Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fancypants

Fancypants Wilson had to be the strangest kid in fifth grade. "Call me Fancypants," he'd told everyone. We'd looked at his perfectly ordinary jeans. Mark had to ask the obvious question.

"Why?"

"Cuz everyone calls me that," he'd said, and kinda grinned. Mrs Jacobs didn't like the entire business.

"Jimmy," she'd said - that was his actual name, Jimmy Wilson - "Jimmy, that's not a nice thing to call people, so I don't want anyone calling you that."

Apparently that was news to Fancypants.

"Why isn't it nice?" he wanted to know.

Mary started to giggle.

"Mary, settle down," Mrs Jacobs said. "Jimmy, it's not nice because..."

I think at this point Mrs Jacobs realized she was about to say something potentially hurtful, and, miracles of miracles, she shut up. After a moment she recovered.

"...because you have such a nice regular name, and I think people ought to use that, instead," she said. And smiled. A bit forced. Some of us knew from experience what that smile meant: a call from Mrs Jacobs.

Fancypants didn't argue with Mrs Jacobs, and he continued to introduce himself as Fancypants. Me and my friends often made fun of him behind his back, but something about him kept us from teasing him openly. Some of the other kids, however, regularly tried to get a rise out of him.

One of the worst was Reggie. He should have been in sixth grade, but he had been held back. My mom told me that he'd probably have been OK, that he was just upset about being held back, but I thought he probably would have been mean in sixth grade, too. In fifth grade he was worse, because he was bigger than most of us.

I had been going back to class from the cafeteria when I noticed that some boys had formed a small crowd off in a side hallway. They were laughing and jeering. Out of curiosity I went over to see what was going on. Reggie had cornered Fancypants, and he was giving him a wedgie.

"Let me go!" Fancypants yelled. He shoved at Reggie, but Reggie was too strong. Reggie had Fancypants in a kind of choke hold, and already had a hold of Fancypant's waistband and was pulling with all his might.

"Don't look so fancy to me," Reggie jeered. "Let's see how fancy they get if I pull harder."

There was a tearing sound. The waistband had ripped from Fancypants' shorts. With another laugh Reggie shoved Fancypants to the ground.

"They sure tear easy," he said. "Not so fancy, are they?"

Fancypants didn't say anything. He sat on the ground, his head down. He endured another shove from Reggie's foot, and then Reggie left. With him the drama was gone, and the rest of us left, too, leaving Fancypants sitting on the floor in the corner of the hallway.

Fancypants didn't come to class after lunch that day. Mrs Jacobs didn't say anything about it, so we all figured he'd told her what had happened. However, when Fancypants came back to school the next day, and Reggie's abuse continued unabated, we realized that he must have come up with a different excuse.

It went on like that for weeks. We wondered why Reggie had it in for Fancypants, but none of us came up with a plausible reason. None of us dared tell Mrs Jacobs or our parents, either. There was something about this confrontation, something primal, that warned us off.

Mary Sawsworthy Elementary School is built on a rise overlooking the Nenderplat River, named by some Dutch pioneers, according to our civics lessons. It was a wide, shallow tributary of the Missoury, and every winter by Christmas it froze over solid. This year had been warmer than usual, and it wasn't until well into January that the ice was finally thick enough that Sheriff Ryder removed the "Danger! Keep off!" signs. After school saw us all out on the ice that evening. Some of us had brought skates, because we'd watched Achin Jones pull his home made ice polishing machine up and down a stretch just above the freeway bridge.

Even Fancypants was out there. He was a good skater, but he skated by himself. I don't think he had any friends. Reggie was the closest to a constant companion he had, but Reggie didn't skate. Perhaps Fancypants thought that this evening he'd be spared the petty torments Reggie thought up, but eventually he showed up at our impromptu rink, together with some of his pals. They first tried stealing the hats of kids skating past, but then Reggie noticed Fancypants.

"Heyyyy! It's Fancypants!" he shouted and pointed. Fancypants stopped his skating, as if he noticed Reggie and his band for the first time. Then he seemed to panic. He took off running, digging the tips of his skates into the ice until he had speed, and then rapidly made distance up river. He was fast! Reggie took off after him, like a dog might chase a fleeing rabbit.

"Get him!" he shouted. His crew followed him, loyal pack animals they were.

The river runs straight by the town, but after the wide and shallow part it narrows quickly. We knew not to go there, but Fancypants soon reached the dangerous part. He skated to the edge of the ice, climbed on shore, and looked back. Reggie and his friends were far behind, but kept running, yelling curses. Reggie was far in the lead.

Fancypants took off his skates and ran up the hill. Behind him Reggie had reached the unsafe ice, and we all watched from the distance as he seemed to stumble to a halt. Then he just disappeared. His friends stopped, threw up their arms and started yelling.

"He fell in!"

Up on the hill, Fancypants stopped and looked back. Then he came running back down the hill. We watched as he ran out on the ice, yelling at Reggie's friends. As we watched, the boys formed a chain, Fancypants at the lead, lying on the ice. Then Reggie's head appeared, and the boys inched back, pulling Reggie out of the water.

At this point adults were running out to the scene. They collected the soaking Reggie and rushed back up the hill. Fancypants also returned up the hill, where he collected the skates he had dropped. The rest of us also went home. Somehow it didn't seem right to continue skating after that little drama.

The next day school was abuzz. What would happen between Fancypants and Reggie now? All of us agreed Fancypants had saved Reggie's life. So when Fancypants walked into class, and Reggie was still standing by the door chatting with some friends, the entire room fell silent, watching to see what Reggie would say.

Reggie stopped his conversation. He walked up to Fancypants and stood before him.

"Hey, Fancypants," he said.

"Hi," Fancypants said.

Then Reggie stepped forward, grabbed Fancypants' pants by the belt loops, and yanked down.

"Pantsed!" he shouted gleefully. He turned around and high fived his friends, all howling with laughter. As they went laughing to their seats in the back of the class, Fancypants pulled up his pants, his head down, but he couldn't hide the red of his ears.

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