Right before lunch in the West Junior High band room when the overhead tells us about the Surge truck parked by the cafeteria ready and waiting to give us all free Surge. “Hurry up,” the overhead said. “Because it’s first come first served.”
No way was this ending civil.
Surge was all the caffeinated rage. On the news parents were saying that it had too much caffeine, that along with Marilyn Manson CD’s it was driving kids crazy. And these parents hadn’t had to deal with Red Bull or Monster yet. Surge actually had less caffeine than Mountain Dew. And if it seems dumb to get so excited about a new soda, a Mountain Dew rip-off, remember that this was the mid 90’s. Cobain was dead, Rivers Cuomo had gone back to Harvard, Seinfeld was ending and the best Simpsons were behind us. Movie-wise, beside maybe Men in Black, the whole period was a real dump.
Anticipation ceased all conversation in the band room. Instruments were quickly put away. I lugged my tuba down to the band storeroom and by the time I got it hooked in the bell rang. I hurried to catch up. I though Surge was like drinking Gak but it was free and everyone else was doing it. Classes with a majority of cool kids had been let out early and were already mobbing the truck. I caught up with the group racing across the outside basketball courts with the Sprite backboards. Someone pushed me, someone kicked me in the back of the knee and someone spray-painted a dick on the back of my sweatshirt. That slowed me down a bit.
The Surge truck was parked behind the cafeteria. So many kids surrounded it that the Surge spokespeople couldn’t get out of the back of the truck. They were tossing out single bottles into the crowd and when that didn’t give them enough breathing room they tossed out whole cases. Most were caught. Some exploded on the asphalt, sending up a Surge mist that would last the rest of the day. Skaters were picking up broken bottles and using them to spray at girl’s chests. Other kids took intact bottles, shook them up and tossed them into the air.
I held back. Sure now that I wouldn’t get any. One kid, a sax player in the band and supposed child genius who would dedicate his life to pot smoking, ran out of the crowd, his arms loaded down with Surge bottles. “Look how many I got,” he shouted at everyone.
Another band kid, Casey, a trumpet player, came and stood by me after getting his own armful. Casey would alternately annoy me and be my friend throughout Junior high and high school. I couldn’t stand his hair, styled after the lead singer of Silver Chair. But these days we share a really funny back and forth on Facebook so you never know how these things are going to turn out.
“Casey,” I said. “Can I have one?”
“No,” he said.
Those throwing bottles were starting to take on targets. One exploded on the wall between me and Casey. Both of us sure that we had been the intended targets. “Screw this,” I said but did not go anywhere.
The Surge spokespeople began to apologize. All out of Surge. The last cases were already on the ground being fought over. The truck door was pulled down and the truck shrieked out of the parking lot.
At this point another group of cool kids showed up. Their leader was the tallest white kid in school. The basketball coaches loved him, ignored that he double dribbled every time he got the ball. He was also one of the only kids who drove to school. So every lunch his group used his car to smoke weed or cigarettes, listen to CD’s and even go to McDonalds, though they weren’t supposed to leave campus. That day who knew what they were doing, only that they had to hit the car before free Surge because the Surge would wait for them. Obviously.
“Not fair,” a blonde girl in the group said.
Some of the group entered the fray over any remaining bottles.
The tall kid pointed at me. His face was red with a recent outbreak of acne. “Did you get one?” His voice already full of rage. Sure that if a loser like me had managed a bottle of Surge it proved how unfair this whole situation was.
Casey had disappeared. “I didn’t get one,” I said. The tall kid spit on my shoes and walked away. I twisted my ankle the best I could and tried to wipe the loogie off on the ground.
The cool kids, when their friends wouldn’t give them up, began to pick out the weak kids. A plump kid from my math class gave up all six Surges held against his chest for the unlikely promise of being left alone.
It wasn’t enough, of course. Soon enough a real fight broke out. The tall kid who’d just spit on me vs. Puck, the diminutive lord of the skaters. A kid beloved for his sexual aggressiveness. The rumor was he’d attempted to fuck a seventh grade girl in the very band store room where I kept my tuba. Apparently she was too tight for him to finish. All the band teacher would tell us was, “There is stuff going on you guys can’t understand.” I wondered how involved my tuba was in all this. But what could I do, I emptied the spit valve and washed the mouthpiece out in a drinking fountain.
Puck and I had had run-ins before. The time that sticks out most, some early morning, he was standing in front of my locker talking to this Mormon girl who one day would become a tattooed bartender. I said, “Excuse me.” He ignored me. Then when he deemed it was time for him to move on, he turned to me and said, “There you go, faggot.”
The Mormon girl said to me, not unkindly, “Don’t worry about him. He’s high.”
The politics of this shit.
Feel sorry for those that do the things that really matter; drugs, drinking, fucking too early. Forgive the fuckers who have victims. All so one day you can jump into a pool fully clothed with a bunch of people on a day of celebration. Or hate them until college when you can become just like them. Sit in a room full of your awesome friends watching a home movie projection of you sitting in a room full of your awesome friends.
Is it too much to consider that we are all fascist?
The fight was mostly shoves. The crowd circled before the first punch. Some people backing a particular fighter. Others jumping back and forth to be seen as rooting for both. I wouldn’t root for either. Fuck both those guys. If they killed each other, cool.
A few punches were thrown and then Puck slapped the tall kid in the face with a full bottle of Surge. The sound reverberated throughout the now silent crowd. Then they replaced it with unanimous groans. Half the tall kids face was a slimy yellow mess of popped zits.
I remember the whole thing in super slow mo. In a way it never could have happened. That sound was the most satisfying I ever heard, until years later while working at a CheapFoods I witnessed a security guard whip a shoplifter in the back of the head with a bag of apples.
That ended the fight. Teachers came out and dragged Puck and the tall kid away. Everyone else scattered. Losers to their hiding spots. Cool kids to the basketball courts to be seen. Surge bottles kept getting sent up like fireworks. After lunch everyone returned to class covered in a sticky film.
The next day the overhead gave the whole school a stern talking too. How we didn’t behave the way young adults should, didn’t save any Surge for the seventh graders lunch. Our privileges would be limited from this point forward and if they ever allowed an opportunity like this to happen again, they hoped we would conduct ourselves in a manner befitting our situation as students of West Junior High.
No blame for themselves of course. Sending us out there like the animals.
Ross Hargreaves lives and writes in Idaho.