Breakfast of Champions

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Chapter 1

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end, then stop.”

I wake up at before everybody else on school days stare at the ceiling wonder whether the sun blew up in the night and will never come up make plans for breakfast and mess with Blackie. He’s my big 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. He doesn’t sit in the shadows, either.

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 wacked. 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. Mel’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 blood eye candy, a screaming complaining 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 watch FOX News every night. It’s doing to them what they think video games are going to do to me.

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 ate something that got stuck in his craw.

Last summer I shot so many rounds off at the farm, at targets, at trees, at nothing, 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. Mel’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 breaking 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 and terrorists. 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. Mel’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 a Mel’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 bad kids.

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 all 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. Mel’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. Mel’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 St. Mel’s.

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. Mel’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 the St. Mel’s Warriors 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. Mel’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 St. Mel’s.

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 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 St. Mel’s 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.

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 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.

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Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus