The only thing more stupid than living in Reno is living in Reno’s sister city, Sparks. This is the story of how I ended up in Sparks, which, as you might expect, led me straight to smoking.
I was always suspicious of parental surprises, especially when it involved getting in a car. With my biological father, who I’ll refer to as Bio Dad, a surprise car ride meant we were either going to the liquor store or moving to a third world country. So when my mother and stepfather, AKA New Dad, sardined my stepbrother (New Bro) and me into the back of New Dad’s Datsun Z for a “surprise,” I had a feeling it was going to be a craptastic day.
Quicker than I could scrawl out a help-me-I’m-trapped-in-the-back-of-a-midlife-crisis-mobile sign, we whizzed past the WELCOME TO SPARKS landmark on the side of the freeway. Not bad enough we’re going on a surprise voyage, but a surprise voyage to Sparks. I dared not ask.
The tiny sports car pulled up in front of a very long house with a FOR SALE sign in the front yard. I unfolded myself from the back of the minuscule car and made my way toward the Astroturf covered porch. The sound of my plastic jelly shoes crushing plastic grass was disconcerting at best. I was only nine, but was definitely hip enough to know that plastic grass does not belong on a front porch. The entire house looked like a mobile home, only it didn’t move, so I guess that made it an immobile home.
The house was more like two houses glued together due to a completely forced and awkward add-on. My favorite part was the Western style barroom complete with wooden swinging doors and a vinyl covered bar with barstools. I bet more than doors swung in that room, if you get my drift. Especially since Joe Conforte, the infamous owner of The Mustang Ranch was a neighbor just up the hill. Brings a whole new meaning to “hey neighbor, can I borrow some sugar?”
Before New Bro and I could even finish origami-ing ourselves back into the miniature car, Mom craned her neck around the back of the passenger seat to face us, her face reeking of agenda.
“Did you like the house?”
“It’s fine,” I answered. I mean, I was ten and it was a house. I had much more important things on my mind, like how much Fun Dip I had left in my backpack, if I finally would discover a geode in the backyard, and the punch list items for the completion of my new fort.
“Good, because we bought it!” she exclaimed.
There it was. Surprise. I knew this would be a shit day, but the black and red floor mat had just been completely pulled from underneath my jellies. I entered this excursion with hopes (denial) that we were simply taking a Sunday drive and walking around some other person’s weird porno house for shits and gigs.
Unfortunately denial can’t orchestrate a change of fate and contracts had been signed, hands had been shaken, not stirred. I was officially fucked. I’d finally rooted myself at Anderson Elementary, so much so that I actually had friends. Which was a rarity since I typically didn’t even make it a full school year before the suitcases came out again. By the end of our tenure with Bio Dad, Mom and I stopped unpacking the boxes because why bother? They’d only get packed up again.
“Can I still go to Anderson?” I asked, hoping, praying for a miracle.
The car-big-enough-only-for-midgets reached the bottom of the hill and passed perhaps the ugliest two schools I’d ever seen in my life. Agnes Risley Elementary and Sparks Middle shared one large city block. They were kitty corner from each other, separated by a long stretch of brown splotchy grass and a baseball diamond. They looked like prisons. Probably because they were.
“This will be your new school,” Mom said as she pointed to the smaller of the two schools. On the side of one of the cracked white walls was a pathetic mural of what looked like a large rat next to the handwritten school slogan, “Home of the Risley Bears.” Got it, the rat was supposed to be a bear. A “Risley” bear. Shoot me.
I was immediately gripped with an intense craving for nicotine. This was odd, because I’d never smoked.
Not yet, that is.
I started to cry. And not just cry, wail, for what was to come and what had already transpired. Agnes Risley was to become the tenth elementary school I’d attend.