Chapter 1

I wake up on school days before everybody else snoring their heads off stare at the ceiling wonder whether the sun blew up in the night and will never come back shining bright make plans for breakfast and mess around with Blackie. He’s my big body short-hair cat that sleeps at my feet. Sometimes he curls up under my arm with his nose face head pressed into my armpit. I wonder how he even breathes. I shouldn’t wonder, though, since he’s the Chuck Norris of however far he goes in the neighborhood. I never trim his claws. Nothing messes with him twice. 

When it’s time to rise and shine I throw on a sweatshirt. I like going outside first thing, so I always do that right after I get out of bed. Otherwise, somebody would tell me to do something else.

Most mornings I walk Scar, our Beagle, although he won’t go out in the rain, which is all right. We stay on the back porch and watch it rain. He’s like a hound with short legs and long ears. He has a bad habit of biting strangers. I never interfere with that. He’s got a chase reflex, too, especially if they’re cats, chipmunks, squirrels, or any dog bigger than him. He never looks back, no sir!

We jog down Riverside to Hogsback to the Metropark sometimes, but I have to be careful, because if he sees a badger it’s all over. He doesn’t think it’s a revenge obsession, but he’s mistaken. Revenge is for grown-ups, anyway. He doesn’t know his own mind. Whenever he sees one, he’s determined to catch it and the chasing becomes all that matters.

He got his scar when he was still a young dog. There was a badger with cubs in our backyard, behind the garage, and Scar got too close to them. There was an explosion of yelps screeches barking when it happened. His face was ripped open and we had to rush him to the Animal Clinic.

I used to eat breakfast with my parents, my dad and my stepmom, but it was always a boat load of something. “Take your elbows off the table and pass the ketchup. Did you do your homework? Is that a clean shirt?”

There would be a quiz about what I did yesterday and what I was going to be doing today. They hardly eat together anymore, anyway. Both of them are always in a hurry to get to work, even though my dad hates his job because of the horny toad family whose business it is. My stepmom teaches at the new middle school down the street. She loves it because she can boss everybody around and make lots of money doing it. She talks about her pay and raises and pension all the time.

The first thing I do after I’ve showered and gotten dressed for school is call the Red Door Deli and order two Bagel Bacon Bagel Specials. There’s a scrawny guy who works there and when he answers the phone it’s always wacko. He has a thick Ching Chong accent.

“HALLO!”

I’m, like, “Hi.”

“YES?”

“I want to order two Bagel Bacon Bagel Specials.”

When he repeats my order, I can barely understand him. “That’s right,” I always say. Everybody there knows me, but the Chinese guy pretends it’s the first time he’s ever talked to me, even though he answers the phone every morning. He’s the one who hands over the bagel specials at the counter, too.

The Red Door is across Detroit Avenue from St. Ed’s High School, in a pint-sized strip shopping center, squeezed between Bubbles, a laundry and dry cleaning, and Sassy Beauty, a hair salon. I go there every morning and since they know me the counterman just hands me my bag and I fork over four dollars.

What time I get to there for my bagels depends, although it’s never later than eight o’clock. It depends on Story’s father, who drives both of us to school. Story lives next door. His dad works at a garden center in Avon, even though their yard isn’t any better than ours, which is surprising. Story calls my cell phone when they’re ready to go and I run over.

“Pick it up, pick it up,” his dad says, shrugging his way into their SUV. He always sounds mad about something.

He drops us off at the Red Door, I get my breakfast sandwiches, and Story and I walk across the street to school.

The cafeteria is at the back of the building, which is the new part of the school. We cross the street, squeeze through between the chapel and main classroom, and go in through a side door. Our chapel is topped with a gold dome, just like Notre Dame. It glows in the sun. You can see it from blocks away.

Every morning there are a butt load of guys in the cafeteria. The TV’s are all on and everyone is watching whatever, which is mostly the news. The flat screens are on every wall except the far wall with the windows.  There’s DISASTER AND DESTRUCTION every morning on the FOX Morning Show, major scariness everywhere, but it doesn’t intefere with anybody’s breakfast.

I don’t listen too closely to anything, not especially. It’s all just a lot of crap, a splash of eye candy blood and guts, a screaming sour lollipop without the handle. But sometimes I pay attention, especially if the news is about a helicopter crash, since I’m always in the middle of those when I play video games.

The folks at home watch FOX News every night. It’s doing to them what they think video games are doing to me. It’s making them slow-witted. What they don’t know is video games make me fast.

I wouldn’t want to be body slammed in a helicopter hitting a hillside. It’s an instant mess, blood and gore. It only takes a second, but sometimes forever happens in just one second. Everyone’s so burned up and broken to pieces that dentists have to be brought to find out who everybody is.

One day there was major towelhead news about terrorists that caught my eye, except it wasn’t on the news. It was online. It was too gruesome for the news.

The holy war crudes caught some innocent people who didn’t have anything to do with anything and wouldn’t let them escape. When they tried to get away, they caught them again, tied them to posts, and blindfolded them. They shot them one at a time, although they don’t shoot to kill them. They shot them in their stomachs. Then they went back and shot them again. They just did it randomly. It was weird. Even the internet didn’t know what was going on.

They filmed it while they were doing it all, too. They are sick butt turds. The army, our army, is totally rad and could take them out, but nobody is going to win that war. It’s an epic fail over there. It’s been going on forever. I hope they come here, anytime, and we can just ramble on their butts.

It’s AMMO, CAMO, and RAMBO!

Our family has plenty of guns, in the attic, and we have ammunition, too. I’m not sure about everything we have, though. Jack is the only one who knows.

“I have two 12-gauge’s, a semi-automatic pistol, a .22 Sig Sauer, a big bore 14-gauge, and an AK-47 semi-automatic,” said Jack. “I have more, but the rest of it isn’t any of your business.”

Jack is like that. He’s my half-brother. He lives on the third floor and doesn’t let anyone in. It’s all under lock-and-key, including the door to his room. My stepmom is good with it. It wouldn’t be so good if I tried it. He wears camouflage gear and goes to Cleveland State University. He wants to be a policeman. He’ll be gone in two or three years. I can’t wait for that.

Jack’s arsenal is technically my dad’s, because he bought them, but they’re totally Jack’s. Dad got most of them for him, but now he buys guns himself since he’s nineteen and an adult. Before that he wasn’t allowed.

We go shooting sometimes, at the Scooterz-N-Shooterz in Uniontown, and on my grandfather’s farm in Michigan. The whole family goes there every summer. It’s great and it’s awesome. My grandfather says that whenever anybody says you don’t need a gun, you’d better make sure you have one that works.

“They always want to take guns away from the people who didn’t do it,” he says, cackling like he just bit into something bad that got stuck in his craw.

Last summer I shot so many rounds off at the farm, at targets, at trees, at nothing, that I got a blister on my hand and it was nasty.

I have my own gun, although it’s not a real one. It’s a G & G Carbine air soft gun. It’s not real, but it looks feels acts like the real deal. It shoots BB’s instead of bullets. Ted Nugent said the BB gun is the most important gun in the history of American weaponry. He should know. He has his own Ted Nugent-brand ammo. Air soft BB’s are plastic, not metal, but they leave a welt when they smack into skin.

My dad bought it for me. It’s not from Target or anyplace like that. It cost almost four hundred dollars. My friends Nick and Jake and I use Grudge Tactical pellets when we’re out and shooting each other. They’re coated with a powder so they leave a mark on your clothes. It’s not just some stupid toy. It’s fully automatic and fully mechanical, too.

Or I could knock on Jack’s door upstairs and get the real thing and shoot that. I could go GUN CRAZY! I don’t have the key, though.

Nobody likes to talk about guns at St. Ed’s, not us, and not our teachers. Even though everybody talks guns down, when they say anything at all, Mr. Rote, our religion teacher, gave us the news that the church says self-defense is cool, and told us all about St. Aquinas and taking care of business. Mr. Rote said it’s best to shoot first. He said the Dalai Lama said the same thing. Nobody asked him who that was, not that anybody cared.

“It’s your responsibility to defend your faith, your family, and your country,” he said.

It’s a duty to whale on bad men. He didn’t say much more than that. He doesn’t like talking about guns. He’s probably never had one in his hands. We don’t have metal detectors at St. Mel’s like they do at public schools, but if anyone ever brought a gun to our school that would be the end.

They would never be allowed back.

You can wear your pajamas to public school, but at St. Ed’s we have to wear a dress shirt and tie, dressy pants, and shoes. You can’t even have too much style in your hair. When you’re in a Catholic school there’s more expected of you. If you’re an Ed’s man, or if you go to St. Ignatius, or any Catholic whatever school, everyone expects you to be a good person.

What you do in public school is up to you, which isn’t always a good thing. Not everybody is a good kid. There are plenty of rotten apples.

When I was in middle school the bigger kids would make fun of smaller kids with learning disabilities. It was all about WHEN BULLIES WANT TO ABUSE YOU! They always picked on the smaller ones. They would walk right up to them, start being mean, and push them around. They would go after the ones with ADHD or Tourette’s, edge on them, and make fun of them.

From sixth grade on it was all about abusing kids who were shy or different, especially in gym class. There was a whole group of them, Tristan, Justin, and the other Noah. They were their own little posse. I hated those kids. They were complete jerks. I would try to help, as long as the monsters weren’t there, the ones who say they don’t punch you in the back, they punch you in the face.

“You shouldn’t act like that,” I told them whenever I could.

“Shut up.”

“Leave them alone, make fun of somebody else.”

But they just wouldn’t stop. It wasn’t like they were in a classroom, so they could keep doing it and doing it. They thought they were so dandy. That’s how they got the stupid kids to like them.

That’s the thing about public schools and Catholic schools. Guys don’t do that at Catholic schools. I’m sure some do, but truly, not like that. So many public school kids are jerks. They learn English by watching cartoons. They can be nasty God-awful.

If a teacher at a Catholic school got wind of anything like that there would be no problem seeing the trouble you were in. All hell would break loose. When you’re in a Catholic school there’s a lot more expected of you. You’re expected to be responsible and be a better person. You have to take charge of yourself and carry the cat by the tail. It’s a big change when you leave public school for good.

It was a big change for me. I didn’t go to a parochial grade school. I didn’t have eight years of dress rehearsal.

The food is better at St. Ed’s than it is at public schools, where it’s mostly grown in boxes and cans. The cooks carry X-Acto knives instead of spatulas. At St. Ed’s we have real cooks and we’re served whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and no sugar drinks are allowed. The milk is low fat. It doesn’t pay to be fat at our school.

It’s the Breakfast of Champions, but I still bring my Bagel Bacon Bagel Specials most mornings, because we don’t get enough food.

There are rules about everything, even about how many calories we’re allowed. I don’t get enough for cross-country and the football players bellyache about the portions every day. Football is the most important thing at St. Ed’s. It’s so important it’s totally so important. Everybody knows where the goalposts are. We won states last year, so this year we are the defending state champions.

When school started in the fall we were 5th in the USA Today poll and 6th in the ESPN poll. That’s in the whole country, not just Ohio. That’s how good we are. At St. Ed’s it’s either football season or it’s waiting for football season. We say it’s faith, family, and football. Sometimes it almost seems like it means more than Heaven and Hell at our niece of the pie.

It puts pep in everybody’s step when we win. I tried football in grade school, but it didn’t work out. I was too under-sized and then I broke my collarbone. Now I love running.

The football players boycotted lunch one day. It was a big stir fry. My friend Rick, who is a 6-foot-3-inch 220-pound linebacker, said he burns more than 3,000 calories during three hours of weight training and practice after school.

“A lot of us are starting to get hungry even before the practice starts,” he complained to one of the vice-principals. “Our metabolisms are all sped up.”

“I could not be more passionate about this,” the food service supervisor said, making a speech the next day before lunch. Grown-ups always make speeches, masterminds on their crazy soapboxes.

“I want to solve this problem,” she said, looking supreme and serious.

They had everybody fill out cards about what we did and didn’t like about our meals. We all laughed about it. Everybody knew nothing was going to change. They’re always trying to pull it over with their plans and schemes. Grown-ups do what’s good for them, not anybody else.

Our cafeteria is the nicest one I’ve ever seen. It is boss. There are skylights over the center atrium, polished wood floors, oblong folding tables for eight, and ergonomic chairs. Everything is super modern. Somebody’s dad died and he gave the school a ton of money, millions of it, the minute he was buried. The whole school is up-to-the-minute, even though it was built in 1949, on land that used to be a feeding stop for cattle trains.

Back then if you got a detention you had to help dig out the new basement with a shovel. Punishment was being made blue collar, made to work with your hands.

Whenever I check my cell phone and it’s 8:25 I wolf down what’s left of my Bagel Bacon Bagel Specials and get going fast because my first class is at 8:30. Being late for Mr. Rote’s Roman Catholic class would be the worst thing I could do to start my day.

When we hit the hallway it’s every freshman for himself and God against all.

Chapter 2

I’m on the shorter side, not too tall, and I’m on the lean and mean side, not too mean not too chunky. I get through doorways easier than most. I could probably go down a rabbit hole if I was in the “Alice in Wonderland” movie. That would be some kind of out of body out of Lakewood in Ohio on my street in my backyard in my mind adventure! On the sports side of life and limb I run cross-country.

I have freckles, like my dad, blue eyes, and brown hair that I keep trimmed. I keep it aerodynamic. I keep it regulation for school. I don’t change my hair all year. But next summer when my baptism of fire is over and done, I’ll get a full cut, grow it out, and let it flow chop until school starts again in the fall.

Flow chopping is when your hair is in a circle. It’s all about letting your rage flow. It’s all about being in flow with the boys.

I’m stronger than most guys my size, but not super muscular. I’m more like lean meat. Keep your body rangy and your mind sharp. My dad used to be that way when I was a baby, but he’s bulked up since then, gone big-chested. He’s not as sharp as he used to be, either. He repeats himself. He’s gone grown-up. He’s gone the way of it gets me paid in full and I’m full satisfied.

I’m named after St. Sebastian. He was a bodyguard for the Roman emperor. He was a core tough dude. Fee fi foe, walking to Detroit.

In pictures St. Sebastian looks bigger than me, especially his pecs. He’s got them, for sure. I’ve been doing push-ups lately. I hit the weight room after track and get down on the bench. I do all the machines and I’m up to 85 pounds. I’m on the dumbbells, too, but I only do fifteens. My forearms aren’t that strong, yet, but they will be.

St. Sebastian was the man, until he got on the wrong side of the boss and got busted into pieces.

He was shot to death after he became a Christian. But the arrows didn’t kill him, so the emperor’s flunkies clubbed him to death again and threw him into a sewer. He was buried in France, but later Protestants looted the church and tossed his bones into a ditch. He couldn’t catch a break. After they found all the parts of him, they sent him to other churches all over so it wouldn’t happen again. He’s all over the place.

He’s the patron saint of sports. I wear a sacramental medal of him. I kiss the medal right before races.

I was good at football when I was young, but I was never big enough, especially as I got older. I was a crash test dummy. Now I love running. I’m not an all-star athlete, but I’m more physically fit than most rooms full of average guys, but maybe less than some, too. I’m more than fit enough to be on the cross-country team, so I’m absolutely in the better half.

Many guys are physically fit because they’re in sports. They’re all jacked to begin with, or they’re good at certain things, like soccer or football. There are others who don’t play sports, not at all. At St. Ed’s you’re either fit or you’re unfit. The ones who are unfit are usually the ones who don’t play sports. They either don’t want to be told what to do or they don’t want to exert   any effort towards anything.

Whenever I’m running, I feel totally free. It just flushes everything out of me. That’s when I do my best thinking, bright and bushy. But race day is different. It’s like running across a frozen lake with the ice breaking up behind you, the ice-cold water reaching for your legs. It’s time for getting it on time, one step at a time, fast. I don’t think much during races.

My teeth are close to perfect. I’ve only ever had two cavities, but I did have one tooth pulled. I was in 5th grade. One day I woke up and it hurt bad. It wasn’t even loose. There was something wrong with the nerve and I had to get it pulled that same day. It was so horrible it was horrible. The dentist gave me a shot of Novocain, but it wasn’t enough. When he pulled on it the first time it hurt too much and he had to stop. He gave me two more shots and after that it was all right.

I hate pain, even though I can take a lot of it, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Mr. Rote, our religion teacher, says we measure our pain by God, whatever that means. A lot of my prayers are thanking God I’m mostly healthy. We talk about evil in class, but I think the worst evil is pain. When my grandfather got old, before he died, he was in pain all the time. He was always hunched over, but he never complained. He could hardly walk. Dad said he just had to accept it. 

IT SUCKS TO BE OLD!

When you’re a grown-up it’s right around the corner and you might as well brace yourself for it.

I’m allergic to dust mites, pollen, and I’m deadly allergic to walnuts and pecans. I get itchy eyes from dust mites and pollen, sneeze a lot, and feel like crap. I had to get special microfiber covers for my mattress and pillows. If I eat nuts, I feel sick and then get sick. My throat hurts, it’s hard to swallow, and my stomach goes upset. It’s deadly, so deadly I need EpiPens, two of them, just in case. They pierce your skin. A needle shoots out and epinephrine makes it all go the way of the saints, so I don’t have to go to the hospital.

Thank God my dad and stepmom have insurance. The pens cost an arm and a leg, but they don’t cost us anything. If I was on my own, I would have to rob a bank. I would have to mug a doctor. I would have to improvise.

My left thumb is different than my right thumb. It happened three years ago when I was eleven. My dad and I were buying a massage for my stepmom. We parked in the Beachcliff shopping lot in Rocky River and when I got out of our big body family Toyota van, I slammed the door shut, except I slammed it on my own thumb. My hand was still in the door. I slammed it on my own thumb, where it got stuck!

It was terrible. I couldn’t make sense of it. “Open the door, open the door!” I screamed.

When my dad finally jerked the door open my nail came off. We had to get x-rays at Lakewood Hospital. My thumb was broken and when the nail came back it came back different.

I have a scar on the left side of my neck, too. It happened last summer when I was playing Nazis and Jews at summer camp and got whiplashed. It was my own fault, but it was the fault of the jerk who was chasing me. I told him he wasn’t a real Nazi and I wasn’t a real Jew, and did he have to barrel after me like it was life and death? The doctor says I’ll probably have a tattoo relic of it on my neck for the rest of my life.

I have a good personality. It’s better than most, for sure. I am definitely cool to the touch. I’m just being who I was made to be. I think it’s better to be yourself. Don’t try to copy anybody else, even though they might be smarter or more successful. Even though my personality is my personal property, it seems everybody, especially my parents and my teachers, all the grown-ups down on me, are always trying to change it.

I like to think I’m brave and have the character to rescue someone. I’d like to be a hero. Everyone knows I don’t have a quiet personality. I never look behind me or to the side. That’s not my identity. I don’t want to know who I used to be. That’s over and done. I’m only interested in who I am now.

The past is where I grew up, and I liked living there, but everybody knows YOU CAN’T GO BACK TO YESTERDAY.

I’m nice to everybody, unless they’re a jerk. Then I’m not going to be nice to them. I don’t mind what some guys think of me because I know there are other guys who don’t think that, not at all. There are many nice people like me, who are kind and considerate.

You can’t judge a book by its cover. That’s what a lot of people do. I don’t do that. I’m open-minded, but I don’t like it that grown-ups always try to put things I don’t want into my open mind. I don’t like it, at all.

I’m not too emotional. I’m more of a happy person, not a crazy high and low guy. I know everybody gets sad and depressed. I try to give them a smile. I like doing that. It’s right under your nose and it’s better than being mean. Everybody looks better when they smile. Some of my teachers smile as though they just want to get it over with. It’s like they’re visiting a disaster site. I get ticked off if people never smile, or if they smile only with their lips, not their whole face.

It’s sad when people die, but I feel they wouldn’t want you to be unhappy. You obviously can’t be happy, but don’t be depressed. That’s how I feel. It’s not worth the effort to be so sad. I might be down about something dumb for a few hours, or even a whole day, but then I’ll just forget about it.

When you smile, you forget. When you remember, you get sad. Never look back is what I say. I take it smart.

Some of the guys at St. Ed’s are so emotional it’s almost horror movie unbelievable. And it’s all a GANG OF GUYS, not even any girls. They don’t know that no one wants to hear their sob stories. They talk about how someone stole their girlfriend, how their parents are control freaks, and how their teachers don’t understand them. They want emotional support, like an IV pumping out of your face, which is like them talking.

I’m not like that. I only tell my close friends what I honestly think. I’m not going to blab it out like a sob train to the whole school. Going to Detroit is the way to go.

Those guys put it all on Facebook. They tell everyone what happened, when it happened, and why it happened. It’s not worth it. Who cares? Nobody cares. They think they have a lot of friends on Facebook. They couldn’t be more wrong. That is the biggest joke of all time. The Facebook gang is laughing all the way to the bank. Don’t be waiting for a friend request from any of them! Twitter has wiped out Facebook, anyway. I’m done with it, although I’m still on Facebook all the time.

There are a butt load of jerks and more at St. Ed’s. There are tools, the cocky guys, and whore guys. A tool will say they are your best friend. You are friends with them, you talk to them, but they go right behind your back and tell other people. So, they are tools. A cocky guy is someone who thinks they are the best at everything, even though they aren’t. They are insecure. Even if they are good at something, they are so cocky about it they are annoying. The whores are just sad kids, all lonely.

They’re never who they really are, letting themselves be who they are, so they can’t be a real friend. A friend to EVERYBODY is NOBODY’S friend.

Who upsets me more than anything are the attention seekers, especially in class. They want attention over the dumbest things. It makes me pissed off. One guy who is in one of my classes is always raising his hand to say something dumb, or if we have to do something, he asks the teacher to come check this or that. He says he just wants to make sure he’s on the right track. He goes on and on. He wants all eyes on him, since being the poster model is what he does. He needs to shut up!

I just don’t like to hear their voices. It’s totally dead annoying. The guys who make me more upset than anything are the queer bags. They’re the guys who are man whores, guys who will try to get with anyone. They’re just thirsty for a partner, anyone who will pay attention to them. They would probably even steal from bullies to attract a little attention.

Bullies rattle me more than most. I was bullied a lot in middle school. It was horrible. My dad would call the school, and tell them about it, and even go to the school. They would say, “We know, this kid, he’s a bully,” but nothing would ever happen. Nothing ever got done, no whipping, no hanging. At St. Ed’s it’s so different. They don’t tolerate it, at all. But guys still get bullied. It rubs me the wrong way. I know how it feels. It sucks, so they really tick me off a lot.

I’m popular at school because I know how to make friends with my classmates, and sophomores, too. I don’t try to win any popularity contests. That’s just how it is. I’m not modest, but I’m not conceited, either. I don’t try to be popular. I try to be nice and that translates into popularity. Not with everybody, for sure, because there are plenty of scrubs and haters in the hallways.

The only dogs who bite me are people. DOGS NEVER BITE ME, although Scar almost bit me once. I barged into my bedroom and he was sleeping on the other side of the door. My hand was in his mouth before I knew it and even before he knew it. When he looked up it was a toss-up who was more surprised. Was it him or was it me? His tail was wagging, and he was snarling at the same time. He left teeth marks on me, but no bloodshed.

Scar has personality, like me. Sometimes I think I might have been a dog in a past life because dogs will sometimes do a double take when they see me. I think they can see the inside of you. Scar always knows when I’m coming home, even though I might only be turning the corner up the street. He runs to meet me. No one else ever knows I’m home until I come through the door and ask what’s for dinner.

Except when it’s raining. Scar is jumpy about water. A neighbor sprayed him in the face when he was a puppy to keep him from barking when we were all in Michigan for a long weekend. She did it a bunch of times. When my older sister Sadie and I found out we waited until she flew to Las Vegas with her ugly friends to lose money and broke all the windows in her new Audi with baseball bats.

It is fun running up and down the street and in the park with Scar. Dogs are so fit and fast. Dogs are my favorite people sometimes, definitely at my house. Scar is short and sweet, like me. Nobody thinks cats and dogs go to Heaven, but I think animals were there a long time ago, before any of us, no matter what Mr. Rote says, who doesn’t even have a dog.

What does he think he knows?

Chapter 3

I didn’t in however many million years ever think I was going to be an Ed’s man. I always thought I would go to Lakewood High School, because I lived in Lakewood, and because everybody I knew was going there. So, I didn’t think too much about it.

I didn’t think about it, at all. St. Ed’s was the upper crust and Lakewood was Lakewood. No problem there.

I was in seventh grade when my grandfather and grandmother began talking about it. It came out of the blue, although it shouldn’t have. Knowing them, I should have known. They wanted me to go to St. Ed’s because it was a private school, and a Catholic school, and a good school. All of their kids had gone to Catholic schools, except my Aunt Lizzie, who had to finish her high school at a public school when St. Peter’s downtown closed for good.

They probably ran out of money since they were getting to be on the edge of the ghetto. Back then the ghetto was moving downtown. But now downtown has gone there-and-back. My dad says the gentry have moved in and taken over. he didn’t explain what he meant.

I didn’t really know anything about going to St. Ed’s. I had never given it a glance look thought. But I mostly didn’t want to go there. I wanted to stay with my friends. You can be smart or stupid with your friends, never having to explain anything. I didn’t believe many of them were going to be going to St. Ed’s.

Grandpa and Grandma and my parents wouldn’t stop talking about it. They wore me down. It was like their grown-up Chinese torture. Finally, I thought, whatever, they want me to go, I’m not going to wear them out, they’re going to wear me out, and I should be grateful, everybody says it’s a really good school. There’s probably no getting around this.

“OK, whatever you say, I’ll go,” I said.

I had never paid much attention to it, although it’s only a few miles from where we live. It’s next door to City Hall and the Police Station. My dad and I had driven past it many times, but I had not genuflected to it. I hadn’t given it an eyeball, even. I had definitely never been inside. My friend Allan’s older brother went there. He told us about it. He told us it was boss. We finally believed him. Allan and I are both there now.

But I still didn’t want to go.

The school is in the shape of an M, at least if you see it from a treetop, or see a picture of it taken from a drone. The legs of the M face the lake, which is on the other side of the practice field, across Clifton Boulevard. The boulevard is the Grand Army of the Republic Highway, although it’s really just a wide street with big houses, and then north of that is Lake Road, where all the rich people live, and after that all that’s left is big old flat Lake Erie.

There used to be Indians living on the lakeshore back in the wilderness days and they wore bobcat tails on their heads. Erie means long tailed in their language, even though bobcats have short tails. The Indians had their own way of doing things. The explorers who came exploring trapping hunting didn’t call it Lake Erie. They called it Cat Lake.

The first freshman class didn’t go to St. Ed’s because there wasn’t a St. Ed’s, yet. All one hundred of the guys had to take classes at the Lakewood Catholic Academy down the street for two years until work on the building and the first schoolrooms was finished.

When my uncles went there, enrollment was almost two thousand guys and it cost three hundred dollars a year. It was a comprehensive school back in the day. Dad says that meant they taught everything. Now there are less than half as many students as back then, half of them are in the pre-engineering program, and it costs forty times as much to go there, more than thirteen thousand dollars a year.

That’s why most of my friends don’t go there. Sometimes I wonder where dad gets the body bag of dough. I’ll bet it’s coming from my grandfather. He’s a bean counter, which is a good thing when you need money.

It’s not a comprehensive school anymore, either. It’s a college prep kind of school. We all go there so we can go somewhere else. If you look at it that way, it’s the way to go. If you look at it from the front it’s a small campus. It doesn’t have as many guys as most public schools, maybe eight hundred. They are all guys. NO GIRLS!

It started with the Holy Cross Brothers from Notre Dame, who were the Fighting Irish, although they came from France. The French Revolution was their archenemy. Their motto is “Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope.” There used to be plenty of Brothers at St. Ed’s, but there are hardly any of them left. Most of our teachers are lay teachers now.

Back in the day they almost called it St. Mel’s, which is funny because St. Mel was a blue-collar guy, not like St. Edward the Confessor, who was a king, and Ed Hoban, who was the Archbishop of the diocese in those days. They killed two birds with one stone with that ceremony.

Mel’s mother is called the Mother of Saints because she had seventeen sons and two daughters, and they all became saints. He worked in Ireland with his uncle St. Patrick. They built churches and monasteries. Mel supported himself by manual labor. He worked with his hands. My dad’s boss Ken the Toad goes to church every Sunday but hates people who work with their hands. Mel was like a plumber, a roofer, or a car mechanic would be these days. Whenever he had money or good stuff, he gave most of it away to the poor.

Nobody on the ball does that anymore, especially not at St. Ed’s. NO CHARITY is the rule, or at least as little as possible. It’s the 21st century now, the USA, not the middle of nowhere a thousand years ago, or some god-forsaken place these days. We’re all in on that.

I take it smart.

Mel is a saint because he could perform miracles, like plowing up live fish in the middle of farm fields. He had the gift of telling fortunes, too. Me, I can never predict anything. It’s probably better that I can’t, anyway. What would be the fun or the point of trying anything then?

St. Mel’s feast day is a holiday for single people. It’s supposed to be all about the good things of being single. You send yourself St. Mel’s cards and have parties. He’s a great patron saint to have if you’re fourteen years old.

There’s a big sign at the entrance to our parking lot that says, “EDUCATING THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF YOUNG MEN.” We’ve had 400 National Merit Scholars and 34 State Champions, we’ve won 28 wrestling state championships and 11 hockey state titles and more football titles than we can even count anymore, and now we’ve got basketball, baseball, rugby, volleyball, and track and field state championships, too.

You don’t want to ride the bench at St. Ed’s.

We win a boat load of championships. That’s why they keep score at our school. It’s not a matter of life and death. It’s more important than that. At St. Ed’s we say go bigger or go home. St. Mel was a long time ago and that time is gone all gone.

Most of the school is on the older side, but it’s all updated, with new computers, new smart boards, and new high-tech stuff like that. We have the Dahl Leadership Center, which is more-or-less new. Then there’s the Howe Center, which is even newer. It’s the engineering part of the school. The computer classes are there, too.

It’s very cool. NEW is what WORKS. It’s what makes the world work. Old anything everything sucks bad.

We have a small football field at the back where the JV team plays, and the varsity team practices. St. Ed’s is small because it’s on such a small campus. There isn’t any room around the school to buy any extra space. We’re on the edge of the street and then there’s just a bunch of large apartment buildings all around. They would probably be too expensive to buy and tear down, although the school obviously has plenty of money.

I’m sure they have a little cash left over after paying everybody. WE ALL KNOW THAT! That’s why we’re at Ed’s, to always remember that. It never hurts to have a pocketful of cash.

A couple of years ago a new chapel was built at the side of the school. It has a gold dome, just like Notre Dame. St. Mel used to build chapels back in the day, although I don’t think any of them had gold domes. They were probably made of stones they found lying around. Inside the chapel is a life-size bronze sculpture of Jesus on the cross. The same man who makes all the head busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame made the Jesus statue. It’s like our gold dome Jesus is an ALL-PRO in the sky.

Go Jesus!

My dad and his parents and all their family wanted me to go to St. Ed’s. They were up on the status. I was worried I was going to be away from my friends, who were all going to Lakewood High School. But once I applied, and the more I thought about it, the more I got into it.

I started thinking it might be a good thing. It’s not that public schools aren’t good, but St. Ed’s would definitely be a better school. Actually, public schools atre terrible.

I liked public school less and less the more and more I was there, especially later, the older I got. The lessons were always getting less smart more dumb going on retarded year after year. I’m glad I got out. I feel like I escaped what I was, or was becoming, or I escaped someone else’s choice for me, like I found an open door to a new world.

After my dad applied to the school, we started getting mail. We got a butt load of it, which means they must spend lots of money on us who are going to be the new freshmen. I got mail every day when I was in 8th grade. After being accepted I got even more, most of it about so much crap. I got bushels of forms, too, and I had to fill all of them out. My dad said he was too busy, and it was my responsibility now.

Not everybody gets in. NO WAY! A boat load of guys apply to get into St Ed’s, way more than a thousand, maybe even lots of thousands. I don’t even know how many. At the public schools everybody in their own city goes to their own school. Every retard gets in. But at St. Ed’s they drive in from all over, from Parma, Maple Heights, even Twinsburg. One guy lives an hour and fifteen minutes away. He’s a freshman, like me, except it only takes me five minutes to get to school in Story’s dad’s SUV, since he races down the street like he’s mad at something.

St. Ed’s is a small school, but it has international programs, so even more guys try to get in these days. I had to take many mucho tests. Some of them were easy, but some were hard. Most of them were just the standardized ones, the ones everybody has to take, like math, science, and English. There wasn’t anything stupid, like history.

I didn’t know I was going to make it at first. And I still wasn’t sure I wanted to go. I was all along almost wishing I wouldn’t get in. But when I kept thinking about it, I thought I would still have all my old friends, because we all live in the same city. We live really close to one another and we would still see each other.

So, I kept thinking about it, and I finally knew since I would still have all my friends, St. Ed’s might be a good place for me to be. It’s a good education. Everybody talked it up and not anybody didn’t say there was anything bad about it.  I thought to myself, I’m going to make a bunch of new friends, too. I started to get excited about it.

It’s a great school, after all. I found that out. At St. Ed’s they always say, if you believe in us, we’ll believe in you. I’m glad I made it. I made a bunch of new friends, too.

Many of my friends from the Lakewood middle schools applied to St. Ed’s, but only three of them made it. It’s competitive getting in, but that’s good because it makes you stronger and better. It makes you more determined. You have to watch out for the CHOPPING BLOCK.     

That’s the thing that matters the most. Don’t get chopped. That’s what everybody does at St. Ed’s. They chop the other guy. That’s why we win all the state championships.

I met new guys in all my classes, and we started talking. We’re all friends now. I still see some of the guys that went to our Lakewood schools, although I see them less. I talk to them, text them, and stay in touch. We meet up sometimes and have lunch.

We have lunch at Panera Bread. I have an allowance, so I get money to go places. It’s the bare minimum, $40.00 a month, which is $1.50 a day. It’s nothing, really. I can’t make lunch on $1.50 a day, but my grandmother gives me some money, and my dad slips me cash on the side. A couple of times a month he gives me pre-paid credit cards for $50.00, or more.

Sometimes he gives me a hundred in cash. It’s for wherever I want to go and whatever I want to do. I work around the house for him. I fold clothes, wash dishes, and clean the cat crap. I do a butt load of stuff. I vacuum while they’re all sitting around living it up, all of them except my dad. The rest of them don’t do much, especially not Jack. He does nothing and my stepmom stands up for him no matter what he doesn’t do. I get grief no matter what I do.

Sadie’s lucky. She knows it and I know it. She goes to the cool school Baldwin Wallace College and has lots of friends and lives in an apartment with her friends. She doesn’t come home for weeks, even though it’s less than twenty miles away.

My dad does everything, fixes and cleans everything, and runs around all the time. He works all the time. He doesn’t get any downtime. Sometimes he relaxes and sleeps. Whenever he has a day off, he makes my bed, even though I usually do it, for Scar our Beagle, so he can lie on it and be comfortable.

Blackie doesn’t like that and will stare him down. Scar doesn’t care. He just lays there.

St. Ed’s was totally brand new to all of us in our freshman class. We were all from different places, from all around Ohio, from everywhere. One of my friends is from Hinckley, wherever that is. It’s weird in the beginning because you don’t talk to anybody, not at first. Then one day you notice you’ve become friends with people you just met. The talk just happens naturally after that.

I made friends on the first day of school, actually.

The first friend I made was Hunter. He was getting in and out of the locker next to me. He’s the kicker on one of the football teams, a really good guy, and smart, too. Since our lockers were right next to each other we started talking immediately. A friend is somebody you like to talk to. They don’t always have to say nice things to you, but, more-or-less, they do most of the time.

But you can’t be friends with everybody, no sir! The guy in the locker on the other side of me is Ethan, who’s a big fat black guy. He’s really big, more than six foot, maybe more. He casts a shadow. He’s not totally mean to me, not exactly, although he is. Ethan is just not that nice.

Nice is when you are kind to other people, in general, not just your only friend, in particular. Mean is when you are a jerk bag. Ethan needs to learn to be a nice person. Nice people are kind, modest, and caring. They are all those things. There are lots of people like that, but there are a butt load of people who aren’t.

Oh, YEAH! There are more people who aren’t kind. That’s the way things are. You have to be careful about being nice. You don’t want to be cut down. Ethan, it’s just the way he is, and the way he talks and acts towards other students. He cuts you down whenever he gets the chance.

We all go to our lockers at the same time, after the fourth period. We leave the books we had with us and take our other books. You go to your next class, sit down, talk to your friends, and get through the class. You don’t notice it, but you actually have your day, like an assembly line.

St. Eds wasn’t the school I wanted to go to, but now I call it my school. Some people call it the facility, but most guys call it St. Ed’s. Cooper calls it THE ORGANIZATION, but that’s Cooper, always slapping his nuts. 

When we’re on the loose, my friends and I just call it Ed’s.

Chapter 4

When I was a little kid and in grade school, before I knew anything, Harrison Elementary School was BAD. Later on, when i knew something, McKinley Middle School was HORRIBLE. Everything was WRONG about those schools. Everybody always says tell kids what’s right and wrong. Don’t tell a kid what’s right and wrong. He already knows all about it.

But that’s where I found myself. It was where I found out you don’t have to be bad because bad things are going on around you. As terrible as it was, there were some first-rate kids who were doing their time there.

The day I got to McKinley, in 6th grade, we had a young vice-principal. We got along great. But the next year he got a principal’s job somewhere else. A newer older man got his job. He was on the crabby grumpy side of things. On top of that, I don’t know why, but he didn’t like me.

With him and me it was better never than late. He personally had something against me. I don’t know what I ever did to him. I’m sure it was nothing. I always showed up on time. I wasn’t a troublemaker, like a lot of the four hundred kids in the school. I didn’t come to blows. I got good grades, rather than not. I didn’t riot whenever I wanted more time in the library.

I didn’t get any detentions, although I did get some once in a while. I mean, everyone’s going to get a detention sometime. You’ve got to do it all, hit the books, go to pep rallies, get detentions.

At an assembly one afternoon I asked Mr. Kakis, the new vice-principal, what would happen if someone brought a gun to school. “Would they get expelled?” I asked. It got dead quiet.

It was the same question I heard at an assembly at Lakewood High School that I went to with my dad and Sadie. My older sister was a freshman there then, before she went to her on my own BW college, living the Life of Riley. Everyone calls her Sandy, except the idiots who call her Sadie Masochist.

My mother named her Sadie because it means princess.

Asking that question got me in a buttload of trouble with Mr. Kakis. You would have thought I was going to use a gun to break kids out of detention. He just didn’t like me that much, even before that. I got called into his office about the question. Why, I don’t know. It’s a free country, unless you’re a kid.

His office was like a waiting room at a police station.

In public schools all the stuff is the same. The rooms all have to have the same desks and cupboards. You walk into a class and there are desks on each side of the room, there’s an aisle, and in front there’s a teaching table. There’s a big white board across the whole front of the room and a Promethean in the middle. A projector shoots pictures on it. It’s all very smart, all computerized, and stuff. There’s a PC on the teacher’s table and they have shelves and bookcases for their things.

The teachers always have something in their offices on their desks or office walls that’s about them. Mr. Kakis had crappy hunting duck decoys on his bookcase and duck posters. He had won a fishing contest twenty years ago and there was a dusty plaque on the wall about it, which was his trophy for hooking the fish. He also won a rib cook-off once and there was a smaller plaque for that, too.

He probably wasn’t married. There weren’t any pictures of any wives or kids or dogs anywhere. He just had his crappy trophies.

“Winning takes talent,” he said. “No almost about it.”

He was a smaller man than most of the teachers, under five-foot-seven for sure, and mostly bald. He wore a little mustache, gray and scraggly. He was probably in his 50s, but I always thought of him as in his 60s. He usually looked worn out used up.

He was missing a finger. The pointer finger on his left hand, the whole finger, was missing. It just had a little bit of a nub left over. I never asked him what happened. He would point his missing finger at me whenever I was in his office, jabbing what wasn’t there at my chest, pointing out my shortcomings.

He was an awkward man. Sometimes he would stumble around for no reason, losing his balance. He always wore a faded dress shirt and dark pants. He kept a jar of lubricant on his desk. His hands were chapped. They were stubby fat hands with blotchy marks on the backs of them.

One day at lunch he pushed a kid, which he wasn’t supposed to do. Teachers weren’t allowed to manhandle us. He tried to roughhouse Billy, who was my friend, against a wall, even though he hadn’t done anything wrong. Someone told Mr. Kakis that Billy had stolen his Chicken McNuggets. They weren’t really nuggets, anyway, just nasty chicken school food, bits and pieces of disgusting something.

The cafeteria gave us milk that was four years old.

“It’s frozen,” they said. “It’s OK because we thawed it out.”

Mr. Kakis stormed into the lunchroom fast for his age, kept his balance, and picked Billy up by his underarms, pinning him against the wall. But Billy was taller and bigger than Mr. Kakis, even though he was only thirteen years old. He shrugged Mr. Kakis off of him and just walked away. He didn’t look back. Never look back. He didn’t even get into any trouble about it because he hadn’t done anything wrong.

Billy the Kid walked out of the lunchroom leaving Kakis the Man behind him in the dust. We all just watched quiet as mice. It was literally power outage dead quiet. There were more than fifty of us watching. Mr. Kakis gave us the stink eye. After he walked out nobody said anything for a minute, but then everybody started talking at once.

He was mostly a mean grouchy man, overall. Nobody knew nobody cared nobody bothered about what his problem was.

At Harrison it seemed, at least, like the teachers cared about you. At McKinley they didn’t even pretend to care. If you wanted to do better and needed help, most of them truly didn’t care. In the 6th grade some of them helped. In 7th grade a few helped a little bit. But in the 8th grade, not so ever. NOT AT ALL!

Eighth grade is the hardest year, too.

“We are willing to help you,” they would say. But they didn’t care. It was how they acted that was the tip-off. If you needed it, they acted like you were a nuisance. They didn’t give it to you.

Mrs. Hack was one of the worst. She more-or-less cared about you in the sense that she sort of wanted you to learn. But she would pile so much stuff on us that it was hard to learn anything.

“You’re going too fast,” we would tell her.

“We have to move on now,” she would say. “We have to get through the units.” She was obsessed with the Civil Revolution, which is what she called the Civil War. She was wacky.

It was toward the middle of the year when she started on it. She wanted to get to it so bad that we rushed through everything else, and then we stayed on it for most of the rest of the year. Whenever we told her she was going too fast and asked her to review something, she wouldn’t do it.

“You should know this because you’re an advanced class,” she said.

“Just because we’re an advanced class doesn’t mean we know it all,” I told her.

But she waved me off. She was a tall skinny ashy-skinned woman with bony hands. She kept her hands balled up in fists.

I wasn’t getting bad grades in her class, but I wasn’t getting good grades, either. I got good grades in most of my classes, but her class was too hard. She expected us to know everything that ever happened to the Yanks and Johnny Reb, even though it all happened a thousand years ago. She even wanted us to memorize how much booze General Grant drank and how many legs and arms General Hood lost.

“I’m having trouble,” I told her. “Can I do something for extra credit to catch up?”

“No,” she said. She didn’t care. Even though I was putting out a max effort and still not getting a good grade, she wouldn’t help me.

Mrs. Hack had no eyebrows and always put on a ton of make-up. She wasn’t old, just older, probably in her 50s. She was married, but nobody knew anything about her family. She had wacko hair, short, and messy. Her clothes were no-style funky and she hunched over a little when she walked because she was so tall. She wore flats and weird dresses with stockings.

She had an accent, like she was English, but she wasn’t even from England.

She taught history in first period. We started school at 8:30 and there were eight periods. My other classes were math, computer, science, health, and consumer studies, which is all about cooking and etiquette. My fifth period was lunch and home base, which wasn’t like a study hall because you could run around and go crazy.

I had a Spanish class, too. There were twenty-five of us in it. Our teacher was a Spanish lady with a Ph.D. Why she had to be so smart to teach us, I don’t know. Her name was Mrs. Puga. She had been to every Spanish country in the world.

“Ola, chicos, how are you all?” was the first thing she said on the first day of school. She told us all about herself and the class and then DROPPED HER BOMB.

“After today and for the rest of the year there will be no English speaking in class,” she said. We all thought it was a joke.

But that was just about the last English we heard in class. None of us had ever taken Spanish before, but for the rest of the year we weren’t allowed to speak English. She would yell at us about it. Everybody hated the no-English rule. Nobody was OK with the all-Spanish la regla. Some kids did all right, probably because they were better learners, but most of us suffered.

Mrs. Puga was short, dark, and blonde. Her hair had sweet highlights. She wore glasses, dressed nicely, but hobbled because she had had her hip replaced, but it still didn’t work like new. When you’re old, operations are useless, like replacing a flat tire with a used tire. Whenever she got mad, she would stare at you, make faces, and her features started twitching. Whenever she was downpressing and her face was twitching, I would lean forward and look at her. I would just stare at her, dead serious.

Sometimes we would stare and stare at each other. She would eventually go on to something else. I would say, watching her walk away, “Not at the table, Baby Carlos.”

Everyone in class got to pick a Spanish name for themselves. It was like a nickname. I picked Carlito, or Baby Carlos. It’s from a movie about some guys who find a baby in their closet. They’re sitting at the breakfast table and one of the guys picks up the baby’s hand and starts smacking a lady’s butt with it. While he does it, he says, “Not at the table, Baby Carlos.”

Sometimes when Mrs. Puga talked nonsense my friend Noah and I cracked up, but then she would yell at us. She hated us pretty fast, even if we were good most of the time.

She was married and had six kids and more than twenty nieces and nephews. She kept pictures of them in the classroom, some on her desk, and showed us slides of herself on vacation with her family. Everybody always looked happy.

Mrs. Cash, our consumer science teacher, was a nitpicker. She yammered at us for not using the right font on a crumb project that counted for a millionth of our grade. That drove everybody crazy. She was a nut, for sure.

Science was my favorite subject.

Mr. Maxinhimer was our science teacher. He looked like an angry elf. He was short, only a little taller than me, and chunky soup. He was a dead-on little Oompa Loompa. His goatee fell off his face down his neck and over his collar. Noah and I played a game every day of who could touch it the most.

We would sneak away from our desks and try to finger it whenever we could, which was basically whenever he wasn’t looking. When we saw him in the lunchroom, we always tried to walk up behind him and touch his goatee from the back.

The teachers didn’t eat with us, but they had to be in the lunchroom while we ate. We would start talking to Mr. Maxinhimer, touch his goatee, and dart away. It was only Noah and me, at first. But after a while, we got a trend rolling, and everyone started trying to touch his beard. We were the fastest, though. Other kids tried to do what we did, but they just didn’t get it. They didn’t have the right technique, no way.

Mr. Maxinhimer always got mad about it. He threatened to send us to Mr. Kakis’s office. But he never did. We never grabbed or pulled his face hair, anyway, just touched it.

He showed us pictures of his family and their two little girls. He was a solid dresser and dead serious most of the time, too. He would try to tell jokes, but he never was good, always off. He talked loud in a weird, scratchy voice. Sometimes he would sit at his desk and stare off into space.

Mr. Maxinhimer was only thirty years old, but he was already losing his hair. He was sick 24/7, like he had a cold or the flu. His nose always ran, and he sneezed more often than not. We liked him the best of all the teachers.

We got shuffled from class to class at McKinley Middle School. Everybody had to do the same things all day long. We weren’t even allowed to carry bags and backpacks, for some safety reason nobody understood, like it was national security, so we had to trudge from classroom to locker to classroom between every period.

But the worst thing about McKinley was that everything smelled bad most of the time, even though we were a top state-ranked school, with computer labs and all that. Somebody was always spraying Axe in the hallways. It smelled like disinfectant and cheap perfume.

It smelled horrible, no matter what, like you just wanted to get away from the bad tang.

Chapter 5

No one wants to be late for Mr. Rote’s first period Roman Catholic class because then you would have to go to his office the next day a half-hour before school and be pestered by him. That’s why I NEVER linger over my Bagel Bacon Bagel Specials.

He used to be a campus minister, who is the person who plans masses and retreats. “It’s an important job,” he said. “At least, it used to be an important job.” He was demoted after he spent too much time in his office laying around on his couch, listening to music, and drinking his special coffee.

“It’s not an important job anymore,” he says now, brushing an imaginary crumb off his shirt.

He says his coffee is the best in the world. “You’ve got to get the right stuff. Don’t even go to the grocery store. All they have is goddamned sticks and twigs there.” He swears ten or fifteen times a day, which is surprising for a religion teacher. He said the new campus minister is impotent. When I asked him what that meant, he said it was the opposite of important.

He talks about his special coffee every day. If you are UNLUCKY and end up in his office, he spends half the time asking when you are going to start drinking it, rather than all the time about why you’re in his office in the first place.

Mr. Rote is an Irishman. That’s what he told us, at least, although I don’t know how he can be with a name like Rote. It sounds like he should be German, like my stepmom’s mom, or something else. He has a thick brown-red beard and red-like hair. He talks in a weird squeaky sort of voice, like he has dust in his throat.

Maybe he is Irish, after all.

From the moment I saw him I thought his beard was disgusting. I’m so happy that Dr. Gutman, the principal emperor, or whatever he says he is, is making him shave it off next year. I hate the beard. I used to think I might grow one when I got older, but I don’t think so anymore, especially when I see Mr. Rote rubbing his crap load of a hairy chin.

His beard is down to his Adam’s apple. It’s not even smooth. It’s all shaggy and straggly, like the Bride of Frankenstein. It’s totally gross. Instead of sticking pencils behind his ear, he sticks them into his beard.

He keeps his hair short, so he’s not totally bad. He washes his hair all the time, though. He even washes it at St. Mel’s between classes. It’s never greasy, for sure. He’s youngish, not too tall or too short, and he’s got a pair of little ears. We heard he used to be fat, but in the last couple of years he’s gotten skinnier, although nobody knows how he did it. He’s still a hefty heifer.

Maybe it’s his special coffee. He’s still two hundred pounds, at least, although it’s not muscle weight, not at all.

He looks like a giant thumb with a beard. I think he knows it because he said the brain is a muscle, just like muscles are muscles, and he’s a brain builder. He’s probably not married because he doesn’t wear a ring and never talks about having a wife.

“When you’re twenty-eight you create your own hipness,” he told us. “It’s a cool age.”

He’s not a cool 28-year-old, at all. He’s more like a go-my-own-way jerk. He’s full of himself. He always thinks he’s funny and smart. But he never is. He likes to ask, “Oh, what are you going to be when you grow up?” Nobody ever laughs at that. Nobody knows why he thinks that might be funny. Nobody even knows why he’s asking. None of us is planning on being a priest.

None of the guys actually like him and that’s speaking for everybody. He drives an old 1990s sports motorcycle to school. It’s not even cool, when it should be, which is weird. He thinks he’s very with it, and super funny, and thinks he’s super good at playing guitar. He’s not any of those things.

There was a day when he wasn’t at school for some personal reason, which nobody understood because there’s nothing personal about him, and Mr. McKinnon came to class. He’s another teacher at school, but nobody knows what he does, exactly. We took the freshman survey that day, which St. Ed’s makes us do, and when we got to the teacher’s part the only two of them we raged on were Mr. Rote and Mr. Krister.

Everybody who’s ever had either of them hates them, although Coach Krister not so much, at least not so much when he’s coaching. All you can do then is go with the flow.

The first part of the year Mr. Rote was a nice grown-up, but he didn’t teach us anything, and we didn’t accomplish anything. He just rambled on at random about the Bible. He said knowing the Bible and the Bible times and all the Bible bigwigs inside and out were worth more than a college education.

“Would you rather be smart or saved?” He’s not even a brother, but he’s crazy about the Bible.

He said his class showed the way to get to Heaven, not the way the heavens work, which he said in the long run doesn’t matter. It was crazy talk. I whispered NASA. Everybody in the back laughed.

St. Ed’s is a science and engineering and computer school more than it is anything else. It’s a Roman Catholic school full of ROMANS and hardly any CATHOLICS. I take it smart. Mr. Rote was on the wrong track.

We started on the Exitus and Reditus Model during the third quarter, which is something he found on his computer last year, and which doesn’t have anything to do with what we were supposed to learn in our freshman year religion class. Our class was supposed to be about Jesus in scripture, but Mr. Rote has different ideas about what matters.

I don’t know what it was supposed to be about, nor did anyone else. It was just more of the same from him. CRAZY TALK!

Mr. Rote paced up and down and talked all about the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. He said it’s about seven things, which are wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and Fear of the Lord. The first four things directed the mind, while the rest directed the will, and all of it was directed toward God.

“Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” said Mr. Rote, pointing up at the ceiling. “It’s the straight path to Heaven.” I don’t know much about Heaven, but Mr. Rote says one day it will suddenly be looking you right in the eye.

Mr. Rote’s lesson was about someone on the bottom and at the top there was a triangle. There was someone in the triangle. “Maybe it is you,” he said. You don’t know what it is when you first look at it, but it’s supposed to be God. It has an arrow going from God to the person at the bottom, and it’s got a line down the middle, and inside there are three numbers.

“One is the exit and the other one is the return,” he explained.

It was dead quiet in class. Everybody was waiting for the explanation. Nobody knew what the hell he was talking about.

“There are three different parts to it,” said Mr. Rote “That’s the Exitus side. The first is relational, because we are all relational beings. The second is reason and intellect and the third is free will. Those are the three things we are freely given when we are born.”

We all stayed quiet and kept waiting waiting waiting.

“The Reditus side has two aspects to it. The first one is God’s grace and the other one is cooperation with God’s grace. God’s grace is similar to when you go to turn on the car and it turns on.”

That’s the only example he gave us. But that’s not God’s grace. That’s a man-made thing, I thought. It’s supposed to turn on.

He said our lives were like a maze with only one way to find the center. “Just like you’ve been created by the Son and Holy Spirit, in the same way you’re united back with them at your ultimate end. It’s all about going out from God and returning to Him.”

He was always talking about the end, even though we were still at the beginning. We were created at the end of the week, according to the Bible. Maybe he meant it was about that. Nobody had a clue.

We had to do quick writes every day the rest of the year and the two things we had to use for the quick writes were the ER model and the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. It was a mess, although his mess was our place. He stayed at the front of the class, above it all, drinking his stupid special coffee.

“One hundred percent depends on the Holy Spirit in the pursuit of holiness,” said Mr. Rote. It’s the Stairway to Heaven, yeah yeah yeah, except nobody in class said yeah.

I knew enough about the Holy Spirit, and the Seven Gifts was something I could work with, but Mr. Rote’s ER Model drove me nuts. It drove everybody nuts. He wasn’t supposed to be teaching us that. That wasn’t what we signed up for. It was like a circular driveway you couldn’t get out of.

Unfortunately, I had Mr. Rote all four quarters of the year. I wish I had gotten one of the other religion teachers, but I didn’t. It was the way the cookie crumbled.

The first two quarters he didn’t teach us much. He would talk about random stuff like life, some other stupid things, and play his guitar. He talked about music every day. He talked about it all the time, about going to open mikes and music venues, and how he played at those on weekends. He told us about every concert he went to during the summer, except he never went to anything good.

He talked about music constantly. We hated him talking about it all the time. There were twenty of us in the class. We were PRISONERS OF HIS NOTHING. We all talked about how much we hated it. Everything Mr. Rote did was annoying.

When we did the quick writes Mr. Rote would say, “OK, you have five minutes for the quick write.” Then he would yell at somebody about nothing. Once it was something. Everybody was stunned. The moment passed, back to the writing.

“I saw you talking,” was his favorite smack down, waving a HEFTY finger.

He yelled at Birdman all the time. Birdman is Mark Biddle, but we all call him Birdman. He thinks his nickname is funny. So does everybody else, just like everybody else likes the Birdman. Mark has to sit in the back corner with nobody around him because Mr. Rote accused him of always talking. He moved him away from everybody else.

But the truth is, the Birdman doesn’t even ever talk. He’s quiet as a church mouse.

We all hate it because Mr. Rote will just yell at you constantly, for no reason. He told Jacob, one of my friends, that he was talking out of turn. Jacob said he was sorry, and Mr. Rote got in his face about it.

“You’re still talking.”

“I’m saying I’m sorry,” Jacob said, and Mr. Rote said, “You don’t mean it, and you’re still talking, too, at the same time.”

“Talk to the fist ‘cause the face ain’t listening,” Jacob muttered behind Mr. Rote’s back when he walked away, making a fist.

Mr. Rote is just the biggest jerk. If you’re over ten percent jerk you’re in trouble. And he’s over one hundred percent. Sometimes he tells us it’s tough love, but what’s the difference? 

BLAH!

He yells at us and argues with us all the time, and no one knows why. If anyone ever tries to say anything back to him, he says, “Do you need to stand in the hall, or should I just send you to the Dean’s Office?” If we try to tell him he’s yelling at us for something we didn’t do, that he’s accusing us for nothing, he puts us outside, or sends us to Mr. Streck in the Dean’s Office.

That’s never a good thing, because then Mr. Streck has a reason to yell at you. Or, even worse, we have to go to Mr. Rote’s office before school and listen to him strum his guitar and sip his special coffee. It’s just wrong.

In the middle of the second quarter, he started piling a butt load of work on us. There was just tons and tons of it. We didn’t know why because we hadn’t done anything wrong. But then we heard all the religion teachers had a big meeting about what they had taught that year up to that time, and apparently, because he hadn’t taught us anything, he started slamming us with tons of work, like some kind of backwards revenge.

It was so annoying.

We had to read a Bible passage from the Gospels, a whole passage from Mark or Luke, and then write about it. He never gave us short little passages we could read once. He made us read huge passages that we had to read twice to make sense of. We had to find differences and similarities and how it all related to the ER Model, which nobody understood.

If you didn’t do it exactly how he wanted it done he gave you a bad grade. If you put your own opinion into the quick write, he would write something crappy in the margin saying he didn’t care about your opinion. He would give you a bad grade on top of it.

When we evaluated our teachers, it was just a general survey, but when we started talking about them with Mr. McKinnon, we spent a little time talking about Mr. Krister and most of our time talking about Mr. Rote. Mr. Krister isn’t the greatest, but he’s more like an uncle who pulls out his camera in the middle of dinner, so he’s not totally terrible.

I don’t know what Mr. McKinnon’s exact job is, but we all know he’s an important man, so we told him everything. Everybody said how much we hated Mr. Rote, how he didn’t teach us anything, and just wasted our time with homework. We told him how he yelled at us for no reason, about his bad music, and special coffee. But nothing changed, even though we expected it to. We were wrong. We should have known.

Jacob was especially mad about it. He was angry because Mr. Rote always yells at him, even more than he yells at Birdman. Jacob sits right in front of Mr. Rote’s desk, even though Mr. Rote hardly ever uses his desk, so it seems like he would be safe and sound. Mr. Rote paces back and forth and pushes a little cart up and down the rows and yells at Jacob from the back of the class.

It’s a cart on wheels that he carries his laptop on. He drinks water out of a Mason jar that he carries on the cart. He’s never spilled any water, ever, like it would be a nuclear disaster if he ever did spill any. Maybe it’s holy water.

Mr. Rote wears weird khaki’s and cowboy boots every day. He’s worn the same ugly tie the whole school year. “It’s a fair-trade tie,” he said. He told us people in Africa made it from scratch. It’s multi-colored and has little diagonal stripes all down it. He hasn’t washed it once. It has stains all over it and it’s nasty. No one knows why he’s worn the same tie all year or why he never cleans it.

One week he spent the whole week talking about Nike and Adidas, how they aren’t fair trade companies, and how people in other countries work in sweatshops to make their shoes. We all wear our cool stuff at home. Nobody cares who make their shoes. He spends half his time talking about dumb stuff or answering questions about his beard.

Every day he tells us at the beginning of class that if the top button of our shirts isn’t buttoned it means we will get a detention. But your top button can break by accident, or something else can go wrong. Everybody knows that. One morning Grant’s button broke when somebody collared him in the hallway, but when he explained it to Mr. Rote, he told Grant he should carry a sewing kit and gave him a detention, anyway.

He talks down to the boys because he can.

There’s a chair in the detention hall reserved for anybody Mr. Rote sends there, since it happens almost every day. Jacob accidentally set it on fire one day, but Mr. Rote replaced it with a new chair. It was shiny purple plastic.

“That way it won’t burn, just melt,” he laughed, wagging his thumb.

He’s just a whacked red beard. If I had a rocket from the tombs, I would drone target it right down on his motorcycle. He would be Tom Thumb in no time.

Chapter 6

I don’t remember much of anything about my life, it’s all a blur, before the ruckus I got into at pre-school. What happened before that all seems like an accident, like a dream. The ruckus happened because of my sister Sandy’s hairspray, which I can still see as clear as day. I barely remember pre-school but going one-on-one that day is the thing that stands out.

We were all sitting at a table eating lunch and next to me was a kid named Bobby. He had his head down, munching and crunching. I leaned over and pretended to hairspray him. I knew about hairspray because Sandy had started using it at home. She would stand in front of the mirror in the bathroom waving a can around, spraying her head. Later in life she used it all the time. Otherwise, she looked like a porcupine.

I had never seen anything like hairspray before. After I saw it I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I did it to Bobby, pretend hair sprayed him, and he got SPITTING MAD. I don’t know why I did it or why he got mad. We suddenly started hitting each other. It was a long time ago, but I remember the sound of our slapping hands.

We were only four years old.

When I was five years old, I went to kindergarten. Looking back, I can’t recall much of what we did there, either. I do remember we spent most of the time on a carpet, which was brightly colored, and we got prizes at the end of the day if we had been good.

Mrs. Papp was our teacher. She had a round pudgy face and brown hair past her shoulders. It fell forward when she leaned over and gave us our goodies. I liked the way her hair smelled. It smelled clean and fresh.

The next year Mrs. Kreese was our teacher. She was on the old side and looked like a witch, but she wasn’t mean. That didn’t matter to everybody. Some kids said among themselves that she was totally a witch. Every day of every week she wore mismatching socks. She always wore a dress, but never nylons, just ratty socks. She walked in clunky black shoes with thick heels, not flat shoes like other old grown-ups.

I think she knew what we said about her, because I heard her say to a kid who was being bad one day, “Your mother wants you to be good, and if you don’t be good, since I’m a witch, I’m going to come to your house in the middle of the night, to your bedroom when you’re asleep, and haunt you.”

I hit my teacher with a pencil in 2nd grade, although I didn’t mean to do it. Mrs. Lemons was tall, with gray hair, and liked ice cream. My dad and I saw her all the time at the East Coast Custard stand in Fairview Park across the bridge from the hospital. It happened when we were sitting on a rug at the back of the classroom and I was tossing a pencil up and down. It suddenly flew out of control and hit her on the arm.

I almost jumped out of my skin. I HAD TO TURN MY CARD!

Everybody in class had their own special number and a card at the front of the room. If you were bad you had to turn your card. We called it turning your colors. It was like turning over a new leaf, although sometimes it was an old leaf. There were different colors, which were green, yellow, and red. Green was good, and red was bad. If you were always good you never had to turn a color. But if you were bad, you had to flip it, showing every kid in class you had been bad.

After a certain number of days, if you were being good and your card wasn’t staying solid red, you got a prize, like candy or a little toy. Sometimes we made our own little toys. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we did it anyway.

One day in between time a friend of mine and I we were in the bathroom when we saw one of the first graders come in. He always pulled his pants and underwear down all the way when he went to pee. He pulled them down to his knees. Sometimes they fell to his ankles.

While he was concentrating, we snuck up behind him, spun him around, and slid him into one of the stalls, closing it and holding the door shut. He was stuck in there. But the lunch lady came in when she heard all the noise he made, and we got in trouble. We had to go see the principal and listen to his lecture. That was the highlight of the day, at least until I got to go home.

By then, by the time I was in 2nd grade, it was just dad, me, and Sandy at home. My mom was gone. I didn’t know what had happened, other than the butt load of yelling and fighting between her and dad had stopped, and she was just gone. Just like that she wasn’t there anymore.

I had the time of my life after that. It was my dad and me and my dad on our own. If I did something bad, he wasn’t happy about it, but he wasn’t too fussy. He just dumped stuff. He brushed it off. He knew how to roll with the punches. I had all my friends over in the summer and we played outside until eleven o’clock at night. We ran around the house with nerf guns and had a ball busting out.

Dad didn’t care. He had his own diary. He was very loose. He slept without sheets in a bedroom with barely anything in it, except clothes all over the floor.

“You’re so annoying, do you know that? Does it even matter to you?” Sandy started saying and kept saying to me. She wasn’t always my best only older sister. She could be the worst. She had a serious streak to her. One night she told me she was going places.

She would complain all the time, but I didn’t listen, unless she was making dinner. I listened to her at least once a day because she made dinner every night.

It was awesome to not have a mom in the house. If I had it to do over again, same thing, sure, I definitely would. I didn’t miss my mom, not really. I loved her when she was there, but that was a long time ago. It was fine back then, when she was there, but I was small, and needed her more. When my mom was gone, she was gone and that was all there was to it. Never look back. She never came back, although we still saw her sometimes, although none of us ever wanted to, not my dad, and not even Sandy, who loved mom the most.

Once she was gone, I got my first air soft gun. I could never have one when she was around. She always said NO. But then when I got it my Uncle Valdas sat on it and broke it in half. I knew he did it on purpose, because he didn’t want me to have a gun, even though he had been in the Russian Army for three years.

“I’ll give you forty dollars for it,” he said, holding the two broken halves in his hands in his lap. He thought money was the way to go, the way to get things done. He lived for gold. He had a gold watch and a gold chain around his neck.

I have one now that’s really expensive, a really great gun, the second one my dad has gotten me. It’s fully automatic and shoots little plastic pellets that sting. I shoot things with it. I go to air soft wars with my friends. We pile into military outfits and have actual battles. Everyone has to wear eye protection, so we don’t shoot our eyes out.

When I was in 3rd grade my teacher called me a fathead. That was pretty HORRIBLE. She called me other names, too, but the worst thing she ever called me was that. Mrs. Trollan was a prim and proper ex-nun. She wasn’t tall and wore her hair short and rippled around her face. She looked like an ugly holy roller, but maybe a little prettier than a roller.

What did I ever do to you, I wondered?

She sat at her desk in a proper way and stood in a proper way. That’s just how she was. I was never sure if I was on her bad side, or not, but she started called me fathead all the time. She did it in front of everybody. 

I DIDN’T LIKE THAT.

I sat in the middle of class, so it’s not like she had her watch on me. Besides, I never really did anything bad. It was just a boat load of a bad year. Never look back, and I headed for 4th grade.

The next year our 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Coconea, went a little crazy toward the end of the year. The troublemakers in class called her Mrs. Cocaine, making fun of her name, even though she was a nice lady, and probably didn’t do any drugs. She had a son in the Air Force and two boys in high school. But there were too many bad kids in the class for her to cope with. They disobeyed her and lied all the time, even though no matter how much 4th graders think they can outsmart teachers, they really can’t.

I never knew if Mrs. Coco knew that, or not. They just overwhelmed her. She was brittle tense thin-lipped.

It wasn’t about being smart, though. The bad kids were always getting in trouble, but Mrs. Coconea couldn’t put a stop to it. She wasn’t strong enough. Her days were a nervous breakdown divided by before lunch and after lunch. She couldn’t even eat a sandwich in peace. She was always trying to go home.

No one ever called her Mrs. Cocaine to her face, but everybody knew about the dub. I was never sure if she knew, although I think she did. Sometimes she just looked sad.

The next year I almost got into trouble but didn’t because I told the truth about what happened in the playground, which was a good thing because they had it on video, anyway. None of the other kids told the truth and they had to pay the price. Some of them couldn’t tell the truth without lying, anyway.

We were messing around in the playground pantsing each other. When you pants somebody you run up to them and pull their pants down. Unless you go to a private school nobody wears belts in 5th grade. No belts. Belts are out. Pants are loose. But you only pull the pants down, not the underwear. Those are the rules of fame.

The idea is to shine a light on the tighty-whities.

There was a kid lurking nearby. He wasn’t one of us, not in our group. He was one of the all-of-the-time annoying kids. We were messing around and he was watching us. Someone pantsed one of us, and we were all pushing each other, running around, laughing it up. All of a sudden, the lurker came running from behind and pantsed one of our group.

It was his own private ambush! He started cracking up. He thought it was so funny, at least until I whirled on him and pantsed him back. Then he didn’t think being pantsed himself was funny. NOT AT ALL!

He got sad and weepy and crawled away. We were, like, whatever, and walked off. Somebody told the rest of the class about it, and one of the kids told his mom, and then the school found out. Everybody else lied about it and said they hadn’t done anything, but I owned up to it. I take it smart. he others all got an in-school suspension, but I didn’t get into any trouble, at all.

We didn’t know then that they had video cameras outside, watching us in the playground. We all knew they were in the hallways, but we hadn’t seen them outside. But after that we could see them and knew where they were, and we did our business out of sight.

They have cameras so they can see whatever goes on and know about it. THEY KNOW! When Billy pushes Josh down in the hall and kicks him in the face, they know, and the hammer comes down. What I think is only real police should be on the surveillance camera team. Or maybe bounty hunters, too, so they can collect the reward.

Cameras are stupid. It’s usually just the public schools that have lots of cameras. St. Ed’s has only two of them. One of them is a phony. We spy on ourselves, anyway. We don’t need peepers on us.

One of the cameras is in front of Mr. Krazakios’s office and nobody knows where the other one is. We’re always trying to find it. Everybody knows Mr. K.’s camera isn’t a real one. It’s a replica. Mr. Krazakios is one of the Latin teachers. We think he’s on crack, although not really on crack, but like uncommon nonsense. He’s a wild man who during assemblies will run up and down the bleachers pushing guys out of the way and sitting them down.

Sometimes Mr. K. says the Morning Prayer on the P. A. and it’s the creepiest thing. He sounds like Orphan Esther. It’s just MESSED UP.

He’s on the older side, skinny, and really quick on his feet. He has short scratchy gray hair and wears checked suits. He knows thirteen different languages, even Lithuanian, and he’s learning Chinese. Last year he broke his leg trying to skateboard and made his own cast for it. He healed up with no problem.

I started skateboarding in the 3rd grade. I have a lot of memories of that, of skateboarding outside and learning tricks. I rode everywhere and it was so much fun. I was on my own. No one could tell me what to do when I was on my skateboard. I loved going fast. Some kids would attach a leaf blower to their board to go faster. I never did that. But I got bruised and hurt all the time. Any flick of your foot or a blast of wind could send your board whipping the wrong way. Every time I tried to kick flip down some stairs it was anybody’s game out there.

But I don’t skateboard anymore.

I stopped when I was in 5th grade because too many bad kids skateboarded. They were yardbirds riding a toy. I wasn’t friends with the bad kids, although I was at first, skating together with them. I was always hanging out with them, even though I’m a nice guy. I’m not a bad guy, at all. I figured out it wasn’t a good thing, though. They weren’t good people to be with, so I stopped skating altogether.

Way more bad kids skateboarded than good kids. It’s a stereotype, for sure, close-to-the-bone, whatever, but that’s the way it is. The kids who don’t have anything to do, or who don’t have a good home life, they skateboard. That’s definitely not me.

When I was in 6th grade, I totally stopped hanging out with most of those kids. By then I was in advanced placement classes and was with the same thirty good kids the whole day. They became my real friends. None of them were bad kids.

A bad kid is someone who’s a JERK in class and gets in TROUBLE all the time. They talk back, don’t show up, and do drugs. A crap load of kids in middle school did drugs. They would wear bell-bottoms from the 70s and tight-roll them. They didn’t do PCP or cocaine, not really, not that anybody knew, or wanted to know. Most of them just smoked weed. They would talk smack to the teachers and bully other kids.

They would make fun of the special kids, loud laughing at them, and pushing them. My friends and I would say, step off of it, leave them alone, although they never listened to me. But they always listened whenever we brought Nate over, who was big and strong and jacked out of his mind, even though he didn’t do drugs.

“Hit the biggest one first and hard as hell in the face,” he always said, grinning and clapping.

It was horrible the way they treated the weak kids. It was one of the biggest things that ticked me off in middle school. I understood right away, those kids are jerks, and the kids in my advanced classes aren’t. I started hanging out with the good kids all the time. Most of the bad kids were underachievers. They were in all the slippery eel classes. They could barely read.

By the time I was in 8th grade those kids flat amazed me, like it was a freak show, the circus out of focus. They were so stupid the teachers had to read the tests to them. Some of them were just naturally morons. The rest of them didn’t try. They were just in it for the fun. They were the kind of kids who grew up to be Ken the Toad, grown-ups who rule because they are selfish. 

I learned you have to try when I was in 3rd grade. It happened when I got my first actual project. The project was for a book we had to read, about what it was about, about what we thought of it. Once I had to do it I started understanding that you actually have to put time and thought and effort into things.

I knew all about it by 8th grade. Bad kids simply choose not to care. They get on the road of nowhere retards, going nowhere, except when they become your boss, and you’re out of luck.

I care because I want a good job and a good house, a nice pretty wife who’s pretty, and good kids who go to a nice school. I started looking towards the future at the end of 8th grade, which was when I knew I would be going to St. Ed’s. By then I knew what color looked BEST on me. I take it smart. I was going to make sure the worm didn’t turn on me.

Better to be the robin who gets what he wants.

Chapter 7

You never want to fall asleep in Mr. Hittbone’s second period math class, no matter what, because he will leave you full stop asleep until you eventually wake up, whenever that is. It’s one of the rules written on his personal rules board at the front of the class. NO WAKING SLEEPERS

Classes will come and go, and no one is ever allowed to wake up anybody sleeping.

If you fall asleep, he just lets you sleep, no shaking you up, and you miss the next class, and even the class after that. You wake up and it’s, oh, MY GOD! You get major detentions for missing classes at St. Ed’s. It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t your fault. Mr. Hittbone doesn’t care that maybe you had homework for six classes and had to do work around the house, too, and walk the dog.

Nobody cares when you’re explaining. They care even less when you’re complaining. I take it smart. I never explain and I never complain.

A guy once went lights out for three straight periods. When he woke up Mr. Hittbone was at his podium lecturing, just like always, but after the guy blinked shook his head looked around, he saw there weren’t any familiar faces. There were all different guys in the class. He flash bolted out of the room. He hadn’t technically skipped any classes, but he got a butt load of detentions.

It’s not a school rule. It’s Mr. Hittbone’s rule.

I woke up halfway through his class one day after a long night at home. “Did you sleep good?” he asked. His hot dog lips were a thin hard line. Thick stony starch Mr. Bone.

“No, I made a few mistakes,” I said. He didn’t like that. He got stiff as a board. I got a detention.

“You boys grow up without rules, without boundaries,” he told us the first class the first day of school. “You need discipline. You can be yourselves, whatever you think that is, once you’ve learned the rules.”

Lots of rules and no mercy, that’s Mr. Hittbone, like he just stepped out of the Old Testament. Mr. Rote and the rest of the religion teachers teach the New Testament, but that news flash has never reached the Big Boneman.

It’s not ten thousand years ago, Mr. Hittbone! But he doesn’t care about that, either.

Everyone says he’s been at the school since it opened, or maybe even before that. He was probably waiting for the big day to happen. He’s only ever taken two days off in all those years. He told us about them on the third day of school. “It wasn’t because I was sick,” he said. The Legend of the Bone says he’s never been sick. Someone else was sick on those two days.

Maybe he ever only feels like crap in private. Maybe he’s only stiff as a board at St. Ed’s. Maybe he only melts when the guy finally gets his girl in the movies.

Mr. Hittbone’s a short man with a beach ball belly and big lips, like weiners. He pulls his pants up almost to his nipples. He doesn’t wear a sports jacket like most of the other teachers. He only ever wears a dress shirt. He has grayish brown hair and eyes the color of an old telephone pole. He’s a stumpy grumpy dude. Everybody hates him, the upper classmen, and us, just everybody, really.

Some of the upper classmen add an S to the front of his name, but never out loud to his face. That would be a disaster if it slipped out. Mr. Hittbone is the MASTER OF DETENTIONS. He’s a hard hard-boiled egg. It’s not even funny.

He’s married but told us he can’t stand his wife because she doesn’t make him dinner never turns off the house lights and watches TV all the time. “She even shops in bed, thanks to television,” he said. We all thought, “So what?”

He has a son and daughter, but he never talks about his son. When he told us about his daughter, he said he was mad angry about how in the first year of whatever job she got she was making more money than him.

He always says money is a “masterpiece in the eye of a masterpiece,” whatever that means.

“God wants us to prosper and have plenty of money,” he said. “Money is how you keep score. That’s why you don’t want to stop at simple math, because then you’ll only make simple money.”

Nobody ever knows what he’s talking about. Most of the rich grown-ups I’ve met are simple-minded. They think they deserve their gold mines, saying they worked hard for their dough, when everybody knows they made everybody else work hard. They won because things went their way, or they cheated the hell out of somebody else.

Mr. Hittbone smokes between classes, in front of the gold dome chapel, ripping the filters off his cigarettes. I’ve never seen another teacher smoke on campus, only him. He throws the butts on the ground, mashes them, and lights up another one.

Whenever anybody tells him cigarettes are bad for you, he scowls.

“When it looks like I’ll live longer than my next cigarette I’ll scrape it off the bottom of my shoe,” he says.

Whenever anybody tells him cigarettes are practically illegal, he gets mad about that, too.

“The government tells you smoking is bad for your health, but when you Ben Franklin the numbers, the government has killed more people than cigarettes ever did, or ever will.”

One morning he told us he was in a gas station buying his generic cigs down on Detroit Road, just down from the school, when somebody tried to rip off the attendant with some kind of money trick.

“I wanted to beat him with a bat,” said Mr. Hittbone, making fists, his hands shaking.

He said beat him WITH A BAT to beat the hell out of him. Every day the forecast for Mr. Hittbone is clouds, rain, and grump. Fee fi foe, walking to Detroit. We all laughed, though. He couldn’t beat himself out of a paper bag.

He teaches from a podium at the front of the class. He’s the only teacher in the school who has one. How does he rate? It’s because he’s an OLD DINOSAUR and gets his way. He puts his papers and things on the podium and hardly moves all period, unless he wants to tear up something that’s on your desk. That’s another one of his rules. MATH ONLY!

Even if you’re not doing anything with whatever is on your desk, like a science assignment from Mr. Strappas, if he sees it, all of a sudden, he’ll just stoop down on you and take it.

“I don’t think you’ll be needing this,” he says, and rips it up.

He’s constantly looking for things to rip up, even if it’s something for one of your other classes, not even his class, something you were just looking at. He’s always showing up aout of nowhere and tearing your work into shreds.

He has a ton of rules on his board, more than fifty of them, a boat load of them. NO CHEWING GUM!

If you chew gum anywhere on campus, not just in his class, watch out for him spying you doing it. He scribbles your name in his little black spiral notebook and reports you. He gives you a full detention, which is forty-five minutes. He never gives out minor detentions. Mr. Hittbone told us chewing gum is rotten and should be banned from the school.

“If you can’t swallow it, don’t chew it.”

No one is allowed to touch anything in his classroom, either. NO TOUCHING!

If you pass by one of his special teacher books and you sort of graze it with your leg, you get a major detention. If you pick up a marker at the board without first asking his permission, you get a major detention. If you punch somebody’s arm, even though it’s none of his business, you get a major detention.

It’s nothing like my third period class, which is our science class. The teacher is Mr. Strappas, who’s one of the varsity football coaches. He’s young, has blond hair he combs back, and is super fit. He played football in college and he’s a nice cool man. He encourages us to touch things, do things, get into the projects, and the only rule he has is no talking when he’s talking.

I don’t know why some guys can’t get it right. It’s always the same guys who get it wrong, who do all the talking in class, breaking the rules. We sit a pair to a table and those two guys are somewhere in the middle of the room. They talk about video games, sports, and all their other dumb stuff. Mr. Strappas will say, no talking, and they will say, sorry, but they don’t stop. They don’t even get good grades on their quizzes and tests. They don’t turn their homework in on time and get bad marks for effort. They’re just stupids.

Mr. Strappas doesn’t stand at his lectern. He roams back-and-forth, to the sinks, the whiteboard, and all around the room. He’s always on the move. It’s my favorite class of the day. I actually like learning in it. It’s fun finding out about atoms and geology and everything he’s interested in.

Mr. Strappas expects us to be in our seats when his class starts, but he doesn’t sweat it if it doesn’t happen. But if you’re not in your seat when the bell rings at the instant Mr. Hittbone’s class starts, you get a full detention. Everybody should be in their seats when class starts, we all know that, but if you’re standing there for a second, just fixing your belt, he gives you a detention, anyway. It’s totally retarded, but that’s another one of his rules.

Because it’s Mr. Hittbone, you absolutely want to make sure you’re all good. You want to be perfect. LOOK PROPER! We wear ties, dress shirts, dress pants, a belt, undershirt, and black shoes. We have to make sure we’re all buttoned up for him. If any button is even half unbuttoned, it means a full detention. He really hates it if the second button on your shirt is undone.

Even though Mr. Hittbone is a hundred years older than Mr. Rote, our first period religion teacher, who is young and thinks he’s all there, but is a doofus, it’s one for the button in first period and two for the button in second period.

He hates casual dress days, too. “It’s like a casual walk through the insane asylum,” he says.

If there is any piece of paper on the floor around or near your desk at any time of the class, he’ll give you a detention, even if it’s not yours, and even if you didn’t see it in the first place. NO LITTER! If the paper has your name on it, it’s even worse, because he rips it up before giving you the detention.

Mr. Hittbone is his own Bible of Rules. When it comes to the Hittbone Rules, it’s hell or high water. Don’t look for middle ground. It’s all quicksand there.

DON’T LOOK THROUGH THE WINDOWS! We’re supposed to face front when we’re in class, but there are some guys who sit right by the windows and sometimes they can’t help shifting their faces to the glass.

That’s a FULL DETENTION!

If Mr. Hittbone and I looked out the same window, I don’t think we would see the same thing, no matter how you do the math.

Sometimes I think that since I didn’t have a hand in making his rules, the rules have nothing to do with me. If you say Cloud 9 is amazing, he’ll say, what’s wrong with Cloud 8? No matter what, you can’t fight Mr. Hittbone. He’s like a Godzilla. He swats you down with his horny tail.

At the end of class, we can’t jump up and leave like in any of our other classes. His rule about the bell for ending class is that it isn’t the school bell, but his bell that matters. When the school bell goes off, we have to stay in our seats until he says we can go.

When he says we can go I’ll say, “See you tomorrow Mr. Hittbone.” And he’ll say, “Thanks for the warning, Mr. Who It.”

My middle name is Wyatt, so he calls me Who It, as in Why It, Who It, and then he laughs.

Sometimes it seems like he wants you to lay down at his feet like a guinea pig and say, “Yes, sir, I’ll go dig up those apples, sir, whatever you say.” His rules have nothing to do with anything. He’s just a fanged-up downpresser man. He’s got us for fifty minutes, and that’s that, my man.

I’m counting the days until my sophomore year rolls around and I’m none of Mr. Hittbone’s business anymore.

Chapter 8

 Allan, Paul, Bryce, and I were all middle school tyros back in the day. Afterwards we passed all the St. Ed’s interviews and tests and were accepted as freshmen. The only thing left to do after that was for our parents to find the money to pay for. It takes a ton of dead presidents to go to St. Ed’s. It takes more than thirteen thousand of the portraits to get it done. 

It takes a BOWLFUL of MAMMON to lie in the lap of the Virgin Mary.

Allan played on the freshman football team from day one. At least he did until he got a concussion on the first day of practice. That finished him off before he got to day two. He’s out for the season.

He played football for Lakewood Catholic Academy in his youth. He’s only a little taller than me, but he’s a lineman. He’s butt load big and wide, although he has a potbelly, and still of all he’s strong as a bull. Allan’s not just a body on the JV field. He’s actually good, if he was still there, but after they rocked him at practice, he was scrambled eggs and toast.

St. Ed’s is hugemongous into football. We lost our only game in two years to Don Basco. Even though we always put one of the best teams in the country between the lines, Basco is the best team now. Our guys went to New Jersey to play them and it didn’t go well. But they have to come to our field next fall. Everybody is looking forward to that.

Mr. Rote, our religion teacher, always says there is no revenge so complete as forgiveness, but I think the best revenge is a massive beat-down. Never walk in anybody’s shadow, we always say in the hallways.

We’re state champions and that’s awesome. We own everybody in football and most of the other sports, too, especially wrestling. We have a bank load of paid for state championship trophies. There are too many of them in our vaults to count, really. When you start winning championships, year after year, that’s all you’re interested in.

It’s not just because we’re St. Ed’s that we win. It’s our tradition of winning and our players and coaches who want to win BAD. But it’s mostly because we have the players, the biggest and best players, and the biggest best black players, too. Some of the black football players are big, VERY BIG.

My friends are on the big side, too.

Big Boy Allan has a hot face and pearly whites, but the rest of him is mostly pasty white. He has brown hair and brown eyes. His hands aren’t big, but they’re meaty. He has fat toes and cankles. He doesn’t have ankles, not exactly, just calves attached to his feet. No ankles, only cankles.

Paul is tall and thin and strong. He has big hands, big feet, and is going to play basketball for the school. That’s the only sport he plays. It’s all he knows. He can palm a basketball no problem. He has super big hands. His hair is dirty blonde, his eyes are blue, and he has normal size ears. His lips are white person lips. Small. Black people don’t have white people lips. The only white kid I know who has black lips is Bryce.

Bryce is the Fourth Musketeer of us who made it into St. Ed’s, which surprised the rest of us. and everybody who knows Bryce. It even surprised me. Nobody thought he had it in him. He and I go way back to grade school and even before that. We were friends before we were even alive, although we didn’t know it.

His mom and my mom were hair stylists together and they got pregnant at the same time. After we were born on our not exactly the same birthdays, we were best friends from the time we were babies. Bryce is tall and big and buff. He’s very strong very don’t mess with me very on top. He wears his wavy hair long, which is a ginger color down to the roots, and sometimes he ties it back in a ponytail.

Even though he’s barely a month older than me, he already has a beard. It’s not like the badlands, either. It’s a real beard. I don’t have a single whisker. He used to shave more often, but he doesn’t as much anymore.

Bryce just turned fifteen, just ahead of me. He weighs more than 230 pounds, but he’s not fat. He’s close to six foot four, which is exactly eight inches taller than me. He walks like Robert Mitchum in the old movies my dad watches on TCM, not all butterfingers, like the ground’s moving underneath him. He’s not like that, quirky, where you walk weird. He walks with a swagger.

We all play sports, although I’m not sure what sport Bryce will play. It will probably be football. He will be a beast when he does. He’s built like a God. I run cross-country. I’m built like a bushman. I’m going to try to get on the lacrosse team next year. But I want to run track more than I want to play lacrosse. I stay in shape for it by running cross-country.

I used to play football, but I was always getting the hell kicked out of me because I was too small. We were always getting the hell yelled out of us by our coaches, too. I didn’t like that anymore than I liked being knocked down all the time.

Sports are the biggest thing at our high school because St. Ed’s is absolutely sports-oriented. The only guys not in sports are the smarties. That’s a stereotype, but it’s right around the corner to the truth. The guys not in sports who aren’t actually smarties are the guys who go to St. Ed’s for the experience or because their parents are making them go.

One of my friends, DB, who’s a sophomore, says he hates the school. He’s a nut, but that’s how it is. He calls it THE ORGANIZATION. That’s because his parents make him go to St. Ed’s. I love it. Nobody makes me do it. It’s right for some guys, but for other guys it’s completely wrong. I don’t know why it’s not right for DB. I never ask him. All I know is my three friends and I love it.

I tend to hang around the guys who like St. Ed’s. I don’t want to be talking to downers. There are kids like that at St. Ed’s and everywhere else, too. I’m not a big flag waver for our school, but why think your life is crap just because you think going to Ed’s is down?

DB and guys like him are weird. Weird is fine. I’m weird, too, but in a good way. Those guys are just awkward. I think they know they’re awkward, too. They’re less friendly than everybody else. They think they can sit there, smirk and grimace, and nobody will mind.

Some guys just float and float, which is bad. I am in the same classes with some of them a few times a day and they’re drifting. I try to be active, answer questions, but some guys just sit there like clod sogs. They stare at the walls and daydream. They constantly won’t and don’t get good grades. It’s all right to get a not good enough grade once in a while, but constantly getting bad grades is bad news. It’s not going to work at St. Ed’s. Nobody learns anything by failing. Success is the only thing that counts.

At St Ed’s, teachers always routinely try to help you. It’s not like it was in middle school. They’ll come to you, or you go to them, which is even better, and they’ll help you. There’s no doubt about it. If you CARE about St. Ed’s, then St. Ed’s will CARE about you.

But some guys don’t care. That’s the problem. Their parents made them go to Ed’s. Their moms and dads are insecure and think they’ll have a better image of themselves and other people will think better of them if their son goes to St. Ed’s. It’s a prestigious school and they want the prestige. It’s a good fit for some guys, but for others it’s definitely not.

You don’t even have to be Catholic to go to St. Ed’s. There are Hindus and Muslims and even Protestants. We don’t have a daily mass, but we have a daily religion class every day. Everybody has to go. One of my friends, Amija, is in my religion class. He’s either a Hindu or a Muslim, or something like that, but he isn’t allowed to sit it out. We study Roman Catholic theology and Amija participates like everybody else.

One of the guys on my cross-country team is a Lutheran. There are all kinds of religions at St. Edl’s, although there are no Jews. I’ve never heard of one ever attending the school. No one ever says anything about it, about the no-Jews rule on campus, not even the Jews, who are always complaining about everything.

Even Mr. Rote avoids talking about it, like he avoids talking about guns, although he has a lot to say about everything else. He’s my full-time religion teacher. I wish it were Miss Torrent, instead, who is the other religion teacher. She’s about two feet tall, but she stands tall, taller than THE MAN. If I stand up, she is just past my belly button. It’s awesome. She’s awesome. Nothing keeps her down.

“I don’t mind being short because I was never tall,” she says.

She’s in proportion, top to bottom, an older lady, and talks nasal like a duck. She wears her hair short, almost like one of the guys. She always seems happy, which is unusual in older people, who are usually cranky. Everybody gets older, but you don’t have to be old, although that’s not how it seems to work. She says she’s happy and not happy other times, but mostly happy.

“Thank God I never was cheerful,” she says. “But I am a cheerful pessimist.”

Walking into St. Ed’s on the first day of school and not knowing anybody was all new, but not so new. There were guys from Lakewood, North Olmsted, and Westlake. They were from all over. Walking in the door I only knew Allan, Paul, Bryce, and myself. I knew some guys from cross-country because we had been practicing for about a month before school started. But that was only for a month and I had barely paid attention to them.

If I had gone to Lakewood High School, I would have known a boat load of guys. They’d have all been from my hometown. We had an orientation the day before classes started, but that was the day before anything mattered. On the first day of school, I went to my first period class. When the class ended that was it, my first religion class was over, and after that I went to my next class.

St. Ed’s was just a new place and I was at the bottom of the bottom of the pile. It didn’t feel scary, or anything, at least not like 6th grade, which is the first year of middle school.

McKinley Middle School was scary because it was a completely new experience. We had to move from one classroom to the next one all day, not like in grade school. When you’re a young kid you’re stationary. You’re in one room all the time, but at McKinley we always moved around, shifting changing.

I didn’t know many kids at McKinley when I started. I only knew my friends from grade school. I didn’t know anybody else because they came from so many other grade schools. By the time I started St. Mel’s I was used to not knowing anybody and moving around all day.

The classes at St. Ed’s are smaller than at Lakewood High School. There are maybe twenty of us in a class, all freshmen. Most of us are white guys, but some of us are black guys. I made friends with Eli, who is dark black, and Bobby, who is a lighter shade. There’s another black guy, too, who’s even lighter, he could almost be white, but I don’t know him.

There are plenty of blacks at St. Ed’s, and plenty of them are there to play sports. Some of them definitely got into the school because they’re good at running, catching, and tackling. A few of them, no, it’s because they’re smarties. Still, there are a butt load of them on the football team. There are even more than you would think would be on a normal football team. But there are still a lot of white guys, too.

There are no Asians, definitely not any of them. They’re like the Jews. No Jews and no Asians on the rough and tumble.

There aren’t many black guys living in Lakewood, which is mostly white man’s land. My stepmom said more of them are being section-eighted, complaining complaining and complaining about it. I didn’t know what she was talking about. When Jack started nodding his head, agreeing with her, I started ignoring it.

I’ve seen more black guys at St. Mel’s than I expected. One of them is in the locker next to me. He is big fat evil Ethan. I’m OK with fat people, although I’m not a chubby chaser, but Ethan and I don’t get along. We’re two totally different kinds of people.

I have a friend, Big Spike, who’s on the JV basketball team. He’s sky-high tall. He’s one of my best friends, and he’s black, so it’s not like I’m a racist. It doesn’t have anything to do with tall, even though I’m on the shorter side. It’s just that Ethan is rude. It doesn’t have anything to do with being black, more like he’s got an evil black soul streak.

Fee fi foe, walking to Detroit.

He pushes other kids out of his way to get to his locker. “Get the fuck out of my way,” he’ll say. He’s never said it to me because I stay out of his way, believe me! I don’t commit the mortal sin of standing my ground. If I did, I’d be a pancake in no time flat.

No one ever pushes back. He’s big and has short legs, so he’s built low to the ground, even though he’s tall. I try to stay away from him. If you’re not nice to people I don’t want to be your friend. You don’t have to be a racist, just like you don’t have to be mean. But you have to be realistic. I play it smart. That’s how I am.

The mean guys don’t necessarily stick together. Ethan has lots of friends, even Bryce, who’s my best friend. I can’t get my head around it, but that’s the way it is. They get along. I don’t know how the nice guys can be friends with the mean guys, but it happens. Maybe it’s how you look at them, or maybe it’s because Ethan has never been mean to Bryce.

Bryce is bigger than Ethan, for sure. Ethan isn’t going to go out of his way to tell Bryce to get out of his way. That ain’t going to happen.

There are some people I don’t like and other people I really don’t like. I really don’t like Ethan. He makes it his mission in life to be nervy, like he has to do or say something disrespectful every ten minutes, like he just wants to be rude at all costs.

Bert, who plays soccer on the soccer team, is another one, although he’s more annoying than anything else. He’s a smart guy, not that it matters. He’s in my history class with Mr. Krister. Bert usually knows all the answers but is kind of a jerk and a smart aleck at the same time. When we were at Homecoming, he made out with my friend Jake’s girlfriend, right out in the open, on the dance floor. He can be a major jerk-bag.

He texts in class and when Mr. Krister calls him out on it he will say, “Oh, Mr. Krister, I was just texting my mom, she’s a widow, about what time to pick me up after school.”

We all know his mom is totally married, but Mr. Krister is in the dark about it.

Mr. Krister will take his phone away, but then won’t actually keep it, because he isn’t a mean man in that way. Bert will sit in Mr. Krister’s chair when he’s out of the class, and Mr. Krister doesn’t like that, at all. Once day before class he was in the hallway and Bert sat in his chair. He saw him through the doorway and chased Bert back to his seat.

He e-mailed Bert’s soccer coach, complaining about it, but nothing happened because he’s a fast-running fast-scoring fast-rising star on the team. All anybody has to is read their history books to find out what is number one at St. Ed’s.

If you’re good at sports at St. Ed’s you can get away with a lot of sins, BELIEVE ME. It’s not about being white or black or blended. It doesn’t matter what religion you are. What matters is the trophy case. What matters is not fade away. What matters is don’t turn into a pot of paste. What matters is winning. We can all be grown up about that.

Mr. Rote says the Bible will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from the Bible. At St. Ed’s, no matter what Mr. Rote says, the only sin is losing, and it’s not the small insignificant it doesn’t matter kind of venial sin, either. Winning is one thing and losing, all the hundreds of ways of losing, getting lost at sea, is another thing, the mortal sin kind of thing at St. Ed’s.

Chapter 9

We have show-and-tell at school once in a while, but nobody ever brings anything anybody whatever. Some guy brought his grandfather once, who brought broken bits and pieces from World War Two, but none of it made any sense. When my turn came, I brought my Uncle Gray. He wore a black top hat, a black cape, and brought a bag full of boomerangs.

Uncle Gray told our science class he came to the show-and-tell because it was the birthday of the boomerang, the day it was invented. “What do you say about that?” he asked.

When nobody said anything, he said, “Many happy returns!”

All my uncles on my dad’s side of the family went to St. Joe’s High School on the east side, before it became St. Joe’s-Villa Angela, a coed school. They are all Lithuanians, even though they were born here, because grandma and grandpa came from there. They ran away when the commies took over. The had to run for their lives. It wasn’t Mexicans strolling into Texas and picking cotton. Our name used to be Grabaitis, but now it’s Gray. The old neighborhood went ghetto and the boy’s school and girl’s school both got so squeezed and small and out of dough they had to paste them together.

All my uncles on my stepmom’s side went to St. Ed’s. My stepmom’s family is all German, from some place called East Prussia, that doesn’t even exist anymore. Some of them are bigwigs at the school now, although it doesn’t make any difference to me. Most of my friends know my Uncle Ted is on the Board of Trustees, but no one ever says anything about it. Sometimes I say something, if I have to.

Uncle Gray went to St. Ed’s, not that you would know. He’s one of my favorite grown-ups. He’s not totally crazy, although he’s totally funny, and thankfully never pulls me aside to give me advice, which is unusual for an adult. Grown-ups always have advice up their butts. Only crazy people take themselves seriously, but that’s who rules. They think they know everything. Uncle Gray’s the boomerang man. He holds the record for the world’s biggest boomerang collection. He makes them, sells them, and lives them. He knows everything about them.

He beds down with them, too. He sleeps with a boomerang in his king-size waterbed

Uncle Gray is over fifty years old, but he doesn’t suck, which is remarkable. Most grown-ups are unreasonable because they don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to any of us right now. They’re outdated out-of-touch obsolete. They’re over the hill. They can be unreasonable dictators.

It definitely sucks to be forty years old. Why? Because you’re old, that’s why. You get up in the morning feeling just plain terrible. Thirty-years-old? It still kind of sucks. Most of the time you probably get up in the morning feeling terrible, too. It’s off to work you go. You’re not young anymore. When you’re old you don’t have fun most of the time.

YOU WON’T! YOU CAN’T!

You could have fun, maybe, but only in ways that wouldn’t be all that great. Never look back, I say, you just get bitter. When you’re a kid you can play with GI Joe’s for hours on end. You never think anything of it. Two years later you’re older and you don’t play with them anymore. When you find them again later on you’re, like, oh, MY GOD! I used to have so much fun with them. IT’S ALL GONE!

Old people can’t have that kind of fun, the kind of fun that’s just all in. For them, whatever they’re doing isn’t fun, it’s important. Important to them! They just want to get it done, whatever it is, like getting it done is life insurance. It’s not, but you can’t tell adults anything. They NEVER listen.

It’s the same with video games. Most grown-ups have never played video games. They’re still stuck in their old stuff, like reading newspapers and watching TV. That’s all done. It’s been destroyed by video games and online.

Grown-ups don’t know how great video games are. They have no idea. They’re always saying we need to get up and do something. “Go outside, get some fresh air.” They think video games are stupid. If they are, then life is stupid. It’s not that video games are life itself, but they are definitely a good part of the good life. You can be the lamest kid stumbling down the hallways of St. Ed’s, but when you go home and get on a video game and are storming Brothers in Arms, like you purely own it, you can totally forget about regular life.

When you make friends online through video games, they’re exactly like real friendships. The only thing separating you from them is a computer screen. You can talk to people you don’t even know, and they can be your homeboys. You never meet them in real life, but you are still real friends. I can be playing somebody who lives in Montana and be close buddies with them. For real, Barnaby.

You can talk to them on Skype. You hear what they sound like and see what they look like. You just don’t know each other in real life, that’s all, even though it’s still the same. I like it that you can be friends with people you’ve never been in the same room with. For me it’s easy. For grown-ups, they can’t, they’re so suspicious. They’re always looking over their shoulders. They always think something bad is going to happen any minute.

There’s a barrier in the computer, which is the BARRIER, but it’s the doorway, too. Your video game friends don’t really know you. You can be nobody to everybody and still be friends with somebody, somebody who in the daytime might not give you the time of day. You can be somebody on the computer screen, not just a ghost, but a Ghostbuster. You become more than just a nobody.

Video games aren’t an easy thing to get into when you’re older. Old people don’t understand them, at all. They grew up fishing in the creek. They’re still thinking the jump kick is the trickiest combo to master. But sometimes they’ll bite into the Jill sandwich. My Uncle Bruce bought an Xbox 360 last year. It was surprising, since the only game he ever had before that was Forza Motorsport 4. That’s it, that was it!

Uncle Bruce, Uncle Seth, and my grandfather are all deadset into cars. They work on old cars and grandpa sells them. Forza Motorsport is the only game grandpa’s actually good at. It’s the only game my uncles are good at, too. Anyone would think Uncle Seth might be better since he’s still a paperboy, even though he’s forty-years-old, so his brain hasn’t gone totally grown-up. It’s something they can relate to, and it’s simple, so they have a lot of fun with it.

When you’re fifty, you’re old. You’re a geezer, too bad. It gets worse the older you get. God, yeah, it truly DOES! If you’re sixty-years-old I feel bad for you. You can’t have fun, for sure. There is no more fun for you. When old people are old, they think anything new has got to be bad news. The bad news is you’re sixty!

They watch a truckload of TV, but watching TV isn’t necessarily a good thing. I watch TV to see the playoffs, football, basketball, but other than that, no TV. You sit there and don’t do anything. It’s all millionaires running around and throwing a ball to each other, or kicking it, or dropping it. I get a kick out of watching adults cheering screaming crying their eyes out about millionaires winning and losing their ballgame. It’s just a sweet wad of Chinese chewing gum for your eyes. Other than that, ESPN is dead-brain time.

The older you get the less fun you’re going to have. It’s a fact. When you’re seventy you’re just watching life, like it’s a fake-a-billy reality show, getting through it day by day. You’re there, breathing, but you’re not a part of it. YOUR DAY IS DONE. When you’re eighty you’re beyond old, of course, but I don’t think you can even possibly care anymore.

Some adults are happy, but not many. It’s less than half, I would imagine. It might even be less than that. When you’re young you’re mostly happier than not because you get over things easier. You just roll with the punches. Some can’t, of course, but most can. When you’re old you’re used to one thing, and when something else happens, well, then you’re stuck and sad.

When I get older, if that ever happens, I’m going to stay the same, which is on the go, on the spot, and as easy on the eyes as I am. I’m going to try to get old as slowly as possible. When I’m thirty-years-old I’m going to have kids and play video games with them. When I’m forty-years-old I’ll be a parent, driving my kids to school, but I’ll still have fun. I’ll play games with them and let them do what they want.

I’ll have some ground rules, of course. They’ll have to play sports. They’ll have to listen to what I say.

When I’m fifty and my kids are gone, I’ll have a butt load of house parties in my giant bathroom, on the patio, and spilling into the backyard. I’ll still be married, I think, and my wife will like the parties as much as I do. I don’t know what will happen when I’m sixty-years-old. Either I’ll keep going, have grandchildren, or die on the spot. It’s going to be a shock, for sure.

Making plans for the future is a wagon train of wasting time. A year ago, I didn’t know I was going to St. Ed’s. I knew I was going to Lakewood High School, at least I thought so. You shouldn’t make plans because they can change at a moment’s notice. It’s just like Blackie, my steely-eyed black in it for himself cat. He might be in the kitchen and thinks he’s going to take a plate of snacks when no one’s looking, but then I sneak attack him. He had his plans until I snatched the snacks away.

But Blackie’s a wily freeloader. He’s free of pains and plans most of the time, free of cares. He sleeps and eats and runs around and sleeps some more. It’s the Life of Riley.

My whole day is always planned out, from the minute I wake up, Monday through Friday. My Riley is gone. We have our agenda for the day every day at school. I know everything I’m going to do and when I’m going to be doing it. I know everything I’m going to be doing, because Monday through Friday there are a blackboard of rules in my face.

I stop at my locker at the same time every day after the same period. I just do the stuff I have to do, the same thing every day, because that’s what people who are smart do. It’s like the killers who want to kill people. They are some of the dumbest people, but they are smart, too. They have a plan and execute it. Some people walk into a store and rob it. They go in and start shooting, but they don’t have any idea of what’s going to happen.

Most of the time they get screwed over. They get the crappiest lawyers, for sure. But other people have a plan for what they are doing. Those are the smart ones, especially those who want to kill other people for a reason. At St. Ed’s it’s all about having a reason. We have plans, and we execute them, but nobody notices anything. We have a set thing, our school periods, and we execute that because we have to.

Mr. Rote says if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. Maybe he’s right about that. All the old people in the world made a crap load of plans when they were young and look what happened to them.

Uncle Gray is funny and smart, ridiculously smart, in fact. He’s smart in physics, which is why he’s good at throwing and catching boomerangs. He tosses boomerangs like nobody’s business. He has four world’s records in tossing and turning and he owns thirty thousand boomerangs. He’s the BOOMERANG MAN!

Last year during Earth Day at Lakewood Park the first fifty kids who lined up at his booth got a free boomerang. Uncle Gray makes them in China and sells them. He makes a bucket of money. He gave away the paperback backyard kind. They’re the kind that don’t go far and always ricochet back.

Uncle Gray was married, and re-married, and re-married some more. He was married to Morky, who was Korean and had a small head, and they had five kids. Two of them were twins, Lizzie and Ali. I called Lizzie the larger because her head was bigger than her mom’s and I called Ali whatever else there was to call her. When Morky left and never came back, all of their five kids were under the age of five. Uncle Gray married somebody else right away, but they got divorced in no time. He tried again, but no luck for him. Now he goes from girlfriend to girlfriend. He’s a great guy.

They all stay around for a couple of years and then leave.

When I brought Uncle Gray to show-and-tell my science teacher Mr. Strappas showed us slides about how boomerangs work. We all went out to the football practice field and threw them around into the sky. Uncle Gray put on his old-fashioned black top hat. He threw his black cape over his shoulder.

Everybody loved him, except for Mr. Rote.

“Why do you think Jesus isn’t coming back?” Uncle Gray, smiling and smirking, asked Mr. Rote, who had wandered outside with his guitar. Mr. Rote shrugged his shoulders.

“He wasn’t nailed to a boomerang!” I think everybody wanted to laugh, but nobody did. I don’t know why Uncle Gray asked Mr. Rote that. It was like he wanted to get under his skin. Mr. Rote tried to laugh it off, but he grunted scowled instead.

Before we went back to class Uncle Gray took something out of his duffel bag and threw it over the bleachers. We all waited, but nothing happened. It didn’t fly back.

“What do you call a boomerang that doesn’t come back?” he asked.

“A stick,” said Mr. Strappas, walking like a champ toward us from the far side of the bleachers with a stick in his hand.

Chapter 10

I went to our Homecoming dance with a girl. She wasn’t a girlfriend, not exactly, just somebody who happened to be a girl. Nobody is allowed to go by himself or even with another guy, no matter what kind of friends you are. You have to go with a date to go to Homecoming. The dance was in the main gym the night after we smash-mouthed a mouthwatering win over Moeller’s, the Fighting Crusaders.

The big bad Crusaders slouched back to Cincinnati and afterwards we called them the Sad Taters. They weren’t singing the Blue and Gold Fight Song. St. Ed’s takes no prisoners on the football field. No, SIR! Mr. Rote, our religion teacher, says mercy is a virtue, but not on Friday nights.

My dad worked the refreshment table at the dance. He’s a member of the Father’s Club. It was awesome for my friends and me. We had a boat load of free drinks, for sure. I must have had four or five cans of Mountain Dew.

Homecoming was the night Jake and Jess broke up. It isn’t the kind of thing that usually happens at Homecoming, but that’s what happened. It started when I saw Bert making out with Jake’s girlfriend. They were dancing and the next thing anybody knew they started kissing, right on the dance floor. When you’re somebody else’s girlfriend that’s rude and inconsiderate, especially out in the open.

Allan and I both saw it happening. Allan is one of my best friends. He’s a football player, not much taller than me, but he’s at least 250 pounds. He’s a lineman on the team, although he had to sit out after he got a concussion. He’s a white kid and pasty, which isn’t pretty, but he’s on the dot on the line.

We all saw Bert kiss Jess plain as day. Allan walked right up to Bert. He was mad about it.

“Bert, what the fuck, what are you doing?”

Bert plays soccer, is taller than me, but he’s a toothpick. He’s kind of ugly, too, to be honest. He was really scared for a minute.

“I was, like…” he stuttered.

Allan was angry about it and I wasn’t happy, both of us being Jake’s friends. Allan faced Bert down, who started backing away. I stood there for a few seconds and then ran to find Jake. I didn’t want to leave him hanging. Hanging for what? I had to tell him. Bro’s before ho’s. That’s what a brother does. Everybody says so. She was obviously that if she was kissing another kid.

Jess is short skinny blonde and sort of pretty in her own way. I might even have liked her once. She had been to my house for dinner, with Jake, one night when Allan and Paul were over.

Jake was outside getting a drink at the refreshment table when I found him. There was Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, and Mountain Dew. He was picking up a can of Sprite. The can looked big in his hand. Jake is almost a midget. I’m on the short side, but he’s shorter than me, by a long shot.

“Jake, Jess kissed Bert,” I said.

“What? Are you kidding me?”

“No, dude, I’m sorry, but it’s true.”

He was sad at first, and depressed, that he had just lost his girl. “I’m going to talk to her about this.” We went into the main gym.

“I’m sorry, dude,” I said. He was down in the mouth. But then he jumped her on the spot, surprising everybody.

“Yeah, gangster,” I thought out loud.

“Thanks a lot,” he said, all sarcastic, and then said something to her nobody else could hear.

“We’re done,” he said, flashing his thumb and finger and walking away. He dumped her on the spot. Her jaw dropped. She was left standing there. Jake wasn’t blue about it the rest of the night. He had only been going out with Jess for less than a month, anyway.

I was rocking in the mosh pit later when a girl suddenly threw up all over the floor because she was wasted. Somebody slipped on the mess and fell down, hitting his head and getting puke on his clothes. He smelled like beef liver with onions in a can after that.

Everybody merks their beer and booze before the dance. It used to be weed, but this last summer the school principal’s brother got a sweetheart contract for himself to drug test us, so now it’s drinking instead of drugs. At least it is during the school year. It doesn’t even do any good to shave your head, because they snip a different kind of hair from you, and the drug test works exactly the same way.

“Maybe I’ll just do LSD,” DB said, spinning his head in fast tight circles. DB is a nut, but that’s what happens when grown-ups get involved. They’re so crazy they make everybody else go crazy.

They don’t test for LSD because they have to get your pee, not just your hair, to do that test. The St. Ed’s ’s men would probably start peeing on each other if that was a rule. It’s too expensive, anyway. Our military even stopped testing for it because it costs so much.

I don’t drink much of anything, just sometimes, nor do my friends, but that doesn’t mean anything. If it weren’t such a big deal to drink or not to drink, guys wouldn’t do it so much. HONEST to GOD!

It’s mostly about being rebellious. Kids think it’s cool and it makes them be cool. If guys could drink whatever they wanted they wouldn’t do it as much. They just wouldn’t, honestly, since the temptation would be all gone. But that’s the exact thing, the light in their eyes, they’re doing something forbidden, it makes them feel SO MUCH cooler.

Drugs, drinking, and smoking cigarettes at Homecoming are a tradition. Oh, yeah, I can feel it and smell it when I’m in the mosh pit. When you’re in the pit it’s pushy noisy hot rowdy dowdy. It’s sweaty and the tang is bad, all armpits and hot dog water. You dance and two-step in the pit and have fun. There are a thousand guys and girls all pushed together and the teachers are stuck and dumbstruck on the outside.

Not everybody crams into the mosh pit, but a large crowd does, for sure. There’s a stage at the front of the gym and everybody swirls it, surging in tight, and facing whichever which way and all ways. We dance to slow songs, rock, techno, whatever. The best are Skrillex, Kid Cudi, and M & M. I love ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ except I hate it at summer camp, where the kid on the bunk next to me plays it every night on his guitar. We finally broke his guitar. There’s another song, ‘White Roses,’ I’m high on for slow dancing.

It’s all horseplay in shirts and ties. The girls look sweet in their dress-up. Nobody’s brains are guaranteed in the pit. Everybody goes there to live it up, that’s all. We like it. The girls like it. That works for us. We all get going get amped get excited in the pit. No one can help it. Romping in the pit is the greatest when you’re rubbing up against some girl to Lady Gaga’s ‘Disco Stick.’ You don’t even have to look them in the face since most of the time it’s from behind.

The parents don’t know the grinding that goes on. Girls put their butts on you and figure eight. Sometimes we form lines, forty or fifty of us in a conga line. Nobody’s parents want to know about that.

NO WAY! BELIEVE ME!

You can get in trouble for grinding. All the teachers are there, and they watch out for it. They call it pelvic thrust dancing, or at least Mr. Rote does, who’s got an eagle eye for it. He’s young and knows, and he’s our religion teacher, too, and knows that, too. There’s a strict rule you will get kicked out of the dance for doing it, but none of the teachers can ever get into the pit, so hardly anybody ever gets caught.

They will mark your hand with a Sharpie if they do somehow catch you, which Mr. Rote does all the time, like a weasel after rabbits. If they catch you a second time, they kick you out of the dance. Guys go all crazy, all sweaty and flustered, after the first time, trying to rub the indelible Sharpie mark off as fast as they can.

Not many guys ever get kicked out of the Homecoming dance, but Allan’s older brother did. Qe were all laughing, although he didn’t think it was funny. Girls don’t ever get kicked out because it’s at our school. Just the guys get the boot. I saw a couple of them being dragged from the pit and kicked out of the gym. The Dean of Students got their cell phones and looked through all their messages.

St. Ed’s is a private school. They aren’t funded by the state. They don’t have to stick to the state rules like the public schools. They can’t hit you, but they can, if they want to. If a teacher hit me I would be very upset, but they can do just about anything. THEY CAN DO WHAT THEY WANT! Everybody knows that. The school from end to end is just like Mr. Hittbone’s Rules

They can look through your phone and anything else of yours. I’ve seen cell phones thrown into trash cans. They downpress you and there’s nothing you can say. They can drag you away by the scruff. I don’t even know all the stuff they can do.

They can kick you out of school, for sure. If you do something bad it is suddenly Steck Time. He is the Dean of Students, a completely mean man, tall thin pale. He can say, “Don’t come back tomorrow.” When Mr. Steck-It-To-You says it, he means it and he can make it stick. Because it’s a private school they can lock you out and you can’t ever go back. And then you’re out, that’s all, and you have to try to explain it to your parents and the neighbors, who will for sure never understand what you did.

Nobody ever believes you and they even resent your explanations. I’ve heard of kids who got thrown out once-and-for-all for good no matter how much they begged. That’s bad. You’ve got to watch your step.

They won’t kick you out of school for grinding. We all know that. You have to get caught stealing computers, or smoking weed, or something like that. Not always kick you out, though, since it depends on who’s doing the doing. There’s a guy’s father who owns a jewelry store in Rocky River, and when his son got caught smoking weed on campus, he didn’t get kicked out. Diamond Jim talked to the Dean, somebody probably got a karat, and after the deal was done the kid might still have gotten thrown out, but he didn’t, obviously. It wasn’t even close.

The girls at our dances sometimes come from public schools, but mostly they are from St. Joe’s, Magnificat, and the other Catholic schools. Are good Catholic girls the same as good girls? Are you pooping on my face? God, no, they’re not good! That’s why they’re Catholics. We believe we’re bad right out of the gate. That’s why we can go grinding at the school dances and not worry about it. There’s always confession.

There isn’t much difference between a Catholic girl and a public school girl, although there is. It seems like bad Catholic girls can be even worse than regular bad girls. They go to extremes, like wanting a guy more than regular girls do. They just want to have boyfriends. They want to have somebody, anybody, they can say is their boyfriend, someone to be on their hip side. They are thirsty for guys, like bright-feather barnyard hens at the well.

The Catholic girls aren’t even that hot, at least not most of them, not most of the time. They think they are, but thinking doesn’t make it so. There are hotter public school girls than Catholic girls. Some of the Catholic girls think they are better on the scale of everything than other peeps, which is rude, and mostly mistaken by them.

Many of them seem to think they are on a totally upper level over other girls. They totally believe their status is higher, which I think is ridiculous. They truly think they are better than other people, at least better than public school girls, for sure.

I have some good friends who go to Mag’s, but St. Joe’s, not even. St. Joe’s girls are Catholic girls all out. They are ever not so nice. I will jog past Joe’s with Scar and keep going before I even look at them playing lacrosse on their fancy new playing field on Rocky River Drive.

If you are hanging out with public school girls, or Catholic girls, and the other side walks up, it shakes out that the public school girls are the nicer girls. They can be like your friends right out of the box and they are nice to you, too. The Catholic girls are kind of low and frank. The wrapping stays right in your face. The public school girls are like me, asking what your name is, and being interested in you.

Catholic girls are like, “Oh, hi, WHO are you? I have to GO.” You can tell they don’t care. The only time they CARE is when they’re GRINDING, but that’s a TOTALLY different kind of caring.

It’s the kind of caring you care about for ten minutes, maybe less.