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HughTube
The story of one middle school kid’s desperate attempt to get a clue

by Richard Clark


Copyright © 2017 Richard Clark

Published by Richard Clark



License Notes

Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the authors, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.



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Chapter 1

I don’t get it.

What don’t I get? Pretty much everything.

How to talk at a party? I don’t get it.

How to dress cool? I don’t get it.

How to avoid getting bullied?… to know when to shut up?… to choose the right after-school sport? I don’t get it.

How to ask out a girl? I definitely don’t get it.

Which is why I started HughTube. What’s HughTube? First of all, my name is Hugh. That explains the ‘Hugh’ part. The ‘Tube’ part, of course, refers to video.

HughTube is my video blog.

And yeah, I know everybody has a video blog these days. But mine’s different. I don’t just shoot myself playing Minecraft or whatever, narrating my exploits mining diamonds and killing Ender Dragons.

I shoot everything. My whole life.

Sure, I cut it all down later for my weekly blog post, but for myself I want my whole life recorded for later analysis. Because if I ever want to learn how to get it, I’m going to have to go over it on video – over and over – till I eventually get it right.


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Chapter 2

Before HughTube, I tried everything I could think of to help me get it. I was at my wit’s end. Nothing was working. In short, I was desperate.

But now that I’m recording my life, things are beginning to change – gradually. It’s not that I’ve suddenly stopped doing stupid things, I’ve just started to learn from doing those stupid things. And I figure it’s about time. I’m Hugh Hollenbeck, 14-years-old, officially an 8th-grader. It’s time to grow up.

So, how does all this work? I have this tiny camera attached to my glasses, on the top right where it doesn’t look too goofy. It sends a wireless video signal to my phone in my pocket, and it records audio through a little mike too. So basically it sees what I see and hears what I hear.

Also, like a Minecraft video, I narrate my life in real time. Nobody can really hear me – I talk quietly. People can see me talking to myself, and they sometimes give me weird looks, but the fact is that everybody knows what I’m doing. You see, I talked my Social Studies teacher, Ms. Knapp, into making HughTube my class project!

But, of course, HughTube is much more to me than just a class project.

It’s become my lifeline.

And nothing better demonstrates that than what happened to me last week.

It was the middle of October, so school – and HughTube – had been going for about a month. I stood outside the school entrance, narrating quietly into my mini-mike, surveying the scene as students started to arrive in the morning.

“Monday, October 9th. The start of another week at Smoky Ridge Middle School. I arrive without incident. But the day is still young.” To the untrained eye, everything looked normal. But if you really wanted to know what was going on, you had to look closer. And nothing or nobody looks closer than HughTube. It’s like an X-ray eye, allowing me to see deep beneath the surface of middle school life.

I heard the slap-slap-slap of someone’s flat-footed walk, and I turned to see Jonas Werb heading for the front door. Jonas is kind of chunky and looks like he never showers – because he doesn’t. He fumbled with his backpack, over-stuffed with books. I continued my HughTube narration: “There’s Jonas lugging in all his books ‘cause he’s afraid to leave anything in his locker.” Jonas has never had his books stolen from his locker, but he always suspects somebody will find out his lock combination. He uses the locker during the day, but even then he always tugs on the lock five times to make sure it’s really locked. It’s really locked, Jonas. Go to class.

Then I heard a car door slam, and I turned to see Trey Amaral getting out of his mom’s pricey SUV. “Trey arrives to begin another wonderful day of popularity and smugness.” Trey has it all – money, looks, athletic skill – and he never lets anybody forget it. I always wonder why people with everything always brag about having everything. Isn’t just having everything enough?

Now Molly MacLaine showed up. She is cool, always looking at everyone and everything with inquisitive, unafraid eyes. Her friend Skyler joined her, and they immediately started talking and laughing. I whispered into my mike, “As usual, Molly confabs with Skyler, sharing some secret that nobody else can hear. What could they be talking about? Note to self: Find out.”

It was almost time for class, so I decided to head inside. “Entering building at 8:57 A.M. Beyond these doors lie all the secrets, contradictions and unwritten rules of modern middle school life.” I stopped just inside the doorway and looked around the school’s large atrium. It was filled with students rushing to their first classes. “In this teeming mass of humanity, I will eventually find the answers to all those secrets, contradictions and unwritten rules.

“Because right now, I’m basically clueless.”



CHAPTER 3

I joined the teeming mass of teenaged humanity and headed towards my locker. My HughTube camera was picking up everything, even things that I was missing in real time (which was almost everything).

“Entering the fray,” I narrated. “All seems normal. But danger can lurk at every turn.” I scanned the crowd as I walked. “A misunderstood comment, a chance encounter, even just a glance in the wrong direction can lead to the middle school equivalent of thermonuclear war.”

Just then, Marty Tulk walked by Jonas Werb as he was stuffing all his books into his locker. Marty is like a wiry rat, smaller than all the other rats but somehow able to rip apart rats twice his size. “Nice kicks,” Marty chided Jonas with his trademark sneer. He nodded to Jonas’s shoes and snickered with his equally nasty (but bigger) buddies as they walked off.

Jonas was left staring at his shoes with confusion and shame. I narrated: “‘Nice kicks.’ Two simple words have sent a student’s mind reeling. Are his shoes too nerdy? Too old? Too new? All he knows is that he must do something about his shoes. The repercussions of this could last for days... weeks... even years.”

When I got to my locker, my best friend Simon Louther was there. He’s a gawky 14-year-old who always seems quite happy being a gawky 14-year-old. (I wish I could say the same for myself.)

“Hey buddy!” Simon shot at me with a big smile.

“Hi Simon,” I said, taking a moment to adjust my glasses and tiny HughTube lens.

Simon comically primped his scraggly hair for ‘the camera’. “I’m ready for my close-up now, Mr. Hollenbeck,” he said, chuckling.

“Very funny.” I shook my head. I’d heard this line before. A lot.

Then Brent Pulasky walked by with some of his jock friends. “Hey camera-guy,” he called out to me. “Don’t forget to shoot my good side.” Then he bent over and stuck his butt up in the air (with his pants on – thank God). A lot of people found that one funny. I guess there’s no accounting for taste.

“I wish people would just be normal around me,” I told Simon as we grabbed our books and headed to class. “I mean, I’ve been doing this for a month now.”

Suddenly, Principal Townsend jumped in front of me and Simon, stopping us in our tracks with a big Broadway pose. “Gooooood morning, Smoky Ridge Middle School!” Then he did an improvised song-and-dance routine for my HughTube camera. Yes, he really did, all 280 pounds of him.

“It’s a great day at Smoky Ridge!

“Lots going on, more than a smidge!

“We’ve got the food drive and a game with Banville High!

“And don’t forget the election is nigh!”

Mr. Townsend laughed at his own antics while students around him rolled their eyes. I think they gave me some dirty looks too, knowing that if it wasn’t for my camera, we would all have been spared his ‘show’. But HughTube makes Principal Townsend feel like a movie star. He loves HughTube – waaaay too much.

“Hi, Mr. Townsend,” I said, forcing a smile. “You know, it’s best if people don’t acknowledge the camera.”

“Oh, I know, but I just can’t help myself!”

Simon chimed in, “And you just keep getting better!” I shot Simon a sidelong glance. Don’t encourage the man!

“Thanks, Simon!” said Mr. Townsend, apparently unable to detect sarcasm. He turned back to me. “Can’t wait to see me back on HughTube!”

Put on the spot, I was forced to fudge a bit: “Yeah, well, I try to really cut everything down, just keep the important stuff, you know. ‘Cause it’s my class project and all.”

“That’s okay,” he said. “Just put me under the credits or something. Hey, maybe I can write you a theme song! I’ve got some ideas...” Mr. Townsend pulled some scraps of paper out of his pockets.

No, please God, no.

But then – RRRRING! The school bell went off. Talk about saved by the bell! “Oh, sorry, Mr. Townsend,” I said. “Gotta get to class!” Simon and I turned and took off.

But Mr. Townsend still called after us. “Sure. Maybe later! I’ll track you down at lunch!”

As we rounded a corner, I turned to Simon. “You know, he’s not what I had in mind when I created HughTube.”



CHAPTER 4

Simon and I took our seats in Social Studies class, Simon sitting right behind me. Ms. Knapp erased the white board as the rest of the students gradually settled in. Ms. Knapp always has a look on her face like everything about the world disappoints her, and that day was no different.

I turned around in my seat to talk to Simon. “How’s your class project coming?”

“‘The Eating Habits of the North American Teenager.’ Pretty sad results. So far, fries are beating out raw vegies a hundred to one.”

I snickered. “Don’t forget, potatoes are vegetables too,” I kidded him.

“True,” Simon said slowly, realizing I was technically right.

“So is ketchup.”

Simon started to wonder. “Maybe kids are eating healthy.” He took some notes. “I’ve got to recalibrate my findings...”

Simon’s class project was actually pretty easy for him. He worked at the school snack bar, and all he really had to do was keep track of what everybody ordered. But I was pulling his chain about the fries and ketchup. I mean really, you need to do a scientific study to figure out kids prefer junk food to some carrots and celery sticks? If that was my class project, I’d be done with it in a day.

Ms. Knapp tried to get everybody’s attention. “Okay, settle down! Come on, let’s go.” She leaned forward on the back of her desk chair which caused her shoulders to hunch up, making her look even more world-weary than usual. “Now, before we get started, you all should know the Student Council elections are coming up. Sign-up sheets are in the office if any of you care to run. As we’ve been learning in class, the world of politics is by and large a festering cesspool, but I’ll leave it up to you.”

Then Ms. Knapp started her lecture about the War of 1812, so I won’t bore you with that. But as usual, after about a minute of taking notes, my eyes and thoughts wandered. I was more interested in what my HughTube camera was picking up than some 200-year-old war.

And there was something worth shooting too: Molly MacLaine. She sat in the next row over, just a few seats ahead of me.

Molly is one of those people who has a style all her own. She doesn’t wear expensive clothes or anything, she just knows what to wear that’s right for her. Some other people know their styles too, whether it’s preppy or grunge or ‘50’s bowling shirt hip or whatever. They always seem to look right, even though they don’t necessarily look good.

But me? What’s my style? I, of course, have no style. Whatever I wear, no matter how I try, it always looks wrong. Just another part of life I don’t get.

Molly tossed her hair in a casual way, and it took my breath away. She does her hair-flip thing a lot, never thinking a thing about it, but I guarantee I’m not the only boy in class who has to suck in a little gasp every time it happens.

I whispered some narration: “Molly flips her hair in her usual way. But is she just getting it out of her eyes... or trying to drive me crazy?”

Then Simon leaned in and whispered to me, “Hey, can you slow-mo that hair flip for HughTube?”

I tried to ignore Molly and Simon as I went back to taking notes on Ms. Knapp’s War of 1812 lecture. It was something about the U.S. attacking Canada, but Canada wasn’t even Canada yet. I think it was still England. Guess I should listen a little better next time, but hey, I was working on my class project, right?


At lunch, I hung around with Simon who was working at the snack bar. Across the room was the regular school cafeteria counter, but the snack bar had a longer line. Sometimes I wondered why they even kept the cafeteria open.

I nodded to the kids at the snack bar loading up on burgers and fries. “These kids could be eating real food over there,” I said to Simon, pointing to the cafeteria, “but they choose to go for the junk. Don’t you feel at all responsible?”

Simon shook his head. “This is my class project, remember? And they pay me.”

I then noticed Trey Amaral across the room putting up a hand-painted poster with some friends: TREY AMARAL FOR STUDENT COUNCIL PRESIDENT. “Of course Trey is running,” I said to Simon.

Simon glanced over at another wall where Tanya DeLuca was hanging her own campaign poster: VOTE FOR TANYA! DELUCA FOR PRESIDENT! Tanya has always been the ultimate preppy, and she believed that getting a Student Council President win on her record was crucial for her eventual admission into the Ivy League school of her choice.

Simon nodded. “Ooo, that’s gonna be a tight race.”

I shook my head in disgust. “Why does it always have to be Trey and Tanya? The jock versus the preppy. And now Student Council President. I mean, why can’t someone else get a shot once in a while?”

Simon sniffed a little laugh. “Yeah, maybe you should run,” he said jokingly. “You gotta admit, it’d make a great HughTube episode.”

I knew Simon was joking… but this got me thinking. I started to wonder, “You’re right. Why not me?”

Simon looked up from salting some fries and stared at me. “Uh... you knew I was joking, right?”

“No, I mean it. Why can’t I run for Student Council President?” Seriously, why couldn’t I? Why shouldn’t I? Where was it written that I somehow wasn’t qualified to run, and those two supposedly were?

Simon stopped working and looked in my eye. “Well, you could run... and totally humiliate yourself. I say stick to what you’re good at. Look at me.” He gestured to his snack counter. “I’m good at food service. This may look like a stupid job to you, but I feel right at home.”

Just then, the hulking Brad Reese walked up and slammed his hot dog down on the counter. “This hot dog is cold!”

Simon didn’t skip a beat. “I’m sorry to hear that, sir. Here, have a fresh one,” he said as he handed Brad a new hot dog in a bun.

Brad was instantly mollified. “Thanks,” he said, a bit surprised as he took the new hot dog and left.

Simon turned back to me. “See? It just comes naturally to me.”

“But you didn’t know that until you got this job,” I insisted. “I haven’t discovered my ‘calling’ yet the way you have. Heck, that’s why I came up with HughTube in the first place, to let me look at my life more objectively and help me find my path.”

“Yeah, but Hugh,” Simon said, “some things are just kind of obvious, aren’t they?”

“To you, maybe, but not to me. I’ve got to try and fail at pretty much everything to see what’s right for me. And thanks to HughTube, even if I fail, I’ll learn a lot of important lessons. So… maybe I’ll be good at being on the Student Council once I start doing it!”

“Well…” Simon said wryly, “first you gotta win.”

I put both my hands confidently on the snack counter. “Let the campaign begin.”

As I walked off with a smile, Simon shook his head and said to himself, “People love a good train wreck.”



CHAPTER 5

I headed straight to the school office and signed up to run for Student Council President. Even the school secretary gave me an odd look when I signed up, but I didn’t care. I wanted to run. Maybe this was my thing? And if it wasn’t, I’d have HughTube to help me figure out why not.

After school, I ran home and went right to work on my campaign posters. I laid this long roll of poster paper out on the family room floor, and I grabbed some of my sister Nancy’s paints. I wanted to make the posters simple but funny: HUGH-RAY FOR HUGH! Also: GIVE A HECK FOR HOLLENBECK! Okay, not the most brilliant slogans, but kind of snappy, you have to admit.

But just as I was finishing the posters, the paint still wet, my mom came out from the hallway and almost stepped on them. “Mom, watch out!” She almost spilled her coffee on them too!

After Mom caught her breath, she looked down and realized what I was doing. “Give a heck for Hollenbeck??”

“I needed something catchy,” I said defensively.

“That is catchy!” Mom said with a forced smile. That didn’t make me happy. I didn’t need her pity. Or maybe I did.

“You’re running for Student Council President?” she asked.

“Yeah, of course.”

“Ohhh, this is for your HughTube thing,” she said, happy that she was starting to make sense of it all.

“Kind of,” I said, “but I’m serious about it.”

But she was sticking with her own explanation in her head, so she didn’t really hear me. She just went into the kitchen to get a coffee refill.

Now it was my sister’s turn. She came out from the back too and was caught off guard by my posters. “Whoa! Hey, are those my paints?”

“Mom bought them,” I retorted.

“That’s okay!” Say what you want about Nancy, she doesn’t hold a grudge. In fact, most of the time, she’s an 11-year-old ball of positivity. Yeah, that’s as annoying as it sounds.

“You’re running for Student Council President?” Nancy asked.

“What is it with everybody?” I was getting a little paranoid. “I really think I can win.”

“That’s great!” chirped my sister. “But… it’s so totally not you.”

This really got my goat. “How do you know what’s me?” I demanded.

“I don’t know what’s you, but I know what’s not you. And this is not you.”

Now it was Dad’s turn. He came in through the front door and, yeah, almost stepped on my posters.

Nancy perked up. “Hi Daddy!”

“Hey sweetie.” He looked down at me and the posters. “Hugh, you’re running for Student Council President?” he asked with genuine confusion.

Well, that’s three for three. All I could do was hold my head in my hands. Mom saw me and tried her best to come to my rescue. “Come on, I think it’s wonderful you’re running for Student Council President. Let’s all help Hugh with his posters!”

“Thanks, but I’ve got it,” I said, waving her away.

Then Nancy’s eyes lit up. “Hey, maybe I should run for something at my school!”

“They have elections in elementary school?” I chuckled. “How about ‘Best Super Happy Caring Friend’?”

“That’s a great idea! Thanks!” Nancy ran back down the hall, bubbly as can be. “I’m gonna need my paints back!” she called loudly from her room.

My dad raised an eyebrow. “You know, I think she could win.”

He was right. She could win ‘Best Super Happy Caring Friend’ no problem. In fact, she could probably win Student Council President too, if they had such a thing at her school. She was, after all, a people person, and in her own way, she actually got it. But we’re all aware of my problem by now. No getting it for old Hugh. I was just going to have to give the school campaign thing a try, and if I crashed and burned, well… at least it would all be preserved on video for everyone’s future enjoyment.



CHAPTER 6

The next day, Simon helped me put up the posters in the school hallways. I noticed a few kids passing by giving my posters a smile. “The campaign posters seem to be a hit,” I narrated for HughTube. “This could turn into something big.”

But Simon didn’t look so hopeful. “Remember, there’s still time to reconsider.”

“Why would I want to reconsider?” I said as more kids passed by. Now they were snickering at my posters, not just smiling. Yeah, slam dunk!

“You’re not picking up on anything here?”

“I think they like my catch phrase.”

Simon paused a moment, staring at me. “Yeah. That’s it.” (Yes, this was a moment I would later analyze on HughTube. I do eventually catch on – but always too late.)

Then we glanced down the hall and saw Trey sitting at a folding table with his friends. He was chatting with passing students and handing them campaign pins. Campaign pins? Come on. “Trey schmoozes with potential voters,” I narrated. “His desperation is showing.”

Simon gave me a look. “Hey, I tune in to HughTube for unbiased sociological commentary, not ideological pandering.”

We finished putting up my last poster, and that’s when I spotted Molly and Skyler watching us from down the hall. I quickly looked away, not wanting them to see me watching them watching me. But I couldn’t fight the urge to look back again. The girls laughed between themselves and finally walked off. As usual, I was dying to find out what they were talking about, especially since they seemed to be talking about – and laughing at – me. Or were they laughing with me? Later analysis would no doubt solve this puzzle.

My posters now up, Simon and I set up our own folding table. But I had something better than campaign buttons. I had a stack of those tree-shaped car air fresheners with GIVE A HECK FOR HOLLENBECK stickers on them! Now whenever people would smell the scent of pine, they’d think of me! Or… whenever they thought of me, they’d smell pine. Well, either way, it’d be good for my campaign!

Simon and I held out the tree things for people to take as they passed… but nobody took anything. I tried some encouragement: “Free locker air freshener! Give a heck for Hollenbeck!”

A girl took one from me and looked at it. “Locker air freshener? Aren’t these for cars?”

“You can use them anywhere!” I said. “Freshen up your locker or car and improve your student government at the same time!”

I turned to Simon as she walked off. “There’s a vote right there.”

Simon spotted the girl dropping the tree thing into the trash. “Yeah... you won that girl over.”

“These are way better than stupid campaign buttons,” I said. “Who’s gonna wear those?” Okay, I was kind of in denial about this one. Everybody was wearing Trey’s campaign buttons. “But these things, you hang it in your locker, you always see it. And you smell it. Your brain makes the subconscious connection – nice smell equals Hugh Hollenbeck. Bang! I got a vote.”

Just then, Tanya DeLuca passed by. “Ew… something stinks around here.” She stopped and followed her nose to my table. “Hey, look at this.” Tanya took a tree thing from Simon and read it. “Give a heck for Hollenbeck.” She looked back at Simon. “Little smelly tree things – terrific idea, Hollenbeck.”

Simon pointed to me. “He’s Hollenbeck.”

Feigning realization, Tanya turned to me. “Oh, you’re Hollenbeck, right, the camera guy. Well, great to have you in the race. Good luck to you!” Then, as she walked off, she said, “You’ll need it.” She cracked herself up and continued handing out her own campaign giveaways: packs of bubblegum! VOTE FOR TANYA stickers were wrapped around the packs of gum, and everybody was snapping them up.

I looked around, and people were blowing bubbles all over the place. “What? She’s giving away bubblegum? That’s vote-buying!” I said to Simon. Then I looked over the crowd and narrated: “Nearly every student in school is smacking away at their free bubble gum, courtesy of Tanya DeLuca, trying to buy their vote. Can a simple school election sink so low?”

I turned back to Simon, but then POP! He promptly blew a bubble in my face. “You want some?” he asked, holding out his own pack of Tanya DeLuca bubblegum.

“Spit that out! Who are you campaigning for anyway?!”

“But it’s strawberry-lime, a much-maligned flavor – undeservedly so, I might add.”

“This crosses the line!” I insisted. “Giving people chewing gum is… it’s bribery!”

“How is it really any different from these?” Simon asked, holding up one of my tree-shaped thingies. “They both have a use beyond just being campaign paraphernalia.”

I shook my head in frustration. “Buttons, air freshener things, that stuff is fine ‘cause it’s… I don’t know, ‘cause it’s cheap!” I rubbed my hands together, gathering my wits. “Alright… now we have to up our game. What can we give away that’s better than gum?”

Simon thought for a moment. “We’ve got a bunch of those ketchup packets at the snack bar.”

“Good… good,” I said, my brain whirring in a political fever. “But you can’t just eat those things. You have to put the ketchup on something.”

Simon thought some more. “We could hand out bags of fries.”

“But we’d have to pay for them.”

“Um… how about day-old fries? We got a ton left over from yesterday. Luckily, I forgot to throw them out.”

“Perfect!” I felt a charge running through me, a feeling that I was willing to do anything to win.

Maybe, I wondered, this politics thing was my thing after all!



CHAPTER 7

Simon and I got everything ready by lunchtime. I joined him behind the snack bar counter, and we had over a hundred bags of day-old fries lined up before us. And each bag was complete with a HUGH-RAY FOR HUGH sticker and its own little ketchup packet.

“Super-size your vote with some free fries!” I called out to the onslaught of hungry kids. “Give a heck for Hollenbeck!”

And give a heck they did, snatching up all the fries in minutes. I narrated: “The crowd goes wild for the free fries, squirting them with Hollenbeck-brand ketchup and wolfing them down fast. No doubt they’ll express their gratitude at the ballot box, pulling the lever for yours truly, Hugh Hollenbeck, the ultimate come-from-behind dark horse who always wins the race in the end.”

Simon turned to me. “I wasn’t too sure about this at first, but I gotta admit, it seems to be working.” Then his eyes lit up. “Hey, maybe I can work this into my class report!” he said, gesturing to the kids eating the fries. “But,” he pondered, “would fries still be considered a healthy vegetable if they’re a day old?”

I caught Trey staring at me from across the room. In a defiant gesture, he took his bag of fries and dropped them, uneaten, into the trash.

I just sneered back. “Game on, buddy,” I narrated. “If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”

And then it started.

At first, I just thought that someone was having a coughing fit. But then some more people started coughing – but it wasn’t really coughing. It was gagging. I looked around the room in growing horror. “Oh… no. One person after another is starting to get sick,” I narrated. “Could the cafeteria’s fish sticks be undercooked? Maybe rancid tartar sauce? No, I don’t think so. It’s my worst nightmare come true. All the people getting sick are eating the day-old fries with my name on them!”

URGH! GAAAG! The room erupted in retching. “I now see my political career circling the bowl along with everybody’s lunch,” I continued. I looked across the room and saw Tanya DeLuca laughing it up with her hangers-on. She unwrapped a piece of bubblegum and popped it into her mouth, and when she saw my ashen face, she just smiled from ear to ear. “Tanya revels in my loss and her eventual victory. Perhaps Ms. Knapp is right: Politics is a festering cesspool. And I just contributed my part to that cesspool with the half-digested remains of a hundred bags of day-old fries.”

I looked over at Simon, and he was in panic mode. He quickly started cooking some fresh fries, and he called out, “Free fries! Fresh this time!” And what do you know, all his sins were forgiven as the crowd of students rushed up to get a new batch of free junk food.

But my sins weren’t forgiven. No doubt I was about to receive my punishment at the ballot box.

And then I noticed Principal Townsend surveying the chaotic scene. He turned his gaze to me and shook his head. I guess my punishment would come even sooner.



CHAPTER 8

I sat across from Principal Townsend in his office, the door closed tight. He just sat there silently in his cracked faux leather chair, swaying back and forth a bit in the turning seat. I pondered my possible fate. Would he suspend me? Expel me?? Or worse, make me clean up the mess in the cafeteria?!

Finally, after a period of silence longer than I’d ever heard him be silent before, Mr. Townsend spoke. “Hugh… you know this is very hard for me.”

Oh boy. Now I was starting to feel bad for the guy.

“I don’t like to see myself as one of those tough, jerky principals you always see in the movies. Heck, I’m just an old softy, you know that.”

The guilt was really building up inside me now, and I started to sweat. Oh, get it over with already! Just expel me now! I deserve it! I poisoned half the student body! And why? Just so I could win some stupid student government title that doesn’t really mean much anyway! Like a band-aid, rip it off fast and it’ll hurt less!

“But… I have to do something,” Mr. Townsend continued. “People are watching me, they’re depending on me to do the right thing. I mean, if I let you get away with this, then what’s the next student going to do? I have to take decisive action here!… unless…”

I jumped out of my seat, ready to throw myself out of school. “Mr. Townsend, I – ” But then I stopped. Uh… did he just say “unless”? I sat back down again, but I leaned closer to hear more clearly. “Unless…??”

“…Unless you can, maybe, make some adjustments to your Social Studies class project that would allow for… more screen time for the Principal of your school… perhaps?”

I sat slowly back into my chair. Ah, politics. I scratch your back, you scratch mine. I may not get most things in life, but I got this. “So…” I said suggestively, “I give you more of a role on HughTube, and we can make this whole… unpleasantness just go away?”

“This is purely a suggestion to improve your class project, you understand,” Mr. Townsend said, trying to convince himself more than me. “I have to think of my students’ education first and foremost.”

“Well,” I said, standing up again, “I think that you’ll find your presence in future HughTube episodes will be significantly and substantially greater – entirely to increase my class project’s educational value, of course.”

“Of course!” Mr. Townsend said, still quite serious.

I wasn’t thrilled by any of this, I think you should know. After all, now I had to pad every future HughTube episode with the bumbling shenanigans of this frustrated actor, giving him the international exposure he so desperately craved but didn’t deserve. But if I didn’t do this, HughTube would be off the air forever. So I bit the bullet and did what I had to do. I did it for HughTube.

Mr. Townsend brightened up and leapt out of his seat. “So, I’ll see you out there! And when you see me coming, get that camera rolling!”

“From now on, Mr. Townsend,” I said, “you are the star of HughTube.”

Mr. Townsend beamed from ear to ear. “I’m the star!”

Oh, the compromises we have to make for a political career.



CHAPTER 9

That afternoon, Simon and I were back at our folding table in the hallway, once again handing out the tree-shaped air fresheners. It was all I really had, and I still knew it wasn’t enough because now Trey had upped his own game – he was handing out flash drives with the latest Ed Sheeran album on them! Now that was going too far!

Just then, Principal Townsend jumped in with one of his trademark HughTube ‘show biz’ poses. “Baby, ‘Hugh’ are born to ruuuun!” He laughed at his own ‘joke’. “How’s my favorite candidate doing?”

“I’m making a new start,” I said, “and I’m hoping for the best.”

“Great attitude!” he exclaimed. And then came the inevitable singing and dancing:

“We’re having an election!

“It’s gonna be perfection!

“Who will win, no one really knows,

“Could be you or you or Hugh, I suppose!”

And with another hearty laugh, he finally headed off, once again oblivious to the stares of all the horrified students around him.

It was a shame Mr. Townsend couldn’t vote in the election since he would’ve been the one vote I could be sure of. He may have forgiven me for the day-old fries incident, but I don’t think anybody else did. So I wasn’t sure anybody would vote for me at all.

Just then, I spotted Molly MacLaine coming our way. I immediately tensed-up as she did one of her patented hair flips. I nudged Simon, and then I narrated for HughTube: “Molly MacLaine heads this way. Is she coming to get a locker air freshener? Or will she just pass by without even a glance?” But she kept coming. We even made eye contact. I bit my tongue, trying not to panic.

Molly walked right up to my table and said, “Hi. You’re Hugh, right?”

“Yeah!” I said, way too enthusiastically. Down boy! “I mean yeah, that’s me.”

“Your HughTube blog thing – that’s cool.”

“Thanks! I mean thanks.” Okay, let’s break this down: A) She’d actually seen HughTube. B) She thought it was cool. C) Did I mention, she thought it was cool?!

“You put it all out there. I like that. It takes guts.”

“Yeah... that’s me. I’m... gutsy,” I said, trying to be cool – and not succeeding. But she wasn’t exactly right. I didn’t invent HughTube because I had guts. Remember, I was just desperate. But I wasn’t about to tell her that.

Simon chimed in: “And he’s running for President! That takes guts too!”

“So what’s your platform?” Molly said as she leaned on the table. She was kind of leaning over me now, and her face was getting closer. I could actually smell her, a beautiful, soft smell, delicate but strong enough to overpower the tree things’ pine scent (which I was starting to get sick of). Thinking back, I’m not sure how I maintained consciousness.

“M-my platform?” I stuttered.

“Yeah, your campaign pitch. What do you think you can do as Student Council President?”

“Uh... make things better?? I was thinking I’d just... kinda... wing it?” Yep, I was on a roll.

“Hmm. I expected more,” Molly said thoughtfully.

My heart sank. My world collapsed. Again, I’m not sure how I maintained consciousness, but this time for different reasons.

“I mean, you’re the HughTube guy,” she continued. “You know how to be – ”

“ – gusty,” Simon offered. Thanks, Simon.

“Yeah,” Molly said.

I tried to defend myself. “Well, yeah, I’m gonna… be gutsy! Make bold choices. Make the hard choices other people aren’t gutsy enough to make.”

“Hmm. We’ll have to work on that,” Molly said.

“W-We?” I fumbled.

“If you want me to help you with your campaign.”

Simon’s eyes nearly popped out of his head, but he tried hard to remain calm. But I was skeptical. “Well, I don’t know if – ”

“Sure!!” Simon interrupted. “We need all the help we can get. Literally.” He handed Molly a handful of air fresheners. “Why don’t you start by handing these out, maybe over by the door?”

Molly took them happily. “You bet! But later, we gotta strategize.” She walked off towards the front doors in the atrium.

Simon turned to me. “Dude, are you nuts?”

“But I don’t even know her that well,” I said, still not getting it.

“So get to know her! She came to you, man! She’s obviously interested!”

“She’s into politics,” I said, trying to figure out an explanation.

“She’s into you!” Simon shook his head. “Jeez. How come you’re the guy with the camera on all the time, but you’re always the last person to see things?”

I looked over at Molly handing out the air fresheners. I narrated quietly: “Molly looks beautiful in the light coming through the front doors.” I noticed a lot of students were happily taking the tree things from her. “Her natural appeal just draws people in, makes them feel like they’re her friends. I hope against hope that I don’t disappoint her.”

Then she flipped the hair out of her eyes again… and I finally passed out.



CHAPTER 10

At home, I played Molly’s hair flip over and over again on my computer. I slowed it down… played it back and forth… added some music to it… Okay, before you start thinking this was kind of creepy, keep in mind that everybody at school knows I’m shooting everything on my HughTube camera. But okay, it was still kind of creepy. Sorry for being 14 and having hormones!

Anyway, right while Molly’s hair flip had me in a sort of blissful haze, Simon skyped me, his image instantly replacing Molly’s on my computer screen. I almost gagged.

“Hey, how’s the editing going?” Simon asked. He was in his bedroom, and fast food logos were all over the wall behind him. Okay, I get it dude, “You want fries with that?” is your mantra.

“HughTube’s coming along,” I said.

“You’re slow-moing Molly’s hair flip thing, aren’t you?” Simon said with a smirk.

“No!” I retorted, a little too quickly.

“Don’t feel bad. My class project is tanking too. Not only can fries and ketchup be considered vegies, the fructose and palm oil in all the candy and chips at the snack bar qualify them as vegetables too. So it seems the eating habits of the North American teenager are great! But now my class project report’s gonna be like half a page.”

Just then, my phone chirped. It was a text – from Molly! “Whoa.”

“What?”

“Molly texted me.” I stared at the phone, incredulous. “She wants to get together for a ‘strategy session’ at the mall.”

“‘Strategy session’? Dude, you are in!”

“What do you mean?”

“Nobody gets together for a ‘strategy session’ at a mall. They go there to hang out!”

“She wants to hang out with me?” Okay, maintain…

“We talked about this,” Simon explained, a little annoyed. “You really think she joined our team ‘cause she’s into politics?”

“Jeez,” I said, “I’ve never ‘hung out’ with a girl before.”

Simon calmed down and slumped in his seat. “Me neither. I wonder what it’s like.”

Just then, Nancy barged into the room, a bundle of energy as usual. “Hugh, I’m campaigning at my school too!”

“Learn to knock!” I snapped. I’m all for positivity, but being pelted with Nancy’s happy explosions every day gets exhausting.

“I’m running for Best Super Happy Caring Friend!” she enthused.

My jaw literally dropped. “Really??” I’d made that dopey thing up off the top of my head.

“It’s so cool! Everybody says they’ll vote for me! Wish me luck!” Nancy bounced out of the room on her built-in pogo stick.

I turned back to Simon onscreen. “Welcome to the funny farm,” I told him. Too bad that funny farm was my life.



CHAPTER 11

I showed up at the Chester Place Mall where Molly and I agreed to meet. Making my way to the busy food court, I turned on my HughTube camera. I wasn’t really supposed to record anything outside of my home and school, but today just cried out for some HughTube introspection. There was so much not-getting-it that was about to go down that I needed HughTube now more than ever.

I narrated quietly as I walked through the mall. “All of humanity is here. Families shopping and eating. Couples buying wedding rings. And teenagers, lots of teenagers, going clothes shopping, going to the movies, hanging out.” A teenage couple sauntered by. Ah, to be so carefree. “They’re laughing. Hanging out is supposed to be fun. Be fun, be fun, be fun. But not too fun. Molly likes me for my gutsiness – my strength, my power. So take charge – but in a fun way.”

I spotted Molly sitting in the food court sipping a coke. She looked over and smiled, calling out, “Hi!” I weaved my way through the tables to get to her. I nearly tripped over a stroller on the way, but I caught myself just in time. Crisis averted – for now.

“Hi there!” I said. A little forced, but not glaringly bad. She seemed not to notice. Good. I continued. “Sorry I’m late. Am I late?”

“No,” she said. “I was just jonesing for a soda.”

I nodded. “Yeah, I know what you mean. Except my mom doesn’t really buy soda. So I jones for orange juice a lot.” Dumb. Dumb! Stop with the diarrhea mouth!

Molly nodded. But she didn’t say anything. I felt the nervous need to fill the dead air. So the diarrhea mouth continued: “You wanna go hang out? Or we could hang out here. Or somewhere else. Whatever.” Shame. Shame! I realized it was time to make a gutsy decision. “Here. Let’s hang out here.” I took off my coat and hung it on the back of my chair, then sat down. Forcing calm, I said, “So... how’s it going?”

“Good!” she said. “I was watching HughTube again last night.”

Forget about calm. Time to panic again. I cleared my throat. “Oh yeah?”

“You shooting this now?”

I flicked the switch on my HughTube camera, turning it off. “Not anymore. I’m not really supposed to outside of school and home.” I tried not to show my fear. My trusty HughTube security blanket was now gone. It was all up to me now. I felt naked to the world.

Molly smiled and said, “That one where you were trying to be the class clown? That was deep.”

I squirmed a bit in my seat. “Yeah...” I said, recalling the episode, “you know, most of the time, I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

“Sure you do,” Molly said. “You ask yourself questions. So what if you don’t have all the answers. Who does?”

I thought about that. “I guess so...” Maybe she had a point.

“So,” she went on, “you ready for the candidates’ debate?”

I nodded weakly. “Pretty much.” Pretty much? Be bold! Be gutsy! “I mean, yeah! I’m ready!”

“Great! So as President, what’re you gonna do about…” She thought a moment. “…the junk food at the snack bar?”

“Oh…” I said, a little disappointed. “This really is a ‘strategy session’. I mean, of course it is!” So much for ‘hanging out’.

“Everybody’s passing up the healthy stuff for junk,” Molly said. “As President, what will you do about it?”

I thought hard. “Well, I’ll... get rid of it!” Then, I realized… “but then Simon would be out of a job.”

Molly leaned in. “Oh, so you’re just a pawn of the junk food lobby?”

“What??”

She leaned back, smiling. “I’m just playing devil’s advocate. You gotta be ready for that kind of attack.”

I finally relaxed a bit. This was kinda fun! “Okay… how about for every piece of junk food you buy, you have to donate a buck to the Children’s Hospital?”

“Pretty good!”

Proud of myself, I allowed myself a little humor: “Yeah, I know how to take charge. Show people I can make the tough choices.” I leaned back in my chair and put my hands behind my head.

“Good. ‘Cause now we’ve got to work on the image part of politics. It’s not just what you say in a campaign, it’s how you look.”

“How I look?” Uh-oh. This was going so well.

“So,” she said, “in the debate, what’re you gonna wear?”

I thought for a moment, then looked down at my clothes, my usual flannel shirt tucked into high-rider corduroys. “Uh, this… I guess.” As soon as I said it, I knew it was the wrong answer. After all, fashion was one of the main things in life I didn’t get.

“No, seriously,” Molly said with a little chuckle.

Red flag. Lights flashing. Really wrong answer! “Uh... yeah, not this,” I lied. “I’ve got some... real cool clothes at home.”

Molly looked past the food court to a clothing store in the mall. “Look, they got a sale. We should check it out.”

So much for my ‘real cool clothes at home’. She didn’t buy that for a second.



CHAPTER 12

“A clothing sale?” I squeaked to Molly as she got up and started walking towards the store. I fumbled to grab my jacket and rushed to keep up.

“Yeah. We gotta make you look presidential!” she said.

Molly entered the store and immediately started flipping through some men’s shirts on a rack. I couldn’t believe it. She knew her way around the men’s section better than I did. “You know,” I protested weakly, “I wasn’t really planning to – ”

“Try this one. You large?” Molly pulled out a stylish shirt and held it in front of my chest, looking doubtful. “Medium?”

“Uh... large. Definitely large,” I insisted. Bold and gutsy men don’t wear medium!

But Molly shook her head and held up another shirt. Looking at it, she nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, that works. Now pants.” She handed me the shirt and moved on to a pants rack. She flipped through some black jeans.

I got a little worried. “Black? I don’t really wear – ”

“I know, black jeans, so Gen X,” she said, not stopping her search. “But they’re coming back. Black is the new black.” She shoved a pair into my already full hands, saying, “Try them on.” Then, spotting a light scarf, she grabbed it and added it to the pile. “Oh, and this. You’ll look great.”

“A scarf?” I asked, confused. “But it’s not winter.”

“Come on,” she said with a bit of a smile. “You need a little style if you want to run for President.” Then she moved on to look at some women’s clothes. “I’ll be over here when you’re ready.”

I was left piled with clothes, probably looking pretty helpless. A woman hadn’t dressed me since I was ten, and that was my mother. Now it was a girl I was supposed to impress. Way to take charge, Hugh.

In the fitting room, I held the shirt in front of me, looking in the mirror. It had a distinctive jungle pattern on it. “Kinda nice…” I mused. It truly was nice – but it was something I’d never have chosen for myself. I realized at that moment that I should probably never dress myself again. Molly knew better what I should wear. Heck, my mother probably still knew better what I should wear.

Then I realized: Maybe that was the answer to all my problems. Forget HughTube, I should just let other people make all my important decisions for me. If I didn’t get it – about pretty much everything – why didn’t I just turn over all major life choices to other people who did get it?

But the whole point of HughTube was learning. And you can’t learn if you let other people do everything for you. I realized I had to go on screwing up and go on learning from my screw-ups. Drag. I thought I had a real revelation here.

After I put on the new clothes, I stepped out of the fitting room. I threw on the scarf and let Molly look me over. A little embarrassed, I spread my arms to show off my ‘new look’.

Molly smiled. “Yeah! Turn around.” I turned around self-consciously. She smiled wider. “I like, I like!”

I scratched my neck. “The scarf itches a little, though…” But as I scratched, I dropped the pile of my own clothing that I had draped over my arm. So I got down on the floor to collect it all. Some of it had fallen partly under the door of another fitting room stall, and I had to reach in and grab it.

That’s when I noticed a lady’s feet in the stall. “Sorry,” I said.

Big mistake. The lady screamed “Hey!” I scrambled to get up with all my stuff. Then she threw open her fitting room door and pointed a big bony finger right at me. “You were peeping!”

“What?! Me??” I went white as a ghost. I was horrified. “No, I was – ”

Suddenly, the lady zeroed in on my HughTube camera. “That’s a camera! On your glasses! You were shooting me! You were shooting me getting undressed!

“NO!” I protested. “This thing isn’t even on!”

The lady called out loud for everybody to hear. “He was recording me! He was going to put me on the internet!”

I went even paler than before, if that was even possible. “NO! NO! NOOOO!”



CHAPTER 13

If you’ve never been in a mall cop’s office before, I wouldn’t recommend it. To be honest, this guy didn’t even look much older than me, although I assume he had to be at least twenty to get the job. Molly sat beside me, annoyed by the guy. I’d told her she didn’t have to wait with me, but she insisted. That was nice of her, but now not only did I have to get grilled by this real-cop-wannabe, I had to do it in front of my dream girl. The humiliation just kept on coming.

“So… you’re a peeper,” the mall cop said.

“I’m not a peeper! I was just picking up my clothes!” I protested.

“With a hidden video camera on your glasses.”

“It wasn’t on! And it’s not hidden – you can see it, right? I use it at school all the time!”

“To peep into the girls’ locker room, right?”

“No!”

He looked confused. “Why not? That’s what I would do.”

“It’s for a school project!” I insisted. “It’s for my video blog. You can even look it up on your computer if you want.”

“Right, so your web site can infect my computer with all kinds of viruses? I don’t think so.”

Molly came to my defense. “Listen, why don’t you just call the school? They’ll verify everything.”

The mall cop picked up his phone. “Alright, which school do you go to?”

“Smoky Ridge Middle School,” she said.

The guy actually smiled. “You go to Smoky Ridge? Mr. Townsend still the Principal there?”

“Yeah,” I said. “You went there?”

“Heck yeah. Mr. Townsend and I got to be real close.” The guy shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I got sent to his office a lot.”

Molly and I looked at each other. I think we both figured this was the kind of guy who would’ve been sent to the Principal’s office a lot.

The mall cop looked us over one more time, then he put the phone back in its cradle. “Listen,” he said, “I’m gonna let you go this time.”

I breathed a sigh of relief and started to get up. “Thank you,” I said, truly meaning it.

But then he got tough one last time. “But watch yourself! I see you back here with that little camera, I’m calling the real cops!”

“Yes, officer,” Molly said, and we scooted out of the room.

Out in the hallway, we rushed for the exit. “I am so sorry about that,” Molly said.

I shook my head in astonishment. “I’m just glad he called off the strip search.”



CHAPTER 14

I showed up for school the next day even though every cell in my body just wanted to stay in bed and mope. I skipped my morning HughTube intro and slipped inside unobtrusively with Simon.

“So you got caught peeping,” Simon said matter-of-factly.

“I wasn’t peeping!” I insisted, glancing around to make sure no one was listening.

“I know, I know,” Simon said. “And Molly knows. It was a misunderstanding.”

“But I came off as weak and loser-y,” I grumbled.

“Oh, come on, you’re still in.”

“That’s another thing. I was never ‘in’. Molly doesn’t want to hang out with me – she really is just into the campaign.”

“Gee,” said Simon, a bit disappointed, “I thought you were in.”

Simon and I arrived at our lockers… but just then I noticed something down the hall. I stopped spinning my combination lock. “What…?” Simon looked up too. All down the hall, Trey’s and Tanya’s posters were defaced. They’d been painted over, ripped, and some were even pulled down.

“Who did this?” I asked.

“It’s not just Trey’s posters,” Simon noticed. “It’s Tanya’s too.”

Then I realized: “MY posters!!” Simon and I ran down the hall to one of my posters… which was totally fine. No marks or rips at all. We checked out the other ones too. “They’re… totally fine.” I thought for a moment and turned to Simon. “You think they ripped up each other’s posters?”

As the two of us just stood there wondering, we started to notice some students walking by, giving me sour looks and mumbling to each other. Then Simon’s eyes bugged out as he got a troubling idea. “Wait a minute… since your posters were the only ones not torn up...”

“…Everybody thinks it was me!” That was great. Just great. And I had the debate that afternoon! You know, HughTube was cool and all, but I hoped that next time I’d invent something that would identify my mistakes before I made them!

I decided to take the rest of the morning off. I headed back home, leaving Simon to explain my absence to my teachers and Principal Townsend who would no doubt miss his morning on-camera dance routine.

Would I be back for the afternoon’s debate? Chances weren’t looking good.



CHAPTER 15

Back at home, I considered my options. I could: A) forget about the mall incident and the ripped posters and just go on with my campaign; B) drop out of the race and pretend none of this ever happened; C) join a monastery and never show my face in public again; or D) turn back time and never enter the race in the first place. Options B through D all involved different variations of hiding my head in the sand, and, I must admit, were the most appealing.

The thing about HughTube is that it somehow gives me the strength to do things I wouldn’t otherwise do. It acts like a suit of armor, deflecting all the humiliation I usually go through when I’m trying something new and challenging. I can always tell myself that I’m doing something in the name of HughTube, like I’m doing it for science or mankind or some other grand goal, not just for myself. And once I come out the other side of this learning experience, I’ve not only grown as a person, I’ve also broadcast my experience to the world through my video blog, allowing millions of others (okay, thousands? hundreds?) to learn and grow as well.

Simply put, it’s my gift to the world!

But I’ve got to say, while I’m going through all that humiliation, it doesn’t feel like I’m wearing a suit of armor. Every screw-up stings. And sitting here editing my weekly blog just makes it harder because I have to relive all my embarrassing moments over and over again – and comment on them too!

I played back the recording of Molly volunteering to help with my campaign. It was an amazing moment, something that gave me fear but also inner pride. But like every great moment in a person’s life, it seems, it was a double-edged sword… because if she hadn’t joined my campaign, I would’ve never had that humiliating experience in the mall.


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