Quote of the Day, Love: Oscar Wilde

To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

The World's Greatest Thief

Shorts was a thief. He  was either the best or the worst thief ever, depending how you look at it. Wearing tight very short nylon running shorts every day, his pudgy legs stuck out painfully bare and covering much too little for modesty, fashion, or good taste. Rain or shine, he wore one of two pairs with high knee socks and anything from a t-shirt to a full winter coat on top. That winter, his pale legs turned pink from the exposure to the cold, but he never complained. He never said much of anything really. A matching shade of beige, his hair and face would have blended together if not for his rosy cheeks which provided some distinction and gave him the look of a very large baby. Despite his quiet demeanor, Shorts drove an extravagant early ‘60s Jaguar that, even at a fairly wealthy school, garnered him attention. Walking  to my 1976 yellow station wagon each day, I saw him repeat the same ritual of getting in his car. First, he wrapped a cream colored scarf around his neck, pulled kid driving gloves on and then donned large black sunglasses. Then he revved the motor which sounded like an outboard boat in its revolutions and drove out of sight. Despite the fact that he left the top off of the car, the interior gleamed with soft leather and dark wood paneling as the elements could not touch  the vehicle.It was protected. And like Shorts, its appearance could divert even a person in the deepest train of thought for a second or two.Though  I never knew his first name, his middle name definitely should have been Mysterious. As for the sports car, the joke went around that  he saved enough money from never buying full length jeans or trousers so he could afford the car.Maybe he was onto something.
 No one remembered when Shorts first appeared in school. It seemed like he had always  and never been there. Looking for him in all of the yearbooks from grade four through high school, I could find  neither name nor photo. To this day, I can’t remember his real name; no one could, and in reference to his apparel, he was dubbed Shorts.  Shorts never talked in class and no one ever saw him hanging out with other people.  Maybe he was hiding in plain site or maybe his outrageous clothing was a way he eluded suspicion. As it turned out, he had other, more important, things on his mind.
German class was dull. The teacher Herr Olsen, had a much younger wife who had just run off with their electrician and the ensuing divorce had left him simultaneously raw and in a constant fog. On a typical day, he would assign reading and vocabulary and then return to his desk and stare out the window. At first, this seemed great to have that freedom, but after a few weeks of chatting and writing notes, we all had exhausted our repertoire we and resorted to writing goofy skits to perform for each other and then we’d gossip or do homework for other classes. Each student had to choose a German name and though we were supposed to call each other by them for practice, we never did. Except in Shorts' case. It seemed more decent somehow to call him Norbert than to constantly refer to his very skimpy trousers.
On that eventful day, Herr Olsen didn’t even try to give a lesson and sat in the back of the room sipping vodka out of his thermos. Shorts sat on the other end of the room with is back to the far wall. Next to him, sat Matt, the star running back from the football team. On the other end of the room,  I had a huge crush on the guy who sat in front of me and paid little attention to the other side of the room. Every subtle clue that Seventeen Magazine published, I tried to no avail. Subtle doesn't play well in high school and I wasn't willing to move on to obvious or desperate. Working on a skit involving aliens and soccer, Jason stood next to me and reached his arm out to touch my head as directed in the script. Before he could speak though, we all heard a loud accusatory, “Where is it?”
Matt glared at Shorts, “Look Norbert I had it on the desk just a second ago and now it’s gone. Have you seen it? Did you accidentally pick it up? Anyone?"
The class fell silent with tension and for a short second, Herr Olsen snapped out of his gloom and looked around the room. We all wondered if he would finally do something, but he didn’t and a second later, he  returned to his regularly scheduled programming. Scientific calculators were expensive then, and even in an upper-middle class suburb, losing one did not guarantee getting another any time soon. Jason’s hand snapped back to his side as he strode to the other side of the room.
“Here, I'll help, " he said. The room was otherwise frozen in anticipation. I looked at each person casually and every face wore an expression of excited curiosity mixed with an undertone of a bloodthirsty mob mentality. Everyone that is, except Shorts.  His face remained expressionless and calm even when the six-foot-three  Matt towered over his seated figure and with a barely hidden fury said,
“Come on Norbert, could you at least look in your bag? Maybe you put it there accidentally.”
Shorts didn’t answer. He just blinked his eyes not focused on anything particular.
‘Dude, what’s the problem?” Jason asked bluntly.
As the episode unfolded, I focused my attention on Shorts’ expression. Even his cheeks remained an unchanging shade of pink.
“I’ll look in my bag, hang on,” said Renee who sat on the other side of him.
We all waited, “Nope, just my books and a lipstick, but you’re free to look if you want Matt.
“No problem,“ he said, “I just can’t afford to lose another one of these. My dad will be furious and I’m having a hard enough time in Trig.”
All at once, the rest of the class followed suit opening their backpacks and showing each other the contents.  All silent resolve, Jason and Matt walked around the room, looking under tables, and near the door.
Shorts remained motionless and a minute later his cloak of invisibility dissolved.Suddenly he was in the spotlight and no diversionary tactics worked.
“Come on Shorts,” Matt was angry now. “At least look!”
Shorts made eye contact with Matt, quietly clapped his hands together, and then, suddenly sprinted out of the room in a blur of beige and blue. Come to think of it, maybe they really were running shorts after all. Puzzled and surprised, we all whispered feverishly back and forth. Jason pulled Shorts’ huge duffle bag to the table, unzipped it, and dumped its contents out on the desk. Some twenty -three calculators, twelve pairs of sunglasses, two car radios, a bunch of staplers, pens, a ream of bright green paper, and what appeared to be a desiccated tuna sandwich spilled out clattering together as they landed. Matt searched the contents and found two calculators with his name engraved on the back. As it turned out, all but three of them were engraved and belonged to someone other than Shorts.  By that time, Shorts was probably on the road and Herr Olsen never inquired about the disruption. Shorts was not punished, at least not by the school
No one ever saw Shorts after that day. For a while, I debated if he even existed or if he was some kind of magical or interdimensional creature, or maybe an imp.
 A few weeks later, Herr Olsen snapped out of his funk and took attendance, “Birgit, check, Tomas, check, Norbert, no Norbert eh?”
That attendance sheet is the only official record of Shorts I remember. He never took yearbook photos and didn’t come up in conversation. Despite the dramatic episode, no one ever talked about him again. 
A few weeks later, the orchestra drove to Canada for a contest and as our bus crossed the border, I saw a beautiful green sports car. A short beige boy with a cream scarf drove with a gorgeous willowy brunette throwing her head back and laughing  in the passenger seat. Was it Shorts? To this day I'm not sure.  I picture him eternally seventeen years old making the rounds of rich schools, all the time, planning his next heist while folding and stacking hundreds of pairs of identical shorts. And when his job is done, he pulls on his drivers gloves and disappears into the thin air from whence he came.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Funny katie, hiding in plain site.