In the beginning of my first year at Le Conte Junior High in Hollywood I thought I’d become friends with a ninth grader named Tony. I say “thought” because it was definitively and painfully proven to me that this was later not the case at all.
I can’t remember the particulars that resulted in Tony being friendly to me — and it was nothing major; usually just a nod or a “hey” as we passed each other. But as anyone familiar with the hierarchy/pecking order of schools knows, for a seventh grader to gain the acceptanceÂ and recognition of an upperclassman? Huge. Practically life-affirming.
But like I said, it’s not like we hung out down by the schoolyard or got together on weekends. Whatever it was that connected us is too far back in the archives to extract. What broke us apart, however, remains far more freshly filed.
It was another day at school during another lunch break. I was standing in the main part of the school yard, waiting in the long line for the cafeteria when I saw Tony standing over at the side with several other seniors. It was hard to miss Tony, he was tall and his head was topped with a decent-sized afro. I watched him hoping to catch his eye and get a hello and sure enough he finally saw me looking at him and dang if he didn’t excitedly motion me to come over to where he was.
I didn’t hesitate to jump out of line and head over. And when I got there my heart leapt because there was Tony holding his hand high and enthusiastically saying “Give me five!” I couldn’t stick my hand out fast enough, and for the split second when he stung it with a hard slap, I was in underclass heaven. I had arrived.
But then the sting didn’t go away. In fact, it got worse. On top of that I was surprised to find Tony and his surrounding buddies laughing loudly, some with surprised expressions on their faces. One was howling and pointing at my hand, which brought my attention back to it and showed me why the pain wasn’t going away.
Impaled to the hilt in the middle of my palm was a blue bulletin board pushpin. Some of my blood was leaking out around it. I stared at it first in disbelief momentarily wondering how that could have gotten there. Then I realized Tony had delivered it hidden from between his fingers and the betrayal and shock registered, probably with the proud smile still stupidly stuck on my face as Tony and his entourage jumped around in pained glee.
Maybe the crew were expecting me to add to their entertainment by crying or screaming or running away and making even more of a fool of myself, but I just stood there staring at Tony with my hand held out and the blue pushpin sticking out of it and the blood leaking our around it until he finally realized the show was over and put on an expression that was half embarrassed and half curious.
In the Hollywood version of this story I’d put Tony onto the ground with a kick to the nuts and then get pulled off of him while using his ears as handholds and slamming his afro’d head into a bloodly pulp against the tarmac. But that didn’t happen.
In the other Hollywood version I’d just reach over with my right hand and pluck the pin out, illiciting more pained reactions from the seniors. With the blood unstopped and flowing outward and over the edge of my palm I’d position the pin point-up between my middle and ring finger and raise it my hand over my head.
“Your turn,” I’d say and Tony’s eyes would get wide and he’d run away like a big ninth-grade bitch with his friends following his chickenshit lead. Then I’d find Mr. Pittman, the school security officer, point out Tony to him and tell him what happened. I’d be sent to the nurse to have my wound tended. Tony would end up expelled.
But that didn’t happen either. Instead I just pulled out the pin, walked away physically and emotionally wounded, humiliated and heartbroken.
I kept the pin for awhile. Stored it in my keepsake box the way a soldier might keep a bullet that wounded him in battle. Ultimately though I realized I didn’t need anything physical to show me that people who you want to impress can be failures. That those you think are your friends are not. In that vein I suppose I should thank Tony for teaching me such an important lesson so early. But if I saw him today, I wouldn’t shake his hand. I’d hold mine up high and say “Your turn.”
Or I’d just kick him in the balls.