Monday, January 17, 2011

The Legend of Johnny Applecore

First off, thanks to all followers, it has been lots of fun reading your comments and looking at your blogs! This post is an account of events that transpired a few years ago in high school, and though it is quite long I highly encourage you to give it a read. If you aren't enjoying it by the first paragraph or so, give up on it... although I expect you will be hooked once you start. Enjoy!

This is a true story. In its telling, I endeavor to preserve the facts and chronology of events exactly as they occurred without embellishment. The names of the persons involved have been changed to protect their identities.

The sun shown brightly overhead as the students filed into the classroom. It was just another day in Calculus AB for me as I dropped my backpack next to my friend-- one of the only juniors in the otherwise senior-filled classroom. My desk was in the front: I liked being close to the action, occasionally raising my hand to answer the question that no one else could answer. I was the smart kid, but I was also well-liked by the other students due to my often erratic and humorous nature.

Rather, I was well liked with one exception. Doug was a senior, a wrestler and prospective member of the U.S. Naval Academy. He had an ego to rival mine and towered over my adolescent 5 foot-8 inches. He did not like me; in fact, I suspect he was jealous of my popularity with his "friends," friends that would rather socialize with me than with him. It didn't help that I would take advantage of any opportunity to put him down or question his manhood. But then again, I was only returning the favor.

"I ate apples regularly."
As the rest of my classmates were finishing filing into the classroom, I took the last bite of my apple, tapping my friend Stephen on the shoulder. Stephen knew I was an apple-core-throwing aficionado. I ate apples regularly, and whenever I finished I would always announce my target before throwing the apple core accurately into the designated receptacle. I took pride in my ability to judge the wind, apple weight and other factors in my throwing, and I had a near-perfect record. I was aware of the burden this record placed upon me as I proceeded to throw the remnants of my apple towards the class trash bin. I couldn't actually see the container, blocked as it was by a counter that ran along the side of the classroom. Not surprisingly, the apple hit the counter, slid and landed on the floor by the trash can.

"Nice one, Johnny," came the voice from behind me. I knew who it was. It was that slightly nasal, yet deep voice. It was the only person who would call me out on missing the trash can. It was the only person who would dare to challenge my apple-core-throwing ability in front of the entire class: Doug. The class was silent. The teacher had not arrived yet. I turned slowly to face my nemesis, and stood. All eyes in the classroom were on me. "Excuse me; I could not see the trash can. I'm very good at this, you know," I said, feigning politeness-- but the scathing undertone was lost on no one. Doug laughed. "Sure, Johnny, whatever you say."

Barely containing my anger, I slowly and deliberately walked over to the trash can, stooping down in a dignified manner to retrieve the fallen apple core. "Oh yeah? You don't think I can make the shot?" I asked. Doug laughed again: "No, I don't." I smiled. I was in complete control. "Okay then." I walked back about eight feet from the trash can-- the same distance I had originally thrown from. This time, however, I had a clear shot at the trash can. Taking my time, I assumed the correct throwing stance, took aim, and let the sticky apple roll off my fingers as I propelled it toward my target. There was a satisfying thud as it landed in the bottom of the bin. I was silent: nothing needed to be said. Thinking my work was done, I started towards my seat. But Doug wasn't finished.

"Too easy," he said. I stopped mid-step, looking at him incredulously: "What?" The rest of my classmates were rapt, engaged. Our teacher still had not arrived. Doug leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms, exuding arrogance through every pore of his tan skin. "I said, too easy. Anyone could have made that." "Okay," I said in a conciliatory tone. I walked to the trash can once again, reaching in to pick up the apple core, and proceeded to walk to the other side of the classroom, vastly farther away from the trash can than I had been before. This was a legitimately difficult shot. In my decorated apple-core-throwing career I had thrown from this range before: more than 15 feet, I estimated. Classroom wind was negligible, and the apple had remained intact after the former throw, so my arm was calibrated to its mass. I was too proud and too indignant to be nervous. Once again, I lined up the shot carefully, took a deep breath, and released the sticky fruit through the air. A moment later, the same satisfying thud emanated from the trash bin. It was almost too easy, like the gaping mouth of the trash can wanted the apple core inside it.

The collective sigh of my impressed classmates filled the room. A huge, triumphant grin spread across my face, and I did nothing to conceal it. I had shown him, shown my friend, showed the class that I was superior. Doug was pathetic. I had won. With confidence in my step, I started to return to my seat. But Doug's unyielding hubris prevented his mind from understanding. It seemed that something hardwired deep in his psyche would not allow him to accept defeat. "Lucky shot," he proclaimed.

I did not wait for my friend or my classmates to defend me, nor did I ask them to certify that I was a reliable apple core sharpshooter. They knew that this was a contest of masculinity, a duel, that could only be decided by its contestants. They would not interfere until the final blow had been struck. The spotlight was on me once again. At this point, nervousness began to set in. Where there had been unquestioned confidence and authority in my step, doubt crept slowly and steadily, like a fungus, into my mind. As I went to recover the apple for the third time, I wondered if I should have ignored Doug's taunting statement. What if I miss? Even a seasoned apple core thrower misses once in a while. I might miss due to bad luck, and then what? My credibility, my reputation will be gone, vaporized by a single probabilistic occurrence. And I will have lost to Doug. Doug who leans back in his seat with such sickening, unjustified bravado.

But, I realized with an inward smile, I had already made the same throw just 30 seconds before. My arm, body and mind knew exactly what motions were necessary to put that apple core into the trash can. All I needed to do was stay calm and repeat what I had done before. Experience had taught me that repeat throws like this one were much easier to execute the second time around.

As I began my usual pre-throw ritual, tossing the apple slightly into the air and catching it, Doug blurted from across the room: "Well, you can't throw it from the same place, you already know how to." Everyone in the class laughed. They knew he was scared-- he was trying to talk himself out of his imminent defeat. I could have taken the shot then, ignored his protests, and continued with my pride and reputation untarnished. But Doug had made it personal. I wanted to crush him completely, beyond any shadow of a doubt and in front of his senior friends whose respect he desired so much. I refused to let my victory be anything but immaculate.

"... the only way I could get farther from the trash bin 
was to move towards the other corner of the room..."
With confidence returning to me, I announced calmly, "Okay, Doug, where do you want me to throw it from?" I was already on completely the other side of the classroom, so the only way I could get farther from the trash bin was to move towards the other corner of the room, and without waiting for a response from my stunned rival, I walked until I could go no farther, blocked by the absent teacher's desk.

Could I do justice to myself, to my social status, to everyone who was looking up to me? Could I defeat the incessant bully who had plagued me for so long? Could I maintain my faith in myself? It would all be decided now. This was it.  Hundreds of apples, banana peels and crumpled pieces of paper--my life--were culminated in this moment. This moment of reckoning. With a sense of purpose known to few, I bent my legs and let my thighs support my weight, crouching slightly and coiling my body. Every fiber of my being had to be in synergy with this throw. I squeezed the firm apple lightly: it was a good weight. The conditions were perfect, the only thing that could stop me now was myself.

Everyone had turned in their seats, holding their breath as they watched. I hesitantly let the apple go, feeling its rough stem brush against my hand as it left my fingertips. It floated almost lazily, like an immensely heavy object suspended by an unseen force. It spun serenely, arcing through the air, gaining speed as it neared the end of its flight. My heart sank. The throw wasn't perfect; I had known that as soon as it had left my hand. I had faltered slightly, afraid that I would throw too hard if I tried to overcompensate for my nerves. The apple was plunging downward rapidly now. It was close, too close to call. It seemed to be about to hit the edge, which meant it could still go in. But maybe it would break, and part of it would land on the floor. Then what? What if it knocked over the trash bin?

My apprehension was cut short as the apple sank into the trash bin, hitting the inside edge before landing again at the bottom with the most wonderful sound I have ever heard in my life. The class let out a collective, celebratory cry of surprise and excitement. I raised my throwing arm, formed a fist and yelled at full volume "fuck you" at Doug's dumbfounded visage. Doug was speechless, vanquished. I caught my friend's eye and he smiled knowingly. As the seniors congratulated me and expressed their disbelief and awe, our teacher entered the room, scanning the class and then eying me quizzically. I smiled a little as I returned to my seat, knowing that students would recount the Legend of Johnny Applecore for years to come.