Outside of the Youth Center, I’m stood like a statue, debating whether I’m going to go inside and finally socialize, or retreat back to my mom’s apartment and call it a night. I hate how out of place I'm feeling since we moved here, but I suppose it’s not going to get any better unless I put in some effort to do something about it.
I’m surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the other high school students, with their loud shirts and louder conversations, as they are set loose from their final classes of the day, free to peruse the nearby businesses and blow off some steam at the local hangouts near the large campus like this one. From what I’ve heard from various teachers and students, this is the place that’s considered happening, with its gym and juice bar, so here I am.
A group of annoying guys pile inside of a worn Jeep Wrangler and quickly peel out of the parking lot and into traffic, Van Halen blaring loudly from an amp affixed to the Jeep’s scuffed frame. The vehicle’s bulky off-road tires squeal against the pavement as they speed down the street and onto the on-ramp leading to the highway. David Lee Roth’s vocals grow feinter in the distance like a fleeing banshee, and I roll my eyes at them and their disruptive behavior. However, I can’t say I’d hate the idea of having a friend with a car.
Would I be willing to toss aside my standards for such a creature comfort?
I mean, I am 16. So, probably, but I will at least try and act conflicted about it.
As the duly designated new kid at Angel Grove High School, I’m so far out of my element it hurts. Not to mention, a Georgia boy in California tends to stick out like a sore thumb. I’m just glad I’ve managed my accent as well as I have, it ain’t perfect, but I'm also not saying ‘y’all’ every five seconds, so at least there’s been progress.
A new state, a new coast, a fresh start.
Mom’s always pushing me to be more social by getting in on some after-school activities and hang out with kids my own age… and since I’ve burned through my comics for the third time this month, that’s what I’m going to do.
It helps that we still don’t have cable, boredom can be a powerful motivator.
I walk up to the door, resting my hand on the cold metal handle before finally heading inside. I squint in discomfort as my eyes adjust to the change in lighting. I brush my hair out of my eyes and have a look around, taking in the scenery.
The inside of the Youth Center is almost as bright as the as the afternoon light outside. The walls are painted a bright teal blue, blending in well with the overall beach theme of Ernie’s Juice Bar, which is positioned against the back wall of the sizable room.
Surf music plays softly in the background, piped in through several speakers hidden along the recesses lighting fixture affixed on the ceiling.
The bar sits on a raised platform about two feet off the floor, the frontmost portion of which is covered in wild vertical purple striped wallpaper, and is surrounded by a pair of gleaming brass rails. The bar itself is the same teal color as the walls are, and is filled with a row of laughing teenagers, rocking back and forth in fixed swivel chairs as they drink their shakes and gossip about all manner of subjects. It’s like watching the game ‘telephone’ play out
in real time.
A pair of packed booths that are situated alongside a small alcove leading back to what I assume is the kitchen. In between each booth are a series of painted palm trees. A glowing “Juice Bar” sign was hangs high overhead, illuminating the wall with its bright, inviting blue neon lettering.
Several purple topped tables, trimmed in white are positioned along the outer area of the bar nearest the railing, giving its guests a good view of the main floor of the Youth Center.
The floor below was covered in black and red fall mats, the red ones serving as a sort of border for the various sporting contests that take place here. I can see the indentations along the mats where I’m guessing other tables and chairs normally are, but they’ve been cleared away for whatever is taking place today, I’m guessing.
I look over at the large cork bulletin board hung near the entrance, it’s loaded with various ads and flyers. After a moment of glancing, I find one pertaining to today and lean in to read what’s in store.
ANGEL GROVE REGIONAL KARATE TORNAMENT
Beginners and Experts Welcome!
September 15th at 4:00pm
$5.00 entry fee-Must have parent’s permission
Angel Grove Youth Center
9396 Haim Ave
Angel Grove, CA 90203
I raise an eyebrow and look around, a few of the cliques have started gathering around the boarder of the mats. Some of the more musclebound guys are decked out in headbands and tank tops, others have full white karate getups on, looking like extras in a Karate Kid sequel, complete with a veritable cascade of different colored belts. I’m guessing these are a few of the people that are participating today, it looks like it’ll be interesting, that’s for certain.
I walk up the stairs to Ernie’s Juice Bar to score a milkshake before the fights begin. This area of the building is much cooler thanks to the large vents overhead. The sheer amount of people in here has caused the temperature to rise quite a bit apparently.
I talk to a personable, larger fellow decked out in a Hawaiian shirt who’s working behind the bar, who I assume is the aforementioned Ernie, and get what I have to say is the tastiest looking blueberry milkshake I’ve ever seen in my life! He hands it to me in this glass that looks like something George McFly would be sipping out of in 1955. I am instantly captivated by its color, its presentation.
This is one photogenic freakin’ shake.
Unfortunately for me, I am soon wearing the shake across my chest thanks to a rotund leatherbound bully, who was gracious enough to bend down behind me like he was praying at mass, causing me to trip over his rolls and crash to the floor as I go to turn around.
“Welcome to Angel Grove, fresh meat,” the fat guy laughed as he stood up. His little brown pony-tail/top knot bounced along as he talked. His sneering, round face made him appear to be 13 going on 30.
Stood next to him is a pasty, rail-thin poser. His cruel eyes stare at me from behind his dark oval glasses. His leather jacket covered in a random assortment of little shimmering spikes and buttons. He wore a red beret cocked on its side, covering his greasy black hair.
“Yeah, fresh meat!” the tweaker-looking teen exclaims.
I move to stand up, more surprised than anything, but get put down again as I catch a boot to the side in the process from the skinny one’s Doc Marten. The surrounding room grows quiet as the
two bullies cackle like a pair of old crones.
I’m getting sick of this game.
“Hey, boneheads! C’mere and pick on someone your own size!” a powerful voice calls out from just outside of my field of vision.
Approaching the scene of the crime was a tall teen in a dark green tank top. He had long black hair and an intense stare, his black eyes almost seemed to flicker green as he glared at the fat one. His taped hands were closed into tight fists, looking eager to be unleashed.
The bully’s faces grew pale with fear as the newcomer began to lean forward on the ball of his foot, looking more than ready to unleash some kind of high-flying kung-fu kick.
These two bozos clearly don’t want to mess with this guy, but I can’t begrudge them that. I mean, he’s helping me and I want to run away from him my own self.
“Bulk, it’s Tommy! Let’s get out of here!” screeches the lanky one in a high-pitched whine.
“I can see who it is just fine, Skull!” Bulk states boldly, not backing down.
Tommy continues to stand there, posed and unblinking.
I watch as a thick, globular sheet of sweat begins forming along Bulk’s receding hairline. His beady eyes dart between Tommy, myself, and the nearby exit.
Fine, you coward!” Bulk yells, the frustration is evident in his voice as he backs down. He’s clearly not used to being told what to do.
He turns and points one of his chunky fingers at Tommy.
“This isn’t over, Oliver, not by a longshot!” Bulk shouts before
attempting to make his escape.
To me, this seemed as reasonable a time as any to score a little payback, so I poke up the rubber toe of my Converse up and jam it hard into Bulk’s muscular calf.
The big man yelps loudly as he loses his balance, falling hard onto the floor causing the platform to shake from the impact. He landed
face first into a pile of whipped cream from my shake with an audible splat.
A wave of laughter erupts throughout the building as Bulk attempts to wipe his face clear of the shame, but it smears across his ever-reddening cheeks. He moves to get himself up, reaching an impatient hand out to his lanky compatriot.
“Get me up, get me up, get me up!” Bulk bellows.
“C’mon Bulk! At least try to get up yourself!” Skull moans as he tries to drag his friend from the bar. After a minute of this, Bulk begins grunting as he pulls Skull down beside him, using his bony little body as leverage. Crushing Skull in the process, Bulk begins pushing his mass back onto his feel with a herculean effort. As soon as he gets to his feet, Bulk scrambles for the exit, leaving Skull crumpled in the floor behind him.
“Wait for me, you big jerk!” Skull shouts after him as he drags himself across the floor and out the door behind him.
“Hey man, you alright?” Tommy asks, extending his hand to me. I take it and am lifted up almost instantly, which is no easy feat because I am easily 200lbs.
Jeez, is this guy strong!
I take off my soiled jean jacket and toss it over the brass railing by an empty chair near me. I look over my grey flannel, and am pleasantly surprised to find it devoid of any shake particles.
“Yeah, I’m good. Thanks for the save, bro. I figured being the new guy came with a few downsides, but I wasn’t expecting all of that,” I say with a chuckle.
“Those two are always causing trouble, but their cowards. They shouldn’t mess with you again. I’m Tommy, by the way. Tommy Oliver.”
“Nice to meet you Tommy, I’m Raul,” I say.
“Well take it from the former new guy, life in Angel Grove is easier
when you have some folks who will have your back. You’re welcome to join me and my friends over at our booth if you like, a few of us are prepping for the tournament, so it won’t be too cramped.”
Tommy points over at the booth of 5 friendly looking teens in their flannel shirts and high-top trainers. They all smiled and waved for us to come over.
“Sure, sounds good,” I reply.
I follow him over to their booth, offering a hesitant wave. At first, I’m feeling pretty nervous, but as it turns out, they were pretty cool. Tommy introduces me to everyone before heading back to finish warming up for his upcoming match.
Jason was as intense as Tommy, and also planned on competing in the tournament. He wore a red headband, which matched the rest of his ensemble.
Well, it did anyway.
Their other friend, Zack, danced around Jason like a purple blur in his Bugle Boy hoodie before suddenly ripping the headband off in one smooth fluid motion. Zack waves it around with a flourish, looking like some sort of a bullfighter.
Jason’s stoic exterior cracked at little at this as he chuckled, revealing a softer side to the jock. Kimberly, the girl in the pink dress quickly rose up from the corner of the booth and snatched it from Zack’s grasp as he skanked by the booth. She gives this stern eyebrow before tossing the headband back to Jason.
“I’m going to get you for that,” Jason laughs while tying the headband back around his slicked back hair.
Zack smirks as he pulls off his hoodie, revealing a black tank top underneath it.
“I’d love to see you try, Scott. I’m ready for you this time,” Zack shoots back as he throws a few light jabs while still bouncing on his heels, his parachute pants swish quietly from the movement. Jason may have the weight advantage, but Zack is definitely the one with an edge in terms of speed.
As the three martial artists broke off in order to prepare for the tournament, I took the opportunity to get to know the rest of the group, and found them to be pretty easygoing, with the exception of Billy, the boy in the blue overalls. He’s nice, but quiet, and clearly wound up something fierce. You can tell he’s wicked smart though, not because he wears glasses or anything, but by the way he looks at things. He’s analyzing them, figuring it out in the back of his mind.
Trini seems to be very warm and supportive of her friends. She pulls a folder from her yellow Jansport backpack, rolling it tightly into a makeshift megaphone as Jason steps on the mat to face one of the out-of-town contenders. She cheers into it, causing Billy to wince from the unexpected loudness of her voice. She gives him a gentle nudge with her elbow, causing him to smile a little and relax his tense shoulders.
The crowd steadily continued growing in size as more and more people began filtering in. A murmur that started as quiet background noise began growing increasingly louder until I can barely hear myself think, much less carry on a conversation.
Kimberly continues talking to me about the various events in Angel Grove as if she isn’t aware of this uptick in volume at all. I just keep nodding where I think I’m supposed to, I don’t want to seem rude.
A kid with a backwards cap and an over-sized press pass slinks between various members of the audience, snapping quick pictures of the contenders with his Nikon before retreating away, then popping up elsewhere like some kind of paparazzi whack-a-mole. The bright flashes are blinding, but add a sort of ‘big fight’ feeling to the environment.
Jason’s opponent looks more like a roided-out professional wrestler than a martial artist, but Jason doesn’t seem intimidated in the slightest. They bow to one another, then at the sound of the bell, Jason whips around like some kind of spinning top, planting the side of his foot solidly against the meathead’s jaw. A series of bright flashes immediately begin going off, bathing two combatants in the white light as the hit connects.
The crowd roar in a chorus of cheers as Jason sticks the landing. He relaxes his stance as he sees the big guy laid out on the mat, down for the count. The middle-aged referee kneels down to check on the young man, who is still shaking the cobwebs from his head. The ref grunts slightly as he moves to stand back to his feet and approaches Jason, taking his hand and raising it in the air in victory.
“Jason Scott advances!”
More cheers this time, I cheer with them.
This was exactly what I needed to raise my spirits.
The rest of the tournament had been just as exciting, if not more so. Tommy dispatched Zack in a surprisingly quick fashion, setting up the next match to be Tommy verses Jason, which I then learned was same finale from the previous year’s tournament.
I remember feeling a slight tremor, but I just brushed it off blaming it on all the commotion in the crowd surrounding us. That’s when a until a worried looking Tommy walked over to our booth with Zach and Jason in tow.
Though he smiled, his eyes betrayed a hidden anxiety as told everyone that ‘Uncle Z’ needed them all to head back to the house for an emergency. In a flash, they apologized to me for having to dash, and made for the door.
Well that was weird.
The two losing opponents from other the other matches took Jason and Tommy’s places, and started battling it out, but they didn’t manage to inspire the same level of excitement as the others fights had.
I grabbed my jacket from the rail and dipped out early to avoid having to fight my way to the exit.
All and all, I was pretty pleased with the way things turned out. I managed to make some new friends, and it seemed like things where looking up...then I looked up.
A giant, golden-clad dog monster had appeared from out of nowhere, towering far above the surrounding skyscrapers of the unsuspecting financial district. Wielding a massive scimitar, it began laying waste to everything around it, sending shards of glass and debris out in all directions.
Then came the giant multi-colored robot made up of what looked like smaller robot dinosaurs, which began wrangling the monster with a series of punches and kicks, driving it away from the city and towards the docks by the seaside.
Maybe I should've stayed in Atlanta.