“How about a little fun?” Jack snickers to his gang, tossing his chin up like a pointer, his eyes zeroing in on a solitary bookworm sitting on the blacktop of the school courtyard with his back against a brick wall. It’s the morning recess. They all nod approvingly as sinister smiles unite and eyes gleam with the anticipation of the attack. The loner is small and slim, with long straight sandy hair and gold wire-framed aviator glasses. Jack is the outsider’s antithesis in every way, from his sporty build to his outgoing manner. All the girls want to be his steady and all the boys admire him.
Tony is far away, he’s a perch swimming in the moat of Sir Ector’s Castle with Merlin beside him transformed into a carp, and they’ve just met Mr. P., the king of the moat, a huge pike.
"There is only power. Power is of the individual mind, but the mind's power is not enough. Power of the body decides everything in the end, and only Might is Right." Mr. P. tells the boy transformed into a fish. (Excerpt from T.H. White, The Once and Future King)
Just as Mr. P. lurches towards him in an attempt to eat him, Tony hears “Put your back into it!”. A split second later he’s jolted back into the physical world as his paperback is yanked out of his hands, and his leather headband is ripped off his head from behind. Jack has the book now and another boy has Tony’s headband. Teens from all over the courtyard have come running to see the show and form a semi-circle all around.
Tony is on his feet in a flash. “Gimme back my book!” Gimme my headband!” The gang of boys surrounds him laughing. They start tossing the headband around to each other, taunting all the while “Tinkerbell the fairy! Tinkerbell the fairy!”
“Hey Tinkerbell, how about if I burn up your fairyland?” Jack’s eyes are unflinching as he holds the book open with his left hand. A Zippo lighter comes out of his pocket, and he flips it open with one hand. The flame approaches the open pages and is about to devour them as Tony’s heart skips a beat. How could anyone burn a book! He hears a voice in his head “Put your back into it!” He lurches into Jack with every ounce of his slender frame, jostling the book and the lighter at the same time. The book is saved. Jack is stunned, he wasn’t expecting Tony to be so brave, and before he can react, Tony’s leg slams into his crotch. As Jack doubles over in pain Tony’s knee smacks into his face. Now he’s on the ground, writhing with a bloody mouth, and no one is laughing anymore. The boy holding Tony’s headband drops it like a hot potato and backs away.
Tony and Jack are sitting on a wooden bench outside the superintendent’s office, waiting for their parents, who’ve been convoked for a meeting with the principal. Jack’s pressing a bloody cotton cloth on his broken lip.
“What do you wear that faggot ring on your little finger for?” Jack smirks.
“Richie Blackmore sure ain’t no fag, and he wears pinky rings on both hands.”
“Lead guitarist for Deep Purple.”
“They sound like a bunch of pansies with a name like that. Bet they all have long hair like you too, huh?
“Having long hair doesn’t make you gay.”
“In my book it does.”
In the meeting both boys are given a warning that if either are in a fight again, for whatever reason, they will face disciplinary measures. They’re sent back to their classes for the day.
Tony is back with Merlin in Sir Ector’s Castle when a soft voice brings him back to the real world of Irving Jr. High School in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA, September 1972. He’s sitting on the front steps and a girl sits next to him.
“Hi Tony, I saw what you did to Jack. He sure was surprised! I’m sure he never thought you’d stand up for yourself. It was great! I’m so proud of you! I don’t think he’ll mess with you again.”
“Hi Tara, thanks! I’m not so sure about him laying off. He’ll want revenge. Everybody admires him and I made him look bad. I’m afraid. If he hadn’t tried to burn my book I never would have dared.”
“Books are everything to you, aren’t they? That’s why I admire you Tony, not him. He’s just another jock to me.”
Tony smiles “You’re different from all the other girls Tara, that’s why we get along so well. You know what he said to me?”
“No, what? Couldn’t have been anything too smart.”
“He called my onyx ring a ‘faggot ring’.”
“Like I said, drivel. Let’s go, it’s almost time for Home Ec. Wonder what we’re gonna do today? It was fun making brownies last time, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah. You know I don’t mind being the only boy in class, and like that we have all the same classes! Did you do your French homework?”
“I was counting on you to help me. French is hard, n’est-ce pas?”
“I don’t think so. Did you know there are about 20,000 words that are the same?”
“Wow, no kidding! You know so many things Tony!”
After school Tony has a discussion with his legal guardians, Bob and Marylynn O’Boyle, both accomplished musicians and teachers at the University of Nebraska.
Bob is understanding. “It must be hard to adapt to the mentality around here. Is there anything we can do to help you feel more comfortable?”
“I’d like an electric guitar. That’d be top.” Tony has been playing for three years on a cheap acoustic learner’s guitar.
“Music is a great way to let out your feelings and maybe even find friends. It will mean more to you if you buy it yourself. Tell you what. Find yourself a job, and I’ll help you to find a guitar at a good price. Deal?”
A week later Tony starts his newspaper delivery route for the Lincoln Journal Star. He has to be up at 5 am to finish his route in time to have breakfast and prepare for school afterwards.
By mid-October it’s below freezing a few mornings, and by mid-November it’s below freezing every morning and there’s 9 inches of snow. Tony bears the biting wind and does his job diligently, with one idea in mind…become a rock star.
Almost every day on the way home from school, Jack and his gang taunt him and hurl snowballs, sometimes with rocks inside.
Jack’s happy, his Uncle Ike is coming to visit for Thanksgiving. Ike’s always been his favorite adult. But this time, Jack gets a surprise. Ike has long hair and he’s changed his style! What’s more, He’s now the singer in a rock band and…worst of all…he has a PINKY RING! Ike has always been his idol. He’s terribly hurt and upset at first but comes to accept his uncle’s new style. After all, he’s still Uncle Ike.
Part of Tony’s job is to collect the payments from the subscribers on his route and to sell subscriptions. Saturday December 2nd, while he’s making his collection round, he rings a doorbell and finds himself face to face with Jack.
“I need to talk to your parents, it’s to pay for the newspaper.”
“You’re the paperboy?” Jack is taken-aback. “I’ll get my Dad.” Jack hangs around while his dad pays the bill.
“It’s freezing in the morning. It must be hard to deliver the papers every day.”
“Yes. It is hard. But I have to earn money to buy an electric guitar.”
From this day on, Jack’s attitude towards Tony is different. Tony won’t hear “Tinkerbell” anymore, and Jack makes sure of that.
When Tony gets back from his round, Bob O’Boyle asks “How much money have you earned these last two months?”
“Only $50. I still have to make a lot more.”
“I have something for you, and $50 is exactly the price.” He gives Tony a beautiful Fender sunburst guitar in a padded hard case. “This Jazzmaster’s good for you because the neck is thin enough for your fingers to get around. It’s a base guitar case because the neck is too long for a regular case. I got a deal from one of the students.”
Tony is overwhelmed, he’s been looking at guitars and he knows the one in front of him is worth a lot. He hugs Bob, sobbing for joy in his arms.
At Christmas, he gets a small practice amp as a gift.
Having what they desired, some boys would have quit the newspaper route, but Tony keeps on working. He starts to attend concerts, sneaking out at night, and still gets up to deliver the papers.
Jack is letting his hair grow.
In April, Tony buys two tickets to see Deep Purple in concert. He asks Tara out, but her parents won’t let her because she’s only 13. She’s the same age as Tony, but for her it’s different. What can he do with the extra ticket? Who can he ask to go with him? He doesn’t have any other friends. Then a funny idea strikes him. At the morning recess, he approaches Jack. Everyone starts to stare, and the courtyard is filled with whispers.
“Hi Jack. I see you’re letting your hair grow. You’re starting to look like a rock star!”
“My Uncle Ike says Richie Blackmore is the best guitarist on Earth!”
“How would you like to see him in concert?”
“Are you kidding?”
“Not at all. I have two tickets for Deep Purple’s Tour “Who Do We Think We Are” on May 4th at the Pershing Center.”
“I’ll have to ask my parents.”
“You can ask your Uncle Ike to go with you, so your parents won’t worry.”
There’s no fight to watch this time, but the whole school’s talking.
Friday May 4th is a day both boys will never forget, and the start of a long friendship.