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The Average Joe

by Adam McIntyre

I rarely use the term "average Joe" because of the "Joe"s I’ve known in my short life so far. Joe number one was a middle-school friend whose musical tastes (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur, Jr., Violent Femmes) were way the hell out in left field compared to everybody else. Everybody else in the 11-13 bracket was lucky to have discovered The Beatles by that point, much less the Doors. This boy had his older brother or older sister’s tastes in music. As did I, but that’s another story. Joe stayed on a constant high of caffeine pills and diet pills. This was to such a degree that he often shook for entire class periods. It still baffles me to no end that the teachers never spotted any problems. It was because of his troubled nature that I decided he was definitely very, very cool.

Joe looked like a future garage rocker – tousled blonde hair, slightly overweight (but still very cool), and with a slightly off-Midwest/Texan (doesn’t exist, I know) accent. He dressed like a member of Soundgarden, which made him slightly before his time in 1991, though Soundgarden were in the beginning of their prime, Montgomery would be the last to know. Joe was very un-Montgomerian, and that helped his coolness factor just that much more. I remember him getting in trouble for minor things, but I don’t remember the details. Maybe I never knew them. I just remember the principal talking to him and stopping him. I think ultimately he was thrown out of that little private school for being an individual. The rest of us all dressed alike, had the same haircuts, and tried like hell to buy the right shoes. Joe wore hellishly out of style (so we thought) Converse high-tops (self painted?) and dingy, overwashed single-colored T-shirts. Sometimes a Sonic Youth shirt. I owned "Dirty", which made us kindred spirits, but he tried like hell to get me to buy their earlier stuff, which supposedly made the new stuff look and sound like shit. Anyway, I never really found Joe again. He’s probably dead or something. I hope he’s okay and that he hasn’t been changed to fit the mold yet. Obviously, I still miss him. "Do You Remember, Joe?"

Then there’s the completely berserk Joe I worked with when I got my first college job a few years ago. The man was the only survivor of his platoon in Vietnam. His apathy toward work really helped define me as a human being. And I was determined to get along with him, for whatever reason. He scared the living shit out of me, why should I care? Well, he had a habit of coming over to me and sharing whatever was on his mind in the most intimidating way. He’d share sick memories or his demented perceptions on life. Sometimes it was funny, sometimes I was just totally lost. I was always worried he’d snap and kill us all, quite frankly. He sexually harassed every woman there – and half of them were customers. When his ex wife came in to "visit", he disappeared for a few hours at a time and then would come back totally pissed off. The guy was big, strong, and scary. Bearded scary. That damn beard held back any emotion his face might have betrayed. His dry, sarcastic, baiting humor was totally lost on most people. It gave me the creeps when he was all warm and funny to people, because I knew he’d just as easily snap the head off of a baby – or me. That’s why I tried to get along with him. Never cross a schizophrenic, or any of their other personalities.

Jessie was a large mammal I went to high school with. Possibly the funniest large mammal I’ve ever met. He had greased hair (that was WAY too long to merit grease), a Chicago accent, and he was roughly 300 pounds. He had amazing comic abilities, whether it was understatement or overstatement. He understated once in class that he needed to go to the restroom. Well, he’d just been sliced open by a plastic knife (not a life-threatening wound, nor just a scratch – in any case he was bleeding all over his desk), wielded by our good friend and yours, Ben. It was a friendly assault. A love scratch.

"No, you can’t go to the bathroom! You should’ve gone before class, now you’ll have to wait."

The one arm that had been raised fell, exasperated, to the desk. Jessie, heaving a sigh raised the OTHER arm immediately - the injured one.

"Coach, I GOTTA go to the restroom right now!" Barked Jessie, flinging blood on the carpet. The teacher should have been panic-stricken, but he couldn’t see that far. Not yet. His eye surgery hadn’t taken place yet and he was still damn near legally blind. He sent Jessie to the office, not the bathroom for his outbursts. That was the beginning of a half-hour long disappearing act that he pulled. During that time, Jessie would bob his head up in the classroom window as Ben and I watched, laughing hysterically at the crazy faces that this modern-day wooly mammoth was making. Before anybody else could turn, he was gone again. He’d run around the school again. Sure, he turned up in the office, but that was to get a bandage. As far as he was concerned, it had been a trip only for medicinal purposes, not to get a lecture on being quiet in class. And he kept it that way. Later at lunch, Jessie and Ben resumed their fighting, punching each other in the head as I ducked perilously out of the way. Years later, Jessie lost all that weight and became quite the handsome high school sweetheart. That was at another school, when he moved back to Chicago. He went to prom with something like five girls that year. He got lucky with most of them, the dirty bastard. Good for him. He relearned how to drive on prom night – the kind of driving where you’re being "distracted" by your lady-friend. It’s not safe, and you kids should not try this at home. Wait, DO try that at home. Step away from the car. It’s too dangerous. Teenagers are indestructible. So they think. And we thought that for the longest time. It took a sacrifice of one of our own to change the paths we’d take forever.

Boomer was about two years older than me (15/17). He’d taken me in when I had no other friends, just after moving to another school. The thing we shared in common was the fact that we both played guitar. He was amazingly jealous of my ability on the crazy, six-stringed instrument. What he didn’t have in his fingers, he more than made up for with his voice. That guy could sing and fill the whole room with his fine baritone resonation. Being mirror images of each other (skinny, glasses, identical guitars), with only differences in height thanks to age, there were a few major differences. I cowered away from the bullies. Those bullies were his age, and his friends since childhood. Later, I’d be forced to sit with the bullies if I wanted to sit with Boomer. Boomer was also the star football player. And baseball player. Weightlifter, wrestler…. What the hell?! This guy does it all. And he was a damn nice guy. I guess I’d been going to school there for 3 months before Boomer saved me from the bullies. He told the worst guy that if he ever spoke to me again, he’d get a foot up his ass. The point was taken, and I never heard from that bully again. After that, Boomer made a point of showing everybody how cool he thought I was. God, what a sweet man. Before he came along, it was seven hours of torment from everybody from the moment I got to school to the moment I left. I was in shambles, a nervous wreck. Boomer was very popular and made no qualms about showing everybody that he was hanging out with me. It did a lot of good. After all, my whole high school experience probably would have gone on like that. I’d always been more than happy to be the quiet guy, not wanting to correct any accusations for fear I’d get my ass kicked. That all changed. I was finally taught how to redirect the bullies’ threats with humor. This would disarm them and they’d stop picking on me. "That guy’s alright, I’ll leave him alone." For they really only picked on the truly weak. A bunch of seniors once were talking about jerking off. I kind of sat in amazement of their fraternal shit-shooting conversation until the fun got viciously pointed at me, "I mean, look at HIM! You probably wank every morning, don’t you!? You jacked off this morning before you came to school! Look at him!" I was near death, because I had. Should I lie and have them all laugh at my bad lie, or should I just find something to slit my wrists with really quick? They’d tell every single girl in school, and I’d be "mister wanker" for the rest of my life. "Yeah, well… musicians gotta keep their fingers exercised somehow!" They all laughed. Not AT me, but with me. Where did my slightly-witty-but-more-than-adequate comeback come from?! It came from that shred of confidence Boomer had bestowed upon me. For some reason, I still remember this very small moment as a turning point. The day I stopped being picked on and started becoming the person I am today. I just stopped worrying about it. The childish "AM NOT" comebacks were over. I stopped getting mad if somebody poked fun at me, I just smiled and fired back a harmless comment about their crappy car or something. I made more friends that way than enemies. Being defensive is what being a geek is all about. Being nice and a bit more laid back is what I wanted to become. I wanted to be like Boomer, with his confident walk, his effortless grace. Girls really dug the guy, which left me totally in awe of everything he said to them. He was my first musical partner, too. We did a couple of talent shows together, and we recorded lots of songs on cassette recorders. I still have those.

On July 3rd, 1993, after seven months of having the best friend any unpopular high school freshman ever had, Boomer’s life was cut short. I’ll never forget the look on my Dad’s face as he told me the news, or the blur that the next few days were. I was a pallbearer, and I dedicated about 20,000 songs to him over the next couple of years. In fact, the next couple of years are still a blur. They’re a painful period during which I simply did not even try to cope with my friend’s death. Boomer was the nearest thing to an angel on earth I’ve ever met. You know what I learned the day of his funeral? He’d been keeping a secret from me. Doctors had given him about three years to live if he didn’t get a lung transplant. His asthma was so bad that it would actually have killed him. So he lived life to the fullest in the meantime. That’s why he looked like a skinny white kid with asthma, but played football like a champion. He did everything like a champion. He did everything I’d ever wanted to do – and he did it better than anybody else BECAUSE of his debilitating condition. He just didn’t want me to grieve for him because that would have defeated the purpose of his life. His purpose was to spread joy and to enjoy life as much as possible. And he wanted me to enjoy life, which I wasn’t when we met. And it was a long road of suffering, and questioning faith that followed, but eventually I saw the plan he’d worked out for me. He was the only one (besides my family) who had ever told me that I was going to be something. That is the last sound I hear every night when I go to sleep. "Fuck you! Damn, you can play the FUCK out of that guitar! You’re going to BE somebody some day! You’re going to leave all of this behind."

Then there’s Ben. Good old Ben. A shock of curly red hair, always cut short. He’d started out pretty chunky but ended up skinnier than me. We both liked U2 and Blind Melon, Pearl Jam and The Flaming Lips. His parents were DAMN nice folks, and we hung out as often as humanly possible at his place. Of course, we also went to dinner with my parents a lot. Anything mine was his, and anything his was mine. Hell, I lost half my CD collection when I moved, because it was really just stuff I was borrowing! Ben was the guy I wish I’d met when I was a little kid. We’re brothers, you know. And we would probably have played cowboys and Indians every damn day if we had met when we were little. He knows everything about me. He knows when I’m lying, he knows who I REALLY am. Yup, the scared bastard I was when I was 15, and the drunk asshole I was when I was 16, even the big-headed jerk I turned into at 17. And just when things were clearing up, I moved off to college, where I promptly got even more screwed up in the head. The friends who stay with you when you’re down are the best kind. I was down the whole damn time I was hanging out with him. No parties, no fun, no nothing. We’d cause a little trouble together and drink like sailors when our parents were away. Those are the kinds of bonds formed for a lifetime. I probably got a little hard to handle when we were seniors and then I met my girlfriend. He turned his back on me (with an invitation to come back if I really wanted to try) for a while, but it was mostly due to him questioning himself as well. He wanted to be popular for a while. I was neither popular nor unpopular. It was simply that most of my other friends had graduated and most of the younger girls at school were just SCARED of me. He wanted to hang out with LOTS of those girls. Who could blame him? I wasn’t invited. It hurt my feelings for a while, but I got over it. We’ve never talked about it, but it’s not even an issue anymore. It’s all good.

Rose was a girl I met through an ex-girlfriend. She had the most beautiful black hair I’d ever seen. If she wanted to, she’d have been a Goth girl, but she didn’t want to. She wanted to remind everybody that she was really a girl from the 1920’s. Or maybe a medieval maiden. She wrote poetry which she kept in a book, with her at all times. She was not unpopular; she was simply "removed" like I was at that age… different but not in a bad way. "You have your cliques, screw that." Was probably her philosophy. I think Jane’s Addiction wrote "Classic Girl" about her. Or her type, if there is such a thing. Maybe meeting in autumn had something to do with the way I always associate her with that time of the year. She’s an autumn kind of girl. Her hair is even red now, like falling autumn leaves. Excellent musical taste – The Who (she loves Keith Moon), Led Zeppelin (she was the first person I knew to realize that John Paul Jones was the REAL great in the band), and Queen. Queen was a new one on me, mostly. Boomer had a greatest hits tape of Queen, and we re-enacted that scene from Wayne’s World on one timeless occasion. Still, there was that "lead singer’s gay" thing. One evening, she put the headphones on me and made me listen to "Ogre Battle". I was big into Hendrix at the time, and that song blew me away in much the same way. So much for homophobia. That shit rocked. I got her into Matthew Sweet, Jellyfish, Imperial Drag, and blues (in general).

She immediately decided that there were many things about me she loved. I wasn’t so sure I should get into a relationship. I did want to hang out with her 24 hours a day, though. Once she got my number, she never forgot it. She called nightly. And I realized more and more with each conversation that I would never ever find another girl quite like her at all. We shared a friendship that was somewhere between Boomer and Ben. She was totally cool like both of them, but more like me than either of them too. And just different enough to where we had something to talk about all the time. We worked out thoughts together, I think… is that right honey? She says yes. Anyway, she was really cool and we were great friends. Best friends. But… she was indeed a chick. A chick with a nice body and a very soft demeanor. Her lips were soft, her hair was soft. She always smelled like cookies – earning her the slightly lewd but still very cute nickname "Cookie". I found myself fantasizing about her more and more. Though it was a silly and clumsy transition from best friends to boyfriend/girlfriend, it was worth it. Totally. Yeah.