“Youth is easily deceived, because it is quick to hope.”
It may not have risen to the level of humiliation as Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue”, but the name did bring a goodly dose of discomfort. Being named Charlie Brown would be a little like being sentenced to wear a “Kick Me” sign on your back for life. Akin to Kermit’s doleful tune, “It Ain’t Easy Being Charlie Brown.”
The name did fit, however. In many respects, he was even more Charlie Brownish than the original Peanuts character. Things just happened to this poor guy. His bike got a flat tire in his Cub Scouts’ entry in the 4th of July Parade, and he had to walk (drag) his bike the last two miles to City Park, arriving too late for ice cream. On his youth church group’s outing to the County Fair, he tripped on a cable and fell into a steamy pile of cow manure, acquiring not just a distasteful odor and appearance, but also garnering the laughter and ridicule of all present. One day at lunch out on the school playground, a gooey bit of bird poop landed on his summer sausage sandwich, his favorite. And even Sister Theresa laughed when his pants split open in the back as he bent over to pick up his pencil in the 7th grade. The laughter of his classmates echoed in his ears for months, especially the giggles of the girls. It ain’t easy being Charlie Brown.
He was a laugh magnet. Kids love to eat candy. Birds love to fly. Mosquitoes love to bite. Everyone loves to laugh at a Charlie Brown. It’s as natural as trees, rain and sunshine.
He didn’t mind it all so much in his early years. He liked the attention, and he was okay with being the instrument that evoked smiles and laughter, even if directed at him. The name became more bothersome as he grew older. He was finding it hard to be taken seriously if your name is Charlie Brown.
“So, I think we’re spending way too much money on foreign aid.”
The words were heard without any semblance of attentive comprehension, only a look that reflected the inner workings of the mind- “Heh, heh, heh…Charlie Brown.”
Fourteen years of being Charlie Brown brings with it a serious degree of self-consciousness compounded by a troublesome deficiency of self-confidence. He was going from an elementary school of 120, only 13 kids in his 8th grade class, to a high school of 1,600. Just walking down the crowded hallway that first morning was intimidating.
A new school surrounded by new people. It was an opportunity to shed the name that had brought him so much unwelcome attention.
“Charles” had an aristocratic ring to it, so he tried going with “Chuck”. That worked for a few weeks, but all it took was one “Hey, Charlie Brown!” from one of his former grade school classmates, and “Chuck” was dead and buried. It was a little like having a Kardashian siting at the school. “Did you know we’ve got a guy named Charlie Brown here?” “Have you met Charlie Brown?” “Charlie Brown is in my English class!”
It took awhile, but Charlie made some new friends. Of course, this came with the good natured (mostly good natured) teasing the name invited, but at this point, Charlie accepted it as part of life, as much a part of who he was as the color of his eyes. In describing these new friends, I don’t want to sound unkind, so I will refrain from using words like “nerd” or “loser”. Let’s just say he wasn’t chumming around with the captain of the football team, the head cheerleader, or any of the likely candidates for valedictorian. Eddie quickly became his best friend, perhaps because he wasn't too absorbed with the trappings associated with the iconic name. He also hung out with Vince, Willie, and Bart, none of whom needed the assist of a funny name to garner unwelcome attention…well, actually teasing, insults and ridicule. Their appearance, attire, and personality, or lack of, attracted plenty of incoming, pointy barbs.
Charlie went out for the school’s cross country team. With a no cut policy, Charlie was free to roam, neighborhoods, parks and golf courses wrapped in the peaceful serenity that complete solitude bestows, as his teammates had long ago drifted off into the horizon. One frightful evening, a very worried Charlie’s mom found him in the glare of her car’s headlights, resting peacefully on a bench at the 13th hole tee box of the local Country Club. Charlie’s coach was a nice man, and he fitted him with a GPS tracking device for all subsequent practices.
An unfortunate string of additional miscues solidified his near legendary status in the school, and kids regularly shared the latest Charlie Brown news with their parents and siblings during evening meals.
After receiving erroneous directions from a senior class meanie, he accidently entered the girls’ locker-room on the first day of school. It was a tossup as to who was more embarrassed, Charlie or the half-dressed girls. He wore two different shoes to school on multiple occasions. He started a small fire in his science class when he got a defective Bunsen Burner, and the one plumbing leak in the school’s history happened right above Charlie’s head during his 3rd hour English class. Even without the name, he was Charlie Brown.
Everything up to this point was troubling, but it was all minor strafing compared to the nuclear warhead being readied on the launch pad. Matters of the heart can bring one to the highest highs, but they can also deliver the lowest lows. Such emotions usually develop over time. Love develops, grows and is nurtured over time. Relationships fade, erode until the heart realizes it is broken. If you’re Charlie Brown, it can all happen in an instant, 1.72 seconds to be exact.
To be accurate, 1.72 seconds was the average of repeated measurements taken over the years. Charlie recorded times as short as 1.41 seconds and as long as 1.92 seconds, but putting all the tests together, 1.72 seconds was the average. So, he always considered 1.72 seconds as the amount of time required to shatter his life. Charlie briefly considered looking for a stopwatch that would register times to the 3rd decimal point, but he concluded there would be little point to it.
Charlie’s homeroom was located in a room big enough for two homerooms, one behind the other and each holding about 30 students. It was cruel fate that put Charlie in the same homeroom as the beautiful Marcie Williams. Beautiful? No, she was beyond beautiful. There is not a word in the vocabulary of a high school freshman that could adequately describe Marcie, at least not in Charlie’s vocabulary, nor in his eyes.
He was smitten on day one. There wasn’t much interaction between boys and girls in Charlie’s Catholic grade school, so he was completely overwhelmed and befuddled by the feelings stirring within him. Eddie coined it “flutterbusted”.
“Why don’t you ask her out?”
“Are you kidding, Eddie? I can’t even talk to her. She doesn’t even know I exist.”
So Charlie Brown pined, hour after hour, day after day, week after week. There are few things quite so painful in the human experience as unrequited love. Homeroom was bittersweet for Charlie. He got to see the beautiful Marcie, and dream and hope. But then harsh reality would kick in, a hard slap in the face, and his spirits sunk. “No, Charlie, the beautiful Marcie will never be yours.”
Remarkably, Charlie’s friends began doing some dating, proving the accuracy of the old adage, “There is someone for everyone.” Even Eddie somehow managed to come up with a girlfriend. The “haves” love to rub it in the noses of the “have nots”.
“Gees, Charlie, why don’t you have a girlfriend?”, said Eddie, as he stood shoulder to shoulder with the other self-anointed Romeos, Vince, Willie and Bart. They were talking about the upcoming school Talent Show for which they all, incredibly, had dates.
“Ask her to go to the Talent Show with you”, said Vince.
“Yeah, we could all go together,” Bart chimed in.
Truth be known, Charlie could have hopped aboard the Eddie-Vince-Willie-Bart Express as it steamed downhill on an ever sliding scale searching for girls as needy as they were. But no, Charlie wasn’t able to settle. When you’ve been dreaming of lobster at a fine restaurant, it’s hard to embrace a gas station hot dog.
“No, the Talent Show thing sounds stupid.”
Lie. Taking Marcie to the Talent Show would have been like making it to the top of Mount Everest and then getting a text telling him he had won the lottery. Charlie would stay home and dream.
There are pranks, and then there are pranks that go too far, pranks that cause undue inconvenience, discomfort and hardship. They may cause some harm to property or necessitate expenditures of substantial time and effort. And then there are the 3rd degree pranks, the really nasty ones, those concocted in the minds of the depraved, the product of a soul devoid of any semblance of concern for one’s fellow man, pranks that cause irreversible emotional trauma.
The really good pranks sometimes need a willing accomplice, that is a degree of naiveté or obliviousness on the part of the victim. Charlie Brown provided the perfect sitting duck for any nefarious high school students bent on gags of personal destruction.
We need to note that the perpetrator does not always harbor evil intentions. It might be carelessness or a severe misunderstanding of consequences as one blindly pursues a funny outcome. All underlying factors seem to have been present in the sorry sequence of events that doomed poor Charlie Brown.
Charlie’s group met in a hallway first thing every morning. This day there were a few extras, “popular” kids barely known to Charlie. Brutus and Cassius needed cohorts. So too did Charlie’s friends.
Eddie’s goofy smile was bigger than usual, one of those ear to ear jobs.
“Charlie! We’ve got some good news for you!”
All conspirators seem to be engaging in a smile contest.
“Well, Bob here is a good friend of Marcie’s brother…”
Charlie’s body stiffened with occasional noticeable twitching.
“And I had told him how you had the hots for Marcie…”
“…and he talked to Marcie last night.”
Charlie could only moan, “Oh no.”
His eyes seemed to be getting larger. His feet show signs of involuntary movement.
“He told her how you wanted to ask her to the Talent Show…”
“Oh no, why would you guys do this?! I can’t…”
“Relax, Casanova. She wants to go with you.”
Charlie’s anger quickly dissipated.
Now he had won the lottery.
“Well, you shouldn’t have talked to her…but, she wants to go with me?”
“Yeah, all you have to do is ask.”
“She’s waiting for you to ask her.”
“That’s awesome, Charlie. We can all together.”
The small crowd dispersed, leaving a stunned, ecstatic Charlie, standing there alone atop Mount Everest.
Charlie’s heart was pounding as Mr. Sturm took attendance. He took deep breaths as he summoned the courage he would need to walk over to Marcie’s desk. Come on, Charlie, you can do this. The shoot is greased. Get over there. Multiple glances in her direction. He did a countdown in his mind. Three, two, one. Mobilize!
Once on his feet, a near supernatural force took over. He wasn’t the Charlie Brown who had grown accustomed to ridicule. He was a new man, the one the beautiful Marcie waited for, longing for an invite to the school’s Talent Show. He would soon be the envy of every guy in the school.
Charlie’s confidence grew with each step as he walked, no, sauntered toward Marcie’s desk. Clouds seemed to form beneath his feet as he moved across the room edging ever closer to his long awaited rendezvous with romance. “She’s waiting for you to ask her.” Those wonderful words transformed Charlie Brown into a rare mix of Danny Zuko and The Fonz. Would that he had never arrived at his destination.
Poor Charlie was oblivious to the many sets of eyes tracking his journey. When he arrived at Marcie’s desk, he hovered over her, unnoticed. After what seemed like forever, and then some, Marcie looked up, brushed her blond hair to the side, and gave Charlie a questioning look.
As Charlie was not well versed in matters of communicating with members of the opposite sex, his approach might have been considered less than polished or smooth. Some might even call it clumsy. For Charlie, the mere ability to speak at that moment was a success, but he would forever question his choice of words.
“Well, Marcie, how about it?”
“How about what?” (1.72 seconds)
The laughter was loud, spontaneous, devastating.
Charlie stood there like a goof, frozen in this moment of unimaginable disaster. Now he couldn’t speak, and if he could have found his voice, he could not have found the words. He slowly turned his head to survey the room. All eyes were on him. Except for Marcie and the two homeroom teachers, everyone in the two home rooms was in on it. The deepest wounds of all came when he saw Eddie, Vince, Willie and Bart leaning into the doorway to get a good look. They had skipped out on their own home room period to bear witness to the historic event. Suddenly the humiliation suffered in the eyes of Marcie paled with the realization that he would now be the laughingstock of the entire school, perhaps for years to come.
Charlie shuffled back to his seat, head down, hoping and praying that it would all go away, that he could instantly be someplace else. He had fallen from the peak of Everest to the depths of the Mariana Trench in an instant. The entirety of his emotions was so wrapped in misery that it left no room for anger toward the perpetrators. How this came to be mattered little. Charlie Brown’s life was over.
Charlie’s humiliation quickly became an integral part of the school’s history, its colorful lore, ranking right up there with the Boy’s State Basketball Championship of ’65 and Dick Latter’s graduation day motorcycle ride through the hallways. Like many other great moments in history, more people would later claim to have witnessed the event than the school’s entire population would have allowed. The subject was a mainstay of Class Reunions for years to come.
“Did you hear about Charlie Brown asking Marcie to the Talent Show?”
“Hear about it? Hell, I was there.”
And what became of Charlie Brown? After briefly considering the priesthood or the life of a Tibetan Monk, or possibly infiltrating the Mafia in the hope of someday landing a spot in the Witness Protection Program, Charlie spent a lifetime whiling away the hours in a cubicle performing mind-numbing accounting tasks for a big company. He worked hard to establish the new identity of “Chuck Brown”. One day the office secretary buzzed him.
“Chuck, there’s a woman named Marcie on the phone. She says she went to high school with you.”
Marcie?! Oh my God. Charlie had not heard that name for years, but he had thought of that day countless times. Those moments had traumatized him for his entire high school career. The finger pointing, the laughter, the enduring taunts of, “Well, Charlie, how about it?” He had relived that day so many times. He could still picture the smiles on his friends’ faces as they set the trap, strutting over to Marcie’s desk, her perplexed expression, and of course the laughter that played like that tune you can’t get off your mind.
The trauma had lingered for years. How could he have been so foolish? He cursed his “friends” and whoever it was that created the stupid Talent Show in the first place. Charlie replayed the events over and over again, often removing one of the steps that led him to disaster, each time imagining a different outcome. It had been a long, difficult challenge, but he had finally put the nightmare behind him. If the wounds had not healed completely, they were at least in remission. Charlie had not visited the embarrassing episode for years, and now she was on the line.
“Are you the Charlie Brown that graduated from Central High School in 1979?”
Just hearing the name rekindled the embers of anguish that he had struggled to extinguish for so many years.
“Yes, that’s me.”
“Well, we were in the same homeroom freshman year. I was Marcie Martin back then. Do you remember.”
Remember? The moment had tormented him for half a lifetime.
“Yes, I think I remember you.”
“Well, do you remember the day your friends set you up, and everyone laughed at you?”
Thanks for reminding me.
“Mmm…I think I sort of remember something like that. It was no big deal.”
“Well, I always wanted to tell you I thought that was pretty mean, and that I wasn’t in on it. I just never had the chance to tell you that.”
“I never thought you were, but it’s nice of you to call to tell me that .”
“I just wanted to set the record straight.”
No, Charlie, don’t go there.
“Say, Marcie, I never did get a chance to ask you what I wanted to ask you that day.”
“And what was that?”
“I was going to ask you if you wanted to go to the school Talent Show with me. I guess I aways wondered what your answer would have been.”
“I would have said no, of course.”
“Chuck Brown” instantly reverted to “Charlie Brown” as those 1.72 seconds came roaring back.
“Well, thanks for calling.”