There comes a time in every man’s life when he has to make a decision. A decision to rise to the challenge or to turn tail and run.
If you had asked me, “Wallace, do you think you’ll ever face such a challenge?” I wouldn’t have hesitated to answer “Of course!!” With two whole exclamation marks, probably.
If you had asked me, “Wallace, do you think you’re the type to rise to the occasion? Or are you the kind who runs home with your tail between your legs?” you would’ve had your answer in seconds flat. “The former. You can put that down in writing, formerly. Err, formally.”
If you had asked me, “Wallace, do you think all of this — your big moment, your time to shine, your opportunity to step up to the plate and show everyone just how awesome you really are — will go down in a school cafeteria?” ...well, I probably would’ve just looked at you funny.
But there I was, in that rapidly dwindling line, nearing the lunch counter where every not-so-heaping helping of lamp-warmed chili, doled into each and every bowl by a girl in the wildest getup I’d seen in a long while, meant one step closer to sudden death.
If only I hadn’t opened my big mouth.
It all started one average day around noon. It was a typical lunch on a typical day at my typical high school. I, a typical guy, was sitting at a table in the corner of the room, my two best friends by my side. And I was busy getting the most out of my lunch.
“Uhh… dude? Didn’t you make that yourself?” Greg said between bites of an overstuffed peanut butter sandwich. He was watching me pick all the ingredients — way more than just your simple peanut butter — out of mine. Evan, on the other hand, wasn’t. His eyes were glued to his phone screen. He hadn’t even touched his food.
“Of course I did,” I said. I made my own lunch every day. A sandwich usually. I liked to keep things nutritious and delicious. It definitely wasn’t because I couldn’t do anything in the kitchen besides slip prepackaged food between bread. Why would you even suggest that?
“Then, uh… Why are you…?”
“Why am I what? Come on, Greg. I’m not a mind reader. Spit it out.” My eyes fell on a few big specks — nearly globs — of peanut butter hanging out around Greg’s mouth. On second thought, don’t spit it out.
“Why are you, you know, eviscerating your sandwich?”
I looked at the ingredients I had slipped out from between the two slightly soggy slices and sighed. Cheese. Lettuce. Tomato. Turkey. Pickles seeping circles of salty green into a napkin. Banana, split and sliced thin. Apple crumble, crumbling away. A scraping of mint jelly.
I took a bite out of what was left, which wasn’t much: bread, the thin film of mint jelly that still clung to it, plus a thin slice of ham in between. I had really gone ham on dismantling this thing.
“Myou mjust on’t mget mt,” I said, then swallowed, “do you Greg?”
The look on his face told me that no, he truly just didn’t get it.
“Evan, what time is it?” I asked.
“Like 12:10,” Evan grunted without looking up from his phone. Too busy wrecking robots on the bombed-out battlefields of a terraformed Ganymede circa 2442 to spend any time on plebs like us from the real world of 20XX. He hadn’t peeled his eyes away from that screen for more than a second since the latest Cross Crash expansion came out.
“Exactly. 12:10. And what time does the lunch period end? 12:52. A fleeting 42 minutes away. A measly 52 minutes in total when you count from the start of lunch to the end. We have to get the most out of lunch, you know?”
Their stunned silence told me they still had no clue what I was talking about. I guessed I’d have to connect every last dot then.
“So I’m getting the most out of my lunch. See? I took almost everything out. Everything but the ham.”
Evan didn’t look up from his game, but just for a second I thought I caught a gleam in his eye that seemed to come less from the muzzle flashes and fiery explosions on his phone screen and more from complete and utter disappointment, probably in me.
“What’s up with you lately?” Greg asked.
My turn to be confused. “What?”
“Seriously? You don’t know? I guess you don’t notice these things yourself, but…”
“You’ve been a lot punnier lately,” said Evan.
“See? Even Evan’s noticed!” The globs around Greg’s mouth went flying. “No offense, Evan.”
“Serious?” I said, flicking off of my face the flecks of peanut butter that I had tried and failed to dodge tactically like Neo. Well, that absolutely sucked. Everyone and their grandmother knew that puns were the lamest form of comedy. I pushed my deconstructed lunch to the side and drooped down onto the table like a puddle of wax, head buried in arms that I’d let turn to jello. I felt like I might never have the motivation to get up ever again.
“I guess,” I said, my voice a dampened muffle, “I’m just trying to entertain myself.”
“Huh? What do you mean?” Greg asked.
“What I mean is that in case you couldn’t tell, life kinda blows at the moment. When’s the last time anything exciting ever happened around here, huh? When’s the last time anything really got your heart racing, made your eyes go wide? You know, really captured your imagination and stuff?”
“Someone brought a bowl of Skittles to work and told everyone they were M&Ms,” Greg said. “That was pretty exciting.”
I groaned. I’d planned on staying slumped over on that table for the rest of my life, just laying there like a blob and never setting sight on the cafeteria’s sorry four walls, or my two best friends, or sunlight, or anything ever again. But I couldn’t take Greg’s idea of a riveting time lying down, so I unfurled my arms, lifted my head.
“See?” I said. “That’s exactly what I mean. Skittles? M&Ms? Boring. Everything around here is completely, totally boring.” I sighed again, making a show of it this time. “Well, I guess we’ve never really had much going for us, have we? I mean, there’s a reason why we sit here every day at the dingiest lunch table in this cramped corner of the cafeteria with all the nerds and losers.”
“I resent that,” said Six-Eyed Sheldon from halfway down the table to my right. His eyesight was so poor his glasses needed glasses. He was sitting and eating lunch with the rest of his nerd posse.
“Yeah, I know, Sheldon,” I called back.
“But you have a point.”
He really didn’t need to add that bit.
“We don’t even want you guys here, actually. It’s just that there’s no other tables.”
Jesus, Sheldon. Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to kick a man into his grave while he was down? As if that wasn’t bad enough, the nods and murmurs and giggles that followed from his Greek chorus of geek friends, which included his girlfriend Eight-Eyed Eliza, meant that they all agreed. It was like I had my own personal laugh track. And they sure weren’t laughing with me.
“Great,” I said, throwing my arms up in defeat. “I guess we really are the three lamest people in school. And to top it all off, I’m turning into The Punisher of puns over here.”
“Least we have each other,” Evan said. Without looking away from his game, he was scrawling something in a notebook. When he was done, he tore out the page and then ripped three jagged chunks from it. “Here. Nametags.”
I scooped up one of the slips and read it.
The Three Muskrateers
My eyes narrowed to slivers. “Dude. It’s ‘musketeers,’ not ‘muskrat-eers. I don’t want to be a rodent!”
“Oh, really? My bad. I couldn’t remember their names either, so I just gave us numbers.”
“Candy bars have names? Anyway, I call dibs on #1,” said Greg, slipping the slip easily out of my hand.
For a third time, I sighed aloud. Forget making the most of lunch. At this point, I just wanted the bell to ring. “Evan, what time is it?”
It had only been two minutes? If my spirits were any lower you’d’ve had to frack for them.
“I just wish something cool would happen, you know?” I said. It was a stupid thing to think, I’ll admit. But I thought it all the same. If only something amazing would happen. Something extraordinary. “Truth is I’m bored.”
At the time, if you had asked me whether my boring day-in, day-out was about to be blown wide open, I probably would have looked at you funny.
If you had asked me whether I thought more excitement than I could hardly handle was waiting right around the bend, you would’ve had your answer in seconds flat.
And if you had told me that those words — those four simple, unassuming words: “Truth is I’m bored” — would mark the beginning of my end? Well, then I guess for once in my life I wouldn’t have known what to say.
The end of The Birth of the Great Pun Detective! (Part 1)!
To be continued in Part 2!
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