They walked to Joe’s ’57 candy-apple-red Chevy convertible. The girls crowded into the back seat. Joe was proud. Even though he had a back seat full of underclassmen, it was better than nothing. Joe tried to impress the girls pulling into traffic with screeching tires. That registered little with the girls. They were enthralled with the stuffed animals.
They drove the streets of town laughing and talking about the good times they had the previous year in school. Joe was the upperclassman and too mature for junior high school repartee.
“Which one of you girls wants to come up here and sit?” Joe said tapping the seat next to him.
Rich watched, fully expecting four girls to leap over the seat.
All was quiet.
Joe punched the accelerator to the floor and laughed, but he was embarrassed and angry.
With Rich’s hand hanging over the back of the front seat, he motioned for somebody to sit next to Joe. The girls looked at one another. They quietly shook their heads and covered their mouths with their hands to hide the snickers. Joe glanced into the rearview mirror. He turned around in a drive and drove in the direction of the fairgrounds.
There was quiet again, but within a moment they were back to teenage chatter. Rich talked to girls as never before. Gone was the tension that often left him standing silently with only an occasional forced word. He was talking with the same ease as with boys – with the exception of vulgar language.
“What do you get when you cross a parrot with a gorilla?” Mary said to everybody.
“Me neither,” Mary said, “but when it talks, you better listen.”
“What do you get when you cross an octopus with a Mexican?” Sally asked leaning forward. She paused. “An eight-row tomato picker.”
Linda said, “Come on we’ve heard all them. Anyone got new ones or originals?”
Rich turned to them and smiled confidently. “What do you get when you cross a cow with a goose?”
“I don’t know but when it tries to fly it’s udder disaster and when it does fly it honks to warn when it’s about to take a dump.”
There was a collective laughter but only smile from Joe.
“Okay, something local – our history teacher,” Rich said rubbing his hands together. “What would you get if you crossed an octopus with Mr. Carpenter?”
Rich waited. “An eight-armed thirty-two fingered booger picker.”
“That guy is always picking his nose and flipping boogers,” Linda howled.
Deb said to Rich, “Do you remember when he flipped ’em over his shoulder during class and they stuck to the blackboard.”
“Yeah,” Rich said snickering.
Deb continued, “This is so neat. When Carpenter left the room, Rich went up and drew circles around them and drew a goal post around one of them and wrote, ‘And the point after is good!’ When Carpenter saw that, I thought he was going to have a calf.”
“You did that?” Sally said.
Rich bashfully said, “Yeah.”
“Anymore ‘what ifs?’” Linda said.
“Another local one,” Rich said. “Ya ready. Who has ever sat next to Allen Kirkendale?”
They all held their nose and said they all had.
“What do you get when you cross a turd with Allen Kirkendale?” Rich asked and waited. “Allen Kirkendale Junior.”
“One more Allen Kirkendale,” Rich said. “What do you get when Allen Kirkendale wipes?”
“Allen Kirkendale’s autograph.” Rich added apologetically, “I know, I know that’s cruel and gross.”
“Okay, let’s leave Allen alone. How about a little current events,” Rich said to change the mood. “What do you get when you cross Martin Luther King with George Wallace?” He waited. “A suicide.”
The girls laughed except for Sally. Linda leaned toward her and explained, “Get it. Civil rights marches for blacks and the governor that’s trying to keep blacks out of schools in Mississippi. They hate each other.”
“I don’t watch the news,” Sally confessed.
“This time pretend you know,” Rich said. “What do you get when you cross Martin Luther King, Nikita Khrushchev, and John F. Kennedy?” Rich waited. “A singing group called the KKK.”
“I get that one,” Sally said.
“What do you get when you cross the Dali Lama, a llama, and a Salvation Army worker?” Rich waited and sung, “I got a girl named Rema Lema Lama Llama Ding Dong.”
The laughter irritated Joe. He was accustomed to the attention of girls and Rich was not about to relinquish it.
“Here’s another local one,” Rich said.
“Oh my god,” Joe said. “Enough is enough.”
“Let’s hear it,” Linda said.
“Our beloved principal, Mr. Burns,” Rich said with false piety, “What do you get when you cross Zsa Zsa Gabor with Mr. Burns?”
Rich waited until all confessed, even a reluctant Joe, “I don’t know, what do you get?”
“Me neither, but it’s kind of fun to think about.”
“Where do you get these from?” Linda asked.
“I make them up,” Rich said and continued. “Let’s do some chickens. What do you get when you cross a chicken with a sliver of paper?”
“A ‘baalk!’ marker,” Rich said. “You know, bookmarker.”
“Another one,” Rich said, “What do you get when you cross Elvis Presley with a chicken?”
“Another Elvis. What do you get when you cross Elvis Presley with The New York Times?”
“Blue suede news.”
“Okay, follow closely, what if all the beef, pigs, dogs, and birds go to war, Mao Tse Tung and Chief Sitting Bowl thinks they can bring them together for peace talks, what are the talks called?
“The Moa cow, sow, fowl, bow wow, pow wow.”
They laughed uncontrollably, not so much at the jokes, but at each other having a good time. There was barely a titter from Joe, although Rich was having far too much fun to care.
Suddenly Joe said, “What do you get when you cross an elephant with a mule?” There was a sinister quality in his tone and on his face. It nested between hate and sadness.
No one answered. The atmosphere turned nearly serious, with only a few background chuckles.
“Rich Larsen, a big-nosed ass.”
Rich looked sharply at Joe and he was stoic, only looking over the hood of the car, not really seeing the traffic. Rich glanced back at the girls. He was embarrassed, a physical flaw that he confided to Joe a few days earlier, had now been used by Joe to hurt him. Rich remained speechless. He was put in place.
In a moment’s time, Rich returned to being an insecure and awkward clod. He turned away from the girls and starred beyond the hood of the car.
Joe’s eyes scornfully passed his way. “This is my car and my gas and you’re not going to be king crap in my car.”
It was quiet with only the sound of the wind passing by the car.
“Take us back to the fairgrounds, immediately,” Linda said sternly, like her mother might have.
Rich’s arm rested on the back of the seat. Sally laid her hand on his shoulder and gently squeezed. Until that time, he thought of those girls as unfeeling detached snobs – the upper crust and most sought after for attention of the boys. They were the type who flirted with his emotions and insecurities and humored themselves over his inadequacies. He thought, at first, they were along only for the ride in a cool car, a chance to be seen with a bon vivant of the masculine sex upper class-man, and to walk around the midways with their arms full of stuffed animals. Which may have been the motive, but it had now changed. Rather than laughing at Rich, they were laughing with him, and not only that but sensitive enough to react to his hurt. They smiled. Rich smiled. His eyes were moist.
They approached the fairgrounds.
“What would you have had if you crossed Joe with a dodo bird?” Rich said.
Everyone was silent.
“There would be no cross-breeding involved,” Rich said. “They would’ve never become extinct, you’d just get another dodo.”
The girls held back the laughter, but slight guffaws slipped beyond their mouths covered with hands.
“I’ll let you off here,” Joe said as he drove his car near the front gate. “I’m taking you home,” he said to Rich.
Rich got out of the car to allow the girls out the back seat. “How ‘bout each of you taking an animal.”
“That’s okay,” Deb said.
“I insist,” Rich said.
The girls got out of the car, each with a stuffed animal. It was like a funeral, the death of a good time.
“I had a great time,” Linda said.
“Me too,” the others said as they filed past me.
“What a night!” Sally said.
Rich gathered the remainder of the stuffed animals from the back seat and said, “But the night is not over,” he smiled and shut the door of the car with his foot.
“How are ya going to get home?” Joe said. “I told your Mom and Dad I would bring you home.”
“If I have to I’ll walk,” Rich said. “I don’t need you to watch over me. Now get lost!”
Joe pushed the gear shift into park and sat as if he wasn’t going to move.
“Hey, I got one more,” Rich said snapping his finger. “What would you get if you crossed Joe with any of you four girls?”
“What?” the girls said innocently.
“Nothing,” Rich said smiling confidently at Joe. Rich smiled at the girls and said, “You girls have too much self-respect.” Then seriously said to Joe, “It ain’t ever gonna happen.”
Joe pulled the gearshift into drive, the tires of the car threw stones until he was on the road and then the tires made a squealing sound like a tortured demon and smoked poured from the tires like a hellish mist. He cursed as he sped away. A state highway patrol car immediately followed with a siren blaring and red lights flashing.
“Are you okay?” each girl asked.
“Sure. The night is still young,” Rich assured. “Let’s see who we can find to walk around with.”