You know of Elwood by now, who was as I said in the running to be the most pathetic dork ever to breathe oxygen. Depending upon my mood I might say that he won the title, but only because my experience with him was so terribly unrewarding. All other things being equal, though, the title would have to go to Michael McFly. No question. No doubt.
Michael just had to be the inspiration for the television character Steve Urkel. There just can’t have been another. Michael’s natural voice was that of the character, though with even greater sinus involvement. In speech, Michael drug out his vowels and, to a lesser extent, terminal consonants. Miiiiichaelll. Miiiiichaellll McFlyyyyy. He was the only human being within a 50 mile radius and under the age of 70 who wore suspenders, and of course floods. Brand new pants at the start of the school year showed two inches of brand new socks. He even had big dorky looking glasses. His hair was cut like it was 1953, and never changed. He must have got a trim once a week. I always wondered if he dressed the way he did on purpose, or if he was an accidental conception and his mother was punishing him.
I don’t recall ever seeing Miiiiichaellll in one of my classes. He might have been a class behind me, or maybe he defied appearances and wasn’t even bright enough to be one of the filler kids in the gifted classes. The only times I ever saw him were between classes and at lunchtime.
Classmates dot com to the rescue. Miiiiichaellll was a class behind, in Amethyst’s class, and between junior high school and the Air Force moved to Idaho. He’s still wearing oversized glasses and 1950’s hair. So now we know. And still don’t really care.
Miiiiichaellll didn’t even mind that he was pathetic. Every day at lunchtime the billy bad asses would sit on the side of the basketball court with their backs against the fence around the tennis courts, and the junior billy bad asses would sit on the opposite side of the basketball court, all waiting for Miiiiichaellll to show up. He’d sit alone and eat his lonely baloney sandwich and the milk from his junior size checkered thermos, then the fun would begin. The BBA’s would roll pennies across the basketball court and Miiiiichaellll would chase them. He got to keep the ones he caught. The others the junior BBA’s would roll back. Miiiiichaellll must have been the fittest kid in the county with all of the running he did.
I always felt sorry for Miiiiichaellll even though it really didn’t make sense to do so. No one forced him to chase pennies — all he had to do was stop.
As with Elwood, I had only one very brief encounter with Miiiiichaellll, and it, too, was while I was in the ninth grade. I had recently bought my car, and though I couldn’t drive the thing I liked to carry the keys in my pocket. Some things just don’t have to make sense, ya know? One day I reached into my pocket to pull out my coins to see how rich I might be, and dropped my keys. I don’t know where he came from, but just like a duck on a June bug Miiiiichaellll pounced on my keys. He figured any coins that hit the ground were his, but this was something new. Keys. Mmmmm, keyring. He stood up wide eyed, like maybe he thought that found keys meant found cars or something that he could keep. He also looked like he was ready to bolt, as he did if he pounced on a dropped coin. I stepped directly in front of him and demanded my keys back. He looked disheartened, and handed them back. I thanked him, and that was the end of our only encounter.
Time went by, and I never thought of him.
I was in Air Force tech school at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi the next time I heard the name McFly. It was at the afternoon formation after classes, and since I was there I guess it must have been while I was in the basic electronics course. After that, my classmates and I ditched the afternoon formation. We went to school off base, all eight of us, and the rule we were given was that if our bus was too late to enable us to be there at the start of the formation we were not to interrupt the formation by arriving late. The bus really was late for the first couple of weeks, but then it was reliably an hour early. We’d dash into the barracks, change into our civvies, and get away from the squadron long before the other students marched their happy asses back from classes. So there I was at the afternoon formation, one of the student leaders was handing out mail that had been delivered to the squadron rather than the post office, and he called out, “McFly!”. I hadn’t heard that name in years, and couldn’t help but chuckle. I wondered what ever became of Miiiiichaellll.
The student who unfortunately shared his last name called back, “Whaaaaaatt?”. Holy cow. He even sounded like Miiiiichaellll. And when the student leader replied “Mail!”, the guy walking out to get it even walked like Miiiiichaellll, with that stilting cob up the ass walk. Amazing. There are two of them. After collecting his letter, the guy turned around… Nope, just one, and there he was.
Everybody give me a no shit. Let me hear you. NO SHIT!
It was already bad enough that the only other kid in my flight in basic training had been David Beaman, the first kid I ever beat up and who richly deserved it. At least he had the grace to bail out and get sent back home to his mommy. But how did Michael get here? If ever there was a kid with less intestinal fortitude than David, it was Michael. And Michael was the weirdest kid I’d ever met. How could this be?
When the formation was released I started making my way back to my room in the barracks, and somehow Micheal got close enough to me that on a lark I said hello to him.
“Hey, Michael, how’s it goin’?”
“Doooo Iiiii knooow yoou?”
“No, but I went to Lexington.”
“Iiii went tooo a schooolll caallled Leeexinggggtonn. Leeexinggggtonnn Juunniorrr Hiiigh Schoooll. It’s inn Caallifoooorniaaa”.
“Yes, I know. I went to the same school. That’s how I knew your name.”
“Well, see ya. Good luck in school, man.”
He must have recently arrived, as after about the first week all of your mail would be delivered to your post office box down the street. I hoped not to encounter him again, as I had a strong aversion to loser dorks by then. As you might imagine. Or as I might have said a time or two. 😀
A few days later I encountered Miiiiichaellll again. There was an enclosed breezeway of sorts between the quad around which the student barracks was arranged and the area where the formations were held; to one side of it was the entrance to the chow hall, and to the other the administrative offices. I was on my way out of the chow hall with my usual bunch of friends, and when we opened the doors Michael tried to muscle through between us. Social skills, man? He had been looking at the ground as I always remember him doing… scanning for coins, maybe? When he looked up and saw me, he said, “Staaaay awaaay frommm meee. Yoooourr’e ann assshooollle aaand Iiii haate yooou”.
Okay, maybe I do sometimes deserve that title, but how’d hatred get into the mix here? I’d never said an unkind word to the guy, and never even looked at him with any feeling that might have shown on my face as something he might despise. He pushed through us and went into the chow hall, and my friends asked me what that was all about. Hell, I don’t know.
I ended up having to cop to knowing who he was because we’d gone to junior high school together, and said that I didn’t know him beyond recognizing his face from the halls. I didn’t say a word about his being a penny chasing dork. Why would I? If the guy was making a clean break from his old identity, then it was his thing to do and not mine to screw up.
Every time I encountered him after that he approached me and gave me shit. Nonsensical shit most of the time, from the parking lot beyond left field. I always told him that I didn’t know what he was on about and asked him to please just keep his distance. All to no avail. He would cross the quad or chase me down the street to give me shit. It turned out, I would learn, that he did that to everyone who tried to be civil to him. All it took was a friendly greeting, apparently.
Finally, on the sidewalk between the barracks and the mini-BX (mini base exchange, like a lame version of a convenience store) where he chased me to give me shit, and where no one would overhear what I had to say, I told him that if he kept it up I was going to open my mouth and the rest of his time at Keesler would be spent with pennies rolling past. I repeated that all he had to do was to leave me alone and no one would ever hear it from me, but if he kept up everyone I knew would. He cussed me out. And the next day, sure as shit, he accosted me as I was eating dinner. “Alright, Michael, you’ve chosen to ignore fair warning.”
“Whaaat doooeess thaaat meeaannn?”
“You’re gonna get rich, asshole.”
There’s a persistent myth in our culture and probably others that would have us believe that military service, and particularly military basic training, “will make a man outta ya”. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you’re on your way to becoming a man all on your own, basic training will knock you back and make a child out of you. An obedient and fearful child who’s attained the age of majority. And just like children, a young adult male in the military will act up something fierce when no authority figures are watching. Though some defy the odds, a young male who entered the military as not yet a man will exit the military a few steps back from where he started, even if it takes him 30 years to get there. It was a new concept to me then, but I put it to the test and was not disappointed.
When Miiiiichaellll walked away from the table where I was seated and had been enjoying the company of my friends but not the food, I was asked what I meant when I said he was going to get rich. And I told them. The general consensus was that it would be unkind to put that out there for the world to know, and I agreed that it was, but then someone said, “You know, though, he really does deserve it for behaving so badly. It’s not like Heathen’s going out of his way to give McFly shit”. I hadn’t put it to a vote, but it was soon unanimously agreed that Miiiiichaellll deserved to be better known.
I wasn’t really comfortable with the idea. Sure, the guy was being a major dickweed, but did he really deserve persistent humiliation? Surely it would follow him — he was in a career field about as small as my own, and his school would be much, much longer. After Keesler he would be off with his classmates to the Defense Language Institute to spend something like two years more in school learning Russian. What his classmates learned in Mississippi would go to California with them, and then out into the few duty stations there were for guys in his field. Admittedly there were more duty stations in his field than in mine (which had just four), but small is small. That shit would follow him around for years.
He jumped me again at breakfast the very next morning. The following afternoon I saw him walking swiftly down the sidewalk with a penny rolling past. Hell yes he deserved it. It was rare after that to see him walking anywhere without pennies leading the way, but unlike in junior high school he didn’t chase them. He set his jaw, turned red in the face, and trembled with rage.
But after that he never spoke another word to me. He just glared and turned red. Mission accomplished.
I hope he’s having a nice life, living high off of all of the coins he’s picked up over the years. I also hope never to see or hear from him again, because I’m an asshole and he hates me.