This one time Double Dare came to town.
It was the Oscars of childhood. Everyone in 5th grade was going to go, and it was to be a social event. Lisa went with Kevin, and Jessica and her friends were going, and of course we all knew what that meant: this was less a Nickelodeon television game show and more a portal into the next social stratosphere. If things went smoothly for you and you rubbed all the the right shoulders in the room – really worked that room – this could take you from nerddom straight up to the cool kids. It was deadly serious.
It took place at the local hockey arena and was jam packed with children. All of the heavy hitters from all of the other schools were there. The Christian kids from Valley Christian were there, so were the rich fucks from Harker Academy. Fuck those kids, I thought, or would have done, had I held any true command of the word “fuck” back then.
The show started. We were all enraptured. Our gaze was on the mighty Marc Summers – the host of Double Dare – and he held court over us the magnificence that was Double Dare. There were to be trivia, and games! Some would be slimed! Others would brave a test of fitness and agility to win the grand prize! It all seemed too unreal. It was a sheer gladiator spectacle. One of us would win above all. Everything was on the line. We roared with bloodlust, our little throats rattling with contempt for humanity and our triumph over the illusion of community. Give us our fucking place in this world, we seemed to scream! Rise us one to exhalt! Show us our leader, Marc Summers! We will kill for you, Marc Summers.
There were games, merriment, and festivities. Marc took us on an emotional roller-coaster journey deep and throughout of childlike physches. What did it all mean, we asked ourselves? It was as if an entire arena of children had simultaneously taken acid… we held a mirror to our souls and Marc was the bus driver to another dimension that lacked sense of self. In this “New Utopia” one would survive on trivia, sliming, and the Ayn Raynd-ian principles of the individual triumphing above all.
Then, it happened.
The trivia round was announced. TRIVIA. Knowledge. Surely, this would produce the brains of our new society. Surely, this would be the be-all end-all of school altogether… we would no longer be needed at these brick and mortar institutions that we called “grade school”. Pah! We were better, stronger, more feral than that – we children in that arena. Pretty soon, three children were to go up on stage and answer questions that would potentially change the course of their entire lives.
Marc Summers weaved through the crowd, deftly, like an ambulance driver. He shoved his microphone in childrens faces. “WHO WAS PRESIDENT DURING THE CIVIL WAR” he screamed into the face of a person a third of his height and a quarter of his age. “LIN-COLNNN!” squealed the boy with the vitriol of a starving dog being let out of a cage to a pile of marrowed bones. The boy was whisked up on stage. Marc prowled through the teeming crowd of pre-teens. Who would be next. Who could stand to the challenge? Who could hold their steely gaze to the fire of Marc Summer’s mental gymnastics? A young girl was selected perhaps by Marc Summers, perhaps by the Oracles, who is to say. “WHAT WAS THE FIFTIETH STATE” shouted Summers – as if her life could be felled like a tree just by the words coming from his mouth. “HAWA-IIIIIII!” hollered the little girl as if her life depended on the sheer volume of her answer, and she too was to go up on stage. Who would be the next. Who would be the Chosen one? Which mortal could potentially become a demigod today?
I saw Marc
ME. At once, I aged fifty years. My entire life flashed before my eyes. There I was: eating a sandwich, at age four. There I was: eating a sandwich, at age seven. I was only ten at the time, so my life hadn’t consisted of much by that point. It was a brief recollection. Then - SUDDENLY - Marc was in front of me.
It was if there was nothing else in the world but me and him in an empty arena, a spotlight above us, pinpointing this moment for not just the present but the rest of my life. Everything would be defined by this moment.
IS DENNIS THE MENACES -
I knew this. It was so easy. It was - it was - I knew this, I read it every morning. Dennis the Menace. Blond kid. Runs around in dungarees like a Janes Addiction fan. My mouth opened. Perhaps if I just gave it the benefit of the doubt, perhaps if I just said whatever was on my mind – perhaps then:
Marc recoiled as if my skin were made of shit and hatred. “I’m sorry,” he said, looking at me with eyes of contempt - RAGINGLY SORRY, LITTLE BOY - and he slunk away to ask another child the same question.
But it was too late for me. The thrill was gone. I saw the others, having their fun, and being chosen to go up on stage and become The Coolest Kids In The Entire World, and I wasn’t envious of them: I had missed my shot to be cool. Ever. The rest of my life would take a new course thanks to that flubbed line. Had children been able to drink, I would have been able to drink, and would have gone to a children’s bar and spent an entire week’s allowance entirely on children’s whiskey, blacking out and passing out in the tiny children’s gutter, eventually becoming a child hobo, hopping from boxcar to boxcar and town to town – all because of Double Dare. I was the Willy Loman of childhood. I was broken. I was a broken child.
The next day at school, Lisa said “It was Mister Wilson, you fucking retard.”
I told her to “Fuck off,” because, now jaded, the ‘F’ word was in my grasp, and I didn’t care about life or the caste system of grade school social hierarchy anymore. I dropped out of ever caring about popularity ever again. It was fucking 1969 all over again. Just all out war between the freaks like me – like Fat Steve (who was fat), Crying Jeff (who cried a lot), and the kid who sang songs from The Lion King during gym class (who was me) – against the squares and the norms, man. Tune in. Drop out. Fuck the system. It had failed me. You can’t expect me to answer your damn tests, man. I ain’t no fucking number.
There is no end to this story. No happy ending. I did not learn anything other than the dream is dead.