Few of us in life get to be remembered. And even fewer of us who do, get to be remembered for something great. Inventing a cure for the common cold, climbing Mount McKinley in a pair of flip flops, rescuing a family of hedgehogs from the I-90; hell I’d settle for being the guy who beat the gut buster all day breakfast challenge at Beefy’s Diner and didn’t ask for the barf bucket. Anything would be better than this, Nat Dobbs, the kid who flashed his junk during half time at the last football game of the season, live on Montana State TV. Yeah, that’s pretty much up there with the guy who tried to make refrigeration safer by inventing CFCs and ended up causing a bigger hole in the Ozone layer than the entire first world population put together. Maybe sometimes it’s better to go unnoticed.
I wonder how long exactly did it take my father to decide there was no sticking around Butte after that, had I even managed to pull my sweatpants back up before he had mentally boxed up and moved us out of town. In less than a month after the entire student body and faculty, along with hundreds of loyal KUSM viewers, had borne witness to my bare ass, the Dobbs family had packed everything we could fit into a rented U-Haul and were headed west. Not one to exercise too much adventurous abandon, my father Gunther, decreed that a mere 65 minute drive to the next town was sufficient to expunge the shame I had heaped upon us with my act of uncharacteristic lewdness. Besides, he didn’t want to move too far from his beloved motor shop, the prized jewel in his crown of Americana achievement, the baton of bullshit that he would one day bequeath his favoured son. That’s not me, but I’m guessing you figured that out already.
‘You’d better not pull any of that stupid shit in this new school. This is it Nat, there are no more schools left for you to try out, so you make it here or you get the hell out.’ My father takes his eyes off the road briefly to look at me. He always drives with one hand on the wheel while the other taps something manically, the outer door frame if his window is open, the roof above him if it’s shut. Traveling with him is a constant battle of irritants – the incessant tapping of his fingers versus the inane dripping of his voice. Today the voice is winning, mainly because it’s playing the same old tune I’ve heard throughout my fifteen years of life. It’s a catchy little number I like to call, ‘Why are you such a freak Nat?’
‘I just don’t understand why you can’t be more like your brother. Gunner’s set to graduate this year with decent grades and secure a football scholarship to Montana Tech, that’s if your little indecent exposure stunt hasn’t reached the panel of selectors. Sure he’s had his fair share of fun, I mean, he’s a normal 17 year old guy, same as I was at his age. I know he cuts loose, hangs out with some girls, normal teenage stuff. But he sure as hell never took out his wiener in front of the whole god damn town.’
‘I…I….t..told you w..what happened Dad.’ I only ever call him Dad to his face. At all other times he shall be referred to as Grunt. Gunther ‘Grunt’ Dobbs, a wonderful loving father to Gunther ‘Gunner’ Dobbs.
‘Yeah, yeah I know, the other kids said they were gonna drop their pants too, that it was some kind of bonding prank. But they didn’t do it did they Nat? No, you’re the only dipshit who’s gotta move school again.’
Three elementary schools, two middle schools, two semesters into high school and we’re off. This will be my seventh school in total. I’m the perpetually bullied kid, the stammering, stuttering battering ram of ridicule and derision that every bully with limited creative intelligence dreams about. I practically write my own kick-me signs for my back. I had tried hardest at my last school to fit it. It was high school after all, my final chance to break the endless cycle of exclusion and dead arm punches. I had even observed my brother Gunner for inspiration, big lumbering turd of popular perfection that he is. ‘Just stop being such a little dick and do what the cool kids do,’ was his sage advice so I followed it; it being Bryce Davies.
Bryce Davies once ate a live caterpillar at recess, intentionally burned off his own eyebrows with a Bunsen burner in chem class and asked a German exchange student if the Holocaust actually happened or was it just an elaborate story the Jews concocted so they could make money from the war. Basically, in any other world where the laws of civility, propriety and indeed, justice, prevail, Bryce Davies is an imbecilic douchebag not destined to impart any much good of anything onto humanity. But in the realm of Butte High, he was the one and only thing that mattered; he was cool.
‘Can you see the ‘Stang behind us? I can’t see nothin’ in this truck’s blind spot.’ Grunt pulls and pushes at the wing mirror desperate to catch a glimpse of his precious baby. I make the requisite gestures to simulate I too am searching for the cherry red 1967 convertible Ford Mustang my father rubs up and down every night and only dares to drive on Sundays. Today’s a Saturday but she’s been taken out of her holding at the old house to make the trip to our new one. Like the rest of us, the Mustang is headed for the bustling metropolis and bright lights of Manhattan, Montana. Population 1,549 plus four as of noon today.
‘Yeah…I…I..can see it.’ I lie
‘Good….Gunner sure knows how to handle a clutch, not like Wendy. She’d better not be smoking in her, I told her if I can smell the slightest whiff of those stinking shit sticks on my genuine issue leather interior she’ll be cleaning that car with a toothbrush.’
My mother always likes to smoke in his Mustang. I think it’s her way of sticking two fingers up at Grunt and his motorised mistress. She wasn’t angry with me that day at the game, just worried. That was worse. That meant I was moving school again. I knew how this was going to go down. There always came the breaking point, the one thing that took the bullying to a new dimension, something that made her fear for my actual safety and not just my mental stability or social development. I suspect she had given up on those a while ago. It was her eyes I saw once I lifted my head up from my knees, my ass catching the breeze of a cool February evening, my hands instinctively rushing to cup myself in a desperate bid to preserve whatever modicum of dignity still existed within me. Her open mouth and startled eyes gave way to their cackles and cheers and deep bellied guffaws as fingers pointed at me from all corners of the stadium. It took me a moment to realise what had happened, that I had been the only one to follow through on Bryce Davies’s genius prank. He still had his pants well and truly fastened around his waist, they all did. All eight of our supposed ‘flash mob’ remained fully clothed and unimpeachable. The laughing was so sickeningly cliché I was glad when Bryce started a rousing chorus of ‘N..N..Nat’s nuts, Nat’s nuts. We saw Nat’s nuts.’ Although that wasn’t exactly original. My mother freaked out after that, which was to be expected, I mean what mother wants her son’s genitals on the TV? She usually reacts pretty badly when something big like this happens. In 6th grade she wanted to get Robbie Hitchens sent to military school after he tied my hands to my feet with my shoelaces and pushed me down two flights of stairs. She’d settled for his expulsion from school and my mandatory wearing of Velcro footwear. So it was nothing strange to me when my Mom informed me I was changing again, I just wasn’t expecting the sudden involvement of Grunt. Not once through all the other mediations, meetings and moves had he expressed the slightest flicker of interest in my schooling – or likelihood of surviving it. But this time was different, this time the state of Montana had borne witness to my weakness and humiliation and shit like that can become airborne and attach itself to anyone unfortunate to get close enough. ‘Just think if the selectors from Montana Tech find out he’s Gunner’s brother, we could kiss that scholarship goodbye.’ That had been his general response. Maybe that’s why Bryce Davies’s prank – albeit a trap– had appealed to me in the first place. There was something kind of beautiful about shoving my rear end in their faces right in the middle of Gunner’s last glorious high school day.
‘Well this is it.’ Grunt pulls the U-Haul into the new driveway of our rented bungalow, screeching the brakes into submission. ‘It’s not as big as our own place, I don’t know why your mother insisted on a lawn, I could have used some outdoor space to work on the ‘Stang. You’ll have to learn how to use the mower properly coz I sure as hell ain’t keeping it in order.’
‘I…I…don’t mind it. I q..q..quite like mowing the lawn actually.’ I don’t really. I just make a habit of forcing myself to like things he doesn’t. Mom had inherited our Butte house, moved in as a young bride with my now deceased grandmother. By all accounts of her character and photographic evidence she was Grunt in set curls and a housecoat. It was all her, the textured wallpaper, the dark wooden units, even the smell of the place was old. This new house was finally Wendy- self contained, small but sturdy, in need of long term maintenance and a coat of paint but nothing dark lurking in corners. What you saw was what you got.
‘Yeah?’ Grunt replies after unloading the first of the cardboard boxes onto my new grassy domain. ‘Well you’d wanna bring that can do attitude to this new school of yours Nat, coz I’m not moving any further away from my shop. Gunner and me will be commuting for over two hours a day as it is and he’ll need to stay close for college in the Fall.’ My brother is getting to finish out his academic year in the school he had always attended. How novel.
‘I know – b…believe me I don’t l..like all this moving around either. Being the perennial new kid isn’t much fun.’
‘Stop using words like perennial and maybe the kids at this school won’t think you’re such a weirdo.’ Grunt loads up his big manly arms and bows out his big manly legs and takes big manly strides towards the new pretty little Wendy house.
Okay. So maybe all I have to do to fit in here is to stop fighting the obvious solution – just be more like him and less like me.