The Old Road, Part 3

Part 3: Say “Pickle!”

The guys we went to the Old Road with were the undisputed “bad boys” at our school. The kind of boys that teachers and students were both afraid of, mostly because they didn’t care about anything. Rules, common courtesy and social norms didn’t matter to them. And when you’re trying to control unruly teens in high school, rules, common courtesy, and social norms are your weapons.

In my experience, when those weapons don’t work, most teachers aren’t imaginative enough to dig any deeper. So, they get scared of the students and ostracize them in the classroom. Other students then start to ostracize them to avoid association with the “bad kids.” When “anti-social” behavior meets isolation and rejection, it inevitably gets worse. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the recipe for the “bad boys.”

My best friend Ginger had been friends with the “bad boys” since middle school. She was a reformed bad kid herself. She had a tough time growing up and started hanging out with gang-banger wannabes outside of our school district when she was 13. That gave her cache with the bad boys who went to our school, so by osmosis she was accepted into their group.

By the time she and I became best friends senior year of high school, she was 18 and focused on getting good grades and going to a decent college. She was no longer a bad kid but was left with the stain of being a bad kid by those who remembered her back when. It probably didn’t help her reputation that she kept up her relationships with the bad boys at our school in a sort of mother hen way. She’d check in with them from time-to-time and chastise them for skipping school, smoking pot in the park across the street from school, or getting suspended. She’d known the guys for a long time and really cared about their well-being.

Eventually, when our girl group and the guys joined together to make a ramshackle group of delinquents, Ginger became our den mother. She idolized Jackie Onassis and wasn’t into jam bands, grunge music, or drugs, but she’d get high and drink a bit from time-to-time. Most of the time she never let her intoxication get out of hand though. Looking back, I don’t know why she wanted to hang out with any of us. I think she just needed a friend (like all of us) and I for one, was a pretty good friend (even if I was wasted half the time.)

Somehow Ginger got a nickname our senior year that stuck – Pickle. Back then (when smoking cigarettes was only considered unhealthy,) we all smoked like chimneys and each had collections of lighters. Cheap plastic Bic lighters had a life of their own in our group. They were extensions of us as people (I know that sounds crazy.) But if someone stole your lighter, whether by accident or on purpose, there was hell to pay.

At one point, Ginger had a bright green lighter that was the exact color of a dill pickle. If anyone tried to mess with her lighter, which would interrupt her ability to chain smoke her Marlboro Reds, you better watch out. She had a temper for sure. That’s how the Pickle nickname started. With a damn pickle-colored lighter.

Ginger and Annie worked at a pizza shop together and one time, Annie had the great idea to make a “pickle” lighter in Ginger’s honor. She got a bright green lighter (the same color as Ginger’s famous one) and took a sticker that literally said “pickle” from the pizza shop and wrapped it around the lighter. The pickle stickers were used on the bacon cheeseburger pizzas if chopped dill pickles were included as a topping. (Chopped dill pickle on top is the only way to enjoy a bacon cheeseburger pizza.)

Once Annie put that pickle sticker on the pickle-green lighter, she started calling the lighter “pickle.” So if we wanted to light a bowl or a cigarette and didn’t have a lighter, we’d say, “Hey, Annie, can I use pickle?”

Annie got to the point where she didn’t want anyone to officially ask to use her pickle lighter. She just wanted you to loudly say “pickle” and then she’d fling it at you. It was hilarious. If you put any words in front or after the word pickle in requesting the lighter, she’d refuse your request until you asked properly by just loudly saying “pickle.”

As you can imagine, this created an entire mythology around this 50-cent plastic green Bic lighter. Everyone wanted to use the pickle lighter and Annie became quite the elitist regarding who she’d let use it.

At a party one night, as we chilled on a couch, Annie and I spied Ginger across the room on another couch motioning to us. She was signaling that she wanted to smoke a cigarette, putting her fingertips to her mouth. Neither Annie or I wanted to get up so we shook our heads “no.” She gave a “humph” look in frustration and then started flicking her thumb to indicate she needed a lighter.

I didn’t have a lighter I was willing to share (I got sick of people stealing my lighters) and Annie shrugged her shoulders as if she couldn’t help out. Ginger got an annoyed look on her face because she knew we both had lighters on our person. Annie pulled out her pickle lighter and flashed it to Ginger. Ginger’s eyes lit up and she shook her head “yes” enthusiastically.

Annie mouthed “say it,” to Ginger. Ginger’s mouth turned down and she started to fume.

“No,” she mouthed defiantly from across the room. That didn’t work for Annie, so she shrugged her shoulders and started to put pickle back in her hemp purse.

“Annie!” Ginger yelled across the room, frustrated at a high level now.

“Say it!” Annie yelled across the room back at her.

Ginger thought about it for 30 seconds and then took in a deep breath. Right as she started to push the air out of her lungs to yell “Pickle!” someone took the opportunity to stop the CD playing on the sound system to change it out for another. The result was the most perfect moment of hilarity and humiliation. Ginger screaming the word “Pickle!” at the top of her lungs to a quiet living room full of wasted teenagers.

The room turned to look at Ginger and most started laughing hysterically.

“Pickle?” Some guy from another school yelled to her, laughing.

Ginger turned red and was fuming. She stomped over to Annie and I, who were also laughing uncontrollably.

“Give me that fucking lighter!” She yelled at Annie, sticking her hand out in front of her.

Annie thought better of arguing and handed it to her. Ginger grabbed it and stomped onto the porch to smoke a Marlboro Red. The nickname Pickle stuck permanently after that. In fact, we barely said the name “Ginger” again.

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