L.A. Story Houry

            My name is Mike. I’m in the seventh grade and (if I do say so myself) I’m way too cool for my age. But, that’s not what I want to talk about.
            I want to talk about this weird kid in my class named Larry Churchill. One time, I wanted to make a joke and call him “Winston,” but I knew most of the class wouldn’t get it, except for the nerd geniuses, of course and I have a rep to protect. Maybe that’s shallow, but there it is.
            So, back to the subject of Larry.
            Everyone avoids him because he’s so strange. Since people rarely speak to him, he talks to himself and if anyone does manage to speak to him, the answers he gives are weird and only get him a big helping of schoolyard bully for his trouble. Here’s the thing: Over the last three months, I’ve become convinced that Larry isn’t so weird … I think he just “knows stuff.” I know for a fact he’s way more intelligent than people could possible guess.
            You see, I have to sit next to him in our homeroom class -- which happens to be Science -- and Larry is always absently mumbling the answers to the Science questions. I’ve aced four tests already -- thanks to him -- and I’ve never even seen him open his textbook!
            I decided about two months ago to learn more about this kid after an incident that happened in our homeroom class. Our teacher, Miss Richardson (we call her Miss Bitcherson behind her back, but don’t tell anyone), asked us to tell her what we see ourselves doing in the future.
            First came all the regular lame-o crap like, “I see myself helping others” or “I see myself going to college to be a doctor/lawyer/engineer/corporate executive …”
            I always think these discussions are funny … because no kid is ever going to say, “I think I’m gonna spend the rest of my days getting screeched at by fat ladies in polyester pants over at the local Wal-Mart where I’ll work forever as a cashier.”
            They don’t say that, but you know it’s true of about one-fourth of the class. They have “cashier” stamped on their foreheads like a brand -- right above their angry eyes.
            I decided I couldn’t have the standard answer -- I’m too cool for my age, remember?  So I said, “I’m gonna start a guitar company that will stomp the crap out of Gibson.”
            The boys in the class nodded … the girls giggled … Miss Richardson didn’t look nearly as impressed as I’d hoped.
            Finally, Miss Richardson asked Larry the question, “What do you see yourself doing in the future?”
            “Perfecting the art of world domination,” Larry said. He had been doodling in his notebook, as usual, and he answered without looking up.
            Of course, the class erupted into hysterical laughter, even old Miss Richardson laughed. Then, after the laughter died down, she said, “Seriously, Larry … answer the question.”
            This time, Larry looked up and stared directly at her. “Did I stutter?”
            The class twittered nervously, threatening to break into more laughter. They didn’t dare because of the innate sense that Larry’s answer pushed the boundaries of respectfulness.
            I didn’t laugh.
            I was sitting next to Larry and felt the percussion of his words. Larry was serious. I knew it and I saw that Miss Richardson knew it. There was something disquieting about seeing a grown-up -- a teacher -- rattled by a kid.
            Larry went back to his doodles and his world. When the bell rang for the next class, I covertly glanced over at his notebook as he leaned over to grab his backpack.
            What I initially saw was nothing extraordinary … a stick man wearing some sort of cap. The man was standing on a grassy hill. One of his arms was held out as if he were tossing something … from his crudely depicted hand … about fifty little black dots were being scattered into the air. The dots could have been raisins for all I knew. The picture didn’t mean anything. However, the carefully written words beneath gave me a pause. Beneath the picture, Larry had written, “The seeds of conspiracy.”
            Larry looked up and I looked away, but I think he saw me staring. I wanted to ask him the meaning but I didn’t want people to see me talking to him. That day was the beginning of something. I began watching Larry more closely.
            A few days later, I spied him sitting alone in the cafeteria. This was normal. I had begun to notice there appeared to be some sort of invisible buffer zone between Larry and the rest of the world. Most everyone respected it except for the occasional bully. Larry’s zone was about four feet in circumference. I noticed the kids all around him sitting, eating and chatting -- but all were equally spaced away from him -- the usual four feet.
            I wondered what would happen if I sat down near him. I decided I could sit across and one seat down from him without looking like I was sitting _with_ him. I sat down and began eating and, to my surprise, Larry began speaking directly to me -- as if I’d been sitting with him all along.
            “You know what really pisses me off?” Larry asked, looking right at me. I noticed, for the first time, his eyes were brown -- very dark brown -- almost black.
            I didn’t answer of course. I simply looked back at him and waited for him to continue.
            “Scientists piss me off,” he said. “They have taken the names of real beings on real planets and named drugs after them rather than just admitting to everyone that these planets exist. It’s so disrespectful. Planet Prozac and Valium, for instance. Great people! Very laid back. The beings from Xanax are laid back but not very ambitious, I never met anyone from Xanax that impressed me very much.” He chewed his lower lip as he pondered that thought briefly.
            I didn’t know whether to laugh or what. He seemed serious.
            He pointed at his chest and lowered his voice slightly. “As for me … I’m from the planet Zocor, myself … great place but our lifespan, generally speaking, isn’t all that long compared to other planets.”
            I snatched up my tray and walked away. Why had I bothered? He was still talking as I left. “I once spent some time working at an aluminum factory on planet Cannery, but the job ended due to layoffs … we all got sacked.”
            I shook my head as I quickly walked away to find another table far away from Larry.
            Life continued as it always did in the world of school for several days. I watched Larry but he was no more strange than usual. Then the incident with the schoolyard bully happened.
            We were all out enjoying recess. There was a sunny spot on the grounds where Larry always went and sat. He would write in his notebook and mumble to himself. I don’t know what he usually mumbled in those moments as I never got close enough to find out.
            One day, not long after the cafeteria-thing, Larry was sitting in his recess spot and the meanest kid in the junior high, Roger Crowe, walked up to him.
            “What kind of sissy takes his notebook to recess? Are you writing love letters to your boyfriend?” Roger had his hands on his hips with his feet placed far apart -- classic bully stance.
            After a long moment, Larry looked up at Roger and what he said next stayed with me as much as the amazing event which followed. “Actually, Roger, I’m working on a plan to take over the world and save you and your pathetic offspring from the lies.”
            Of course, this made no sense to anyone but Larry. Roger huffed a couple of times. I don’t think he was certain if Larry had met the requirement to engage physical violence. An instant later, Roger decided he’d been insulted and he kicked Larry’s notebook out of his hands, then he placed his foot on Larry’s chest and pushed until Larry was lying on his back. Roger glared down at him.
            “You make me sick. I ought to kick your sissy ass just to make a point!”
            “Well, that’s your prerogative, but I warn you. I’m royalty and can no longer allow myself to be harmed.” Larry’s chin actually lifted in an expression of disdain. Not an easy expression to attain when one is pinned to the ground with a bully practically standing on one’s chest.
            Roger hauled his foot back and proceeded to kick Larry in the ribs. A herd of kids gathered -- cheering and squealing. I ran up to the nasty little scene. I’m not sure why, but I think I was about to defend Larry. In any case, I didn’t have to do anything. Larry ended the fight abruptly when he raised his hand.
            That’s it. I’m serious. Larry Churchill raised his hand and Roger went flying backwards. He landed so hard it knocked the wind out of him. Larry sat up, dusted himself off, reached for his discarded notebook and pen and began writing again. I was close enough to hear him say, “Human tendency toward violence as a source of amusement is alarming.”
            By the end of the school day, the story of the fight between Roger and Larry had become school legend. Only, I seemed to be the only one who saw it correctly. It appears everyone else saw Larry grab Roger’s foot in a Ninja-like move and then he managed to throw Roger about 10 yards away. No one else saw it the way I did. Larry never touched Roger. Not once.
            I’ll admit I was upset. I was so upset that I went home and actually made the mistake of telling my mother about the incident. She smiled a concerned smile and told me she thought maybe I had been standing at an odd angle and didn’t see the fight properly. I tried to argue.
            Later that night, I pulled out a notebook and wrote down everything I knew about Larry. I’m not sure why. I think I want evidence while I still remember it. I wrote until I was exhausted. I wrote under the blankets with my flashlight being the only light source.
            I heard my parents talking in the darkest hours of the night after they thought I was asleep. My mother was telling my father that she was “worried about my obsession with this Larry kid.” Dad felt like I’d outgrow the whole thing. Mom wondered if I was doing drugs. Dad said to give it time to see how I behaved. I sighed. No one was ever going to believe me. An alien race was going to take over our planet and I was the only one who could see it happening.
            That sucked. It’s the kind of thing people get locked up in nuthouses for. I’m not stupid. I knew I was going to have to keep my knowledge to myself.
            The next day, at recess, I walked up to Larry as he sat in his sunny place. He was not writing at that moment. He was sitting with his face raised to the sunlight. His eyes were closed and he was grinning.
            I waited for his eyes to open.
            “What’s on your mind, Mike?” He asked as I waited. Funny thing was that it didn’t really surprise me that he knew I was there -- even with his eyes closed.
            I didn’t say anything at first. I was just wondering what he was grinning at.
            “I love sunlight. It’s poured out thick and slow like that famous ketchup. I like ketchup, too. There are some great things about this world,” he said -- in response to my thoughts, it appeared.
            “Then why would you want to dominate us?” I realized this was the first time I’d ever spoken directly to him.
            “It’s for your own good. Your government officials won’t tell you the truth about my kind and the others. So, at least with me and my kind, you’ll always be assured of the truth.” He opened his dark eyes and looked at me. Fathomless eyes -- I couldn’t read them.
            “You’re going to dominate us for our own good? How’s that different from the government we have now? Doesn’t sound any better to me,” I protested. I felt inadequate to be the one to defend the entire human race.
            Larry’s expression was one of pity. I decided I was being condescended to.
            “At least we’ll always tell you the truth. Hey, domination is way better than our alternative plan -- to destroy you all. The only thing that saved your kind is that fact that almost 90 percent of humans are ticklish,” he said, casually, as he stood up.
            I realized, for the first time, he and I were the same height. We looked into each other’s eyes. Finally, Larry said, “See ya around, Mike.” Then he walked off … he left the school grounds and walked off down the sidewalk, leaving me standing and gaping after him. He never came back to school.

            “Mike,” I heard my wife call from downstairs. “You’ve been in the attic for over two hours! What are you looking for?”
            I didn’t answer her. I had finally found it in a trunk, tucked beneath several layers of the debris from the higher education that followed. I thought I’d lost it, but here it was – the notebook. A battered, spiral-bound notebook filled with the ramblings of a 12-year-old boy who wanted to record his memory of a kid named Larry. I carefully read every word like a zealot starving for enlightenment. The words were written by me well over 40 years ago. They were written before I knew about anything. They were written before the flash forward endless cycle of eating, sleeping, washing, working, loving, crying and praying. I wrote those words before I knew about the great liberator of adulthood where a schoolyard bully can be the mechanic who changes the oil in your Lexus.
            All this frenzied searching had been set off by commercial I saw as I waited for my wife to call me to supper. It was a political commercial about an Illinois senator who was running for President. It was the name and the slogan that jolted a 45-year-old memory.

Vote for Lawrence Churchill
He will always stand up for the truth.


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