Rise of the Storyteller 24: Pop

Sixth grade in Slinger came in roaring. Girls, jacket, middle school, Ruffle, X, Grr, Jazz, G.I. Joe and Way Cool Junior. However, when I got to Waynesville, Missouri, and went to the last two weeks of sixth grade in a totally new school, with totally new kids, in a totally new town, I found it was no longer roaring. It was fading with a pop.

First of all, the jacket had to go. No G.I. Joe. Waynesville butted right up against an army base. Everyone there had a fatigues jacket. Going to school with an army coat just meant you raided a closet somewhere and could not afford to have real clothes. On the first day of school, it was ninety degrees. The coat was hell. I lost that shield. I lost that identity. I lost the only item that meant anything to me and, with it, I lost myself. Nothing to hide in anymore. Nothing to make me exotic. I was just a new kid. A broken new kid.

As soon as I walked in, they hated me, but not in the way I was used to. They did not want to hurt me like they did at 20th Street School. They did not hate me because all the girls liked me. Here, no girls liked me. That was not the problem. I think the problem was that I had nothing to offer. I was not funny. I was not handsome. I was not glib. I did not have nice clothes, a nice haircut, nice anything. I was, after taking off the coat, nothing special at all. I went unnoticed.

Now in Slinger, everything was within walking distance. In Milwaukee, everything was jammed in tight. But here, there was nothing. If you wanted to go anywhere, you had to go by car. We had no money for gas, so I was trapped in my house. Locked in a house that we could not afford to air condition, in a state that really needs it. Locked in a house with a sister who hated me. Locked in a house where I had nothing and no one. There was no one to call. No one to talk to. No one to play with. Waynesville was a great wasteland of boredom and tedium. I hated it instantly. And I had nowhere to go to escape the darkness in my mind.

Shadow had nothing to rage against. He sat dormant, growing agitated and wrathful. Guardian had nothing to protect because there was nothing to affect my sister or mother. Artist had nothing to work with. No one to tell stories to and nothing to write about. We began to atrophy. To fall away. And everything just shut down.

But now I had my uncles. Uncle Ball and Uncle Wrath were regular fixtures in my life and that was not always a good thing. They had an activity planned for me to get into. They wanted me to embrace baseball. They wanted me to throw myself into sports. They had built their teen years on things like this. But there was no way Shadow was playing a team sport. No way he could make himself care about a ball.

Baseball cards were big with them. Collecting, sorting, cataloging, pricing and selling baseball cards. I was supposed to care that so-and-what’s rookie card was up to 25 cents in this month’s Beckett, instead of last month when it was 16. That is good. That is very good, because we have ten of those. If we sell them for 20 cents, the buyer gets a 5-cent deal and we only paid four cents to get that card. That means we made a 16-cent profit. Do that two hundred times and we had a good show. Do that two hundred times and I wanted to put a bullet in my head.

They wanted it so bad for me. Wanted me to care about it, and I wanted that, too. I kept waiting to give a shit, but the truth was that when I went to collector shows and trading shows, I felt as if I was drying up. There was no magic there. Nothing that made me want to talk. No looking at a girl, squinting and seeing a Pegasus. There was nothing to do with my artistic mind at all. Nothing stimulating.

The job they gave me at these shows was to work the Beckett. If someone wanted a card, I was to look up what that card was worth and let my uncle know so he could make a deal. Have you ever seen a Beckett? It is a magazine printed on newsprint with tiny numbers in long columns. Each baseball card has a number. Each number has a price. These columns are stacked in rows. It is just stacks of tiny numbers. It is a dyslexic’s nightmare. I would stare and stare and fight to make sense of the numbers and the prices. My uncle wanted me to be fast. If a customer has to stand at a table for ten minutes, they will walk off. So he was riding me all day to be faster. To yell the numbers out. This is not rocket science. And he was right. It was not. And he is not the bad guy in this story. The man was trying to give me a hobby that would pay out, get me money and give me something to do with the huge swaths of time I had on my hands.

But it was impossible. My mind had been crafted to do a very specific thing. I was a dreamer, a writer, a romantic. I was a creator. I was an artist. I saw things. I heard things. I communicated with creatures I was not even sure were real. I was not a stacks of numbers guy. Could not make myself sort baseball cards.

Sixth grade ended with no fanfare.

Summer hit with no activity. Missouri was a desert to my creative mind. It could not sustain me.

It was not until eighth grade when I found myself again. Not until eighth grade when Smear Lord of Ire was called on again, and when that happened, life became possible.


This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 1: Teardrop Road, available on Amazon.

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