All the Important Days of the Second Grade and Some Recesses Too
In second grade I was in the Yellow reading group. The Yellow reading group sat around the yellow table in yellow chairs and read books not as advanced as the kids at the Green table in green chairs. Up until my friend Ryan Wilson brought a Punisher comic to recess, reading was boring. Once I saw the Punisher tied to a nuclear warhead as Saddam looked on I was hooked. When Ryan read a comic he only read the inaudible words, the words that started with a letter but then were followed by symbols of all kinds. I liked the stories.
Ryan was in the Red reading group. The Red reading group sat around the red table in red chairs and read books not as advanced as the kids at the yellow table in yellow chairs.
On Columbus Day we were given trail mix in Dixie cups. We made replicas of the Nina, Pinta, and the Santa Maria by folding newspaper into boats that we could wear on our head. We signified which ship we made by writing Nina, Pinta, or Santa Maria with glitter glue. Emily White’s was the best. She used green, yellow and blue glitter glue to make shooting stars all around the sides. Emily looked so regal in her boat-hat.
Emily was in the Green reading group, which stood below nobody and was the envy of everyone in the Yellow reading group and nobody in the Red.
Ryan dared Andrew Mopkin to eat newspaper and he did. Mopkin was the only other white kid in the Red reading group. Mopkin thought he was a G.I. Joe. He used to respond to Mrs. Prickly by saluting and shouting, yes sir. Mopkin ate so much newspaper on Columbus day that he puked all over the red table and went home early. Ryan was sent home early too. I spent all afternoon recess not reading The Punisher.
Dixie cups of candy corn, candy pumpkins and skittles were given out. The entire class dressed up. Emily was Snow White and Ryan was a soldier. I asked mom for a Punisher costume but ended up being a mummy. The string on my plastic mummy mask broke. That was ok because I couldn’t see out the eye holes very well and my bottom lip kept coming out of the of the mouth hole which was too low on my face. I just wore the shirt and pants. Cool pajamas, Ryan said over and over.
That night I went trick-or-treating down Baker Street. Instead of wearing the plastic mask I wrapped toilet paper around my head. That night I found out that everyone in the Green reading group lived on Baker Street. I was so excited to tell my parents. To live on Baker Street was to be famous. All the houses looked like dollhouses. Every holiday Baker Street would be on the front page of the Grant County Register because of its decorations. This year coffins sat in every other yard with real people in them, sitting up and looking around.
CHINESE NEW YEAR: THE YEAR OF THE HORSE
My birthday in second grade fell on the Chinese New Year. Our class had a big party complete with fortune cookies, finger traps, and paper placemats with the Chinese calendar on them courtesy of Happy Teriyaki. Because they had scored so high on our reading test, the Green reading group got to choose the game the groups played against each other at the party. They chose hangman. I thought that maybe Ryan would make some good guesses because of the way he could fill in the bleeps in Punisher. He did not. The Green group won every round of hangman. They were awarded extra fortune cookies.
Ryan walked home with me and spent the night because it was my birthday and because it was a Friday. On the way home Ryan told me his dad was investigating a double homicide. What’s that, I asked.
On the way home we stole apples from an apple tree for no reason but to throw them at each other and feed them to the collie at the end of the street. We also lit matches and dropped them into the water running alongside the sidewalk and followed them until they went down a storm drain. So long Saddam, we yelled as the tiny matches fizzled out in the air.
We were given a Dixie cup of Martinelli’s Sparkling grape cider. This is the good stuff, Ryan kept saying.
We were given either a black and white picture of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. I got George Washington so I spent my time gluing cotton balls on his head while one of the moms from the Green reading group read a story about how he cut down a cherry tree and was riddled with guilt.
We had a speech contest; each reading group chose someone to read the first paragraph of the Gettysburg Address. The Green reading group won; they won silver dollars.
I asked mom for Punisher valentines but got Superman. Ryan told me that they didn’t make Punisher valentines. Ryan had Thundercat valentines. He gave me one with Jackalman on it. I drew a mustache on Superman and gave it to Ryan. He laughed. I gave Emily a card with Lois Lane on it and watched her open it from my yellow chair. We ended the party by having a poetry contest. Each table picked a person to represent their group. Emily read for the Green table and her poem was so good that Mrs. Prickly decided that the Green reading group should start writing the books for the Yellow and Red group to read.
The stories the Green group wrote were boring. Most stories took place in houses with fireplaces and sitting rooms. Real reading happened at recess. Real reading happened past the soccer field right beside the cornfield that marked off where we weren’t supposed to go. Mrs. Dooley the recess monitor, a.k.a. ninja turtle calves, hated when we sat right on the boundary. But Ryan insisted.
That week we read The Punisher every recess. Desert Storm was heating up. Punisher was taken prisoner and tortured. He was beaten until he was a bloody mess and thrown into a small cell. His words were written small and wobbly and followed by a bunch of periods. It doesn’t look good for us, Ryan said.
At recess that week a member of the Red reading group chased a soccer ball that was kicked from the field and rolled to the boundary. He asked Ryan how long he was going to hang out with a yellow.
Most of the kids from the Red reading group played soccer during recess. Most the kids from the Red reading group spoke two languages. Andrew Mopkin never played soccer. He spent most his recesses army crawling and doing spinning kicks by himself. He was really good at spinning and kicking. Sometimes me and Ryan would watch him from across the playground and narrate the action. This time Ryan was narrating and didn’t know Mrs. Dooley was behind us. Ryan used the same word the Punisher used when an Iraqi shot him in the side. Ryan was sent home early.
JOHNNY APPLESEED DAY
Mrs. Prickly read a book about Johnny Appleseed to the class while we all focused hard on drawing the apple that was placed in the middle of each of the colored tables. Moms from the green reading group brought in different kinds of apple deserts: apple pie, apple fritter, apple strudel and caramel apples. We were allowed to have a little of everything.
That week I got a ride over to Ryan’s house and spent the night because it was his birthday and because it was Friday. Ryan’s parents were divorced and his dad was a soft-bellied, stressed-out detective who blew cigarette smoke out the side of his mouth. Ryan always talked about how his dad shot a guy and busted a big coke smuggling operation, but all I ever knew of Ryan’s dad was him sitting on an upright cinderblock huddled up to a Folgers can, chain smoking and blowing smoke out the side of his mouth.
His car was small and full of papers. I kept my eye out for a gun. Ryan said that his dad, like the Punisher, carried a black Desert Eagle. I found nothing but fast-food wrappers and a phone book. Ryan’s dad took us by Rob’s video to rent a Nintendo game for Ryan’s birthday. We looked for The Punisher but settled on Bubble Bobble. We played Bubble Bobble all night with a little break for skateboarding.
We made a ramp out of a cinderblock and particleboard and tried to ride off it. Ryan’s patio was small and cracked up, so we just went off the ramp and into the grass. When Ryan’s dad came out to smoke he yelled at us for using his cinderblock and made us go inside. Late at night we snuck out and watched True Crime from the hallway.
Moms from the Yellow and the Green reading groups came in and we read to them a list of things we were thankful for. Our moms were on their best behavior. The mother’s of the Yellow reading group spent half their time laughing and delighting in us and the other half looking at the Green table. During the party the Red team mostly drew pictures. They were all good drawers, that reading group.
The next week the book the Green reading group wrote was all about mom’s and how they volunteer to read to the class, make pasta, and have the brick foundation in their house replaced with a concrete one.
That week I told Ryan I was going to tell Emily that I liked her. I gave her a piece of paper that announced my love for her. Will you be mine, it read. I gave it to her and ran off. I told her friends a bee chased me. I avoided her the rest of the year.
That was the week that Mrs. Prickly announced that she was going to have a week-long reading competition and the group that read the most books would get to decorate the room.
The next week the Green reading group, with the help of their mom’s, painted the entire room to be one big mural. When they were done each side of the room was done up like a side of Baker street in the summer. Likenesses of the Green reading group stood in the yards waving at us. They painted everything even covering the class windows with houses so that light only came through the tiny windows left unpainted on the houses. A reporter and photographer came from the Grant County Register to take pictures of the mural for the front page. A picture of Emily and her mom in front of their painted likenesses ran on the front page that night. I cut the picture out and shoved it under my bed with my rollerblades, army ants and Teddy Ruxpin.
The next day the mural was ruined. Red mustaches were on the face of every man, women, and child on the mural. Emily tried to hide her sobs inside the hinge of her elbow, but her back bounced up and down. The other members of the Red reading group huddled together and talked quietly, as if this was all a mystery to be solved. I raised my hand. I knew Ryan did it. I told Mrs. Prickley about the red mustache I drew on the valentines and how Ryan loved it. Everyone but Mopkin stared at Ryan as I ratted him out. Ryan lost recess for the rest of the year.
At recess I climbed up on one of the pipes that ran alongside Mountain View Elementary and looked through the window. I looked at Ryan sitting with his head on his arm. He was biting his arm hairs. The Gulf War would end without me knowing it and I’d never read how Punisher escaped prison.
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