Part II – Release
Beta release – you’re playing
Chapter ~ A Sort of Good Day
It was a Saturday morning and Norman Mene rode his bicycle past Mr Verdure’s greengrocery. It was exactly the sort of bicycle you’d expect a nerd to have, right down to it being a girl’s bike with a basket set atop the handlebars. Plastic tassels hung from the rubber grips at the end of the bars. They bothered Norman more than anything else about the bike. It was actually not his bike but his sister’s. There’s been a spate of robberies in Trafficville of late and Norman’s BMX was stolen. The police have not recovered it.
And he was, at that moment, as God or whatever stared down at him, riding his borrowed bicycle exactly past what you’d expect a greengrocery that was slightly out of time and place to look like, riding it down a suburban street in a what-you’d-think-a-smallish-slightly-east-of-mid-western-town would look like. That is, if you’d never been to one and had not, did not, in fact, live in one.
So this was Trafficville…
￼ OR ￼
You can be like God, or an aeroplane, or even a camera and swoop down across Trafficville and take it all in.
Trafficville is one of those perfect little towns designed down to the last blade of grass. Even its mistakes, like Mrs. Spooner’s dog’s whoopsies in the Town Square (that someone has to clean up), seem intentional. Everything is really, really neat. The lines of the streets are perfect, although maybe too rectilinear, and the trees that hang down in the perfectly proportioned round or rectangular little concrete-girded plots of earth… well, those trees shimmer just so in all that wonderful Spring sunshine. It seems almost to be Spring almost all of the time, although, like Mrs. Spooner’s dog’s whoopsies, there sometimes come days of frowning storms and grey rain. They might do a little damage too, say to Mr Verdure’s grocery store, or, if you have really bad luck, maybe the hospital wing that houses the poor sick little children gets flooded and the whole town has to pitch in and help.
All the people are really neat too, though maybe they are all also creatures of habit. Aren’t we all? Take Mr. Lopez, who comes out every morning, picks up his Trafficville Herald from the front step where Jimmy Oldson has dropped it on his paper rounds. Then he walks out to Merrie Yngland Drive, turns left (most mornings, though some mornings, just for variety, he turns right) and goes down two or three blocks past all the mock Tudor homes and turns into Windsor Park. And then he kinda disappears for a long time. Then he comes back to his front door. Somehow or other he has lost his paper and it looks like a dog has chewed on his pant’s leg. He looks sour about the world and no one is surprised when he goes in and does not come out for the rest of the day. Everyone figures he must be independently wealthy but he doesn’t have any friends or even acquaintances who can help you not to make guesses. He doesn’t seem to work, just go for a long walk every morning, lose his paper on the way, get mugged by a dog and then come back looking dumped on. Maybe this is a habit Mr. Lopez wants to break.
You can summon all kinds of info about Trafficville too. You can take it in like a dream, or have pages slowly drift past you and words drift off them, or the knowledge can just slide into your head as if you’ve lived it. Tap on the street sign and see what happens. It’s up to you.
And now you know!
Trafficville has three small elementary schools, two of them with less than 250 kids. And depending on where you are you can pick to call them elementary schools, or they are called Primary or even Junior schools. In Trafficville they are elementary and there are three of them. And there is a medium sized Junior High or Middle School (depending on where you’re from – even some people in Trafficville use them interchangeably, because Trafficville is modern and cosmopolitan) and there’s a slightly bigger High School. That’s where most of the action happens, the High School.
Trafficville High is seething, actually, and in fact one of the reasons many of the words I have just used are probably wrong. I should have said Trafficville was almost perfect. It is like a virus got in or something and infected the place with some kind of madness.
As you’re about to find out, though first we need to stop elsewhere…
Norman Mene, who has just passed the greengrocery on his borrowed, girl’s, bicycle, was on his way home from school on the first Saturday of a new school year. Norman Mene weighed 123 pounds and some ounces, exactly the average for a 16-year-old American boy.
Mr. Caine, his Math teacher, had told him this. (What he’d failed to mention was that the statistics pre-dated McDonald’s.) ‘Mene,’ he’d said, drawing out the middle ‘ee’ of Norm’s name in that awful way he did, ‘you’re exactly what your name synonymises, average.’
Mr. Caine circled the graph being data projected onto the white board. His body made huge shadows loom. Mr Caine liked the data projector and the shadows it made because it enlarged his presence. Mr Caine is shorter than most of the kids in this class. He enjoyed his big shadow for a while then he moved to the side so he could write. ‘What was it again, Mene? One twenty three pounds?’
‘And seven ounces.’ Norman said.
‘Such insignificant anomalies can be ignored, Mene. Those ounces will vary regularly.’ He drew a faint line up from 16 years on the X-axis, then he found 123 pounds on the Y-axis and drew another line across. It intersected the 16 year’s line at a point in the hatched area which represented the area everyone was supposed to be in, as defined by the miniMom and maxiMom lines. Norman, despite Mr Caine’s doubts, had followed all this clearly. The little x grimly sat smack dab in the middle of the hatched area. ‘There you go, Norm – un. Precisely what your name says. Average. The norm. The mean.’ The moustache that sat above Mr. Caine’s top lip curled up into one of his hated smiles. ‘Your parents must have had your’ – he paused – ‘weight, in mind when they named you, Norm – un… Let’s move on to another example. Smith?’
Norman, too, moved on. He bought the butter and eggs and flour his mother wanted and he rode home. The basket was very handy, even if the tassels were not. He gave the groceries to his Mom or Mum (depending on where you are from) and then he slumped wearily (the truth was that Norman was a little overweight – a tad more than his reported 123 pounds) to his room.
Where nothing much happened, until…
Norman’s memory of Mr. Caine’s lesson kicked in.
That lesson had been yesterday. Friday. What had made Norman think of it was that he’d just seen Jenny Sweet, the girl next door, and his heart had rolled over in his chest. He was looking out the window and he’d seen her moving across the lawn, taking the recycling out. He couldn’t take his eyes off her, even though he knew it was wrong to be staring at a girl through your bedroom window – particularly if the girl happened to see you staring. He crouched down on his bed, just drinking her in. She had on one of those slinky dresses that make girls – girls like Jenny, anyway – look so good. He watched the way her body flexed beneath the dress’s material as she lifted the lid on the paper bin and dropped in her Dad’s Morning Chronicle. It’d be yesterday’s, Norman thought, while she put the lid back on. Norman thought this but was still watching her move. He looked at her cornflower blue eyes and the way her silky hair flowed with her movements, in the sunshine, like an ad’ for some cool new drink, and then he started (had he ever stopped?) watching the way she simply gracefully flowed through life’s mundane tasks. Norman smacked his face with an open hand.
‘Stop it,’ he whispered. Father Sinha had talked about the sin of lust and Norman knew that this was it. But he also knew it was normal adolescent behaviour; Mrs. Hope, his science teacher, had told them so. That was last year. Norman wondered if it was normal for it to go on so long. If he was average in this respect?
That’s what had him think about being average. And that was what made him remember Mr. Caine’s embarrassing lesson the day before. He didn’t know why but Mr. Caine had, for no apparent reason, hated him from the moment he’d entered Trafficville Junior High.
Norman looked at his mildly freckled, bespectacled, C average face in the looking glass above his bureau and smiled crookedly at it. He shook his head to clear it of memories of Mr. Caine and summoned up an image of the way Jenny had moved under that dress.
He could do that any time he liked today, and that memory would last him a good week. Longer, if he drew it…
He took out his secret art book from beneath his American Birds almanac – in the drawer that Mom never looked in. He got down his pencils and set to work. He whistled as he drew. He stretched her out across the recycling bin, just the way she had looked with the flex of her lithe body both revealed and hidden. Yes indeed, it had started out to be at least a sort-of-good day.