By: Michael Mordenga
CHAPTER ONE: Smells Like Teens Dancing
My name is Rod Ranger; or at least that is my Christian name given to me by the state-run orphanage of Iowa. I have not known my true parents since the day I was found abandoned at the local VR arcade, September 13, 2035. A VR arcade is a strange place to leave a baby boy in a basket, but I am starting to piece the clues together. My parents could not take care of me, but they believed the best place for a child is in the loving care of a gamer. Gamers benefit at resource management, enemy conflict resolution, upgrading, and development. They understood that I would be getting the best care. But the plan backfired. Instead of being assumed into the family of a thirty-something dad who loves classic arcade games and graphic novels, I was found by the VR arcade prize attendant, Lewis Lexington. Lewis was forty years old, balding, and hated his job. He hadn't touched a video game since he was five. His sole purpose was to reward digital tickets from the VR Skeeball machine. He dealt with kids and nostalgic gamers for eight hours a day, pining for the days before President DemocracyKing69X took office. The world had been overrun by what the news outlets called the Geek Wave. Video games and their culture integrated their way into every adult activity from sports to paying taxes. Dungeons and Dragons became a philosophy that runs businesses and education systems. Even our three branches of government have been renamed from Legislative, Executive, and Judicial to Tank, Healer, and Defense. The American world has finally accepted its roots in the geek lifestyle. Which left guys like Lewis in the past.
When Lewis plucked me from my baby basket, he did not intend on me being another mindless geek, bowing to the whims of gaming and larping. I was to be raised by the classical education that still existed in 2020. That's exactly why he did the responsible thing a good father would do and dropped me off at the doorstep of St. Mary's Orphanage of Classical Boys. It was a bold move. He could have dropped me off at St. Cloud's Home for Bards and Rogues or Mother of Life Potion's Monastery for Under Leveled Boys. Instead, I would be raised in the classical arts and education of the 1990's. The 90's were a time when cursive was important, math had letters, music still relied on chords, and CEO's had to wear suits. It was a simpler time where boys gave eye contact to girls, ovens did not need wifi updates, and Ronald Reagan was a pleasant memory; not a failed clone experiment that decimated Sacramento, California.
Last week St. Mary's hosted its first joint event with its sister orphanage, St. Mark's School for Proper Girls. It was a formal dance event. Boys wore button-down shirts, khakis, and anti-perspirant deodorant (Donated by the non-profit group Comicon & Hygiene Initiative). Girls wore single color dresses and tied their hair back with bows. Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock played "It Takes Two" over the Bluetooth speakers, while we swayed our hips in conservative motions. The chaperones, Brother Kurt and Sister Tifa, were showing us how to perform the cabbage patch and the Hammer walk. We danced for the better part of an hour in the gymnasium until Mother Croft brought out the Dunkaroos and fruit juice pouches.
"Hey Rod, perhaps you can settle this debate," Napoleon Libre started, trying to poke a hole in his juice pouch, "Beast Wars versus the Power Rangers, the first American series, and not the fifty-two spin-offs. Who would win?"
I was crunching a shortbread kangaroo, while I meditated on the question. "Optimus Primal and Cheetor are always walking around with weapons of war attached to their hands. The Power Rangers have to power up and declare their military intent out loud. Beast Wars will sweep the floor with them."
He nodded. Napoleon was my best friend in this home. He was a scholar and a boy of integrity. The home gave him the name of Napoleon and Libre to represent the two nationalities that he celebrated: French and Spanish. For his Spanish assignment, he reenacted the movie Nacho Libre, where he gets his proud name. Napoleon was a year younger than me, and still trying to figure out that puberty problem, but his slicked curly black hair and tall stature suited him well.
"Can you two talk about something other than our history homework? Barry West butted in, helping himself to a glob of roo vanilla cream. "We should be totally be trying to hit on those girls and get their instafeed usernames."
I looked over to the girl's side of the gym. They were confident and self-assured, beacons of intimidation and beauty. Barry was a ton better at handling social situations than we were. He could talk to adults with proper eye contact, give firm handshakes, and lighten the mood with jokes. He wore a Star Trek Next Generation tie with his button-down. He was the heavyset brunette of our friend circle, carrying his weight with confidence and honor. In Health class, he would ask the brave questions we couldn't dare after watching the Saved by the Bell Sex Education PSA. He was old enough to drive and even though the orphanage had its restrictions on boys getting their license, Barry acted as if he could drive at any moment.
Brother Kurt changed the track on the MP3 player and the ladies screamed in squeals of delight as Barbie Girl played.
Barry West grabbed my collar and dragged me toward the ladies, "C'mon, let's go mingle."
I resisted at first, but then my body surrendered to the sugary pop beats. Barry, Napoleon, and I were dancing dangerously close to a group of girls. The tall girl was blonde and sported a dress with narwhals spread across it. Her friend was a shorter dark-skinned girl with black waterfall hair in a ponytail. Next to her was a redhead that could have easily been someone's kid sister in a 90's remake of It. The ladies laughed at their silly dance moves, barely noticing us.
"Excuse me ladies," Barry West spoke up, "May we shake our tail feathers with you in this song?"
Their eyes lit up, "Sure."
We joined in and Barry asked for their names,
"Diana Carter Lance," said the tall one.
"Sandra Pfifer," said the one with black hair.
"Billy Pipes," said the kid sister.
The heat in the room became a multiplier with the presence of these coeds. A St. Mary's boy only met a female once a month for a formal and healthy activity. I have seen these girls before at our Mario Kart tournament and our Vanilla Ice poetry slam, but I have never made social contact. My sweat was developing over my forehead, which meant that Sandra was going to take notice of me.
"Your name is Rod."
"Yes," I smiled, "How did you know my name?"
"We raced against each other on Vanilla Plains. I was Toad and you were Koopa. I crushed you with a red shell."
"I remember that." In truth, Sandra had always caught my eye since the orphanage instituted the coed social gatherings. She had that spunky energy that flavored her quiet demeanor. She was not the outspoken party girl or the closed off recluse, but a mixture of both in harmony. I couldn't believe it took me this long to get her name. I was avoiding her, knowing that my stupid hormones would set me up to fail. I was thankful Barry challenged me to talk to her, but I would hate him forever if my awkwardness drove her away. If I could only keep my "Anti-Girl Quirk" under control.
Napoleon was teaching Billy how to say "where is the bathroom?" in Spanish, while Barry was sharing a story with Diana. I was just going to focus on the chin of Sandra. Eye contact was an advanced perk.
"What kind of schooling do you do at St. Marks?"
"Not too different from yours. The girls have a home ec class where we learn how to repair and service microwaves. We have math, science, and history like you."
"It sounds the same, but we have a class where we have to learn how to sell cars and insurance. I am decent at selling cars, but I hate selling insurance."
The song changed to the slower No Doubt's "Don't Speak." A majority of the boys retreated to the snack table. The girls all began to slowly sway to Gwen's heartbroken voice. Sandra noticed that I was still on the dance floor.
"You like this song?"
"Yes...maybe...no?" My voice cracked and Sandra blushed. I felt a wave of nausea hit me.
"It's okay. This song isn't about gushy feelings."
I put my hand to my mouth and turned around. "I better get going." Nausea began to spin faster inside me. This was going to happen and I hated every minute of it.
Then Sandra did the unthinkable sin of a boy saving face. She touched my elbow to get my attention. Her soft touch pierced my skin cells and I knew it was too much. I spun around to address her, but she was not ready for this.
I puked on her dress.
Dunkaroos, red juice, and pieces of a Hot Pocket swarming in digested enzymes splashed against her floral dress, adding a brown tint.
She screamed. Her friends screamed. Diana escorted her to the girl's side.
My friends backed away from me like I had the plague. I smelled the digested food and my salty burning tears.
Brother Kurt grabbed some paper towels, "Again?"