The Perks of Being a Bookworm

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I was generally a pretty good kid. Generally. Mostly, because almost every time I’d try doing something bad, the universe would rain down massive, fiery karmic retaliation upon me. In other words, I’d get caught. But one time I got away with it, because I was a giant nerd.

For the most part, I just read a lot. Hard to get in much trouble when you’ve got your head buried in a book. Lunches, recesses, classtimes, on the bus, I’d be reading. I’d sit in the back of class, pretending to be paying attention or doing schoolwork, all the while with a book on my lap. Most of my teachers, bless their hearts, pretended like they didn’t notice. I thought I was pretty sneaky at the time, but in retrospect I think they were just glad somebody was reading. So, I had a well-deserved reputation as something of a bookworm.

But every once in a while, I’d get a crazy idea in my head. I’d sow my oats. I’d really cut loose and do something wild.

Like flipping the bird to a road construction worker.

Party animal, right? Of course, this was in the second grade, when living dangerously meant sneaking your vegetables off your plate and feeding them to the dog.

But anyway, I was riding the school bus home, one fine day, and we passed by a group of county workers in reflective vests and hard hats, doing some road maintenance. My friend (whose name I forget, but let’s call him John) and I thought, for second-grader reasons, that it would be the coolest thing in the world if we flipped off these grown-ass men who were out doing their jobs. But, criminal masterminds that we were, we would hide our faces by crouching down below the level of the bus window, and hold our hands above our heads, middle fingers raised, like some kind of obscene puppeteers.

And so we did. The bus approached the road construction. We scrunched down in our seats and raised our little hands aloft, flipping the unicorn at these poor unsuspecting schlubs who were just out doing their jobs, who hadn’t done anything to warrant being disrespected by two nerdy eight year olds at three fifteen on a Tuesday afternoon.

We waved our digitorum impudens around, giggling all the while, until the bus moved past. A clean getaway. The perfect crime. We were so cool.

I should have known, there’s no such thing as a perfect crime. There we were, sitting on those smelly green vinyl bus seats, when a white county truck pulled up behind the bus, flashing its yellow light bar. My friend and I exchanged panicked looks.

The bus screeched to a stop. The hydraulic bus door honked open. And then, clomp, clomp, clomp, a great big angry grownup in a hard hat climbed up the bus steps and stared coolly up and down the aisles of the school bus.

To the bus driver, he said, “I’m sorry to bother you, but we were just working by the side of the road, and when you drove by, some kids on this bus flipped us off.”

I took a deep breath and reminded myself: we’d taken precautions for just this sort of situations. We’d scrunched down. We were criminal masterminds. Nothing to worry about.

“Whoever did it was scrunched down in their seats,” said the road worker, “so I couldn’t see their faces. But I saw the top of one head, and it looked just…like…him.”

A great big meaty calloused old grownup finger pointed directly at me.

My sphincter clenched tighter than a submarine door. I broke out into a flop sweat. I trembled. I gazed back at that finger like I was staring down the barrel of a loaded shotgun.

I should point out that at this point in my life I had what could kindly be described as a flattop. I thought it made me look like Val Kilmer in Top Gun. In retrospect, I looked more like a bucktoothed hedgehog. In any case, it was a pretty distinctive haircut. Certainly nobody else on the bus had the same cut. It was just the sort of thing that would make the top three inches of someone’s head immediately identifiable.

The moment stretched out forever. I’m busted, I thought, boned, hosed. The jig is up. I’m going up the river. I hear if you just confess they’ll be lenient. I can cop a plea. Maybe I can turn in my accomplice for a reduced sentence. I wonder what prison food tastes like.

And then the bus driver let out an incredulous laugh. “Matt?” she said, “You’ve got to be mistaken. It couldn’t have been Matt. He just sits there and reads all day.”

“Not Matt,” said Heather, the girl across the aisle from me, “he’s a bookworm.”

“He just has his face buried in a book all day.” added David, sitting next to Heather.

“All that dork does is read,” called out Travis, from the back of the bus.

The entire bus rose to my defense, declaring that I was such a nerdy little bookworm that there’s no way I could have ever committed the crime of which I’d been accused.

I just sat there and tried to look angelic.

His confidence shaken, the road worker looked around at the other faces on the bus. “Well…” he said, “then I’m not sure.” He’d lost his momentum. He looked up and down the aisles one more time, mumbled something about respect, and then left the bus.

And I got away scott-free. What’s the moral of the story? I don’t know, maybe: Don’t flip off total strangers. Or maybe, the moral is that you don’t know what kind of black and twisted criminal heart beats within the chest of a nerdy goody two-shoes bookworm. Or maybe it’s that if you’re going to be guilty, it’s a good idea to look innocent.

 

 

 

Guest Post-How Starship Troopers Landed Us on Placer County’s Most Wanted List-Part One

My best friend since basically forever, Mr. Peter Kimmich, has decided to embarrass me by writing up this story of one of our many youthful adventures. He has apparently abused his brain less than I in the intervening years, because he remembered this night way better I did. Then again, maybe I was trying to forget. Pete is a pretty funny guy, and he occasionally writes stuff about music and things over at www.monitordown.com. You can also find his work lurking around places like cinemablend.com and cracked.com

How Starship Troopers Landed Us on Placer County’s Most Wanted List-Part One

By Peter Kimmich

In high school you do things in groups. On some nights these group activities are reasonable and parent approved. Then there are the special nights when groups become more cemented, future stories are woven, senior quotes are coined, and permanent things are written on paper and filed in permanent places. Permanent places like police stations. Those are the nights parents rarely approve of, but probably look back on themselves with their own sense of nostalgia.This was one of those nights.

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Picture this truck, but much bluer, and with a camper shell stuffed full of teenage hormones and angst.

On this night we decided to go see Starship Troopers in the theater, a simple enough plan. Matt drove us in the Blue Bomber, which was the naval destroyer of blue pickup trucks. It was big and loud, with heavy chrome bumpers, used tires, and that classic old truck smell no other vehicle can have.

Since there were more of us than the three seats in the cab, we decided to put the Bomber in “Pimp Mode.” This entailed carpeting the bed, installing the camper shell, adding two bean bag chairs and one mini disco ball, and piling in four or five rabid hyenas (read: high school guys).

I, of course, was safely buckled into the front seat, with my younger brother safely buckled in the middle seat straddling the shifter. Since the Blue Bomber had a manual transmission, this meant the middle passenger’s testicles had to duck and weave as the long-handled shifter clicked and chucked between gears. And since the bed had no seat belts or safety restraints of any kind (men were men back then), the hyena pack in the back was as good as screwed were any large bumps to occur. Unfortunately, Matt lived atop a hill in the middle of nowhere with Lumber Trail No. 347 as the only inlet. The things high school kids will suffer to get out of the house for the night.

The theater was 15 miles away in the next closest thing to a town. But first, one stop was needed to pick up Fred Hyena (some names here are obviously fictitious, to protect the innocent). Fred lived on a narrow, twisty, shoulderless road that came off the freeway, went through a tiny pasture town, then jumped back onto the freeway. On one side was a dirt embankment, on the other side was a steep slope that dropped off into the darkness. The tree canopy formed a dark tunnel lit only by our headlights. Navigating this road in the Blue Bomber began to take its toll on Matt, the manual transmission, my brother’s testicles, and the hyena pack in the back.

To make things worse, the next day was garbage day, and every homeowner on the downhill side had pushed their green garbage bins onto the street. This meant that aside from constantly shifting, steering, accelerating up hills and braking down grades, Matt was avoiding menacing green garbage bins every eight seconds.

For a reasonable motorist, these driving conditions are par for the course of car ownership. For your average 17 year old, more than a few minutes of it was torture. Matt was patient for a 17 year old, but his frustration was quietly building.

Finally, after about the 30th garbage bin, Matt seemed to decide he was working too hard. I noticed a dangerous gleam in his eye, and a sudden calm that was oddly alarming. The hyena pack noticed it too, and became silent. As the next garbage bin came up around the corner, Matt didn’t evade. He didn’t brake or shift. He just accelerated.

Trash-bins
You know you always wanted to.

BOOM. The bin bounced off the chrome front bumper with the sound of an M-80, vomiting a week’s worth of its owner’s household waste 40 feet in the air. It rocketed like a ping pong ball back down its driveway, crashing out of sight somewhere as plastic bags and used coffee filters fluttered down onto the street. The hyena pack let out a collective howl, and Matt chucked with satisfied glee. The Bomber sped on through the night, unflinching.

This atrocious, regrettable act of irresponsibility only happened two or three more times at the most, but somehow the drive seemed much less stressful for everyone. The next morning, as a handful of undeserving homeowners got ready for the day and pulled up their driveways, they undoubtedly paused in shock and horror, taking a moment to curse teenage drivers everywhere for being uncaring, reckless and dangerous. And they weren’t wrong

Taking this detour had put us a little behind schedule, so once the guffawing and mirthful reenacting had settled down, people started to anticipate getting to the theater on time.

The theater was on the left side of the freeway coming from the foothills. The exit consisted of two ramps, one that headed off to the right and into various housing projects, and a second that looped around, heading to the left and to the theater. Our goal of arriving on time would have been easily met by taking the second ramp. However, whether because of the lulling 20-minute drive, residual distraction from the Garbage Bin Incident, or the fact that we were clueless hillbillies unfamiliar with basic urban planning, we took the first ramp and quickly realized we had screwed up.

Now, in our little group back on campus, neither Matt nor I were considered a lead dog. That privilege was reserved for those more popular and with cooler hair. However, as captain of the Blue Bomber it was Matt’s duty to make executive decisions when it was called for. And with four minutes to spare before our movie would start without us, it was that time…

Tune in tomorrow for the shocking conclusion…