The Adventures of Harry Fruitgarden: Someone Should Have Told Me!
by Lawrence Vijay Girard
Faces and places were floating through my mind. Everything seemed a bit foggy, but I couldn’t put my finger on why that might be. I had the impression I was bouncing up and down. Strangely, there was no sound, I couldn’t hear a thing. Was I deaf? What had happened to my hearing? Was I never again going to hear the song of a bird? I would miss that sweet crunching sound when you bite into an apple! How would I get along in life? Then it occurred to me that I would never again hear people yelling at me, that thought made me smile.
My smile must have lit up my face like a neon sign because the next thing I knew I could hear all too well. The cawing, grating voice of my eighth grade homeroom and math teacher, Mr. Hawk, was tearing into my mind like an unwelcomed talon, “Mr. Fruitgarden! What is the meaning of that smile on your face? Does it mean you know the answer to this math equation?”
Suddenly it all rushed back into my awareness, I was at school, in class, and my teacher had caught me daydreaming – something about bouncing up and down in a bus. I had absolutely no idea what equation he was talkingabout, so knowing the answer was extremely unlikely. My twenty plus classmates had turned their attention from the uninteresting math lesson to the never dull activity of watching me deal with Mr. Hawk’s question. It took only a split second for the intensity of the moment to crank up to ten.
People, who know me, know that I have a certain knack for getting into trouble. They also know that I have a creative flair for getting out of trouble. Over the years I have tried many different approaches while verbally sparring with adults. Often a fresh idea occurs to me in my time of need. In this instance, I decided that flattery would be my key to salvation.
“Well Mr. Hawk,” I began with buttery sincerity in my voice and a continuation of that smile on my face. “I am so glad you asked me that question. You see, I was just thinking of what a fine job you do in sharing a subject that is quite challenging for many students. Not every teacher explains things as clearly as you do. Nor do they have your fine quality of patience.”
As I spoke eloquently on Mr. Hawk’s teaching talents, you could see his demeanor light up. It was as if he was spreading his wings to fly on the current of my praises. His lips began to curve up into a smile and his eyes started to glow with wellbeing.
“Teachers like you don’t get the proper credit for doing such an excellent job. I just don’t understand why you were passed over for Vice Principal,” I went on. “It seems to me that it just isn’t right.”
As I switched from Mr. Hawk’s fine qualities to him being passed up for Vice Principal, his smile quickly turned into a frown and he began to open and close his mouth as if it was a beak tearing at a meal that had tried to get away. Hiseyes began to glaze over and the class became mesmerized by the emotions moving across his face. There was a moment of silence where everyone became caught up in those pinching lip movements.
Eventually Mr. Hawk realized that I had stopped talking and everyone was looking at him. He snapped out his bitter reverie, fluttered his eyes and wiggled his lips, then firmly stated, “Yes, well, let’s get back to the lesson.”
When the bell rang to signal the end of class we all popped out of our seats like jack-in-the-boxes and moved into the hall towards our next class. A few of the guys shook their heads in disbelief as they patted me on the back in silent homage to my stylish escape from potential trouble. I couldn’t help noticing that a couple of the girls in class looked at me and started giggling. What that might mean was truly a mystery to me.
Speaking of mysteries: Where is my friend Herm? Since I returned from camp in Colorado at the end of the summer, I hadn’t seen or heard from him. I had tried to call him at his home, but his number had been disconnected. I asked a few of our mutual friends and none of them knew where he was. Herm and I had been friends since the second grade and I didn’t want to lose track of him. I had to figure out where he might be.
My thoughts about Herm were pushed into the back of my mind by my need to navigate through the hallway to my next class. This had been my school since I was seven years old and now I was in my last year here. Our school went from kindergarten to eighth grade. Ninth grade would be my first year of high school. I didn’t exactly become nostalgic with these thoughts, but I did think that our school was in its own way acceptable.
As I made my way down the hall, thinking about lifeat El Corral Elementary School reminded me of the word Corral, which reminded me of horses, which reminded me of how I had just spent my summer in southwestern Colorado at the Circle H Ranch, which reminded me of my friend Ken Hutchens who is the son of the camp’s owner, which reminded me of his sister Shannon who became my close friend, which reminded me of the time we kiss…Wham!
It took me by surprise that I was now suddenly on the ground, having landed on my butt after walking straight into Phil Mitchell. Phil is what you would call a big person. He isn’t just bulky, he is strong and his personality is large as well. He is kind of like a tank. He will roll right over you if you don’t stay out of his way. And that is what had just happened to me. By the time I hit the ground he was past me without looking back. I wonder if he even knows that he just knocked me down? Well I guess the good news is that he doesn’t appear to be in any way upset with me.
As students continued towards their next class they swept around me like water around a boulder in a river. While I sat there on the ground I began to look at the faces of people streaming past. It was interesting to see if they even noticed me, and if they did, what their response to someone sitting on the floor in the middle of the hallway would be.
I remembered that you can tell how horses are thinking by which way their ears are pointing: forward for happy, in the middle for not sure, and laid back for upset. I didn’t see any ears moving on the students that were walking by, but I did notice eyebrows, noses and mouths that all scrunched, wiggled and went up and down to give the impression of happy, indifferent or upset. It had certainly occurred to me in the past that it was possible to read a person’s thoughts by the movements of their face, but I also knew that people can hide bad feelings behind a fake smile. I guess that is something that I really like about horses. They are always honest, you know where things stand. With people it isn’t always so easy.
My reflections on body language and life were brought to a halt when after a surprisingly long time someone said, “Hey, Harry, are you alright?”
It was Tim Wilson. We had spent some time playing basketball before school on occasion, so we were in that loosely male sort of way friends. “Hi, Tim. Yeah, I’m okay, I just got bulldozed by Phil. No big deal.”
Tim reached out his hand and helped pull me up. “Oh man, I’ve been there too. One time I came around a corner without looking and I ran right into him before I knew what was happening. I bounced off him like a tennis ball. Fortunately I bounced towards the wall and stayed upright. He didn’t even flinch!”
I couldn’t help laughing as I responded, “That guy is a road hazard!”
“Absolutely!” Tim agreed with fervor.
Now that I was once again upright it occurred to me that I had a history class to get to. “Hey Tim, I better get to class. Will you be on the court tomorrow before school?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’ll be there,” Tim answered.
“Okay, I’ll see you then,” I said as I headed down the hall. This time I kept my eyes on the road and managed to avoid any collisions.
History class morphed into Spanish class, which morphed into Science class, before I finally recaptured that most important thought about Shannon. I was filling a small beaker with the liquid of the day when I began to remember the time that Shannon and I kiss…
“Mr. Fruitgarden, what are you smiling about!” askedthe cutting voice of Ms. Johnson, our science teacher.
“Oh no, not again!” I thought. Not only was I caught smiling in class again for no good reason, but a perfectly good memory of Shannon had once again been destroyed un-enjoyed. What a tragedy!
This reminded me of the fact that too many teachers think smiling and a good education don’t go hand in hand. It seems to me that if there was more smiling at school amongst teachers and students, everyone would be having a much better time. And a good time would lead to more learning not less. But I can tell you, for a fact, that the superintendent of education has not consulted me on this matter, or on any other matter for that matter. Why that would be so…
“Mr. Fruitgarden, I did ask you a question, are you going to answer?” Ms. Johnson once again broke into my stream of thoughts that were happily rolling down the hill of my mental landscape.
“Ah, yes, Ms. Johnson,” I said warming up a new direction of thought. “I was just taking the time to think clearly about why I was smiling. And to be quite honest, I couldn’t think of any reason that I would like to share publicly, so I believe it must be a simple case of youthful enthusiasm.”
“Okay Mr. Fruitgarden, why don’t you see if you can get that smile to help you finish this experiment before the next ice age?” Ms. Johnson said with a dash of sarcasm tinged with a slightly ominous intent.
I obediently gave my attention to various colored liquids as they merged into a dark mass for some mysterious reason that was probably the purpose of this experiment. Fortunately for me the next ice age was preempted by the lunch bell. I managed to get everything put away and make my way out of the room before anything else could go wrong.
In the cafeteria I found a place to sit by myself. Normally I would be sitting with Herm. But Herm was MWE – missing without explanation. When I had returned after two months at summer camp and tried to call him, instead of hearing his happy voice I got a message that the phone was “No longer in service.” Now school had been in session for three days and he was still missing. What had happened to Herm? I just didn’t know.
I started to imagine some of the things that could have happened to Herm. On the top of the list was being abducted by aliens. That would certainly be worthy of missing a few days of school! It is also possible that his family had struck it richer than rich, bought an island, and dropped out of the rat race. That might not be too bad, except if they are so rich I think they would want to bring a few friends along. Of course it is also possible that something bad has happened, like illness or an accident. I didn’t really want to think about that so I gave full attention to my cheese sandwich.