Normalni High School has been the education site for the Town of Normalni for five generations. It’s a wide building which sits squat upon a hill in the center of town. Around seven thirty every weekday morning you can see students making their way to the whitewash brick walls. All of them carrying an assortment of bags and books and instruments. A wave of people marching to school, much too disorganized and mismatched to be a unified army. They all fly their own colors and cling to their own.
The school football season’s starting up and I’ve heard that our team’s looking pretty good for this year. I’m a freshman so I haven’t seen what they can do just yet, but I’ve heard from some upperclassmen that we have a good chance to win our conference this year. I’ve always loved watching football. My dad and I watch it every Sunday during the NFL season. He sits in his recliner with his legs out and a magazine in his left hand for during the commercials. I sit on our old couch. It has splotches and stains, and a tough spot right in the middle where you can see the spring pressing up against the fabric. I eat cheese puffs as we rant and rave over the game. “Flag! There was nothing there!” Or, “Touchdown!!! Let’s go Boys, that’s how it’s done!” When it gets really late in the season and the games get more and more intense my dad gets way more involved. He turns into a complete stereotype of a fan. Thick polyester football jersey, face-paint under the eyes, can of Miller Lite in hand and everything. I’m almost as devoted to the character; covered from head to toe in my football attire and any good luck charm that might just make the game. The only thing I’m missing is the beer, except for once. I was ten or eleven and it was the Superbowl and we’d made it. My dad was psyched. Our team had come this far and now all that stood between us and eternal glory was a single game. There was no way that we would ever actually get tickets to the game, but we did set up our living room for optimum viewing comfort. This was essentially setting our chairs as close to the TV as possible. The game was a real nail-biter, but we came out on top with a field goal in the last minute of the game that pushed us just one point ahead. So, the celebration began, we stuffed our faces with a bunch of food until my dad offered me a single beer. In hindsight, he was definitely drunk at this point, hence this decision to give me the beer. But I was young and I was full of excitement from our win, so I trusted him and took the Miller Light. I popped the tab and heard the shrill fizz that sent a slight tingling up my spine. I took a big swig. Bad decision; I hacked and coughed trying to rid my mouth of the bitter taste and my throat of the burning sensation. Once it faded I tried again, this time more slowly sipping it down. It didn’t taste good, but I did feel a warmness inside. It wasn’t until a hour later when I was upturning my stomach into the toilet that I began to regret my decision. That and the hangover the next morning all because of one beer.
Despite my football fandom I’ve never played. I’ve always been too scrawny and weak to do something like that. Plus I can’t catch for the life of me and my throwing accuracy is as poor as a mute bat’s. But I can’t let that stop me from contributing to the team somehow. Fortunately, the old mascot graduated last year, so there’s an opening. We’re the Man O Wars. I don’t know who decided to pick a jellyfish as our mascot or why they decided on a slimy marine creature over the classics; Bulldogs, Mustangs, Panthers, and Eagles, but I do know the costume is a hot, suffocating hassle. Classes were over and it was the day of tryouts so I made my way down the cluttered halls toward the gymnasium. As I moved through the Freshman’s lockers, I waved goodbye to some of my friends and answered Tom that I was headed to the mascot tryouts. He was heading to a soccer game so I wished him luck and he wished me luck as well. I finally arrived at the green double doors that open to the gym. So, I meet with the leader of the cheer squad and he asks me if I was here for cheerleading or mascot tryouts. He seems very surely and a little too heavy and hairy to be a cheer coach. I simply say “Mascot” and he points to the costume sitting against the edge of table just behind him. It’s massive. At least three times my size and with thick bluish-purplish tentacles reaching out in all directions grasping at things that aren’t there. It looks more like a colorful beanbag chair than a jellyfish; something I’d lay on while watching TV. It’d probably be more comfortable than the couch. Put this on and report back to me, he says. So, I grab the costume and lug it to the locker rooms just across the hall. It weighs a ton and barely fits through the door on the right, the men’s locker room. I get into the locker room and it smells like pure, concentrated sweat. The football team must have just gotten ready for practice. There are bags, shoes, and pants strewn all across the benches and floor. I pick the first clear spot I can find and sit down on the hardwood bench. I take off my shoes, then socks, then pants and shirt. The costume is weirdly segmented so that the top and bottom are connected at the front of the costume, but I can also step into the pants of the costume from the back before finally pulling the top of the costume over my head. The costume smells worse than the locker room, but at least I’m the right height to see through the eye-holes. Now that I’m in the costume it’s time to make my way back to the gym. The first few steps are very awkward, but now I’m finally moving at a slow walking pace. I can see the walls around me and I skillfully fit just between the narrow space.I’m about five foot away from the door. Suddenly I feel something beneath my foot and all I can see is the ground rushing towards me as my feet fly into the air. I’m now lying face first on the rough, grey concrete floor. I instinctively reach to the ground with my hands, but they don’t move more than a few inches rubbing against the soft plushy inside of the suit. My hands are trapped! The suit has no arm holes and I hadn’t even noticed. I try as hard as I can to wiggle them free, but they’re good and stuck under my body weight. My blood is fiercely pumping and I can feel the thud of my heart. Maybe I can kick my legs and get a little closer to freedom? As I’m frantically kicking my legs I notice just how sweaty I am. It’s getting real hot in this thick suit. Even without my shirt and pants I feel like I’m in an oven. This is not good. I stop kicking; it’s just tiring. Can I tilt myself over? I try to turn and I start to get closer to lying on my side, but then I feel the wall on my back. “Shit!” I can’t even flip onto my back? I’m fucked. All I can see is the floor through my tiny eye-holes. I’m overheating and my knees are scraped up from the concrete floor. There’s no way anyone’s here. “Is anyone there?” Of course, no reply. “Help!” I guess I’m trapped till the coach comes to check were I am. How long has it been, 2 minutes, 3, 4, 5? I don’t know. It already feels like I’ve been laying here for hours. Why hasn’t he come to check on me yet. Did something happen? He couldn’t have forgotten about me, could he? I need to calm down. He’ll come back and I’ll be fine. Very embarrassed, but at least physically fine. I wonder if I even have a chance of being mascot now. Falling over and getting trapped just after putting it on doesn’t make the best first impression. Finally, I hear a voice. “What the hell? Is someone in there?” “Help me !” I replied. Thank god someone finally came. I feel hands grabbing at the top of the suit. As they pull up my legs gain traction on the ground and I’m finally back on my feet. I clumsily turn around to thank them and see a big guy with arms the size of my costume’s. He’s wearing padding and has a new-looking helmet at his feet. “Thanks” I say. “No problem, what happened?” A group of other football players was now shuffling into the locker room from the door behind my rescuer. “I tripped and fell over something and I couldn’t get up.” I ask, “Is football practice over?” “Yeah it just ended.” Now all the other players were gathering around to see what was up. “Does that mean it’s five O’clock?” I ask the new formed collective. “Actually it’s five thirty.” one of them answers before I’m quickly asked why I’m still here. “He fell and got stuck, so I helped him up.” Immediately most of them are laughing. Some of them start to go about switching back into their normal clothes. Another of them asks if I’m the new mascot and I tell him that I don’t know. I’m supposed to be trying out. He seems satisfied and sits at a bench. I thank my savior again and clumsily turn around again to get to the gym. How the hell have I been laying here for two hours. Where’s coach and why didn’t he come find me. I’m a mix of furious and worried if I’ll actually find him. I get into the gym, still in the mascot costume. No ones here. I start to turn around when I hear the outside gym door click. It opens and in comes twenty or so cheerleaders and the coach in behind them. He seems startled to see me at first, with his wide eyes and slightly lowered jaw, but he quickly gains some composure. “I’m so sorry. I completely forgot and got hung up in the cheerleader’s practice. I’m surprised your still here. Why didn’t you head home?” “I’ve been stuck in the boy’s locker room for the last two hours.” I say this somewhat angrily, but also ashamedly. He seems a little bit more guilty now. “I’m so sorry, how did you get stuck?” “I fell down and couldn’t move. It was super hot and smelly.” This is in a more aggressive and naggy tone. “I’m really sorry about that. But on the bright side, no one else seems to have applied, so you’re our new mascot.” “What if I don’t want to be mascot anymore.” He takes a second to consider his response. “Well isn’t that what you came here for. Plus the team really needs you. They need Manny the Man O’ War.” All i can think about is how stupid a name Manny the Man O’ War is as I say, “Fine”. “Thanks. Be here again tomorrow after school.” He’s very obviously rushing this conversation, so I let him go without anymore questions and he heads out the door and into the hall. I go back into the locker room and change back into my clothes. Pull of the top and step out of the bottom. Then, pants, shirt, socks, and shoes. I lug the massive costume through the door, into the gym and leave it were I found it. How bad can it be? At least I get to be a part of the team now. I’m truly involved at Normalni High.