AUTHOR’S NOTE: Have you ever witnessed wild middle school boys in action? If so, than “bubbles” will make sense. I attended a girls’ school, where I then taught for ten years. When I finally broke away to teach public middle school art, perpetually moving 11, 12, and 13 year old boys came as a shock. Their explosive mix of hormones and energy triggered daily art room madness. As a survival strategy, I imagined that colorful bubbles, percolating within the zaniest kids, made them bounce and shake. My new use for the word “bubbles” quickly took hold among students.
Narrated by Sam, a mischievous middle school boy, “Pranks, Bands, and Bubbles,” tells the coming-of-age story of a group of rowdy friends who evolve from unintentional criminals into superstars. At first, the adventure-seekers find themselves in life-threatening situations, but when old Mr. Swanson, owner of the shuttered and for-sale local amusement park, catches the kids scaling the Funworld gate, he offers a life-changing deal. Mr. Swanson agrees to sell his Funworld fleet of Segway scooters at half the estimated value, if the kids raise all funds without help from parents. Under an inflexible deadline, Sam and friends funnel wild energy into entrepreneurial endeavors. Unable to work fast enough, they start a garage band, hoping to win the Rock Band Rumble $3000 grand prize. The kids support each other and they learn to look outward, while addressing a series of challenges that threaten to derail their focus.
PRANKS, BANDS, AND BUBBLES
By Kim Tamalonis
PART ONE – BUBBLE TROUBLE
CHAPTER 1 – 7th GRADE SPRING AWAKENING
As soon as the first bell rang and my 7th grade math class let out, I’d run to the art room before Miss Posey dismissed her eighth graders. I’d push open the door and yell, “Hi Miss Posey! Hi Miss Posey! Hi Miss Posey,” five or six times consecutively and then duck as kids threw paper balls, glue bottles and sometimes scissors in my direction. The door would then slam in my face, leaving me alone in the hallway, curiously listening to the eighth graders’ noises escalating, fading, and sometimes exploding into uncontrolled eruptions of laughter. At exactly 9:24am the second warning bell would ring, the entryway would burst open and a mass of electrified boys and a rowdy girl or two would tumble out, pushing, yelling and unconsciously releasing strange sprays of bubbles. Much calmer girls and a few significantly less manic boys would then emerge, rolling their eyes.
After a long exhale, our ponytailed teacher would wash her hands, adjust her smock and finally welcome my classmates and me to art, just as the third bell sounded. Other than a garbage can stuffed with paper airplanes and an occasional pencil or wad of fresh wet clay oddly plopping down from the waffled ceiling, there were no other signs of unusual activity in room 169.
“Posey, that’s the ‘special class?’” I sarcastically asked, one day.
“Miss Posey,” she corrected. “They have bubbles.”
When I asked for an explanation, Miss Posey advised me to ask the nurse.
I wondered if bubbles were contagious or if there were kids I should avoid. I brought the matter up to my friends at lunch. They didn’t know any more than I did, but they said the phenomenon wasn’t isolated to second period art. They had seen trails of bubbles left by kids whizzing through the hallways. Zac saw a teacher eject a bubbling kid from a science lab by the ear. Charlie saw a bubbling dude getting yelled at in the principal’s office. As we chewed on the issue, a muscle-y older kid with the start of a fuzz-stache dropped a flier on our table announcing try-outs for the Shoreline Middle School football team. Before we could ask questions, he moved on to the next table. I suggested to my friends that we try-out. Oliver was already committed to baseball. As usual, Lug avoided explaining the mysterious conflict that always prevented him from hanging out after school. Zac agreed to join me and Charlie attempted to chicken out.
“Dude, no chance! Have you seen the size of the guys on the team? If we make it, we’ll be annihilated by the end of the first week.” Charlie envisioned. “Besides which, football is on my parents’ banned list.”
“No offence, Charlie, but you won’t make it. Even if you are picked, of course you’ll back out, but aren’t you even curious to see if you have what it takes to make the team?” I prodded.
Rules established by his exceptionally strict parents had determined almost all of my friend Charlie’s actions, since birth. Charlie’s dad, Judge Roland Thompson, was super cautious about the safety of his African American family. He and his wife, Ms. Nyah Thompson, a successful Wall Street financial advisor, bought a house in the suburbs when they became parents. Ms. Thompson worked long hours in the city. Judge Thompson had given up his high power Manhattan job and taken a position as a county family court judge, in order to raise Charlie.
Zac and I celebrated whenever Charlie let his deeply buried inner rebel loose. We didn’t completely understand why Charlie’s parents were so protective of him and we were determined to bring him to our wild side. Even though football was on the Thompson family list of banned sports, I convinced Charlie that the harmless exercise of trying out for the team would be a valuable life experience.
By Friday afternoon, Zac, Charlie and I were outside on the bleachers with the biggest guys in our class, waiting for seventh graders to be called to the field. The biggest guys seemed gargantuan in football padding. Ominous rumblings of thunder in the overcast sky should have been the sign for us to go home, but coach made no move to cancel try-outs. While we watched the eighth grade team practice, the bubble mystery grew deeper. Bubbles quietly streamed from athletes like steam from small sports cars. Inside school, the same kids seemed crazy, yet on the field, the group maintained unflinching focus as they ran, jumped and tackled. Bubbles flew away from them like used energy. As the seventh grade tryout started with drills, the sky opened up. Other guys added excited grunts to their efforts, but as the drills progressed, my wet gear felt like it weighed 5,000 pounds. I ran slower and slower, wondering why I had subjected myself to torture. Just as I dropped out, something caused several of the guys to run into each other and land in one gigantic heap. Charlie had tripped on untied laces and now laid face down in the mud under five others. During concluding exercises, as Zac ran backwards to receive the ball, he accidentally fell into the brook. The big guys laughed, which made Zac laugh, too. Coach screamed at Zac that there was no room on the team for pranksters. It came as no surprise that my friends and I did not make the team.
The Monday before Winter Break was the day Miss Posey said she would announce whether or not we’d make complicated two-color prints. She said she worried about kids’ behavior around the messiest supplies, when everyone was bouncing off walls and counting down minutes to vacation. But sometimes, worthy challenges at high-energy moments kept classes focused. Miss Posey held off her announcement until quiet drawing time was over. During the seemingly endless wait, I felt my stomach turn and wondered if I was sick or if I had developed an allergy to the eggs I had consumed for breakfast. While everyone calmly focused on sketchbook drawings, something worrisome caught my eye. Bubbles emerged from the ears of the boy sitting next to me. I looked up at Miss Posey, who saw them too. She wrote on a small scrap of paper and passed a puzzling message to me, which read,
“Sometimes they start early.”
Nausea gripped me. I bolted to the bathroom to yack. Then, I looked in my ears: no bubbles. I stuck out my tongue and looked down my throat: no bubbles. Finally, I sat on the porcelain throne until nausea subsided. When I returned to class, bubbles blasted from the nose of a different boy, making him fall backwards off his stool. He clasped his hands over his face. Now there were two. By this time, the whole class noticed. Everyone stared at the boys, unnerved by their mysterious ailment. However, the mood brightened when my friend Oliver started chanting,
“Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles!”
The afflicted boys played into the attention, as most of the class joined the chorus. Soon, the uncontrollable chanting broke into class-wide hysterical laughter. When the room settled down and things returned to normal, an annoyed girl who was unfazed by bubbles demanded,
“Miss Posey, will we be doing the two-color printing?”
Miss Posey paused to consider the question before announcing her decision.
“Yes, let’s do it. I don’t want you using ink after you’re all attacked by bubbles.”
Just then, Oliver’s eyes bulged, he pursed his lips together, as his cheeks inflated. He seemed to stop breathing, he turned bright red, and as he opened his mouth to gasp for air, bubbles jet streamed out. Most of the class cheered, but mostly just to make noise. Miss Posey’s foreboding prediction and three kids down overshadowed the fun. That night, tossing back and forth, unable to forget the weird orbs spurting uncontrollably from my classmates, I panicked over what was in store.