And The Hits Just Keep On Coming

I’ll never forget it. It was our senior year. My high school had a tradition. We held an annual male beauty pageant—it was a satire of real beauty pageants and could be really stupid and, sometimes, gross—to raise funds so the less fortunate in the class could go to prom. Guys wanted to be in it to help friends rent tuxes or buy prom dresses. It was one of my favorite things about going to John Hancock High. That, and the name of the school. Go, Fighting Roosters!

There were, like, thirteen dudes competing my year. Matt, Zack, Jessie, Mahal, Jake, Diego. My boys. They all were in it. And some guys I didn’t know. Oh, I’m Kris Stone. Anyway, we’d finished the formal wear walk through, which really wasn’t that formal. More like suits than tuxes. And we’d finished the Pick-Up Line Competition, which was gross. We were heading into the talent portion of the pageant. I was kinda worried about it. See, I’m known for my dancing and I knew some of the other guys wanted to dance, so I decided I was gonna try stand-up comedy.

Jake played his guitar and sang something by a guy named John Denver. Never heard of him. And Matt juggled. He was pretty effin’ good, too. A guy I don’t know played the school fight song on a harmonica. Mahal did an African dance. Kris Carter, the gymnast, did some tumbling stuff in shorts and no shirt so he could show off his pecs. What an ass! A guy named Liam danced, but way worse than me. And then it was my turn.

I was doing my routine—I was doing OK. People were laughing—and I started my bit about the cheerleaders. “Everybody knows that the entire squad has been hittin’ on that hot teaching intern from Morrow State, Mr. Kreske. I mean, have you seen his face? Even I’m interested in him. And I ain’t gay.” They audience howled. “I’ve heard that Emma Warner and Chloe Levine have been giving Mr. Kreske BJ’s.” In the beat that I waited to add the punch line, I heard gasps, boos, and guys’ laughter from the audience. But I also heard an angry, “What the hell!” from back stage. “Black Jeeps! Drawings of black Jeeps because he drives a really awesome one,” I spat out. But it was too late.

Zack stormed on stage from stage left, yelling, “Chloe ain’t giving him BJs, asshole.” And without warning, he punched me in the jaw. I fell to the floor. I remember hearing him shout, “Don’t ever say my girl Chloe’s name again. Ever!” Then a bunch of the guys were pulling him off the stage. It was sorta chaotic. And the curtains closed.

Zack was disqualified from the contest. I didn’t make the Top Five. Because of that joke, Principal Sherwood told me later. And Diego Guzman won. He deserved to. He played Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” on the cello. He was awesome.

People talked about what Zack did for days. Pissed me off. Like who cares what he was thinking. Or what was gonna happen to him. I was the one who was humiliated in front of all my peers. And my jaw was bruised and sore for over a week. And the damn vid has had like 12,000 views on YouTube.

Zack didn’t get kicked out of school for hitting me because I asked Sherwood to go easy on him. I mean, Zack was one of my boys. Then. He did get banished from prom, however, and he wasn’t allowed to attend commencement. But he did graduate.

After it happened, I had to answer the same question a million times: Why the hell did you tell such a sucky joke? And since then, I’ve had recurring nightmares about getting clocked, falling backward, hitting my head hard on concrete, and bleeding out while people watched and laughed. I had no idea then that such a brief moment would haunt me for so long?

Our class’s 10-year reunion is coming up this summer. I’m scared to go. I don’t want to see Zack. I don’t want to listen to people asking, “Remember when Zack Roberts hit you at the Mr. John Hancock Pageant?” And then, after a pause, “Who won it anyway? Do you remember? Does anyone remember? Does anyone care?”  

I feel bad for Diego. That was supposed to be his moment to shine. Zack ruined it.

And I kind of feel like Chris Rock. 

May 2022 Issue

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Tom Nussbaum
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