Up in the stands, Obie watches football tryouts and feels painfully bored. He is always tired lately—and most of all, he is tired of his classmate, Archie Costello. Obie asks Archie to let him leave the bleachers, as he is worried about being late for work. Archie points out that Obie hates his job stocking shelves at the supermarket anyway, and Obie feels as if Archie has read his mind. As Archie spaces out and looks down onto the football field in concentration, Obie admits to himself that he does, against his own will, admire Archie. Archie is dazzlingly brilliant, and is “practically a legend” at Trinity due to the intricate assignments he doles out on behalf of the Vigils—not to mention his reputation for “strange offbeat cruelt[y.]”
This passage introduces the tenuous relationship between Obie and Archie. Thrust together by their mutual participation in the school’s secret society, the Vigils, the boys seem to really hate one another—and yet, at the same time, there is a casualness and easy rapport to their relationship. Obie’s loathing of Archie is tempered by the fact that Archie can often call Obie out on how he’s really feeling. Part defense mechanism, part power play, Archie is always able to bring Obie back from the brink of blind hatred.
Archie gives Obie the name of one of the boys below, and Obie writes it down. Obie asks what the assignment should be, and Archie cryptically answers “sidewalk.” Archie asks Obie if Obie will really get fired for being late to work; Obie answers that he probably won’t, but at the same time won’t get any closer to the raise he’s hoping for. Archie tells Obie he’ll let him go soon, and jokingly suggests he “assign” someone to Obie’s supermarket one day. Obie shudders at this idea, demonstrating “how awesome Archie’s power really [is.]”
Archie is odd, “offbeat,” and sinister—his power comes not from the ability to physically intimidate his classmates or inspire jealousy in them, but through his ability to make people emotionally uncomfortable or psychologically cowed. Even Obie, who has seen Archie’s power in full force many times before, is not immune to feeling afraid of Archie.
Obie reflects on the lengths he and the other students go to stay on Archie’s good side, buying him Hershey’s to satisfy his chocolate craving and accomplishing other tasks on Archie’s behalf. Obie is the secretary of the Vigils, and the organization’s president, Carter, has tasked Obie with keeping Archie happy; “when Archie’s happy,” the president once told Obie, “we’re all happy.
This passage shows that it is not just Obie who’s quietly afraid of Archie—even the president of the Vigils, Carter, knows it is important to stay on Archie’s good side.
Archie tells Obie that they only need to collect two more names. Obie is surprised they are scouting football tryouts for their marks—Archie, Obie thinks, prefers psychological violence to physical violence, and this is why he gets away with so much at school. As long as there are “no broken bones” on campus, the Brothers who run the school let the students get away with anything.
The fact that Archie and Obie are, for perhaps one of the first times, recruiting football players and wannabes for Vigil assignments is in and of itself a break with tradition—and tradition, in the world of the Vigils, is of utmost importance. It is the only thing that keeps their society functioning.
Archie calls out “The Goober,” and Obie writes down “Roland Goubert.” Archie notes the assignment as “Brother Eugene’s room.” Obie is excited—he loves when Archie involves the Brothers in assignments. Archie then asks the name of the kid who just left the field a few minutes ago. Obie flips through his carefully-coded notebook, which contains names and personal information of every student at Trinity, and finds Jerry’s name. He tells Archie that Jerry’s father is a pharmacist, while his mother died of cancer last spring.
Against his better judgement, Obie finds himself growing excited at the prospect of seeing one of Archie’s new assignments come to fruition. For all his hatred of Archie, Obie is swept up in the glee of watching violence take place—and finds himself truly admiring Archie in moments like these.
Archie suggests that Jerry needs “therapy,” and orders Obie to write Jerry’s name down. Obie asks what the assignment is, and Archie says he’ll think of something by the end of the afternoon. Obie teases Archie about running out of ideas, and Archie quickly orders Obie to put Jerry down for “chocolates.” With that, Obie collects his things, ready to hurry for the bus so that he can make it to work.
Archie’s cruel selection of Jerry for an assignment despite knowing the psychological torment Jerry has, no doubt, already been through in the wake of his mother’s death demonstrates Archie’s indiscriminately predatory ways, and his desire to create chaos under the guise of controlling others.