OKAY. YOU KNOW HOW WHEN you’re a senior in high school, and you officially know absolutely everything about everything and no one can tell you different, but on the other hand, at the same time, you’re dumber than a poorly translated instruction manual for a spoon?
Yeah. That was pretty much me, all at the same time, the only fifteen-year-old boy to ever be in twelfth grade at Pine Mountain Academy.
When you’re a senior, you’re supposed to walk around with your chest out and your shoulders back because it’s like you own the place, right? I didn’t feel that way. In fact, from the first day I got back to Pine Mountain, I was quietly considering flunking out of all my classes so I wouldn’t have to move on with my life and be a sixteen-year-old grown-up.
What a bunch of bullshit that would undoubtedly be.
And, speaking of bullshit, the day I came back to Pine Mountain Academy to check in and register, I learned that I would be rooming—in a double-single room no less—with some random kid I didn’t even know. It had somehow failed to sink in to my soiled-napkin brain that my last year’s roommates, Chas Becker and Kevin Cantrell, had
graduated from Pine Mountain and moved on to the fertile breeding grounds of adulthood, leaving me roommateless, condemned to a single-size room with two beds in it, and matched up with Joe Randomkid, whom I’d already pictured as some bloated, tobacco-chewing, overalls-wearing midwesterner who was missing half a finger from a lawn-mowing or wheat-threshing accident and owned a vast collection of ’70s porn mags (since we weren’t allowed to access the Internet at PM and look at real porn like most teenagers do).
Not that I look at porn, like most normal teenagers. I’m not like that.
But nine-and-a-half-fingered Joe Randomkid would be exactly like that, I decided.
So by the time I turned the key on my all-new, 130-square-foot boys’ dorm prison cell with two twin beds, two coffin-size closets, and matching elementary-school-kid-style desks with identical 40-watt desk lamps, I already deeply hated Joe Randomkid and, at the same time, had no idea in the world who he was.
Even before I fully opened the door on our bottom-floor-which-is-usually-only-reserved-for-freshmen dorm room, I had pretty much everything about Joe Randomkid all figured out.
JOE RANDOMKID RUINS TWELFTH GRADE: A PLAY BY RYAN DEAN WEST
SCENE: A very small ground-floor room in the boys’ dorm at Pine Mountain Academy, a prestigious prep school for future deviants
and white-collar criminals, located in the Cascades of Oregon. joe randomkid, a chubby and pale redhead from Nebraska with a stalk of straw pinched between his lips, is lying with his hands behind his head, dressed in overalls (with no shirt underneath the bib) and work boots, on one of the two prison-size twin beds, as ryan dean west, a skinny, Bostonian, rugby-playing fifteen-year-old upperclassman, enters the room from the outer hallway.
JOE RANDOMKID: Howdy! The name’s Joe. Joe Randomkid. I’m from Nebraska, and my pa’s a hog farmer. We have, I reckon, close to twenty-two-hundred hogs on the farm, give or take a few depending on how hungry me and my brothers are. I have ten brothers! And no sisters! Can you imagine that? Ten of them! Their names are Billy, Wayne, Charlie, Alvin, Edmund, Donny, Timothy, Michael, Eugene, and Barry, and then there’s me, Joe. How come I ain’t ever seen you around? Are you a new kid? I been here every year since ninth grade, but you look like you’re just a kid who can’t possibly be old enough to be in twelfth grade. What sport do you play? Me? I’m on the bowling team. Got a two-oh-four average, which is number one in the state in Nebraska and Oregon for twelfth-grade boys. I bet being all skinny like that, you’re on swim team or maybe gymnastics. Or do you cheer? Are you one of those boy cheerleaders? I don’t think there’s nothing wrong with that at all. Cheerleading’s probably more of a sport than NASCAR is anyhow. Who’s your favorite driver, by the way?
Are you one of them ones who get to pick up the girls and spin them around over your head like that? If I ever did that, I couldn’t help but look up their skirts, am I right? Or do you not like girls and stuff? ’Cause if you don’t, that’s okay too. I realize it takes all kinds. All kinds. And maybe you’re from California, after all.
RYAN DEAN WEST: (Ryan Dean West walks across the room and looks out the window.) Now I know why they put me on the ground floor.
Mom and Dad had helped me move in this time. It was weird. All the other times they’d dropped me off at Pine Mountain, it was like they couldn’t possibly leave fast enough.
Dad carried in my two plastic totes. One of them contained all my clothes and boy stuff—you know, deodorant and the razor Dad sent me last fall that was still as unnecessary as ever—and the other had school supplies, some brand new bedsheets, and a microwave oven, which I had no idea why they’d insisted I bring along. I lugged in the big canvas duffel bag filled with all my rugby gear that was soon to be packed away in my locker over at the sports complex.
I wanted to play rugby again almost as much as I wanted to see Annie, whom I hadn’t seen since she left Boston for Seattle five days before.
And—ugh!—Mom cried when she put my new sheets on the exceedingly gross, slept-on-countless-times-before, yellowing boys’ dorm twin-size fucking mattress, and I just stood there, helplessly giving my dad a what-the-fuck look. He shrugged.
At home in Boston, I had a big bed. I’m not sure where my Boston bed fit in on the hierarchy of royalty—you know, queens and kings and such—but it was easily twice as big as a twin, if this thing even was an actual twin. It was probably a preemie or something—the afterbirth of a twin. So we’d had to stop at a department store in this little town called Bannock, which is about twenty minutes from Pine Mountain, to get some sheets, and the only ones they had that would fit my dorm bed following the incoming rush of PM brats were pink flannel and decorated with a winged unicorn who, according to the inscription beneath her glinting hooves, was named Princess Snugglewarm.
Yeah. It was going to be a great year, wasn’t it?
“Why are you crying, Mom? Don’t worry about the unicorns. We can hide them beneath the blanket. I checked. It only has Princess Snugglewarm on one side, so we can flip it over so it only looks a little gay,” I said.
Mom sniffled. “Oh, Ryan Dean. It’s not that, baby. There’s only so many more times left in our lives when I’ll be able to put sheets on your bed and tuck you in.”
This coming from the woman who wept when she bought me a box of condoms because she actually thought Annie and I were having sex—like that was ever going to happen—when I was fourteen.
It was hopeless.
And not only do horses with big fucking spikes coming out of their heads scare me, but I hate flannel sheets besides.