Swirlie by Corey A. Edwards

The clay in my hands, which I’m mauling in a hopeless attempt to make the assigned pinch-pot, cannot distract me from the fact that Linda keeps looking at me. She glances at me furtive and sidelong, then turns to whisper to the other girls at her table, and they all laugh. I feign ignorance, trying to look absorbed in my work, but she isn’t fooled and neither is the clay.

“Yeah. Let’s do it.” I hear her say. “Let’s give the little pussy a swirlie.”

It is a simple phrase, brayed out in a stage whisper for my benefit.
A swirlie? Good God.

I’ve feared receiving a swirlie since first hearing about them years ago from my older brother.

“A swirlie,” he informed me “is when some big kids grab a little guy, like you and they take him by the ankles, and dunk his head in the toilet, and flush it.”

“In the toilet?” my seven-year-old mind was astounded.

“If you’re lucky,” he said, advancing towards me in a menacing fashion, “the toilet is clean but sometimes the toilet has pee in it, and sometimes it has poop in it and, sometimes,” he said, leaning even closer and raising his eyebrows, “sometimes you can drown in whatever it is that’s floating in there.” Then he demonstrated the procedure by dragging me to the bathroom, picking me up by the ankles and bonking my head a few times on the closed toilet lid, cackling at my distress.

And that is as close to receiving a swirlie as I’ve ever come. Now I am being threatened with a real swirlie: not by my older brother, not by upperclassmen but by my own classmates – female classmates.

I hate junior high and I especially hate art class. I’ve never been good at art. Oh, I did a reasonable facsimile of Snoopy in kindergarten, and, after an inspiring summer trip to Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean, sold a few small sketches of skeletons to my second-grade classmates but that is the extent of my notable artistic endeavors. My downfall came shortly after the latter event when a classmate, aghast, cried “I can do better than that!” and proceeded to do so, knocking out a number of fantastic sketches that had my previous clients demanding refunds so they could buy his drawings. Crushed, my last artistic effort with a pencil involved throwing it at my rival’s head and managing to get him in the eye with the eraser.

Art and math: God, how they suck. In other subjects I can at least show some capacity with the material, blend in, but art and math? I’m incapable in both and spend a lot of time in other classes, when I should be paying attention, dreading them. During art and math, the minutes drag by as, again and again, I am forced to demonstrate to my peers, my instructor and, worst of all, myself, that I am but some kind of subhuman retard; a simian maladroit incapable of drawing a straight line or isolating a simple remainder. These two subjects take what little self-esteem I’ve managed to retain as a gawky adolescent and crushes it to dust, leaving me limp, useless, and suicidal. The cycle is repeated twice a day, five days a week, year in and year out as I plod through a school system that has taught me little more than to toe the line and hate myself for being such an atypical loser.

I didn’t start life this way. At one time I was quite the happy kid. Then I began school and was introduced to my peers and I’ve never recovered.

This particular art class is taught by a young, sour woman named Ms Anderson. Her slight, athletic frame is topped with a blond Dorothy Hamill wedge of hair, from under which pierce two cold, spiteful eyes that dart and accuse above a painful cut of a mouth. She singled me out on day one because she suffered through my brother during her first year as a teacher and has made it clear I am to serve as her revenge. Many teachers manage to connect me with my brother and I often receive some initial extra scrutiny because of it but none are as vindictive about it as Ms Anderson.

You would think she would be grateful to have me around, as often as she includes me in the lesson; holding up my artistic failings and using them as the perfect example of how not to approach the subject at hand but she doesn’t seem pleased at all. When she isn’t pointing out my lack of vision, technique and design sense, she is accusing me of things I didn’t - and often wouldn’t – do. I mean: why the hell would I steal oil pastels? What am I going to do – eat them? With all the encouragement I’m getting and all the natural talent I possess, I’m sure as hell not going to be doing any secret, extra-curricular art projects!

Were it not for Ms Anderson’s help, I would never get into any trouble in her class. How can I? None of my small circle of friends is here with me; thus I’ve no one to talk to or cut up with. The best I can do is to generate the occasional mutual smile from one of the few other social outcasts in the class willing to associate with me. None of us are very familiar with each other but we clump at one table for survival, keeping a low profile, and ducking the spit wads as a collective.

And now I am facing imminent humiliation at the hands of a group of girls.


I’ve spent my entire life learning how to protect myself from boys, only to be singled out by a pack of girls. Girls are the ones I’ve always trusted to be compassionate and caring, to be above such cruelty. Have I been wrong? Am I such an obvious, pathetic target that now even girls are picking on me?

Not that I wouldn’t expect this from someone like Linda. Linda is a known creep –well, all the girls at the table are creeps, but Linda’s got a mean face even when she smiles. It takes little effort to conjure up a mental image of Linda wearing her smile and stomping on kittens. Her short, reddish-blond hair frames a thin, freckled face with a pixie nose and cold, green eyes. She’d be just the other side of cute, if not pretty, were it not for her expression, which is predatory when it isn’t clueless. I can’t imagine what her home life must be like to have made her this way –or maybe she just fell out of her mother with a black heart. Who can tell?

The other three girls in at her table exhibit more humanity –but just a little. Unlike Linda, they are somewhat attractive. Oh, who am I kidding? They’re drop-dead gorgeous.

Tammy has a bone structure that makes her look taller and thinner than she actually is, with a fine, blue-eyed face framed in faultless locks of shimmering gold that trail down her shoulders to rest above budding breasts of future perfection. In the fifth grade, on the school bus, in a fit of surrealistic optimism, I once asked her out, to which she replied with a dismissive and sugary "Oh, how sweet", as if I were five years her junior instead of a peer. This single, embarrassing incident remains the peak of our interaction and, if I think on it too much, I am in danger of doing harm to myself in horrified shame.

The other two girls, Meg and Cheryl, are twins. Not identical, though both inherited a similar, natural beauty that holds sway over an entire school of adolescent boys.

Meg is the undisputed leader of the group and there is a no-nonsense air about her that makes even the dumbest things she says difficult to refute –and it’s not because of the glasses. Meg won the title of student body president on the unspoken yet conspicuous platform that she possessed the best student body of the candidates. I’ve never been much on breasts, being more taken with faces and posteriors when it comes to female aesthetics, but Meg’s look wonderful: a buoyant, fleshy nirvana with enough supple, creamy skin for a million teenage fantasies. When I die, it is here that I wish to be buried.

Cheryl is slender, more angular than Meg, and conventional wisdom is that she is the prettier of the two, though I would disagree. Her light blond hair is wilder than her sister’s dark brown locks and her cheeks are higher and thinner. Her eyes contain a spark that hints at the beginnings of madness and, while Meg projects an air of respect and budding intelligence, there is a tilt to Cheryl’s smile that suggests maybe, just maybe, you could get a blow job – or a shiv in the ribs.

These four are not the only popular girls in school, but, with the exception of Linda, they form the core, the veritable backbone of the hot, “in” girls. Before last year’s ninth grade class graduated, these were the girls that the upperclassmen looked at, dated and in a few cases, if rumor has it right, went all the way with.

Oh, to bed one of them – even rotten, bitchy Linda! I sit across from Cheryl in English class and fail all manner of assignments and tests as I stare not at the chalkboard or book but at the seam in the crotch of her skintight Levi 501’s; a seam ever visible because she is incapable of closing her legs while seated. My god, if only she’d wear a skirt!

I have great fears that sitting across from her is doing me permanent injury; my throbbing, tender boner forced to form compressed and contorted into unnatural shapes, as I squirm through entire class periods in a pinched glaze of inflamed teenage agony.

If you’ve never been a 14 year old boy, awash in hormones, you probably don’t have a reference for what I’m going through but this is the hell of adolescence: being physically attracted to people whom you find socially repugnant.

As the hour progresses, the girls warm up to the idea and begin bragging, making sure that I, and others nearby, hear that they are going to give someone a swirlie. A boy. That boy over there.

Saying this aloud empowers them. So what if the boy is considered of less social and cultural stature than a girl? The act of humiliating a classmate – any classmate - of the purported superior sex will go far to raise them in the public eye of their peers, my classmates. The very thought has already done so to me, their victim. Where before I held them in a kind of shifting, disgust-tinged awe, I now also fear them and the power they have over me.

Those within earshot of their boasts find the idea hilarious. Burke, a dark-skinned beauty of a boy with flashing white teeth and mischievous eyes, can’t get enough of it. Brushing lanky, black bangs out of his eyes for the umpteenth time, he swaggers towards me, his youthful brawn rolling under the stark white of a motorsports-emblazoned, ringer t: “You’re gonna give him a swirlie?” he bays, index finger stabbing the air between us. “Haw! This I gotta see!”

Others chime in with similar hoots of encouragement but the adulation is kept to a minimum for fear that the establishment, embodied here by the malevolent presence of twiggy, purse-lipped Ms Anderson, might decide to step in and save my skin.

Attempting to ignore the increasing tension that is forming in my gut, I focus on my pinch-pot, which is becoming yet another in a series of artistic disasters. The little snakes of clay I was supposed to roll as a first step came out all lumpy, like a string of cat turds, and when I tried to even them out, they would squirrel and break. 30 minutes later, it now resembles something a blind and fingerless person might create through a less than cognizant gumming technique – minus the charm.

Ronnie, seated next to me in his dirty, too-large clothes, tongue protruding in concentration, is working away on a sculpture of a monster truck, having finished the assignment early. A neglected, scabby delinquent, Ronnie has undeniable mechanical and artistic talents and his pinch pot came out round, smooth and almost perfect.

Travis’s, too: sitting across the table from me, a loopy grin plastered across his face, he carves his initials into the bottom of a graceful, arcing sphere that is in comic contrast with his misshapen, bespectacled, shrub-laden head.

To my right, Steve is hard at it on a still lumpy ball but it’s a work in progress and has been improving all hour.

The three of them are happy and absorbed, oblivious to my social and artistic discomfort.

Chronometers are contrary: never moving with any real speed unless you don’t want them to. While the second hand is ever in motion, it sometimes seems to spin independent of the other hands; just a tease, another school-day lie. Now, when I want it – beg it – to slow, the clock races ahead, jumping another 10 or 15 minutes every time I think to glance up. Before I know it, it is time to clean up.

Being the last class of both the day and week, people skitter about the room in heightened anticipation, excited at the prospect of the afternoon's bus ride into the dawning freedom of the weekend.

Ms Anderson is laughing with Meg, Cheryl, Tammy, and Linda and I can see the bloodline of self-righteous princess that runs through them all. Linda catches my glance again and gives me a wink, then turns back to the group and they all laugh, even Ms Anderson. The sound is harsh and cawing, like a flock of fiendish, carrion birds feeding on an as of yet still suffering animal. Sweat pricks my armpits.

Having completed clean-up, we perch at the edges of our stools like sprinters on their blocks; purses and coats slung over shoulders, notebooks clutched to chests, pencils gripped between teeth or rapping disjointed and jittery rhythms on tabletops. The air sparks with hushed snickering and muffled hubbub. In every classroom, all eyes are on the sweep of the second hand as it arcs to trigger that classic call to freedom: the end-of-the-school-day bell.

Someone pops their gum and the bell sounds, signaling a chaotic melee for the door. Laughter, shouts, paper, canvas, rubber, and linoleum rub together in the heated storm of exodus; the puny buzz of last minute adult instruction tattered into futile intermittence in the din.

I make to get away, ahead of the stream, but the girls are there, grabbing my arms, holding me back, laughing in my face. A number of the boys join in as well; jocks such as Burke who, like sharks, cannot resist the smell of blood in the water and want join in the feeding frenzy of my humiliation.

I wonder what someone like Burke would do, were the situation reversed, and the answer comes in a flash of heart-pumping, dream-like imagery:

A sudden explosion of flailing, wild punches erupts from the center of the crowd. Even though I am a fish out of water when it comes to displays of pugilism, the unexpected ferocity of my attack sends them reeling back in shock. Then the boys close in, outraged that I would dare to raise a hand against girls, and, though I put up a valiant fight, I am soon felled by the practiced accuracy of their stronger blows, my life spared only by the chance intervention of a passing janitor.

Of course, that could never happen, it just isn’t me, and I realize, as they crowd around, jeering and unsympathetic, that one of the reasons I was chosen out of the small group of available targets is that I have never displayed any excuse, talent, or backbone.

They didn’t pick Travis, the equivalent of our class’s hunchback, because they wouldn’t want to touch anyone so icky – plus he might cry and then they’d look - and maybe even feel - bad. They didn’t pick Steve because, while he’s slow, he is involved in sports. He’ll never letter, maybe never even score but he is part of the team. He tries. They didn’t pick Ronnie because, though an obvious outcast, Ronnie projects the air of a stray animal; he is thin and dirty and he might just bite if you poke at him.

Me? The only reason I am an outcast is because I’m uncomfortable in my own skin. I’m not ugly and I’m not dumb – I’m just unconfident and frightened; a head shy, stumbling momma’s boy. We’re I not so afflicted, had I an ounce of self-respect, I might even be in one of the outer rings of the popular kids. I know it and they know it and it makes me an almost irresistible target because I do not fight back. They believe I will fold if they come at me, fold as the cliques do unto themselves.

But they’re wrong.
While no stranger to humiliation in front of my peers, I do not relish the idea of sinking further in their collective estimation by having my head submerged in the fetid water of a lavatory stool by four girls. My thoughts, sprinting hunted down the linoleum tile halls of adolescent stress, find what looks like a solution and I grab it with both hands.

“Okay.” I say, facing them with steady eyes. “You want to give me a swirlie? Fine -but it has to be just you girls– no boys can help.”

The four girls look at me, each other, then share a growing smile. Of course no boys should help! This will be a great adventure for them! An achievement, a rite of passage – and I’m offering to play the willing victim; a voluntary sacrificial lamb for their apotheosis. How neat! They look on the verge of bouncing up and down and clapping their hands with joy and I find myself tempted to spray incredulous laughter at their gullibility – maybe if I wasn’t so nauseous with anxiety.

Meg and Tammy grab my left arm, Cheryl and Linda my right, and we set off towards my mock execution, boys in tow but now assuming the passive roll of the pitchfork-waving mob. I walk relaxed, casual, smiling at the girls. Part of me is enjoying the feel of these four so close, so intimate, their hands, hair, breasts, and legs brushing me as we walk, as I never thought possible in a million years. Their combined scent is a heady mix of perfumes, sweat, and pencil shavings.

We round the corner and I ready myself.

The heavy, wooden door of the girl’s bathroom stands at the head of a long, sloping, carpeted ramp that leads down to the home ec and shop classrooms. Taking advantage of the relaxed postures I have lulled them into, I yank forward against their unready hands, utilizing both the carpeting and the grade of the slope to my advantage.

Meg and Tammy are taken by surprise as I slip with ease from their combined grasp. Cheryl is also taken off guard but Linda, whose grip remains constant despite my front, holds fast, flying forward with my momentum, her nails digging into the flesh of my forearm. Her weight does not impede my flight, however, as she is composed of little more than spite and hairspray but Burke and two other boys fall on me as well, dragging me back into the now vicious and guarded grasp of the girls.

“No boys!” I cry as the group drags me, struggling, back up the ramp towards the girl’s bathroom, “No boys! We said no boys!”

Once we cross the threshold, the boys bail out of the mass, yelping in fear and embarrassment at the concept of being caught – dead or alive – within the confines of that hallowed and forbidden zone known as The Ladies’ Room; every boy my age aware that setting even a foot inside ensures cultural, if not literal, emasculation.

I, on the other hand, appear to have little choice in the matter.

The girls are flush with excitement now, tugging with as much energy and strength as they can muster, and I am pinioned, helpless. I could struggle further but decide against it, attempting instead to use my remaining energy for some last, desperate plan.

They haul me towards the middle of the three stalls and Meg opens the door, revealing the white porcelain stool within the narrow, graffiti scarred, steel walls. They begin to push me towards the toilet and we all see the urine and toilet paper floating within.

“Oh, c'mon. Don’t make me put my head in that!” I plead, thankful that I am working with girls and not boys who would agree only if they could find – or create on the spot - a stool with nastier contents.

“Okay”, Meg says, and they reel me back out and into the larger, handicap equipped stall on the left, a stall that affords them more space with which to work -and me salvation.

I am compelled towards the cold water by excited, unrelenting shoves but my pleas stop them one last time.

“Please,” I implore, “I know it looks clean but could you flush it just once, just to make sure?” I hold my breath, hoping they will take the bait.

Again, a compassion I could never expect to find amongst boys, a visceral empathy borne of their own ingrained inability to stomach the thought of touching filth, shows itself and Meg acquiesces, leaning forward to flush the john.

Crowded behind me in the stall, they are confident that I cannot escape, so, as the water in the toilet cycles, they relax, allowing me to take what appears a casual, resigned grip on the thick, metal bars affixed to either wall of the stall.

As the toilet finishes filling, they move forward as one, pressing my head towards the still rippling surface – but find me immovable.

“Dammit! He’s got the bars!”

“Let go!”

“You said you wouldn’t fight!”

“Break his fingers!”

They are pushing at my head and back, clawing at my hands on the bars, at my arms, prying at my legs to upset me, almost climbing on me, desperate to force me down to the water, to move me more than an inch, and though I bend under the assault, I do not break. And I am smiling.

Cheryl begins punching me in the back of my extended and straining elbow, as if she is willing to break my arm as long as the end result is my receiving a swirlie. This has the desired effect and I collapse farther forward than I yet have, my knees striking the tiles as I bow under their weight. Still I am resolved to withstand their fury if only to earn the right to say “you failed” to their faces, and they can move me no further.

The last bell rings, jolting us in our struggle; Oh, yes: the civilized world.

The school busses will be departing any second, now and I can feel the girls’ hesitation as the realization sinks in. Is giving a dork a swirlie worth having to call their parents to come and pick them up from school? How would they explain missing the bus? Wouldn’t I be likely to tell? Amongst our peers, explaining how I received a swirlie from girls is the kiss of death -but to parents and school administrators . . .

The tables are turned.

Tammy and Meg reach this conclusion first, and, scuttling off of me like roaches exposed to sudden light, shout: “C’mon! We’ll miss the bus!”

Linda and Cheryl back off as well but, at the last instant, Cheryl gives a surprising and vicious thump to the back of my skull that just misses bouncing my teeth off the rim of the toilet, a few strands of my bangs dipping into the cold water of the bowl.

“Fucker” she tosses over her shoulder as she and Linda exit at a trot, laughing.

Running towards my own bus, I am filled with a sense of triumph and humor, my heart alive in my chest. All they have proven, these four popular girls, is that, even when joined together, they are weaker, dumber, slower, and crueler than I. They assaulted me with their schoolyard all and I remain unbroken – or at least no more broken than usual. Any way you slice it I am the victor, and this knowledge wipes the grime of humiliation from my face as I bound up the steps of the bus and take my seat.

Jubilant and shameless, I relate the tale to the immediate crowd, embellishing some details and omitting others, much as I have done here, in order to spice the tale and tease the proper light out of it.

Jarvis, a pale blond neighbor boy, fading ex-friend, and burgeoning, popular jock classmate, sneers at my story in disbelief: “Girls? You let girls drag you into a bathroom and give you a swirlie?”

“They couldn’t do it on their own.” I counter. “I would have gotten away clean if it hadn’t been for Burke and the others.”

“Still. You let girls give you a swirlie.”

“But they didn’t!” I protest. “They only got this little bit of my hair wet!” but Jarvis remains unconvinced.

cae 2006

Swirlie by Corey A. Edwards

One of the first rumors we fresh-faced, eager-eyed sophomores hear when we enter high school is that the senior class has sworn to give a swirlie to every sophomore before the year is out.

Of course, ‘every’ sophomore means every male sophomore, and the threat is not made by the entire senior class but by the ruling crowd of senior goons, a group made up of muscle bound, football-jersey sporting, good-time knuckleheads. Having survived a couple of brushes with the threat before, I take little heed, assuming my traditional low profile will keep me safe.

As the weeks pass, I note the occasional lunch-room spectacle of some squealing classmate being toted off towards the john by a group of cackling upperclassmen. These sporadic events look more like playful camaraderie than vicious assaults, the recipients tending to be but younger versions of the boys carrying out the attacks. Not all such incidents are as innocent, however, and I am witness to more than one unwilling victim exiting the bathroom in disheveled, red-eyed shame; clothing damp and askew with bits of toilet paper and god knows what else tangled in their still-dripping hair.

As I’d hoped, the sheer number of students in our school helps me to avoid a similar fate and soon, as the year progresses, I forget all about it, distracted by other threats to my person such as quarterly barrages of down-slips and cafeteria food.

The only bullying I receive on a regular basis is from a diminutive yet stocky Hispanic senior in my PE class. I suspect he has received a good deal of ribbing himself, being so short and, as we never had any interaction prior to his singling me out for abuse, I gather my main insult to him is the impudence I display by having dared to grow taller than he. A wrestler, he pins me daily to the rubberized floor of the gym in all manner of uncomfortable positions as the class laughs and the instructor, a respected and well-liked coach, looks the other way.

“C’mon, faggot. What are ya gonna do now, huh? What are you gonna do now?”

More often than not, all I can do is grunt or gurgle from the mashed flesh of my face or windpipe, but, for all his efforts, I find the situation more annoying than frightening. For one thing, he has nothing on my brother, who has been burning, punching, shooting and kicking me my entire life. For another, something in me changed over the summer and, while I am still not keen on being noticed, much less abused, I have gained confidence in the tools I do possess and begin bringing them to bear against people like Dan Ramirez.

“Jesus, Ramirez!” I cry, lying prone beneath him, “Is that a stub of a pencil in your pocket? Something real small and pointy is poking me in the ass! Ow!” or “I didn’t know you liked me this way, Ramirez. We should get a room.”

Soon the class is laughing at him instead of me and, flustered, he crawls off with an angry threat to kick my ass after class that we both know is hollow.

Not that Dan Ramirez is the lone senior with a mean streak. Most of the jocks in my PE class, no matter what their grade level, are swaggering, one-dimensional pricks who invest more time and effort into belittling, harassing and even injuring those they see as “outsiders”, rather than concentrate on the athletic pursuits they profess to love so much.
Then there’s Buzz Tucker.

Buzz Tucker – and when referring to him, you don’t say ‘Buzz’ or ‘Tucker’ but the full name at all times ‘Buzz Tucker’ – is a hulking, peg-toothed, bear of a senior with a logger’s body and hands the size of frying pans. Considered an integral part of the varsity offensive line, he carries himself like an armload of bowling balls, and enjoys scowling out from under his brows at the timid just to watch them blanch - so it is with real apprehension that I find myself facing him in a game of British Bulldog.

British Bulldog is a game played in a defined area - we used a well-padded wrestling room - and involves a single player being called out of the group to the middle of the room to play the bulldog - in this instance, one Buzz Tucker. The rest of the players then line-up along one wall and, when the signal is given, attempt to run to the opposing wall without running afoul of the bulldog. The bulldog's job is to catch a crossing opponent, call out "1-2-3 british bulldog" and slam them to the mat. Having done this, the person so captured is now also considered a bulldog, and so on, until the last person has been caught.

The coach blows his whistle and I'm running with the crowd, eyes on the opposite wall, desperate to remain unnoticed but well aware that, at some point, someone is going to notice me; notice me, smash me down, then pick me up to throw me back down again. My only hope is that my death is swift, not lingering.

These are the gasping, quiversome thoughts that are shooting through my mind when I feel those two great frying pan hands clamp on either side of my torso and pluck me like a rag doll, legs still a-whirl, from the mat. Buzz Tucker lifts me high over his head with a triumphant roar then, bringing me back down with tremendous force, screams out “1-2-3 british bulldog!”

I’m done for. I don’t care how thick that damn mat is, the momentum with which I am approaching it will reduce its padding effect to nil, becoming as unyielding and damaging as solid concrete. I close my eyes, grit my teeth, and am astonished when, at the last instant, I feel Buzz Tucker assert his massive strength to ensure I contact the mat at a safe, if still hard enough to be fun, velocity.

“Gotcha.” he says, looking down at me with a wink.

Thereafter and thanks to Buzz Tucker's fine initiation, I have a grand time playing British Bulldog and remain as enthusiastic as anyone to engage in a game of it but, to my dismay, I never get the chance to play it again. It goes the way of merry-go-rounds and dodge ball; classified as "too dangerous" to continue to be allowed on public school grounds.

As it turns out, Buzz Tucker is not only on the football and wrestling teams but also a member of Honors Choir and the Drama Club -and he's not alone. I discover another senior, varsity linebacker Don Mack, is part of the orchestra and Drama Club and I'm sure there are more.

This is a new wrinkle for me: jocks - I suppose you can still call them jocks - involved in what are thought of as the fruitier extracurricular activities and with whom you can engage in intelligent conversation.

I am chagrined; forced to reconsider my prejudices . . . by hulking, football playing jocks. Go figure.

Sucked into trying out for the year’s first production by a friend, I, too, am soon part of the Drama Club, appearing in a number of ever smaller roles throughout the year as my stage-fright turns me into a peeping mouse the minute the curtain goes up on any sizeable crowd. Still, it is fun and I enjoy the time spent creating the sets, blocking the scenes, and making a wider range of friends than I would have otherwise.

Towards the end of the year, I am hanging out with Buzz Tucker and Don Mack in the dressing room, backstage. We are taking a break from busting down the scenery from the season’s last play, which finished its’ run the night before.

As the conversation meanders, we somehow get on the subject of the seniors’ threat to give a swirlie to the entire sophomore class. They rattle off a few of the more memorable swirlies they participated in and we all have a good laugh. Then I get stupid.

“Yeah, no one ever got me.” I say, happy in the cheery warmth of my newfound brotherhood.

“Oh, really?” Buzz Tucker says, raising an eyebrow. “Are you sure?”

“Positive. I’ve heard the rumors going around that you guys succeeded in your goal but I know I didn’t get one. I’ve never had a swirlie.”

“Really?” Don says, looking at Buzz Tucker. “I find that interesting.”

“I think our class's honor is on the line, here.” Buzz Tucker replies.

“I’d have to agree with you,” Don answers, rubbing his chin.

Then they turn and look at me, faces breaking into wide grins as they rise from their seats.

Oh, shit. Why is it, whenever I get comfortable with people - a rare occurrence, I can tell you – that I manage to forget to keep my tongue on a short leash.

“Now, c’mon guys. We’re friends here. You don’t wanna do that.”

“Oh, no” Don says. “We do.”

“We have to” Buzz Tucker supplies, walking towards me, his great paws at the ready “we gave our word.”

Nothing I can say - no pleas, no cajoling, no promises of exorbitant recompense –distracts them from their decided course. Encased in their combined, immovable grip, I am carried like so much animated laundry to the painted cinderblock bathroom off the boy’s dressing room. It is a cramped space, with little enough room for one of them, much less the three of us.

Without being asked, Buzz Tucker gives the john a clearing flush prior to he and Don taking me by the ankles, lowering my head into the stifling confines of the bowl, then flushing, flushing, flushing as they bob me up and down in the noisome, spiraling wash of ice-cold water.
And I am laughing as hard as they are.

cae 2006