I never really finished this story. I mean it’s “finished” per se but didn’t tell myself “OK, this story’s done”…I’m bored though and feel like posting something before I go to bed.
I was leaving work yesterday and as I left the building, saw a dad and his young son in front of me. Strolling down the sidewalk, the little kid looked especially proud of his backpack featuring Batman on the back, specifically The Dark Knight Batman in his SWAT-Bat armor or whatever. Still, despite my love of ridiculing that costume by yelling “SWAT-Bat” a lot in comic book stores, it warmed my heart a little bit seeing the comeback of kids wearing action comic and cartoon backpacks. Mostly because it reminds me of the 1st grade, and my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack.
So I was a late comer to the world of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I was almost 6 when I finally got clued in by the other kids on the playground, when my question of “what’s that?” during boy-pretend-play-aka-beat the crap out of each other-time during recess” was greeted with “are you serious?” Before that I’d primarily subsided on He-Man & the Masters of the Universe and Thundercats for my action fixes. But man, once I found out about mutant ninja practitioners living in the sewers below New York City and subsided strictly on pizza, fighting robots and aliens, holy shit did my career aspirations change. I’ve enver admitted to this but I still feel that if I get the chance to ever be a vigilante renegade ninja, I’d be fucking fantastic at it. Since somehow the ability to run or do sit-ups won’t be a requirement, I’ll be a shoe-in.
But I finally got it. The ultimate pinnacle of cool back in those days, besides those retarded-looking sneakers that pumped air into bladders around your ankles to make breaking them a little bit easier when attempting to mimic Michael Jordan (if you’re younger than 19 that name might not mean anything, so just ignore the feeling of being left out of the loop and continue), were backpacks. Were they suffiently pocket-adorned? Were the straps too wide? What was on it?
I know that doesn’t really make much sense but to me it did, and to almost any other kid I hung out with as well. IT was the precursor to the cell phone, the car your parents got you, the status symbol of not just what you had, but whether or not your parents were cool enough to get what you were into and then literally get it for you. So when my folks got me a green Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack to wear, I was ecstatic. I’d been throwing myself into the Ninja Turtles with forays into action figures and even the Archie Comics-published comic book of their tales. Watching the cartoon was of course, going without saying, and whenever we played on the field during recess I varied between Leonardo (the one with the swords, because swords were cool) and Raphael (because even at that age, my inner nerd punk was showing). Anyway, it had the four of the Turtles on the back, all smiling and brandishing their weaponry (stuff I’d later learn in life is actually quite dangerous and illegal in most US states). The colors of Donatello (the one with the staff) and Leonardo were reversed, but it didn’t matter. I had a bitchin’ Ninja Turtles backpack and for a brief moment in the sun, I was untouchable, indestructible because I had an awesome backpack that was just as cool as the other kids’ (a key selling point for anyone that age).
And then Dale got his.
The exact same fucking backpack.
Let me highlight something here. I wasn’t a popular kid when I was in elementary school. I sucked at sports, I was friends with the tall hyper Puerto Rican kid, the kid who collected bugs, and the Jewish guy who looked really fucking Aryan (permanent sunburn). I read a lot and was, let’s just say really emotional and almost always ready to snap and boil over for something. I was smart, sure, but in the 1st grade smart kids are good for two things; cheating off of and picking on.
Dale was quiet and short and red-headed, but good at sports, which unfortunately, for the quiet suburbanite Long Island neighborhood I lived in for a spell o’time, was what mattered. So when he saw my bag that day, that fateful first day of second grade, he came up to me with a stern and serious look of concern on his face.
It’s at this time I’d like to point out a funny side note that at one point earlier I may or may not have ditched my baby brother with Dale’s mom and sister when going to school one morning. I was late and didn’t want to miss the bell, my mom hadn’t caught up with us by then, and I sorta recognized/knew her, so…
Anyway, so where’s what basically went down.
“I got the same bag”. No hello, hey what’s up how was your summer, just that.
“Yeah?” I look over at the closet where both our bags hung on their hooks, behind what were at the time imposing wooden doors on fascinating midway-sliding hinges that gave the closet doors a vaguely Temple Of Doom feel. That’s right, I said Temple Of Doom. The bags certainly looked awesome hanging there in the closet, and I wondered if it’d be possible to even, dare I dream, get a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt for Christmas from my mom.
Dale continued to talk to me, by the way, as I spaced out.
“We might get confused” he said with certainty. He was a little guy who always looked serious. In fact, in every memory I have of that age, I don’t remember him smiling at all. Now I’m sure it’s mostly the archetype he probably filled in my head. Who knows.
“Really?” I looked over again at the closet and the bags hanging there, not next to each other but actually separated and at opposite ends of the closet. Mine was a little brighter green as I think I hadn’t been using it as much, and I knew that it was on the right side of the closet because I’ve always had a freakish obsession with my right side ever since I figured out how to tell the two apart.
“Yeah, really. I think one of us should change.” He said it quite simply and, thinking about it, not really threateningly at all. Just insistent.
Yeah, I know. Why? I don’t really know, all I know is that I went home and told my mother what I thought was a very serious matter, and how it had to be avoided because apparently they could get mysteriously switched even though my mother pointed out that I had my name written in marker inside mine. No matter. Changes had to be made I declared, despite any protestations from the metaphorical Senate of my parents.
So I used another backpack in school. Boring blue and yellow, with some sort of shitty buckles closing it. And it held up and I used it all year and then found another bag to use the next year, and for a long time I forgot about it.
Why did I back down? I mean, yeah I was half a head taller than this kid, but I’d never throw a punch. Certianly not at the age when I was still enamored with talking cartoon bears and rats and turtles. And for some reason, I knew he wouldn’t throw a punch or a shove or whatever we did at that age. In the end it just came down to a battle of wills.
So what’d I crumble first? Shit if I know.