Easily Amused

I don’t even think we had rubber boots on at the time. My ripped jeans were soaked right up passed the knees.  Plaid shirts wrapped around our waists and clipped in our centre parted  hair were plastic little girl barrettes. It was 1993. Sarah and I were 13 years old, jumping into puddles on a warm spring day. Hockey moms drove by and glared at us with a look that scoffed, ‘ugh, teenagers.’  But we didn’t give a flying fart what anyone thought. We were best friends (Best Friends Forever!) splashing in the last days of childhood.

“Do you know what would make this even better,” Sarah declared, “Sombreros!”

We splashed our way back to Sarah’s house and found some old Mexican hats in a costume closet in the basement, which finished our outfits perfectly.

“You girls aren’t seriously going out like that?” her mother would scoff. “If you run into anyone I know, tell them you’re no kid of mine!”

And back into the wild we went. Ole!

The wild, however, was a conservative neighborhood in suburban Calgary. The community of Oakridge was a planned community of rows upon rows of similar 70s style estates; two-story detached houses with finished basements, pushed far back from the paved sidewalk in shades of disgusting brown.  The lawns were large, filled with evergreen and poplar trees. The windows were bayed. The backyards were fenced. The garages were doubled. It was a middle class version of Stepford, but in an Alberta cowboy kind of way.

Every street in the area began with the word Oak: Oakmount Gate, Oakside Circle, Oakfern Way, Oakwood Crescent, Oakfield Drive, Oak-blank everything. The street names were as irrelevant as they were confusing; the only way we could direct ourselves around it was by personal landmarks like ‘the octopus park,’ ‘Katie’s old house’ and ‘the Chinese food field.’

Our neighbors worked in Oil and Gas as Vice Presidents of various departments. Some of them stood on boards of directors. There were a lot of stay-at-home moms. People here voted conservative, went to church and upheld every standard of upper middle class. It was super lame.

Before I met Sarah I floated through various groups of girls; the jocks, the smarties, and the popular girls. One day I’d had lunch at Abby’s house, the leader of the popular girls. Her and her second in command, Shannon, told me to wait by the front door as they got their jackets. I waited in the front hall for about 5 minutes before Abby’s mom noticed me and said, “Oh you’re still here? The girls left out the back a while ago. You’d better hurry you’ll be late for school.” Their mean-spirited ditching had me sobbing all the way back to class. Sarah was on patrols, where older kids volunteer to help younger kids cross the road; they were just packing up as I tearfully ran past. At the end of the day when I was walking home Sarah, who’d moved from Halifax the year before, approached me.

“I heard about what happened at lunch. Those girls are mega bitches.”

We’d never spoken to each other before and I was impressed by her cool demeanor using a curse word I’d only ever heard anyone the popular girls say. From that day on we walked to and from school together. That was the beginning of the Sara(h)s.

To be a part of our group you had to possess all of the similarities we shared. Both of our parents were divorced: mine were the amicable joint-custody kind while Sarah’s was the remarried barely talking to each other kind. Sarah and I both had brothers two years younger than us.  We’d both had braces (when we were 10 years old). We were both honors students. We both had hazel eyes. We both were 5 foot 7. AND we even had the same name, save the spelling: I, Sara-no-H and she Sarah-superfluous-H. At the height of our similarities we even wore matching florescent orange wool hats or tuques, as we Canucks call them. Yes, we were practically screaming for attention in the white winter of the Canadian prairies. Of course, this invited the attention of bullies who would try to knock us down with witless insults:

“You think you’re cool? Cool Toques? Yeah, you’re pretty cool, cool tuques. Cool. Cool tuques. You’re so cool. Yeah.” Etcetera. The sarcasm was scathing but never knocked us off our high horses. We were different and proud – together. Just as African- Americans reclaimed the N-word and feminists embraced the C-word, we too would claim back ‘Cool Tuques:’ we were cool and we loved our hats.

Of course there were differences. I was blonde-ish with an olive complexion she was snow white. Sarah was stick thin and I was well past puberty: able to fill a C-cup bra by the time I was 11. I was into acting and she was into drawing detailed stick figures of me doing ridiculous things (like being a talking Christmas Tree). However, in the eyes of our friendship this didn’t matter, it only served to tell us apart.

While others our age were going to Spin The Bottle parties and the mall on weekends Sarah and I were inventing a serious of ingenious games; jumping in puddles was just one of them.

“My legs are frozen.” I complained after half an hour of our splashing fiesta.

“Whiner. Hey, you up for a game of imaginary tennis?”

We dripped back to Sarah’s house.

“You’d better clean that mess up! I’m not your slave!” shouted Mrs. Hogan.

After ditching the sombreros then changing into warm sweat pants and borrowed shoes, as, of course, Sarah and I were the exact same shoe size, we scarfed down bowls of Alphagetti and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Then we made our way across the road and into the park nearby. This was the Glenmore Reservoir park which surrounded a beautiful large lake that we were not allowed to swim in, for obvious reasons. From the heights of this park you could see the Rocky Mountains hundreds of kilometers away, still snow-capped. It was, as they say, a ‘picturesque spot,’ but given the choice we’d have been in Seattle, the capital of disenfranchised youth, in a split second.

As it was early spring, the tennis courts were empty. The painted lines of the court were faded and the chain-link fence still carried pockets of snowy ice. We ran to our separate sides to start our version of tennis.

The game was played like mime. Your hands were the rackets, open wide. One must be honest when the ball is shot out of bounds, or into the net. The primary objective is to make the other person laugh and to wear off all the sugar eaten in the previous half hour.

“Hey, that was in!” I protested when Sarah ran off into the corner chasing my stray imaginary ball.

“Was not.”

“Was too.”

“Was na-ought!”

“Was sa-oh-oh!”

I was totally lying. I’ve never been good at racket sports, even imaginary ones. That last serve was completely out of bounds.

Then she served a ball so fast and close I had to jump to the ground to avoid its shot.

“Hey! Are you trying to kill me?”

“Never!”

The game lasted about fifteen minutes before boredom kicked in.

“Swings?” I suggested.

As our neighborhood had a playground approximately every 300 yards we spent a lot of time in fields and jungle gyms. The best part of any playground, in our eyes, was the swings. One day I noted that I loved swinging so much I wished it was an Olympic sport. So we created dozens of swinging events; sprint swinging, endurance swinging, high jump and our favorite synchronized swinging. For weeks we built our routine. Point left leg, point right leg, point both, kick both frantically, both hands off, then dismount. Ta-da! Arch your back and stick your hands in the air listening to the uproar of imaginary applause.

We sat on the swings for a long while synchronizing, sipping the Jolt, extra caffeine, soda we bought at the local convenience store, Oakridge Foods (which was next to Oakridge dry-cleaners, Oakridge Dentist and OakBay Flowers), and got down to serious business.

“So, I was thinking… ‘Embryos,’” Sarah suggested.

“No. Too gross. How about ‘Echo Lies?’ I found it flipping though the complete works of Shakespeare.”

“Too arty.”

“Well, what names do we have so far?”

Sarah pulled out a notebook and flipped to the back page she kept for special thoughts. “Ok. There’s ‘Nystagmus,’ ‘Matching Socks,’ ‘The Puddle Jumpers,’ ‘Hide Your Sheep,’ and … ‘Game On.’”

“What about ‘The Best Band in the World?’”

“What?”

“It’d be funny. Our band would be called The Best Band in the World. Then when people would go to our gigs they’d be like, ‘Do you wanna see ‘The Best Band in the World?’ I mean, who wouldn’t?”

“Yeah, or people could say, ‘I just saw The Best Band in the World and man, did they suck.”

This being the most amusing band name we could think of was then chosen and we got to work planning our album covers, song titles and mansions we were going to buy when we made our first million.

As the sun began to set we left the playground and trekked back through the field. When we got to the wooden fence which separates the park from the road we sat on it to play a round of Waving at Cars.

We waved at five cars before anyone waved back. It was a little girl, maybe seven, sitting in the front of a blue mini-van with wood siding. As the game was now over and the sun tucked its warmth into the horizon, we headed back to our respective homes.

After a microwaved dinner prepared by my father, I ran off to my room to write song lyrics for the band.

“Ok Sara, lights out.” My father called from behind my shut door at 10 pm.

“10 more minutes!”

“10 more minutes, what?”

“10 more minutes, please.”

“Alright, Snooks, love you, goodnight.”

Within five minutes my father was dead asleep and I stayed up for another hour writing in my journal.

I awoke the next morning to the sounds my father nosily putting the dishes away. Why did he have to be such a jerk? I thought as I rolled out of bed.

Later, at school, Sarah and I were sitting in the hallway by the pop machine when some older boys approached us.

One had blond curly hair, ripped jeans and a plaid shirt tied around his waist. The other had dark unwashed hair, his pants were up too high and he wore hiking boots.

“Hey, we were wondering, do you guys like the band Nirvana?”  The blond said looking right at me, causing my heart to beat as fast as a sprinting Olympic swinger.

“Yeah.” Sarah answered, as if to say, ‘duh, of course, we do.

“Cool. Yeah. We thought so,” said the geekier boy.

“They’re pretty cool.” The blond one said, shuffling his feet.

We all nodded in agreement.

“I’m James. This is Ian. If you guys wanna hear some good music, you should check out my band.”

“What’s your band?” I asked, trying to pull attention to myself.

“Andy and the Rowdy Skids. We’re gonna be playing at the next assembly.”

“Cool!” I said giving the subject more enthusiasm than it required.

“We’ve got a band too.” Sarah blurted.

I elbowed her but as we were sitting too far away from each other I missed and looked like I was doing the chicken dance. I tried to cover it by reaching for my backpack. No one said anything about it, Sarah just gave me a questioning look, and the conversation sailed on as if nothing had happened.

“Cool.” James and Ian united.

Then the bell rang. Thank God.

“See ya later.” James called as we picked up our backpacks decorated with patches and buttons.

“Yeah, later.” Then for a moment I paused, completely forgetting what class I was supposed to be doing.

Sarah tugged me towards the stairs. “Earth to Bynoe. Science is this way.”

The next week we were invited to see James’ band practice. We all met after class by the flagpole on the front lawn of our Jr. High School. It was the first time I ever hung out with a boy, and I was hoping that maybe the cool kids would see us, that they would see how much cooler we were hanging out with boys, older boys, older boys in a band.

James led Sarah and me the three blocks up the road to Andy’s where the band practice took place.  The whole walk my palms were sweating. What did we think we were doing? We barely knew this guy but we were going to hang out with him and his friends. We were bad ass. I looked over to Sarah who seemed unaltered, as if this was an everyday occurrence.

When we got there we piled down into Andy’s basement. The wood-paneled walls were lined with posters of bands I’d never heard of: Led Zeppelin, AC/CD and The Doors. We sat on decomposing brown couches with eyes wide open to this underworld.

“Can I get you guys anything to drink?” James asked. “Anything, Andy’s parents are totally cool. We’ve got all sorts of beer.”

“I’m ok,” said Sarah.

“Me too.” Then I added in a voice I hoped sounded mature, “Maybe later.”

We were introduced to the band. Andy, a short, skinny, long-haired John Lennon look-alike lead guitarist. On second guitar was Gavin, arguably the more attractive of the bunch but that wasn’t saying much. His dirty blond hair was covered by a baseball hat and his face was attempting to grow a goatee. Playing bass was Corey, a dark-haired heavy metal fan dressed in all black. Lastly there was Curtis, a 6-foot-tall teenage giant, with long ashy hair and acne who played the drums.

James wasn’t really in the band. He played drums on a couple of songs and bass on another when the other guys took beer breaks. That afternoon Sarah and I were given a private concert of classic rock songs I’d never heard before: ‘Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World’, ‘Crazy Train’ and ‘Paradise City.’  I sat next to the Marshal stack and was rattled by the don-don, don-don, don-don i-i-ie, of Black Sabbath’s ‘Crazy Train.’

We may not have liked the music but we knew that these people were our people, or at least a kind of stepping stone to take us to our people. We’d spent so much time listening to alternative music and were excited to finally be living the garage band life.  Plans for The Best Band in the World were put on hold until we learned how to play instruments.

As our social group grew from just us Sara(h)s to a whole crew of friends, news of our newfound coolness spread around the school. Abby said hi to me in the hallway again. I was too startled by it to ignore her and let out a squeaky, “Hey,” in return. Boys in my class who used to ignore me started talking music to me, asking me if I preferred Pearl Jam or Nirvana. Nirvana of course!

One day, about a week into our newfound coolness, I was on a bathroom break when this girl Christine, approached me in the hall.

“Hey, Sara I wanna talk to you.”

This girl was in James’ grade. She had bleached hair and wore army boots. I had heard a rumor that Corey, the bass player, had made out with her once … or they had got drunk in a field together, or possibly both. She looked a lot like me; plaid shirt, centre-parted hair, ripped jeans. I felt a connection with her, yet at the same time felt repelled. This girl had an angry aura about her.

“I hear that James likes you. Careful, he’s trouble. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“Ok. Thanks.” I whispered not sure why she was telling me this. My stomach flip-flopped with excitement and fear. A boy likes me? Why is he trouble? Why does this girl I’ve never talked to before care?

“Just thought you should know. Later, Cool Tuque.”

I wasn’t sure if she was insulting me or complimenting me with that remark.  I bolted back to my classroom and sat in my hard wooden chair. It was in math class and I stared at the numbers on my worksheet, not knowing what to do, until the bell rang.

We didn’t go to Andy’s house that night as Sarah was starting guitar lessons and I didn’t feel comfortable going anywhere without her. Sarah and I walked home with backpacks slung over one shoulder, as both shoulders would have made us look uncool. We stopped at the swings, not the good ones by Sarah’s house, but the tire swings at the park in between our homes.

“You okay?” Sarah asked while I spun on the tire looking down at my feet dragging in the pebbles.

“Huh? Oh yeah.” I couldn’t bring myself to tell her what Christine had said.

“So, Gavin told me today that Andy’s going to have a party this weekend. That should be cool. Do you want to sleep over at my house that night?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

“Sweet.”

“Hey, do you want to go to the reservoir and play some tennis?” I asked even though I didn’t feel like playing imaginary tennis anymore.

She looked at her child sized digital Batman watch and said she had to run. Her guitar class stared in an hour. “I’ll call you later!”

I walked through the park alone, past the decorative rock someone had gratified with the word ‘Bitch.’ I walked past seven homes painted disgusting shades of brown, past Oakside Gate on to Oakside Circle. The grass was just starting to sprout. Little green threads popped up through a nest of old leaves and ice.

When I got home my brother, 11 years old, dressed in a Ninja Turtles sweat suit, was holding a piece of paper in his hand. He teased, “A boy just called for you. Sara’s got a boyfriend. Sara’s got a boyfriend.”

After wrestling him to the floor, hurting him, then having him stomp, stomp, stomp upstairs and slam his door, I looked at the piece of paper. In my brother’s awkward young boy printing was a phone number and the name James.  My stomach tightened. I thought about what Christine had said earlier that day. I thought about how all I wanted to do was call Sarah and share my excitement with her, but she was at her stupid guitar lesson. I thought about what she’d say if I told her James liked me. Probably tell me that he was dumb and that his hair was stupid. I thought about how I didn’t know what to do or who to ask for advice. But something inside me sparked and I wanted to run forward and never look back.

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