Sunday, January 23, 2005

Desperately Seeking Pandas

My #1 commenter over the Pop told me I had to write about Pandas, and so this is my story - I'm not sure if anyone is reading these tales, but hey, if not, I'll be finished soon enough!

Desperately Seeking Pandas

I mentioned the fact before that at my school, I had the moral authority to act as the negotiater between the different social classes of an average school. I was just about popular and rebellious enough (I had a tattoo I had to hide for a year) to be cool, but not cool enough to be unapproachable, while at the same time I was enough of a smiling, giggling benny that I could mingle with the downtrodden, but at the same time, I wasn't so much of a benny I was throwing peoples bags in the bin, and seeing how many times I could spin round really fast before I threw up. I could have really had a career in politics, such was the ease of my calling. It was never officially announced that I would negotiate the way things were going to be between the camps, it was just automatically assumed that if the whole school had to or wanted to go to something that was on, I'd do the arrangements, set the meeting times, and make sure everyone was happy.

From time to time, my unchallenged negotiating skills were tested by a rival, such at Katherine McCormick in Grade 4. Katherine was a stickler for social etiquette, having grown up in the wilds of Swindon, England, and carved a great (she said) playground diplomacy style trying to get the wilder students, who had already graduated to smoking and groping one another, to mix with the bennys and the cool kids. She spun some impressive tales about this, and I could tell some of the bennys were greatly impressed, especially at her ability to stop bullying, simply through the power of negotiation. I could sense though a slight overblown bluster in her voice, as if she was trying too hard to be everything to everyone. I sensed that if I hung on, she'd make a tactical error, and I, as the playground moderator, would have to fix it.

Older readers of the Y might remember the bizarre Pepsi challenge that went around in the late 80s/early 90s. For anyone who doesn't know, to great fanfare, a truck would appear in your town/city, and a stage erected. From there, the kids were presented with two cups, one with Pepsi, and one with I presume home brand cola. The challengee would be asked which one they liked best, and if they picked the Pepsi, they would get a prize bag (usually containing M&Ms and vouchers for a hair cut). Children being children worked things out pretty easily, and word spread around our playground from Kevin McKay down that the flatter, more tastless drink was the Pepsi, and the fizzier, sweeter one was Home Brand. Easy. So when the Pepsi Challenge van rocked up to Richmond, we were primed and ready to grab free stuff (my life obsession, it seems, is to get nothing but free stuff). No one in the school wanted to miss out on the opportunity to get free goods, and possibly get on the local news.

If we were going as a group though, we had to make sure everything was fixed, primed, and ready to go. We had to make sure the cool kids and the bennys weren't jumbled up together. The cool kids had things to do, and people could see them. The bennys could wait until the end, lest the social order of things collapse. I let Katherine McCormick do the organising, just to see what she was about, and while I admired her style, I could sense the cool kids weren't really buying it, as she wandered hither and tither with a broad, slightly queezy smile, telling everyone where to assemble. Eventually, Amber Bennett came over to me as I was sipping on a fruit box reading Surf Monthly.

"Alyson, why aren't you organising this - it's a group event, she doesn't know us!"

I put the fruit box down on the bench, and shrugged.

"She wants her shot, I'm happy to give her a chance to try and cross the social divides we have."

"But she's terrible at it! Already, she mixed Mark the benny up with Mark of no fixed social standing! That's a recipe for disaster!"

I inwardly smiled at her rookie mistake, but outwardly, I remained calm.

"Amber, it'll be fine - if anything goes wrong, I'll fix it"

That re-assured her. Soon enough, after a week in which I finally did nothing for a change, we gathered in the local shopping plaza, pretty much as a school group. The cool kids were looking cool, and the bennys were playing Frogger in the chip shop. I was interested to see where I was in the social standing of things according to Katherine, but I was firmly in the background, despite the misgivings of Megs B, who wasn't sure whether to go or not. After an hour of waiting and watching and seeing if my position was threatened, I was tapped on the shoulder by a man in a Panda suit.

"HI!" he said in a goofy, hyped up voice. "WOULD YOU PANDA FOR A PEPSI!"

I giggled. It was a truly crap pun, which I've always enjoyed. The man in the Panda suit did a small dance, then stopped, and pointed his paw towards the edge of the stage.

"Oh no..." he said. I had an instant feeling of dread, like the feeling someone gets when they realise they've mixed up the salt and the sugar. Sure enough, when I turned around, at the front of the stage was our school benny Mark Leaman, dancing in a Coca-Cola T-shirt and trying to do that thing people do where they make fart noises with their arm. Worse, several rogue elements and passers by were encouraging him, clapping and applauding, in the way people clap a dancing monkey, just to see it dance some more.

"ALYSON!" said Amber Bennett, rushing up to me, "DO SOMETHING!". The man in the panda suit looked at me expectantly through his eye holes. "How did he get anywhere near the stage? How did he even get invited?" I said, swallowing hard. "McCormick" spat Amber Bennett, in an "I told you so voice". I sighed deeply, knowing in my heart the Marks had been mixed up, and that was a fatal mistake. I took the Panda by the paw, and lead him to the stage.

"You have to dance with him, it'll confuse him, he'll think it's a real panda"

The man in the panda suit hesitated.

"He'll get briefly confused! Go man go, there's no time to lose!"

The man in the panda suit took me at my word, even though he really was only a decoy, and sprinted on stage, and begun waving to the kids. Mark Leaman stared hard at his upstager, confused as to his next move.

"MARK!" I yelled, in my benny control voice, over the crowd noise and applause for the Panda. "Nathan just beat your Frogger score!"

Mark grunted an idle grunt, and got down off the stage, and sprinted to the chip shop. I had averted an embarrassing moment for the cool kids, saving them from points and nudges, and sentences that ended with "hey, don't you go to school with that kid!". Amber Bennett, who was with her Grade 6 boyfriend, Daniel, was particularly greatful, and was moved enough to give me a heartfelt "well done" before pushing her way to the front of the line, Daniel in tow. It was then Katherine McCormick came running up, taking nervous steps towards me. The Panda came down off the stage, pressed some stickers and a cap in my hand, and gave me a Hi 5, as Katherine began to look around nervously.

"What happened!" she said, in a sharp, pained voice.

"Ask the Panda," I said coolly. another rival seen off, another day on the streets, it's not easy out in the playground jungle - but you get by, one day at a day at a time...


Blogger Fop said...

Whaddyamean you don't know if anyone's reading? Everyone's reading you! You are The Latest Craze! Don't "finish soon"! I love the tales.

4:15 PM  

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