I remember the first kid that ever beat me up.
First grade is rough enough to begin with what with the no more afternoon naps and a full day of school. It’s also the stepping stone for the pecking order that will exist for most kids for the rest of their lives. So when I decided that I wanted to play in the sandbox with the metal Tonka trucks that have left more skulls dented than Mike Tyson’s fists at the same time as Billy Leurman I knew it would end badly.
Billy was doomed from the start to be picked on. His daily attired consisted of a yellow button down shirt and a bow tie that must have been purchased at the nearest Big and Clowny. Coupled with the fact he had no discernible difference between the width of his neck and the width of his head, it left him looking exactly like a number two pencil. Right down to the eraser. His fire engine red hair was the source of much consternation as he was the only Ginger in the entire school. It took one simple remark about his nose that was perpetually running into his mouth and the tongue that seemed to be constantly licking it to have him swing a right at me that left my nose bleeding and my cheeks burning with embarrassment. It was hard enough being a chubby little six-year-old but to be embarrassed in that fashion was something that I couldn’t leave unresolved.
I walked the long hallway to the fitness studio dreading another cardio funk dance session to “Groove Is In The Heart” by Dee-Lite. I couldn’t make more wrong steps than I did the previous week. It simply wasn’t possible. It was bad enough to see myself do it in the mirror but it was another thing to do it in front of the Butt Cleavage Brigade.
My foot steps faltered as I rounded the corner and saw something I was totally unprepared for. There, standing in the fitness studio, was another guy. I had a momentarily gay squeal escape me before I covered my mouth. There was no way I could possibly embarrass myself now. Not with another guy to at least divert at least some of the disaster. His attire was fairly similar to mine with a compression shirt and long shorts right down to garrishly colored shoes with the exception of a ball cap he had on.
” I am ever glad there’s another guy here tonight,” I laughed as I walked over with my hand extended.
” Dave,” He replied clasping my hand. It took a second for me to notice the smattering of freckles up his arm as I was transfixed by the fact he was a Ginger. The tell-tale Wendy’s red hair was poking out from the sides of his ball cap.
“Jack,” I said trying not let my voice betray the momentary lapse six-year-old me had into mild trepidation. I wasn’t that kid. Hadn’t been in a very long time so what did I have to worry about. I brushed it off and was just happy that I wouldn’t be the only one floundering around.
” Last weeks class was……” I managed to get out before Dave shot around me and grabbed the bucket of skipping ropes that had just walked into the room.
“Here Kim,” Dave blurted like a wind up yappy dog in a cable knit cardigan ” Let me take those from you.”
In a half a heart beat, the dynamic in the room shifted from one of two guys standing against the tyranny of the Vagina World Order to grade one all over again. A huge smile was plastered all over Dave’s face as he trailed behind Kim handing out skipping ropes and agreeing with every squeak her shoes made. I could hear my teeth grinding in my ears as I looked at the predicament I was now in. Not only was Dave a Ginger but a teacher’s pet as well.
My heart sank as I looked at the limp dangling noodle of rope in my hand as they passed by and flopped it in my hand. I felt like a white girl having sex with Kobe Bryant. All that length and no idea what to do with it. My inability to skip went hand in hand with my inability to dance. I could do all the moves but I couldn’t put them together into anything that didn’t look like a full body dry heave.
The warm up started with some stretching and then progressed into different levels and speeds of skipping rope. I looked like a cross-eyed cowboy trying to rope a three-legged goat wearing an afro wig. Dave was skipping like the Brooklyn public school system double dutch team. I got so frustrated at the four-minute mark that I fired the rope across the room like a used condom and just jumped in place.
” Everybody ready to take it to the next level ,” Kim yelled into her Britney Spears head mic. The girls all responded with their usual “WOO” and Dave answered right along with them garnering a beaming smile from Kim. I could feel my six-year-old inner child cringing a little as the Ginger teachers pet lead the pack in a series of moves that made Flashdance look like hopscotch. Dave looked over and gave me that knowing look that said I couldn’t keep up. I felt that same feeling I did when Billy walked over and punched me in the face. That embarrassing indignation.
“Okay,” Kim called out ” It’s time for some old school sports fitness. Everybody on the line for suicides.”
I worked my way between Dave and two yoga short divas and gave him a half-smile. Kim switched on some dance beat song and yelled “Go”. I bolted of the line in step with Dave and we raced out and back stride for stride. I could feel the lactic acid building up in my muscles and I smiled. The girls were passing between us as we raced back and passed between
“Almost” I thought barely containing my grin.
Basic body science dictates that as your muscles burn they create chemical reactions. Those reactions often create gases. Mainly carbon dioxide but sometimes methane. Methane usually only has one way out of the body.
I drove my legs at the floor and bolted ahead of Dave. I looked at the clock. It was going to be close. It was going to be exceptionally close. I was separating from the girls and dropping to Dave’s other side with every pass. I saw Kim look at the clock and I could almost hear her intake of breath as she readied herself to stop us. I paused on the far side of the room briefly and looked up to see Dave and the girls running towards me. I bolted for the other side of the room as Kim called the exercise to a halt.
I stood looking at everyone’s reflection in the mirror as the girls began gulping down air. They quickly stopped and looked at each other before taking dainty sniffs and looking at Dave. Dave grinned at them and they looked at him with disgust. I smiled as they sniffed again and walked away as quickly as possible. My brief pause on that side of the room allowed me to drop a monster fart that they had all run into and stopped. I heard them whispering about how gross it had been to eat that redheaded guys fart and I busted out laughing.
I walked out the glass doors and looked down to see six-year-old me walking beside me. I reached down and took his hand. I couldn’t let the ghost of Ginger bother him anymore. All it took was timing ,chemistry and a broccoli smoothie.