Rip Van Muscle

June 1981

That Rip Van Thomas hated his name was an understatement. He was named after his parents' two favorite actors, Rip Torn and Van Heflin, neither of whom appealed to Young Mr. Thomas in the slightest.

It wasn't like he had much choice in terms of alternates, either. "Rip" was horrible but "Van" was worse. "RV" made people think of Winnebagos, "RT" made them think of clarinetists! As for "Tommy," well, that was his dad's nickname, so it was taken. (When you got right down to it, he'd take "Rip Van" over "Horace Leslie" any day!)

Still, he managed. He could have been bitter, especially about all of the fart jokes. He could have been depressed and / or neurotic (thinking back on the time the seats ripped out of his hand-me-down pants in 1st grade, it was really a wonder!) He could have been a psychopathic serial killer.

In fact, he was an 18-year-old senior at Kinderhook High School, a solid B-student, reasonably athletic (6'2 and a rangy, broad-shouldered 200 lbs.), a regular on the baseball team (a power hitter, he couldn't throw or catch worth a damn), liked by some, disliked by others, ignored by most.

"Nothing special," he liked to say and everyone tended to agree, thinking to themselves, well, with a name like that who could take himself seriously?

So here it was the night of his senior prom and once again Rip had been too tongue-tied to ask any girl out -- not that that stopped him from going. He rented the tux, politely asked to borrow his dad's classic Corvair convertible (white with a red interior), and secretly raided the liquor cabinet to fill a discreet flask. No way he was going to miss out on prom, not with Jodie Benson there!

Ah, Jodie! His name was almost as bad as Rip's, a girl's name for a brainiac kid who had to turn himself into an uberjock just to survive. Captain of the debate team, captain of the football team, his choice of athletic or academic scholarships, virtually identical to Rip in height and weight but on him it looked, well, awesome!

Rip stood it for a couple of hours, standing on the sidelines, joking with his friends, surreptitiously spiking drinks, ignoring the girls who were so obviously making eyes at him, oblivious to the fact that he was -- once again -- staring at Jodie in ways that made Mr. Pettyfer, the chaperone art teacher in the linen sport coat, teal silk shirt, and pink bow tie, roll eyes.

At one point Jodie actually came over to the drink table and Rip handed him punch. Jodie waited a minute, raised an eyebrow, nodded at the cup, and Rip slipped him a dollop.

"Ya know, Rip," Jodie started. "In all the time I've known you..."

Rip was startled. He knows me? he thought. Since when?

And then Kelly Hardesty, the prom queen and captain of the cheerleading squad, Jodie's date for the evening, swooped in and carried him off, the giggling, gum-snapping harpy.

So much for his one and only conversation with Jodie.

Rip decided it was time for some fresh air. Mr. Pettyfer noted that the unfortunately named Rip was listing a bit to port but otherwise not much worse for wear.

Rip crossed the parking lot and headed for the footbridge across the creek that separated the high school from Irving Park, the little town's nature preserve. The knoll at the top of the path had a clearing and a bench and an excellent view of the school. The knoll itself was reputed to be hollow, opening to a series of caves that followed along under the ridge above the creek.

"What fools these mortals be," Rip intoned theatrically, gesturing towards the high school. Then he threw up.

"Christ, what a botch that was," he said, sitting down heavily on the bench.


Rip's 200 lbs. thrown down on the bench, 40 years old and in much need of repair, caused it to collapse, and the two together, Rip and the remains of the bench, caused the wooden platform on which the bench perched to likewise collapse...right into the empty and long-forgotten cistern the platform was covering!

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