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3 Things I Learned Going Undercover in a Middle School

"Jack," I said, lunging into the passenger side of my editor's car, "Don't freak out. I beg of you, please, keep your shit completely together."

Jack rested his head on the steering wheel, his shit seemingly together. "Bucholz, I have been editing comedy writers for most of my adult life. I cannot be freaked out anymore."

"That's good."

"No. No, it's not. Think about how sad that actually is. I am basically dead on the inside."

"That's fantastic," I said. "Congratulations," I added, clapping my hands together twice. Moving on from our celebration, I continued, "Look. The reason I'm here, stepping into your car in the middle of traffic, asking for money, is ..."

"No."

"... the reason is, I'm undercover and can't be seen near the office."

Slowly Jack raised his head off the steering wheel, then brought it down again, quite violently really, onto the horn.

"Honk," went the horn.

"Why?" Jack finally said. "For what? What possible reason could you need to go undercover? Why even you? How on earth do you think you're qualified for undercover work?"

"I am the least recognizable person in existence," I pointed out. "Do you have any idea what I look like?"

Jack raised his head and looked right through me. "Now that you mention it, no."

"Which is why I'm the only one capable of busting up this cyberbullying ring I've found."

"Cyberbullying," Jack repeated.

"That's right. This has been in the news a lot lately, but none of that mattered until this weekend, when it happened to me, at which point, interestingly, it became an important issue the world needs to immediately address." Seeing Jack start to lose disinterest, I moved in for the kill. "I was on the Xbox, just ruining people's day, when some chunky, misshapen turd of a human suggested that I was gay."

"And?"

"And? And? OK, two things. One, I'm not gay. I am powerfully, and, reportedly, sometimes even uncomfortably heterosexual. And two, calling someone gay isn't an insult!"

Jack nodded glumly. "And so you're going to go undercover in a middle school to try and track down the 12-year-old who did this to you. And you need $40 to change your hair to look like Justin Bieber's first."

"Do you know me that well?"

"Did I mention the bit about how I'm dead inside?"

#3. Children: Incredibly Easy to Fool

"So we have a new student in our class today," Ms. Phillips said from the front of the room. "I'd like everyone to say hello to ... Justin."

"LOL guys. Thanks," I said, standing at the front of the room, shaking my head to allow my new haircut to gloriously spill over my face. It turns out you can't get a Justin Bieber for anything less than $200, so I ended up going to Supercuts and asked for a backward Meg Ryan.

GettyIt only cost $8, so I got it done twice.

Thanks to several laws I'd broken, I had found out where my cyberbully attended school, and with the help of an underfunded administration in desperate need of two cartons of Marlboros, I was able to enroll myself in the seventh grade of Alan Thicke Middle School. With my naturally fresh-faced face, combined with the youthful effervescence with which I conduct all my business, I was pretty confident I'd be able to remain undetected among 12-year-olds for long enough to complete my mission -- although I was also trusting that the children's natural stupidity would help cloak my true age.

"Thank you, Justin, take a seat beside Andy there," said Ms. Phillips, who had a no-nonsense approach to classroom management that I kind of dug. I resisted the urge to blow my cover with a very adult wink. I sat down beside my new desk mate, Andy, who looked like he knew something about getting bullied himself.

"Respect," I wanted to, but didn't, say to him. "It gets better, Andy, hold those sloped shoulders high," I also didn't say. "Jesus, is your chest fucking hollow?" also failed to pass my lips. My cover story was that I had just transferred to this school because my parents wanted to ruin my life, which is exactly the kind of whiny, self-important bullshit that 12-year-olds are always saying.

Once embedded in enemy territory, I would begin surveying my classmates to find the kids in this school who think they're such hot shit at Battlefield 3, and then play the rest by ear. I deliberately wasn't planning what I was going to do after that so the police couldn't say anything was premeditated, a little trick I learned from someone on a forum who said he was a lawyer.

Getty"Post-meditated violence? Sounds legit."

The other option was to track down bullies directly, and I was presented a golden opportunity to do that moments later.

"Does anyone know the answer to this one?" Ms. Phillips asked, pointing at a math problem on the board.

"Five-eighths," I said, because the answer was five-eighths. "Or 0.625," I added. If I recalled anything from middle school, other than that DuckTales was frickin' awesome, it was that math excellence was not a very cool skill to possess. Thrusting my massive brain about the room would surely draw out the local bullies, meaning I wouldn't have to employ my backup plan: wandering the halls with the waistband of my underpants dangerously exposed.

"Very good!" Ms. Phillips said.

"Thanks," I said. "You did pretty good yourself. Setting that one up, I mean."

"Neeeeeeeeeeerd," a spiteful, shit-eating voice chimed in from the back of the room.

A-ha.

"Be quiet, Tyson," Ms. Phillips said. I turned around to examine my taunter. An ugly, stupid-looking kid directed an ugly, stupid-looking smirk back in my direction. Wearing some kind of ugly, stupid-looking mixed martial arts shirt covered in ugly, stupid-looking crap, he looked exactly like I'd imagined, except somehow, improbably, uglier and stupider. I smiled inside, already struggling not to premeditate.

#2. They Also Attack in Packs

"So this Tyson kid, he's a real dillbag, hey?" I asked Andy while sitting in the lunchroom, working on the third of four Lunchables I had brought for lunch.

This wasn't an undercover thing. It's what I eat every day, ever since my doctor said I needed to eat more extruded things.

"I guess," Andy said. Because I hadn't whaled on him like a kettle drum within seconds of meeting him, he had apparently assumed I wanted to be his friend, and had sat beside me in the lunchroom. He reminded me a lot of myself at that age, aside from the fact that I didn't hang out with 32-year-old men in disguise. Unless I did. Shit, I'd be the last to know, wouldn't I? I shook myself out of my disturbing reverie.

"He probably plays tons of video games, too, I bet," I said, looking at Tyson across the lunchroom with his ugly, stupid-looking friends. "Just dilling it up all the time, like some kind of ... dillsmith," I said, grasping. I honestly have no idea what the current standard for insults are among 12-year-olds. Probably something Pokemon-related.

"Maybe," Andy said. "I dunno. I try to stay away from him." Of course you do, Andy.

Well, no time like the present. "Let's change that," I said. "Hey, Tyson, you beautiful son of a bitch!" I shouted across the cafeteria. "Come over here and pick on me." All eyes were on me as I tried to look mousy and scared.

Tyson grinned his ugly, stupid-looking grin and walked across the room. "What's up, math nerd?" he asked.

"Depends on the context. 'Up' is usually an adverb or a preposition relating to a higher position, but it can also be a noun or even a verb," I said, chummily. "What? Couldn't your parents afford to send you to dictionary camp?" A slam which, as designed, resulted in stunned silence, as everyone present considered what the fuck my deal was.

"What the fuck's your deal?" Tyson asked, incapable of thinking something and not saying it.

I slapped the table. "I'll tell you my deal, Tyson. You like video games, right?"

Tyson squinted at me, immediately suspicious. "What? I guess."

"Yeah? I'm looking for someone who likes video games. I'm looking for someone who sucks real bad at video games. That you?" I asked.

Tyson laughed, a stupid, ugly bark of a laugh. "I bet you're the one who sucks at video games," Tyson suggested, his lips spreading into a cruel smile. "Fag," he added, dropping the nuclear weapon of 12-year-old conversations. This was him. I had my man. My ugly, stupid-looking pre-man.

I waited for the mushroom crowd of "Oooooooohs" that rolled over the gathered crowd to settle. "You see, Tyson, that's where you're wrong; I don't suck. I'm supercool. And I'm not gay."

Tyson sneered, not intimidated at all by my accurate claim of supercoolness. "I bet you've never even kissed a girl!"

I sighed. "I've kissed tons of girls. And I mean a large number of fairly regular-sized ones, not a small number of the larger type."

"What?"

"Although that has happened, too."

Tyson shook his head, trying to shake away the confusion caused by my use of polysyllabic words. "You liar," he parried. "You haven't kissed anyone!" A number of similar accusations echoed up from Tyson's crew of less ugly, less stupid-looking associates. "I dare you to kiss a girl right now!"

Another chorus of "Ooooohs" from the mob.

"Oh, I could," I said, bluffing like mad. "But I don't even like any of the girls who go to school here. The girls here are trashy," I suggested.

"Chicken!" Tyson shouted. "I dare you to kiss Rebecca!" He pointed at one of the girls in his posse, who, in all fairness, looked pretty trashy.

"Screw you, Tyson," she shrieked, though she didn't make any effort to run away, and in fact she looked like she was enjoying the attention.

"I really, really can't do that," I said, meaning it.

"He's gay!" Tyson shouted, his proof seemingly airtight. I was trapped. The reason this child-kissing situation was a problem -- the part about kissing children, specifically -- was obvious to me, knowing my actual age. I was living the nightmare of every undercover cop; imagine Training Day if it had balls.

But although I had somehow been outflanked by a 12-year-old moron, at least I no longer needed to maintain my cover: I'd found my bully. I ran my fingers through my hair, reforming it into the Zack Morris wave I normally wore, and swelled up my chest, adopting the posture of a grownup, someone who'd forgotten more about Ninja Turtles than these children had ever learned.

"You got me," I said.

"We got you what, fag?" Tyson asked.

"What? You got me. I'm not a student here." I shook my head, confused, then reformed my hair wave again. "How old do you think I am?" I asked.

"I don't know. Like 4?"

"He's a baby!" one of Tyson's wingmen shouted.

"Like -4 then," Tyson offered.

"Look," I said. "I'm 32 years old. I can't kiss Rebecca because I'm 32 years old. It's illegal and ... and that's a really good law."

"What a liar! You're not 32!"

"No, it's true!" I protested. "I'm a grownup here to hunt you down for saying awful things to me on Battlefield 3, and yes I know that doesn't make me sound like a grownup! Shut up!"

"You're not an adult!" Tyson said, ignoring my command. Also, I couldn't tell if he was speaking figuratively or literally. "You look like you're 11!" he added. Literally, it seemed. My shoulders sagged. "And I don't even play Battlefield 3. Battlefield 3 is for fags."

"BATTLEFIELD 3 IS FOR EVERYONE REGARDLESS OF SEXUAL ORIENTATION!" I bellowed, alarmed at the unusually high pitch of my voice. I actually kind of sounded like I was 11.

"Whatever, baby fag," Tyson said, walking away. Furious, I whipped my last Lunchables at him, missing, hitting Rebecca in the back of the head, forever ending whatever chances I might have had with her, and marking only the second time in my life I've ended a relationship with a Lunchables.

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