POETRY & PROSE
Board Games | Andrea Avery
The Jacket | Ari Holtz
The Turkish Poetry Spitball | Chris King
Goal Line Stand | Jim Klenn
Runners are Weird | Tom Weber
ART DIRECTION BY
Jessica Baran, Aaron Belz, Thomas Crone, Andrea Day, Caroline Huth, Nick Findley, Emily Shea Fisher, Thom Fletcher, Dave Gray, Franklin Jennings, Chris King, K.E. Luther, K. Curtis Lyle, Richard Newman, Greg Ott, Stefene Russell, Dana Smith, Brett Lars Underwood
The Jacket | by Ari Holtz
Jesse knew that college would be a chance to reinvent himself. He never had that thought explicitly; it was more like a non-verbal truth that he simply possessed. He had been waiting for such a chance ever since the first or second grade, the painfully early time of life when one’s social position for the duration of youth is so often established. Jesse’s social position growing up was not an enviable one. He was the first in his nursery school class to read. He blazed through animal name and basic numerical flash cards at an intimidating pace. He was, as judged by no less of a trained eye than that of the Temple Beth-El nursery school director Hannah Rubenstein (Masters of Arts in early childhood education, Brandeis University, 1981), a gifted young child.
As the Lord giveth, however, the Lord taketh away. Jesse, while the first new student at Hadenwood Elementary to know how to say hello in three different languages (English, Spanish, Hindi), was the last across the finish line at spring field day, behind even Ralph Filcher, who at 7-years-old had already been fitted with orthotics. Jesse had a better chance of catching strep throat than he did a softly tossed Nerf ball. He ran with the unsightly gait of a wounded llama. While his brain was most definitely above average, so was his potbelly, which appeared to belong more rightly to a 67-year-old canasta-loving Fort Lauderdale retiree. Quite obviously, from a young age, Jesse was socially doomed. While his burning intellect predicted a prosperous future in the mergers and acquisitions department of Goldman Sachs, his limitations in the domain of sport suggested a 12-year minimum sentence in the prison of the uncool. Athletics, Jesse understood quite profoundly, is the social currency of the young.
As Jesse progressed through grade school into middle school and finally to Rolling Hills High, the trade-offs were painful. Jesse bravely tried out for the traveling soccer team, the seat of the 10-year-old social elite, but the coaches were not impressed when a ball struck his rear end as he bent over to examine a fascinating colony of dung beetles. Enter Dungeons and Dragons, exit the traveling soccer team. In seventh grade, Jesse meant to attend an introductory meeting for the Midtown baseball league but got waylaid reading a used economics textbook by Milton Friedman that he found in a bin outside of a used bookstore. Enter long Friday nights of Sega Street Fighter, exit middle school dances.
By 10th grade, Jesse developed a loose social circle that he suspected liked him more for his parents’ pool and hot tub than for his remarkable knowledge of Norse mythology and mastery of balancing chemical equations. These pimply and skinny boys, aspiring to the upper classes of high school popularity but realistically existing somewhere between welfare recipients and the working poor, occasionally acquired cases of Natural Ice beer. Instead of participating in the drunken games of pool basketball that developed while Jesse’s parents were at an accounting conference in Orlando or family reunion in Wilkes-Barre, he found himself policing the action. “Don’t pee on the side of the house; my parents just had it painted!” Jesse implored. “That’s my mother’s therapeutic raft, leave it be!” he squealed as Justin Mulrooney inexplicably used the blue foam flotation device (highly recommended for spinal health) as a landing cushion for flying patio furniture. Enter friends, exit any semblance of cool.
On a fluke, in the fall of 11th grade, Jesse wandered into an organizational meeting for the winter track team. He thought that it was a meeting of the Junior Stock Traders Association, but when talk was of proper footwear instead of dividends, he saw that he made a wrong turn. At the meeting, Jesse learned, to his adulation, that the team was of the rare take-all-comers variety. There were no tryouts, no cuts. You picked your event, and you were in. Jesse sensed salvation. At the first practice, he found out that, while he had mediocre speed at best, he could maintain that mediocre speed at a consistent level for modest amounts of time. Suddenly, he was a middling 1200-meter runner. (Perhaps all those nights chasing his friends around his pool had yielded a pleasant by-product?) Jesse also quickly learned that the point system for lettering in winter track was quite generous. Mid-range finishes in a majority of his races would earn him a letter, and a letter would earn him a letterman’s jacket, that hotly pursued mark of status.
Jesse finished in the second tier of most races he ran in. He
lettered. He got a jacket. He never wore the jacket, though. The
incongruity between his long established pariah status and the
jacket’s glean of popularity (although track, admittedly, was not
soccer or lacrosse, the true upper echelon sports) was too much to
take. But Jesse treasured that jacket. He stared at it after he
turned off the lights at night, much as his peers ogled ill-gotten
issues of Playboy or Hustler. And, like much treasured pornography,
Jesse packed that letterman’s jacket with its winged foot on the
back to bring with him to college.
Freshman year of college arrived and Jesse woke up for the first time in a dorm, in a place far from home. No one at the top-15, upper-middle class, Midwestern, private university that he attended knew of his past. Finally, his sharp mind could aid his social success, not hinder it. Jesse was free to form any identity that he chose, to create any character that he aspired to be. A good back-story could alter his entire reality, shape the perception of attractive coeds from Atlanta and beer-devouring frat boys from Shaker Heights. The students of his new university would not discover an 18-year-old virgin who had read Beowulf six times, rather they would get to know Jesse the cool kid from New Jersey, Jesse the athlete.
The third day of college was upon him. So far, Jesse hadn’t had much of a chance to unveil his new, improved, sporty identity. His first two college days were filled with sleep-inducing orientation lectures from vice provosts of who knows what and assistant deans of who cares. Jesse hadn’t wanted to attend these events, he had some inkling that those who would be his college kin – the jocks, the drinkers, the carousers – would be elsewhere. He couldn’t resist, however, his long ingrained tendencies to do what he was supposed to do, what his parents would have wanted. ($38,000 per year including room and board should engender some loyalty, no?) Today, however, was his day. The long anticipated (in his mind, at least) release of Jesse 2.0.
What exactly constituted this latest version of Jesse? The main features were an emphasis of hedonism – females, intoxicants, and revelry – and a decrease of dorkiness. The hedonistic side of things was somewhat theoretical and esoteric to Jesse because of his lack of experience, but that which needed to be avoided was quite real, concrete, and obvious to him. Jesse knew exactly what he needed to tone down in order to project his new self out into the world, but he was less sure what exactly, in pragmatic terms, he needed to tune up. There was one thing, however, that Jesse had associated with popularity, fun, and coolness for nearly his entire life – athletics. Jesse simply needed to show the world that he was a jock and surely all else would follow.
That third day of college was Greek Open House Day. From noon until the wee hours, Greek Row would be jumping with parties, beer, and the new compatriots he so barely wanted to make an impression on. At 12:30 p.m., not wanting to seem too eager, he threw on his letterman’s jacket, the encapsulation of his new self, with pride. He marched, no, strutted, out of his dorm, chest out, the rhythm of all that was cool in his step. He walked to Greek Row. He paraded up and down, outside of the parties, showing himself off to the multitudes in attendance. He smiled with an outward confidence that he had never before felt.
Sure enough, the other students – skeptical and unbelieving – smiled back. At the end of the night, as he walked back to his dorm tired, drained, and alone, Jesse took off the jacket, rolled it into a tight ball of cotton and leather, and hurled it into a nearby dumpster.
Ari Holtz is a writer and practicing psychologist, living in St. Louis.