Friday, April 27, 2012

Pete. The Bookstore Guy.

Honey get your boppin' shoes 
Before the jukebox blows a fuse.
Well everbody's hoppin',
Everybody's boppin',
Boppin' at the High School Hop.

This week, I met an old high school classmate; I hadn’t seen him since we graduated almost seven years ago. The guys in my class (it was an all-boys school for a long time, and my class was the last all-boys class) were a rowdy, strange, and not particularly mature group of dudes. It was a surprise, then, to meet my classmate: self-aware, sober, in the middle of helping someone he cared about, no longer his high school self. The pleasant thing was, it was as if this is who had always been all along, and it just took a few more years, some exposure to life outside of high school, to let it show. I wonder if that's how I seemed to him.


Meeting this classmate reminded me of an incident, late in my high school career, when my classmates demonstrated their character to the fullest—at least, their character at the time.

Our school was (and, to my understanding, still is) a shabby, somewhat desperate place, continually struggling to get the funds to pay for teachers, staff, and upkeep. It’s a private school, so they charge tuition, of course, but the school’s search for money doesn’t stop there. There’s activity fees, and annual fundraisers like raffles and a walkathon. But, most frustratingly, there’s the bookstore.

My high school did not provide you with anything you needed for class for free. If you wanted, say, a textbook, you bought it at the bookstore. And yes, that textbook lost 80% of its value immediately upon purchase; you could sell it back to the bookstore, but it was hardly worth it. The worst injustice teachers didn’t even give you scantron forms to take your multiple choice tests on; you had to buy them at the bookstore, or risk failing the test. Naturally, this situation created some resentment within the student body.

To make matters worse, when you visited the school bookstore, you had to deal with the man who ran the bookstore. This man was late middle age, kind of heavy-looking. He had a combover and big, coke bottle glasses. And he was a bitter, angry person who did not like you, or, apparently, anyone. Who can say why he was bitter and angry and did not like you? Perhaps it was because everyone he met was angry at having to come to the bookstore. Perhaps he was angry because he was middle aged and had a combover, and that's just no fun. But the main point is, this guy was a jerk.

Now, the hallways at my high school were divided by class—you had the freshman hallway, the sophomore hallway, and so forth. One day in the senior hallway between class, someone started to mouth off about the bookstore guy. It was unfair that we had to buy our own scantrons, sure, but it was extra frustrating that this guy was such a jerk to us. Who was he, anyway? No one knew his name. So we collectively decided to call him, “Pete.” I never found out if there was a reason for this choice; thereafter, the bookstore guy was Pete, and that was that. Not long after, someone wrote a short song in celebration of Pete. The lyrics went like this:

Pete, the bookstore guy,
Pete, the bookstore guy,
Pete, the bookstore guy,
Pete, the bookstore guy.

We were a creative bunch in the senior hallway.

As the year went on, the sound of Pete, the bookstore guy ringing through the senior hallway became more and more common. We would chant it between classes to each other, glorying in the weirdness of this bitter man whose identity was unknown and, in our way, releasing energy but also building and expressing our frustration about the bookstore and our experience at the school. Sometimes someone would rap over the background chorus of Pete, the bookstore guy, expounding on Pete’s made-up life and existence, or just editorializing on life at the school in general. It became the senior class theme song, even surpassing our already very creative “Oh-five-WHAT? Oh-five-WHAT?” chant, referring to our graduation year, 2005.

Time passed, and the end of the year loomed large. The seniors were on their way out, finishing classes with final exams and getting ready for graduation. We were restless.

One day, the song finally made its way out of the senior hallway. A senior, passing by the bookstore downstairs, casually chanted it to himself (pete the bookstore guy); a moment later, someone else picked it up and chanted it along with him (Pete, the bookstore guy); gradually, more and more seniors gathered and chanted and whooped and laughed and soon there was a howling, jumping, agitated mass of high school seniors outside the bookstore, all yelling at the top of their lungs PETE, THE BOOKSTORE GUY; PETE, THE BOOKSTORE GUY; PETE, THE BOOKSTORE GUY; PETE, THE BOOKSTORE GUY.

The bookstore guy was furious: his name was not Pete. Onlookers were amused: someone was finally doing something, however trivial, about the injustice that was the bookstore and its operator. And suddenly, a teacher appeared around the corner, and all the seniors dispersed, not wishing to endanger their graduation with a suspension.

That was the last time any of us sang the song, and it was the last time any of us needed to. We had made our point.

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