Saturday morning over corn flakes and bananas I asked Dad, “What do you think we should do about Israel?”
Every day before I delivered the paper, I read every article. I knew lots of facts but only Mr. Gold, my history teacher, ever wanted to discuss the meaning of these facts.
Dad’s bushy eyebrows rose above the crease of the sports section. “I think you shouldn’t worry about things you can’t control,” he snapped the paper, “Gabby.”
Mom clanged the frying pan down on the stove top. She stood behind me, but I knew she hated it when Dad called me Gabby. I didn’t mind … too much. He usually called me Chet, but when he wanted some quiet, it’d be Gabby. He’d been doing it as long as I could remember.
After house chores, I met the two Tommys at the Big Lot. My best friend was the first Tommy, who we actually called Tommy. He was chosen first in all games. He was quick and knew how to play every game well. The other Tommy we called the Haskell. He was tall, a bit clumsy, and made our parents wince with his insincere flattery like Eddie Haskell in the old ‘Leave It to Beaver’ reruns.
“Hey, Chet.” Tommy stood up and threw a perfect pass over the hedges to where I entered the lot. “One more guy and we can have a two-on-a-side game.”
I caught the ball and ran it over to the low bush which served as an out-of-bounds marker for our football games.
Sitting down, I said, “While we’re waiting, did you guys see the cost of gas is more the cost of bread?”
“Jesus H. Christ!” The Haskell’s face got red. “We’re here to play football. I got to listen to that crap when parents talk, but not here, not now.” He turned to Tommy. “Who’s that new babe in your homeroom? She’s hotter than Mandy.”
While they talked about girls in the most graphic terms, I was shunted to the side. They hardly even noticed I was there.
Maybe I was bugging everyone by asking too many questions, by bringing up too many things. Maybe most people were just a little more polite than Dad and the Haskell.
I decided to try an experiment. I’d see how long it took for someone to ask me for my thoughts. A psychological experiment. How soon before someone would notice that I’d changed? How long until I was asked my opinion on something?
I listened to Tommy and the Haskell swap stories of a metal shop teacher who kept a flask under the rosin, and how this girl or that girl looked so good, and what we Tommys odds at making the football team.
They went to school together, while I took the city bus to a tech magnet school, all guys. That took an important interest out of school. Best thing was the ride to and from school – girls from two other high schools were on our route and rode part of the way.
Sometimes Betsy Kaiser, the girl of my dreams, was at the corner where I caught the bus. Hazel eyes, a quick wit, a welcoming manner, and a nicely developed body.
Tommy and Haskell were sort of interesting, but they never required more than a yea or a slight nod from me to keep up their conversation.
Mandy, a girl everybody liked, waved as she walked down the street in front of the lot. We walked over to the hedges. She fluttered a list she had to fill at the grocery store. After some talk about a coming dance, directed mainly to Tommy, she continued to the store. Me, I’d not been asked anything.
My tentative hypothesis was holding. No one was ever going to ask me anything again. Actually I was asked to do things. I was told to do things. That was it.
Monday morning I left for the bus stop at 7:05. That would get me to school almost an hour early, but it increased other odds.
I zipped my jacket as I walked across the big grocery store’s parking lot. When I reached the far side, I saw Betsy. Alone at the bus stop.
Walking up, I nodded hello to her.
She smiled. “Hey, how you doing?”
Was that close enough? Could I talk again?
Before I could decide, Betsy continued on. “You won’t believe what the Haskell did! He gave a free bus ticket to Ocean City to Tommy, who’s skipping school and left last night. Mandy called me all upset. Her plans for the dance with Tommy are ruined, but get this. She’s decided to let the Haskell take her. The Haskell made what he wanted happen. You’ve got to admire that.”
A realization hit me like a thunderbolt on the forehead. If I didn’t talk, things would never go the way I thought they should. I would lose without even fighting. I’d wait forever. My thoughts would never get out.
Friday after school, I attended a very interesting Young Progressives meeting where everyone argued with everyone else about everything. By the time that ended and I’d delivered papers, Mom and Dad were already sitting down to dinner.
I told Mom that I made two new friends at school. Mark, who got red in the face arguing against Israeli settlements, and Joel, who used words I needed to look up.
Dad humphed then said, “Finally, you’ve found somebody else’s ears to burn, Gabby.”
Original Version of “Gabby”