Robert Tolkien vs. The Bus (Part I) – A Team PCPB Original Story
Summer was coming to an end. I hated this time of year. The first two-thirds of summer were always the best. I thought about swimming, I thought all the fun I was going to have, the new movies I was going to see, going to parks and riding on rollercoasters. Soon my mind was gonna be back on homework, math, and a bunch of stuff I have zero desire to learn about. I always felt a little like Wile E. Coyote at this time of year. I just spent the longest time running and running, but then August came around, I was reminded that there was no road beneath me.
I had to brace myself for the transition from waking up whenever I wanted, going wherever I wanted and hanging out with whoever I wanted; to waking up at crappy hours, hanging out with ass clowns like Ben Giggard and my mom yelling at me about my grades. I guess the transition was less harsh than I realized. That’s why I always hated August. I still had that freedom, but the lingering knowledge of going to school was in the air, dangling over me like a guillotine. August was when my family and I stopped doing fun things and only went out to buy stuff for school. Unfortunately, this year things were more serious.
Toward the end of last school year, we had gotten awful news. The school was cutting its budget, and they were cutting corners anywhere there was a corner. Anybody who played a sport would basically have to foot the bill for their own equipment. Ditto people in the band. Bogus reasons always kept me off the football team and I had no desire to be a band geek. However, they still found ways to screw over yours truly.
Buses were being cut. As we neared the end of the school year, I thought nothing of it. My mind was wrapped up in all the fun I was talking about earlier. But as we marched closer and closer to the new school year, we began having fewer conversations about what we’d wear to school and more conversations about how we’d even get to school. Mom was a dental assistant and had to be at work at certain times so she couldn’t drive me or Tim to school. She could pick us up. God bless that woman for at least doing the job she could for us.
We were at the dinner table, and I had an idea: “We get up and we run to school.”
Tim hated the idea, “Are you insane? The school is two miles away!”
“Your brother’s right, Bobby,” Mom chimed in. “I think that’s dangerous. There’s a lot of traffic and it’s dark in the morning. You could be hit by a car.”
“Danger? I laugh at danger! Need I remind you of the time I fought off a lion? And a bear?”
“Seeing those things at the zoo this summer doesn’t count, dummy!” Tim quipped.
“Robert, I know you can handle yourself, but I still worry about Tim’s safety.”
“What choices do we have?”
“I could drop you off at that local café.”
“Nah, that’ll never work.”
“It just won’t.”
“Could you please elaborate?”
“I don’t need to elaborate. It just won’t work!”
“Mom!” Tim interjected. “I think it will work.”
I gave Tim a stink eye. I wasn’t sure what game he was playing, but nobody (and I mean nobody) matches wits with Robert Tolkien. Mom still had questions though: “What are you gonna do during winter?”
“Excuse me, is it winter? Do you think winter’s just gonna happen overnight? August 27 is just gonna be blue skies and 75 degree weather, and August 28 is just gonna see a blizzard!”
“It’s gonna happen eventually.”
“Eventually is a pretty long ways away.”
Mom rolled her eyes. “Fine if you two wanna walk to school every morning, that’s alright with me.”
The first day of school came. I had been up all night partying with famous people and beautiful women. Or at least that’s how I WANTED to spend my last day of summer. My mom insisted on spending the last day of summer vacation together. Will Smith – who I missed out on seeing – was right. Parents don’t understand. Anyway, I may not have been up all night partying, but I sure as hell woke up like I did.
“Robert, get up!” Who needs an alarm when you have a mom? Apparently, I do, because mine still didn’t get me up.
“5 more minutes” was my garbled reply. Hey, it’s an oldie but a goodie.
“I can’t give you five more minutes! You and Tim have to walk to school.”
“Just call the school and tell them I’m gonna be late. They’ll postpone without me.”
“I tried that five times last spring. It didn’t work. Now get up!” Mom rushed me through my morning routine. First, she barked at me for spending too long in the shower, then I basically had to wolf down a pop tart instead of having a proper breakfast. “Hurry up!” “You have to be at school!” “Why are you wasting time?” That was the soundtrack of my morning. Everything Mom said had this extra edge of anger and prissiness in her voice; as if she was constantly saying “I told you so” without actually saying it. In the brief time Mom was there before she had to run off to work, I think I heard her yell at me more than any bad thing I’ve done combined.
Tim and I were about to embark on our walk to school – or as I liked to call it, the Trail of Tears. Tim and I made our way out and walked briskly at first. The high school wasn’t that far from our home… in a car. Look, I’m rarely wrong, but it happens. Once Tim and I crossed the half mile mark, that was when I realized how dumb it was. We had a mile and a half to go. Walking this far with our backpacks was doing us no favors either. Tensions were beginning to rise:
“Great idea, Robert” Tim sneered.
“You agreed to it!”
“Yeah, ‘cause I wanted to see you fall on your ass!”
“Then I guess it’s your fault too!”
Tim shut up for a few moments. He knew I was right. Around the mile marker, our exhaustion and frustration were beginning to show. “Come on Robert – why is a two-mile walk too much for you? Didn’t you once walk the Atlantic Ocean while towing a boat?”
Nothing ground my gears more than when people ridiculed my accomplishments like that. “Tim, if you don’t knock that off, I am gonna carry you so every step I take kicks you in the ass!”
“You can’t carry a backpack for a mile, but you think you can carry me?”
I grumbled. I figured it was worth trying to change the subject. “Come on, Tim. Let’s have some fun with this walk!” I started regaling Tim with my flawless rendition of “I would walk 500 miles.” Tim did not seem to appreciate this. I got the distinct impression he was going to hit me. I could take Tim, but there was the element of surprise and in this element, I could easily be hit by a car. I’d totally survive. But it would hurt like a bitch.
As Tim and I continuously lumbered toward school, it became obvious we were not going to be there on time. “You know it’s already 8:00 and we’re still half a mile away.”
“Why don’t you complain about it some more? Maybe that’ll get us there faster!”
“Why don’t you initiate that famous Tolkien speed?” Tim sneered.
“I don’t wanna leave Slowpoke Tolkien behind…”
We finally got closer to the school. It finally happened: I was happy to see the school! We weren’t the only stragglers. There were still a bunch of other cars jam packed in front of the school. School had already started and the entrance was still packed with cars of students being dropped off. My brother was in disbelief, “Jeez, I’ve never seen this many cars at once!”
“I’m used to it,” I replied. “I’ve seen crowds like this all the time. I’m just used to them gathering for me!”
Tim tap slapped me. “Get over yourself!”
Tim and I made our way through the jungle of cars and people… again and finally we made it to school. Both of us were egregiously late – late enough that we were both wondering if it was even worth showing up to our first-period classes. Either way, we had to face our probable punishments for being late.
My first class was history. Being fashionably late, I decided to make an entrance. The teacher was blah-blah-blah-ing up front when I came in, singing: “ GLORIOUS! I won’t give in, I won’t give in, ‘til I’m victorious! I will defend, I will defend…”
The teacher interrupted, “Tolkien!”
“That’s my name, you’ll be saying it a lot!”
“I’ll let you off the hook this time since we’re all a little crazy this morning!”
I took a seat. There are a few things good about the first day of school. I was always curious to see who I’d be sharing class with. Maybe I’d be lucky and have some classes with my best friend Simon. Granted, it was a crap shoot because I could also have classes with Ben or Carrie. I could also be lucky and be in class with some cute girls. The important thing was I knew nothing important would really happen during class. I could zone out and not miss anything.
Next class was math. I never liked math, and today I was definitely not in the mood for it. I was beginning to pick up on the fact that nobody was in the mood for anything. Even if nobody liked the return to school, there was usually some excitement at seeing friends, and telling everybody what they did over summer. There was no joy in this class. I just saw the hollow, lifeless expressions on everybody’s faces. Having to walk to school, mooch rides, hire taxis, fire themselves out of cannons, dig tunnels, drop out of planes, and the stunning realization that we were all gonna have to do the same thing for the rest of the school year was creating this passive aggressive vibe among everyone.
The day trudged on until lunch. I was lucky enough to share my lunch break with Simon. Both of us only had one subject on our minds: How did either of us get to school that day. I told Simon about me and Tim walking to school. Simon thought I was crazy… more so than usual. It was Simon’s turn to explain himself: “My sister drove me.”
Ah, to have a sibling with a license. Or better yet, to have a license. “Any chance she’ll pick up me and Tim?”
“She can’t give me a ride every morning. She works crazy hours. So if she’s working, I can’t always get a ride.”
“Then what are you gonna do?”
“I don’t know!” This question seemed to frustrate Simon. The guy was always a little uptight, but I could tell this really ticked him off. He probably had this discussion a zillion times with his sister. He probably had the same conversations I had with my family. I didn’t want to press any buttons so Simon and I had a moment or two of uncomfortable silence.
The rest of the day didn’t fare much better. You know that excitement at getting closer to the end of the school day. That feeling was being exaggerated by this urging to just get out and go home. This school was my prison for a few moments longer than it needed to be as I had to wait for Tim. And even THEN we weren’t done! With no means of transportation home, Tim and I had to hang out at a local café for our mom to pick us up.
We walked into the café. There were a bunch of other people who showed up. Whether these other people needed rides from their folks or if they were just hanging out. This was a place run by some church so they gave away free coffee and doughnuts. Tim wolfed down doughnuts like nobody’s business. I watched in disdain, just waiting for mom to pick us up. Tim gave me a look: “You can have a doughnut.”
A broken clock was right at least twice a day. After trudging two miles and having an awful first day at school, I figured one doughnut would be okay. Besides they had custard-filled doughnuts which I was just wild about. What I wasn’t wild about was the slew of younger kids who hung out at this café. You see, the high school was close to the grade school and we weren’t the only ones without buses.
One ankle-biter approached me. This kid was a big fan of Minions. In particular, he liked that Minions solo movie. How do I know? We had this conversation:
“Hi!” said the kid.
“Hello,” I replied.
“Do you like Minions?”
“What did you think of the Minions movie?”
“I thought it was alright.”
“What’s your favorite Minions movie?”
“I thought the second one was pretty funny.”
“Yeah, but after that.”
“I thought the first one was alright.”
“Yeah, but after that.”
I sighed as I realized what I had to pick by process of elimination. “I guess I’d have to go with Minions.”
“Yeah, that was my favorite too. What was your favorite part of Minions?”
God, I watched that movie when Tim had some friends over. I didn’t pay attention: I just listened as background noise while I was busy writing my screenplay Robert Tolkien Saves Kwanzaa (Inspired by true events)! I tried to humor this kid by whatever scene I remembered from the trailer: “Uh, I liked that… uh… noose scene.”
“Yeah, that was really funny. Do you have a favorite minion?”
I wanted to bitterly blurt out “whichever one is your favorite”, but I was doing my best to be nice to this kid. After all, he was but a child. He knew no better. More importantly, this kid may some day be a Robert Tolkien fan: He might even purchase the album Tolkien Comes Alive!
“Oh, how can I pick a favorite when there are so many good ones?”
“Yeah, me too!” I sort of wanted to sit this kid down and tell him about all the cues he was gonna get that people were ignoring him. I reached a point in my life where I had heard all of them. “I gotta do my homework.” “I wanna step outside.” “I gotta return some tapes.” I get the feeling this kid would get the same crash course in this I had gotten…
Not a moment too soon, our loving mother showed up. I had never been so happy to see that woman. God, I could make this crack on any first of school, but it felt most appropriate here: This whole ordeal reminded me of one of my favorite war movies: The Longest Day. My mom still felt compelled to ask: “How was your day, boys?”
I hissed. Mom just laughed at this. As she often laughs off my pain. I’m awfully glad mom wasn’t there the time I got shot while fighting off guerrillas (AND gorillas) in the Congo. She did feel a little bad that we had to walk the way we did. We all unanimously agreed that mom would just drop us off at the local diner (since the Christian café wasn’t open yet) moving forward. After all, was it worth the walk when I arrived at school with my hair mussed and my nice new clothes covered in sweat?
Tim and I made it home. I took a quick nap. I didn’t need to nap for long because Robert Tolkien is even awesome at sleeping. I did plenty of that during the night. I slept a little better knowing mom would just drop us off at the diner the next morning. At least I THOUGHT things would be easy.
Copyright 2016 Alex deCourville