, January 2021

In the southwest corner of the cafeteria at the Alfred G. Berner Ninth Grade School, Carl, sitting across from Eric, dumped the contents of his brown paper bag onto the table, and, as usual, pushed aside the little red box of Sun Maid raisins—

“Why does your mother even pack those if you never eat them?” Eric asked.

“Sometimes I do.”

“I’ve never seen you.”

“Do you want them?”


“Then what do you care?”

“You should throw one at Mark.”

Mark sat three tables away. At some point in the distant past, before Carl moved to Massapequa, Eric used to be friends with Mark, but they had some sort of falling out. Mark was in all the smart classes with Eric.

“Why don’t you do it?” Carl asked. “He’s your friend.”

“I have terrible aim. Didn’t you used to play baseball or something? You should throw it.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Why? Are you afraid of Mark?”


“Are you yellow?”



“Are you going to call me ‘chicken’ next?”

“Your tail, sir, is between your legs.”

“Yeah, okay.”



Carl opened the box. Most of the raisins were clumped together, but he shook a couple loose. His first attempt missed badly. His second landed on the table in front of Mark, who looked up and saw Carl and Eric laughing, and gave them back a ha-ha, very funny look.

“You still didn’t hit him,” Eric said.

Carl shook out another raisin and tossed it. The shriveled grape arced high over the two tables between them and Mark, on a trajectory that would take it through the fingernail-sized space between Mark’s eyebrow and the top of his glasses frames. As if it had been a hornet and not a Sun Maid that had flown into his eye, he leapt from his seat yelling, “Shit! Motherfucker!”, knocking his chair backwards, which landed hard and caught the attention of Mr. Gambaro, the health teacher and former sixth-string backup quarterback of the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that went 0-14, who was in charge of the cafeteria during the first lunch period.

A hush fell over the room as Mark put his glasses back on, then steamed towards Carl and Eric’s table. Hovering over Carl, he said, “Excuse me, sir, would you care to step outside?”

Eric laughed.

“We’re not allowed to step outside for another ten minutes,” Carl said.

“Then let’s go. Right here. I call you out.”

The room gasped.

“Settle down, tough guy,” Carl said, hoping Mr. Gambaro would be there any second to put a stop to this, but the failed QB had been bred in the old school, on the fringes of the National Football League, and down at the marina running errands for Johnnie “Meatball” Panini, so he was willing to allow a quick scrap to get it out of their systems—

“Right now, unless you’re yellow.”

“That’s it,” Carl said, pounding his fist on the table and rising swiftly from his seat, prompting a cheer from the cafeteria. He turned to acknowledge the crowd, leaving himself open to be blindsided by a right hook to the side of his jaw. It wasn’t a hard punch and Carl shook it off, then cocked his powerful right arm, which had won him two-dozen bowling trophies going back to first grade, and was about to go Bo Burton on his teeth when Mr. Gambaro grabbed his arm from behind—

“Rocky, Drago, fight’s over,” he said. “Both of you, to the Main Office.”

Each received in-school suspensions. Letters signed by the principal were mailed to both households. Carl had his Commodore 64 and television removed from his room for a month. Both served their suspensions in the Attendance Office, with two desks brought in from the study hall/detention room and placed on either side of a tall file cabinet used by the Attendance Officer, Mrs. Lipfvschitz. Their teachers had given them assignments to complete during the day and both worked quietly, seeing only each other’s feet.

When Mrs. Lipfvschitz finally stepped away for a moment, Carl could bear the silence no longer—

“Sorry about this,” he said.

“You are a loser,” Mark said, “and a loser you shall remain for as long as you are friends with Eric.” ▪