During the fall of my freshman year of high school, one of the most popular members of the senior class, along with a few of his friends, knocked on my door late one Friday afternoon.
My father answered and the guys asked for me. Perplexed, my dad called my name.
I came to the door and, equally confused, said hi.
They said, “Come on, you’re going to the football game with us.”
They were apparently inviting (or forcing) me to go to the football game with them.
This was an away football game. I did not go to away football games.
And I didn’t even really know these guys. I knew their names, and they knew mine (it was a small town, small school), and that was about it.
These guys were three years older than I was. And they were part of the cool crowd. They were athletic, good-looking, smart-alecky, and popular with the girls.
I was a freshman and a bookish, bespectacled, stick-thin, piano-playing loner—not friendless, but still a loner—who stunk at every sport except tennis, which was the one sport that nobody at my school cared about.
In short, I was not just uncool, but impressively uncool. As in, “Wow, that guy is really uncool!”
And keep in mind that this was the mid 1980s. Being a nerd did not have any cachet back then as it does today.
So you see, this made no sense.
In all my school years until this point, I’d never even smelled the possibility of getting to hang out with the popular kids. And now the opportunity had simply and inexplicably landed on my front porch.
I knew that my parents would not want me traveling to another town with a gang of older guys we hardly knew. But this was a chance I could not let slip by. I practically forced my parents to let me go.
You have to understand that I was an extremely dutiful son. I was probably in the 99th percentile of prudishness for a teenager. My parents trusted me a great deal, and rightfully so. Even during my teen years, my level of obedience to my parents could best have been described as canine.
So when I pushed to be allowed to go to the game with these guys, my parents relented. They trusted that I would not do anything foolish.
We all piled into a car or pick-up truck (I can’t remember which) and drove 20 miles of hilly back roads to the game.
At the game, we hung out and talked and laughed and cheered for our Barnesville Shamrocks. (A few years later, “Shamrocks” would be truncated to the tougher-sounding “’Rocks.” But there was an apostrophe, so it was still referring to shamrocks, which are tiny harmless plants that even I could have easily crushed.)
All the while, the situation made absolutely no sense to me. Why were these guys hanging out with me?
Throughout the evening, I kept waiting for some sort of practical joke to be revealed: “You’re on candid camera! Did you really think we would ever want to hang out with you?”
But no such revelation happened. After the game, the guys gave me a ride home and we made plans to go to the next away game as well.
This went on for the rest of the season. Of the five away games, I went with these guys to three or four.
I never understood why. I never asked. They never addressed it. All logic (at least all my insecure freshman logic) indicated that they must have been somehow having a joke at my expense.
Yet, if it was a joke, the punch line was never delivered—at least not to my knowledge. These guys appeared to genuinely like me and think I was funny and interesting in some way, which I suppose I was.
Sometimes I think about tracking those guys down and asking them why they did it.
But I don’t think I ever will. The whole thing is a pleasant little unsolved mystery in my distant past, and I like having it around.
I think of it every once in awhile on a September or October evening, when the air is just cool and crisp and crackling enough to take me back to those three or four fall Friday nights when I was an insecure teen who was happy just to fit in with the cool kids, even if only for a few hours.
|Ranjit Souri (rjsouri [at] gmail [dot] com) teaches classes in improvisation, comedy writing, and creative non-fiction in Chicago.|