Previously: Fire In The Head
Before I introduce this week’s installment in the Sarah Murders the CanRock Cannon With Her Terrible Teenage Words, I feel the need to state, unequivocally, that I was an insufferable teenager. At least when it came to books and my “art.”
This was probably already clear for anyone who read or scanned the previous entry in this series — or anyone who has ever met me — but I felt that it needed to be said.
I was pleasant about most other things in life — or at least shy enough to hide all of my weird edges and flagrant cultural snobbery and random disagreeability. But when it came to literature I just couldn’t stop myself. I was, obviously, a genius, and I wasn’t about to temper my vision for anything. Especially not for an overly simplistic grade nine English assignment that I knew was brutally beneath me.
This is how I came to write “Birthday Boy” in the early days of 1997, just after I turned 15.
Although I technically attended high school in the dying days of Ontario’s destreamed grade nine, our classes had been unofficially separated into three levels. I had started the year in the ostensibly “advanced” English class but was moved to the comprehensive class after a series of bizarre fights with my teacher that involved, among other things, Joseph Fucking Conrad (of course) erupting into an all-out feud that made the learning environment pretty much impossible for everyone involved. Because the only thing worse than an insufferable teenage lit snob is an even more insufferable teacher who can’t be enough of a grownup to handle an insufferable teenage lit snob.
Anyway, my ego wasn’t taking it well. And so, when we did a unit on One Minute Mysteries and were asked to write simple, plucky versions of our own, I decided to reassert my genius. I deconstructed the form of the Two-Minute Mystery and I rebuilt it into whatever the hell is going on in this story.
What’s even more baffling and sad about this whole process is that this story isn’t actually based on the Junkhouse song. Nor is it based on the album of the same name. It is based on the commercial for the album that ran on MuchMusic that involved some spiel from Tom Wilson that does not actually appear in the lyrics of any song.
I got an A on the assignment, but my teacher commented that it was “Too deep.”
I thought this was glowing praise. Because I was an insufferable little piece of shit.
Not once during this entire process did anyone send me to the guidance counselor.
PART TWO: BIRTHDAY BOY
“You were lucky, kid,” I called to Jimmy.
He remained sitting on the edge of the dock, but motioned for me to join him. As I moved forward, I came into view of Crispin’s masterpiece. To me, the bright red car seemed more like a corpse than its creator was. Pulled up on the shore, Crisp’s car was still wet from its journey to the bottom. Looking at it, I started to think about how I’d probably never see the car or the person again. Glad that I wasn’t alone, I sat down beside Jimmy and dipped a finger into the icy cold water.
“It’s kinda like those sunsets that leave you thinking of a Blue Rodeo song.”
Referencing lines from his favourite songs was slowly becoming his trademark. It was as if he was filling the rest of us in on the continuous soundtrack to his life. His remark was very fitting, considering that Crispin had driven off the dock to his death the night before, not far from where Jim had been.
The fact that I could identify the songs was the major bond between us. We would find comfort in the fact that we understood what the other was talking about. We discovered this the first time I ventured to talk to him.
Jimmy was an outsider, whom almost all the kids picked on, but his main problem was the duo of Dean Pseudo and Crispin Hart. These guys would follow him down the school hallways, taunting him, and they would wait for him outside to add some physical pain to the emotional scars. One day, I found him curled up in a corner, trying desperately to be invisible, and I decided to say something.
“Don’t let this happen, there’s more than one way to fight back,” I stated as I hovered above him.
He looked up, and I couldn’t help but focus on his black eye and bloody lip. “You couldn’t possibly understand.”
“I understand perfectly,” I almost scolded him. “I used to be like you. I know what it’s like to be on the outside, and I know you can’t stay this way. You have to make a change.”
He gave me a smug smile. “Oh yeah? How’d you solve your problem?”
He laughed quietly, and quoted Change of Heart at me. It automatically gave me a clearer picture of him. There was a sudden understanding between us. It made me push the subject even harder.
“Crispin and Dean are on your back all the time. I know you can’t take them on physically, but you can stop them.” He did not speak, so I continued. “Stop them!”
He glared at me, and said, “No.”
I kicked a locker in frustration. “You’re weak!”
I could never understand why he didn’t do something. The situation became worse with each passing day. I kept telling him to take action, and he continued to refuse. To me, he seemed to be continually demonstrating his weakness.
Jimmy didn’t have to be weak anymore. Due to a twist of fate, Crispin was dead, and Dean was nothing on his own. Jimmy was lucky. I have to admit that I felt a morbid disappointment that Jim hadn’t solved the problem himself.
“Marinelli,” he called, pulling me out of my thoughts. “Now we’ve both wimped out of our situations. Impressed?”
“I didn’t, okay?” I stopped short of defending myself once again. “I always feel the need to prove myself to you, but the sentiment’s never returned, is it?”
He shrugged. “Maybe. Did you hear about the carving on the rock right here?” He pointed to the boulder beside us.
“That’s why I came. The monster kills the creator, eh?” I dug into my pockets as I spoke.
“That’s what it says. You’re the clever one, Mar. I’ll sit back and watch you figure it out.”
I stood up, holding the birthday candle I’d retrieved from my pocket. I’d found it on the ground before I sat down on the dock. “Hey, Jimmy, what do you mean ‘figure it out’? What’s to figure out?”
“Well, why’s it there?” his voice became soft as I wandered away. He got up to follow.
“I talked to Dean before I came out to see you,” I informed Jimmy.
“Oh yeah? What did you say to him?” he asked, steeping up beside me.
“That I wished he’d died too.”
“And what did he say to that?”
“He told me that he almost did. He was in the car with Crispin, but managed to jump out.”
“Yeah,” he confirmed. “They had a huge fight last night. I could never understand why the two of them were so hung up on that car.”
Jimmy was right. Crispin’s car came between him and Dean like a girl comes between two stereotypical buddies in your average Hollywood flick. I could never understand why Dean was jealous of a vehicle.
“Marinelli, why do you think the cops are being so hard on Dean in the cottage, there? I saw it happen, out of the corner of my eye, when I was in the boathouse last night. From what I could see‚ it was an accident. They’re treating him like a killer.”
My mind had already left him far behind. The monster kills the creator. It was something I’d heard before. Hadn’t Junkhouse used it to describe one of their songs? I looked at the candle in my hands. Birthday? Other lines from the description started to surface in my mind. I believe if you push anyone hard enough, they will push back. Somehow, I drifted back into our conversation.
“Dean said something about the brakes not working. He thought someone tampered with them,” I managed to work out.
The two of us moved closer to the car. My mind was off again. I believe if you push anyone hard enough, they will push back. Destroy anybody’s self worth, and they’ll become destructive themselves…Birthday Boy! The name of the song was Birthday Boy! That was the album’s name, too. The CD case came with a candle. The monster kills the...
“The Monster,” I read aloud.
It was there, painted clearly on the side of the car. Crispin was the creator of that piece of machinery, he built it with his bare hands. He named it The Monster.
“That’s it?!” I exclaimed. “I think too much.”
“What?” Jimmy ran up beside me.
“Dean! Dean killed Crispin. He knew to jump from the car, to jump from The Monster. I can’t believe jealousy over a car could amount to this. Must be a testosterone thing.”
Jimmy tapped me on the shoulder. “Hey, Mar. Looks like the police came to the same conclusion.” He pointed to the figure of Dean in the back of a cruiser by the side of the road.
“It’s funny,” I mused. “That line always had a deeper meaning for me.”
“Yeah? I wasn’t sure how I’d go on when I first heard that Junkhouse broke up.”
I turned, and started to walk away. I almost let the comment go. Then, the thought caught up to me.
“Jimmy Achen, I thought that you were weak.”
He just smiled at me.
So, I learned that it is true. Push anyone hard enough, and they will push back. The monster kills the creator.