Summary: Max is a Jr Higher who hates the locker room, and is now likely to be picked on for having a ash cross on his head after the Ash Wednesday service. It ends with a call to pray for others and submitting yourself to God to use you to lead others to Him.
Max hated the locker room. It wasn’t a mild dislike, like the days he would rather not go to science or choir. Max really dreaded walking into the locker room and confronting first the smelliness of the locker room and then those small lockers. These lockers were really just baskets that you could slide in its track and lock when it was closed. They concealed absolutely nothing. If you were dumb enough to set small things in there they would likely fall to the bottom locker.
To Max it seemed that the slipperiest characters in Jr. High always managed to get the bottom locker. The tough guys who always wanted to prove their manliness by pounding on guys always took the top lockers as a way of showing their superiority. And on the other end, the sly types discovered that booty, free for the snatching, always fell down. The boy who took the bottom row could easily reach anything that fell by taking the basket all the way out. Of course they would have to do it quietly without drawing attention to himself so no one would claim the prize. And of course they never had to admit to actually stealing if someone discovered their loss prize. As long as these sly opportunists didn’t bother to tell anyone the profitable trophies that fell their way they could keep them as their own. And if the real owner discovered what happened in time, and thus forcing the sly bottom row fox to give back the booty, he could cover his intentions by making a scene of yelling at the loser in front of everyone else. Somehow being angry and making a lot of noise about keeping your stuff where it belonged seemed to cover up their less honorable intentions. To Max it had ceased to be funny that anger was used to cover deceitfulness, but that was part of Jr. High locker room life. Max hated it.
Other things in the Jr. High locker room were even worse. Max dreaded the Jr High boys who had suddenly become very aware of girls. Too much aware for Max.
Adults might smile as they remember this time of raging hormones, but for Max it created a war zone. You see the whole bunch of them were somehow nervous about the whole thing. In grade school most of the boys didn’t care about girls. Now in Jr. High, the guys with open-minded parents who didn’t bother to teach them things like the preciousness of others, these guys saw girls as another way to prove themselves. For some of them it was an out-right obsession. Complicating the scenario was the fact that most of the girls in Jr. High wouldn’t give these boys the time of day. Therefore, the combination of an inner chemical drive that wouldn’t quit and a lack of self-control on the outside created a tense situation for anyone who didn’t want to go along with them. These boys freely expressed their emotions, attitudes and desires in the locker room. Often they were loud and coarse. They thought it was manly, that it lifted their self worth to talk dirty, tell coarse jokes and make the more sensitive boys uncomfortable.
Teasing and taunts were always in order in the locker room. Often they were not kind. No they were cruel at times. The only time the atmosphere cleaned up was when Coach happened to come walking through.
There seemed to be an automatic alarm that went off in tough boys whenever the Coach was about to walk through. Within the time it took to sneeze, cough, or give some other signal, the locker room would be transformed from a Jr. High version of the Abu Ghraib (aboo grheb) prison to a locker room of fine, upstanding adolescent boys who came from the best and most moral families in the communities. Or at least that was the image they tried to put on fort coach so he wouldn’t get suspicious of what was really going on. The only important point for them not getting in trouble all the while having all the fun they could. Usually they succeeded.
It was their humiliating behavior Max dreaded most. Most of time the boys thought they did it for fun. However, this fun, this locker room floor show, almost always required the price of a ticket. Not a ticket from each boy, mind you, but a ticket paid for all the boys’ fun, except the one who had to pay. That one boy was the one who had to pay the price with himself. He paid in hurt emotions, a painfully damaged ego and a scarred self-esteem. It was a costly price to pay.
It wouldn’t have worked as well to pick on two boys usually. It would have been too difficult for the ringleader bully to humiliate two boys at the same time because he had to watch the victim’s emotions closely looking for signs of weakness. Once that weakness was found, it was then that the pack of wolves would close in on the kill, err, I mean began to have fun. Any sign of emotional weakness was like a speck of blood on a chicken in a farmyard. Farmers say that the other chickens will pick at the speck of blood, even as it gets worse, until the victim lies dead, or rescued by the farmer. This was the biggest reason why Max hated the locker room. The smelliness, the funky basket lockers and the humor were all irritating, but he dreaded the degradation done in the name of fun. Locker rooms have their favorite victims. Anyone could be it, but the easier marks produced the most fun in the least amount of time.