(This is an excerpt from my as yet unpublished and somewhat fictional memoir, The Great Poet of Garbage. If this piques your interest and you’d like to see more, please get in touch in the comments. There’s way more where this came from.)
The assignment was to build a bridge out of popsicle sticks that could hold a twenty pound weight. The shop teacher “sold” the sticks for imaginary currency and we were graded on a rubric with two elements: how much weight it held vs. how much imaginary money we spent on it. I extended the grading chart and realized that if I built a bridge for no money that supported no weight I would get a 98. I’d found my future dream job as a contractor. I held out on buying any popsicle sticks the first day and told him this. But he said I still had to do the project.
In a post-collegiate life spent mostly amongst self-identified communists and their sympathizers I never met anyone possessed of quite the level of apocalyptic despair at the resale market that Mr. Sova had. No sticks were produced after the initial run and each day the prices would always rise because some had been burned up (the burnt ones were cheaper but still at a higher price than the initial offering) and others had disturbing splotches we all hoped were just red food coloring but that he explained were the result of the supply trucks having an unfortunate collision with a wild herd of beefalo, some sort of animal that spent its spare time walking back and forth over Interstate-87. “Beefalo collision on the highway boys,” he explained. None of us had heard of beefalo before. We were curious whether they were just like deer or if they had some sort of mystical powers. But none of were curious enough where we’d risk hearing Mr. Sova’s answer.
The prices kept rising and the quality kept getting worse. There eventually were half-burnt sticks that also bore the bloody marks of the slain beefalo. They cost twice as much imaginary money as the initial offering.
We wondered what Mrs. Sova thought, her coming home each night to see her husband staring, never blinking, standing before a slowly dwindling pile of popsicle sticks. Meticulously taking a blow torch to the ends. Tenderly juicing the innards of the decaying beefalo carcass. He kept it there, in his garage, in the open. Only then he could perform the nightly dance. The one with the jazz hands. Where he splattered the sticks.
Only then he could know for sure.
He was ready for shop class the next morning.
The next week the weird kid from Greenfield that sat next to me in shop class wrote “boomboom go to school” in one of the bathroom stalls. Some suspected the threat was retaliation in response to the plight of the beefalo. But they put him in detention. The school paper was never allowed to ask. His motivations were never disclosed. It happened after Colombine but before the administrators had a set protocol for such things so on finding the writing they shuffled us all out to the athletics fields, presumably so that if a bomb did go off we’d all have good seats to watch the building burn.
It was a gorgeous day. Some kids played tag, others snuck out manuals and organized themselves into Dungeons and Dragons campaigns on the lawn. We were out there for hours. The buses all showed up and we got to go home early.
I imagine if the weird kid had ever come back to school he would’ve been tremendously popular, but of course he never did.
There was a girl named Grace who used to spend most of her lunch periods daydreaming aloud all the ways she wished to torture and dismember me. While I never overheard them directly, Zach would always pass the good bits on and I was tremendously amused. Sometimes I wonder if she had a crush on me. She was a lot prettier then.
That weekend Ross was house-sitting for the other Dan and we all had a LAN party and bought a bunch of Taco Bell. Dan’s dog Teddy somehow got on the table and ate some of it and the Taco Bell remains had mixed in with the bones from the chicken wings. Ross took Teddy outside that morning to make sure he shit out all the chicken bones, and when he picked up the poop and tibias it was with the Taco Bell bag from the evening before. It was touching. The circle of life before our very eyes.
Eventually the school wised up and whether or not it was more effective at deterring school shootings they figured at least we’d enjoy them less if we all hid under the desks instead of sunning ourselves. “Lockdown Drills” they called it. So when another kid from Greenfield, which was, in the political synecdoche of Maple Avenue Middle School, the Ireland to Saratoga proper’s England, scribbled “PRINCePULL B MUST DYe” in the same boy’s room stall, a symbolic gesture they weren’t defeated, all the lights were turned off and we spent 40 minutes under our desks sneaking looks at each others’ faces, wondering what sex was like.