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Lesson Learned by Andrew Johnson


Preston Monroe knew one thing for certain. He was simply the best. He was the best looking guy at The John Paul Catholic School for Boys, he was probably the richest, and he graced the starting lineup of every athletic team he played on. Nobody would argue that his brown mulleted mane was the best hair in the school. Maybe he wasn’t the smartest, but that’s why he had plenty of nerds at his beck and call, eager to please the Varsity stud of the school by doing his homework for him, making him cheat sheets for his exams, even working on his college applications for him. After all, who could have time for those kinds of time wasters when there were parties to attend, girls to seduce, and baseball games to win. Baseball was truly what Preston had a passion for, and he was good at it too. He could probably go pro after college, even without daddy’s money providing recruitment incentive. But first he had to graduate high school, and one last hurdle was standing in front of him.

"Preston, it’s just not right. You need to learn some of this on your own!" said Wendell Frugate. Wendell was a nerd in every definition of the word. His mom picked out his clothes, his hair was short, black, and greased, and his blocky glasses did nothing to compliment his bulbous pimpled nose. He was also the smartest boy at John Paul. Preston had bullied him all throughout middle school (Wendell had received more wedgies and swirlies than could be healthy for any boy), but once high school came around it only took a few perfectly timed ab pics from his tormentor to have Wendell completely devoted. Except now, there seemed to be a problem.
"How are you going to survive college if you don’t have basic foundational knowledge of American history?"
Preston sighed. Now was not the time for his peon to be having a crisis of faith. "Baseball Wendell, baseball. Don’t you want to be able to say you were the guy who got the starting pitcher for the Yankees into college?"
"But you won’t get through college if you didn’t learn anything in high school! Preston I’m just so worried about you!" Wendell looked like he was about to cry. Preston appreciated the passion, but at the moment it was misplaced.
"Wendell, you know that tonight is the last game of the baseball season. We need to win it, so that we go to states. I can’t be worried about American History while I’m totally locked in to America’s Game!"
"I guess so…"
"How about a deal? You make the cheat sheet for the final, and if we win tonight, you give it to me. If not, you don’t give it to me, and I’ll have learned my lesson." Preston knew he wasn’t risking anything by saying this. He wasn’t going to lose.
"Learn your lesson you say…I do like the sound of that." A smile grew on Wendell’s face. Preston was glad this could be resolved so easily.
"Preston, that sounds like a good plan. If you win tonight, you get the cheat sheet, and if you lose, you’ll learn your lesson. Let’s shake on it, like gentlemen." Preston was all too glad to entertain Wendell’s sense of honor, but as their hands met, a quiet rushed over the hallway they were standing in. Preston’s face felt hot, then freezing cold, and as he shook Wendell’s hand, a shock ran through his entire body. Then everything was normal again. As if nothing had happened at all. Wendell wished him good luck at his game tonight, and then Preston was alone. "Whatever," he thought, "pre-game jitters must be getting to me."

The game was not going well. At the top of the ninth, Preston’s team had been down by two runs. Now as the bottom approached, the stakes were higher than ever. Preston had pitched the worst game of his life, but now he had accumulated two outs, and two strikes. Unfortunately, the bases were also loaded. Preston’s eye black disguised his growing distress. As he pitched what he hoped would be a game defining strike, he instead heard the crack of the bat, and watched as the baseball soared over his mullet crowned head. The ball soared over everybody’s heads, and somehow, the batter had hit a home run. Not just a home run…but a Grand Slam. Preston hung his head as the crowd cheered. Now they were down by six runs. Never one to quit, he quickly struck out the last batter. Unfortunately, it would do little good. Almost as soon as they had switched sides, the opposing team had struck two of Preston’s teammates out. Now the whole game rode on his batting skills. He tried to reassure himself. "This should be no sweat, I’m the GOAT of John Paul," he thought. Instead of thinking, he should’ve been swinging. The other team’s pitcher cleaned his clock, throwing three strikes faster than Preston could spell LOSER. He had lost the game. His brain shut down, and even through the silent bus ride home, he never once thought about the deal he’d made with Wendell. He would be reminded soon enough. At one point he thought he heard a faint whisper, "Lesson Number One."

Preston awoke the next morning with a throbbing headache. His vision was blurred, and he couldn’t focus on anything. He was glad to throw on whatever outfit was sitting at the foot of his bed, not even considering what it looked like. He did notice the underwear felt unusually snug, and everything felt a little tighter than normal, but he hadn’t spared any of it a glance. His eyes were so fuzzy he wouldn’t have been able to process it anyhow. But as he walked into school, his classmates certainly did. The boys jeered and laughed at him as he walked through the halls. His head still ached, so to dodge his classmates’ haranguing cries, he stepped into the bathroom. It was then that his vision returned to him. He wished it hadn’t. As he looked in the bathroom mirror, he understood what exactly his classmates had found so funny. He was wearing a bright yellow dress shirt with a bright red bow tie fastened to the neck. The shirt was tucked into brown corduroy pants with a plaid orange pattern. The sleeves of the shirt and legs of the pants were both too short, the sleeves a few inches shy of his wrists, and the pants sitting about halfway down his calf. That couldn’t be noticed however, because high red and white striped socks came almost to his knees, and sat in tight black dress shoes. Then he came to the worst realization of all. His shirt wasn’t just tucked into his pants. It was tucked into his underpants. He saw white fabric making an outline across his stomach, and he pulled his pants down to reveal what he had feared. Tighty Whities. He hadn’t worn Tighty Whities since he was a little kid, he didn’t think there was a single pair still in his house! But there they were, cradling his manhood in the John Paul Catholic School for Boys bathroom. He was mortified. He was petrified. He was confused. And he was wearing Tighty Whities to school.

"Odd, isn’t it?" Wendell’s voice echoed in Preston’s rattled mind. Was he going crazy? "No Preston, you’re not going crazy. You’re learning your lesson." Suddenly, Wendell was standing right behind him, peering at him in the mirror. "Quite the look you’re experimenting with today…or, rather, that your mother is experimenting with."
"Wait, what are you talking about Wendell?" Preston’s voice had finally risen to the occasion, and he was hungry, desperate even, for answers.
"Well your mother is who laid that outfit out for you? Or did you not notice? No I guess you wouldn’t have. The curse certainly has its way of maximizing the shock of everything." Wendell’s voice took on a lilt of laughter, "I guess that’s the best way to learn your lesson!"
"What lesson, what do you mean?"
"Do you not remember Preston? Yesterday we made a deal. And now the consequences of that deal are coming to pass." Preston racked his brain, what deal had he made?
"The cheat sheet? You have it don’t you? I need it to pass my American History final!"
"Ah but you didn’t earn the cheat sheet. If I remember correctly, you lost your game. So now, you learn your lesson."
"What do you mean, learn my lesson?"
"It’s really quite obvious. I mean just look at you! You’re standing here in the nerdiest outfit known to man! As the curse takes affect, you’ll become nerdier and nerdier, until you’re nothing but a little grub for bullies to wedgie and exploit for homework answers." Preston grabbed Wendell by the collar and shoved him up against the wall. He was sick and tired of hearing his voice.
"You’re such a dweeb, curses aren’t real, I must’ve just grabbed the wrong clothes this morning. This’ll all be over by the time I get home. I’ll just fake sick or something and leave before the final, then I’ll take it tomorrow, once you’ve given me my cheat sheet."
"Not likely, trust me, I’ve been through this before. You think I was born this way? No, Preston, I was just like you. I had the money, the sportiness, the hair. Then in the seventh grade I swirlied the wrong kid. Now I’m stuck like this. Forever." Preston looked Wendell up and down. No, no, this couldn’t be happening to him, he was cool. He was hot. He was going to play MLB!
"How do I make it stop?"
"You can’t. All the changes will take place, and then you’ll be just another nerd, off to some Ivy League for a computer science degree. Your mind will be screaming the whole time, but it’s not your choice. This is the most freedom I’ve had in years, lecturing you. But then I’ll be back to studying over textbooks that weigh over half my body weight." Preston was panicked. This could not be his future. He had to do something. He rushed out of the bathroom, pulling his corduroys back over his fresh white briefs.
"Bye Preston, enjoy your lessons!" Wendell called out. Then he headed off to the library with a defeated sigh. It was time to crack open a book about quantum mechanics, he had no choice in the matter.

Preston landed in the nurse’s office rather quickly. He whined about his headache, and was sent home to rest. As he headed up to his bedroom, he found himself losing his speed rapidly. He hadn’t been exhausted like this in years. After catching his breath on the stairs, he made it to his room. He almost ripped his closet door right off its hinges, he was so desperate to change into different clothes. He was not met with a pleasing sight. Dozens of identical outfits hung in the closet, with only variation in color. Dress shirts, ties, corduroy and other dress pants, knee socks and dress shoes. And dozens and dozens of Tighty Whities. He thought he had stepped into hell. This couldn’t be happening to him, where had all his clothes gone? He wanted to scream, but all that left his mouth was a nasally "Gee willikers!" He was taken aback by the vocal change. "Golly gosh, I can’t use naughty words!" Preston was terrified. Then he caught his reflection in the closet’s mirror. He watched in horror as his perfectly smooth began to break out, with pimples and acne quickly covering his entire face. His ears stretched wide like an elephants, and they stuck out at unflattering angles. His nose ballooned. Initially cute and perky, now it sat inflated on his face. He felt it fill with disgusting snot and boogers, and then, to add insult to injury, one final huge red pimple emerged at the tip of it.
"Rudolph reporting for duty!" He hadn’t meant to say that. He hadn’t meant to say anything.
Then, he felt immense pain all across his body. His muscles deflated, his spine arched, and his hands and feet grew far beyond proportion. His tight black shoes became even tighter, and his clothes still didn’t fit right, even now that he stood there with a frame so scrawny he looked starved. Lastly, his groin flared up in agony. He reached for his crotch, but by then it was too late. He lifted his waistband. "Hey little feller!" He wanted to cry. This was torture. Preston just wanted this horrible day to be over. He dove into bed and covered his mullet with a blanket. Best case scenario, this was all just a dream, and when he fell asleep, he would wake up in the real world, without any lessons having been learned. If only, if only.

Preston woke up in the drivers seat of his car, parked in a lot. He quickly pulled down the overhead mirror. He was not happy with what he saw. Not only was he still in his nerd outfit, there were now blocky framed glasses sitting on his huge nose. When he opened his mouth, he again wanted to scream. "Hey there brace-face!" He hadn’t had braces since he was twelve, but there, on each teeth in his little nerdy mouth, was enough metal to wire a fence. Inside he sobbed. Then, he looked up, and noticed where he was. He was parked in front of a barbershop. And not just any barbershop. He was parked in front of Holy Harry’s Bible Belt Barbering. It should’ve been called Holy Harry’s Bible Belt Butchering. Harry had been a priest for years, and then, after he had retired from preaching, he began barbering. Any boys at John Paul’s that didn’t meet the regulations for hairstyling got sent to Holy Harry’s for correction. Harry took great pleasure in performing the proper adjustments. Preston had skirted the rules for years by flashing his pretty smile at the right nuns when he needed to, but there were no nuns to smile at now. Preston wasn’t sure his brace filled mouth would charm them anyhow.

Preston lost all control of his body. His oversized hands opened the car door, and his massive feet led him out, and then inside the barbershop. He was in agony. He didn’t want a haircut. His mullet was the last remnant of his coolness. He had the best hair in his grade, probably the best hair at all of John Paul’s! He had taken such pride in growing out his mullet. He loved the way it stuck out under his baseball cap, and he loved the way girls would play with it at parties. He hadn’t gotten more than a trim since the eighth grade, and Preston knew that Harry would be doing more than trimming if he got his hands on Preston. But it wasn’t Preston’s choice anymore. Maybe he could at least ask Harry to go easy on him when he got in the chair.
"Well boy, come on over, I haven’t got all day!" It was unclear who exactly Harry was talking to. There were several boys sitting in the waiting chairs, and Preston was the only one standing. Harry had less than perfect vision nowadays, so he spoke in any direction, expecting someone to follow his orders. He laid bad eyes on Preston, who stuck out like a sore thumb with his brightly colored outfit. Harry quickly grabbed him by his tie and dragged him into the chair. Preston was not pleased.
"Did one of the nuns send you down for a shearing? I would think so with all this mess on your head!"
"Actually sir, I came here of my own accord. I’m turning over a new leaf sir, and I need a haircut to match!" Preston hadn’t called anyone "sir" since he was ensuring he would inherit the majority of his grandfather’s estate. With his new nasally voice, the word fell out of his lips as smoothly as a skater on ice.
"I see. Well that I can help you with kiddo!" Harry said enthusiastically, "What are we thinking?"
A trim, a trim, I just want a trim. Preston wished with all his might that his thoughts would manifest on his tongue. Unfortunately for him, the opposite did.
"Sir, you can do whatever you think is best! I trust your judgement sir! I know that my hair is in the best hands with you sir, so have your way with it sir!"
Harry was delighted. Over the moon. All these boys he barbered always whined and complained through their whole haircuts. Here was a rare example of a good old-fashioned boy. Clearly he’d been raised right. Still, it was obvious that he was in desperate need of discipline. He hadn’t seen a mullet in his shop since the late nineties, and soon, he would never see one again.
"Well, I’ll be happy to oblige. First though boy, you’ll need to take those glasses off." Preston took the frames off his nose, and he became as blind as a bat. Everything was just a wash of muted colors. He would have no idea what his hair would turn out like until the haircut was finished and the glasses had been returned to his oily face.

Harry wasted no time. He took electric clippers and reduced Preston’s mullet to stubble. That was the end of that. With a quick wrist, he peeled off the feathered back like he was plucking a bird. Where there once was pretty boy hair, now there was nothing but white, untanned skin. He similarly cut the sides of Preston’s head, carving big white arches above his ears. Preston of course, could see none of it, and frankly, neither could Harry. The boys in the waiting chairs watched it all however, and they sat in rapt terror, knowing that they would soon be next. Still using his clippers, Harry carved a part into Preston’s hair, about halfway between the middle of his head and the far left ridge of his crown. He took a comb, and pushed all the hair on top of Preston’s head over to the right side. Then he reduced anything past the part down to pasty white skin. Preston looked freakishly dweebish already, and Harry had only just begun. Setting the clippers down, Harry grabbed a pair of scissors, and combed any bangs remaining down in front of Preston’s face. Then, with quick snips, he cut at an angle across Preston’s forehead, high above his eyebrows. He then took great big cuts through what was left on top of Preston’s head. He swapped his scissors with clippers once more, and began to cut the back of the top of Preston’s hair quite short, but not skin tight as his sides and part were. Still, a number two guard is not much hair at all.

Then, disaster struck. All the hair floating around had tickled at Preston’s very large nose. With a full, uncontrollable reflex, Preston sneezed, blowing snot and boogers all over the mirror. The shock had made Harry drop his clippers, and through pure accident, off came half of one of Preston’s eyebrows.
"Ah well," Harry thought, "he probably doesn’t even know he has eyebrows, they’ve been hidden behind hair for so long." With a quick pass of the clippers, Harry took a chunk out of the other eyebrow, and Preston was again mostly symmetrical. Now he looked dweebishly freaky.
Quickly finishing with the clippers, Harry traded them for thinning shears, and went to work on the rest of Preston’s head. Brown tufts fell to the floor, and soon, the cutting part of the haircut had been finished. Now, came styling.
Harry took a massive glob of grease out of a jar, and applied it liberally to Preston’s now very short hair. The grease made Preston’s hair look almost black, and it quickly lost any of it’s brown hue. Harry took his comb and vigorously combed Preston’s remaining hair into place, and now with the grease, it wouldn’t be moving anywhere. Even the strongest winds couldn’t alter what sat atop the former baseball prospect’s head. Satisfied with his work, Harry told Preston he could return his glasses to his face. Preston was devastated. He looked like Clark Kent without any of the charm, muscles, or dignity. He looked like a Leave it to Beaver reject. He looked like…wait what was up with his eyebrows? He wanted to scream, and bawl, and throw a hurricane sized tantrum. Instead, he stood up from the chair with enthusiasm.
"Wowee! Thanks a million mister sir! I love it to pieces! I couldn’t ask for a better haircut! Yippee!" His life was ruined.
Harry hadn’t expected nearly this level of glee, but he was happy to entertain it. "You know what kid, you’re a real sport. The haircuts on the house, and whenever you need it freshened up, it’ll be free then too."
"Geez sir, thank you so much!" Great. Now Preston would be stuck with this look pro bono.

Preston left the shop and went to his car. He drove home, in utter silence, except for when he would occasionally mutter "Wowzers." As he walked into his room, he noticed that it had none of the decorations he’d invested in over the years. All the sports posters were gone. Nothing but empty wall space remained. He wanted nothing more than to go to sleep, but then he remembered he still had an American History final tomorrow. He cracked open his textbook, and started taking notes. Eventually he heard the doorbell ring, and dutifully went to answer it. Wendell stood at the door with a piece of paper in his hands.
"Here’s the cheat sheet Preston." He said, with almost a sad look in his eyes as he took in the super-nerd that now stood before him. Preston wanted to tear the cheat sheet out of his hands, ready to have his awful day just be over.
"Wendell, that wouldn’t be right, I need to learn this on my own." Wendell crumpled up the piece of paper.
"I figured you would say that."
Preston invited Wendell in, but he declined. Preston was disappointed. Wendell was actually kind of cute. Really cute, actually. Maybe he would let Preston help him study sometime. Preston took the long walk back to his bedroom, and caught his reflection in the bathroom mirror. Underwear and knee socks enveloping corduroy. Ears, nose, hands and feet larger than a circus clown’s. Braces constricting his jaw like a bear trap. Eye brows half absent. And his hair. A black, greasy, hard side part, barely an inch off his head, with white walled sides and back. He looked like a mega-dork. An ultra-dweeb. The super-nerd.
Well, lesson learned.



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