So this probably isn’t the worst thing his parents have ever done to him. The worst was probably when they made him enter that “If I were the President…” essay contest in elementary school and he won and he had to go to the White House and meet the president on TV, and then he was on the Today Show and he accidentally spilled a glass of water on his pants right before his interview and it looked like he’d peed himself in front of Katie Couric. If being “Boy President Benjy Wyatt” wasn’t bad enough, being “Pee-Pee President Benjy Wyatt” definitely was. But yeah, this? This is definitely top five. Maybe even top three.
Ben’s lived in Indianapolis his entire life. He likes Indianapolis. He likes his school and he likes his house, and now that he’s finally starting to shake the “pee-pee president” thing, he thinks he might have a shot at actually being kind of cool now that he’s going into his junior year. But the summer before junior year, just a few weeks before school’s about to start, his dad finds out that he’s being transferred to the Pawnee outpost of the insurance company he works for. It’s a much better job, he says, and they’ll be making a lot more money, so that way his mom can cut back on her hours at the office. And before he has a chance to argue his side (that people are kind of starting to think he’s cool now, yeah, whatever, even he knows it sounds bad), the contracts are signed and they’re driving off to Pawnee on the weekends to look at houses.
THINGS BEN WYATT IS INTO (August 25th)
1. The Smiths
2. Ray Bradbury
3. NOT PAWNEE
The first day of school is predictably lame.
Pawnee High doesn’t have an IB program, so he’s stuck taking regular AP classes instead. When he lines up with everyone else at the long tables in the cafeteria to pick up his schedule, he’s annoyed to see that he has AP calc first period (he’s good at math, but not first thing in the morning) and lunch isn’t until sixth period. He’s then sent to the office to get his picture taken for a school I.D., and when he finally arrives in his homeroom, he’s stuck in the front row due to being late instead of his usual back-row, alphabetical-order seat. When he finally slides into his seat, he’s already irritated, and there’s a blonde girl right behind him who’s talking kind of loudly with her friend, even after the P.A. system sputters to life and the principal starts welcoming them all to a bright new year.
The other kids might have heard it all before, but he’s new and doesn’t want to miss any pertinent bits of information, such as where you’re supposed to go to get your I.D. after it’s made or whether he’s allowed to go off-campus for lunch, so after a few seconds of the girls behind him continuing to chatter at a normal volume, he turns around and snaps, “Can you guys keep it down? I can’t hear what they’re saying.”
Both girls look at him like he’s just said something unspeakably nasty, and the blonde rolls her eyes. “Fine,” she snaps back, and then mutters under her breath, “jerk.”
Her brunette friend snickers and then scribbles something on a piece of paper, and they keep passing notes for what Ben assumes is the rest of the period. Whatever. At least they shut up.
The rest of the day is fairly unremarkable. He keeps his head down throughout most of his classes, buys some kind of disgusting candy bar from a vending machine for lunch (it’s supposed to have some kind of energizing ingredients, but the veracity of this claim seems dubious), and goes straight home after school. The first day is always easy – icebreakers and get-to-know-you games and endless syllabi, mostly – but as far as he can tell, he’s the only new kid in most of his classes, and since almost everybody already seems to know each other, they don’t seem super interested in New Ben From Indianapolis’ life story.
(Actually, that’s a lie. There is one other new kid, and he seems incredibly interested in Ben’s life story, but he kind of acts like that toward everyone – he’s that weirdo who asks everyone questions, and Ben has a feeling that if the dude weren’t also super good-looking, he’d be the world’s biggest loser. But by the end of their last class together, of which they have three, Chris Traeger already seems to have a whole group of friends, and Ben only has himself and the wrapper of his gross Sweetums “cotton candy protein bar,” so maybe he’s not really in the position to be casting any stones here.)
By the third week of school, Ben has made exactly three friends:
1. Chris Traeger, who doesn’t count for aforementioned reasons
2. This one weird dude named Carl Lorthner, who has no indoor voice but ate lunch with him like three times
3. This other dude from his homeroom, Andy Dwyer, who actually seems like a decent guy even though he’s obviously dumb as a box of rocks
Andy is the one who convinces him to come to the dance committee meeting for the Harvest Fest Fall Fling (Sponsored by Sweetums™), which is apparently what they have to call the homecoming dance. He doesn’t really want to go, but he’s definitely not in any position to turn down friends, so he shows up in room 223 after school that Friday for the meeting.
The first thing he notices when he walks inside is that the room is mostly filled with people he’s never seen before. Andy’s there, yeah, but he’s hanging out with this teeny, skinny dark-haired girl who looks kind of artsy and mean, and Chris is there (of course he’s there), but he’s just bopping all over the place, talking to seemingly everyone who catches his eye. That’s it for people Ben knows. Except –
Oh, God. Yeah, the blonde making a list of meeting objectives on the whiteboard? That’s totally the girl he snapped at his first day in homeroom. He tries to make a quick escape, but before he can leave, Andy spots him and waves him over.
“Ben!” he yells, offering a high-five, which Ben accepts wanly. “Dude! What is up?”
“Not much,” Ben says, giving him a noncommittal shrug. “How are you?”
“Uh, I left a bag of Skittles in my car and they all melted together into one giant super-Skittle, so I guess you could say awesome,” Andy says.
(It’s moments like this that Ben doesn’t know whether to ask Andy whether he’s serious or just go with it, assuming that he’s for real.)
They chat for a few more minutes until the blonde at the front of the classroom finally yells for everyone’s attention. “Attention!” She yells. “I’m Leslie Knope, president of this year’s dance committee, and I hereby call this meeting to order.” She gestures to the brunette by her side. “And I’d also like to introduce my best friend, the beautiful Ann Perkins, who will be taking minutes for this meeting and also every other meeting this year because she’s the secretary.”
They pass around a sign-in sheet, and Leslie takes a few suggestions for themes. One kid suggests “strip club” and his friend high-fives him and then suggests “Kim Kardashian strip club,” and Ben rolls his eyes so hard he’s briefly afraid that he’s going to have to go chase them down the hallway. The girl holding hands with Andy suggests “clown orgy” with a totally straight face and it’s kind of hard to tell if she’s kidding, but Andy laughs hard. Another girl suggests a Twilight theme and both the guys turn around to high-five her. Ben wonders why the teacher (whom he thinks teaches government, but he’s not sure) who seems to be in charge doesn’t say anything about all these obviously inappropriate suggestions, but he’s just sitting in a corner of the classroom, stroking his mustache with one hand and flipping through some enormous hardbound book with the other, looking supremely bored.
For her part, Leslie seems to be handling the dumb suggestions with aplomb, and she soon starts to spitball some of her own ideas around the room – scarecrow theme! No, scarecrows might be too creepy to base a whole dance around – how about corn-themed? Finally, Ben raises his hand.
“Why don’t we just do a barn dance theme?” he asks when she calls on him. “We could have scarecrows and corn and, I don’t know, old West stuff. I think that’d be fun.”
Leslie rolls her eyes, but Chris is nodding emphatically from beside him. “That is literally the best idea I’ve heard so far,” he says. “Everyone else had great ideas too, but that one just takes the cake, as far as I’m concerned.”
“Fine, Ann, write it down,” Leslie says dismissively. They put it up for an anonymous vote (heads-down arms-up style), and despite the Twilight theme getting a solid six votes, Barn Dance comes out with the most tallies beside it after they’ve all been counted. Andy rushes across the room to give him an emphatic high-five, and Ben leaves the meeting with a grin on his face, riding the buzz of actually having accomplished something.
It’s the first time he’s been happy since he moved to Pawnee, he realizes.
THINGS BEN WYATT IS INTO (September 16th)
1. Apocalypse movies
2. Kurt Vonnegut
3. Still not Pawnee (but maybe some of the people are okay)
Here’s the thing about Leslie Knope: she’s kind of super bossy.
Here’s the other thing about Leslie Knope: she does not take no for an answer.
Here’s the other other thing about Leslie Knope: she’s usually right.
The homecoming committee runs out of money for the dance, as usual, so she bugs Mr. Swanson to get the office to give them more. They only need $500 extra, but she can’t tell anyone what it’s for because, she says, “It’s a surprise, but an awesome one. Just trust me.” Mr. Swanson says no, of course, so she does the next best thing: she organizes a rogue bake sale to raise the money, stays up until 4 a.m. the night before baking and frosting cupcakes, and brings her own card tables to school and sets them all up right outside the cafeteria herself. The rest of the committee shows up with their own baked goods, and as Ben sets down a tray of Rice Krispie treats (the only thing he knows how to make), Leslie crinkles her nose and says, “Really? Rice Krispie treats? Nice going, Ben.”
“Well, we’ll see how they do,” Ben shrugs.
(They do horribly, but they’re not the worst selling item – that honor goes to Jerry Gergich’s homemade raisin cakes. Even Leslie’s like, “Jerry, these are gross” and moves them down to the end of the table.)
By the end of the bake sale – which is shut down by Principal Gunderson as soon as the administration gets wind of what’s happening – they’ve raised $643. “Never underestimate the power of cake,” Leslie says triumphantly as she closes the metal cash box.
“Finally, an upside to going to the fourth most obese high school in America,” Ann says, wrapping up the leftover raisin cakes. “So do we have enough?”
“Yep,” Leslie grins. “We totally have enough.”
Pawnee High loses the big homecoming game to Eagleton. Actually, loses isn’t quite the word – Eagleton pretty much wipes the floor with Pawnee’s defense. By the end of the game, morale at PHS closely resembles that of the citizens of Whoville right after they came downstairs to find that the Grinch had stolen Christmas. Ben doesn’t really have a horse in this race either way, considering that he doesn’t understand football and he’s only lived in Pawnee for a couple months, but even so, watching the team slump off the field after the fourth quarter is straight-up depressing.
But hey, there’s a dance afterward. And Leslie Knope has gone out of her way to make the Harvest Fest Fall Fling (Sponsored by Sweetums™) the perfect pick-me-up after the depressing game. Ben organized the ticket sales; Tom and Jean-Ralphio hired the DJ – “We know a guy who’s totally dope and he’ll do it for cheap ‘cause he’s super broke” – and April and Andy made all the scarecrows and threw a bunch of hay around the floor; Chris and Donna bought all the refreshments and Jerry did… something. But Leslie and Ann have been working tirelessly to put on a great dance, and it shows. When Ben sees the two girls roll into the dance together, Leslie in blue-and-white polka dots with her hair in curls and Ann in a canary yellow dress and sparkly high heels, he heads over immediately to congratulate them.
“You know, you guys really pulled it together,” he says as he approaches them. “This dance is amazing.”
Ann grins. “It was all Leslie, really,” she says. “I just kind of do what she tells me.”
“Oh, come on, Ann,” Leslie admonishes her. “You’re beautiful and you’re competent! The best right-hand woman anyone could ask for.” Then she turns to Ben. “By the way, great work on ticket duty. We’re kicking last year’s homecoming attendance’s ass. And I gotta say, that shirt is amazing.”
Ben smirks and looks down at his button-down, turquoise and white plaid with a bit of red running through it. “Oh, thanks,” he says offhandedly. “I got it at the Eagleton Mall, actually.”
He realizes he’s said the wrong thing when both the girls look at him as if he’s just admitted to murdering six children in cold blood. “Eagleton?” Leslie says, disgusted. “And you wore it tonight?”
“Seriously, dude?” Ann interjects. “Way to class up the joint.”
“I’m sorry!” he protests. “I didn’t know – I haven’t lived here that long.” But they’ve already turned on their heels and walked off into the crowd, chattering amongst themselves intently. The DJ is playing a Rihanna song, something with a lot of bass and lyrics that sound like “Can you get it up” and “Is you big enough,” and halfway across the room, Ben can see Leslie grab Ann’s hand as they start doing some kind of stupid, inside joke-y dance. He sighs. Way to blow it, Wyatt.
Wait. Blow it? Because he does not like Leslie Knope. Well, he likes her, but he doesn’t like her. He doesn’t like her in the way that requires italics (or italics of the mind), at least. She’s super bossy and kind of a know-it-all in AP World, always going on about why Eleanor Roosevelt deserves more credit for ending World War II, and besides, she doesn’t really like him, either. He once overheard her refer to him as “Mean Ben” after a meeting one time. And, like, come on! Ann Perkins is way hotter! And nicer! But… Leslie is… Leslie. There’s no other way to explain it. And she does look really good tonight, in that blue dress that matches her eyes and her hair done up all nice, and…
Ugh. Fucking Christ, Wyatt. You do not like Leslie Knope. Clearly he’s got to think about this later. Right now, however, Leslie is onstage, just about to announce the winners of the homecoming queen. Ben doesn’t know any of the nominees for king and queen, but he’s interested to see who wins prince and princess. Somehow, Chris Traeger has managed to score a nomination for prince, after attending the school for just over two months, and he’s up onstage with the others now, looking beatifically happy.
Leslie’s holding the envelope, with Ann at her side ready to pass out crowns. “Your nominees for homecoming prince,” she says, “are Mark Brendanawicz, Kelly Larson, Bobby Newport, and Chris Traeger.” She opens the envelope, pauses for dramatic effect, and announces, “And the winner is… ehh, Bobby Newport.”
There’s a distinct look of annoyance on her face as she says this, but the whole room erupts in deafening cheers as Bobby Newport takes the crown from Ann, then waves to the room and does an air guitar solo. He looks like a gigantic douchebag. Ben doesn’t get it. (Chris doesn’t seem too upset, and he’s congratulating Bobby enthusiastically. At least he took it well.) Leslie calls out the nominees for homecoming princess – Joan Callamezzo, Marcia Langman, Shauna Malwae-Tweep, and Brandi Maxwell – and then hands the crown to Brandi, a busty blonde who looks like she could be the cartoonishly sexy version of Leslie in a Jessica Rabbit red gown. Ben feels kind of bad for Shauna, who’s in his English class and once asked to borrow a number two pencil during a test. She’s nice, and she looks a little crestfallen. He reminds himself to tell her that she should’ve won. But he’ll do that later.
Then Leslie announces that there’s one more surprise. “And this is kind of a big deal, guys,” she says, giddy in spite of herself. “I’m pleased to announce that we have with us tonight an actual celebrity… ladies and gentlemen, Lil’ Sebastian!”
Ben has no idea what Lil’ Sebastian is. But the crowd goes absolutely fucking nuts over this – even louder than they did when Bobby Newport won. Even Mr. Swanson, who Ben has yet to see crack a single smile on any other occasion, is clapping and roaring along with the rest of the audience. And then Leslie and Ann walk off stage and return with an honest-to-god pony.
(Is it a pony? It looks kind of… old for a pony.)
Bobby Newport is jumping up and down like a little kid and so is the rest of the homecoming court, and Lil’ Sebastian is wearing a tiny crown and a red velvet cape, and has Ben missed something? He kind of doesn’t get it. Actually, no: he really doesn’t get it. But apparently this is a Thing in Pawnee. So he shrugs and claps along with the rest of the audience, because everyone else is starting to look at him weird for not doing so.
The dance is starting to wind down – fifteen minutes until they have to shut it down and start cleaning up. Ben’s been hanging around the punch table all night, save for a few spins around the dance floor with Donna, and he’s starting to get kind of bored. Tom and Jean-Ralphio are handing out glow necklaces to the girls they deem the hottest, Andy and April are getting their picture taken with that damn mini-horse, and Chris and Shauna have apparently taken comfort in each other’s second-place company. He’s scanning the room, searching for someone he knows, but the only person he sees is Leslie, and, oh, might as well.
She’s dancing to a Lady Gaga song in a group with Ann and a bunch of guys he doesn’t know, but he heads over there anyway. “Hey!” he yells over the music, catching her eye as he makes his way over to her side of the floor. “Can I cut in?”
She shrugs. “Be my guest,” she yells back, but then the song fades out and something by John Mayer (really? John Mayer?!) takes its place. It’s a lot slower, but Ben knows how to slow-dance – fine, he learned back in junior high when he had a crush on Lindsey Haddad – so he gives her a questioning look. She grins and takes his hand, and suddenly they’re dancing.
He’s dancing. With Leslie Knope. Kind of close, actually.
(It’s not bad. It’s not OH MY GOD THE MOST AMAZING THING EVER, but it’s not bad.)
“Well,” he says, as they sway on the floor, “I gotta say. This night has been a complete success. Well done, Knope.”
She grins up at him (God, why is she so short?). “Thanks, Mean Ben,” she says, but her tone isn’t mean at all. “Sorry for, you know, being a jerk about your shirt before. Just – promise me you won’t go shopping in Eagleton again, ‘kay?”
“Only if you stop calling me ‘Mean Ben,’” he retorts. “I mean, when have I ever been mean to you?”
“The first day of school,” she says as he spins her, and he sighs.
“Well, yes,” he says sheepishly. “But other than that.”
Leslie shrugs. “I’m sorry,” she says. “It’s just, I don’t know, a nickname that stuck. For what it’s worth, I don’t actually think you’re mean.”
“Well, thanks,” he says. “I don't think you're mean, either.” They’re dancing a little bit closer now and he can smell her perfume, which is sweet and vanilla-y and kind of smells like cookies. He likes it. (He does not like her.) Her hair looks really nice, too, all tousled with the curl falling out a bit. (He does not like her.) And from where he’s standing, a good five or six inches taller than her, he can totally see down her dress.
She’s looking at him kind of weird now, with her eyes a little bit hazy and glazed-over. He thinks she’s about to say something, but just as she opens her mouth, the song changes again, to T.I.’s “Whatever You Like.”
“You know,” Ben yells over the noise, “the first time I heard this song? You know the line that goes ‘I want your body, need your body?’ I totally thought it was saying ‘I want Joe Biden, need Joe Biden.’”
Leslie tips her head back and laughs at this, a full-throated, giddy, delighted cackle, and grabs his hand. “Oh my God, me too!” she shouts. “I swear I thought I was the only one!”
She can’t stop giggling and they keep dancing together, a lot closer, and he’s got both hands on her hips as they gyrate to the music. It’s a pretty stupid song, but he’s never heard one he likes more.
The dance committee is technically supposed to stay until the clean-up operation is totally finished, but Mr. Swanson waves them off after about 45 minutes. They all start to disperse, and Ben is wandering off to the parking lot when he hears someone shout his name. “Ben!”
He turns to see Leslie and Ann running toward him, hand-in-hand, followed by April, Andy, Jean-Ralphio, Tom, and Donna. “Come on! We’re all going to JJ’s!”
Ben starts to stammer an excuse – he’s tired, he needs to get home – but Leslie shakes her head. “No excuses! You’re coming! Come on!” And when her eyes catch his, bright and gleaming in the glow of the overhead lights in the parking lot, he doesn’t really want to go home. He can probably go to JJ’s. Sure. Why not?
So they all squish into Donna’s Mercedes and pump the radio and head to Pawnee’s only 24-hour diner, where they crowd into a booth and push a table up next to it for everyone who doesn’t fit. Ben finds himself crowded into the side of the booth, with Leslie beside him and Ann on her other side and Tom right across from him, and, well, it’s not bad.
Okay, fine. Maybe Pawnee isn’t that terrible.
THINGS BEN WYATT IS INTO (Oct. 9th)
2. Shetland Ponies?
Leslie Knope Blondes