“Bro, you should just hit that. Forget about Jase. God, that is one candy-coated honeybunny. ” As we walked, I kept taking glances at her through the crowd, quick snapshots: a photographic series entitled Perfection Stands Still While Mortals Walk Past. As I got closer, I thought maybe she wasn’t laughing after all. Maybe she’d received a surprise or a gift or something. She couldn’t seem to close her mouth.
“Yeah,” I said to Ben, still not listening, still trying to see as much of her as I could without being too obvious. It wasn’t even that she was so pretty. She was just so awesome, and in the literal sense. And then we were too far past her, too many people walking between her and me, and I never even got close enough to hear her speak or understand whatever the hilarious surprise had been. Ben shook his head, because he had seen me see her a thousand times, and he was used to it.
“Honestly, she’s hot, but she’s not that hot. You know who’s seriously hot?”
“Who?” I asked.
“Lacey,” he said, who was Margo’s other best friend. “Also your mom. Bro, I saw your mom kiss you on the cheek this morning, and forgive me, but I swear to God I was like, man, I wish I was Q. And also, I wish my cheeks had penises. ” I elbowed him in the ribs, but I was still thinking about Margo, because she was the only legend who lived next door to me. Margo Roth Spiegelman, whose six-syllable name was often spoken in its entirety with a kind of quiet reverence. Margo Roth Spiegelman, whose stories of epic adventures would blow through school like a summer storm: an old guy living in a broken-down house in Hot Coffee, Mississippi, taught Margo how to play the guitar. Margo Roth Spiegelman, who spent three days traveling with the circus—they thought she had potential on the trapeze. Margo Roth Spiegelman, who drank a cup of herbal tea with the Mallionaires backstage after a concert in St. Louis while they drank whiskey. Margo Roth Spiegelman, who got into that concert by telling the bouncer she was the bassist’s girlfriend, and didn’t they recognize her, and come on guys seriously, my name is Margo Roth Spiegelman and if you go back there and ask the bassist to take one look at me, he will tell you that I either am his girlfriend or he wishes I was, and then the bouncer did so, and then the bassist said “yeah that’s my girlfriend let her in the show,” and then later the bassist wanted to hook up with her and she rejected the bassist from the Mallionaires.
The stories, when they were shared, inevitably ended with, I mean, can you believe it? We often could not, but they always proved true.
And then we were at our lockers. Radar was leaning against Ben’s locker, typing into a handheld device.
“So you’re going to prom,” I said to him. He looked up, and then looked back down.
“I’m de-vandalizing the Omnictionary article about a former prime minister of France. Last night someone deleted the entire entry and then replaced it with the sentence ‘Jacques Chirac is a gay,’ which as it happens is incorrect both factually and grammatically. ” Radar is a big-time editor of this online user-created reference source called Omnictionary. His whole life is devoted to the maintenance and well-being of Omnictionary. This was but one of several reasons why his having a prom date was somewhat surprising.
“So you’re going to prom,” I repeated.
“Sorry,” he said without looking up. It was a well-known fact that I was opposed to prom. Absolutely nothing about any of it appealed to me—not slow dancing, not fast dancing, not the dresses, and definitely not the rented tuxedo. Renting a tuxedo seemed to me an excellent way to contract some hideous disease from its previous tenant, and I did not aspire to become the world’s only virgin with pubic lice.
“Bro,” Ben said to Radar, “the freshhoneys know about the Bloody Ben story. ” Radar put the handheld away finally and nodded sympathetically. “So anyway,” Ben continued, “my two remaining strategies are either to purchase a prom date on the Internet or fly to Missouri and kidnap some nice corn-fed little honeybunny. ” I’d tried telling Ben that “honeybunny” sounded more sexist and lame than retro-cool, but he refused to abandon the practice. He called his own mother a honeybunny. There was no fixing him.
“I’ll ask Angela if she knows anybody,” Radar said. “Although getting you a date to prom will be harder than turning lead into gold. ”
“Getting you a date to prom is so hard that the hypothetical idea itself is actually used to cut diamonds,” I added.
Radar tapped a locker twice with his fist to express his approval, and then came back with another. “Ben, getting you a date to prom is so hard that the American government believes the problem cannot be solved with diplomacy, but will instead require force. ”
I was trying to think of another one when we all three simultaneously saw the human-shaped container of anabolic steroids known as Chuck Parson walking toward us with some intent. Chuck Parson did not participate in organized sports, because to do so would distract from the larger goal of his life: to one day be convicted of homicide. “Hey, faggots,” he called.
“Chuck,” I answered, as friendly as I could muster. Chuck hadn’t given us any serious trouble in a couple years—someone in cool kid land laid down the edict that we were to be left alone. So it was a little unusual for him even to talk to us.
Maybe because I spoke and maybe not, he slammed his hands against the lockers on either side of me and then leaned in close enough for me to contemplate his toothpaste brand. “What do you know about Margo and Jase?”
“Uh,” I said. I thought of everything I knew about them: Jase was Margo Roth Spiegelman’s first and only serious boyfriend. They began dating at the tail end of last year. They were both going to University of Florida next year. Jase got a baseball scholarship there. He was never over at her house, except to pick her up. She never acted as if she liked him all that much, but then she never acted as if she liked anyone all that much. “Nothing,” I said finally.
“Don’t shit me around,” he growled.
“I barely even know her,” I said, which had become true.
He considered my answer for a minute, and I tried hard to stare at his close-set eyes. He nodded very slightly, pushed off the lockers, and walked away to attend his first-period class: The Care and Feeding of Pectoral Muscles. The second bell rang. One minute to class. Radar and I had calc; Ben had finite mathematics. The classrooms were adjacent; we walked toward them together, the three of us in a row, trusting that the tide of classmates would part enough to let us by, and it did.
I said, “Getting you a date to prom is so hard that a thousand monkeys typing at a thousand typewriters for a thousand years would never once type ‘I will go to prom with Ben. ’”
Ben could not resist tearing himself apart. “My prom prospects are so poor that Q’s grandma turned me down. She said she was waiting for Radar to ask her. ”
Radar nodded his head slowly. “It’s true, Q. Your grandma loves the brothers. ”
It was so pathetically easy to forget about Chuck, to talk about prom even though I didn’t give a shit about prom. Such was life that morning: nothing really mattered that much, not the good things and not the bad ones. We were in the business of mutual amusement, and we were reasonably prosperous.
I spent the next three hours in classrooms, trying not to look at the clocks above various blackboards, and then looking at the clocks, and then being amazed that only a few minutes had passed since I last looked at the clock. I’d had nearly four years of experience looking at these clocks, but their sluggishness never ceased to surprise. If I am ever told that I have one day to live, I will head straight for the hallowed halls of Winter Park High School, where a day has been known to last a thousand years.
But as much as it felt like third-period physics would never end, it did, and then I was in the cafeteria with Ben. Radar had fifth-period lunch with most of our other friends, so Ben and I generally sat together alone, a couple seats between us and a group of drama kids we knew. Today, we were both eating mini pepperoni pizzas.
nbsp; “Pizza’s good,” I said. He nodded distractedly. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Nuffing,” he said through a mouthful of pizza. He swallowed. “I know you think it’s dumb, but I want to go to prom. ”
“1. I do think it’s dumb; 2. If you want to go, just go; 3. If I’m not mistaken, you haven’t even asked anyone. ”
“I asked Cassie Hiney during math. I wrote her a note. ” I raised my eyebrows questioningly. Ben reached into his shorts and slid a heavily folded piece of paper to me. I flattened it out:
I’d love to go to prom with you, but I’m already going
with Frank. Sorry!
“Yeah, whatever. ” The walls of sound felt like they were closing in on us, and we were silent for a while, and then Ben looked at me very seriously and said, “I’m going to get so much play in college. I’m going to be in the Guinness Book of World Records under the category ‘Most Honeybunnies Ever Pleased. ’”
I laughed. I was thinking about how Radar’s parents actually were in the Guinness Book when I noticed a pretty African-American girl with spiky little dreads standing above us. It took me a moment to realize that the girl was Angela, Radar’s I-guess-girlfriend.
“Hi,” she said to me.
“Hey,” I said. I’d had classes with Angela and knew her a little, but we didn’t say hello in the hallway or anything. I motioned for her to sit. She scooted a chair to the head of the table.
“I figure that you guys probably know Marcus better than anyone,” she said, using Radar’s real name. She leaned toward us, her elbows on the table.
“It’s a shitty job, but someone’s got to do it,” Ben answered, smiling.
“Do you think he’s, like, embarrassed of me?”
Ben laughed. “What? No,” he said.
“Technically,” I added, “you should be embarrassed of him. ”
She rolled her eyes, smiling. A girl accustomed to compliments. “But he’s never, like, invited me to hang out with you, though. ”
“Ohhhh,” I said, getting it finally. “That’s because he’s embarrassed of us. ”
She laughed. “You seem pretty normal. ”
“You’ve never seen Ben snort Sprite up his nose and then spit it out of his mouth,” I said.
“I look like a demented carbonated fountain,” he deadpanned.
“But really, you wouldn’t worry? I mean, we’ve been dating for five weeks, and he’s never even taken me to his house. ” Ben and I exchanged a knowing glance, and I scrunched up my face to suppress laughter. “What?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I said. “Honestly, Angela. If he was forcing you to hang out with us and taking you to his house all the time—”
“Then it would definitely mean he didn’t like you,” Ben finished.
“Are his parents weird?”
“Yeah, overprotective,” Ben agreed a little too quickly.
She smiled and then got up, saying she had to go say hi to someone before lunch was over. Ben waited until she was gone to say anything. “That girl is awesome,” Ben said.
“I know,” I answered. “I wonder if we can replace Radar with her. ”
“She’s probably not that good with computers, though. We need someone who’s good at computers. Plus I bet she sucks at Resurrection,” which was our favorite video game. “By the way,” Ben added, “nice call saying that Radar’s folks are overprotective. ”
“Well, it’s not my place to tell her,” I said.
“I wonder how long till she gets to see the Team Radar Residence and Museum. ” Ben smiled.
The period was almost over, so Ben and I got up and put our trays onto the conveyer belt. The very same one that Chuck Parson had thrown me onto freshman year, sending me into the terrifying netherworld of Winter Park’s dishwashing corps. We walked over to Radar’s locker and were standing there when he raced up just after the first bell.
“I decided during government that I would actually, literally suck donkey balls if it meant I could skip that class for the rest of the semester,” he said.
“You can learn a lot about government from donkey balls,” I said. “Hey, speaking of reasons you wish you had fourth-period lunch, we just dined with Angela. ”
Ben smirked at Radar and said, “Yeah, she wants to know why she’s never been over to your house. ”
Radar exhaled a long breath as he spun the combination to open his locker. He breathed for so long I thought he might pass out. “Crap,” he said finally.
“Are you embarrassed about something?” I asked, smiling.
“Shut up,” he answered, poking his elbow into my gut.
“You live in a lovely home,” I said.
“Seriously, bro,” added Ben. “She’s a really nice girl. I don’t see why you can’t introduce her to your parents and show her Casa Radar. ”
Radar threw his books into his locker and shut it. The din of conversation around us quieted just a bit as he turned his eyes toward the heavens and shouted, “IT IS NOT MY FAULT THAT MY PARENTS OWN THE WORLD’S LARGEST COLLECTION OF BLACK SANTAS. ”
I’d heard Radar say “the world’s largest collection of black Santas” perhaps a thousand times in my life, and it never became any less funny to me. But he wasn’t kidding. I remembered the first time I visited. I was maybe thirteen. It was spring, many months past Christmas, and yet black Santas lined the windowsills. Paper cutouts of black Santas hung from the stairway banister. Black Santa candles adorned the dining room table. A black Santa oil painting hung above the mantel, which was itself lined with black Santa figurines. They had a black Santa Pez dispenser purchased from Namibia. The light-up plastic black Santa that stood in their postage-stamp front yard from Thanksgiving to New Year’s spent the rest of the year proudly keeping watch in the corner of the guest bathroom, a bathroom with homemade black Santa wallpaper created with paint and a Santa-shaped sponge.