In the catacombs of the Belz Factory Outlet Mall hung a pair of rayon Day-Glo orange shorts with a fat black elastic waistband, the missing piece to my patchwork fashion sense. My mother didn’t flinch when I pulled it off the steel carousel with “clearance” in starburst font on top.
The elastic waistband hugged my sides, accentuating the bullseye of my belly button. The roominess in the legs allowed the breeze to waft upward, especially during P.E. while waiting to be picked for soccer teams, dodge ball sides, field hockey factions, and archery partners, keeping me a little cooler during often long waits in the Florida sun. The color was very helpful to my mother and step-father when trying to pick me out of the lineup of kids rupturing from the doors and halls of Stonewall Jackson Middle School on the rare occasions they picked me up after school; it was also a beacon for bruises.
Trying to mack with the ladies in Day-Glo was impossible. Yes, I was blonde, blue-eyed, but I also had the muscles and skin tone of anemic putty. Yes, I could do a wickedly perfect Urkel, his nasal catch phrase of “Did I do that?” emphasized by my plastic tortoise shell aviator prescription glasses but nerds or geeks or dweebs would not be sexy or desirable until the early aughts despite the best efforts of Samuel “Screech” Powers. The brightness blinded the crushes to my love letters I hand delivered, written in the finest wide-ruled stationery K-Mart had.
Overall, despite the bruises, the names, the lack of slow dances and hand-holding, my mother did right by letting me choose the Day-Glo orange shorts from the clearance rack; it is not enough to live with the consequences of our decisions, but to survive them.
SPECIAL BONUS FEATURE: J. Bradley reads his work