Ted Goldberg was a kid in my fifth grade class, back in 1978. We were class friends and even had a few “playdates” together (I first heard Supertramp’s Breakfast in America at his house), but we were never really close. In high school, we would maintain a friendly acquaintance, but by then Ted had ensconced himself with the theater kids and nerds, while I tended to float between the jocks and “populars” (I played varsity baseball and was team captain at one point) and the punks and metal kids. Cliques may have been ubiquitous in my high school, but they weren’t enforced.
Our fifth grade class was vaguely structured both in learning and interior decoration. The teacher, Mr. Cazzola, would start the morning off with an hour of “stock-market,” in which we would sort ourselves into brokers, bankers, and the like and trade, using the day’s newspaper stock pages, which were posted on bulletin boards around the room. There were no desks, but long tables at which multiple kids could sit and do written assignments, and one side of the room was furnished with couches and bean bags for reading time. Rules were lax and so long as you did your work and didn’t disrupt other people’s or mess around while the teacher was talking or with his stuff – Cazzola caught Brett Levine rummaging around his desk once and bellowed “Leviiiiine! Get away from my desk, or I’ll jump all over your fingers!” – you could pretty much do as you liked when there was downtime; even leave the room and hang out in the hall or outside on the steps leading to the playground.
I first gathered that there was something going on with Ted, when I noticed that people seemed more annoyed with him than usual. Ted was annoying so it was common for kids to be annoyed with him, but not so much so that you’d hear them complaining from across the room, and one Tuesday morning, I was hearing it.
“Yeah, right Ted, sure, whatever.”
“Get away from me.”
“God, you are so annoying.”
I didn’t need to ask anyone what was going on, as Ted gestured at me to meet him out in the hall. We’d sometimes go sit out there when we’d finished whatever work or project we were doing and had some time to kill. When I arrived, Ted had a conspiratorial air.
“Listen, I’ve got to tell you something.”
“What is it?” Despite the fact that he was whispering, my interest was low.
He looked around. “I’m not who people think I am.”
What little interest I had evaporated. “You’re not?”
“No.” More furtive glances. “I’m an alien.”
“Yes. From a planet called “Gorzac.” It’s outside of your solar system.”
“I’m a deep-space explorer. I’m here to learn all about you and your planet.”
The conversation irritated me. For one thing, I knew where this stupid story was coming from, as Ted was a big fan of the then-new TV show, Mork and Mindy, which was about a friendly alien – played by a young Robin Williams – who had come to earth and was living with a human family. (Ted was such a fan that he even had a pair of the multicolor suspenders Williams wore on the show.) And even at ten, I was old enough to think that this sort of make believe, where you half believed whatever crazy things you were saying, was past its shelf-life.
My irritation grew as Ted doggedly pursued this for weeks. After a few days, the other kids just ignored or verbally abused him whenever he brought up the matter of his alien origins, so Ted focused on the few friends he had in the class, with me receiving special attention. He mixed nonsense-words into our conversations, as if he was slipping back into his alien tongue, and invented an early childhood on Gorzac that he would tell me about. I’d had more than enough, so I began thinking about how to “get” Ted, and by the end of the second week, I had a plan.
I started by being very quiet and periodically side-eyeing him in a way that he would notice. I also kept a plastic microphone cupped into my hand (it had broken off of a toy fire helmet), into which I would periodically pretend to talk at times when I knew Ted could see me.
At morning recess, I didn’t hang out with him and kept to myself while everyone else played kickball. When we went back in, I motioned to Ted to meet me in the hall, in our usual spot. He followed me out, and we sat down with our backs against the wall.
“What is it?” Ted asked. “You’ve been acting weird all day.”
I waited to answer, staring at him with my eyes narrowed. Finally, I leaned over and whispered into his ear.
“I’m also an alien.” I said.
Ted was so surprised that he just looked at me blinking and saying nothing.
“I’m a bounty hunter, stationed on a base on one of Saturn’s moons. And I was sent here to kill you.”
A long moment passed, and I started to wonder whether Ted might not only believe his own story, but mine too. My mind raced, as I hadn’t given any thought to what I would do past this point.
“You’re a real dick,” he said and stalked off angrily. I smiled to myself at a job well done, knowing he’d be back.