Misfits come in all shapes and sizes, at least Alton Ellis did. He was 6’4″ easy, though his clothes were 5’8″. He had a huge pimply nose in the middle of a huge pimply face with thick nightcrawler lips and tiny little eyes. Framing this lovely portrait was a bail of unruly weathered hay, yellow, gray, and dirty, that Alton parted on the side with his thick fingers every few minutes. When he did so his blond eyelashes fluttered involuntarily and his nightcrawler lips twitched.
Alton and I spent a good amount of time together over our junior high years. Our older sisters were good friends, so I found myself a captive in the Ellis house occasionally simply because I was in the car when my sister decided to drop by for a spontaneous visit. In fact, we stopped at the Ellis house on the day I bought KISS’s atrocious Unmasked album, so my last hour as a KISS fan was spent in Alton’s piss-soaked bedroom.
We played Dungeons & Dragons together in junior high, too, along with Lee G. and the band geeks. Alton always wanted to be dungeon master. He’d sit behind his DM screen, obsessively running a paw through his wiry hair and fluttering and twitching.
But like most of my junior high acquaintances Alton and I drifted apart in high school. All we had in common was English class. I was drifting away from high school best I could, and Alton was trying to dock his boat at any port that would take him. He went out for sports, band, yearbook, newspaper, everything. In the hallways before school he flitted from clique to clique like a shaved gorilla in a butterfly costume. [Note: The previous line is for your Nobel consideration.]
The beauty of pee-stained Alton was that he had absolutely no notion that he wasn’t supposed to fit in, and because of that he did okay. If I remember right he rose to the ranks of yearbook editor, but that was down the road a bit. For now Alton and I were tenth grade misfits in the same post-lunch English class.
I had my place at lunch now with Sherri, Lee G., and Matt. Alton, on the other hand, gorillaflied his way from clique to clique after lunch, which is how he found himself hanging with the rednecks out at the Herb Curb one afternoon. They were too far away to hear, but I could see them. He seemed to be hanging okay, and then Todd Poteat pulled a pouch of Red Man from his back pocket. He grabbed himself a big old chaw, then he tipped the pouch toward Alton.
There was a subtle hesitation. I don’t know that I would’ve picked up on it had I not seen Alton hesitate so many times while deciding whether to lie about his dungeon master die roll. But I had, so I saw that millisecond pause before Alton crammed that pork chop of a hand into Todd’s chaw pouch and emptied it. He crammed the wad into his cheek and the boys went back to cutting up. It looked to me like Alton Ellis finally found a home.
After lunch it was back to the boredom of Miss Foster’s English class. We both sat in the front row, Alton directly in front of the teacher’s desk and I near the door. Miss Foster blathered about diphthongs and reticulated prepositional rotator cuffs. I forgot to bring a book to read, and after earning a “C” on my Bowie magnum opus I wouldn’t dare turn to the paintings in the middle of my textbook. She might think I was following along with her lecture, and I couldn’t have that. I’ll just flunk English — that’ll show her. So Miss Foster lectured and I slouched deeply to demonstrate my disinterest.
I wasn’t the only one that she was boring, apparently. I looked over and there was Alton, passed out on his open textbook. Before I had time to even register a thought his beady eyes burst open and locked onto mine. I couldn’t look way — it was like something out of a Stephen King movie. This one’s for you, he seemed to say, and then Mt. Saint Alton erupted in a geyser of sloppy joe, chocolate milk, and tobacco juice. The room was silent but for the drip, drip, drip from desk to floor.
I really have no point here, and I don’t have any music, either. I guess I just figured that if I had to live through that moment then so should you, but if it makes the story go down easier let’s say T. Rex’s “Buick Mackane” was playing in the background. Why not? Alton was selling the hell out of them all afternoon.
Related “Why It Matters” pieces:
– KISS’s Unmasked breaks my heart: https://jamesostafford.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/18-if-never-i-met-you/
– Miss Foster’s English class: https://jamesostafford.wordpress.com/2012/01/30/62-turn-and-face-the-strange/