Monday, April 30, 2012
Genre: MG, contemporary
Title: Harold--The Kid Who Ruined My Life and Saved the Day
“Any kid would be lucky to have a friend like Harold,” is what Mom always said when I complained about something Harold had done. But no matter how hard I’d tried, I couldn’t convince her that Harold was bad for my social life.
Every time I’d met a new kid, somehow Harold was there to ruin it. And every baseball game since T ball, Harold had been there in the stands to witness and later remind me of each error and loss. But I’d finally found my answer—a way to put some distance between me and Harold—middle school.
On the first day of sixth grade, I cracked open the door and looked outside. The bus stop was empty. So far, so good. I figured Harold’s mom would drive him to school on the first day.
The coast was clear so I walked to the bus stop and from behind I heard, “Hey Jake! Jake! Wait up, Jake! It’s 8:03. Bus Number 6 will arrive at 8:07.”
“Thanks for the update, Harold. I didn’t know I was so early. Tomorrow, I’ll sleep in a whole 4 minutes.”
Harold caught up with me and said, “I woke up at 6:30 am, but Mom said I couldn’t come out until I saw you.”
Great. Where was that bus?
“Hey, Jake, have you ever heard of Harvey Haddix?”
“Yeah, Harold, I know all about Harvey.”
I didn’t have a clue. I’d never even heard of Harvey Haddix, but I thought just this one time, Harold would buy it and not go into his never-ending monologue about one more major league ballplayer I ‘d never heard of.
He was quiet—this was good.
“You have? Because I just learned about him this summer when I was in Ohio visiting my grandma.”
Maybe if I didn’t look his way and stayed real quiet…
“Did you know that in 1959, Harvey Haddix pitched a perfect game?”
“Sure, Harold, I remember that. What time did you say the bus was coming?”
“8:07 am. Harvey Haddix played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and he pitched twelve straight perfect innings! Do you know who the Pirates were playing that night?”
“Let’s see, it was the…”
“It was the Braves.”
“That’s right. Harvey pitched a perfect game against the Atlanta Braves. Now, if we stop talking, I bet we can hear if the bus is nearby.”
Harold laughed like I had said the funniest thing he’d ever heard. “The Atlanta Braves! Don’t you know anything? They were the Milwaukee Braves back then! It’s a good thing you’ve got me as your friend, Jake. I can teach you stuff.”
Then Harold dug in his book bag and took out the green notebook.
Each year before school started, he’d add one green composition notebook to his school supply list and in that notebook Harold kept track of the times he beat me at anything—Texas Hold’em, NCAA 12, checkers. He’d write down the date, the game, and the score. He also wrote down baseball stats.
Harold collected little known baseball facts like the Smithsonian collected dead things—the more obscure the better. And thanks to Harold, whatever he knew, I knew it too.
In a situation like this, it was best not to appear too interested, but I was pretty sure the newest entry in the notebook was going to be: August 12, 2012, Jake Thomas doesn’t know that the Atlanta Braves used to be the Milwaukee Braves.
We heard the bus’s brakes one street over.
Harold stuffed the notebook back in his book bag and asked, “Want to sit together on the bus, Jake? Just like in elementary school? Make it seven straight years?”
I hadn’t thought about that. I didn’t have a plan to avoid sitting with Harold on the bus in middle school. The problem was, once you started something with Harold, it was like it was etched in stone. If I sat with Harold today, I’d be sitting with him the rest of my middle school career.
Think, Jake, think.
Just then the bus rounded the corner and stopped right in front of us. The door opened and there sat the meanest looking bus driver I’d ever seen in my entire life. She had crazy curly hair that stuck out from under an Atlanta Braves cap. I looked closer and I’m pretty sure she had a mustache. I would have thought she was a man if it weren’t for the pink and purple striped socks she was wearing with her sandals.
She snarled like the neighbor’s Dobermans as she gave a look to me and Harold, and then she said the best words I’d ever heard, “Shorty, you sit up front with all the other sixth graders and you with the Star Wars lunchbox, sit in Row Ten through Fifteen.” I couldn’t believe my luck—for once it paid off to be, as my sister called it, “physically immature.” The bus driver recognized me as a sixth grader, but because Harold was a good two feet taller than me, she mistook him for a 7th or 8th grader.
I was going to like the Braves fan driving bus 6.
I looked at Harold and shrugged my shoulders, then climbed aboard to find a seat on the second row.
Because Row Two was right behind the bus driver, I could see the sign, Hello, My name is Ms. Woodmore and I am your bus driver, and I could see her face in her mirror. It wasn’t a happy face. In fact, it was looking angrier by the second. I turned around to see what was making her so mad and I saw Harold. He was standing in the isle, touching each row and counting out loud as he passed each one.
“Row Four. Row Five, Row Six.” The kids on the bus laughed. When Harold got to Row Ten, he froze.
The bus driver shouted, “Young Man! You with the Star Wars lunchbox, we can’t leave until everyone is seated. And that includes YOU!”
I sank down in my seat. Why? Why did it have to start already? We weren’t even at school yet.
I knew what the problem was. See, Harold can’t handle choices. It was the “Row Ten through Fifteen” that was throwing him. Mom says Harold is “special”, but kids just think he’s weird.
An eighth grader sitting in the back shouted, “Hey, Star Wars, sit down already!”
It felt like an hour had passed since the time I’d found my seat next to fellow sixth grader, Lucy Thayer. She looked at me and said, “Jake do something.” I looked back at her and said, “You do something!”
Then Lucy said, “Harold’s your friend—plus, you’re sitting on the outside.”
I hated moments like this. I’d been put in situations like this since kindergarten, and it just wasn’t fair! Why did I have to be in charge of Harold? But, I got up, walked back to him and said, “Harold, here’s a seat. Your seat will be on Row Twelve next to this kid here.” Just as Harold sat down, his “almost seat partner” moved to Row Fifteen.
When I got back to my seat, I looked at Ms. Woodmore’s mirror and by the look on her face, I could tell we weren’t going to be friends after all.
The first day of school was perfect and when I boarded the bus at the end of the day, I sat beside Lucy—who had her nose in a book as usual—and I let out a big sigh. She looked up from her book and asked, “What?”
“What’s the matter with you? You act like you’ve been holding your breath all day and you’re finally able to let it out.”
“It was just—just such a great day!”
“It’s only the first day of middle school, Jake.” Then she looked back down at her book and said, “It’s likely to go downhill from here.”
I didn’t care. Today was the best day of my life. It was good-bye baby elementary school and hello middle school, where you were treated like a real human being.
First, I had homeroom, next was Math, and then Social Studies. Then Science, Health and lunch. Lunch was awesome! The food was horrible, but the seating arrangement was fantastic!
I sat two kids down from Tommy Wilbanks. Then next to him, sat Jonathan Mitchell, and right across him, was Steven Joiner. I was surrounded by three Southside Comets. With any luck, I’d find a way onto their baseball team.
After lunch, came Language Arts and the payload of all classes—Physical Education. Several guys from my baseball team were in PE with me, along with two more Comets. I was hoping that even though the PE unit was volleyball, I could find a way to demonstrate my superb athletic ability…or just avoid looking stupid.
But the best part of the past eight hours was that I didn’t see or even hear Harold McGee the entire day. Not once!
Harold was on the “accelerated track” and I was on the “regular track.” Accelerated meant you were pretty smart—and on the second floor—and regular meant, well, you were regular. Regular was fine by me, especially if it meant I’d get to meet new kids without Harold ruining it for me.
I turned to find Harold and I saw him sitting in his same spot from this morning reading his favorite book, The World Series of Baseball Trivia: Stats, Facts, and Fun. It was Harold’s favorite book. He’d gotten it for his seventh birthday. I know, because I gave it to him. It was Mom’s idea. She knew how much he loved baseball and how he could remember things from every game he’d ever watched. That kind of thing impressed a seven-year-old—but a twelve-year-old, not so much.
Reading, especially about baseball, always seemed to calm Harold down. If he was feeling stressed or anxious over something—which was often—he’d read a book and it seemed to snap him out of whatever was bugging him.
I turned back around, hoping he hadn’t seen me looking. He was fine. I was great. And this was going to be one fantastic year.
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