We’d moved to Richfield between my 5th and 6th grades and during that summer, I made a few acquaintances, among them, Roger. Roger was quite short for being in the sixth grade, like maybe a 4th grade stature, and while short is bad enough for a young lad, there was worse. Roger was slight of build, had an undershot jaw, had a pug nose that was more like an up-turned snout than anything, was covered in freckles and was topped by a thatch of ugly red hair. Now red hair can be beautiful, as in the case of Leslie, of whom I wrote earlier, but Roger’s appeared to result from a miscegenation of a carrot and a pomegranate.
Roger also had an unpleasant way of looking about. While most people with switch their gaze in rapid movements then lock on until they’ve seen enough, Roger would sloooowly peer in one direction then another without really stopping to take it all in. He did this while wearing an expression like someone coming out from under anesthesia.
Roger was, well, homely and in a mildly disconcerting way. You really didn’t want to be around him. Or be seen with him.
We really didn’t like Roger.
Anyway, the school year ran on and one day, my buddy Dave and I were talking about classmates and the name Roger came up. We enumerated his shortcomings but agreed that, in Roger’s case, still waters could indeed be running deep, so we decided to befriend Roger and give him a chance. Roger turned out to be just what everybody thought he’d be: Dull, unimaginative, uninteresting and unlikable. But we persevered. We agreed that, while we’d try to avoid Roger, should he come trotting over, we’d hang out with him until dinnertime then go our separate ways. This worked for the rest of the school year.
During that summer, Dave and I continued to have contact with Roger. Through mid-summer, our contacts were always outside, away from home as we didn’t want him to come over and bother us. We were afraid we’d never get rid of him. One rainy afternoon, Roger invited Dave and me over to his place. Well what the hell, sure, why not.
Inside, Roger’s home was austere. Everything looked two-dimensional and unsullied by human contact. Kind of sorrowful, in a way. And neat as a pin. The motif was dull earth tones. On the wall hung a large Christian cross with dried reeds; it was the room’s centerpiece. The whole effect was not pleasant.
His parents appeared. The only thing I remember about them is his father’s left hand got shot ff in the war and the stump was now graced by a steel pincer shaped like a hook. They were quiet and cordial and seemed surprised their boy could actually bring home friends. They struck me as though Roger, their only child, was their heartbreak and despair. They hoped for the best and prayed Dave and I were it.
We didn’t stay long. On our way home Dave and I began to put it all together and came to the conclusion Roger was a case of arrested development. Roger would never be more then a child with some adult attributes. It was a sad realization. Over the next weeks, our relationship with Roger petered out.
We didn’t see Roger for all of 7th grade, but beginning with the first day of 8th, we did. We assumed he’d moved away but on the third day of school, as we waited for the bus, who should we see coming trotting down Park Avenue but Roger. The homunculus was just as we’d last seen him over a year ago, nothing had changed.
During that time, a new fellow moved into the neighborhood. Brad Turnquist, by name. Brad was a year ahead of Dave and me but this bus stop served all of the grades, so here he was, watching Roger come town the street in his little boy gait. “What the fuck is that!” Brad said with a mean-spirited curiosity.
“That’s Roger,” said Dave with a smile. I said nothing.
There were maybe a half-dozen of us at the bus stop. A few were making chit-chat, a few had books open, some other were looking at the sky but no one paid any attention to Roger. We kind of regarded Roger as one of those lawn elves you see stuck in the snow at Christmas time — noticed, but ignored. Brad, however, kept looking at Roger in a predatory sort of way, then in a few moments, turned his gaze elsewhere.
A week or two later, we discovered something we’d never noticed about Roger; he loved food. One morning, Gail Bostrom had a doughnut and on this treat, Roger came alive. “Oh, hey. Gimme some. Come on, gimme some” and he all but reached for Gail’s doughnut the way a puppy would when it saw a morsel. Gail tried to avoid him but Roger would not be denied. “Come on. Gimmee some”, he whined. Brad Turnquist decided to save the damsel in distress. Tapping Roger on the head, Brad said “Hey, nerd. She ain’t gonna give you Jack Squat. Now fuck off.” And so Roger did. He moved to the periphery of the little group and looked down the street toward his house.
A little later, Roger approached Brad and called him a dirty name. “What the fuck you call me, you little shit?” asked an astonished Brad. That Roger could have such effrontery was, well, beyond imagining. “I called you an ishy-poo”, said Roger through his little squenched-up pink mouth, then he took a swing at Turnquist. Of course Roger missed by the proverbial country mile but never say die, Roger advanced on Turnquist while he flailed his arms in windmill-like arcs, never getting even close to Turnquist’s nose. Turnquist began to laugh as he backed away from the wildly swinging Roger. The rest of us joined in the merriment. But Roger wouldn’t stop, so Turnquist reached forward, put out his hand, grabbed Roger by the head and held him at bay as Roger kept on swinging. The group howled with laughter.
Fast forward to the tenth grade.
I’d not seen much of Roger the last few years and was glad of it. One afternoon, Dave Olson, a large bumptious fellow and I, were talking as we pulled books from our lockers. “That goddamned Knutson,” he said. “Little fucker won’t leave me alone.”
“What’s the problem?” I asked.
“You know how I always have a Hershey bar close by, Right? Well Knutson, whenever he sees me with one, comes up whining ‘Gemme some, gemme some’. Well, I finally figured out how to get rid of him. I got an Ex-Lax bar — looks just like a Hershey bar, don’t it? “. Olson held it up as if were a great prize, and in a way, it was. “I’m gonna re-wrap it in my Hershey bar wrapper and when the little fuck hits me up again, I’m gonna give him some.”
“Oh, Christ, Olson,” I said with a laugh, “Just don’t give him the whole bar. Fuckin thing might kill him.”
A few days later, I was taking with Dave and he told me that Olson finally gave Roger the faux Hershey bar. It was a big dose too, about half a bar, Dave thought. Olson gave Roger the Ex-Lax just before the first period bell rang. The next morning, it was the talk of the school: During an English class held in the in the last period of the day, in which Roger was a pupil, Roger began to squirm around in his seat then without asking permission, bolted for the door while holding the backside of his trousers as something within them made a soft burbling sound. The Ex-Lax had done its magic and Roger had shit in his pants.
After shoveling out his pants and cleaning his bum as best he could, Roger went to see the school nurse who sent him home in a Taxi.
Roger’s mortification was complete.
We didn’t see much of Roger for a while and that was OK because nobody missed him. In fact, I don’t recall seeing him at all. He’s not entered in the year book so I’m not sure he even graduated. However, the class website has a Dearly Departed page and, sure enough, there’s Roger’s name. His was one of the first entries.