We were on our way back from a raging party in the woods of northern New York. We were drunk and deeply discussing the state of mankind. We were sixteen. I remember at some point in the conversation I said, “What about the dogs?” What about the dogs? I have no clue what this question was intended to mean but we, Ben and I, decided it would be a perfect name to our very own literary magazine. We got together and wrote poems and movie reviews and short stories. I don’t ever recall writing anything before this or really ever reading all that much. I think this is the year I read C.S. Lewis’ slim book entitled, The Great Divorce, but nothing else. And I’m certain neither of us had even the slightest notion of what a literary journal was, to us it was our own invention.
So we got to work. I took it upon myself to watch the movie Show Girls and write an insightful review. If I remember correctly I gave a balanced recollection of the movie, it certainly had its moments. Ben did most of the poetry. We made sure to keep our names hidden and when we had about twenty pages or so we were ready to give the collection a cover. We went with a portrait of Bob Dylan. Of course. It was the Highway 61 Revisited Dylan. The cool Dylan.
The next step was to photo copy enough issues for every person in South Jefferson High School. We were going for a large readership. This was the 90s. Kids were allowed to roam the hallways after school was over. Somehow we snuck into the faculty workroom and printed off hundreds of copies of our magazine. We stapled every single copy together and then slipped them into each locker. No one saw us.
The next morning we came into a school that was all ablaze! Everyone was carrying the first issue of What About the Dogs? People were chattering. Students were reading! Teachers had no idea what to think. To them it looked like an unsupervised uncensored unacceptable bomb waiting to explode. The history teacher waspissed off. Why? No idea! But it was wonderful. And all this time Ben and I kept our mouths shut, hiding our identities, vowing to each other that we would never tell.
That night we got back to work. It took us only a couple days to write the next issue. This time we stole a photo of an explosion in the sky as our cover (turns out it was a photo of the Challenger exploding). I remember writing a poem about a girl I was in love with. She told me once she liked hippos so I incorporated a hippo into a verse. I felt like a very clever poet. And this issue really sent the history teacher in flames, someone told me they overheard him screaming, “Damn Fascists!” I didn’t know what a fascist was but I was thrilled to be called one.
No one in our high school was caught without the latest issue in their hands. At lunch we saw people reading aloud a poem for their table. Public school students in the 90s reading poetry! Can you believe it? Ben and I were excited but I felt myself slowly giving into the temptation of vanity. I mean what was the point in doing all of this if we weren’t recognized for it? It was tearing me up inside. I wanted the world to know that I was a main contributor. But Ben convinced me to stay the course. He began having grand ideas for the magazine. He felt certain this was an avenue to bring a change to the greater population. I didn’t know exactly how our journal would change anybody but it sounded good so we hunkered down and worked out the third issue.
We went with the grizzly mug of the Unabomber for the cover. What a face! We also wanted to up the ante. Ben had the idea to write a message promoting our magazine in the weekly announcements. All we thought we had to do was slip our message into the folder of weekly announcements. Once the message was in, there was no stopping the student from reading it over the loud speaker so everyone could hear. But unbeknownst to us there was a teacher in the room scouting out the hallway in the morning.
Ben and I were caught. Immediately we were sent to the principal’s office. It was a dark moment. He was angry. What we did was inexcusable. We were making fools of the teachers and writing filthy propaganda to an otherwise susceptible population. He even got out the first issue and recited sections of my essay on Show Girls. I didn’t think it sounded so bad. At some point in the conversation the principle asked us why we wrote this journal. Ben said he wanted to change people.
“Do you really think you can change someone?” He asked. We just stood there staring off in silence. How did it come to this? What exactly did we do wrong?
Afterwards we discovered that the entire school found out it was Ben and I. I was thrilled and a little relieved. We were champions of the school only being outdone a week later by the news of a pregnant classmate. Ben begged me to start up another literary project with him but I was finished as an artist. I needed my life back: sports, girls.
It wasn’t until twelve years later, when I was twenty-eight, exhausted after a day’s work, that I found myself digging up the old writer in me, a place inside I forgot existed: a story about a boy in high school just trying to get by.
JP Vallieres lives in North Idaho with his wife and four sons. His work has been featured in Rock and Ice Magazine, Northwest Men's Magazine, Underground Voices and Grey Magazine. JP is featured in North American Review's issue 296.4, Fall 2011.
Photograph from Photobucket