Like any other decent high school, mine had a well-established social hierarchy. The members of TOTS (Top of the Stairs) had long ruled the school. Mostly twelfth graders, with a smattering of popular tenth and eleventh grade students, TOTS were as cool as cool could get in a 1980s rural high school. Each year, a new group of seniors was promoted to TOTS headquarters on the second floor landing. I was a member of TOTS thanks to some of my more outgoing, fashion-forward friends. Membership was reserved for jocks and preppies, kids with money, and the occasional skateboarder. Permed hair, popped collars, and a cloud of Drakkar Noir met all who ventured past our command post on their way to the senior high classrooms.
Crystal Lynch, member of TOTS since the eleventh grade, had a deep tan year-round, and a tidal wave of teased blonde hair kept summer-fresh thanks to Sun-In hair lightener. She wore perfectly assembled outfits consisting mostly of off-the-shoulder sweaters and miniskirts, giant hoop earrings and her signature royal blue mascara. When Chase Marshall announced he’d be running for student council president, Crystal immediately took over his campaign. She’d worked hard to become one of the popular kids, and wasn’t going to allow a lightweight to be in charge of our senior year. Who better than The Duke to lead us to the best prom ever? (Chase had earned that nickname – shortened from The Duke of Hurl – after a series of impressive alcohol-induced power pukes at summer pit parties. His record was 6 feet, with minimal splash.)
Crystal slaved over Bristol board posters with flawless bubble lettering. She handed out flyers and adorable candy-grams with The Duke’s election promises printed on tags. It wasn’t a hard sell: Chase was a party boy, and one of the most popular boys at school. Everyone knew he was a shoo-in for the position, though he said he couldn’t have done it without Crystal. It wasn’t long before everyone was talking about how the campaign had sparked a romance between the two. Crystal and Chase were officially TOTS royalty.
Todd Acker also ran that year. A self-proclaimed outcast, he encouraged the student body to write in votes for Satan on election day. In fact, his campaign had been modelled on Crystal’s, complete with bubble font posters (slogan: Vote for Satan Just for the Hell of It) and candy-grams. In the end, Satan garnered an impressive 10% of the vote.
When our English teacher, Mr. Cadwallader, said we could sit at tables with whomever we wanted that year, we were shocked and amazed. Unassigned seating? TABLES? How bohemian! Crystal immediately secured three tables for members of TOTS, and stood guard as people scrambled for positions.
I did not take a place at a TOTS table. I didn’t own a single Esprit sweater, and wasn’t allowed to watch television on weeknights. Surely, my membership was a fluke, secured in part by dating the assistant captain of the hockey team. What was I supposed to do? Just walk over and take a seat at one of the best tables? Jesus, no. Instead, I walked past Crystal, and took the chair offered at a table with Howard Feener, Burpee Lutz (named after his grandfather), and Todd Acker.
Insecurities aside, my table mates seemed like a solid choice. Burpee had once told me that his uncle was decapitated by chainsaw, and I hoped to hear more about it. Howard was an egghead, all too happy to share fun facts about whatever he’d read most recently in a scientific journal. And Todd? Well, Todd had successfully managed Satan’s campaign for class president. Todd was the sort of guy popular kids feared, because Todd didn’t give a shit about anything. Not his clothes, not what you thought of him, and certainly not about anyone randomly selected to rule a piece of high school real estate.
Crystal turned around in her seat and glared at me. “Why are you sitting there?” she hissed. “With them?” It was just like the peer pressure my parents had warned me about – it was finally happening! I felt just like Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink. Or was I Blane? Regardless, I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t completely confident in my social ranking, so I whispered, “Because I like them?”
Burpee beamed. Howard nodded vigorously, and smiled an extra-wide fake smile for the girls at Crystal’s table. But Todd wasn’t having it. “Maybe she doesn’t feel the need to sit with a bunch of self-important airheads,” he snarled. “Bag your face, Crystal.” (That was a pretty decent insult in those days.) Crystal turned bright red, whipped around in her seat, and refused to acknowledge Todd for the rest of the year. Not that Todd cared.
If TOTS had accepted pledges, Carl Beazley would have been first in line requesting initiation. Carl was a lurker. He had a way of turning up when you least expected, as if hoping to accidentally sneak his way into a group of cool kids. Let’s face it, if you were a member of TOTS, you had it made, and this concept was not at all lost on Carl.
Carl dressed from head to toe in black, except for a brief phase of Hawaiian shirts that he’d hoped might make him seem more playful. He wore thick glasses, had a head of thinning black hair, and a wispy pencil moustache. Brooding and soulful, he was so scrawny that my friend Sherrie claimed to have seen the wind pick him up as he walked across a street one day. “I didn’t think we’d ever see him again,” Sherrie said, “I was legitimately concerned!”
Always the odd man out, Carl could best be defined as eccentric. Playing an instrument in the school concert band? Perfectly acceptable. Rocking the keytar (solo) during a pep rally? Not so much. Members of the hockey team lip syncing to Duran Duran at the annual talent show? Oddly acceptable. Reading your own dark poetry as you choke back tears? Not remotely acceptable, Carl.
“I can’t wait to move to Europe,” Carl would say, “Because Europeans appreciate the arts.”
When it came to love, Carl was an unrestricted free agent. No matter if the object of his affection had a boyfriend; threats of physical violence are lost on the perpetually heartbroken. When other students were participating in extra curricular activities like basketball and the yearbook committee, Carl spent his afternoons telephoning every girl in my class. Accepting his phone calls meant, in Carl’s mind, that a door to romance had been opened, and there was no shutting that door once his foot was jammed in there. In the days before call display, a girl was really held hostage. Screening calls was nearly impossible, for the risk of accidentally missing a call from someone you actually wanted to talk to was high. Things were made all the more complicated when Carl began adopting new accents on a weekly basis. If your dad said some guy from Poland had left a message for you, you knew it was probably Carl, but possibly the cute exchange student from Poland.
When phone calls didn’t wear a girl’s defenses down, Carl moved on to lengthy written appeals. Letters proclaiming his love and devotion, jam-packed with plagiarized song lyrics and requests for “just one magical evening together.” Most of his notes passed through the hands of every twelfth grader within 24 hours of delivery. Todd Acker shook his head after yet another letter had made the rounds. “It’s like he can’t help himself, you know? My god, Carl, HELP YOURSELF!”
After graduation, Carl went quiet. I hadn’t heard from him in years, which made it all the more surprising when he suddenly appeared at my workplace, loudly serenading me from the sidewalk. Dressed in a black suit topped with a flowing cape and fedora, he played his guitar aggressively and sang at the top of his lungs as passersby shot me sympathetic looks through the window. After several relentless days of cape flapping and crooning, a male colleague stepped in and gently suggested that Carl move on, which I was entirely grateful for. I knew it was hard to be Carl, but dammit, it was also hard to be loved by Carl.
I ran into Crystal Lutz and Todd Acker at our 25-year reunion. They’d started dating shortly after Crystal’s marriage to Chase Marshall fell apart. Crystal told me that she had been called to the Top Hat tavern to collect The Duke after he’d had a few too many (again). But when she arrived, Chase didn’t want to leave, and they began to argue.
“It was bad,” Crystal said. “Chase had never hit me before, but he was so drunk. He shoved me, and I fell backward into some chairs. All of a sudden,” her eyes widened, “Carl Beazley swooped in from out of nowhere, wearing this ridiculous black cape, and broke things up!”
“And sure,” Todd added, “he broke things up by putting his face in front of Chase’s fist, but it did the trick.” Todd went on to say that when the cops arrived they were thrown by Carl’s cape, and immediately placed him in handcuffs. After Crystal did some explaining, they realized their mistake, removed the cuffs, and charged Chase with assault.
One evening, as I watched the evening news, I saw a fisherman being interviewed about a dramatic water rescue at Hall’s Harbour. Apparently, a woman had been exploring the ocean floor and got stranded on some rocks when the tide started rolling in. A call had been placed to the water rescue team, but before the boats could get there, the woman was caught up in a violent current, struggling against the rising waters of the Bay of Fundy. The fisherman told the reporter about a man who seemed to appear out of nowhere, who then removed his large cloak and swam out to help the woman.
“It was a terrible struggle,” he said. “That man was maybe a buck twenty soaking wet, but he managed to pull her in, goddammit. Cripes, I’ve seen more meat on a lobster.”
Once close to shore, a rescue team was able to drag the pair to safety, after which they were taken to hospital for observation. The hero was, according to the reporter, a local named Carl Beazley.
Of course, six weeks later, the woman Carl saved at Hall’s Harbour had filed a restraining order against him. But to be fair, she may have given him the wrong impression when she let him save her life.