Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tuna Casserole






It’s 12:32 and the cafeteria is teeming with teenagers eager to lament their lunches. Swarming into line for today’s menu of tuna casserole, square pizza slices, brownies, chocolate milk, and corn niblets, the students pine for better times even though they loathe the notion of anything but freedom, at least if one is to believe a scribbling on the second stall of the boys’ restroom. But that’s what it says, so someone should have believed it, if only for a moment, though if freedom implies the choice between leftovers and pizza peppered with government cheese, then liberty does seem overrated indeed.

Laughter, shouts, and a pervasive murmur permeates the space contained within red-brick walls while some unfortunate souls twist through the mire looking for procurable seats amidst a disparaging array of available tables, all of which have long since been commandeered for their respective cliques or lack thereof. Lacquered renditions of society, each rectangular table is the forum for friendships, feuds, and everything between the two, twelve students at a time.

Nick Kirkpatrick wades through the bog to the edge of the second table from the northern wall and takes his seat next to dark-eyed Megan Erickson, who twirls a fork between her fingers; on the other side of Megan is Stephanie Moore, picking at her newly-trimmed bangs; next to her is Jason Cobb, taking off his glasses to rub his eyes; he sits between Stephanie and Alex Cummings, victim to an unfortunate surname; at the other end of the table Heather Robbins is perched like a bird, eager to converse with Alex. Opposite Nick is Amanda Pearson, and she stares at Nick while yawning, partially due to languor; to her right is Joel Griffin with his usual shit-eating grin; Miles Lavin sits next to Joel, and he’s juiced by the ingestion of three cans of Hawaiian Punch from a nearby vending machine; Katie Farris counters Miles’ enthusiasm with manicured nails painted jet black and a piercing scowl; beside her, Macie Smith flips through a worn copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost, looking for interesting passages to quote; Duncan Richardson rounds out the table, glancing over his shoulder toward a couple of quiet girls discussing something unknown. “What a mess, what a mess, what a mess” Nick bemoans as he drops his khaki-colored tray upon the table. Like shredded cheese and crushed crackers to a steamy bowl of chili, two guys augment the table's spectroscopic ignobility; the first being Chris Marconi, who nudges Stephanie with his elbow, while the dude creeping up on Katie is one Fletcher Bain, neither of whom is adequately equipped to pop this nuña bean of putrescent ennui.

Discussions are, at most, partially existent, with each participant speaking
toward someone, possibly themselves, in no particular order.

“Dude. Queen did not do ‘Rock This Town.’ That was Stray Cats.”
“Does anyone have change for a ten? I’m not using that goddamned Susan B. Anthony machine again.”
“See my friend over there? Yeah, him. He wants to know if you think I’m cute.”
A pop-up book of flowers from grade four are driving her insane..."
“I really don’t want to spend the summer in Ann Arbor. My mom is such a downer.”
“Who puts personalized plates on a Chevy Beretta? Honestly.”
“Will you just listen to me? I think I’m in love with you. Don’t be like that.”
“Can anyone give me the answers to the algebra homework? I don’t care if they’re correct.”
“’Vows made in pain, as violent and void.’ Awesome.”
“What do you think about that girl over there? The one with all the hair.”
“Four years of this square-pizza shit. Enough already.”
“What are you doing on Saturday? I have the night off, and...”
“I got accepted to Iowa, but Iowa State looks a lot better for me regardless of major. And what the hell are you talking about?”
“That’s not what you said last week. Tell me I’m wrong.”
This is lunch on any given weekday, give or take a teenaged catastrophe destined to occur.

Nick begins to pick at his cheesy-on-one-side casserole, folding the noodles so that the tuna finally mixes with the cheese, as God should have intended, while Amanda struggles to open her carton of milk. She looks down at the carton, curses in Nick’s direction, and then triumphs against her surrogate opponent, for lack of a better object to lament. Nick doesn’t know how to respond to Amanda’s disdain. He’s just not that into her, even if she looks cute in a 1982 slasher flick sort of way. He’s not into Megan, either, but Megan’s equally disinterested in him, so Nick’s complacent to sit beside her like he does every day, be it during lunch, study hall, or in the passenger seat of Megan’s car on the way home from school. Nick’s not one to complain, but he wishes he could quit this on-off-on-off relationship he and Amanda have going, even if they both enjoy rollerblading.

Megan can’t give Nick the answers to his algebra homework, and besides, Stephanie already asked the same question five minutes ago. She doesn’t take algebra, and even if she did, she wouldn’t have completed the homework, so it matters not. As for Amanda; why she cares about Megan’s license plate is slightly more intriguing, but nonetheless equally moot in terms of consequence. Perplexing at one point, the latent, misdirected scorn displayed toward her by Amanda has long since become apparent and, thus, mildly amusing. Should Amanda be jealous of Megan, as Nonny hangs out with her more than his on-again-off-again flame? It’s not as if she can control how people choose their friends, lovers, and all that, so she’ll just keep twirling the stainless-steel fork between her seemingly delicate fingers with an insouciant smirk befitting the situation. Megan actually likes Amanda, all things considered, but it’s hard to avert one’s malignant disposition so readily, especially when there are Paradise Lost quotes floating about.

Macie is a junior sitting at a table mostly populated by seniors. She should be happy about that, and she is happy, but there is something equally disconcerting about the affair. Some folks label her as artsy (including some of her fellows at the table) but she doesn’t really feel that way; she just reads what she likes, and making references is just one way she ingratiates herself to Megan. It’s nothing sexual, Macie is pretty sure of that, she just likes Megan. Megan’s a senior, and seniors always seem cooler than her classmates, and Megan very much so, even if Macie has a difficult time articulating just how (or why) Megan’s so cool, and it’s not as if everyone agrees. Has Megan read the works of Milton, perhaps even William Blake? The way Megan smiles upon hearing a random quote would suggest as much, and she seems to enjoy Macie’s company. Macie also delights in sitting across from Alex Cummings, senior extraordinaire. That’s what she really likes.

Alex smiles wryly at the gawky junior across from him, as if to ease the awkwardness of Heather’s query. Yeah, he knows the two of them dated during sophomore year, and yeah, she gave him a blow job at her house while her parents were away at the movies (he can’t recall which film it was, except that Clint Eastwood directed it), but still, that shouldn’t really be allowed to cramp his style. Alex is tired of being labeled a player, because that’s not what he’s about; it’s just that he’s a senior in high school, for fuck’s sake, and he has his whole life ahead of him. To think that he should be tied down at this point is absurd, if not insane, even if he still has a soft spot for Heather. She’s a nice, pretty girl, surely, but that’s beside the point, and he’s getting tired of square pizza, too, which is less than coincidental. Flicking off a few pieces of imitation sausage, Alex takes his first bite and realizes, for the hundredth time, that it’s not so bad, it’s just the thought of consuming another slice that horrifies him. Heather leans in toward him, expectantly. So she has Saturday off from the Gap. So what? He dodges her glance to do his own toward Amanda Pearson, the (read: only) cutest redhead at the table. Maybe they could get together for a better slice of pizza, like at Little Caesars, perhaps, just as long as he doesn’t have to ask her out within earshot of Megan Erickson. That girl is like watching a coyote eat soggy Cheerios.

Off in the distance, Judd Jones shrieks “Spider!” and writhes about in mockery of Trevor Brown’s recent, well-circulated demonstration of cowardice. Megan’s smirk grows into a genuine smile, and Miles takes a moment to howl in laughter while Joel raises an eyebrow at their display, his perpetual grin marred for an instant by a look of authentic dismay.

But it’s only for a moment, even if it should be much longer; for all the things wrong with the world, his world, there’s no use in dwelling upon the negative. Sure, Joel’s mom is a drunk, Ann Arbor blows, a good number of his so-called friends take an inordinate amount of pleasure in seeing others’ discomfort (had Trevor Brown’s reaction to a big, hairy spider, be it real or imagined, been all that hilarious?), and he has no plans for the future, but Joel just wants to take things easy. What else is there to do? It’s not as if anyone will offer words to ease his apprehension about this coming summer. They never do. Sometimes it just seems like they come over to his house to play Goldeneye on a big-screen TV. That, or to check out his stepmother, who just happens to look more than a bit like Pam Grier. Joel supposes that fair-weather friends are better than nothing, and sitting here sure beats slumming it up in the hallways with the losers and loners. So he beams, even though there’s something unpleasant brewing between Katie and Fletcher fucking Bain. Smiles, all around.

Pick-up lines aren’t the easiest thing in the world to pull off, but Fletcher’s got little to lose, and it worked on Sara McBride, so what’s it going to hurt? Katie Farris is cute, just a bit Goth, and, from what he’s heard, capable of quasi-philosophical conversation; which is the kind of girl he needs at this point, especially after Sara rebuked his entreaties for more than third base by invoking Jesus Christ as her reason for not going all the way. If his instincts are correct, Katie Farris has no commitment to God, and thus it’s only natural that sex is within his grasp. He’s got a reliable wingman in Andy, too, so he’s covered on that front. Without the slightest glance backwards, Fletcher knows that his pal is playing along with the ruse. Okay. Katie’s response is less than inviting, and she seems to be peering a bit too much in Andy’s direction while he stands there, enduring her dismissive tone. Is she playing hard to get? His shirt’s black. Her hair’s black. What’s the problem here? Right about now, Fletcher Bain is beginning to regret his decision to sail near the jagged shores of the Island of Misfit Toys.

Katie hates being interrupted during one of her eloquent lamentations, least of all by some dork in a black silk shirt, which just screams fashionably desperate. The numerous ornate rings that adorn her fingers should indicate that she’s unavailable, or at the very least, a woman of discriminating taste. She has much deeper things to contemplate, like her pending applications for state universities; of which there are, really, only two options. The University of Northern Iowa is for teachers, and a teacher she is not. She’s a doer, even if she has yet to decide what she’d like to do. Katie’s been active in art classes throughout her high-school life, but that’s been done before; so has acting, but at least that’s an avenue for her to express herself vocally, as well as to be admired for her multifaceted talent. She’s being distracted, though, and she can’t quite figure out why this guy hasn’t realized the error of his actions and subsequently crawled away with his tail between his legs. To say that Mr. Fletcher Bain has miscalculated would be a grave understatement, as the guy he referenced so casually, Andy Mercil, has been in art classes almost as long as Katie has been, and his soft, often reticent demeanor has proven endearing to her refined sensibilities. She rolls her eyes at Fletcher, and then reinstates her gaze toward Andy. Almost predictably, Miles stands up, violently kicking his chair behind him, as if enraged by Fletcher’s gratuitous display, but Katie knows this isn’t the case, even if it is a welcome coincidence. No one takes heed, except for Fletcher. Soon enough, Fletcher slinks away, giving Andy the finger. She smirks with satisfaction as Andy shrugs in a facetious display of incredulity.

Miles stands up because he’s pissed off about Fletcher fucking Bain hitting on Katie, but not exactly; sure, he’s had a crush on Katie since a freshman English class they shared, but what really pisses him off is that nobody’s going to make change for a ten, and he knows that most of them have it, they just don’t want to, which is to say that he and girls never seem to work out, and he’s quite content with that situation, but the lack of cooperation, while expected, regarding his ten-dollar bill is infuriating, even though he’d expect nothing less from his friends, and what a loose term that is, considering that they, alongside everyone else, are the ones that booed him off the field during the last moments of the infamous football game against Jefferson, a game that broke Jefferson’s sixteen-game losing streak, all because he acquiesced to Coach Lewis’s questionable demand to attempt a field goal with the pigskin set to ‘laces in’ (Laces in! Lewis had shouted at Miles, as if he were high or on the take), resulting in the first victory for Jefferson in a long-ass time and his retirement from the mire that is high-school football, but even that stain is bearable due to his phenomenal performance on the track team; he is, after all, an incredible sprinter, and despite his nefarious folly, not to mention that he had recently sewn the word ‘state’ into his palm with red thread in reference to the upcoming track meet (which met with awkward stares, except from Erickson, who, despite being a total jackass, appreciated the fact that he did it for no other reason than to express his dedication to the sport), everyone is rooting for him, even if they still harbor some resentment toward his performance at the Jefferson game, and the Radiohead lyrics you know, you know where you are with, you know where you are with, keep reverberating throughout his skull even though he isn’t particularly fond of the band, but it somehow reminds him of the shitty Susan B. Anthony dollars so happily dispensed upon teenagers helpless to resist the government’s plan to disperse an unpopular currency amongst a select population, even though most businesses scoff at the notion of such supposedly legal tender, so he’ll have to use the Susan B. Anthony machine in order to use another goddamned machine which contains the Hawaiian Punch. Does that, let alone anything, make sense? Miles has a crush on Katie Farris but he’s far more concerned with Susan B. Anthony right now.

Jason’s been rubbing his eyes because he can’t believe all the shit that’s going on around him, but Miles’ partially unexpected outburst draws him back into the world of visual clarity. Donning his glasses once again, Jason can’t help but wonder how long it will take Miles to reach a decision regarding the Susan B. Anthony conundrum, though no less troubling is Duncan’s proposition that Queen was responsible for such a travesty as ‘Rock this Town’, but even that transgression pales in comparison to his longtime friend’s fascination with younger women. To that, Jason is speechless; just how low can a guy sink? Sophomores? Sure, the girl Duncan leers at is cute, but it’s perplexing that Duncan only started liking girls once he entered his final year of high school, as prior to that seemingly auspicious event, Jason’s childhood pal had absolutely zero courage regarding the opposite sex. If anything, Jason fosters a silent, yet unrelenting grudge against his chum, for it used to be just the two of them and a Playstation against the crazy, misshapen world he so detests for its horrid complexity. He can’t even bring himself to tell Duncan the truth about his feelings, so he mumbles something along the lines of “She’s okay.”

Duncan dismisses his friend’s noncommittal response as mere jealousy, since they’re obviously gazing at two entirely different people. He doesn’t give a rat’s ass about ‘Rock this Town’, as it just happened to be the song that popped into his head when he first noticed the enchanting beauty seated two tables away. Duncan doesn’t have the slightest idea who this girl is, other than that she’s probably a sophomore carrying on a clandestine conversation with a decidedly bubbly blonde of mediocre appeal; suddenly, the lunchroom disappears, leaving only he and his maiden of bountiful carmine tresses. His older sister, Michelle, who is still cool despite her continued residence at their parents’ home three years into community college, dates some dude named George four years her elder, and from all her whimsical rants Duncan has gathered that women adore older men, which suits his fancy quite nicely. He’s always had something to offer women but lacked the experience to exhibit his considerable talents, yet with a younger woman, it stands to reason that she’d have even less wisdom than himself, thus attraction is inevitable. The wondrous nymph almost casts a glance in his direction, and Duncan’s poised to make his move, but Heather kicks him in the shin, that bitch.

“You should ask her out,” Heather desperately encourages because Duncan’s a romantic in need of some assistance. “Do you want to come bowling this Saturday?” she says because Alex gets along with Duncan, and that would benefit her cause, though Duncan’s resulting shrug is less than reassuring. “Hey, Miles, what about you?” she inquires as Miles passes by in a rage. “Hey Megs, what are you doing this weekend?” she queries, to which her sometime friend responds by yipping like a coyote in heat. “What’s up, Chris?” Heather mutters because she figures that if anyone could appreciate her predicament, it would be him. “Alex, listen...” she trails off, distinctly aware of her depressing impotence.

Chris appreciates Heather’s conciliatory greeting, but the reality is that he doesn’t give a fuck about Heather’s problem; he has his own to deal with. Just this morning Principal Bentley turned the school into a police state after it became known by word of mouth -and isn't that the best form of evidence?- that Cindee Graysmith's grade 10 math book was stolen for reasons unknown to the faculty but hinted upon due to gossip, and those reasons are: 1) Cindee Graysmith taped two grams of hash to the book's back inner cover 2) She was given, on the first day of the semester, the teachers' edition by mistake, and what a prized possession that would be to perennial math retards like Stuart Blake, Matt Cramden, Haley Hughes (a girl gifted with a comic-book name whose powers consist of having epileptic seizures and peeing herself in second period German class), et al 3) Cindee's father teaches twelfth-grade Business -ironic when you consider that the Graysmiths are practically shit broke because Mrs. Graysmith can't keep her tobacco-stained fingers away from a vodka bottle or an Indian reservation slot machine- and what a prick that guy is. Around school this afternoon, Reason No. 3 is the most widely accepted explanation, probably because the student body's general dislike of (or downright hatred for) her old man has by familial osmosis translated to a tipping point of sorts that is far from being in Cindee's favor, even though she's got a chest as prodigious as her mother's affection for liquor and a reputation for being easy. Poor Cindee Graysmith; she's hated by association, like if Hitler and Eva Braun had a kid, and the two Es which finish off her given name don't exactly help. "CindEEEEEEEEE!" she's regularly called and referred to, poor kid. She never had a chance. So Chris, who knows nothing (nor cares) about Cindee Graysmith's math text, is reasonably agitated here and now, as students shovel soggy corn niblets into their maws juxtaposed with teachers, janitors, and maybe some tall men carrying rifles as they go about tossing every locker in the hallways. Because he has a grenade in his locker. It's at the bottom, under a moldy sandwich in a Ziploc bag, two binders bereft of a single sheet of paper, and a black canvas knapsack. God, what are they going to do to me when they find that? he puzzles over, imagining prison sentences and shower rape. One thing's for sure: everyone's going to forget Cindee Graysmith's math textbook if they find that grenade.

Stephanie is so weary of listening to Chris’s bullshit; she once thought he was cool, like back in tenth grade when he punched out Matt Cramden for swiping his Oakley Half Wires, and later, last semester, when he pulled the fire alarm during sixth period, but now his antics have simply grown excessively tiresome, as well as unduly erratic. She listens to him mumble, stumble, and struggle to articulate his feelings, which at this point are, at most, a cacophonous array of disjointed emotions glued together by sheer desperation. That’s not so cool. One day he’s up, the next he puts a corpse to shame, and today he’s a mess. Yes, Chris says he loves her right now, and perhaps it’s true, but just one week prior, he declared the exact opposite, going so far as to recommend she go to hell and fuck herself eternally, merely because she hadn’t been in the mood to let him spank her bare ass while she wore his Home Depot smock before sex. Stephanie’s heard all of his excuses and more, but she has a new hairstyle, and if that’s not proof of life beyond mentally unstable boyfriends, she doesn’t know what is. Her friends have yet to mention her bangs, sure, but they have been whispering about Chris all week: Nick says he’s got all sorts of unresolved issues; Chris’s distaste for Hawaiian Punch perplexes Miles; Fletcher Bain thinks, well, who gives a shit what Fletcher fucking Bain thinks; and Megan posits that, insanity aside, Chris is rapidly losing control of his once sexily schizophrenic appeal. Stephanie knows these things. She also knows the combination to Chris’s locker, and she’s seen what lies beneath that rotting bologna sandwich. Most of all, she knows that right now, as Chris shambles away from the table, Coach Lewis and his brigade of cronies are in the process of searching through each and every locker on the premises. People think Stephanie Moore is the ditziest of ditzy blondes, but she's getting along just fine.

Amanda’s sick of this milk, sick of this school, and sick of Megan Erickson’s stupid, dumb, retarded Chevy Beretta with its idiotic vanity plates, but what she truly detests is the message, or lack thereof, contained within their metallic folds. HEDORAH is what they advertise, and Amanda is at a loss for what they’re supposed to imply. AMENTIA is her best guess, yet Erickson’s full of shit in a way she can’t quite wrap her brain around, and this quandary exhorts the creeping, unruly suspicion within Amanda’s heart to scribble hackneyed poetry characterized by deceptive affectations all across its sarcoid walls. Megan has yet to touch her food, Amanda observes, and she's still twirling that damn fork between her bony little fingers, which is all because that crack-baby coyote probably snorted a line of coke in the girl's bathroom before lunch. In all likelihood, Erickson actually paid for her lunch with the same twenty-dollar bill she used to ingest that shit, and Amanda has an urge to alert the school counselor of said information, and yet, knowing that such an action would, sadly, piss Nick off to no end, she'll resist the vindictive impulse, instead relishing the fact that, sooner than later, Megan will receive her long-overdue comeuppance.

But, alas, alas, notes a cheesy lump of tuna casserole wrapped around Nick's fork, such dreams shall remain forever unfilled, for in thirteen scant days, after the inevitable arrest of our dear friend Chris Marconi, Amanda Pearson, whilst skating maniacally within the school parking lot alongside her quondam paramour, Nick Kirkpatrick, shall attain irrepressible velocity and, subsequently, smash her unguarded cranium through the passenger-side window of Principal Bentley's new Volvo, dying well before the ambulance arrives on the scene, and well, well before the dastardly Megan Erickson encounters that which deserves her company.

[How the tuna casserole knows all this is another matter entirely]

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sooo Chicken Wire and Sparkles wrote this together? I'll give it a try and tell you who wrote what, but first I have a question:

Did you break it down paragraph by paragraph or is it all mixed up even on the sentence level?

Chicken Wire, the Harbinger of Heavenly Annotation said...

Paragraph by paragraph, though there were alterations made on each side within said paragraphs.

(Continuity is a bitch.)

Anonymous said...

I can do it, no probs. I'll get back to ya later!~

Sparkles*_* said...

Paragraphs, plural?

Anonymous said...

Jeezuz, did I say "no probs?" Gak! Gak! I got stuck on some of the longer paragraphs, and was hindered by the fact that you two have similar writing styles and an overlapping lexicon. Although only one of you uses "for" for "because". ;) Anyway. Assuming that you each wrote certain paragraphs I would break it down like this: WOT?

Sorry for the attachment/link! You should be on Google Wave: this'd look nicer.

Chicken Wire, the Harbinger of Heavenly Annotation said...

Goo...gle...Wave...?

Avis said...

I won't comment upon who wrote what, but I like this.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you didn't say "..over lapping ... LEXICON...?". ^^

Chicken Wire, the Harbinger of Heavenly Annotation said...

We draw upon a shared knowledge of words, so you're forgiven.*

* Barring words such as 'thus', which baffle Sparkles like continuity baffles Stephen King.

Anonymous said...

That's just because Sparkles wasn't born in in 1880, no?

(grin)

Sparkles*_* said...

I have a self portrait in my attic that keeps looking older and older with each passing year.

(I don't have an attic.)

Anonymous said...

I have no idea what you mean by that!

(But I'm sure it was funny).

Avis said...

Oh Dorian.

Sparkles*_* said...

Avis gets Sparkles. Sparkles loves Avis.

Avis said...

I've missed you, Sparks. As I'm sure you've missed me. Mab and I have been extremely neglectful of our blog, no? I'll see if we can remedy that a bit. Hugs and kisses.