Ant-Head: A Love Story – Prologue
Excerpt from Ant-Head: A Love Story
By Budgie Bigelow
The Previously Untold Origin of Ant-Head
“Make sure you have a killer opening line to start your book. If you don’t have something good, use a quote or something, I don’t know. How’s your sister, by the way? She seeing anyone?”
My name is Joe Plume, but when I was thirteen years old, going on fourteen, the seventh grader who went by that name assumed a new identity: Ant-Head. I still remember the day it happened, sitting in Mrs. Payne’s reading class, reading a book called Where the Red Fern Grows. I don’t remember it being such a great book. Don’t get me wrong, I had always loved reading, just not when I was forced to do it. So, I only half-assedly paid attention, praying Mrs. Payne didn’t call on me to read a paragraph or two, since I had no idea where the last kid would end his turn.
My hair did a weird thing when it grew: it grew upward, not out. Ever see Beavis and Butt-Head? I hadn’t, since my mother had MTV blocked by the time it had graced American televisions. But my classmates had, and I apparently had hair like Beavis, only brown and not yellow. My hair was tall on that day. Tall, because I was in desperate need of a haircut, but my parents were too lazy to throw me in the car and take me to the barber. That cut into the precious free time they used watching TV in separate rooms of the house.
I was thin at the time too; not the plump, thirty-something man I am today. This was another trait exemplified by Beavis, my apparent animated doppelgänger, who I had never seen in action. I was probably thin because I didn’t eat much. This wasn’t because we were poor, but another lazy quirk of the two human beings obligated by law to raise me.
They didn’t shop or cook much, so I was left to my own devices on most nights to eat what I could scavenge from the kitchen. Ever eat a relish sandwich? That’s two pieces of bread with nothing but relish in the middle. I used to like them with the yellow relish, the stuff with mustard already mixed in. They called it “Hotdog Relish,” but we often didn’t have hotdogs I could microwave, so I had to eat it on its own. I was the only one who ate the stuff. At least my mom always made sure she got a jar or two when she did go shopping.
I think you can judge a lot about a person based on what sitcom families they relate to. I always liked Full House. I wanted a father like Danny Tanner and the loving family he had spearheaded. My father was a huge fan of Married with Children, and the comparison of him to Al Bundy is uncanny, reveling in his own mediocrity. My mom enjoyed Rosanne. I knew she enjoyed masturbation jokes too. The one where they caught DJ masturbating was her favorite. “I hear he got caught playing with his instrument in band,” Darlene had said. Mom liked crass humor like that. If I did have any friends, I would’ve been too embarrassed to have them over. Friends came and went a little later in life, and it was super-embarrassing to have them visit.
But let’s get back to the classroom on the fateful day in the mid-nineties.
I had a backpack lying next to my desk. In said backpack, was a folder. In said folder, were hundreds of pages of crudely drawn comics I had created. I wanted to be a comic writer slash artist. The stories were flat, the characters were weak, and the only motivation my villains had was they were villains. As I said earlier: I loved reading. When I was thirteen, going on fourteen, I read mostly comic books. I say mostly, because teachers like Miss Payne would make us read shit like Where the Red Fern Grows.
I’m sure Where the Red Fern Grows may be a good book, maybe a great one. Every now and then, I’ll pick up a book I was forced to read in school, and I’ll find it much more enjoyable now that I’m reading it for myself and not for some assignment. Watership Down is among my favorites, but when I read it in my sophomore year of high-school, I hated it. But I guess that happens. Seriously, you should read that once you’ve finished this one.
Alright, enough about books and this shit. You wanted to know about how I became known as Ant-Head. That’s the problem with being the narrator of a story about yourself. You tend to get bogged down in details and memories and soliloquies, one linking another in an unending tapestry of attention deficit.
And I’m doing it again… Sorry.
I forget how many students were in that class with me; at least twenty, maybe more. Out of that entire class with whom I spent the entire academic year, I don’t think I ever counted one of them as a friend; not one. It’s kind of sad, but I don’t feel sad about it. I was in love, too. I also forget which of the girls in class was the target of my affection at that time. I had a new one every week. If I learned anything from shows like Saved by the Bell, I only had to like a girl long enough for her to like me back. Then we’d kiss and stuff, like Zack Morris and nearly every girl on that show. Kissing seemed like fun. When we weren’t busy kissing, we’d hang out with my popular friends and their girlfriends at The Max. When I finally got to high-school, I felt like Saved by the Bell had betrayed me with its lies about teenage life.
Damn, I used to watch too much TV.
My head itched while I stared blankly at the words on the pages of Where the Red Fern Grows. Everyone in the class turned the page, so I turned mine in tandem to make it look like I was reading too, hoping Mrs. Payne didn’t catch on to my clever ruse. If the unthinkable happened and she called on me, I would have to pick up at the beginning of a random paragraph and hope it was the right one. If I was wrong, I would get laughed at, insulted by the cruel Mrs. Payne, and be forced to sit silently while another picked up from the right spot, the sting of hot embarrassment being my friend for the next few minutes. She’d be sure I was next to read after that.
I wasn’t dumb. I don’t think I was anyway. I was a C or D average student. My mother would say my low grades were because I was bored in school. I guess she shed that presumption later in life. When it was time to start thinking about college, the notion was forbidden. Seemed like it would be a waste of time and money. Besides, they’d have to be bothered with driving me there maybe, and we couldn’t have had that. As I said earlier, I wanted to write slash draw comics, but they squashed that notion, too. It was trade school for Joe Plume, son of mediocrity in motion. I can’t complain now. It had led me to a pretty fruitful life, if only a bit lonely and tedious.
But I’m getting way ahead of my seventh-grade reading class. Let’s be kind and rewind back to the nineties.
My head itched, so I tried to scratch it covertly. The last thing I needed was to let someone see me doing something as lame as scratching an itch. When I pulled my hand away, something black fell onto the page of the book, eliciting a small click only I heard. I didn’t knock it off the page. I stared at it, wondering what it was. Then it moved, scurrying across the page and onto my desk in a panic. It was an ant. Not those small ones that may have gone unnoticed. It was big, black, and noticeable.
I felt more itching in my Beavis-like hair. I scratched some more, pulling my hand out with another ant clutched between my fingers. Horrified, yet fascinated by the contents of my hair during Mrs. Payne’s reading class, I ran my fingers forward across the top of my head, letting the ants fall from my hair, onto the book and my desk, unaware that I was being watched. I didn’t even hear the whispers and snickers at first.
You might be asking how this could have happened. The answer is simple, yet stupid. We had our lunches outside that day. We were too old for recess, but we were allowed to have outside lunch on days the weather was nice. As the other kids ate and talked and made long-lasting friendships, I was lying on the ground, staring into the sky, no doubt daydreaming of one of my mediocre comic book creations fighting his one-dimensional villain. I must have done this unaware that ants live in the ground.
“Joe!” Mrs. Payne snapped, her ugly face turning toward me. God, she was so ugly. I’d never seen, nor have I seen since, a woman with teeth of that shade of gray. “What on earth is your problem?!”
She was a huge bitch too, by the way.
All eyes were on me, and it was only now that I was fully aware of it. I looked away from that ugly mug of my reading teacher to my desk, where the ants were scattering about, their temporary home in my hair disturbed by my obtrusive fingers. I didn’t answer Mrs. Payne, despite her evil glare. The answer should have been obvious. What kind of educational figure couldn’t deduce that I had a head full of ants?
“Ew!” Kelly Jacob, a one-time receiver of my secret desires, exclaimed. “Joe’s got ants in his head!”
“Ant-Head!” Mikey Millsap shouted from two rows behind her, eliciting laughter from those around him for his sentence fragment. I heard he became a gas station attendant or something, becoming unemployed when the place where he worked got bought out by Stop N’ Shop. God, I hope that’s true.
Mrs. Payne sent me from her classroom to go to the bathroom. I don’t know what she hoped I’d accomplish as I left to the jubilation of my classmates. I went to the bathroom, trying like crazy in front of the sink to get the remaining ants out of my hair. There were a lot. I didn’t bother killing them as they fell into the sink and onto the floor. They did nothing wrong to deserve death under my fingers or shoes.
The bell rang as I was working, and my class moved on to math on the second floor. Nobody grabbed my stuff for me. When I returned to Mrs. Payne’s room after getting reamed by my math teacher for being late without any my materials, I found an empty room. Mrs. Payne was likely on lunch, and I was grateful for that at least.
My classmates didn’t ignore my stuff completely. They had been sure to smash the ants into the pages of Where the Red Fern Grows before leaving all my stuff behind. I take that back. My math book was missing from my backpack. Someone had made off with it for no reason. My mother had to shell out thirty bucks for a new copy, which would have to be paid back from my birthday money, aging being the only paying job I had at the time. Thankfully, my comics had been untouched. It was still another year until they would be found, eliciting years’ worth of torment over what would be labeled as “pornographic art” by the school in a letter to my parents. Yes, I loved to draw the female form in all its nude glory, and that’s what they fixated on. Perverts.
Who knows where this forgotten talent would’ve taken me if not forcefully discouraged.
But I’m getting ahead of myself again. I guess the point of this story, this prologue anyway, is that from that day forward; the rest of middle school, high-school, and even after, I had been known as Ant-Head. The story would be repeated many times; told to those who weren’t there so they could repeat it as if they were. A part of Joseph Plume had died that day, giving birth to the boy who would be known as Ant-Head.
This is my story.
Want to read Joe Plume’s entire story? Check out the entire book here:
Ant-Head: A Love Story by Budgie Bigelow
Available in digital or paperback!