His eyes never lost focus on the road ahead of him. He thought he was Pac-Man, his car gobbling up glowing lane divider pellets in the night, taking him toward a destination he couldn’t see, guided only by his faith that he’d indeed gone the right direction. Cars passed every so often, but as they got farther and farther from Cleveland, they were fewer and farther between.
In the back seat, his two best friends slept. Crank snored with his mouth agape while Robbie sort of chirped and snorted in his sleep. Scott Szabo, a third of the band that never was the SZLRS; Scott “The Hammerman” Szabo, Robbie “Dyun Kim” Szeto, and Larry “Crank” Szysz, Jr. Sz, for the common last two initials in their last names, and of course their first initials. While most outsiders would pronounce it Sizzlers, it was Zizzler, since the letter S is silent. Though they’d never actually learned to play instruments, or knew how to sing anything beyond horribly, the dream of hitting it big someday still played in their minds. Robbie still thought about digging up dinosaur bones while he dug trenches for sewer pipe, and Larry still thought he was a cop about to bust a perp, as he added one chemical to another in a lab.
Their friendship was laced within their DNA as their parents had been friends and their grandparents had been best friends, each living on the same street in Parma, Ohio for eighty-two years, and for the most part, the same block. Scott and Robbie were brother-in-laws as Robbie married Scott’s little sister, Debbie. Larry married Scott’s cousin, Marybeth who was also Robbie’s cousin by marriage. Each lived in a home on Sunset Drive, and except for Scott were happy there.
Scott was the black sheep of the families, his dreams and aspirations getting in the way of his reality: At thirty, he’d never be a Rock God. He’d picked up a guitar a few times, and strummed away imaginary tunes in front of thousands at the Garden, but that was as far as he’d gotten. Despite a genius level IQ, he was a born slacker. He didn’t care about much that didn’t involve a beer going into his body or part of his body going into some lucky lady’s body. He’d not yet made the connection that the more beer he drank, the less likely he was to get into anyone’s body and as his belly expanded and his hairline receeded, he’d needed to find other things to occupy his time and his mind.
His parents coddled him. Roger and Sonja shook their heads at the diagnosis that had been thrown to them that he’d had ADD and needed Ritalin or something to help manage his mind. “No, he’s just bored in school. You need to challenge him more,” was the answer. “Let’s move him up a grade.”
And so, in a classroom, they tested Scott with the eight grade Ohio Standard Aptitude Test. Despite being in fifth grade, he passed with flying colors and Scott went from fifth to ninth grade that summer.
“I don’t want to do this,” Scott said, repeatedly.
“It’ll be good for you. A real challenge for that smart brain you’ve got there.” Roger said, tousling his hair, ashing his always lit cigarette into his hair. “You gotta use that brain for something.”
“I do. Thinking about how I don’t want to do this, mostly.”
“Boy,” Roger’s face frowned, “don’t be a smartass.”
“Sorry. It’s true though. I don’t wanna be this smart,” Scott lamented. “I hate it. I’m going to get beat up.”
“Well, do ya think Einstein didn’t get shoved into lockers when he was writing all them poems and shit? Or, when that Bay-toffen guy made all them planet discoveries, people wasn’t beatin’ his ass?”
Scott looked at his father and blinked. “What about DaVinci? I don’t think he got beat up.”
“Oh, I dunno. I mean, he had his brother there for him.”
“Yeah. Down on that hill. Where they flew the first plane? You sure you’re smart?” Roger Szabo asked, matter-of-factly.
“Nowhere near as smart as my Pop.”
“Well, not many are.”
True to his fears, Scott walked into his first day of High School scared. He’d have felt safer wearing a meat suit into a grizzly cage. At least he could turn tail and run from the bears. Here in school, where fourteen to eighteen year-old boys had their testosterone pumping for the first time through their bodies, ready to display how macho they truly could be, he’d truly been thrown to the wolves.
He missed his first two classes after some seniors found he was the perfect height to stuff in a locker. Someone finally heard him after he’d missed his second class, and he walked the halls in shame the rest of the day. Teachers pitied him, one teacher going so far as to kick him out of class to make things “easier” on him. She rationalized that if he failed her class and other classes, the schools would send him back to sixth grade where he belonged. In group study classes, the groups he was lumped into made him do all the work and took all the credit. He was the slowest kid in gym, had nowhere to sit in lunch, if he made it to lunch at all.
And in spite of his protests, his parents stuck to their guns. “This’ll make you a better person,” they rationalized. His grades slipped progressively from A’s in his fifth grade year to just barely a C in his freshman year of high school. He was learning and understood everything, but, he was doing homework in triplicate, and even then, other kids just stole his and put their names on top. One set for himself, one set for Tony Pietruschka and whoever he was trying to impress at the time. Each night, he sat down with a letter Tony wrote him — You little jerk, you’d better do my homework and do it all right or else I’m going to beat you’re ass so hard, you’re going to wake up and you’re little fifth grade fagit friends will be seniors and will also beat you’re ass over and over. DO MY FUCKING HOMEWORK OR I WILL FUCKING KILL YOU!!!! — so that he could get his penmanship perfectly, so that the teacher would never know it wasn’t Tony doing his homework.
To his credit, Scott found he had a penchant for forgery, something that would both help and hinder him as life went on. In April, Scott sat and opened the note from Mandiee, Tony’s latest flame. She was an attractive girl, though Scott couldn’t remember what her face looked like. His eyes never raised above the absolutely amazing cleavage on her chest which she displayed proudly. He’d mastered the sideways glance, trying to hide staring at the mounds of which he still thought about. The note read — I’m sorry Tony is making you do this. Please don’t do this for me. I feel bad for you. I’ll do my own and I’ll talk to Tony to ge thim to lay off. But, please stop staring at my boobs so much. Winky-smiley-tongue-out-face, Mandiee — Over the I, there was a heart drawn and Scott fell in love, immediately. She was so nice. He made it a point to look at her face from now on, instead of her boobs. She deserved that much. He wrote her a note back, but hid it in a drawer somewhere, too afraid to give it to her. He did her homework, to avoid a beating at the hands of Tony.
In the morning, he was nervous about seeing Mandiee. He’d thought of her all evening, and had named their children already — Zeke, Travis and Shelly. She’d given him a glimmer of hope, his first true ray of sunshine into this not-quite-so-new, miserable experience. She was his light, his love and his–
“You prick!” came the shout as a sizeable fist buried itself in his stomach. His breath escaped his body as he collapsed. Tony was angry, as forces beyond his control raged at his insides. He reached down and pulled the just twelve year old up and into his face. Scott tried to catch his breath but to no avail. He felt as though he was dying. “Mandiee broke up with me last night because of you, and now I’m going to fucking break you!”
For a few minutes, everything was black and Scott woke up at home, the back of his head aching. Anecdotally, he’d pieced what happened next together from what he’d overheard whispered behind his back the next day. Tony, after throwing Scott at the lockers, dove after Scott to punch him a few times. Scott threw a right and knocked Tony out, cold.
In reality, what had happened was far less sinister: Tony has misjudged where Scott had fallen and when he dove to hit him, he also hit his head on a locker, knocking himself out. However, Scott’s arms flailed around for a moment trying to defend himself while unconscious. His right arm made contact with Tony’s face at the exact same time that Tony’s head made contact with the locker, knocking himself out.
When he returned to school, Scott was a hero; a real legend. Mandiee’s shirt seemed a little lower cut, and Tony left him alone for the rest of the year. No, that’s not what happened. Mandiee was terrified of Scott and moved away from him whenever possible. Other kids thought he was a freak, being so small and knocking out Tony. Tony, desperate to avenge the savage beating at the hands of Scott, pummelled Scott relentlessly for weeks.
He was in hell.