Choose a size for the type: Large Medium Small
Life at Horace J. Oakes Middle School is far more complex than most people realize. It’s a school where popularity counts more than just about anything. You could be the captain of the hockey team, a straight A student, great looking, and the star of this year’s play – The Music Man, in case you were wondering – but if word got out that you were unpopular, well, you might as well find a cave with cable TV because you’re not going to be doing a lot else with your time.
Of course, if you were all those things, you’d probably be popular too. But that’s the thing – it’s only a probability. Popularity is one of those things that’s hard to judge, like trying to decide if you’re good looking by of), and you can tell if you’re a good athlete by seeing how fast you run a race, but popularity is hard to measure.
And it’s also a little bit like being a celebrity who’s famous just for being famous. Once word gets out that you’re popular, well then, you’re popular. But if you’re popular and no one knows it, then you’re not really popular. You can’t say, “I’m popular, although everyone disagrees,” any more than you can say, “I’m famous, but no one knows it.”
Mind if I change the subject? I’m beginning to get a headache …
Anyway, the truth is that I could not claim to be one of the most popular kids in school. It’s not that if you were to divide the school into two teams, The Populars and the Unpopulars, I would be made the captain of the Unpops. In fact, you’d really have to make a third team, the Who Cares, and then I definitely would be on the starting line up.
It beats me why that is. I’m not the irritating sort of kid who tries to get people to notice him by hanging upside down on the jungle gym in the playground until the change drops out of his pockets and his face turns red, and his shirt has fallen so that his flabby belly is on display, and drool starts dribbling from his mouth, and he’s yelling, “I’m Bat Boy! I’m Bat Boy!” No, that’s not me. That’s my best friend Ari.
I just get along with most everyone and am especially liked by just about no one.
But at the beginning of the school year, I figured out a way to fix all that. Since you’re popular if people think you’re popular, Ari and I decided to create a club for popular people. It was a very exclusive club. Invitation only – and secret. The only two known members were Ari and me.
We called it “The Scutters Society” because “Scutters” didn’t mean anything but sounded kind of cool – sort of like the word “popular.” The Scutters Society had a secret meeting place, secret meetings, secret activities, and secret members.
Of course there wasn’t really any such thing.
But we started dropping hints about it. I printed up a notice of an upcoming meeting, and then crumpled it and left it in the hallway near a garbage can, hoping someone would notice it and read it. Not even Mr. Carbone did when he picked it up and threw it out.
I wrote up the minutes of a meeting and left it in a desk in study hall so that the next occupant would find it. The minutes referred to members by code names that I hoped would be obvious to anyone who read it. For example, Joel Hess (captain of the soccer team and immensely popular – and obnoxious) was “Jewel Heist” and Kathy Picatino (fluent in French, awesomely beautiful – and obnoxious) was “Café Pick-a-Time-o.” Ok, so it wasn’t so subtle, but the whole point was for the names to be understood.
Then I sent in an anonymous tip to Louellen Parness who writes a gossip column for the Oakes Observer, our school paper. “Pop Quiz: What is the secret Scutters Society all about?” she wrote. “And just how popular do you have to be to get in? Give yourself a B if you answer: Very. But give yourself an A if you didn’t even have to ask.”
This turned out to be just about as dumb as it sounds. No one noticed, or if they did, they didn’t care. Popular kids don’t have to have secret societies. And even if people had noticed, they wouldn’t have associated me and Ari with it because, as I may have mentioned, we’re not popular.
So, by this time of the year, I had not only lost interest in it, I was embarrassed about it. But not Ari. He wanted to have meetings and was talking about running for vice president.
This Thursday, though, he wasn’t asking for a meeting. He had a different idea. He wanted to form a rock and roll band called – guess what? – The Scutters. And I had agreed to try it out.
You see, although I struggle along with the violin, I’m actually an OK guitar player, without any lessons. My mother plays – she was in a rock band when she was in high school, which I cannot possibly picture – so it was easy for me to pick it up. If you never heard me play violin, you might almost think that I have some musical talent.
My father drove me to Ari’s house for the first rehearsal of The Scutters because it would have been be a little hard to fit my guitar and amplifier in my bike basket. When I got there, Ari was already banging away at his drums in his garage, and Mimi was playing bass. The result some might call progressive jazz and others might call modern music. I’d call it just plain bad.
But that’s ok. It was our first rehearsal and the guitar player – me – hadn’t even plugged in yet.
Mimi was my oldest friend. In fact, she was such an old friend that “friend” isn’t even the right word. Mimi and I were in the same playgroup when we were twelve months old. When my Mom had to run out to take Maddie to the emergency room to have a shell from a Captain Galactica Thermo Nuclear Ray Gun rocket extracted from her nose, she called Marcie, Mimi’s mom, to watch over me. When Marcie had an extra ticket for the Ice-O-Rama traveling skating extravaganza, it was natural for her to offer to take me. In fact, at the beginning of second grade, my mother actually let Marcie take me and Mimi shopping for clothes. Now that’s trust.
So, I didn’t feel too bad when I laughed in her face when I saw her sitting on Ari’s little brother’s tricycle, dressed in pink shorts, red sneakers, and a purple tee shirt that said “Just Say Huh?” – the very picture of a rock ‘n roll queen.
We didn’t play too much music that first rehearsal. We spent most of the time doing the basics: tuning our instruments, trying to get Ari to play softer, and arguing over the name of our first album – Ari liked “Meet the Scutters,” Mimi liked “The Scutters Second Album” and I personally preferred “The Scutters Cut One.”
At the end of the rehearsal, Mimi brushed her bangs out of her eyes and said, “Well, that was sort of fun,” and we all agreed. Actually, it sort of was.
And who knows? If the Scutters actually became a popular band, wouldn’t the three members of the Scutters themselves have to become popular? Maybe The Scutters Society, in its own way, was going to put us into the world of the popular.