Incremental Fiction (“Pretending to Wake Up”), part 1

It’s 1982, I am in seventh grade and I can’t sleep. I’m involuntarily replaying the previous day’s events in my head: schoolmates’ little insults; subtle rebukes by girls I’d like to kiss; what I should have told the math teacher who gave me a C. I’m tossing and turning, fumbling through Minneapolis’s numbing selection of late-night radio in my basement room: Pop, Country, Muzak, Classical, news. At some point during the night, I land for the first time on KFAI, a local station, and a show called Rock of Rages. The reception is spotty, but two songs come through clear enough: “Blue Spark,” by X and “Kids Don’t Follow” by The Replacements. The guitar is fuzzier, the voices are desperate, the beats race. Is it possible that The Replacements actually come from my hometown? Until now I’ve known this city to be a place that is white, still and cold, where no one ever quite approves, where you are always too loud, too quiet, too weird or too normal.
There’s one kid in South Minneapolis, James Frierson, who will hang out with me if everyone else he knows is busy. We ride the bus together up Lake Street to the Hi-Lake Mall, past used car lots and the Scandia Bakery, the bank and American Rug Laundry and Embers’ Grill. When we get there we pace the aisles of Target and play with the walkie-talkies at Radio Shack until the manager tells us to stop.
Already James is so good looking that when he walks to the back of the bus all the women and some of the men turn to watch him pass. Sometimes I rush to sit down first so I can see it happen. He is apple-cheeked, blue-eyed, soft-voiced and big-boned. I am gangly, buck-toothed, uncoordinated. We are a perfect odd couple.
James had come back from spring break a few weeks back, having traded the Izod shirts and khakis we all wore for something else. His t-shirt was ripped, he had a bandana around his neck, he wore tight black jeans and his hair was spiky. “It’s not Preppy anymore,” he informed me with disdain, “It’s Punk now.” He was so sure of this fact, and it was so clear that whatever punk was, I was not it, that I knew it was just a matter of time before he’d ditch me for good, and only hang out with all the other kids who had always known it was punk the whole time.