Jonathan whisked down 5th Avenue on his skateboard. He was going home – to 5th and 5th (Street and Avenue) – in Brooklyn. Though he wasn’t exactly elated. At home, nothing but worked stared at him in the face: a Language Arts essay on The Diary of Anne Frank, a model of Fort Sumter he had to finish building with Chas, and… his parents. His nice, but boring, parents. The minute he’d walk through the door it was going to be the same questions:
To answer your questions, Jonathan thought – Fine. No. I guess. Yeah, sure. … Ugh.
As Jonathan stood on the corner of 5th and Union Street, waiting at the crosswalk light to change – one foot on the board, another on the pavement – he cranked Johnny Ramone’s power chords on his iPod. Right now, he just wanted to surf the street and listen to Rocket To Russia until his ears bled. He wasn’t looking forward to high school. Only two days ago, Chas – his best friend since first grade – told him that he’d gotten into Horace Mann. Next year, while Chas would be getting one of the best high school educations in the country, Jonathan would be stuck at the Brooklyn High School of the Arts. He already was something of a loner in middle school. Now, without Chas, he’d be a total loner in high school.
“Rock! Rock! Rock-a-way Beach! Rock! Rock! Rock-a-way Beach!” chanted Joey Ramone.
None of the other kids in his class listened to The Ramones. And if they claimed they did, it was only because they knew “Blitzkreig Bop” from the school basketball games. They weren’t REAL fans. Jonathan, on the other hand, owned two whole albums: Rocket To Russia and Road To Ruin. He didn’t own any others, because his dad told them these two records were The Ramones at their peak. His dad showed him a lot of music that his mom wouldn’t allow seen in the rest of the house. Up in the attic. In his dad’s design studio, they sat there: a forbidden record collection. Vinyl tomes of bands he’d never heard of – Iggy Pop and The Stooges, Superchunk, Violent Femmes, Husker Du. His dad promised him a mixtape as a graduation present. How the heck was he going to listen to a mixtape on an iPod? There was no question that his mom and dad loved each other. But she hated his music. Or at least, she’d roll her eyes and tried to ignore The Replacements’ “Satisfied” melting the walls of their townhouse as she’d make dinner. When Jonathan announced at dinner that he was going to learn “every Ramones song” for guitar that summer, his mother grew silent. As if nothing were said.
To tell the truth (something he said often), he took pride in knowing stuff the other 8th graders didn’t know. Sure – maybe they didn’t get him. And, because of that, he sometimes felt lonely. But he was thrilled when he could talk about something they could not. It meant there was a strength in him. He could talk to adults. Girls were at least faintly interested in acknowledging him. This was Jonathan at his best. He wanted to spend all summer playing guitar and listening to his dad’s record collection. He was a rebel, in his mind. One day, everybody was going to get him. And when that day came, he could french kiss as many girls as he wanted.
“Hey Jon!” she shouted.
Jonathan nearly fell off his board when Kaitlyn Burns waved at him across the street. Actually, he slipped and fell on his butt in front of Kaitlyn, and Anthony’s crew – Dragons Don’t Play. Anthony DaSilvano, Kaitlyn’s boyfriend, and his cronies pointed and laughed as Jonathan picked himself up. His headphones were scuffed up. Kaitlyn’s face changed to immediate concern, but Anthony grabbed her by the hand and dragged her down the block. D.D.P. followed.
“Dragons Don’t Play.” Jonathan thought “So gay.”
Kaitlyn Burns. Red hair. Green eyes. His Mary Jane Watson. Jonathan was madly in love with her. Always had been, and always would be. In Science class, they’d been lab partners. She would draw doodles and notes in the margins of his notebook pages. Little did Kaitlyn know that Jonathan would later carefully tear those pages out, put them in plastic Ziplocks, and hide them under his mattress. At night, he’d stay up studying the curves of her “S”s – “Did you watch Gossip Girl last night?” Once, she wore a low cut shirt to school. Jonathan went insane with the periodic glimpses he’d get of the lacey, white edge on her bra cup. There was even a daring moment when the two of them reached for a beaker at the same time, and his hand landed on top of hers. What was daring was that he kept his hand there for an extra 10 seconds. He could feel the adrenaline pumping up and down his spine for 10 minutes afterwards.
What did he really want? More than driving his mom insane? More than his best friend to not go away? Jonathan wanted to kiss Kaitlyn Burns.
Suddenly, the light bulb went off in his head: the graduation dance. Next week, after the 8th grade graduation ceremony, there was going to be a dance in the gym. That’s where he’d do it. At that moment, his heart jumped into his throat. He knew that such boldness doesn’t come without a price. That being an ass-kicking, courtesy of Anthony. To Jonathan, Anthony was a nedanderthal who listened to Lil Wayne. There was nothing unique about him. Except that he was with Kaitlyn. This was the result of Jonathan never getting up the nerve to ask her out. He frequently beat himself up over the missed opportunity: his chance came at the end of every. Single. Science. Class. Still, he couldn’t stop thinking about her. No question: Anthony could very easily kill Jonathan. If such a thing were to happen, no one could help him – not Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, or Marky Ramone. Definitely not Chas, who could barely run a fifth of a mile in gym class.
Was it worth it?
Jonathan pulled up to the stoop of his house. He sat there, on the bottom step, head in hands. This was the closest thing to an extistential crisis he’d ever had: kiss Kaitlyn, get buried six feet under by Anthony; or never kiss Kaitlyn, and spend his summer watching the world slowly crumble. At that very moment, he realized a sad truth: this would be the last time he and Chas would get to share something as the geek boys of the 8th grade. After next week, everything would be different. In times of indecision, Jonathan started doing something different – he let Joey and the boys do the thinking for him. He put on his headphones. Set his iPod to shuffle. Closed his eyes. And prayed to the rock gods to give him guidance. He hit play.
Three seconds of silence for the iPod to compute. Followed by…
“Yeah, yeah! She’s The Oooooonnnnnnnnnnnneeee!”
Jonathan opened his eyes and looked at the display screen – “She’s The One” by The Ramones, Road To Ruin.
“Yeah, yeah! She’s The Oooooonnnnnnnnnnnneeee! When I see her on the street (‘What?’, thought Jonathan), y’know she makes my life complete. And y’know I told you so. She’s The One. She’s The One. She’s The One.”
Jonathan became short of breath. “Oh my God,” he said to himself “it’s a sign.” He sat frozen on his stoop step until the song’s end. He picked himself up, and walked up to his front door. He let himself. No one was home. Jonathan leaned his skateboard against the wall of the foyer. He dropped his backpack on the floor. He went into his kitchen and pulled a can of Coke from the fridge. He opened and gulped it down. He crushed the can and emitted a bleach that resonated through the house. He pulled his phone from his pocket and speed dialed Chas.
“Dude. I’m going to do something at the graduation dance. It’s going to be epic.”