Can I Sit with You?


THE BOY KING

by Charles Ries
High School

Another high school exception for this frank struggle with the popularity pecking order. -Shan & Jen

“Hi, Chuck. Congratulations on being elected Ice Carnival King. It’s about time a regular human being got elected king. I am so sick of the Kens and Barbies around here winning everything. You’d think looks were some kind of ultimate blessing like ethics, honesty, sincerity, or intelligence. Why should we reward people for what they look like? What matters is what people are like on the inside,” Clara Weidemeyer said between classes. Clara was the subject of unrelenting taunts by our classmates. Her appearance became of thing of legend. A local garage band even wrote a song in her honor:

You can kiss me anytime

Clara

You’re so ugly you make me blind

Clara

You’ve convinced me dumb is fine

Clara

You’re all right

Yes, you’re all right

The song continued on through six more stanzas of rhyming humiliations. Things weren’t good for Clara Weidemeyer. She was ugly. The kind of ugly that made people who didn’t know her assume she was retarded. Short and stocky, Clara had horrible acne and frizzed-out hair that bloomed on humid days into a sizable Afro—God hadn’t given her much to work with.  No redeeming physical attribute like great legs, a wonderful voice, or beautiful eyes. She did the best she could with the considerable intelligence she was given. She excelled in every subject. She participated in student government. She had a social conscience, but despite her heroic efforts to fit in and be accepted, she was as fragile as any girl would be with a face and body no one wanted to look at.

Knowing Clara led me to the uncharitable conclusion that a person may be better off dumb and good looking than smart and ugly. The proof of this theory was all around me.

“I told everyone I could think of to vote for you. You’re one of us. You’re a regular person,” she told me one day in the hall between classes.

“Well, thanks, Clara. I’m just as surprised as anyone. I mean, I’m not a jock and I’m not a brain and I’m not one of the beautiful people. So I just figured, why even think about it? But, I think I’m pretty happy about being selected. I mean, who wouldn’t be happy about it? Right?” I said, looking furtively over her shoulder to make sure no one had spotted us.  Fifteen seconds in the hall talking with Clara Weidemeyer could have serious consequences for one’s social standing. I was trained to be more compassionate than most, but I wasn’t blind. I wanted to slip away from Clara before I was branded Quasimodo’s boyfriend. It was one thing to talk with her at student government meetings or exchange views in social studies class, but it was the kiss of death to hang with her in the hall.

“I would be honored to have a dance with you tomorrow night at the Carnival,” Clara said.

“Wow. Well, thanks. I’ll have to see how this whole thing plays out. I’ve never been a king before. It must come with certain responsibilities. So my time might be a little tight. I’m sure I’ll have to do a few turns with Molly Murphy. But maybe you could help me with my math, which I am still flunking.”

I wasn’t sure if Clara would take the bone I’d tossed her and forget about the dance. God, I can’t believe I’m being such a coward, I thought. But I can’t do it. I can’t dance with her in public. Hell, I can barely talk with her in public. It’s one thing for her to help me with my math, but dance? I can’t do it. I had told a white lie. If Clara was the epitome of ugly, Molly Murphy was the pure embodiment of beauty. Perfect skin, large round breasts, full round brown eyes, tall and thin, with hair that glistened and lips like two party invitations. Clara’s ugliness and intelligence amazed me as much as Molly’s beauty and vacuousness. They both left me speechless, but for very different reasons.

“Chuck, anyone in this school would be honored to help you. You’re such a nice person. You’ve never made fun of me. I know what I look like. I know what they say. There isn’t too much I can do about it. I mean, look at me. I’m not going to be picked for the lead in the school play unless the character is an eighty-year old woman. But you never join in. You respect people, and that’s why you deserve to be our King.”

“Hey, Clara, maybe I’m just a good pretender,” I laughed nervously while admiring her ability to just accept who she was. “I might secretly be a detestable person. In fact, I often think I am. Look, neither one of us are going to win any beauty contests, but it’s like you said—there are a lot of beautiful people who don’t have one original thought in their heads. They wouldn’t know civil rights from civil engineering. Hey, in case you didn’t notice, there’re a lot more ordinary looking people in the world than there are beauty queens. So as Ice Carnival King, I do hereby declare that every day shall be ‘Take an Ordinary Person to Lunch’ day.”

“There. You see what I mean, that’s exactly why we voted for you. You’re just so darn cute and nice to people,” Clara beamed at me as I headed off down the hall to safer ground. She had mistake me for someone else and it made me nervous.

As I walked away, I patted myself on the back for jumping into the same ordinary boat as Clara and thereby raising all ugly people to a cultural ideal. I had developed a forger’s instincts and could quickly detect and become what people wanted me to be. I went wherever social acceptance blew me. But something deeper was happening. I was growing curious about people like Clara Weidemeyer. She was hard on the eyes, but her mind was unique. I was becoming a student of slackers, eccentrics, and intellectuals—kids who didn’t fit in, but seemed to be uniquely themselves. I was tired of oatmeal for breakfast. I wanted more chocolate éclairs.

________________________________

Friday night was the Ice Carnival. It was a simple affair held in the gym, with a band and, of course the highlight of the evening, the crowning of royalty. I was invited forward with my queen. Principal Paul Hersch draped red velvet capes over each of us and placed crowns on our heads. After the coronation, we were invited to do a spotlight dance before our subjects—just Queen Molly and King Charles. I had my arms around the most beautiful girl in the world. I smelled the strawberry scent of her shampoo and brushed up against her young firm breasts. When it happened; a predatory hard-on sprang from out of nowhere. I wasn’t driving the bus any more.

Just what I need! I thought as I pulled my cape more tightly around me and distanced my hips from my buxom queen while still holding her tight. It was a rather gymnastic move, but hard-on or not, I wasn’t going to release my grip on paradise.

I was in love with Molly Murphy. Every guy in school wanted her, but I had her. Me, the people’s choice. We danced badly, rocking back and forth. Given my surprise visitor, we leaned toward each other creating a kind of dancing pyramid. I’d prepared for this moment by getting an ID bracelet—the marker by which all men would know Molly was my woman. As we rotated in the glow of three hundred worshipful eyes, I whispered, “Molly, will you go steady with me?” Her eyes opened wide. I wasn’t sure whether she was overcome with emotion at finally winning my heart or in shock that a dork like me would say these words to her. I wanted to retract my offer. I wanted to return to the practice sessions I’d been having in my head, each one ending with Molly saying, “Yes, Chuck, I will be your girlfriend forever and a day!” But her reply was not the one I’d scripted.

“Joel Stegameyer just asked me yesterday to go steady with him. Thanks for asking. You’re such a nice guy.” She replied as if she were thanking me for loaning her my stapler rather then offering her my heart. It was no big deal to her. She was a pro at going steady. Hell, she had a scorecard just to keep track of all the offers. I was no match for the quarterback of the football team.

I hadn’t realized how fleeting regal privilege could be. When the song ended, Queen Molly quickly deserted me and floated like a touchdown pass into the outstretched arms of Joel Stegameyer. Wearing my cape and crown, I walked to the punch table. My heart had been ripped out of my chest, leaving a cavernous hole. Of course, it didn’t take much in those days—young love came and went so quickly and so painfully. At the punch table I reached up for one of the two royal goblets that were set atop a fake ice pedestal for the King and Queen to drink from after their coronation dance, and ladled myself a cupful.

“Chuck, I want to dance with you a bunch. Come on, let’s boogie down!” I heard a raspy voice from behind me say. I froze. I knew who it was. “Hello there, King Charles,” she sang to get my attention. “Would you like to dance with one of your subjects?” I heard the voice speak to me again.
How bad could it get? First being denied by Molly Murphy and now being sought by Clara Weidemeyer. Heaven and hell were next-door neighbors tonight. My balls tightened up under me. The remnant of the stiffy I’d gotten in anticipation of claiming the fair young maiden Molly was now limp and racing after my balls in a hasty retreat. “Oh, its you, Clara. What was that you said…you want some punch?”

“Close. I said, ‘I’d like to dance with you a bunch.’”

I had no choice. It was the right thing do. I did the pity dance. I danced like the cornered, equal opportunity ratfink I was. I heard the occasional “woof woof woof” or the slightly too loud “I think I’m going to throw up” as we circled the dance floor.

“So, how’s it being king for a day?” Clara asked.

I didn’t want to tell her that I thought it sucked and that this kind of honor was better bestowed on beautiful people who don’t need a single original idea in their head to be happy. I couldn’t tell her the truth. She thought my achievement was what it must feel like to be popular. How could I step on her dream?  The truth was, I wanted acceptance just as much as she did.

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I liked this story. Thank you for sharing!

Comment by Tammy Wong

Thanks for sharing about fleeting acceptance; in the world of mature adults, well, sorry to say, not much has changed. It’s all about money, power, beauty, fame for all the “wrong” reasons.

Comment by Lee




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