And so, I have a tale to tell.
When I was a senior in high school, on the last day of school there was always a talent show. At least, I think it was a talent show. I don't really remember, because I was high a lot. But I'll never forget my last day of high school, and I'll never forget Nick (not his real name).
At a time when high school stereotypes are either changing or disintegrating altogether, Nick fit the stereotype of "outcast" to a T. He dressed in ill-fitting, awkward looking clothes. His hair was a wiry mess with absolutely no style. He wasn't very good at school. He talked so quietly you could barely hear him, because he was self-conscious of his incredibly nasally voice. He had incredibly bad acne. He had few friends, and the few he did have were similar social outcasts.
I do not tell you this because I am trying to put him down, nor do I tell you because I was oh-so-cool. Despite my super cool fashion sense, I was neither much of an outcast, nor much of a popular kid. I was simply there. I had good friends, many of which are still around me. My point is, I tell you this because it's the truth. If you picture the sad sack outcast stereotype, this kid was it.
Anyway. So, our stupid talent show starts, and a couple of friends and I head over there. We stumble around a little, trying to find seats, because we are high as a motherfucker. And the usual collection of stupid dance numbers and lip syncing takes place. And then, we hear the loudspeaker say,
"OK, guys, let's give it up for Nick [Name Redacted]!!"
And there is collective silence. Deafening silence. Not because no one knows who Nick is, but because we all know who he is. My school was pretty big, but for the most part, you knew the rest of the students by name. And we all knew who he was, and knowing what we (thought) we knew, it seemed either a joke or a lie or... who knows.
So. High school gymnasium. 500+ kids sitting there in stunned and confused silence. And then... roaring over the loudspeaker... we hear it:
"Love is like a bomb, baby, come on get it on..."
No. Fucking. Way.
And suddenly, this kid, this introverted, misfit, four-years-of-quietly-suffering kid, comes TEARING out from the back of the room, pumping his fists and jumping in the air, and NAILS IT. He lip syncs Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me", and he runs crazily around the room. He dances like his life depended on it. He's high fiving people as he runs through the stands. He whips his shirt off and throws it at a group of preppy girls. He's shaking his ass like he's got bees in his pants. I'm telling you, he fucking killed it.
It was one of the greatest things I've ever witnessed. It was way better than the Paradise City scene in Can't Hardly Wait, because it was real and it was him and it was just fucking perfect. I'm telling you, every single person in that gym was on their feet and cheering. Kids were running in from the hallway to see what the ruckus was about. And then, as the song came to a close, Nick, with a huge, sweet smile on his face, took a bow and ran out of the room.
It was the last time I saw him. But it wasn't the last time I thought of him, not by a long shot. How does one forget something like that? Something like that makes history. It becomes a story. People I run into that I went to high school with all still remember it fondly.
And while I didn't see Nick again, that was part of the poetry of it. In my mind, he ran out of that gym, shirtless, and jumped into his car and drove to California, getting into adventures and eventually meeting the girl of his dreams. Or he struck oil in Texas and became a tycoon. Or somehow ended up a secret agent, living off of fancy food and cocktails in Europe, in between dangerous missions into the middle east. I played through these scenarios in my head, periodically, and I always smiled. Nick had done something no one I knew had ever known had ever had the guts to do. To finally give the finger to an institution that shunned him, or worse, ignored him, while at the same time causing them to celebrate him.
In that small corner of the world, Nick became a legend.
I mean, 14 years later and I'm blogging about him, for God's sake. We didn't even have the damn internet back then.
And then, two months ago, I saw him...
Bagging groceries in a supermarket.
I saw him, and he had a brief moment of recognition with me. I gave a little half-smile, and he simply looked away. Ironically, I remembered his name, and yet I doubt he remembered mine.
But there was something incredibly sad about that moment. Something that tugged at me. In a weird way, it was like seeing a hero come down from the pedestal. I mean, the guy wasn't my hero, but... there was something about him that always made me smile, something that always made me think, "Not everyone plays by the damn rules. Sooner or later, people will crack and they will run from their mess of a life and become free. They will break the shackles of anonymity and become someone, and no force on this earth can stop it from happening!"
And I kind of enjoyed that, even if it was something I'd only think about once every couple of years.
Like I said... Sometimes, the real world? Can be a real bitch.
Listening to: Uncle Tupelo - Life Worth Livin'