Lancelot and the Big Bang
by Rick Beck
For the first few weeks the boys were nodding acquaintances. Lance could be sure that his roommate would be up in his perch reading when he came in from late afternoon practice. A few times he was still out but mostly he had settled in before Lance arrived. This gave Lance little alone time. He hadn't needed alone time, or even thought about it, until he moved in with Bang.
Now all his friends were scattered far and wide. Even when they were together at practice, the old camaraderie seemed to be missing. When Lance got back to his dorm room, instead of dozens of screaming overactive jocks swirling around him, there was Bang and his book in his bunk. Bang was a strange bird.
"Candy on the dresser," Bang said as he arrived one evening. "It's chocolate with caramel. My favorite. I can't stop eating it."
"No thanks," Lance said, dumping his books out of his backpack.
"Go ahead. It's a big box and I'll just eat it all. I've got to watch my weight you know."
"No, thanks. I'm in training."
"You're in training?" Bang said, taking his nose out of his book to look at Lance as he peeled out of his red and white soccer shirt.
"Yeah, we aren't supposed to eat junk."
"You aren't supposed to live?" Bang said, going back to his book.
"What's that mean?" Lance said, taking offense. "You always got some wise-ass thing to say to me."
"You guys are such fine Nazis. You think because you follow all the orders of your over-sized coaches that you are doing some great and noble thing, kicking that ball, or whatever it is you do with your balls. It's a game. Games are nice when you're playing them, but you can't play your life away. One day there won't be any more games, no more practice, and no more training. What do you do when that day comes?"
"We're athletes. You wouldn't understand discipline and responsibility. You are only responsible to you. I'm responsible to my team. I do what's right because it helps the team. The team is everything."
"I rest my case. What's it do for you, Lance?" Bang asked, chewing another piece of candy he took off his chest. He was trying not to lose his patience.
"I told you I'm disciplined, I'm conditioned, and I'm on the first team. I play for my school. What do you do for your school besides take up space?"
"Pavlov's dog was conditioned. You are brainwashed to think kicking a ball is important to someone. It's a game!"
"Pavlov's dog? You are out there. We're talking about excellence. We're talking about pride and loyalty. School spirit. What's that got to do with some dude's stupid dog?"
"I study, and do all that I can to make sure I'm the best biochemist I can possibly be once I graduate. You don't think it takes discipline to study ten hours a day, and apply what I learn in class? What are you going to do when you graduate? Kick your balls to entertain your friends? What happens when you can't kick your balls any longer?"
"I'll be fine. Don't spend your time worrying about me."
"How much intellect does it take to kick a ball, Lance? I'd bet it doesn't take much. You've been sold a bill of goods by a bureaucracy that will use you up and throw you away once you're toast. You'll find that out, once they're finished with you and you are forced to open your eyes. You will end up with a degree that's absolutely no good to you outside the athletic circles you play in. If you aren't a star, you'll end up a has-been at twenty-two. Less than one tenth of one percent of all athletes is that kind of star."
"I'll be fine."
"I hope so, Lance. You seem like a nice guy. You really do. I'm not cutting you down for believing in what you do, but I am telling you to prepare for your future so you aren't left standing out in the cold."
"I'm taking a piece of candy, okay? Jesus, I would have taken it right off if we could have avoided this conversation. Why are you always making jocks the bad guys? We aren't the bad guys. I'm not going to fight with you over what I am."
"Probably a good idea. Sorry about that, I tend to say what I think, and then regret it. Just forget what I said. You're right. You'll be fine. They'll take care of you forever."
"You don't believe I'll be all right or you wouldn't have brought it up. You ever knew a jock before?" Lance asked, sitting on his bunk where he could no longer see Bang, and pulling off his shoes. "We're not the enemy. I have no need to defend who I am. I'm not going to fight with you."
"OK, maybe you aren't. You notice my mouth. The front tooth right under my funny eyes."
"Oh, Jesus. Unusual! Unusual! Unusual! Your eyes are unusual, Bang. I didn't mean funny, okay!"
"Apology accepted, but we are talking about my funny teeth not my weird eyes. You do have trouble staying focused on the conversation."
"What conversation? You've been busting my balls since I came in. Yeah, one corner of your tooth is kinda chipped off, and you got unusual eyes just above there," he said softly, making every effort to calm down before he got angrier.
"I was eleven when one of your type made me eat the floor, because I was on top of the Honor Roll when he couldn't even spell Honor Roll. I got tossed down a flight of stairs in high school for similar reasons. Just sprained my wrist and had some bruises from that little lesson, hardly worth talking about that one. My head was flushed in the toilet a couple of times, once while football players pissed in it. Yes, I've known jocks all my life. I've been the recipient of their mighty mental midgetry. I'll get the last laugh after they're out on the street bumming quarters and I'm running my own company."
"Some of us aren't mean or stupid," Lance said. "Sorry about your tooth. I didn't do it. I didn't piss in the toilet or throw you down the stairs. I don't do that kind of thing. The candy was good."
"Have another," Bang said. "I insist."
"No, thank you. On second thought, I think I will," Lance said, reaching for another piece and making sure Bang saw him actually take one and pop it into his mouth. He slipped it into his shoe once he was out of Bang's sight.
"I never said you were all stupid, even though I don't see you hitting the books very often."
"That's because I read in my bed like you are always doing."
"Funny, I always thought that snoring meant you were sleeping. I guess there is a lot I don't know about you guys after all."
"Yeah, well, I have time to read between classes and I don't snore. Why am I explaining this to you? I ate the damn candy. Can't we drop it now? I'm a useless jock. You are one of the great minds of our time. Any time!"
"What's your major?" Bang asked, not really wanting to know.
"Phys Ed, what else do dumb jocks major in?" Lance said, regretting it immediately.
There was no reply. Lance was sure Bang was holding his hand over his mouth as he snickered. He hadn't given too much thought to his future. As long as he could play competitive soccer, he was happy. He loved sports and there was something about it that left him exhausted at the end of each day. Too exhausted to keep his nose in some boring book. His grades were high enough to keep him on the team and that's all he cared about.
What was he going to do after college, he wondered? He stopped wondering about Bang's reaction and started thinking about his options.
"I wasn't one of the guys who kicked your ass. I've never picked on other guys. I'm not like that."
"I never said you were. They didn't kick my ass. They physically abused me because in their small minds that made them superior to me. They proved their superiority by means of physical force. It's the curse of our universe left over from caveman days. The strong force their will on the weak because they can. I understand that. I don't blame you. They're Cro-Magnon and you are harmless."
"They were just kids."
"They're going to grow up. They are going to grow up thinking that if you use enough physical force against a weaker foe, you win. It proves nothing."
"I need a towel."
"In the drawer."
"In the drawer."
Two weeks later, Lance came in from practice to find Bang sitting at his Mac.
"What's up?" Lance said, sitting on his bunk and pulling off his shoes, letting each bounce on the floor as he looked over at Bang.
"Did you know that 7% of physical education programs in secondary schools have been cut back or eliminated over the past five years?"
"If you mean there aren't as many Phys Ed teachers as there once were, yeah, I've been told," he said. "I'm too tired to shower."
"You're too smelly not to shower."
"Bitch! Bitch! Bitch! What are you doing smelling me anyway?"
"Believe me, it's no olfactory treat. Go shower, Lance."
"Why do you have so much trouble speaking English? Let me rest a minute and I'll shower."
Lance leaned back on his bed as Bang continued looking into his computer screen.
"Did you know that a Phys Ed teacher with a History or English certificate is twice as likely to pick up one of the jobs as a similarly qualified teacher with a Science or Math certificate?"
"No, I can honestly say I didn't know that, and why are you telling me? And what about those of us who have no burdensome certificates to clog up our resume'?"
"Good luck," Bang offered.
"Besides, I'm lousy in English. I do know a verb from a noun. Sometimes, anyway! It's all those clauses and dangling participants that cause all the trouble. There are too many rules. It's always like this except when it's like that. Great language, English? I'm going to learn it one day."
"What about history? Nothing left dangling in history."
"I don't know," Lance said. "I've always liked history. It's one of my better subjects. Not that there are many to choose from. Science and Math are most definitely out."
"When was the war of 1812?" Bang asked.
"Very funny, Banger. We aren't all retarded, much as you'd like to believe that. Why are you telling me this shit? I already got kicked to shit today. You want a piece of me, too?" Lance asked as he checked a bruise on his thigh before stretching his arms up onto Bang's bed. "Man, am I tired."
"Someone had to work at it to kick you up there. A little to the left and you'd be singing soprano in the Vienna Boy's Choir," Bang said, looking over his shoulder at his roommate.
"How much does it pay?" Lance said, yanking off his socks and tossing them in the middle of the floor as Bang watched their flight.
"Do you know how obnoxious that is, Lancelot? I really hate that smell. How can anyone's feet smell that bad?"
"I don't know," he said, collapsing back on the bed. "Do you know how obnoxious this conversation is?"
"I can smell them and they reek. Please, take them and your stinky body and bathe them before you come back in here and then maybe I'll tell you how to increase your odds of getting one of those vaunted gym teacher jobs."
"Physical Education Instructor, thank you," he said, forcing himself up out of his bunk and standing in the middle of the floor over his abandoned socks. Yanking his shorts and jock to his knees, he fondled himself as Bang shook his head at the exhibition. "Why are you bugging me about this petty shit? Can't you see I'm in distress here? I've played hard all afternoon. Can't we talk about this academic crap some other time?"
"Yeah, well, I was just thinking about our conversation the other day. I checked out some details with my counselor when I was over at the Student Union. These are facts you should have so you're better equipped to make decisions about your future, if you're really serious about teaching some day. I'm making a file with all the information in it, for when you have time to look it over."
"I'm equipped just fine, thank you," he said, fondling himself some more before checking another bruise on the same leg. "I never said I was going to teach, anyway. What I said was, I might be going to teach. You never pay attention to anything I say, do you?"
"Well, I'm still waiting for you to say something. Why do you know about the cutbacks on Phys Ed, and why are you taking Phys Ed if you aren't going to be a gym teacher? Would you put a towel on or something?" Bang said. "What happened to the guy who was afraid I might see his tally whacker way back when?"
"Getting you all hot and bothered am I, Banger? Being an athlete does have its advantages. I am a stud. Everyone wants me."
"You don't have anything I haven't seen more of on any number of nerds I've known. Besides, you smell."
"Oh, low blow. You know how to hurt a guy. Nerds have more than I do? Ekk! I hold my own with the ladies, my man. I don't see any stumbling out of your bunk come morning. And how is it you know what other nerds got, anyway? I heard about you studious types. You all chum up and do what you do together, because no self-respecting babe is going to do you."
"There aren't rules against that, like with candy, and bending over to pick up the soap in the shower, or help your buddies out now and again? How strange. Everything else in your life is regulated. What is it you jocks do, when you need to do something with that thing?"
"That's not even funny. You must have me confused with one of your fudge-packing nerd buddies. I've heard all about you brainiacs. I must admit, it would take some real brain power to talk someone into letting you stuff that puppy up their butt."
"You've been peeking, Lancelot, and by the look of things our conversation has struck a chord with you. I must admit, that you are battle ready."
Lance cursed his bravado, blushing when he realized the stiffening of his resolve had been noticed. He always lost the battle of words with Bang and now his body betrayed him too.
"Don't get any ideas. I may have hit a dry spell with the ladies, but it doesn't have me getting the urge to switch hit. It does that all by itself."
"But Lancelot, it's a well known fact that when there is an absence of female companionship, males at times turn to other males for sexual gratification. It's a peculiarity most frequently seen among military men, prison inmates, and certain adolescent male athletic types, prone to exhibitionism to bring attention to their genitalia in the hope that they might elicit a response from a like-minded... adolescent."
"Who you calling adolescent? I'm as mature as you. I've seen you looking at my butt. Don't even think about it," Lance said, yanking the drawer out of the dresser so hard that it slid onto the floor. He carefully picked out a towel, replacing the drawer after wrapping the towel around his waist.
"I'm every bit as mature as you," Lance added.
"Of course you are."
"Quit agreeing with me. I know I need to grow up. You don't need to point it out to me."
"It's only a joke, Lance. I didn't mean to piss you off. Please, don't break the towel. Yes, you are a stud and I'm sure the ladies find you irresistible, but only after you shower."
"Don't make much difference if I shower or not. I never have any time to look for girls. I might as well join you fudge packers. At least I'd get some every now and then."
"Yes, well I'll keep that in mind. In the meantime you can take it into the shower and go a couple of rounds with a bar of soap. It'll keep you from thinking about it all night. Just do it over the drain and not under the shower where polite types might step in it."
"Very funny. Is that how you handle the problem? How come you never talk about women, anyway? I don't recall us ever once discussing women. That's all my buds talk about. It does make me wonder about you, Banger."
"Hardly time to fit them in between our arguments, now is there?" Bang said, leaning on the back of his chair and looking at Lance, once again stretched out across the bed. "Shower!"
"Fellows always have time to discuss ladies. I think you have an aversion to discussing pussy. Is that about the way it is?"
"Me? Aversion? They used to call me Dumbo until I finally grew into my ears. Now they're only twice the size they should be. I had four pounds of steel in my mouth until I was a senior. They brought girls in for dances, because there were no girls at school. I was good for a chuckle and serving refreshments. The girls all went for you jock types. Nerds don't score much until they start applying their wisdom in the workaday world. Then we dazzle them with brain power and dollars. I'm in no hurry. I still have some growing to do."
"You never got laid?" Lance asked sadly. "Come on, everybody gets laid at least once. You're starting to worry me, Banger. I won't be sleeping on my stomach for a while. Out with it. Ease my mind. Tell me about that one time you scored with the lady tuba player in the high school marching band. What was her name and how'd you get her attention? I know underneath that brain giganticus of yours beats the heart of a red-blooded American male."
"'Score'! It was an "all-boys" school. It's all about the game to you. A man takes a woman when he finds one he can love. He settles down and he has a family and he does the best he can. It's not about the score. What a dope!"
"Half way home. Come on, Bang, tell me. I can hear it in your voice. You want to tell me about her. There was one time, wasn't there? You aren't as pure as you make out to be. That holier-than-thou act don't quite make a believer out of me."
"Okay! Okay! If it helps you sleep easier. I came close one time, or I thought I was close at the time. I was invited to a party by a really hot chick who came to one of the dances. I wasn't going to be her date or anything like that, but she said she wanted to get to know me better and most importantly she wanted to dance with me."
"All right, Bang. I knew it. Where'd you nail her? Out with it, dude."
" All my hormones were raging. I was having wet dreams all day. I saluted the girls who visited campus, girls at the mall and their mothers, too. It hardly ever went soft. I, Bang Phillips, was finally going to rock and roll. I was ready for anything and thought about nothing else until the night of the party arrived.
" She did have a certain reputation around our school. She liked boys who were locked up with other boys. She liked them big, if you know what I mean. It was a match made in heaven. I didn't think she was the marrying kind, but if she wanted to give some away, why shouldn't I be the recipient of her gift of love? Hell, I wanted to know what it was all the other boys were talking about."
"All right, Banger was ready to do the deed. So what if a half a dozen of your classmates were doing her, too. You old dog you. What happened? Cough it up. Don't leave me hanging. Give me the details."
"Yeah, well, she gets me to dance and she's got her hands all over it. I mean she wanted it bad. She likes putting her hand in my pocket and she really liked what she found standing up in there. I wouldn't have lasted to the bedroom if she hadn't quit playing with me. There was no doubt in my mind, I was made for love. She kept telling me I was big, one of the biggest she'd had. She wanted to see it."
"Tell me what happened or I won't make it to the shower, dude. She got her hands all over your love machine while you danced? You're killing me."
"That was the best of it. She made me feel alive, Lance. She made me realize what I was missing out on. She whispered that she had something she wanted to give me, and I thought of all those rumors about her."
"Oh damn! Was she hot?"
"Yes, I'd say she was quite hot. All the guys liked her and she was dancing with me. Girls don't usually react that way to me. Nothing like this had happened to me before. I should have seen it coming. She tells me she's going into the bedroom and I should wait five minutes, undress outside the door, and then come into the bedroom and get in bed with her. I almost lost it with her lips brushing my ear and her fingers tickling the protrusion in my pocket."
"Oh god, you're killing me. You got laid by the babe. I knew it," Lance said, rolling on the bed in delight. "Was she good? How'd you like it?"
"I couldn't believe a girl like her actually wanted me. This was my big break in social circles. I was finally going to be one of the guys. Know what the other guys knew. I was too stupid and too horny to see what was coming. What's this dynamite chick want with a fourteen-year-old geek who looks like Dumbo with an erector set in his mouth? I guess, when you're fourteen, you point it at anything that stands still long enough to get nailed."
"Damn, you mean you didn't score? What happened then?" Lance said, leaning up to look at Bang's face, while he finished the story. "Why tell me if you didn't get laid? I wanted to hear that you got laid."
"I could always lie. if I was a liar. I did exactly what she said I should do. I wasn't about to fuck this up. I stripped down in the hallway except for my underpants and I stepped into the bedroom. When I start feeling around the bed for her the light comes on and there's six huge guys laughing and making fun of the tent in my underwear.
" Someone came up behind me and pulled my shorts down. I was destroyed. I couldn't get away. They stood in front of the door. I had to stand there listening to their jokes about Dumbo with his foot of Polish sausage. It just became one more thing they joked about at school. The girl wasn't even in the room. Happy now that you know about my biggest score?"
"Why the fuck did you tell me that? That's completely bogus. You're weird. Telling another dude a thing like that. Don't you have any self-respect?"
"Just a little jock tale that reminds me, never trust jocks. Like you said, better not be sleeping on your stomach around me, Lancelot."
"That isn't even funny. You must have asked for it or something. You must have been some kind of an asshole."
"I suppose you've had plenty of luck with girls? You jocks get all the chicks. I lost my taste for them after the party. I didn't know girls were as cruel as guys until that night."
"Yeah, I do all right but never enough to go around. I never had no one laugh at mine," Lance said.
"They weren't laughing at my dick. That would have been understandable. They laughed at me. She set me up and they laughed at me because I trusted her and thought she was interested in me. I was the joke."
"Chicks can be cruel. But not to me."
"It's the kind of thing jocks do for entertainment, you know. She didn't know me. She didn't know I was alive. The jocks at school put her up to it. They set me up and I fell for it. I was lonely. I wanted to believe. So sue me."
" I have this feeling that you hold me personally responsible for all the crap that happened to you. I'm not. I never tormented geeks. I could care less about them, I admit, but I don't go out of my way to hurt someone," Lance argued, finding himself in another conversation from which he couldn't escape.
" Jocks give no thought to what they're doing to someone. No one puts themselves into the place of the people they torture. They don't know how much it hurts, not that my life wasn't already pretty screwed up before they started taking shots at me."
"We're not all like that. It was a dirty trick, Bang. I didn't do it. I wouldn't do it. You don't have to tell me about every time some jock didn't smile at you. I can't undo it. If I could I would," Lance said, feeling bad about what Bang had endured.
"You asked. I told you. Now you tell me about what a stud you are."
"I never felt I needed to pick on nerds or set them up to be jokes," ignoring Bang's bait. "I know it goes on, but I don't do it."
"You don't stop it either?"
"When you stop it, one time, then I'll listen to what you have to say about jocks being misunderstood."
"It's none of my business. I'm not your mother."
"I'll stick to the books. You types can have the babes. Once I make my first million or win my first Nobel Prize, there will be more chicks than I know what to do with. You can take care of them until I'm ready for them. Then I might let you have my overflow."
"I bet you would, Bang. When do I have time for even one these days? I'm always working out or practicing. I'm too tired to yank the crank any more. What good would I do a girl? That story you just told didn't help matters any."
"You're gross, you know that, Lancelot. Just don't be leaving the remnants around my room or on my towels. Do it in the shower and aim it down the drain."
"Not a bad idea. Thanks for suggesting it. I'll just add that to my routine. Crank yanking in shower. How do you spell crank anyway? You nerds know everything."
"You're hopeless. You can take care of the physical stuff and I'll do the mental gymnastics. Anyway, these are the facts you have to go on. You sure don't think you're going to make a living kicking that ball around?"
"Nah, I was a star in high school. Hot shit! These new kids run circles around me. They're taller, leaner, have proper haircuts, and they play with a vengeance."
"Kids? They're a year younger than you."
"Two, and they're good, really good. I've got to do double just to keep up with them. Now, I'm just a face in the crowd. I can hold my own, but there are several guys I can't touch," he said thoughtfully. "I've got to bust it just to keep from losing ground to them. I wanted to be on Team USA one day. Not going to happen now. Too many better guys."
"You can't let them get to you. Just play your game and you might make Team USA. It's possible," Bang said. "But what I'm saying is, you better have a back-up plan for when you get too old to play."
"Yeah, maybe, but then I got to thinking about how many colleges are out there? And how many guys are in those colleges who are better than the guys on my team? No, you're right. I've got to regroup before it's too late. I'm not good enough for the next level. It'll all end right here. I just want to do my best while I can."
"Life's like that. You learn something and you use that to get ready for something else. It rarely runs in a straight line. You just haven't learned that yet."
"How does a guy regroup after other guys laugh at his dick? That's bogus. I wish you hadn't told me that."
"They weren't laughing at my dick. I told you. They were laughing at a stupid kid that actually believed that a beautiful young woman could want him. You don't ever get over that. It's burnt into your soul like the mother that never cared and the father that's too damn busy to be around. It's life at its finest. You've had a rose garden up until now, Lancelot. Real life starts when school ends."
"Yeah, well, all that aside, I might be a teacher one day. I haven't figured out how. As long as I can play soccer, I want to do that. After devoting all these years to it, I can't just stop. I'm only going to be a junior next year, if I can get past this year. I can study for the rest of my life after I can't play anymore. Thanks for trying to help, but I'm a dumb jock after all."
"You need to start on a certificate if you want one," Bang said, typing more into the computer. "You should be taking the classes by next year so you're able to complete one in time. You should seriously think about staying here this summer and studying. I can set up the class if you tell me which one you want. I can't go to them for you. You've got to do that."
"I didn't ask you to do anything. Why are you doing this, anyway?"
"I had some time. I was thinking about what you said. I just wanted to help you out. It's classic Hollywood. Nerd helps jock overcome jockdom. Can't wait for the sequel."
"I thought you hated jocks? What gives?"
"Yeah, but you've become more than a jock to me," Bang said, glancing over his shoulder at Lance.
"You know how nervous that makes me?"
"Yes, I have a good idea, but don't flatter yourself. You're my roommate and I'm certain it's written somewhere in the roommate bill of rights that at all times roommates need to help one another out when they can."
"I suck in English," Lance said, starting to think about his future and not liking the way it made him feel.
"You sounded like you like history. We'll see what's available in that area. Give it a shot. You might like it. Once you get into something like history, you can develop an appetite for it."
"You don't need to sell me on the idea, Bang. Unfortunately, my brain isn't as cooperative as yours. I've spent my formative years learning to avoid education. It's not going to be as easy as you make it sound."
"All I said was you might like it," Bang emphasized.
"Like isn't the word I'd use when it comes to history classes. I can hold my own, if I can sit still long enough. None of it's easy for me."
"Sign up for a couple of courses in history, and if that gives you too much trouble, regroup. You've got another year to try again. You can always study. That works for me," Bang said, going to the course enrollment page for the university.
"Yeah, well it's never worked for me. That's the reason jocks are jocks and nerds are nerds. I almost forget about it until you say something stupid like that. Some of us aren't as gifted as you, Bang."
"I don't think you've tried. Soccer! Soccer! Soccer! Education requires dedication. You need to apply yourself."
"Fuck you! So does soccer. It's about focus," Lance said, pacing behind Bang as he moved the soccer ball around the floor before letting it bounce on the instep of his foot awhile.
"If you can find a way to apply that focus to your studies you're home free. That can't be easy," Bang said, watching the ball bouncing in a regular rhythm, always landing in precisely the same spot on Lance's foot.
"You nerds have it so easy," Lance said, using his heel just as skillfully as he used his instep without ever changing the rhythm before switching feet.
Bang was captivated by this effortless performance.
"And you jocks make life so worth living for us. How long can you do that, anyway?"
"How long can you stare into that damn computer screen?"
"You are good," Bang admitted.
"Told you. Maybe I'll take one course in history. I'm not saying I will. I don't even have time to study for the courses I'm taking now."
"Maybe if you'd spend less time kicking that ball you'd have more time to spend on your studies."
"If I spent less time at it I wouldn't be able to dazzle you with my talent. It's what I do," Lance said, letting the ball come down on his toe before flipping it gently toward Bang's head. "That ball is the reason for my existence."
Bang's reflexes had his hands reaching out to block his face but with the delicate touch Lance had put on the ball, he caught it instead. He tossed it back toward Lance who backed up two quick steps to gain control of it with his foot before starting the bouncing rhythm again.
"Very funny. You almost hit me in the face, you know."
"Nice reflexes. You sure there isn't a suppressed athlete in there somewhere? I think you're pulling my leg about being a nerd. There's more to you than a big brain, Bang."
"Like I said, very funny. Would it matter if there were more to me? I am what I am," he said in a gruff Popeye voice. "It's the labels other people put on you that you most often wear. They don't care whether or not you are what they say you are. You're just a name they call you in some distorted attempt to establish their superiority."
"Call me anything but late to dinner," Lance said.
Lance let the ball skitter under the bed before he dropped back down, as if all the air suddenly ran out of him. Lying back, he stretched out his tired muscles and closed his eyes, growing both motionless and silent as Bang continued what he was doing on his computer.
"Besides, you won't be around next year when I need help studying the crap you talk me into taking now. I got to be careful not to take on anything I can't handle. I'll be on my own."
"Maybe the first semester. Your room won't be ready before midterms. I can get you moving in the proper direction before you go back to living with your jock buds."
"I thought you wanted me out of here next semester. You changed your mind? I do grow on people if they give me a little time."
"Like a toxic fungus."
"A what? Can't you speak English for once?" Lance said, getting up for his shower. "You do enjoy making me feel stupid."
"It is English," Bang said, typing something into the computer while seemingly aware of nothing but Lance's words. "By way of Latin, which is not unusual."
"I do have an exceptional personality, don't I? They say that about me."
"Your jock buddies, no doubt. They probably heard someone else say it and they liked its meaningless neutrality. I frankly hadn't noticed you had a personality, but of course, we've only been living together for a few weeks. I'm sure if you have one I'll notice it sooner or later."
"Come on, Bang. I'm trying here. We're doing okay, aren't we? The jock and the nerd making things work. We haven't killed each other. It's a start."
"I guess if I must have someone living in here with me, you're harmless enough. Next time I might get a real hard case. I tend to stick with the cards I'm dealt whenever possible. That's if you plan on staying? I have no objections to it. I'll assist you in your quest for knowledge but when I have the time, not when you decide you have five minutes you wish to devote to higher learning. We aren't playing that game."
"I haven't given it any thought. I'm here right now. I sure haven't had time to look for another place. I'm fine here. Clean towels, candy, and someone to line up my courses for me - how can I do better than that? It sure is different being around someone who studies. You think it could rub off?"
"Yeah, well, pick up those stinking socks you keep leaving around, and put on a towel or something. I thought you didn't like me seeing your over-developed body."
"Too tired to care. You're harmless, too. I always figured nerds were a bit on the funny side but so far I can't tell if you even notice I'm here most of the time, and besides, I've seen no signs that you are trying to take advantage of my most excellent bod."
"Yeah, well, I'll make every effort not to lose control, believe me. Would you control those socks? They really reek, Lance. It's not funny anymore."
"See how well we work together?" Lance said, picking up his socks, tossing them onto his bed. Did you get any more soap? I'm kinda out again."
"What do you do, eat the stuff? You were going to steal some from the Phys Ed venue as I recall."
"'Steal' is such a harsh word. I like to think of it as pilfering for services rendered. They owe me that much. Anyway, I forgot. I promise to do better, if you lend me a bar tonight. I left the last bar down in the shower and one of your nerd buddies snatched it. What are you laughing at?" Lance said as he paced back and forth behind Bang.
"Do you have any idea what 'pilfer' means?"
"Borrowing something without intending to return same to its proper owner? It's so difficult returning soap once you've used it, don't you think? At least there's no evidence of the crime once you're done with it. The perfect crime," Lance said with pride.
"You're a mess," Bang laughed, shaking his head. "Do something with those socks. This place is not going to smell like a locker room."
"I'm homesick. The old dorm always smelled like overworked jocks and dirty socks. It's the kind of fragrance you get used to. It grows on you like that toxic funny shit you were talking about. Can't you compromise just a little?" Lance said, sounding almost serious.
"I'm not going to carry you, Lance," Bang said, pushing himself back from the computer and getting up and going over to bend into an almost empty drawer. "Here's a towel. This is my last bar of soap. Don't forget to bring us some more soap. When am I getting socks and underwear? It's been weeks since we made this little arrangement, and you've used all the soap and I bought more, and I've done towels twice."
"Should get a care package any time. Usually comes at the end of the month. My Aunt Brenda always sends stuff. I can stop showering until then if it makes you happy."
"No! I can wait for Aunt Brandy. Use all the soap you want."
"Nothing makes you happy. Shower, don't shower. Take a towel, don't take a towel. I can't figure you out. And it's Aunt Brenda," Lance said, tucking the towel up under his arm and peeling the wrapper off the soap and letting it float down to the floor.
"That's five more days. I'm running low on underwear and none of my socks has any elastic in them. I was looking forward to having some new socks and don't leave that trash there. And you already took one towel and you left it on your bed, asshole!"
"Well, I dropped it on the floor. You wouldn't want me to use a towel I dropped on the floor? You can use it if you want. Here, don't say I never gave you anything."
"Thanks," Bang said, taking the towel. "And pick up your trash."
Lance's toe hooked the soap wrapper and he flipped it up on his bed and it came down neatly on the dirty socks while Bang considered their arrangement.
"Yeah, yeah. I'll call this weekend and make sure it's on the way. Hey, we have a scrimmage Saturday. Why don't you come out and watch me?"
"Me? Go to a soccer game? What on earth for?"
"I don't know. You can see what I do. We'll go get some pizza after if you want. You need some school spirit, Banger. I'm just the man to give it to you. You need to get out'a here. This place is starting to stink. Smells like… dirty socks all of a sudden."
"I see what you do every day of my life. I need to see more? You buying this mythical pizza?"
"I got money. I'm not a guy that gets carried. I invite you for pizza, I pay for pizza. Okay?"
"Whatever you say, Lance."
"I'm serious, Bang. I don't have any real friends now that I'm all the way over here. Most of the guys I hang with are on the soccer team and after fifty hours a week I can use a break from them. They're already going to be there anyway. You can come give me moral support so I know someone else cares. Wouldn't you like to know if I'm a soccer player or not? You know you would."
"I don't know. We'll see. I usually study Saturday. It's quiet at the library and I really like quiet. I used to have it here."
"Yeah, but you never had this kind of comradeship before. You study every day. Take a break for once. I want you to come out. Please! Just the once and I won't ask you no more. Do it for your old roomy."
"I told you I would think about it. Why don't you go take that shower before you forget again?"
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