Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chapter 2, 5: Toga!

Henry Winkler played the role of Arthur Henry Fonzarelli for eight years on Happy Days, from 1974 to 1984. He is probably best known today for "jumping the shark." The early Fonzie at least somewhat justified himself. He was a bad boy, and a presence who stood up for his girlfriends, so it made sense that he had a lot of them. I guess you can justify the whole thing where he would snap his fingers and instantly be surrounded by girls by arguing that the trope had more to do with adolescent male fantasy than any intent to comment on gender relations. 

It's true. I'd like to be able to snap my fingers and be surrounded by pretty girls, and also stand up for her honour against a belligerent Tom Hanks. (You'll understand what I'm talking about if you click the link.) The point is, that's two adolescent male fantasies here. In one, we rescue the princess. In the other, we're surrounded by sexy ladies who worship us. 

We're not completely dumb. We can see that the two fantasies are contradictory. We don't want the princess coming when we snap our fingers. "Oh, yeah," you say. "That's the whole bad girl/good girl thing." But I'm pretty sure that that's wrong, that there's something else going on. I'd explain it to the girls who show up when I snap my fingers, but for some reason, it doesn't work for me.

Chapter 2, 5: Toga!

“Wake up, sleepy head,” Mom said.

Chris opened his eyes, his heart pounding. But it wasn’t his Mom. It was Charlotte standing over him. “You’re going to be late for school.”

 “Ugh,” Chris said.

“True.” Charlotte held up a hanger with a white t-shirt and a brown leather jacket, very like his old one, except without the torn panels, and a pair of jeans in her other hand. “And so ends the clothes budget for December. You’re welcome. Now, get up. I had to talk May out of the bathroom for you!”

She wasn’t going away, so Chris got up. His sister pouted at him. “Where’s your pajama top?”

“Ugh,” Chris said.

“Caveman it is. But don’t think that you’re impressing anyone wandering around without your shirt.”

Whatever that meant. Chris walked down the hall and into the bathroom. One thing it meant, it turned out, was that there was no-one around to be impressed. Chris didn’t know whether to be disappointed or not. What was he expecting? Eve.

Chris barely had time to shower and change before Charlotte was knocking on the bedroom door. “Come on, Chris, ride’s here!” He opened the door, walking into two brown bags being thrust at him. One was big, one was small. Charlotte explained: “Lunch in the big one, breakfast in the small one.”

Chris now had his book bag, his jacket, and a lunch bag in his hands. Juggling all of that, he could hardly look in the breakfast bag as well, and that was motivation enough to finally hurry him downstairs, past May and the Rugrats, all in glowering moods and waiting for Jamie to pick them up, and out into the back alley, where Graydon was waiting to pick them up. Chris slid into the car after Charlotte, while Eve got in from the other side. As soon as he was buckled in, Chris unrolled his breakfast bag, and the smell of bacon and melted cheese filled the SUV. “Oh, Good Lord,” Graydon said. “Three-and-a-half hours to lunch.”

“Here,” Charlotte said, handing another bag up to Anne in the front seat. She unrolled it, and the smell of hot shrimp chips fought the bacon. “Oh, cool! I haven’t had these since, like, forever! I’ll save a few for you, Graydon.”

Chris shoved a bacon, cheese and egg sandwich into his face. Tart tomato juice sprayed his mouth. A half sandwich was enough for curiosity to beat back hunger. “So what was going on back at the Yurt?”

There was a moment of silence, then Charlotte explained. “Everyone’s grounded.”

“What, for having too many people in the car yesterday?”

“No, May is grounded for bringing the Grade 10s to the Yurt, and the Rugrats are grounded because someone broke into one of the secure storage areas in the old Liberty Legion headquarters yesterday and stole something.”

“And they caught the Rugrats?” Graydon asked. “That’s a change.”

Anne answered. “It’s just ‘round up the usual suspects,’ Gray.”

“Well, that’s not fair.” Graydon’s voice had a sarcastic grin in it as he turned into the parking lot of Pemberton Elementary. They dropped Charlotte off and picked up Billy and, this time, Tyrell, stopping in the parking lot for a moment while Billy put the back seats of the SUV up. Chris stared at the Institute as he chewed the last fragments of his second sandwich. Was it just his imagination, or the blowing rain, or was some of the ivy on the wall waving at him?

Tyrell was complaining as he got into the Mercedes. “What’s the point of having a car if you never get to drive it?”

Graydon leaned over his elbow and looked into the back seat. “In eight months, you get to be the taxi service, Ty. I guarantee you that you won’t like it any better than being driven around.”

“At least you get to hang with your buddies, like Anne,” Tyrell pointed out.

Graydon flushed. Oh ho, Chris thought. A long pause. Anne looked over at Graydon. She looked like she was trying not to look like anything, Chris would have said. At last, Graydon said, “There’s that.”

“So why did May drive everyone over to the Yurt?”

For some reason, Graydon looked at Tyrell before answering, in a much cooler tone, “Wongs try too hard.”

Graydon even sounded like Chris’ grandfather when he said that. And he had no idea what it meant. It was the kind of answer that, Chris knew, you could get behind if you pushed, but that tended to make people uncomfortable. For some reason, Chris felt wrong about doing that with Graydon. For some reason. There was a lot of that going around in this car right now. Chris let it pass, and Graydon began backing out of the parking lot. They drove to Tatammy in silence, everyone thinking about whatever they were thinking about.

Billy Tatum fell in with Chris and Tyrell as they walked towards the old school. “So, um, want to trade lunches again? I could –you could ride my motorcycle…”

“No worries, Billy, the Dragon Lady packed me a double lunch,” Chris said, as he opened up the brown bag and lifted carefully wrapped rolls, packets of China Lily soya sauce and Ziploc containers of dips out of the bag, followed by juiceboxes of chai. There was even another lunch bag, carefully folded up.

“Mrs. W. is so cool,” Billy said. “I call her that because-“

“Fonzie called Mrs. Cunningham ‘Mrs. C.’ on Happy Days. You know that Charlotte and me might be the only people under 40 who even know that these days, right?”

“I like to think of myself as a trend re-starter,” Billy answered. “Because it’s groovy.”

“Yeah. That will definitely take off again, Billy. So what’s the deal with Mrs. Wong and you, Billy.”

Again, there was a long pause, and Billy’s voice was sad as he explained. “I told you I’m 132, right?”

“Actually, you said 134.”

“Yeah, not so good with math. Point is, the Institute figures that I age a year for every seven. And I’m 18x7+7 years old this year. I’m graduating, man. No more high school. No more hanging out with my buddies. Last year was my last at the Yurt. This year is the last at the Mansion. I’m going to have to go out and do something grown up. Like get a job. Or go to community college. Fonzie never had to do that. He just went on and on, being Fonzie.”

“Until they cancelled the show. So the Institute isn’t just going to lock you up in the lab?”

“Geez, no. My Mom, she never gave up on me, even after twenty years of changing diapers. When I cried about my friends moving on, she’d tell me that I’d grow up some day, too.  She was right, too.  I looked like a regular nine-year-old kid the day I came to the Institute. So she made sure, when she signed over the papers to the Institute, that there was a competency test. The Institute promised that as soon as I turn 19 –you know, mentally-- I’m on my own.”

“So another fifty years, then?” Chris was joking because he couldn’t cry in public. Hearing about Billy’s Mom made him sad.

“Very funny, dude. Nah. This year. I can feel it. Like I said, I’m graduating. It’s just… you know, change. It’s scary for people after 4 years of high school, so imagine what it’s like after 28 years. See you in the lab, dude.” Billy peeled off and headed into class.

“That’s a lot of talking to avoid answering a question,” Tyrell pointed out.

That irritated Chris. “You don’t know what it’s like to lose your Mom. Why didn’t you ask him?”

“I was soaking in the conversation. You know me. I’m the quiet, reflective guy. You’re the Fonz, Billy’s Jughead. All we need now is a genius baby and an alien dog, and we can be a sitcom.”

“More like the sarcastic guy.”

“Eh, tomato, tomatoh. I prefer quiet and reflective, though. It’s against the Rules of Being Black, and I’m going to be a rebel.”

“There’s rules to being Black? Are there rules for being Eurasian?”

Tyrell hauled out his phone. “Let me check that. You going to sit with us today, or are you still in test hell?”

“Probably test hell. They haven’t made me name world capitals or spell things yet. Think I can start anything by doing Canadian spellings for words?”

“Nah. Everyone does that on the Internet now. Oh, speaking of my only friend in the world, it also says that the only rule for being Eurasian is that you get to make up whatever you like and say that ‘it’s a Eurasian thing.’ Which is totally cheating, if you ask me. Which you won’t, because it’s a Eurasian thing.”

“Wait! I’m the Eurasian here! That’s my line!”

“Way, way too late. You’re slow. It’s a Eurasian thing.” Chris grinned. It made Chris feel better that the rule wasn’t: “beat up everyone who mentions your eyes.” Chris had been afraid of that.

Tuesday turned out to be like Monday. There was test hell, including state capitals, which was totally ridiculous, although he did get ‘Olympia,’ for Washington. Then there was computer lab for the rest of the day with Billy, about half of it spent playing some kind of massive game where everyone around the world could play, which was a cooler concept in theory than it worked out to be in practice, although fun enough. They had to shut it down for an hour when a class came in, and then, just to be safe, when Snowflake showed up.

“Looks like he’s alone this time,” Chris pointed out.

Billy looked over at him without and raised his eyebrows, while Eve continued to type, oblivious. What had he said?

This time, they finally got to see the Mansion. It was nice, but a bit of a let down. They entered the grounds through service roads that ran through sort of ditches in the grounds to a parking lot surrounded by, well, a park, with a door that led into rec rooms in the basement of a really big house that mostly consisted of large rooms with furniture that Chris assumed was nice because it was in a mansion. The rec rooms were nice, though, and you certainly didn’t find many regular houses with pools and squash courts in the basement, but, really, who wants a squash court in the basement? On the other hand, their dojo was awesome.

Chris flopped on a couch, picked up some kind of game controller, mainly to show willing, since he got tired of asking people which button was ‘A’ and which was ‘B’ quickly enough, and tried to sort Grade 10s and 12s, and also the Grade 8s from Templeton: Dora Guzman, Dino Jurassic, Rose, and his sister, until Doctor McNeely, an older man with steely, brush-cut hair and dark glasses, and a body that did not at all suggest a man in his late 50s, even a man in his early 60s  with an 18-year-old son. 

“Why is the Grade 8 class so small?” Chris asked Graydon as they walked back to the car to drive home. Tyrell was going to ride in the front seat, because Anne had to go to work. “And why does the housekeeper look just like Mr. Brown?”

Shh. You’re not supposed to notice that kind of thing. It’s, you know, the way of their people,” Graydon, making a hushing gesture with his hand over his mouth, but speaking with a smile again. It was hard to believe that the same voice came out with that impossibly deep and raspy Hobgoblin voice. If that wasn’t a joke.

“Mr. Piccolo says that our class will be the biggest ever Tammany graduation. We just need to pick up a few more students. And we will, in time for cricket next year.” Charlotte added.

“And what about cricket? Who even plays that?” Chris continued, buckling himself in.

“It’s a noncontact sport with plenty of room for super play, and Old Sarum and the Wellington already play it. That’s two super academies. The other four, and any others that start around the world, can learn,” Graydon explained.

“Aren’t three of the other academies in the United States and Japan? Baseball would make more sense.”

“I’m not arguing,” Graydon answered, “Because I agree. But that’s not how it worked out.”

Chris plunged back into his seat. School sports were stupid, anyway. But if they got him out of classes, he supposed that he could learn to play cricket.

The rest of the week went the same way: school, hanging out at the McNeelys, dinner, homework, TV-and-computer-time, bed. Chris would have liked to have stayed at the McNeelys longer. Graydon and Doctor McNeely were supposed to be “highly trained normal,” but Chris had never sparred with such skilled and athletically gifted martial arts fighters, and it was honestly all that his special Eight Spirit training and chi powers could do to keep up with them.  And he was finally getting the hang of the Kinect. But Charlotte always wanted to get back to the Yurt, and they sometimes arrived so early that Jameel, Jamie, and the always quiet and tense Don were just leaving. Chris could tell that something was bothering his sister. He just wasn’t sure what. He was on the lookout for crushes, the kind that had swept Charlotte up and thrown her down a time or too before, and he wasn’t looking forward to having to beat up a boy in the Tatammy classes over the way that he treated his sister. But there weren’t any signs that he could see.

Friday was different. Chris still couldn’t quite believe that he was allowed to go to the kegger, although it was fair, considering that Charlotte got to go to the Pemberton Ice Cream Social. All that time that he’d spent scouting a way of sneaking out of the house was gone to waste. Everyone else except for Eve was either grounded or too young. Eve, however, was going, and Chris had his hopes up until he found out that Tyrell would be driving them to the Institute. That was hardly time to start a conversation, and, anyway, it turned out that Billy was sitting in the back seat, so Eve called shotgun and ended up sitting in front and chatting to Tyrell for the trip to the Institute, which took unexpectedly long, since somehow Tyrell missed his turns twice on the familiar route and ended up backtracking by a routed that took almost five minutes to get them all of the one-way streets and lights.

But, finally, they were there, at the front entrance of the Institute. Surprisingly, there was security at the door. Well, except for the actual security, a middle-aged guy in a blue uniform who made them sign into the Institute as Billy’s guests. The point was, there was no security for the party. They walked down the ugly, institutional hallways between rows of wood-panel doors with frosted glass panels and the names of “Doctor This” and ”Doctor That”  on the plates, most with a cartoon or two pasted on the door (a kid with a tiger and stick figures were the favourites). The walls-and-ceilings boomed as they walked, as though someone had built them on the cheap and connected them up with rubber bands or something. At last they reached a half staircase of exposed, scarred, polished wood, smelling of old building. They climbed it, walking by a weird classroom that was stacked up in tiers, with writing platforms to the side of the open seats rather than real desks, and through a glass door set in the middle of the building.

“I guess this is where the cleaning staff ran out of their “Febreze Real Effing Old Building” room deodorant spray,” Tyrell commented.

Eve giggled. Chris wished he were that funny.

“They had to rebuild this part after the proton-beam crossing incident,” Billy said, over his shoulder as he led them  down the suddenly-carpeted hall.

They turned a corner, and entered a lounge area, complete with couches shoved back against the edge of the room and potted plants and people hanging around with wine glasses in their hands, making conversation. The ones nearest him were talking about Game of Throne, which Chris wasn’t even allowed to watch. Chris scanned the room. Was one of the plants winking at him? He looked back at it quickly, trying to catch it in unplantlike behaviour, but it played coy, so he finished his survey of the room, finishing up with a banner over the far middle of the room.

Beside Chris, Tyrell read the sign aloud. “’Institute of Advanced Research Holiday Wine and Cheese Party?’ Oh, this is going to be good. Should I yell “toga” now, or wait for Professor McOldfart to do it in Latin, instead. What’s even the Latin word for ‘toga?’”

Eve giggled again.

“I never said anything about a toga party,” Billy pointed out. “You just assumed it. And there is going to be a keg,” he continued, defensively. “Triumph Jewish Rye. It’s …okay. Although Mrs. Wong and your Dad both made me promise that you wouldn’t drink.”

“Well, yeah,” Eve said. “I figured we were going to kind of break the rules and take our grounding like men.”

“You could still do that,” Billy pointed out. “Although you’re not nearly as good at being a man as you think you are, girl.”

“Thank God for that,” Tyrell said, for some reason, not nearly as smoothly as when he was cracking wise.

Eve’s voice rose as she protested. “Oh, yeah, right! These graduate students are all, like, old. Twenty-five at least! I’ve only been to one party in my life, when my sister married into Eagle Clan, and even I know that this isn’t what a party looks like? These people should be looking after their babies somewhere!”

“Uhm. Not how we do it these days,” Tyrell pointed out.

“Oh, well,” Billy said. “I tried.”

“And you got my lunch,” Chris pointed out.

“There is that. So. Want to hang out in my room and play video games?”

Chris was actually thinking about that when an older Japanese-looking woman crossed the floor to talk to them. “Billy, I see that you brought your friends, after all. This is Chris, right? Chris, I was so happy to hear that another Okanaganite was going to be at the party.”

“Well, not really from the Okanagan,” Chris started, before stopping to think. Where had she got the impression that he was from the Okanagan? Because she’d heard a story about him and made a connection, he guessed. The question was, what kind of connection, and did it relate to the people who kept trying to kidnap Charlotte? . “Or, well, close enough. You’re…” he thought for a moment. No, only a crazy person would think that some random person was a kidnapper because they asked a question at a party. Put two and two together, Chris, he urged himself. What does the math tell you? Geography was the obvious answer. She was from near Oroville. “From Osoyoos?”

“How did you guess? Yes, Osyoos. Just across the border from Oroville and that little ghost town where you live, Gennesee” she said. “I work at the Okanagan Drylands Biome now. Kiko Konoye. Doctor Kiko Konoye, officially, since this afternoon. I love saying that. If only ‘doctor started with a ‘k.’”

Chris didn’t get half of what she was talking about, but he knew the run-on-your-mouth types. “You, uhm, represented your thesis this afternoon, Doctor Konoye?”

She shrugged. “Defended. And, no, I just submitted the approved revisions. I didn’t even  have to come back to Philadelphia to do that, but there was a grant to attend a conference, and my daughter wanted to come back. She practically grew up here while I was studying here. Lucky her, because she can work in the States without getting a stupid visa.”

Now another, still older man crossed the room to their little cluster. He was bald, had remarkably pale skin, and dentures that put Grandma’s to shame. A glance at him was enough to leave Chris feeling uncomfortable. The older man  held wineglasses in both hands. One was almost empty, the other still full. “Doctor Suzuki: let me be the first to congratulate you! It was an honour to serve as your external.”

“Thank you, Doctor Cadmus. Have you finished my letter?”

“Oh, yes, I sent it to NSERC  this morning. Hopefully it will help, although ideally you’ll want a letter from your supervisor as well.”

“Yes, you’re right, Doctor Cadmus.”

“Ah. Well. I do hope you get your postdoc, and do let me know if you want to pursue other employment. The world doesn’t end in Osoyoos, you know, and you might be surprised at where I do have connections.” With that, Cadmus turned his back and wandered off towards the buffet table, where two students were trying to inconspicuously slip cheese and meat bits wrapped in napkins into their pockets.

Dr. Konoye turned back to the group. “Never go to grad school, or, if you’re not nice enough to your insane mad scientist supervisor, you’ll end up with a serial medical ethics violator as your external, too. Let’s change the subject. What are you and your friend dressed as, Billy? Some kind of Internet meme, like all you kids like today? My daughter has been playing ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ videos nonstop for a week now.”

The professor, or doctor, or whatever she was, had stop talking. Chris let silence go on for a moment. It was probably time for him or for Billy to talk, and when it became clear that it was his turn, he did a little kung fu posture and began. “Kung Ku isn’t a meme. It’s a way of life. And we’re not dressed up like anyone. We’re inspired by the Fonz. On Happy Days.

Dr. Konoye’s face darkened as Chris talked. She pursed her lips. “I know the Fonz. He’s a boy’s fantasy. He can hangs around in an ice cream parlour with his little boy friends and the ever-so-polite Pat Morita on a Friday night, and the whole world still manages to revolve around him. All he has to do is snap his finger to make the girls come out of the woodwork. If someone ever treated my daughter like that, he’d know about it. Now, I really should go find a secure terminal. My supervisor’s prison texting privileges start soon.” She stalked off.

“Wow. She really doesn’t like the Fonz very much, does she?” Eve asked.

“Or maybe it was the Kung Fu thing?” Tyrell objected.

“Or both. The Fonz was good at Kung Fu,” Billy pointed out. “The main thing is, you should be safe from mad scientist plant attacks as long as treat her daughter right.”

“I don’t even know her daughter,” Chris pointed out. “Maybe I should snap my fingers?”

And that’s when the lights went red, and a siren started somewhere. Billy sighed. “Another week, another supervillain incursion.”

Tyrell’s phone sounded. He looked at, then turned to the group. “It’s not the Institute. It’s next door. There’s a security breach next door. Pemberton.”

Charlotte! Chris thought. 

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