In the 10th grade everything changed for me. The voice thing still hasn’t really finalized but those aren’t the changes I’m talking about. In the 10th grade (that’s grade 10 in Canadian) I became best friends with people who had a huge influence in my life that I still feel today. I was always part of a group at school, the caste system was alive and well at RHS. We had the jocks, the ra-ras, the burnouts, the preps, the farmers, the brains and the outcasts. You could be smart or rich or poor or get drunk or smoke pot in any of these groups, you could be in the band or play sports, the distinction was way beyond what you did or what you were like. But we all had a group we belonged in even if we didn’t perceive it that way we were perceived that way. I had a group within my group who made it fun and helped me navigate the maze of self-consciousness that was high school.
Along with my good friends I also had my own “Rogue’s Gallery”: the people who seemed to be in my life for the pure and simple purpose of making my life as painful and hellish as possible. Some were older than me, some my age and most were guys. One guy, Greg, seemed to just get tired of it during my 10th grade year and he stopped hating me and became my friend. I don’t know why he hated me and I have no clue why we became friends other than the possibility that he had finally smoked so much dope he just couldn’t dig deep enough to find any aggression. Another guy, Dave, used to beat on me a lot during my 9th grade year when he was in 12th grade and graduating. Several years later, after I had graduated, become a Christian, gone off to Bible college and became a youth pastor I ran in to Dave. At a youth conference. Turned out he’d become a youth pastor too, turned out he’d been “Joe Christian” all the way through High School while he was beating on me, according to his official ‘testimony’. So it was forgive him and give up on my “piano falling 5 stories onto his head” fantasy or start smoking pot.
One of my new friends and soon to be good friend in those days was a transfer from a school in Springfield. Mr. Magico. Anything I tell you about him will sound purely fictional and I’ve resisted telling any stories about him for just that very reason. You just won’t believe the things I tell you are true but that’s o.k., the stories need to be told.
About five years ago I heard from him again, via email. Here’s a part of what he wrote:
“By the way, don’t ask about the name that shows up on this e-mail. It would take much too long to explain in an e-mail. Short version is: something from my past that comes in handy from time to time.”
What can you possibly say that’s sounds more made up than that? But I promise you, that’s exactly what he wrote and his real name was NOT at the top of the email or in the “From” part of my email editor. He was larger than life the day I met him and he’s never gotten any smaller.
The first day I met him he brought a straight jacket to Geometry class. “Cool,” I thought, anything was better than geometry class. But he didn’t just bring it, he had someone put it on him, do the straps, check that it was tight and then proceeded to have us time him to see how fast he could escape from it.
I have no idea if he asked permission from Mrs. Leach to do this. But how do you stop a new guy from putting on a straight jacket he brought with him to class? It’s just too freakin’ awesome to stop something like that. And it occurred to me that this was Mr. Magico’s ice breaker, his way to, in a new school, mark his territory, make friends, raise the flag and see which group would embrace his magicness. And it occurred to me that I totally needed something like that and didn’t have it.
I was a big fan of magic. I had done a report for 9th grade English on Harry Houdini and my mom had even bought me a Ronco Magician’s Kit (as seen on TV) and I could pull off some very simple and stupid tricks that didn’t impress my little brother and would never impress the girls. But a freakin’ straight jacket. Brilliant!
After mere seconds of intense grunting and struggling like a epileptic in full seizure mode we could tell Mr. Magico was nearly free. By the end of a minute he was completely free. None of us knew exactly how to respond. Do you applaud someone who brings their own straight jacket to school, has you put them in and then escapes or should you fear them? Either way, clapping made sense so we clapped, he smiled, Mr. Magico was in baby! But ‘being in’ didn’t mean much other than getting called, ‘that straight jacket guy’ instead of ‘hey, new kid’.
I talked with him after class and it turned out he’d been doing magic with a partner in Springfield for a while. He did escapes, illusions and the big box magic prop kind of stuff. He was really into it and I thought that was pretty cool. If he was a girl I would have had a crush on him. The whole straight jacket in class thing was weird but there was just something about Mr. Magico that made you believe in him, he might be crazy but he was sincerely crazy and school was so full of fakes and frauds that crazy was inspiring.
More to come…