Ted had just walked into Lawndale High School one morning when a blond cheerleader almost immediately approached him. For the first time in weeks, one of his fellow students was addressing him directly. "Oh!" he said, surprised but pleased. "Hello."
"My name is Brittany," she said. "What's yours?"
"We met not too long ago, remember?" he said, slightly disappointed at her lack of recognition. "At the yearbook meeting. I--" Ted suddenly recalled that during the encounter, he had caused someone he suspected was her suitor a considerable amount of pain. Reminding her of that incident might distress her so much she'll end this conversation. And it's the first real interaction I've had with another student in such a long time!
Brittany tilted her head and peered more closely at Ted's face. "You do look kinda familiar," she said slowly. "Um...it started with a 'T,' I think...Terry, right?"
"That's as good a pseudonym as any," Ted cheerfully replied.
"It's not important," he assured her.
"Okay!" She frowned again, thinking, and added, "Oh, yeah. I wanted to ask you something. You don't do sports, right?"
Ted briefly considered telling her about his isometric exercises or his family's massive backgammon tournaments but decided that probably wasn't what she meant. "I suppose not. Is that a problem?"
"It's perfect!" she squeaked. She then took a deep breath and began speaking very quickly and very angrily about the relative importance of anniversaries versus Pigskin Channel marathons. Someone named "Kevvy" was heavily featured in this monologue and, from what Ted could understand between all of the shrieks and sobs, this person was not only shockingly self-absorbed but also brutish, unintelligent, and (although it was possible Ted misheard this one) in possession of an undersized rooster.
Her overall thesis appeared to be that she was sick and tired of athletes and wanted to spend time with someone who had as little in common as possible with the egotistical chicken farmer.
Ted considered her offer. "Well, we do grow crops at our house, but city ordinances prevent us from owning any kind of livestock. Does that sound acceptable?"
"Umm...do you like football or not?"
"I do not."
"Then it sounds perfect! So, what do people who don't do sports do at night?"
Backgammon flitted through his mind again, but he quickly dismissed the idea. There was a possibility Brittany might consider it too much like football. Thinking back to his only real-life experience with peer-focused recreation, he asked, "Do you enjoy virtual reality games?"
Brittany wrinkled her nose. "Ugh, I hate those things. One time I played one of those with Kevvy--that jerk!--and he started hitting on another girl while I was right there!"
"Oh, dear. I didn't realize that you weren't supposed to hit your opponents in those games!" He thought back to his many swordfights with Robert and his friends and wondered if that had anything to do with his loss of popularity. "Then how about eating pizza? I recently discovered something called processed cheese that I think you might enjoy."
She shook her head. "I eat pizza all the time. I want to try something different!"
"I see." Ted was about to ask her if she was interested in viola da gamba music when the bell rang, signaling that classes were going to start soon. "Why don't we meet here after school and decide?"
"Okay. See you later, uh...Jerry!" Brittany hurried off toward her first class.
Ted turned toward his own homeroom, lost in thought. I need to come up with an acceptable alternative to sports-themed activities. Of all the possible activities that exist in any known culture, past or present, sports make up a small minority. Just on a statistical level, this should be a very simple task. And yet I don't have even the remotest idea of where to start.
He still hadn't thought of any good ideas by lunchtime, so he ate his eggplant parmesan and drank his tofu smoothie quickly and spent the rest of the lunch period in the library. After a fruitless search through the encyclopedia, the dictionary, the World Almanac, several issues of National Geographic, and an engrossing picture book about bears having a tea party, Ted finally turned to the phone book.
First he looked under "Entertainment." He noticed several listings for "Entertainment, Adult" but couldn't find anything for "Entertainment, Teenager." Then he noticed some of the photos in the advertisements on that page and decided that while the prospect seemed strangely tempting, somehow he sensed that Brittany would not be interested in that particular type of entertainment.
Next he looked under "Recreation." Most of the listings there seemed to be related to sports: pool halls, bowling alleys, and even an intriguing place called a "paintball jungle" that he hoped to visit one day. He sighed, disappointed. I need an alternative to sports.
He looked back at the phone book. Hmmm. Figuring it was worth a try, he looked under "Alternative." There he found a listing for "Alternative Music Clubs" and noticed a small ad for a place called "The Zon."
I enjoy music, and Brittany enjoys alternatives. This is perfect!
"Hello, we're Mystik Spiral. But we might change our name."
Ted found himself bouncing slightly on his feet with anticipation as the bandleader introduced the band. According to the tattoo on his arm, the young man was a very high-ranking Maori. Perhaps they'll be performing some traditional Maori chants. Mom and Dad will be so jealous!
He looked around at the crowd that surrounded him, searching for any sign of Brittany. If she doesn't come back from the bathroom soon, she's going to miss the indigenous folk music.
Ted was glad when Brittany had agreed to come to the Zon with him, but it had been a shock when she'd met him at the club's entrance with black hair instead of the blond hair she'd had earlier that day. Do all teenage girls have variable hair color? Does it change based on one's mood, or is this the type of thing one alters based on time of day and the formality of the occasion?
His attention was drawn back to the stage as the band started to play. "I'm glad you're happy watching my pain, burning crop circles on my soul's waves of grain. We had no love scene but you've cut to the chase! You're chopping off my nose to spite my face. Ow, my nose! Ow, my face! Ow, my nose! Ow, my face!"
I can't say that their music seems typical of the Maori culture. Perhaps the chant's meaning got shifted a little in translation. Or at least, I hope it did.
Still, it was a pleasant surprise to find that hearing music in a public venue was very different from listening to it on the homemade phonograph. For one thing, live music doesn't skip when the albums get worn out. For another, I'm encountering all kinds of new and unexpected aromas amongst the audience.
The song ended, and a lone voice in the crowd suddenly shouted "Burger! Get! Get burger!" into the silence.
Ted gasped in wonder. What a masterful example of avant-garde songwriting! This is almost as exhilarating as the day I discovered John Cage!
He was still contemplating the unexpected brilliance of the band when Brittany returned, looking worried but purposeful.
"Welcome back!" he greeted her. "You missed a fascinating song, but perhaps the band will play it again for us the next time we come here."
"'Next time'!" she cried. "I'm never coming back to this place again! The music is all angry, the bathrooms are all gross, and the people are all getting rashes!"
"Rashes?" Ted asked. "Oh! I see the confusion. Actually, that thing on the singer's arm is a traditional Maori tattoo. I could explain the cultural--"
"I don't care!" she interrupted. "I need to find somebody and give them a message because I have to hold up my end of the deal. And then I am leaving!"
As she walked away, Ted noticed that her hair was beginning to drip onto the floor. He almost stopped her to point it out, but then it occurred to him that maybe it was supposed to do that. After all, it wouldn't be the first time that night he'd foolishly mistaken deeply profound experimental performance art for poor quality.
The next morning at school, Ted noticed Brittany in the hall with her suitor who cultivated small poultry. He started to walk toward her, intending to ask her if she'd enjoyed her evening of non-sports activities.
As he approached, Brittany looked in his direction but didn't smile or greet him in any way. Instead, she cried "Eep!" and bolted in the other direction down the hallway, dragging the confused fowl rancher behind her.
Ted sighed. It seemed he had become invisible to her once again. And her hair has changed color again, this time to gray. Could she be aging rapidly for some reason? Whatever the cause, I hope she's all right.
Two days passed before Ted saw Brittany again. He was craving some saturated fats and refined carbohydrates, so he went to Pizza King after school.
Shortly after entering the restaurant, he heard a familiar voice ask, "Brain fever?"
He looked over at a nearby booth and recognized Jodie Landon, who was on the yearbook staff with him. He also saw Brittany, who replied, "Yeah. Doesn't that sound serious?"
Brittany has brain fever? Ted thought in alarm. The terminology is a bit out-of-date, but that must mean she's suffering from some type of inflammation of the brain. Could this be related to her quickly-changing hair color? Or does it have something to do with that rash she mentioned at the Zon? She seems healthy, but who knows how serious her condition may be?
"You get the scalpel," suggested a young man sitting with the girls. "We can use my dad's barn as an operating room."
Oh, dear! Ted was frozen in shock, horrified by the idea of performing such a delicate operation as brain surgery in someone's barn.
"Your dad doesn't have a barn," Brittany pointed out.
Relief washed over Ted. He turned to leave, his appetite now gone. As he left, he heard a voice he recognized as the rooster breeder tell the other boy, "We could use your basement."
Ted stopped, one hand on the door. This is terrible! I can't let this happen! He thought about his options, and decided that the best course of action would be to alert the proper authorities.
"So let me get this straight," said the person on the other end of the line. "Some kid has a fever--"
"--brain fever--" Ted corrected.
"--uh huh. And three other kids are planning to perform surgery on her in a basement?"
"Well, they were going to use a barn, but there wasn't one available."
There was a long pause. "Very funny, sir."
"I'm being quite serious!" Ted insisted. "I'm certain none of them has advanced medical training of any kind. In fact, I'm pretty sure one of them breeds chickens for a living!"
The other person let out a very annoyed sigh. "Sir, I don't know what you're trying to pull here, but unless you have an emergency related to animal control, then I'm going to disconnect this call."
"But I've tried all the other emergency numbers: police, fire department, poison control, and even the road conditions hotline. No one else would help and, in fact, most of them seemed to think I was playing some sort of practical joke. The Department of Public Works was particularly rude about it!" He pleaded, "Something must be done to save this poor girl's brain from amateur surgery!"
"Unless the surgery is going to be performed by a rabid chipmunk, you'll have to call someone else." There was a click as the line disconnected.
He hung up the school pay phone and put away the phone book. These things haven't been nearly as useful as I thought they might be, he thought. It seems I must take matters into my own hands.
Ted spent the rest of the afternoon searching for Brittany, Jodie, the boy with the nonexistent barn, or the poultry expert. He checked to see if there were any chicken farms in the area, but came up empty. Just as he was about to give up and look into sending flowers and a sympathy card to Brittany's parents, he saw the rooster cultivator himself getting out of a Jeep outside Lackluster Video.
"Excuse me!" he cried, hoping desperately that he would be visible to the other boy. "I have to stop you from making a terrible mistake!"
The breeder of small fowl looked at him in surprise, but then shook his head with a grin. "Naw," he replied, holding up a few videos. "I remembered to rewind them this time!"
"I mean the surgery you want to perform," Ted explained as he walked up to him. "I overheard what you and your friends are intending to do, and I must warn you that it is absolutely unconscionable!"
"Hey, thanks!" the other boy said obliviously. "I helped come up with the idea!"
"I don't think you understand," Ted insisted. "I'm referring to your planned brain surgery!"
"Nah, we're not going to do brain surgery," Kevin assured him.
"Oh, what a relief!"
"We're just going to cut open her brain and take all the fever out."
"What?!" Ted cried. "But that's exactly--I mean--" He stopped and took a few calming breaths. "I have no doubt you and your friends have good intentions, but without any education, experience, or qualifications, this is a plan fraught with peril. You'd be taking an innocent girl's life in your hands!"
The poultry rancher stared at Ted with an expression that, if Ted didn't know better, would suggest that he didn't understand what he'd just been told. Then he grinned again. "Yeah, I've got really good hands. My dad says my throwing arm is awesome, too!"
Ted looked the boy in the eyes. "Please promise me you'll do the right thing."
The other boy frowned in confusion at first, but then looked down at the movies that were still in his hand. His eyes lit up with sudden understanding and he nodded eagerly. "Oh, right." He tossed the videos into the nearby return slot. "No problem!"
With a relieved sigh, Ted said, "I'm glad to hear it. Now you'd better go find your friends and tell them what I said."
"Sure," the boy replied. "I bet they'll all be in Mack Daddy's basement by now!"
Ted gasped at the thought that the surgery might be taking place at that very moment. "Go, then!" he cried, and the other boy climbed back into the Jeep and sped away. Ted called after him, "Get to that basement quickly! The fate of a girl with inflamed cerebral tissue rests on your shoulders, brave chicken farmer!"
Ted wasn't sure why all those passersby were looking at him so strangely, but he assured them that the brain surgery wasn't going to happen after all. They seemed even more confused by this, and a few backed away from him when he tried to explain, so he gave up and went home.
After several days of worrying, Ted spotted Brittany in the hallway again. Her hair had returned to its former blond color, which he hoped was a sign that she was recovering from her illness.
"Brittany!" he called out, hurrying over to greet her.
"Shhhh!" she hissed, glancing around the hallway as if looking for someone. "We don't know each other, okay?"
Ted was confused. "But we do know--oh! Is this a side effect of your recent illness? Perhaps your memory has been damaged in some way." He smiled. "You see, last week you and I went to a club known as 'The Zon,' and...."
"I know!" Brittany squeaked angrily. "I was there! But it was just one night and it didn't mean anything to me and I love Kevvy even if he's sometimes a big jerk and from now on as far as I'm concerned there's no such person as Terry or Jerry or whoever you are!"
"Well, that's technically true," Ted admitted. "But if you'll just--"
Brittany shook her head so hard her ponytails whipped the sides of her face. "Nuh-uh. I don't want to see you ever again!"
As she stormed off, Ted shrugged. "So that's back to normal, anyway."