Harry’s Choice

 Setz Stories, Chap. II

                                                               Harry’s Choice


                                                                 Al Murdach

     I guess while I’m thinking back on my growing up, I should tell you a story about my friend Harry.  I’ll never understand Harry.  It’s true he’s two years older than me, but still the things he thinks of don’t make much sense. Like the time he thought up taking a comb and hitting his bare arm real hard, then spinning it around in a circle until blood spurted out. Weird things like that. Then there was the time he tried to start a club for us younger guys.  That was real strange but, wait a minute. Let me explain what really went wrong with that plan.

     It all happened one spring five or six years ago, back when I was about eleven years old. I guess Harry was getting bored, what with school about to end and summer coming on. I ran into him one day at Midgely’s Store after I got out of my sixth grade class for the day. He had the look of someone who had just come up with a bright idea.

     “Hey Setz,” Harry yelled, “come over here!”  As I said, Harry was a little wild sometimes.  He looked real excited that day.

     “Setz, come on over to my house for a minute. I got somethin’ to discuss with you. Won’t take long.”  Harry lived about two blocks away from the school but for some reason always rode his bike everywhere. Guess it made him feel like a big shot. He jumped on his bike of course and rode ahead of me to his house real fast. I walked behind him as quick as I could. I hate to say it but I always felt kind of like a yokel around Harry. You see, he went to a large public junior high school across town and seemed to know all about life. The school I went to was real small.  The teachers always seemed like they were watching us and trying to protect us. Made me feel like a babe in the woods around guys like Harry.

     Anyway, like I was saying, we finally ended up inside Harry’s house. His parents were out doing some shopping, I guess, so Harry had the whole place to himself. He grabbed a bottle of milk out of the icebox and drank about half of it. He offered me some but I didn’t want any.  Then he invited me down into his basement, where he had built kind of a little room out of old boxes in back of his dad’s work bench.  He always went down to that basement if he wanted to really think about something. We sat in his little room on some old sofa cushions he picked up out of his grandfather’s garage.  Harry was quiet for a long time, thumbing through some old comic books.  Then he looked up and stared straight at me.  “Setz,” he said, “you won’t believe my idea.”  He had a funny look in his eye and I knew, when he looked that way, that he was going to come up with something real stupid.  He was always doing things like that.  “Setz, what would you think of a nudist club for kids?” See what I mean? He never failed me.

     “A nudist club for kids?” I said. I couldn’t believe it. This time he’d really gone off his rocker. “Harry, that’s nuts. You mean a club where people run around without any clothes? You’ve got to be kidding! Who’d want to join a club like that?”  I got up to leave but Harry started getting excited.

     “Listen,” he said, “my Uncle Mort is a nudist. He has a great time! He tried to talk my mom and dad into it but they told him to forget it. They said it would be too embarrassing. He told them that after five minutes no one cares. They have games, play cards, swim, watch movies. Uncle Mort goes there every weekend!”

     I tried to reason with him. “Look Harry,” I said, “ just think what the guys down at Midgely’s would say if they heard about this. Or the guys at your school. Or my school! They’d think we’d lost our marbles.”

     Harry started to answer me but then stopped and got quiet again. I could see he didn’t like my objections and was trying to think of something to say. He had this funny way of expecting everyone to be crazy about his hare-brained ideas. He began to get this weird expression on his face, like he was squinting his eyes in the sun. I knew that usually meant he was coming up with some argument that he thought was really going to convince me

     Harry plopped himself down on one of the ratty old sofa cushions. “I know what we can do,” he said in a dreamy voice, like he just realized I was standing there.  “Let’s invite girls! Yeah, that’s it. And we can make the club secret. We’ll call it the Naked Club. The guys I know will like that.  We can go on trips. We’ll go to a nudist convention! Uncle Mort says there’s one next year inMalibu.”

     I just stood there with my mouth open. This idea of Harry’s really took the cake!  “A convention?” I said. “For naked kids? And inviting girls!  I don’t believe this. You’re out of your mind, Harry.”

     Now I could see he was really getting excited and that this was going to get out of hand fast. Harry was waving his arms and talking more and more about this secret club of his and what great things were going to happen.  I decided it was time to put the kibosh on this plan of his real quick. I thought about my friend Samantha. She was real smart. I knew she could give Harry a run for his money. Samantha and I played dominos a lot and she beat me almost every time, I swear it. She was also pretty strong. I don’t mean strong like an athlete. I mean strong like capable and even pushy. She was really something. I decided to take Harry up on his offer of inviting girls to his club.

     I sat back down and looked Harry straight in the eye. “ Harry,” I asked, “are you really serious about  this?” He stared at me and said of course he was. What did I think he was doing all this talking and planning for?

     “OK,” I said, “if you’re really serious, I know a girl I can ask. She’s a friend of mine  and she’s ten.  She’ll join, I know she will. I’ll ask her tomorrow.”

     Harry suddenly got real quiet.  “What’s her name,” he asked.

     “Samantha Bernalis,” I said. “You know, that skinny girl who’s always hanging around at my house, the one with the pink glasses.”

     “Oh yeah, Sa-man-tha.” He looked at the floor and said the name real slow to himself as if he was remembering something, then looked up at me.  “Setz, can’t we get somebody else?”  He sounded kind of desperate. I knew I had decided to ask the right person to join Harry’s club. I started to laugh inside but tried not to show anything. I acted real serious instead. “What’s the matter, Harry? Samantha would be great.”

     “She’s pretty bossy,” Harry said. I remembered that in the past Harry had some run-ins with Samantha at different kid’s birthday parties about things like who was going to run the games and who really broke the piñata, stupid things like that. Usually Samantha had made mincemeat out of Harry in arguments and he never felt right about it. But now I could see he was beginning to think a little differently. He was staring at the floor again as if there was something very interesting on his shoes. All at once he brightened up and grabbed my arm.

     “Listen Setz, you ask her anyway.” He straightened up and began to climb back up the stairs. “Yeah, you ask her,” he hollered back over his shoulder, “just go ahead. It’ll be good for her, I know it will.” I could see he had convinced himself that if could get her into his club, he’d finally be able to make her accept his ideas and follow his rules. Harry was always trying to figure out ways to lord it over people.

     After I left Harry’s and went back to my house, I called Samantha. Just as I expected, she went into hysterics when I told her about Harry’s idea. She was laughing like mad and thought it was about the most sorry excuse for something to do she had ever heard. She didn’t have many nice things to say about Harry, either. At first I thought she might back out on me but, like I told you, she liked me so we agreed on a plan. We’d meet with Harry tomorrow and give him the scare of his life! I knew if anyone could make Harry see reason it would have to be Samantha.

     The next day I met her in the recess yard of the school on the way over to Harry’s. She had this gleam in her eye that I had seen before when she was out to fix someone’s wagon. The last time I saw it was when she figured out a way to get back at Rodney Slate in her fourth grade class when he stuck a “kick me” note on the back of her sweater when she was standing in the lunch line. She put a bag of dog manure in his coat pocket so he stunk up the whole classroom! So that look she had did make me a little nervous. After all I kind of liked Harry and though I wanted to wise him up I didn’t really want to

make him miserable. Samantha said she had also invited her friend Linda Blondell to come along. She was going to meet us at Harry’s. Samantha said she was impressed with Linda’s ability to put “dumb boys” in their places.

     When we got to Harry’s he had us meet with him in the living room instead of downstairs.  His parent’s had taken his younger brother to his Little League game. Harry was pretty uncomfortable trying to describe his big ideas to Samantha and Linda, but he proceeded to try. The girls listened to him real serious like and didn’t laugh or make fun of his plans.  But when he was done they started asking him some hard questions, like “What if our parents find out?” “Where are we going to get money for the trips?”, and “Who’s going to be in charge of this club?”.  Things like that.

     I could see by their questions that Samantha and Linda were really just stringing Harry along and setting him up for the kill. By the time they had him maneuvered into a corner, I knew what he was going to say.  But according to our plan, I just kept quiet.

     Harry squirmed on the living room couch and tried to act like he was thinking about something real hard. “Samantha,” he said, “ you and Linda have been asking a lot of questions but I think you should know something. I’ve decided that you both are too young for this club. I think it’s only going to work for people who are real mature. Now next year when you’re older….”

     Before he could finish I knew that Samantha and Linda had him where they wanted him. Samantha sat forward on her chair and said, “Harry, I can see your point. I feel bad about this but I can see that this is the type of club that needs an older person. Linda and I are both just ten. I can see what you mean.” I could see Linda nodding like she ageed with Samantha’s every word.

     Harry just stared at them for a few moments with his mouth open. He couldn’t believe his good fortune! I could see relief written all over his face. He got up to show Samantha and Linda the door. Then Samantha came out with the zinger she’d been saving until last.

     “Harry,”she said on her way out, “since your club is for older mature people (she really emphasized that word “mature”), I know someone else who wants to join who fits that description.”

     This stopped Harry in his tracks. For a moment he just stood there, half way in and out of his front door. He slowly turned back to Samantha.

     “And just who are we talking about?” Harry asked nervously. When he talked he looked at his finger nails so the girls wouldn’t see how upset he was. I think he already knew what Samantha was going to say.

     “I’m talking about my sister Clara. She’s twelve and has been to nudist beaches before. A couple of weeks ago she went with the Sutherlands to one of those beaches south of Portland. She loved it. She likes to run things too. I know she’d be just great for your club.” By this time Samantha was grinning from ear to ear. I could see she was enjoying herself.

     Harry sat back down on the couch and proceeded to squirm like his underwear was too tight.  I know he hated Clara.  Basically, I think she scared the pants off him.  I remember once my parents threw a party and invited lots of my friends including Harry and Samantha. Samantha brought Clara along. Clara kept looking at Harry the whole time and once even sat on his lap and played with his hair. Harry just sat there staring straight ahead like he didn’t know what to do. Finally he made some lame excuse, like having to go to the bathroom, and left. I think from then on Harry had this idea that Clara was out to get him for some reason.

     Harry took a deep breath and tried to stay calm. “You think Clara’s really interested in our club?” Harry asked Samantha. He looked totally deflated now.

     “Sure, she’d love it,” crowed Samantha. “I’ll bring her over tomorrow.”

     “Wait,” Harry said. He looked like he was struggling with some really big decision.    He motioned Samantha to come a little closer. “I’ve made a change,” he said. “Clara’s too old now and I can’t take her.” Then he paused and put his hand on Samantha’s shoulder. He stared at her and said, “But I think I can take you and Linda instead”.

     Samantha stood there for a minute with a big grin on her face. “Gee thanks, Harry,” she purred, “I knew you’d see it my way.” At that point Harry looked absolutely miserable.

     Well, all this happened last summer. That was a couple of months ago. Now things seem pretty quiet. You see, after Harry let Samantha and Linda into his club, things began to change real fast. First they convinced a lot of their friends to join. Then before you knew it, they’d reorganized and voted me and Harry (I was Vice President by that time) out of office. Didn’t bother me. I was just along for the ride anyway. But Harry, he was really upset. Then Samantha (she was now President) changed the idea of the club since they felt this whole naked thing was really dumb. Instead she set up a Dinosaur Club because she and all her friends were into Dinosaurs, you know, little figures, movies, books, whatever. Harry tried to hang on for awhile as a member but it was no use. Samantha and her buddies were just too strong for him. I think he finally resigned or maybe just dropped out. I quit a long time before that so I’m not sure exactly what happened.

     I ran into Harry the other day. He said he was thinking about forming a new club. Something about stamp collecting. No meetings, no official memberships, no restrictions, and no girls. Everything done over the phone.  Sounded strange to me but knowing Harry he might be able to make it work. I had to hand it to Harry. He definitely had learned how to avoid a fight.

                                                              The End

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