Sometimes people don’t know how to stay out of trouble until they get a swift reality check by, say, ending up in jail. Enter my high school friend Toby. He was a pimply, freckle-faced kid with hair leaning more toward strawberry than blond, prompting a lot of discussion among the girls in my class.
Toby was on the periphery of my social group and another social group. In the Venn diagram of high school cliques, straddling two groups put one in a kind of teenage wasteland. (The Who, anyone?) Not a good thing when you’re seventeen and trying desperately to fit in. Toby did the only thing he could do in that situation: he resorted to hijinks. The class clowns were a group all their own, equally liked, but not respected by, the jocks, the nerds, the basket cases, the potheads, the drama geeks and the princesses. Everyone that is except the Goths (never the Goths).
Toby had to resort to bigger and bolder shenanigans to get the same laughs. His was a world of depreciating returns. In the spirit of go-big-or-go-home, he decided his craziest stunt would take place during our senior class trip.
Our trip was so hyped it was nearly a rite of passage. Every senior class had gone to the same place since the beginning of time (or the 1960s, which to us was the same thing). Older brothers and sisters had returned with tales that shocked and amazed. We were going to Disney World, where, for one night, they would close the Magic Kingdom to the general public. Graduating seniors from around the region would converge on the park from dusk to dawn. It would be our first of many all-nighters.
My friends and I made a beeline for Space Mountain in the Tomorrowland section of the park. Unsure which group he should cling to, Toby tagged along with us. We tried to shake him, stopping at the bathroom and concession stand. But, to his credit, he wouldn’t be deterred. The more daring maneuvers we used to escape, the more he amped up his side show. It was the only quality he could rely on. He goofed around by spilling ketchup on the floor and then slipping in it. He let the swinging doors of a saloon in Frontierland hit him in the face, which led to a nasty bruise. He gave his jacket to Pluto and stuffed wads of napkins in his pockets. Sleeping Beauty wouldn’t come near him. How were we going to attract the Shaun Cassidys of the senior class if Jack Tripper wouldn’t leave us alone?
After waiting on line at Space Mountain for 900 hours (about five minutes in adult time), we boarded our “space capsule.” What made this roller coaster unique was that the ride unfolded mostly in the dark, except for a section with illuminated strips on the walls to serve the illusion that we were going faster than we really were.
Meanwhile all of Toby’s social frustrations were bubbling to the surface. He’d worked so hard to be the talk of the school to no avail. Toby decided to carpe diem (probably having watched Dead Poet’s Society one too many times). He was going to stand up and be noticed. So he decided to literally stand up. In the capsule. In middle of the ride.
I can imagine how the breeze blew through his strawberry curls while he was fist pumping the air a la John Bender from The Breakfast Club — for a full two seconds. That was how long it took for the ride to whiplash us to a halt and the lights to flick on inside the vast caldron that was Space Mountain. Because, while none of his friends were able to see him carpe diem, all of the Disney night-vision monitors were.
The ride was temporarily closed while the Disney workers hurried along the catwalks next to the tracks to apprehend Toby. We muttered at him under our breaths and shook our heads in disgust. They carted him off to Disney jail, located in the vast network of tunnels underneath Cinderella’s castle. At the end of the evening, Toby was released on his own recognizance for the long ride home. He sat at the front of the bus with the teachers and chaperones, his social death knell. When I caught a glimpse of him in the driver’s rear view mirror, I saw him smiling.
“Why did you do it?” I asked him the following week, after he’d served two days of suspension from school. “You could have gotten hurt, and worse, you ruined the ride for all of us.”
He shrugged with his dopey grin. “Now you’ll have a cool story to tell about me.”
All these years later, I guess he was right.
Have you ever done something unusual to get noticed? Have a great weekend, everyone!