Kevin was the coolest kid in the class, by far, and everyone knew it. He’d earned this title simply because of his prolific athletic ability, and, I think, sick buzz cut. He wore diamond-insignia’d Umbros and his soccer team’s shirt to school every day, which in North Carolina was the signature style of third grade hipness. I looked up to Kevin, partly because he was about two feet taller and, physically, shorter people would have to do so in order to look at his awesome, exquisitely chiseled face. But also, I looked up to him because he was a genuinely nice guy. Plus, Kevin is a cool name. And the buzz cut factor.
While I forget the circumstances of the class contest, I remember vividly that I won. This leads me to believe that the contest required possessing no athletic abilities in any possible way - from throwing or catching a ball, to running, to sitting down fastest. For me to win a contest, it would also have not included: math, paying attention, women, focusing, committing to learning new things such as any musical instrument or web design beyond simple HTML, knowledge of automobile parts, playing poker with the guys, knowing how to play poker in the first place, when to begin braking a car, keeping up with the best new musicians, carpentry besides hammering nails, or fishing.
Kevin would have won all of those contests, for sure, because he was the manliest 8-year-old I knew, probably had leg hair, and could operate a reciprocating saw. The reward for winning this contest (let’s say the contest was “the one who is most impressionable” or “the one who for some reason has memorized all the cuts of beef at 8”) was two-fold. First, I got a free Little Caesars pizza for lunch. Second, I got to pick one person to eat with, privately, at our own table. And you are right to guess that I chose Kevin, and his Umbros, and his leg hair, and his assumed carpentry skills.
To fathom this scenario is impossible for any age past the third grade: the quiet kid (who, later in fourth grade, would go on to win Class Clown) picking the coolest guy in the school to share a private lunch. I wasn’t really friends with Kevin; he was just cool, and no one yet fully understood societal organization. After third grade, though, people divide. Packs emerge. The guy in the Umbros becomes the jock with the letter jacket; the cute girl with dorky glasses morphs into a hot cheerleader with Acuvue once-dailies, and guys like me never talk to either one of them again.
I can remember the reaction of the class as I stood up front to claim my prize and announce to everyone that, indeed, I had chosen none of them and would be sharing a pepperoni pizza at a private table with the best person in the class and perhaps even the United States. It wasn’t the loss of eating pizza that saddened them; it was the failure to be chosen as cool. There were moans of disappointment. There was an “aw shucks” motion from many arms. And then there was Kevin, sitting in his stackable plastic yellow chair, slowly pulling his fist down from the sky, clenching his jaw and exclaiming, proudly, “Yes!”
We moved around a lot growing up, so I have no idea of Kevin’s whereabouts or societal status. I don’t even recall his last name to look him up and figure out whether he’s still cool; or deduce whether he went through a domineering jock phase and is maybe cool once again; or simply, after third grade, conclude that he turned into an insufferable prick and perhaps crashed his Audi through a guardrail, causing it to burst into flames and fly uncontrollably into a spinning wind turbine.
I’d like to believe Kevin is still cool and didn’t suffer a horrific death, and that, if we ever met again, we’d sit down and share a pepperoni pizza together. Anything except Little Caesars, which is gross now.