Time: People – Barbra Streisand
Place: Lynfield, Ohio
The summer before freshman year I had magically grown two inches taller while my nose nearly doubled. A once sweet sort of button knob now fought the rest of my face for dominance, competing with newly added smoke-grey eyeglasses. Although I was just entering high school, I had already graduated into geekdom cum laude. I was a mess, but I was not alone. Scanning our homeroom, now housed in the newer high school wing, quasi-familiar faces showed all sorts of similar morphings. Loads and loads of bad-skinned guys and girls carrying about them the telltale aroma of freshly applied Clearasil were sprinkled throughout the classroom. All the girls now toted a pair of breasts, real or snow cone fake and tightly brassiered. The desks were nearly filled and Kassouf had not yet made his appearance. Maybe he’d died over the summer, I guiltily hoped.
But no, his breathless appearance just after the final tardy bell proved my suspicions were false. His excuse was he couldn’t work the combination on his new locker. The presence of jacket, notebook, sneakers with gym uniform and smelly lunch bag, all of which he clumsily juggled on his way to the seat in front of me, proved he hadn’t been lying. It only affirmed he was this year even a bigger jerk.
And his nose-oh his nose had beaten mine hands down! True to his Lebanese genetics it had totally overtaken his entirety. He’d become a middle eastern Ichabod Crane. He broadcast to no one in particular his apology for a bizarre haircut, as though any of us in homeroom cared. His father had purchased electric clippers to save money and he’d been the guinea pig. The perimeter around his head was buzzed to the skull. Dark skin and coarse black hair saved him from total baldness. What was left on top poked in all directions, every bit as undisciplined as he was.
Just above the top of his monstrous proboscis was one massive black caterpillar eyebrow which accentuated a too narrow forehead. A group of brutish bad boys, whose existence on the planet was only to taunt others, would days later dub him ‘Cro-Magnon Man’. His visage was alarmingly comparable to the picture of his namesake in our General Science text. I could not have wished better for him. To be given a nickname at Lynfield was deadly. How pleased I was to have come this far still retaining my last name as an appellation, like most of the other guys.
Kassouf had outgrown me in height as well, now standing an inch or two taller. We were both still skinny. Studying his shoulders as I could sitting behind him, they appeared considerably wider, though there was still no musculature to hold them up. He carried a bigness that wasn’t there before and that scrawny me lacked. His mouth ran every bit as much as always and it took only milliseconds to recall why I wanted no part of him. He seemed not as incessant, but his interest in striking up a friendship revived the uneasiness he could so easily incite in me. Through his gift of persistence he parlayed my class schedule during the PA announcements and was thrilled that this year we would be together in both English and Latin class.
I had chosen Latin because I planned to study literature in college. That is, if I made it through four more years at Lynfield without taking my own life. What was this doofus doing wasting his time and now polluting my chance of possibly enjoying at least one hour every day in this shitty school system?
“Let’s see if we can sit together in class. I’ll save you a seat, or you save one for me if you get there first. Kazmarek…it’s gonna’ be a PANIC!”. He roared this over his shoulder for all to hear over the dismissal bell, bounding out the door while balancing his locker-full of cargo.
Thankfully our Latin teacher was so old school that she had made an assigned seating plan prior to our arrival. I was saved sitting anywhere near him. This didn’t stymie boorish Mr. Kassouf, however. He’d just shout across the rows that separated the two of us, carrying on as if we were shopping together in some vast open air market. It wasn’t long before he was berated by our matronly instructor, suffering the high school equivalent of standing in the corner. He was sent out into the hall for the last ten minutes of class on the very first day. I was dumbstruck by his ludicrous behavior. He’d digressed from junior high to kindergarten. Was he really that ignorant, I wondered and what was this fascination with me?
Freshman English proved not to be as fortuitous. It was a small section of twenty or so crammed into an even tinier classroom. We could sit anywhere we chose to. I’d come in just under the bell and could either sit directly in front of Hester Prynne’s desk (a pet name given to our teacher years before our arrival at Lynfield) or in the desk to Kassouf’s right. “Where you been I been saving you a seat?”, he called in one singular booming breath. I was humiliated before I sat down, worrying Hester might assume the two of us were joined at the hip.
He carried on much the same as he had in Latin, only here more offensively in the tighter space. He made inane comments, most of which were either somehow tied to bodily functions or simply uncouth like him. He guffawed openly after every utterance and smiled my way each time looking for a similar response from me. Initially I chose to ignore him. That not working, succeeding wisecracks I met with a look of disdain. Hester began leering in our direction, assuming her freezing stare might stifle this idiot. Her eyes petrified me; I prayed she didn’t connect me with this boorish lout simply because of my unfortunate proximity.
Just before the bell Kassouf made one final utterance, this time insulting our English teacher’s appearance by commenting on her outfit. Admittedly, his observation was quite valid. Still, it was uncalled for and mean-spirited, especially on our first day in colorless Hester Prynne’s classroom. No sooner had his insult exploded from his lips, when the bell rang. Over its din she angrily announced “Kassouf…..Kazmarek! Don’t move until I tell you to”. It was the first time I heard our names conjoined and it caused my blood to instantly congeal.
“You two clowns are not to sit anywhere near each other. Do you understand me?” It was the best news I’d heard all day. I assured her it couldn’t please me more to comply with her request. He grunted some ignorant response he hoped meant he was sorry. She excused us and I flew to the door to physically distance myself as far away from him as possible. He came charging behind me shouting “Kazmarek! Wait up!”. I realized he’d become an annoyance much akin to a dog turd wedged in the space between your heel and instep. I stopped in my tracks, purposely not turning around, giving him my frozen back to talk to.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to get you in trouble. She’s such a bitch!”, he added to his apology.
Without turning I coldly delivered, “Do….not…ever…speak to me in any class…ever again. Do you understand me?”.
“Oh, come on…..”
“I am dead serious. Kassouf, YOU are a perfectly round asshole”. I walked on hurriedly to my next class, without turning back.