Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Jeff Pitts, years after the accident.
This is a story about a boy, his friends, a pencil and a nostril. It’s a story about trust, betrayal, resentment and forgiveness. In short, it’s the infamous story of how I jammed a pencil up Jeff’s nose. And now it’s time to put that story in perspective.
I spent my teenage years in the 1980s. Trudeau was out, Mulroney was in, the space shuttle was flying high (or flying apart) and nuclear war seemed all too possible. Even in Leduc, Alberta – a small town on the outskirts of Edmonton – these concerns loomed large in my angst-ridden mind.
But in truth, most of my worries were closer to home. Grades were no problem – schoolwork came pretty easily – but my social life was another story. Girls were a huge and very attractive mystery, and my clumsy efforts to explore this new territory bore no fruit but embarrassment and humiliation.
Fortunately, I had friends, friends with whom I could escape the pain of adolescence and journey to other, better worlds. Like many kids growing up in the 80s, we had been mesmerized by the possibilities of Dungeons & Dragons.
For those of you not in the know—the non-geek crowd, that is—D&D isn't a board game; it's played out with pencils, scraps of paper, a score of thick rulebooks, and dice—not only the normal six-sided kind you find in the Monopoly box, but arcane geodesics with four, eight, twelve, twenty, or even one hundred sides. Dungeons & Dragons involves creating an alter-ego and stepping into an imaginary world jointly created by the game designers and a Dungeon Master. A Dungeon Master is the guy who does the most work in the course of the game, setting up storylines for the other players to follow and keeping track of mundane housekeeping chores like how powerful a particular monster is and whether your sword thrust will be powerful enough to penetrate its hide or if the blade will just snap in two. Dungeon Masters are like referees, only less macho.
I played Dungeons & Dragons with a tightly-knit group of other guys: Vern Ryan, Paul Ravensdale, Jeff Pitts, Ray Brown and Kevin Kelly. A bespectacled band of brothers, in spirit if not uniformly in fact.
Vern was a freckled kid from a large Catholic family, incredibly soft spoken most of the time, but prone to outrageous bursts of insight—such as his "Plate Theory of the Universe," which was so brilliant that it's been seared from my mind, as if the Creator felt that such knowledge Was Not Meant For Man.
Paul Ravensdale was a shy giant—I think he reached 6'8" when he finally stopped growing. He had a bit of a temper, but always carefully controlled.
Jeff Pitts was another regular—a swimmer and athlete, but also notoriously accident-prone; we often called him "Crash" or "Wipeout."
Ray Brown turned up to play fairly often, too. Ray had the thickest glasses of the lot, and, as if to live up to the stereotype, he was certainly the smartest of us in the hard sciences; Ray excelled in chemistry and biology.
Kevin Kelly joined our geek circle relatively late, entering the fold when we started Grade 10. An army brat, Kevin impressed—and disturbed—the rest of us with his in-depth knowledge of military practice and weaponry.
And then there was me, a painfully shy kid, the goody two-shoes adored by teachers and hated by bullies. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why I loved D&D—where else could I get the chance to be more than I was, to defeat villainy through peerless swordsmanship and clever trickery? Not to mention rescuing the princess…my favourite part of any adventure.
More often than not, we met at Paul’s place for our adventures, out on the back porch on summer afternoons or in the basement during the winter. We’d gather round, character sheets at the ready, dice of many colours scattered across the table, Cokes, Twizzlers and potato chips by our sides to fuel our quests.
And, of course, we had pencils. Even today, character statistics are often written in pencil because they aren’t static. According to the actions you take in any given role-playing game, your penciled-in intelligence of 17 might have to be scrubbed out and marked down to 16. Or, should your character be struck by an arrow, sword, or even a simple fist, your vital Hit Point tally would drop.
The pencil remains one of the most vital tools in the D&D player’s arsenal. But it is a tool not to be used without care, as I discovered on the day a carelessly wielded pencil nearly led to brain damage…
Vern usually served as our Dungeon Master. Hidden behind a DM screen (a three-fold piece of cardboard, with D&D themed art on one side and charts and rules on the other), Vern would chart the course of our characters’ destiny.
So it was on the day of the pencil. I don’t remember the adventure itself; too many years have passed, and the memories have been overshadowed by other trivia. But I do remember how the dreadful incident started.
Vern had placed our characters in one predicament or another. As usual, we debated what to do; stand and fight against insurmountable odds, or use our wits to come up with a more peaceful solution?
I wanted to fight. And so, holding my pencil as if it were the bastard sword held in my character’s mailed fist, I cried, “What if I went like THIS?” and, miming the actions of my character, I thrust my sword – that is, my pencil – skyward.
The pencil’s unfortunate trajectory bore it on a painful course. The world seemed to move in slow motion as the pencil thrust deep into Jeff’s nose, drilling into the dark cavity – “Nothin’ but nostril,” a basketball fan might have said. My eyes bulged in shock, and yet I was powerless to stop awful destiny from fulfilling its dreary mandate. The pencil violated Jeff’s nose until it hit something hard but pliable, jabbing against it with such force that Jeff’s head snapped back, a mournful “AIIEEEEEEEE” bursting from his horrified lips.
I gasped in shock, yanking the pencil out, thanking the God I didn’t believe in that I’d thrust eraser-end first. Even so, the shock of impact reverberated along my arm. Surely, I thought, the eraser must have bruised his brain.
“OW OW OW OW Son of a BITCH,” Jeff cried, clutching his nose. Paul and Vern laughed hysterically, and though I was filled with guilt and horror, I too, was quickly seized by devilish, inappropriate mirth. Gasping apologies, red in the face, I struggled mightily to contain myself. Through tears of laughter, I managed to ask Jeff if he was all right; at least, I thought, there was no blood.
Jeff, naturally, was unimpressed. But the damage couldn’t have been too bad, because we resumed our game as soon as we were able to control ourselves again. Jeff’s intelligence score did not in fact decrease from 17 to 16, despite the brain bruising, and our characters went on to defeat the villains, rescue the princess, hoard the gold, etc.
Today, Jeff maintains that this tragic accident of fate was, in fact, a deliberate and malicious act on my part. I can only protest my innocence. I’m not in the habit of violating orifices with writing instruments, unless metaphorically via this blog. I do, however, regret the physical and psychological wounds inflicted on Jeff.
On the other hand, the story itself has been a big hit at parties, and perhaps I’ll even tell it at my wedding. After all, Jeff has agreed, despite everything, to serve as my best man. Who nose why?