Just Trying to Keep Things Interesting
T-rexing is an art understood by many yet mastered by few.
It starts with the squat. Most people skip this important step. To convincingly play a T. rex, you gotta crouch a little, with your legs spread apart, and lean forward on your toes.
Then there’s the arm perch. Pretend your upper arms are superglued nice and tight to the sides of your torso. If you’ve got your elbows flopping all over, you’ve ruined the moment.
Finally, there’s the highlight of T-rexing: the roar. The ideal sound is something like half hawk, half elephant. The more obnoxious the better. Oh, and raise the back of the roof of your mouth for volume. That’s a trick I learned last fall in beginners’ choir before I got kicked out. (I sang too loud, apparently. Proof the trick works.)
You might be asking yourself, “Who is this rare genius speaking to me? And how has he mastered the art of T-rexing at such a young age?”
Nice to meet you. I’m Jack Reynolds. Making a fool of myself is my life’s work. I figure that in middle school, you’re gonna look like a doofus anyway. You might as well own it.
I burst into first-period English wearing green checkered socks and my hoodie strings scrunched tight, so my nose peeps out of a small clothy circle.
“GRAWUUUREEEEAAAARRR!” I perch my arms at my sides and wiggle them around. It’s not my best roar--a little heavy on the hawk--but it does the trick. Most people smile, some laugh, and some roll their eyes. But most smile, and that’s the important part.
I can’t claim I invented T-rexing, but I’m the one who made it popular here at Franklin Middle School. I’ve made lots of things popular. Marshmallow sniping. Bubble Wrap scarves. I have to say, though, that T-rexing is my crowning achievement. Just two weeks ago, I posted a video of me T-rexing through a JOANN Fabrics store, and it already has over four thousand views on MyTube. (MyTube, by the way, is basically the world’s greatest app. It’s like if YouTube and Instagram had a better-looking child.)
“Jack.” Ms. Campbell looks a little like a candy cane this morning in her red-and-white-striped shirt. She presses her honey-colored bangs against her forehead like she usually does when she’s frustrated. “How many times have I told you? No dinosaur noises in class.”
“You said no T. rex noises.” I flap my arms. “That was clearly a Pteranodon.”
Ms. Campbell keeps a straight face, but a smile cracks in the corners of her eyes. “At least you’re early. Get to your seat before the bell.”
You wouldn’t know it, but Ms. Campbell is my favorite teacher. She’s about my mom’s age and has this cool gap between her two front teeth. She lets us act out scenes from books, and makes funny voices when she reads. Listening to her read is probably the only thing I like about school.
I loosen my hoodie strings and head to my seat. It waits for me in the back row, far left, aka the most boring corner of the room. Ms. Campbell has surrounded me with some of the best-behaved kids in the class like she’s using them as a fort of protection to separate me from my innocent classmates.
It’s not a bad strategy.
Ever since first grade, I’ve been what you’d call a class clown. I don’t mind the label. I wear it well. Six-year-old me couldn’t spell or hold scissors right, but I could glue foam pieces to my nose and run around.
Everyone’s gotta be good at something, right?
I take a detour on the way to my seat to pass by Zane’s desk, three rows over. He and I have been pretty tight ever since he randomly invited me to go laser tagging with him and his friends a few weeks ago. Before that, we’d just mess around in class, chucking erasers at each other and stuff. It’s been fun to start hanging out with him outside of school.
Zane’s the kind of guy who everyone knows, even if he’s never talked to you a day in your life. For the past three years, he’s thrown a huge back-to-school pool party at his house, complete with water guns and chocolate fountains and the newest Marvel movie playing on a projector screen. He’s running for class president, and he’s a shoo-in to win. Especially with the Pokémon-themed posters I helped him design.
You wouldn’t think Zane and I have much in common. For one, he’s a football guy--or was last semester, during football season. Me? I’m about as athletic as a stick of string cheese, although I was pretty good at T-ball as a kid. (It’s not fair how that stops being impressive after you turn five.) Zane and I also have different styles. I wear cartoon shirts and Converse. He wears jerseys and training pants (which is another word for sweatpants, but I like saying training pants because it sounds like a diaper). He goes skiing every other weekend, while I’ve somehow managed to live in Utah for the past thirteen years without ever hitting the slopes. The main thing we both like is making MyTube videos. In fact, he was the one who recorded my first T-rexing. It was his idea to do it in JOANN’s, because if they banned us from the store--which they did--we wouldn’t care.
I slap his desk. “’Sup, coolio?”
He glances up. “Oh, hey.”
That’s weird. He’s supposed to say, ’Sup, broski. It’s tradition.
There’s an awkward silence, so I grab his pencil and start twirling it.
He straightens his back and shakes his hair out of his eyes. “Hey, don’t lose that. It’s my only pencil.”
I pinch the pencil like a dart. “Think I could get it to stick in the ceiling?”
“Don’t.” He snatches it out of my hand. Geesh. Someone’s having a bad day.
“I was just kidding,” I mumble.
“Hey, Zane,” Jared Pearson says as he walks into class. Jared’s a big dude. Like, probably the size I would be if I ate steak every night and was the literal son of Thor. He lifts his chin. “Ready to get gains later?”
“ ‘Gains’?” I say. “What’s that?”
Zane twirls his pencil, which is pretty hypocritical, since he just got mad at me for doing the exact same thing. “It means we’re lifting. I didn’t think you’d be interested.”
Lifting weights? We’re in seventh grade. We’re supposed to be worried about homework and body odor. Since when are we supposed to work out?
Still, I’m annoyed I wasn’t invited to get these “gains,” as uninteresting as it sounds.
I flex my nonexistent muscles. “You don’t think these babies can take a challenge?”
The girl in front of us giggles, but Zane doesn’t.
“Five seconds to the bell!” calls Ms. Campbell. For once, I’m glad class is about to start. I make a show of running through the aisles and plopping my butt into my chair right as the bell rings.
Ms. Campbell hushes the class and holds up a stack of papers. “Who can run this down to room twelve?”
I wave my hands wildly, but she ignores me and picks Brielle instead. No shocker there. Brielle Kimball is this perfect girl who gets tons of awards and dots the i’s in her name with little hearts. That’s the type that always gets picked to run errands for the teacher. I’m perfectly capable of transporting papers down a hallway, but teachers won’t give me the chance.
After Brielle leaves, Ms. Campbell passes worksheets down the aisles, and lots of us moan. “It’s a fascinating passage,” she says. “I promise.”
Looking over the worksheet makes my brain shrivel three sizes. There’s a reading passage about owl pellets, followed by five multiple-choice questions. I always get the answers wrong, so what’s the point? I write my name in big block letters at the top of the paper: J-A-C-K. Then I skip the passage, guess D, A, B, B, B as the answers, and doodle a T. rex in the margin. He’s eating marshmallows and growling because they keep getting stuck in his pointy teeth. His tiny arms can’t even reach up to pick them out. Man, it would stink to be a T. rex.
The intercom crackles, and one of the eighth-grade student council members begins the morning announcements. “Good morning, Franklin Middle School!” she chirps as Ms. Campbell scrawls the daily agenda on the board with her fading blue marker.
“We hope you’re getting your acts ready for the talent show. Tryouts are next Thursday, so come prepared!”
Zane and I have this awesomesauce evil plan for the talent show. We’ll try out with a normal act--like singing (despite getting kicked out of choir, I’m not bad)--and then do something totally unexpected for the actual performance. Something that’ll make us go viral. We haven’t figured it out yet, but I think it’s gonna incorporate cheese balls.
I point at Zane and sing in a nasally pop-star voice, “Are you reeeeady?” He doesn’t even turn his head. Maybe he didn’t know that was directed at him.
“Wait, are you guys doing something for the talent show?” says Karlie, who sits on the outer edge of my quiet-kid fort.
“You bet we are,” I say.
“Ha! Maybe I’ll actually go,” says the guy sitting next to her.
At least they seem excited about our act. I hope Zane realizes that people are expecting big things from us.
At the other end of the classroom, Zane chucks an eraser at Jared’s back. That’s our thing!
I scowl and draw my T. rex longer arms to show him a little mercy.
“And after school, make sure to check out our new speed-friendshipping program in the drama room,” says the announcement girl. “Come to sit, chat, and relax. You might even meet your new bestie!”
I scoff. Meet your new bestie? She makes it sound so easy. You can’t just pick up a bestie after talking to them for a few minutes. Trust me, I would know.
Why is it that in movies, kids always have this super-tight friend group that they hang out with all the time? They have their lunch spots and secret handshakes and cheesy stuff like that. Real life isn’t that way.
Or maybe it is for everyone except me.
I look at Zane. I can’t say he’s my best friend. We’ve hung out a few times and sit together most days in the cafeteria, so I thought we were heading in that direction. But now he’s being weird. He tosses another eraser at Jared’s back, and I can hear our friendship fizzling out like a cheap sparkler on the Fourth of July. Fzzzzzz.
There are a couple of other guys I used to hang out with, and things ended the same way. Tyrone, who got super into band and never had time. Derek, who got all googly-eyed with his girlfriend and stopped wanting to talk to anyone else. I still say hi to those guys in the halls--it’s not like we’re frenemies (a word I can’t believe I just used)--but it feels like I got ditched, and I have no idea why. With Zane, I thought things might be different. I mean, two weeks ago on April Fool’s, we were Saran-wrapping all the school toilets. If that’s not a sign of true friendship, I don’t know what is.
Ms. Campbell’s almost done writing on the board. Her red-and-white shirt starts to look less like a candy cane and more like a bull’s-eye.
I’ve got it.
Zane just needs to remember why we became friends in the first place. If there’s one thing I know about him, it’s that he can’t resist a good prank.
And I have just the thing.
Don’t Try This at Home, Kids
I reach into my pocket and pull out a mini marshmallow. Why is there a mini marshmallow in my pocket, you ask? Because my name is Jack Reynolds. If I don’t have a sandwich bag filled with mini marshmallows at all times, then who even am I?
Marshmallow sniping is not my most popular trend, but it’s definitely my most delicious. The idea’s simple enough. You roll a piece of construction paper into a tube, stick a marshmallow inside, and blow it at an unsuspecting victim. Ninety percent of the time, they don’t feel it. The challenge is to see how many times you can snipe someone before they notice the floor around them is covered with little white puffies.
This was supposed to be my splashy debut at the start of the school year, but it never caught on. Most kids are on their best behavior during the first couple of weeks, so that was bad planning on my part. A small group of us got into it, but it got banned once the teachers noticed marshmallows sticking to the bottom of everyone’s shoes.
I still carry marshmallows around, though. I need my daily fix of the melt-in-your-mouth goodness. They’re part of my brand. Mom refuses to buy them, so I save up spare change and get them at the corner gas station. I could be addicted to worse things.
I scan my desk for blow-dart materials. A file folder would be ideal, but all I have is my old green notebook.
I tear the cover off, gently separating the cardboard from the binder rings. It makes a zzzrip sound that Ms. Campbell probably would’ve noticed if she hadn’t banished me to the back corner, so joke’s on her.
“All right,” Ms. Campbell says once the announcements end. She displays the cover of a tattered-looking book. “We’re going to start reading one of my favorite novels. The Outsiders.”
She talks up the book for a bit. Something about social cliques and greasy kids. Under my desk, I roll the notebook cover into a thin tube.
“The story takes place in the 1960s,” Ms. Campbell continues. “Before I was born, if you can believe it! Back when T. rexes roamed the earth.” A few pity laughs follow. “We’ll get to learn lots of interesting information about this time period. Let’s make a K-W-L chart.”
We make this chart at the beginning of every book we read. Ms. Campbell tosses her old blue marker into the trash and switches to red. She writes “The 1960s” in big swoopy letters and then makes three columns underneath. The K column is where she writes stuff we already know. The W column is for stuff we want to know. And the L column is for stuff we learn as we study.
“All right. First column. What do we know about the 1960s?”
The room responds with silence and blank stares. Too bad Ms. Campbell sent Brielle to deliver papers. She’s the main commenter.
After several seconds, “Get Gains” Jared raises his hand. “Weren’t there, like, hippies?”