There were those who just couldn’t keep up. There was this one fat kid from the neighborhood named Eugene that we used to call “Gene-Gene the Dancing Machine.” We didn’t really hang out with him very much, but he was always around. I first got to know him in sixth-grade gym class, when he tried to impress us by telling us which girls were still virgins. He’d walk behind them in gym class and look at their butts. He said if her butt-cheeks moved up and down, she was still a virgin. If they moved side to side, she had done the dirty deed. One day when we went out to the bridge, he brought of car load of his friends along to swim. Unlike everyone else, Gene didn’t’ jump off the bridge: he walked down the embankment and waded into the water.
The idea hit us all at the same time: if Gene wanted to run with the big dogs, we were going to baptize his ass. When the moment was right, we were going to throw him off the bridge. After an hour or two of swimming, we were drying off, standing on the trestle. Butch made his move. He said he spotted a school of fish in the water and we could nail them with rocks. We all ran out to the middle and Gene followed. We started throwing rocks, shouting “There they are.” Gene took the bait and look into the water. He had fallen into the trap. We surrounded and closed in for the kill. When he saw us circling, he realized he’d been set up. Within second, he threw the most epic hissy fit ever seen in Central Illinois.
He threw himself to the ground, grabbed onto the steel rails of the train track, wrapped his arms and legs around it, and screamed, “No, no, no! I’ll drown, I’ll drown.” His face turned red; he shook with fear. A cloud of white dust from the train bed rose up and caked his hair and face, and the tears left lines on his face. He refused to let go of the track. With his eyes closed, he screamed: “No, no, no! I’ll drown, I’ll drown.” He was sure that the fall would kill him, and there was no way we could pry him off the tracks. When he began to hyperventilate, we stopped in our tracks, fearful that he’d have a heart attack right then and there. Were we being mean? Maybe, but then again, we didn’t expect anything from him we didn’t expect from ourselves, and maybe it was just karma. Checking out all of those girls’ backsides in gym class was bound to have consequences. We left him there in the dust, holding onto the tracks for dear life.
Gene never got over it. Everyone saw him in a different light after that. His friends didn’t even come to help him. When I ran into him in the hallways of our high school, he refused to make eye contact with me, perhaps fearful that I’d remind him of his epic freak out. So, that was it for Gene-Gene the Dancing Machine; he never tried to hang out with us again. His moment of truth was disaster, the kind of failure that could make a lesser man contemplate changing his name and leaving town.
The next year there was a drought and the water level at the lake dropped several feet. In doing so, it exposed railroad ties stuck into the mud. If we had fallen on any of them, we’d have been seriously injured. After that, we never returned to the bridge. We found other thrills, some of which were equally as reckless, but I guess that’s a part of growing up.
Cross-posted at My Ongoing Struggle with Misanthropy: http://jimmygabacho.com/?p=899