Don’t Say Yes to SPS!
The students of Stephan Pastis Junior High School awoke with excitement. The first Friday of every month their principal, Mr. Conqueso, scheduled fantastic assemblies. Last month they saw an abbreviated rendition of the show, “Cats” performed by the members of the Sunnyside Retirement Community. A couple of months before that, the rock band, “Midnight Oil” played for forty-five minutes. What would this month bring?
Social media buzzed with rumors and innuendo. One student claimed that the great-grandson of President William McKinley would be in attendance. Another student said he overheard Mr. Collins and Ms. Leatherbelt talking about Shaft. Billy Clemantine swore that Principal Conqueso had booked the Kool-Aid Man to burst through the walls.
Billy had zero credibility.
So when Vice Principal Chowders clicked on the PA signaling it was time, a cheer erupted on all three floors of the building. Hell, even the teachers were smiling. Sure, some were happy to get out of teaching, but they were excited nevertheless!
The faculty and administration stood in the aisles, directing traffic as students maneuvered to sit next to their best friends or significant others. They knew the drill by now, the faster they sat down, the faster the show would begin. Finally, after the last student had found his seat, Principal Conqueso appeared on the stage. As was his habit, he adjusted his tie before speaking.
“Good Morning, Rats!”
“Good Morning, Principal Conqueso!”
“Before we get to the main event, I have a couple of announcements. Tickets to next week’s dance are still on sale outside of the cafeteria. They’re only five dollars! If you have any questions, please see Professora Biftec.” Professora Biftec stood up and waved her hand, in case there was any question of who to see.
“Also, we’re still collecting for the canned food drive. We want to beat last year’s record of forty-nine cans so please remember to bring one in. It could be a can of corn, or potatoes, or string beans, or carrots, or turnips, or salsa, or tuna fish or beans or…” Principal Conqueso looked down at the first row and saw Vice Principal Chowders laughing and let out a laugh of his own. “Or even a can of clam chowder. Are we good?”
“Now as you know I put a lot of thought into these assemblies. I want them to be fun, and I want to trick you into learning something too! But of all the assemblies I’ve ever booked at Stephan Pastis Junior High, this might be the most important. I’m sure some of you are well aware of how there is a scourge running through our community right now. It’s a problem that’s getting out of hand, and I want to make sure the students who attend this school are not only informed but also alert of the dangers that are out on the streets.”
The students who were already sitting up were now coming out of their chairs. Danger? What did Principal Conqueso have in mind today?
“So let’s give a warm Stephan Pastis welcome! Are we ready, Marv?”
Principal Conqueso looked to the side of the stage to see Marv giving him the thumbs up. The stage lights went down, and a spotlight scanned the room.
Suddenly pyro went off on both sides of the stage and the cheerful tones of U2, “A Beautiful Day” blasted out of the speakers. The kids were cheering, and they had no idea why! The spotlight continued to circle until it stopped on a man coming out from behind the curtain. He looked to be in his early twenties, dressed in a purple cardigan and tan Dockers. He jumped up and down, then ran back and forth on the stage, causing the students to scream. At once, he stopped and shot his right index finger high into the air. He let out a primal, “WOOOOO!” and his cry echoed courtesy of a nifty headset.
“Stephan Pastis Junior High! Are you ready?”
The students cheered.
“No, no, no. I said, are you ready?”
More screams, some students stood up to make their voices louder.
“I know you can do better than that! One last time. Stephan Pastis Junior High…I said…ARE…YOU…REEEEEADDDDDDY????!!!”
The sound coming from the seats suggested that yes, the students were ready. More ready than they’ve ever been in their entire lives.
“DON’T SAY YES TO SPS!” For the second time, the young man pointed to the sky, and pyro went off on both sides of the stage. Then, the lights cut out, and the auditorium was in complete darkness.
“Coolest assembly ever,” Dave Millman yelled out to no one in particular. When the lights came back up, a man and a woman dressed as typical junior high students were walking across the stage. He had a flat-brimmed Oklahoma City Thunder hat and Criss Cross clothing. She had her hair in a ponytail and wore overalls with only the right strap buttoned. The kids saw mirror images of themselves and felt instantly at ease.
“Hey Alice, have you heard the latest from Nelly? He’s lit.”
“Yeah, Ted. He keeps it 100.” The kids knowingly nodded their heads. Ted stopped walking and took Alice’s hand.
“You know what else keeps it 100 Alice? SPS.” Alice looked out at the crowd and paused.
“I don’t know Ted, that sounds dangerous.”
“C’mon, Alice, all the cool kids are doing it.”
“Well, …what’s SPS?”
“Let me show you.”
Ted and Alice walked to the front of the stage and came across a sleeping puppy all stretched out.
“Awww is that a golden retriever?” Alice put her hands over her mouth and AWWed. The entire audience AWWed back.
“Not just a golden retriever, a puppy.” The students AWWed even louder. “Best of all, he’s sleeping.” Even Principal Conqueso was AWWing.
“Well, he is just a-dor-a-BLE!” Alice put both her arms up in excitement, punctuating every syllable.
“You bet he is. Say, Alice, have you ever smelled a sleeping puppy?” Alice shook her head.
“Here. Try it.” Ted picked up the sleeping puppy. “Give her a sniff.” Alice put her nose deep in the puppy’s ear and took a sniff. Suddenly the stage lights turned psychedelic and “Shakedown Street” by “The Grateful Dead” played on the speakers.
“Woah, Ted, I don’t feel good.”
“AAAAAND, FREEZE!” The lights went off, and the cardigan man was back on stage, bathed in the spotlight. “Kids, you just witnessed Alice throwing her life away when she took that first deep sniff. It goes by many names: Odie, Rin Tin Tin, Old Yeller, Mr. Cutiepie but its official name is SPS, Sleepy Puppy Smell. Last year ninety-one kids died from SPS.” The man in the cardigan looked to his left, and the spotlight followed his gaze to Alice. She was on the ground, writhing in ecstasy while Ted stood over her with a demonic grin on his face. The spotlight swung back to the cardigan man.
“You think its all fun and games when someone brings a cute beagle puppy or a corgi puppy and tells you to take a sniff but what they’re really doing is handing you a loaded gun! Let’s watch what happens to Alice after that first hit.” The lights went out for a couple of seconds; this time met with complete silence from the student body. When the lights came back on, Alice was standing on the left side of the stage. Above her were two street signs, 42nd and 8th. She was wearing a black mini skirt, fishnet stockings, and a faux mink coat. Her hair, formerly in a ponytail, was now a rat’s nest, and her makeup streaked across her face. A man in a suit walked past her,
“Hey, honey, you look like you own a dog.” The man stopped and looked at her.
“Why, yes, yes, I do.” Alice moved closer.
“I can tell.”
“You have kind eyes.” A wicked smile appeared in the corners of her mouth. What kind of dog?”
“We have a dachshund named Judy.”
“She sounds like a cutie.”
“Indeed she is. I should be going…”
“Hold on, mister. What do you say we go back to your house and meet Judy?”
“I would, but she’s probably sleeping.” Alice’s eyes lit up.
“Then we have to go. We have to go now!” She grabbed his hand, and he jerked it away.
“What’s gotten into you?”
“I need to smell your dog. I’ll do anything. I’ll su — “
The man in the cardigan reappeared on the right side of the stage while Alice and the businessman stood frozen.
“Are you getting the picture yet? Do you see what happens when you take that first hit of SPS? I don’t think you do. I’m sure you’re thinking c’mon, what’s the harm in smelling a sleepy puppy? Well, I’ll tell you, junior! First, you’re getting your kicks from a sleepy puppy, but soon that won’t be enough. Let’s go back to Alice and see what’s become of her.”
The lights went out, and the folks in the front row could hear some rustling. Instead of the lights coming back on, a spotlight started on the right side of the stage. There, a girl who looked to be an older version of Alice was sitting on the edge holding a big ol’ tabby cat in her lap.
“Oh, Mr. Scampers, I love you. I love you so much. I love…I need…I need to — “
Suddenly she scooped him up and shoved him in her face. Mr. Scampers freaked out and clawed at her eyes, causing Alice to howl in pain. When she dropped the cat, bloody claw marks covered Alice’s face. Some of the students in the front began to cry. The audience heard the cardigan man’s voice in the darkness.
“But it gets worse.”
The spotlight shifted over to the left where we saw another version of Alice standing with her eyes rolling back, two gerbils shoved up her nose.
The spotlight moved again to the right, and we saw a sketchy man in a trench coat with a mustache standing in front of a chain-linked fence. A strung out Alice stood next to him and asked with more than a hint of desperation,
“You sure you got it?”
“Yeah, baby, you know I got it.”
“Then, let me see it.”
The man opened his trench coat and took out a gecko. He stared at her for a couple of seconds while her nostrils flared in excitement.
“You know what you have to do.” Alice began to cry and knelt on the ground.
“UNTIL THERE’S NOTHING LEFT!” The spotlight moved one last time to the center of the stage where a police officer stood next to an older woman. There was a sheet covering something on a table in front of them.
“I’m sorry ma’am.” The older woman began to cry. “You know you don’t have to do this.”
“No, I want to. I have to know.” The police officer lifted the sheet showing Alice face down in the crotch of a turkey. The older woman screamed and beat her chest.
“Yes…yes, that’s my daughter Alice! Oh my God, my little girl! MY LITTLE GIRL!” The woman fell to her knees and looked up at the heavens. “YOU BASTARDS!”
The lights went out one last time, and by now most of the students at Stephan Pastis Junior High were traumatized. Kids were openly bawling and asking for their mommies. A couple of teachers stepped out of the room to compose themselves. A rumor went around that Mr. Hastings, the woodshop teacher, threw up in a trashcan. The spotlight reappeared, and there stood the cardigan man.
“So what are you going to do when someone offers you a puppy?” The audience stared blankly at him, the silence broken by the occasional whimper. Teachers were going up and down the aisle doing their best to console.
“I said, so what are you going to do when someone offers you a puppy?” A couple of students tried to reply but were too choked up to form the words.
“You know what you say?”
“Fine, I’ll tell you what to say! DON’T SAY YES TO SPS!” Just like that, the cardigan man ripped off his headset and spiked it, causing shrapnel to fly everywhere, while at the same time, the lights came up. Behind him stood Ted, the first Alice, the businessman, the sketchy man, the policeman, Alice’s mom, all the other women who played Alice, and all the animals. The light tones of U2, “A Beautiful Day” once again played as they all took a bow. Principal Conqueso walked back on the stage, staring out into the audience, a symphony of scarred children playing quietly in the background. After a couple of seconds, he adjusted his tie and said,
“Don’t forget to bring in those cans!”