Written by: Michael Mordenga
CHAPTER TWO: If You Steal My Sunshine
I don't know why I showed up to computer lab in the morning. After I had buried myself in my sheets the night before, not talking to another soul, Thoughts of failure rained hard on my skull as I silently wept from my tragedy.
The puke rebuke, as Mother Mariah called it, was a weaponized social deterrent to protect my body from pretty girls. It was a problem two years ago when I was just heading out of middle school years. A young girl named Delilah asked to borrow my pen at the Win, Lose, or Draw night. She accidentally brushed my arm and my stomach gave up its food ghosts. I had been feeling it since that day. Every female glance and the near-touch connection was hard wired to my stomach flipping. It didn't work on the older Mothers of the orphanage, but it was laser-focused to any girl in the fourteen to seventeen range. Brother Kurt prayed against it, Father Clooney tried to teach me about confidence with other females, and Mother Mariah even offered to do some roleplay, but nothing worked. Then it went away and I was able to attend a few social events with St. Mark's where I was safe. Girls could talk to me and my digestion system obeyed the downward push of gravity.
I was a complete wreck, embarrassed to the bitter core. I was more embarrassed than Milli Vanilli after they were exposed as lip-syncers. I didn't want to show my face again and I had spent the night planning ways to fake amnesia of the event or run away from the orphanage. As I pretended to sleep with my head buried in a pillow, I could hear the laughs and jokes of jackals whispering.
"It looked like a fountain."
"Did you see her face?"
"It smelled disgusting."
"He will die a virgin."
The computer lab had all the boys who would make sport of my plight. There was Joey Chandler, the long-necked freckle boy, who had new jokes to burn me. Then there was Matt Winslow, the athlete and jock, who had no problem with talking to girls. I quietly sat down next to Napoleon who averted his gaze. The computers were set up to emulate Windows XP an ancient operating system that represented computers at their most efficient state. Some students had opted for the Mac OS 8.5. The startup system emulated a computer fan noise and a jaunty midi tune at the beginning.
"About last night," Napoleon whispered. There was pity in his inflection.
"I don't remember anything," I retorted.
"She seemed very nice. Sandra was it?"
"I have no recollection of those events. You must have me confused with someone else."
"It didn't smell that bad."
I growled, "Sir, I have no idea these events exist in my timeline."
Napoleon gave up. Ah yes, my defense mechanism strikes again.
Brother Kurt stood up from his desk and swept the class with his gaze. He was a younger man of the cloth; a knight to the bishop of clergy chess. Sideburns rolled down from spiked strawberry blonde hair. Kurt was hip with the teenagers and that gave him an edge over Father Clooney and Mother Mariah. He could make you laugh with a Jim Carrey "butt talking" impression or share the latest cheat codes for Turok. The younger boys would idolize his for his welcoming presence and peppy demeanor. Something about his flavor and style didn't catch with me. Maybe he seemed like he was trying too hard.
"Open up Mavis Beacon Typing and finish the home row assignment."
I double-clicked the program and the hourglass started circling. Though these computers were not more than five years old, the Windows XP emulation was near perfect even down to the slower processors of their time. I waited a minute for my program to load all the while the computer was having a small grinding battle in its chip. The Mavis Beacon title popped up. A friendly chiptune welcomed me to start typing.
Fingers began to crunch away on the keyboards. Clack. Clack. Clack.
A student, Joseph Clinton, raised his hand to get help for his typing skills. Brother Kurt looked over his shoulder and helped get his hands on home's row. "The pinky is the hardest finger to get used to."
Once the boy was corrected Kurt smiled, "don't have a cow man!" He said in a broken Bart Simpson impression. He laughed at his own joke. He sat back down and put on his wired headphones.
About four minutes in and I noticed that Matt Winslow was opening up a DOS emulation program. He plugged in a 50 TB thumb drive and began typing. After a few clicks, a new screen opened up. He turned down the sound before the screen welcomed him with machine-gun fire, graphical explosions, high definition arenas of armed combatants. Battlefield of Fire: Global Warzone of Duty was a multiplayer arena shooter that had just been released a year ago. It was violent, extremely competitive, the dreams of the military marketing complex, and probably a private information stealer from Cambodia. Matt started up the game and his avatar was on the hunt for soldiers.
"Turn it off!" I whispered. "You could get in so much trouble for that game."
" I will turn it off when you turn off your food sprinkler system at all our dances."
Joey Chandler laughed.
"Seriously. At least play Heretic or Hexen. Those games come with a lesser punishment. You could get kicked out."
Matt quick-scoped a Nazi specialist off a tower. He cheered prompting Brother Kurt to look up at him.
"I just finished a row of letters," Matt quickly replied. He looked over at me. "Games from the nineties are for virgins. This has real graphics and gameplay. The real world is playing this."
"We are not allowed to play."
"We are also not allowed to puke on girls, but I don't see you following that rule."
More boys smirked at that joke. I grew hot with anguish. "Fine, I am telling Brother Kurt."
Joey slid his mouse over to a few settings. He clicked Share Screen and typed in my computer's address. His battle-hardened screen popped up on my computer. He immediately shut off his screen and stood up.
"Brother Kurt! Rod is playing video games in class."
I panicked and my finger pushed the monitor button. My screen faded out like one of the old tube TV's. It was too late as Brother Kurt had made his way over.
"Turn your monitor on."
"It wasn't me. I wasn't playing a game."
"He totally wasn't. Brother Kurt," Napoleon vouched for me.
Brother Kurt turned on my screen and the picture faded in. Matt Winslow's player was being shot by a Russian Spec-Ops soldier named xxHARDmutherxx with a carbine. His soldier was drained of health and the screen faded to a blood-red YOU DIED sign.
"I am so disappointed, Rod! You know this is off-limits in this building!" Kurt was a cool bro to hang out with, but he could pull out the stern teacher.
"It wasn't me!"
"That's why he pukes on girls! He plays too many violent video games," Joey chimed in.
"Let me handle this." Brother Kurt said.
"He's telling the truth," Napoleon fired, but Kurt flashed him a cold glare of disapproval.
Kurt turned off my computer and pointed to the door. "See Father Clooney! Explain to him that you sold your soul to the digital edge of corruption. Tell him how you love giving your private information to China." "The youth are corrupted at such a young tender age!"
"Your mom is a young tender age." I shot at Joey. I had no idea what that meant.
"That's it! Get out!" Kurt pointed at the door harder.
I had a few more "I swear it wasn't me" in my throat, but they were vetoed by the loud rebukes of Brother Kurt. I surrendered and made my way to the door.
"At least play Hexen or Heretic." Brother Kurt buried his head into his hands. "What was he thinking?"
Father Clooney was the closest thing I had to a dad. His under minions, or helpers, were like big brothers, but Father Clooney was the final boss to the game of orphanage. He was soft-spoken, gentle at times, but carried heated coals of authority. His vision to dampen the late twenties geek culture of the world was permeated through the one-hundred-year-old building. Father Clooney knew he couldn't censor the world of 24/7 anime ridiculousness or the oversaturation of Youtube television, but he could control it. By creating a world that adored the era of the 90's he could shape young minds. He contemplated using the 80's or 70's of his model, but they fell flat. The '90s had a very young internet, homegrown sitcoms, enough nostalgia from Nintendo, and some moral substance. Music was wide and varied in the '90s and auto-tuners were just a dream. The '80s was too pink and the 70's too trippy, but the '90s was like a living apology to the decades before it.
I sat before him on a wooden folding chair that should have been thrown out fifty years ago. His office is small, but perfect for setting him up as the most imposing person in the room. He wore his Catholic collar with dignity. For sixty years he had been living on this Earth, now a principal and headmaster for boys. His desk was neat with no distinguishing remarks of personality except a WWJD fish and a picture of his family setting on white church steps. A few posters were on the wall including a Got Milk? ad, a Crack is Whack PSA and a religious poster that read Jesus is my Antidrug.
He cracked the knuckles in his large hands. I had heard rumors that he was a former Arena Football player until it went under in 2010.
"Rod," Pastor Clooney's voice was serious and controlled, "do you know why you are here in my office?"
"It was a setup! Ask Napoleon! Ask anyone in that class! I wasn't playing that game."
Pastor Clooney shook his head, "I wasn't asking that. Do you know why I WANT you in my office?"
I sighed, "The Gospel of the '90s."
"The Gospel of the '90s. A decade where man was free to express himself, but with dignity and class. Ten years of the best music, art, and movies. People didn't comment filth or slander on internet videos, but used online community boards to educate. Sports was not political, it was just a game. God was considered cool to people of all ages. Young men were rapping about Jesus."
"You know that I know this stuff by heart."
Clooney sat back down. "I know you know this. You are the most well-behaved child we have in this home. You finish your homework assignments, follow instructions to the letter, and I bet you didn't do the thing you were accused of."
"So you believe me?"
"I am not here to punish you for hijinks. That would be a waste of both of our time. Do you know why the 90's is the best model for living?"
"Didn't you just tell me?"
"I told you one side of the story, but not the other. The '90s aren't perfect, Rod. They never were and that is why we need them. For every after school special and non-dramatic pop singer there is a politician who gets away with infidelity, there is a sexually perverted radio DJ who speaks filthy, there are sport's athletes who get away with murder. If I wanted near perfection, I would choose the 1890's. But I don't want perfection. Life is not perfect. The world outside this building has internet debauchery, prideful cat photos, salty speakers, and politicians who share their sexual escapades like they are bowling trophies. Video games are a religion and technology is going faster than moral reasoning. Need I remind you of the Reagan Riots. The outside can be a dangerous place so I need to prepare you with a world that is equal parts sacred and dangerous. That is the decade of the '90s. We have presidents who get caught in sin and they actually have enough decency to blush. The '90s is a booster shot to today's culture that will help you make decisions in life."
I knew that Father Clooney felt strong about this, but I never heard this side of the story. By the way, he was referring to the last president who proudly exclaimed that he would be an excellent leader for bringing people together because he had once bagged six women at a party. It was a weird time for the Republicans.
"And that is why I had you come here. You are a student who excels at everything academically. You are always on time and polite to adults. Those are admirable qualities and I wish every child had them."
I was waiting for the but.
"But that is only what half of what makes the '90s great. Where is your creative expression? Where is your grunge side? Where is your Deion Sanders style? I don't want you to be a side character in the sitcom of life; a friend of a friend. Life is so much more than being good at school and saying yes to adults."
"Does getting bullied very easily count?"
"That's a stereotype that went out with the movies of the '80s. Today's geeks and freaks are eccentric billionaires who cure cancer with electric cars. Even Steve Urkel had fun quirks. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that you weren't here for some crazy mishap. A lab explosion because you were trying to impress a girl, a white lie that covers for a friend working off a debt."
"I have always been a normal boy with one very disgusting quirk."
His face twisted slightly. "I wouldn't go around bragging about the girl puking thing. That will take time for you to get over. Speaking of time, I think you can go back to the end of your class. Tell Brother Kurt that I chastized you rightly by saying some "Hail Mary's" or something like that.
I got up to leave. Before I could make it to the door, Father Clooney gave the stereotypical closing line of inspiration to me. "Rod. You know I love you as I love any son. One day you are going to be your own man in the real world. I believe you will do amazing things."