July 29, 2015 05:41:28 PM





The sun rose and everything fell.

Or, my emotions did, at least, because the realization that my six-year-old cousin was coming to visit today hit me squarely in the chest like a lead brick as soon as I woke up. An obnoxious, hyper, squealing six-year-old who would run around in circles and then slam into you just for the fun of it. In my house. And, as usual, I did’t even have a girlfriend to comfort me during the ordeal. Today’s going to be a pretty crappy day, I thought to myself as I rolled out of bed and slammed into my carpet with a dull thud and a groan.

When he arrived, he bounced into the house, full of energy, like someone had injected adrenaline and caffeine into a cheetah and then shocked it with ten thousand volts of electricity. He giggled, a lopsided, semi-toothless grin spreading across his face as he saw me.

“RICK!!!!” he screamed, causing my smiling parents to flinch noticeably at the loud, enthusiastic outburst. He then sprinted up to me and nearly knocked me over, giving me an uncomfortably tight hug.

“When my daddy said that I could come over to your house for the weekend, I was so excited!” he giggled. “I know we’ll be the best of friends, Cousin Rick.”

“Uh, yeah… sure,” I unconvincingly groaned. I knew what was coming.

“Wanna go get icecream? Please?” he asked.

My parents looked at me, as if to say, Come on, do this one nice thing for your little cousin.

I glanced back, mouthing, Go eat with
this clown?

My father gave me a quick, disapproving head shake. That was always the end of the argument.

So, I found myself in the back of the car, sitting next to an obnoxious six-year-old tapping on my arm every three seconds to tell me something, often with big drops of spittle. Eventually, he looked slightly somber when he realized I wasn’t interested in talking.

“So, why are you always so quiet?” he asked me. “What’s wrong?”

“Stuff,” I mumbled, almost imperceptibly.

“That’s gotta mean somethin’,” he said. “School?”

“Nah,” I said.

“C’mon,” he said. “It’s gotta be somethin’.”

I stared at my feet. “None of your business,” I said.

“What about a girlfrien’? You got one a those?”

I shook my head. “No, you wouldn’t understand. That’s, uh, grown-up stuff.” This was a kid who still never thought twice about an old, fat bearded man that breaks into his house once a year to deliver him presents.

“Nah, I understan’,” he said. “I gotta, ah, frien’ who said he wan’s one, and I had to try to fin’ him one.”

I rolled my eyes. “You’re in first grade,” I sighed. “What do you know?”
He lowered his voice to a whisper, like he was a KGB agent about to hand me classified dossiers. “Okay, so you wanna know the best ways to get a girlfrien’? Okay, so what you gotta do is get a buncha string and make a buncha bracelets. Then you hand ‘em out to girls you like. If you make, like, a zillion bracelets, then you’ll get like a zillion girlfriens. An’ if you know her favorite colors to put in the bracelet, that’s a bonus.”

I stared out the car window and stared vacantly, hypnotized by the rushing trees, somewhat distant from his advice. Some tiny part of me had hoped that perhaps he had some nuggets of true wisdom that would help me get Alexis Graves, the hottest and most popular girl in school. Heck, his advice couldn’t even attract the girls in my Dungeons and Dragons Club that I was too afraid to ask out, let alone Alexis.

Although he probably saw I wasn’t interested, he still continued. “Okay, so if that don’ work, then like bake her cookies or somethin’. Find what kinda candies she likes, an’ then bake her a buncha cookies with the candies in 'em. But you gotta tell her they’re from you. Don’ just leave ‘em there without lettin’ her know. Either that or you buy her a puppy, or a pony. That’s what all the girls in my class want for their birthdays.” He smiled proudly, like this was a groundbreaking statistic he’d spent years compiling data on.

“Okay, so if that don’ work, then you gotta try buyin’ her jewelry or somethin’.”

“What kind of jewelry?”

“Oh, you know, jewelry. Like with diamonds and gold and shiny stuff.”

A cynical voice in my head let out a deep, booming belly laugh. Society’s taught this kid that the more bling you have, the better off you are. What sort of world did we live in?

“But, if those don’ work, there’s one last way. This one might be kinda painful, and she might not like it. But you gotta try it anyway.” He smiled deviously.

“So you gotta get like a rhino or somethin’, and try to ride it. Either you look all brave and stuff, or like you get hurt and she feels sorry for you.”

I shook my head, and had to bite my tongue from laughing out loud from the idea of my unfit body atop a rampaging rhino, and Alexis standing there, cheering me on.

Realizing that he couldn’t top the rhino suggestion, he continued on a different tangent. “Okay, so wanna hear the one hundred ways NOT to get a girlfrien’? Okay, so this will probably be painful, an’ it might be illegal, an’ you definitely WON’T get a girlfrien’ this way, but, uh… So, you dress up in a Bigfoot suit and climb up a roof…”

After listening to him talk for about twenty minutes about how nuking her hometown and giving her a feces-filled piñata are things you should avoid at all costs if you want the girl of your dreams, I spent the evening in my room, taking a break from his antics.

Although his advice was outlandish, I was ruminating that night about how some of it might not be half bad. Some of it was actually pretty funny, and caused me to involuntarily laugh in the car, my face turning red. I still couldn’t stand to think about it any longer, though. I turned on my phone and video-called my best (and only) friend Jake.

“Hey, man,” I said.

“Hey,” he said. “What’s new?”

“Not much with me,” I said. “Other than the fact that my obnoxious younger cousin visited me today.”

“Aw, man…” he said with a smile. “I remember that kid. Good luck, man.”

“So… what’s new with you?”

His face suddenly turned somber. The laughing twinkle in it a second ago was gone. “My girlfriend cheated on me. You know her? Carissa?”

“Yeah, totally. That really sucks, man.” I had heard rumors circulating for a while, but there wasn’t any conclusive proof to back it up. “How’d you find out?”

“Friend of a friend of a friend,” he said sheepishly.

Trying to cheer him up, I brought up our mutual interests. “It’s like that REO Speedwagon song. Heard it from a friend who, heard it from a friend who, heard it from another you been messing around.” He smiled a little when I sang it, slightly off-key, as we were massive fans of old music, especially from the seventies and eighties. We discussed Van Halen, Journey, Bon Jovi, and Electric Light Orchestra in our free time.

“Exactly,” he said, although he wasn’t laughing. “I just… don’t know what to do. I mean, I love her, but at the same time I can’t stand her. How can I break up with her without it being… awkward?”

Recalling the ways not to get a girl my cousin had told me, I once again tried to cheer him up. “A poop-filled piñata. Works every time.” The guy was just betrayed by his girlfriend and I’m telling him the most immature, primitive form of humor as my coping mechanism for being unable to deal with real problems. I mean, seriously, what the hell was I thinking?

This made him do a genuine, loud belly laugh. After he’d stopped his laughter spell, he looked suddenly more serious. “Wait… does that really work? I mean… has anyone actually tried that before?”

I shrugged. After about an hour of deep, philosophical conversation much like the above, we said goodnight and I turned off my phone.

A few months after our conversation, everyone in school was talking about Jake and Carissa. Turns out that he actually followed my advice, and the insults of “Crappy Carrie” rang through the hallways until the end of the year, as few students could forget the wet, angry, smelly poo-covered face of Carissa at an exclusive party held at Jake’s house. To tell you the truth, she deserved it; I can’t count how many times Jake had called me to tell me that Carissa had humiliated him, mistreated him, or otherwise made life difficult.

One girl was so impressed with Jake’s, and I quote, “act of sheer bravery” that they started dating. Fast-forward a decade or so, and now they live in Oregon with two kids and a spacious mansion. So yeah, you could say that immature, inane potty humor from a naive six-year-old indirectly created two living, breathing human beings. Imagine what words from a wise, thoughtful, hundred-year-old Zen Master could do.

And all the while, my cousin’s seemingly stupid advice to me still rattled around in the back of my brain as I went to sleep.
On Monday, as I walked back into the halls of sweaty, unwashed, pimply teenagers and prepared for gym class, I could not have prepared for what was about to happen. Our gym teacher, Mr. Schuler, wore shorts so short I thought that they might be considered boxers.

“C’mon, you wusses!” he screamed. “Move it, move it, move it!”
After an excruciating couple laps around the gym, he had us sit in a circle.

“Okay, so I’m gonna pair you scrawny weaklings into groups. Johnny and Alessandro, Kira and Lauren…” He kept going down this list, pointing fingers and gesturing at the nervous, obedient students as if they were marionettes attached to strings tied around his big, beefy fingertips.

“Aaaand… Alexis and… whatever his name is,” he said, pointing a finger at me.

“It’s uh, Rick,” I said.

“Well, uh, Alexis and Vick over there. Let’s move, move, move!”

As we walked over to do whatever monotonous activity Schuler had planned, I smiled, as jingling around in my pocket was my secret weapon.

“Hey,” I said. “My name’s uh, Rick. You probably don’t know me.”

“I’m Alexis, although you can just call me Alex.” Her casual tone and her giving me permission to use her nickname sped up my heart and made me feel jittery.

“Hey, so, I just went to a, uh, bracelet-making class, and, uh, I was giving a couple away…” My voice trailed off and hung in the air awkwardly like the lingering, flatulent smell in the air after Taco Tuesday. I reached into my pocket, dug around, and produced a yarn bracelet with a small jewel attached to it. The truth was that the stone was a chunk of transparent quartz I’d found outside my house; it was one of the most common and worthless crystals, according to the Internet. Heck, it’s so common that most sand is made of it.

At least it looked halfway decent, considering I’d stayed up late the previous night to combine various parts of my little cousin’s advice.

“Uh, thanks,” she said, giving me an awkward stare as I dropped it in her hand.

“Look on the back of the gem,” I said in a whisper.

She turned it over to reveal a coupon for Jerry’s Baked Goods, good for $2 off one chocolate chip cookie superglued on, which got me out of having to bake her cookies. “Cool,” she said unenthusiastically.
The next week, the school was planning a school field trip to the local zoo. The day started off with the same spiel as usual- some first graders came to do some cute skit about why you should recycle and whatnot, and all of the proud, overzealous parents in the front row oohed and aahed and stared at their smartphone cameras. I, personally, was transfixed by something far more mysterious and incredible: the fact that, by some freak of nature, Alexis happened to be sitting next to me.

It was time to initiate Phase Two.

Once at the zoo, us kids were allowed to wander around wherever we wanted. I followed Alexis around, trying but failing not to look like an eager puppy.

“Can I buy you something to drink? Eat?”

“No, I’m okay, thanks.”

“You sure? I can get you something if you need it.”

“I said I’m okay,” she said more forcefully.

“Okay. I’ve got money if you need it,” I said a little too happily. At this point, I was so desperate that if this girl would have wanted a Ferrari, I would’ve mowed thousands of lawns to save up. That conversation was awkward, I know. But at least I would have gotten an A for effort (and probably an F for results).

We eventually passed the rhino enclosure. The big grey animals stared at us, chewing grass.

I suddenly turned to Alexis, feeling dread at what I was about to say.
“What qualities does your dream boyfriend possess?” I asked.

“Huh?” she asked, so shocked by the bizarre, somewhat personal question that she could barely think up a response to it.

“What about… someone who’s brave? I asked.

“Yeah, I guess so…” she said. “As long as he doesn’t do something irrational and stupi-“

In one bound, I leapt over the metal fence and flew onto the rhino, just like my little cousin told me to.

“This is for youuuu!” I screamed as my fingers clamped onto the rhino’s tough hide. The last thing I remember is flying and landing in something that was pungent and brown and sticky before I blacked out.
“What happened?” I asked.

My entire class stood in my hospital room. Alexis came forth and said, “Jeez, that was stupid. What the hell were you thinking? They say Rhonda is now acting up even more than before, and is even scared to go outside.”

Jake shook his head. “Seriously, man?” he said.

“Who the hell is Rhonda?” I struggled to say. My entire body was one big raw nerve. I could barely move without wincing.

“Oh, Rhonda’s the rhinoceros you brutally attacked,” said one student, a rude hipster animal lover named Holly. Why’d you do it?”

“I was trying to impress…” I struggled to lift my hand, which was encased along with my arm in a giant cast. My shaking arm twitched and I pointed at the wrong person.

“Me?!” Billy practically screamed as the entire class stared at him. The class looked a little confused. My teacher came forth suddenly and said, “Rick, we’ll all accept you no matter what lifestyle you choose…”

“No, no, no, not Billy,” I managed to cough out. “Ah… Ah… Lex.”

All of the eyes turned to Alex, who was wearing… Oh, my God… a Steve Miller Band T-shirt!

With the mystery solved, the class left, with most of them shaking their heads in confusion at this poor moron who tried to ride a rhino to impress a girl. Jake needed barely a nod to know that I wanted some alone time with Alexis, and soon he left too.

Alexis came forward. “You know, there are far easier ways to get my attention. You could have… you know… told me.”

“You like… Steve Miller Band… too?” I managed to croak.

“Yeah,” she said. “I’m a big fan of eighties music, although it seems like no one listens to it anymore.”

“Alexis, can you stay here?” I asked as she turned to leave. Seeing the skeptical look on her face, I realized what the problem was. “As a friend. What I did was pretty idiotic. Which is why I’m suggesting we keep this friendship… platonic. Not too complicated. Besides, I need someone to talk to. A hospital room might get pretty lonely, especially considering my parents are away on a business trip right now.”

“Sure, I guess,” she said. “And please, call me Alex.”
Inside the church, “Eye of the Tiger” was blaring, one of many on a long, nostalgic playlist. Jake stood proudly at the altar as best man. “And this,” he said, as he pointed to an image of a bandaged boy on a slideshow projected behind him, “Is the time he tried to ride a rhino to impress her.” The whole church laughed. The groom’s young cousin, now a teenager, smiled knowingly; his advice had brought them together.

Outside, in the cool night air, a woman stood by the door as the music played. Almost time for her to go in. Her father encouraged her. “Sweetie, I’m sure you’ll do fine. It’s only a wedding. Just as we rehearsed, remember?” She nodded.

Alex stared at the door handle and slowly turned the knob.