many a rented tuxedo and the glint of a homecoming queen’s rhinestone tiara matched the sparkle of her eye just before the lights went down too low. It was Sadie Hawkins Dances and the annual sock hop or prom night for some, but not for me. For me, gymnasiums were great coliseums of torture, of mayhem, of utter annihilation. For some, whenever they’d enter these hallowed halls, they might hear the hushed and soothing tones and harmonies of say…Earth, Wind and Fire’s, “Reasons,” and imagine lovely painted cardboard and glitter stars. But for others, people like me, people like Russell The Chicken Boy, we only heard, “Bad Company!” We saw bloody noses. We heard the rude rush of hormones, the snarls of a thousand pugilistic snouts, the snap of tibia, of fibula, of clavicles...the crack of knee caps. The coaches would make us play this game they called “Bombardment!” They would take all the 6th and 7th graders; the misfits, the puny, the skinny-assed and bony, dirt head stoners, the wheezing and the gimped, the fatties daydreaming of Hostess Snowballs, and line us all up along one side of the abattoirs. Then to make matters worse, they’d make us all take off our shirts, stand there…and then wait. We’d stand around for ten or fifteen minutes, hollow eyed and jaws jetting, in nothing but piss stained jock straps and purple J.C.Penny cotton shorts. Shirtless in the middle of winter, our arms crossed, chests caved in, breasts sagging, shifting, left foot, right foot…waiting. Then they’d herd them in. The Gladiators. Great hulking, muscle bound beasts with brains as big as their scrotums, hormones oozing and demanding release. We were freezing, but shook more at the site of their entering. The dreaded 9th graders, thick and hairy legged, with red knuckled hands the size of baseball mitts. They now stood on the opposite side of the gym, stretching and laughing, pointing and making signs of what could only have been, the devil. But this one particular day was different. Something very, very different was about to happen. i could sense it. As we were waiting to be obliterated, maimed, destroyed, suddenly the coach, The Hun himself, did something far and beyond what even any devil might grudgingly call cruel. He slowly walked back toward the gymnasium door, and with great pretense, pleasure, and hammy theatricality, I swear I heard him giggle, opened it, went outside, and moments later, reappeared, quietly escorting Russell The Chicken Boy into the gym. Russell The Chicken Boy was wearing these long bright yellow shorts and his shirt had been removed. If he weren’t always shaking, you’d think he was about to freeze to death. The coach motioned for him to get over to our side. He hurried over, neck craning, pecking and squawking. And then, of all places, of course, he had to stand right next to me. dead ducks. Murder most foul! The 9th graders, blood thirsty and merciless, suddenly jumped to attention as the coach began throwing to them, and only to them, what seemed like an immeasurable amount of volleyballs. And then the game commenced. They never threw the balls at the ones who had the nerve or the audacity or the stupidity to throw it back, the ones who actually tried to play the game. They would wait for the kid who was not paying attention, the ones caught off-guard, and then proceed to pulverize them ruthlessly and as hard as they possibly could. There was this one kid, his name was Jake, and he was the cruelest of them all. He, like most of the other jocks, played on the football team and was, suffice to say, fucking gigantic! He had a head the shape of a Vidalia onion and a body like a Sherman Tank! Years later, this kid Jake would make the local papers for landing up in the hospital after consuming too much acid. Eventually, after numerous overdoses of yet more lsd, he would finally turn his brain to mush. Not that he ever had much to start with. Years later, even after kids my year went on to graduate, Jake was often spotted riding his bike around the high school campus looking to score yet another hit of acid. I could tell that he was zeroing in on Russell The Chicken Boy. I could see it in his narrowed, sunk-in, thick browed monkey eyes. Of course, Russell The Chicken Boy was clueless and kept his pin head down close to the shiny gym floor, looking at his own reflection I think. Jake was getting closer. I could see that he was just about to go into one of his infamous wind-ups and let one go. I watched Russell The Chicken boy, and then I looked at all the rest of them. Knock kneed nerds, clueless. It was at that very moment I realized how Russell The Chicken Boy was no different than anyone else. He was no different from me. He was no different from them. We were all bouncing around, shifting left, shifting right, spoils of war as they say, waiting to get pinged in the head. Then I looked across the gym, and I could see that several more of the coaches had now gathered into the gym and were all laughing their asses off. Then I noticed that the coaches seemed to be throwing in more balls. And then I saw something else. Some of the balls they were slyly tossing in had something shiny sticking out of them. It was then that I figured out that they weren’t volleyballs at all, but those hard ass tether balls with those steel stems sticking out of them. Jake was winding up the coil, aiming, taking great pleasure in his sizeable advantage and strength over…everyone! I felt my heart drop. Jake had his sites locked onto Russell The Chicken Boy and there wasn’t anything that I could do about it. And then I started thinking about poor Russell. The Chicken Boy. Poor, poor Russell The Chicken Boy. And I watched him. Of course I could only pretend to understand who and what he was. What he’d been. I tried to imagine the cold-checkered impressions of steel wire across my cheek, a cold trough instead of a warm breast or even a rubber nipple, a dark closet instead of the crook of my father’s neck. I wouldn’t…I couldn’t fool myself into imagining a cage, instead of a cradle. But then…then I realized, lost in irretrievable pubescent empathy, that Jake, acid head, boulder shouldered, ball pulling, slack-jawed Jake, was not aiming for…Russell…Russell The Chicken Boy at all! He was aiming for me! Right for me! The overhead light caught the glint of the silver stem revolving a million times per second. I tried to move, but by then it was way too late. And then, all of a sudden, Russell…The…Chicken Boy…took one step and…casually and altogether matter of factly, stood right in front of me. The ball contacted, landing square in the middle of his face. I could hear…I could feel his nose crack. There was blood everywhere. His whole body turned, spinning around and around. Then he collapsed onto the hard wood floor, sprawled out, motionless, just as the bell rang for the showers. The truly sad, mind you, not the saddest part of the story is that I never ever became friends or even friendly with Russell The Chicken Boy. How could I have? Was I supposed to sit next to him in the cafeteria and somehow learn his stupid clucking language? Once, from the other side of the cafeteria, I nearly vomited watching him eat, throwing back his head to get the creamed corn down his neck. Was I supposed to flap my arms joyously every god damned time a migration of birds flew east?
I never did find out or even ask him why he followed me around. And I never found out why he did what he did that day in the gymnasium. No, that’s not even the saddest part. What’s truly fucked up is that if I’d realized in time, that is, sooner instead of later, that Jake was aiming that ball for me, I would have used Russell as a block anyway. I would have let him take it right there in his stupid chicken face, and later, have to be taken away on a stretcher to the school nurse with everyone watching. I never thought about it until now. And somehow, I guess I still don’t feel too bad about it. Devils.

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