Category Archives: Ricochet

Chapter 12

I started running for the St. Ed’s cross-country team the summer before last, a year-and-a-half before I even started my freshman year in September. I didn’t know I was going to be an Ed’s man then. But I was dead certain I was going to be on someone’s team. I was going to make it happen. I wasn’t going to walk in anybody’s shadow. I was going to run out from under it.

My dad ran cross-country at St. Joe’s, on the east side, on the other side of Cleveland, more than forty years ago when he was a freshman, through his senior year. He was a champ. That isn’t why I’m on our team, though. It’s just a coincidence. There’s always room for coincidence, although if it happens too often somebody’s got to be up to something, even if he’s anonymous.

I ran a tad in middle school, running against other grade schools, but they were all fair-weather meets. I got going when the going got tough. Dad might understand. My stepmom doesn’t understand. Scar understands. My dog is my man.

Now that I’m a runner, every day after school running with the team down into the Rocky River valley, to the long trail that goes from the golf course to the Nature Center, no matter whether it’s sun bright raining snowing sleet whatever, it DON’T matter. I bring my own sunshine. When I run, I completely zone out. It’s the only time I’m able to think about nothing. Before I know it, I’m done and gone.

When I began training it was with the Lakewood City Track Team. We had to practice every day at Lakewood Park right on the edge of Lake Erie in the spring when I was twelve years old. On the first day our team met it was made up of Bailey, his little brother, and some girls. There was a stiff wind blowing in from the lake. There were a couple of random guys who snuck in from the ghetto, which is east of Lakewood, and me.

Most of the guys who live in the ghetto don’t call it the ghetto. They call it the projects or the ‘hood, two inches from homeless. Some of them live in ratty houses. Some of them live in rattier houses. Mr. Orwell, who lives pet posh in Bay Village and shouldn’t talk, laughed out loud about it one day in English class.

“Ghetto is me being refined,” he said. “The ‘hood is just showin’ and provin’.” Mr. Orwell was rapping that morning. He’s all Mr. Chips, but he gets gay sometimes. “Look up what a slum used to be. Nobody had cell phones and flat screens in the slums back in the day. Down and out is just sideways now.”

Nobody in class knew what he was talking about. The ones who did glared at him. I thought he might have been talking to himself. What the hell did it have to do with “To Kill a Mockingbird” we all thought. That’s what he was making us read.

When we trained, we always ran our warm-up from Lakewood Park down Lake Road to the Marathon gas station, turned around, and ran back to the pavilion in the park. We’d meet there every day, run, run back, and stretch. Our coach talked to us, trying to train and teach us, and we tried to pay attention.

I knew who our coach was, but I never found out his name. I was on the team for six months and didn’t know his name from beginning to end. I didn’t understand what he said his name was the first time he told us the first day and I never asked afterwards. I’m not sure anybody knew his name. Everybody called him Coach.

He was a freaking weird unsettling man. I don’t know if he didn’t have a job, or if it was something else, anything else. He wore his head shaved and always wore a hat. It was always a baseball cap, but every day it was a different one. He must have had hundreds of them. He wore old-school Oakley sunglasses, too, the big ones that cover the side of your face. HE NEVER TOOK THEM OFF!

One day when he did take them off when he thought we weren’t looking we saw RIGHT AWAY why, since his eyes were set more than four inches back into his head. They were deep funky nasty and creepy

Even though he was a fit enough grown-up and wore running shorts and running shoes all the time, he never ran with us. He would loosen up like he was going on the road and then wait until we came back from our run. When we did pick-ups, he stood nearby and watched. I don’t think he was an American. He sounded foreign, like an immigrant, from somewhere else. He had a bad accent. He wasn’t a bad coach, but he was old, more than fifty years old.

We competed against other schools and we were actually good. We ran in 5K races all summer and fall. An actual cross-country race is two miles, but we competed at road races. There were a butt load of grown-ups running, too, most of the time. At one meet at some law college with plenty of older guys running one of the guys on our team won the whole race. Lawyers will usually do anything to win whatever, but it didn’t happen that day. Too bad for you, lawman!

I was an OK runner. I wasn’t anything special, at all, but I had fun. I ran every day that summer, sometimes seven days a week. My times kept improving and I got better. Some people think place is more important than time, but I think time is more important. Unless you’re in the top ten, it’s better to have a good time than trying to place.

What I do is I DON’T stop. I have endurance and I know how to pass people at the end. Once I hit the last 100 meters and see there’s a whole crowd of people, all cheering us on, I try my hardest to get there fast. That’s when I gear up sprinting and passing other runners. That’s the one thing I’m good at.

At the end of most races many guys don’t or won’t sprint. They slog through the end to the grim orange finish line. They slow down and stop dead as soon as they cross the line. I always go go go. It’s bright orange to me. The first cross-country race I ran with the St. Ed’s team was the race I pushed myself the most. I kept passing people as it went on. I was going crazy, all in my own head, going really hard, the closer I got to the end. I sprinted to the finish line. When I passed it I started walking immediately and then threw up all over.

It was the first race of the season and it was awesome. I went for broke. I know for a fact it was the hardest race I ever ran until then, even though it was my first St. Ed’s meet. After that the hardest race was the race we ran in freezing rain at the end of the season.

We were running at Gilmore, at a big meet with guys and girls, all mixed in. It rained through the morning and when we got there, huge no-bottom puddles were everywhere. It was cold very cold almost like freezing. You couldn’t feel your feet after a while, except when you’d take a step on a rock or a stump in your spikes. Then there would be a terrible pain in your foot leg hip.

At the end of the race, I couldn’t even take my spikes off. I soaked my feet, still wearing my spikes, in a tub of hot water and took them off after that. My feet were white as a dead man’s.

They ran everybody out at the same time because they didn’t want to make the girls wait in the cold. I couldn’t move my fingers after a while. We were waiting and everybody was shivering and shaking. When they shot the gun or blew the horn or whatever they did, we all just went. Everybody was screaming, running and screaming, just going crazy when the race started.

It was fun, but it was a horrible race, because it was nasty weather. Everybody started cutting huge corners. Nobody cared because it was too cold. We ran the whole race, for sure, but at the point where a straight edge was a part of two big curves, somebody cut the straight line, and then, literally, we all did the same thing.

We weren’t cheating ourselves because everybody was doing it. We were all trying. Besides, if you go by ALL the rules, you miss ALL the fun. Running in the freezing rain was only the half of it. Having fun running in the freezing rain was the other half.

My dad wanted me to run track, but I didn’t want to, so I didn’t. Besides, track is in the spring and I wanted to train for cross-country. I took the winter off and started running again in the spring. But I didn’t run every day for practice, only when I wanted to. THAT’S THE WAY I AM.

I was going to start conditioning again when school ended, but I had to take a stone stupid Spanish class for six weeks. Every day for five days a week I had to get up early and be at school by 8 o’clock. I wasn’t good at Spanish, obviously, but the classes didn’t help me, either, at all. Now I’m good at it, but I’m still bitter. I might become a Mexican hater like all the grown-ups.

I didn’t condition as much as I wanted to, but enough. Enough for the team, and enough for the Wasaga Beach manhunt, that’s for sure! When summer camp was over in mid-July, I got it up to go seriously. When the season started, I was ready, and Coach Krister was ready for us.

Everyone would meet at the Little Met golf course in the Rocky River Metropark. I always rode my bike down Hogsback Lane. By the time I got to the bottom I was going 30 40 50 miles an hour. We’d either practice in the park, on the all-purpose path, or go to the Hinkley Reservation in the team van.

When the season started there were thirty-eight kids on the St. Ed’s cross-country team. The way you get on the team is you sign up and pay the fee. It wasn’t a ridiculous amount of money because all they gave you was your uniform, which wasn’t much. It’s not like football, where you have to buy helmets and pads, and all kinds of stuff.

Everyone had to buy their own running shoes and spikes, though. The St. Ed’s poobah’s call it pay-to-play. I call it pay-through-the-nose. That way the poobah’s get to poop in gold toilets.

We conditioned in the Metropark three and four times a week. Not that many of the kids would go, though, less than ten or twelve. Everybody else, they didn’t go, because they didn’t care. We did push-ups sit-ups planks and side planks. They’re hard, but after a while they’re not so bad. We would stretch, do a warm-up, and go for a run. When we came back, we touched our toes some more and did pick-ups.

Pick-ups are sprints. Our coach would say, “Go out twenty minutes and come back in seventeen minutes, or better yet make it fifteen minutes.” It’s a negative run, or so they say, whatever that means.

“It’s a natural instinct to come back faster,” Coach Krister said.

I was, like, “No it’s not! We’re frigging tired.”

Coach, you’re retarded, I thought, although I didn’t actually say that to him. I play it smart, obviously. No need to throw gasoline on the BBQ.

Hinckley was where the big hills were. That wasn’t fun, either, at all. Every time we went there it was too hot. It’s a mile up those hills. So, we’d run the mile up the hill, stretch at the top of it, run down, and then run up another hill.

It was crazy, but that’s what we did, because our coaches wanted us to do it. We had two coaches, not-so-bad Mr. Mirkenstall and bad Mr. Krister. I hated both of them.

Mr. Krister was maybe sixty-or-something, but definitely in his mid-50s. He kept his hair high and tight. He had a shaggy scruff most of the time and his jaw stuck out a ton. I don’t know what happened to his jaw. I think he got punched in the face, or something. His teeth were yellow crinkled nasty.

Mr. Krister talks with a New York accent. He doesn’t smoke, but I know he was an alcoholic once. One of the guys on the team told me. The guy’s father is a lawyer, and Mr. Krister used to be a lawyer, and they used to be lawyers together. But then he became an alcoholic and couldn’t be a lawyer anymore, probably because all his clients were going to prison. He had to go to rehab.

I don’t know how he came to St. Ed’s. He has a doctorate in something else, not the law, but he teaches history. He probably has an undergraduate degree in it, so he can teach us about the past, although nobody cares much about it. Who cares what happened way back when?

He’s kind of fit, but not super fit. He’s not very tall, either. He didn’t run all season. He would just ride an old bike around because he said he had hurt himself. He tried to run a road race with us once, but almost passed out, coughing and spitting.

Most of the guys on the team who have him for class hate him. He thinks he can make fun of you because you run cross-country on his team and so he thinks he knows you better than not. He picks on you and makes fun of you in class. It’s really annoying. He grabbed my tie once when I was walking past him and pulled it down hard. I was angry about it. I thought, what if I told my dad, who used to box in the army. Maybe I will tell him. Yes, sir!

He does a butt load of crap to other guys, too.

One day between classes my friend Colt booked another one of my friends, Perry, and Perry pushed him into a locker. When you knock someone’s books out of their hands it’s not a big deal. You even help them pick the books up, sometimes. We were all standing there laughing when Mr. Krister rushed up, grabbed Perry by the jacket, and yanked him towards him nose to nose.

“What’s that for?”

“Why did you push him?”

“Because he booked me.”

“That doesn’t matter,” Mr. Krister said, and bum-pushed Perry back into the hallway.

Teachers are allowed to hit you at St. Ed’s. Nobody says so, but everybody knows so. They don’t do it, though, because if they did, they’d probably get sued. I don’t know if it says hitting is allowed in the rule book that they give everybody, but they’re definitely allowed to hit students.

I heard of a brother, back when there was a boat load of them at St. Ed’s, who decked a kid. The guy was mouthing off to the brother in class, and walked up to the front of the class, still mouthing off to him, not stopping the flapping. The brother PUNCHED him SQUARE in the FACE. He broke the kid’s nose, there was blood all over the place, and the sudden squirt cried a ton.

The brother didn’t even get into any trouble. Back then they were all in it together. Bro’s before show-offs.

Gavin and Cooper are always messing around in Mr. Krister’s class. He kicks them out all the time. Gavin is a freshman, but he’s so jacked out of his mind he’s going to be on the varsity football team next year. He’s crazy strong, like a monster man. He’s big and gruff.

Mr. Krister makes it a ritual making fun of Gavin. Every day before prayer he will start staring at Gavin and Gavin will start laughing. Gavin’s got a deep man voice, but when he laughs it turns into a high-pitched girl giggle.

We say prayers, the Our Father, or the Hail Mary, before all our classes. We pray eight times a day. That’s a lot of praying. “Prayer is where the action is,” Mr. Rote always says. When Gavin laughs Mr. Krister tries to stare him down, because Mr. Krister’s a jerk. He will keep staring and staring and then Gavin starts laughing like a girl.

Gavin’s best friend Cooper is just retarded. He plays baseball, but he’s crazy bad at running the bases. He always falls down, or at least almost always. But he made the team because he’s got a snake arm. Before class he asks guys for pencils and then throws them across the room into the trashcan. I’ve never seen him miss. He ALWAYS makes it.

He sits in the back corner where Mr. Krister put him so he can’t bother anybody, especially Coach Krister. One day Gavin asked Cooper for a pencil.

“I got a pencil right here,” he said, and smacked his nuts.

Then he fell on the ground, laughing. Mr. Krister tried to pull him up.

“Mr. Krister, I’m sorry, I won’t say anything more during class.”

“Get up, I DON’T have all day,” Mr, Krister said, talking down to him.

He got up and had to go see Brother Ed, who’s the freshman baseball coach.

We had a quiz about World War Two and Cooper answered Il Douche instead of Mussolini. Mr. Krister sent him to see Mr. Streck instead of Brother Ed and he got a detention. He gets them all the time.

There’s a poster on the wall where Cooper sits and one day, he signed his signature in big letters all over it.

“Coop, is that your signature?” I asked him.

“Uh, no,” he said, and started laughing.

Mr. Krister walked back to Cooper’s desk.

“I’m pretty sure that’s Cooper’s signature,” the guy sitting next to Cooper said.

Mr. Krister started yelling at both of them. Cooper laughed and laughed.

Duffy sits next to me and is absolutely retarded, just like Cooper. He plays hockey, even though he’s hardly any good, worse than Cooper. He has trouble lacing up his skates. He pretended to smoke weed during class, making the motions, like he was blazing.

“Duffy, get your books, you’re going downstairs.”

“I wasn’t doing anything, Mr. Krister. It was all Cooper. It’s his fault.” He almost started crying, or laughing, or both at the same time.

“WHAT?” Cooper said. “You blame me for everything.”

Everybody in class cracked up.

“Cooper, get your books, you’re going down with Duffy.”

But since Duffy was actually crying, he didn’t make them go to Mr. Streck’s office. I call Mr. Krister a softie because he won’t always crunch time anybody.

Our class is full of idiots. My friend CJ, who is gay and is on the swim team, since he can strip down, sits in front of me. He absolutely hates Duffy. He always swears at him all the time.

“Duffy, I HATE you SO much.”

“CJ, shut up.”

“No, you shut the hell up.”

I don’t know why CJ hates Duffy. He will just whirl around, stare hard at Duffy, and mouth off random obscenities. He yells them out in the middle of class. Everybody can hear him. He doesn’t scream, but he says them loud enough. It goes on every day, even when Mr. Krister is lecturing about some war or peace treaty, or other thing nobody cares about.

Mr. Krister doesn’t do anything about it because he loves CJ, since CJ tells on everybody. He’s the town crier. He never tells on me, because he knows me, and we’re friends. He lets me lay low. I lay low about him being queer, since hardly anybody knows.

I hate the class, but it’s an easy A, and I get to be with all my retard buds messing around. It’s a day at somebody else’s race. It’s running on empty. It’s a free lunch. It’s awesome.

Chapter 13

I don’t have a girlfriend. I have a dog, Scar the proud stand-up Beagle, so I should have a girlfriend, the same as my dog. I’m a good-looking cool-enough guy. I’m sure I could have one and still hang with the guys most of the time. That’s the way it would be. I would like a girlfriend, but I’m not creeping over it.

There’s a girl who lives three or four blocks away who I like. She’s nice cute sweet, and pretty, all there. Her name is Laurel. I met her when we ran cross-country together. I didn’t know her before that, but after we met, we became good friends fast, although I am going slow about asking her about being my girlfriend.

Sometimes we run races in the Rocky River Metropark, just her and me and nobody else. No tricycles are allowed in the park, making you feel awkward, all third-wheel ride. Those are my rules. I always win every race, always. That’s a number one rule with me.

She’s not like a model, but that would be annoying, anyway. She’s a sportsman, not a post-up. She’s active and she’s smart, too. Laurel’s a little shorter than me, not as skinny, and has long brown hair. She’s super nice. I like girls who are super nice.

And, super cute, of course.

Some girls are cute, and some aren’t. It’s great to be a hot girl, but you shouldn’t like a girl just because she’s hot. You should like them because they’re a nice person, or they’re smart, or they try in school. They shouldn’t just be able pretty face anything everything, like the Catholic school girls do.

But the first thing I think of whenever I see a new girl is, she’s hot, or not so hot. That really is the first thing I think of. The second thing I think of is whether I want to say hi to them and the third is maybe talk to them. I try to be careful at first. If it looks like they might be mean spiteful girls, then I don’t want to be around them.

If they’re just your normal all-around girls and they are actually nice and sweet, then I love that. It shouldn’t be all about looks. Some guys will see a girl and say, “She’s ugly,” even though everybody knows nobody thinks with their face. Or they’ll say, “She’s just regular,” and go the other way. I like them better when they’re cute and nice and not butt heads.

The hot girls always know they’re hot if they’re actually that way. They know they’re hot, believe me. If you happen to be friends with them it’s not like talking to anybody different, just like a regular girl. But if you’re not friends with them and meet them somewhere, on the spot they can and will be rude. MORE THAN RUDE! Back up boy! they shoot the look.

When I’m with my friends we talk about girls, but we don’t talk about girlfriends too much. Most of us don’t have them. Many of us want girlfriends, but don’t know what to do about it. Some of us have them. We talk about GIRLS, but not GIRLFRIENDS. We talk about pretty ones, ugly ones, weird ones, and all kinds, really.

Weird girls are all right weird, but not quirky, although they can be quirky, especially how they act, and how they are towards people. They’re never the babes, but sometimes they’re the quirky sidekick. They can be anti-social and not side-kicky. They don’t want to be around people talk to them meet new people. There are many girls like that. They’re insecure, or they study too much, or sometimes they’re just not allowed to talk to guys.

Parents do that to them. Grown-ups make girls and guys do things in life as though they themselves didn’t have anything to do with making it like it is. grown-up grow up and crap out and forget what it’s like. They FORGET they were the ones who made it all happen. It didn’t just pop up out of nowhere.

My friend Hunter, who’s in the locker next to me, isn’t allowed to have a girlfriend. His parents told him he couldn’t until he turned sixteen.

“Are you serious?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t want to spend money on them, anyway. That’s all they ever ask for, money money money.”

I was, like, “Hunter!”

Girls don’t do that ALL the time. They aren’t shysters, unless they’re the hot Catholic girls from St. Joe’s. Then it’s pay up since Midas gets all the GOLD. The nice girls might ask you to get them ice cream and munchies. But you’re going to do that for them, anyway, if you like them, or are their good friend.

I started noticing girls the July after seventh grade when I was at summer camp. I called them the tamale’s, among other things. Some were hot some were nice some were mean. You have nice people and you have mean people. I didn’t like the mean girls. They were hard to get close to.

Sometimes you talk to a girl and they act like you don’t matter, or worse.

“Oh, my God, I’m so COOL, you’re so DUMB, leave me alone.”

They’re all dolled up. It’s all about horsepower to them. That’s when I play it smart.

They’re a boat load of snotty and snobby. They prance the streets like little dudettes, all spotless and snooty, looking down their noses. I can eat anywhere, myself on my own if I have to, so I’m not like that, sniffing the air for odor.

Their perception of people, how they think about everyone, and talk about someone, is rotten to the apple core. They never smile when no one else is around. They never frown unless they mean it. They’re so annoying I call them sociopaths, which was my favorite word at camp last summer. I said it so many times I wore the crap out of it.

The meanest girl at camp in Wasaga Beach the past two summers has been Natalie. She’s the meanest Canadian person I’ve ever known. Everybody says Canadians are nice. Not Natalie!

She’s short and snooty, but not fat. She’s not like a twig, either. She’s more like a normal person with sweet knockers. She’s got them. We all know that! She wears a butt load of make-up, which is sort of weird for a fourteen-year-old. She dances around, acting and acting, and is always saying, “Oh, my God.”

She dyes her hair, too. She colors it all kinds of different pigments, black, bleach blonde, and it’s all completely weird. Sometimes I wonder what she’s up to.

She brought a tiny table to camp so she would have a place to put her make-up on. If you wear make-up it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re snooty. But it’s a main thing with her, and it does make her DEFINITELY wearing the mask this side of the planet. She whines about stupid stuff that’s truly not there. We’re in the same morning classes after cabin clean up and inspection, so I know. Whenever we had to do anything together in class she would just whine and whine and whine about it.

“Oh, my God, I’m not doing that.”

The only reason was, was she didn’t want to do anything, at all. Instead, she wanted to sit around and be an annoyance, basically. Sometimes when she talks, she sounds like someone’s sister playing the violin. She has a lot of friends even though most of them aren’t like her. That’s something I don’t understand. I stopped thinking about it since I just couldn’t get it.

She has a party tray of enemies. Some of my friends who are the sweet girls and who are nice just hate her. They won’t be in the same cabin with her. They turn their backs and walk out. They’re all the same age, but they don’t like each other, and they let each know.

Natalie’s best friends are Chloe, Amelia, and Hannah. They’re all the same kind of people, they’re all in the same cabin, and they’re all in my morning group, which sucks. Chloe is just like Natalie, but more annoying, so I don’t like her at all.

Amelia wears a crap load of make-up, like Natalie, but it’s probably because of her birthmark. She doesn’t whine all the time, although she does want to sit around most of the time. My number one Matias is sweet on her, so I keep it down.

I don’t even know about Hannah, she’s so weird. She’s a stick.

“Turn sideways,” I said. She did.

“Stick out your tongue,” I said. She did.

“Ha, ha, ha, you look like a zipper.”

“Ha, ha, yourself,” she said. “I’m a sniper’s nightmare.”

I liked her much more after that.

I’m not sure if the Natalie gang is pretentious or dead deadly serious.

The biggest difference between the Natalie gang of four and the nice girls is that nice girls are fun to be around. They don’t whine about stupid stuff, like having to wake up, or play sports all day on sports day. The nice girls even play the dizzy bat with us between games on the soccer field. At the end of the spin the sidelines are strewn with everybody flattened out on the ground, grabbing for grass to keep from falling off the edge of the world.

They don’t send off the superior vibe, either. They don’t try to act like all that, little prissy girls running around, trying to make a ruckus of things. They don’t depress you with their little laughs.

The mean girls want to sit in their cabin and talk a train load of stupid stuffs or doll up and talk to their boys whenever they can. The mean girls like the boys who like them, the ones who are Belieber boys, and especially the ones who are ripped.

The mean girls truly like ripped boys, but nice girls like everybody, except guys who are mean, no matter how ripped they are.

There is a wide wide dividing line between the nice girls and the mean girls. They don’t get along and it’s a serious business. Last summer Katrina, one of the mean girls, charged another girl and got kicked out of camp because of it. That’s the worst thing that can happen to anybody at summer camp.

We hung with the girls at camp all last summer. We talked chilled had rages in their cabins, but never in ours. A rage is like having a party with people who are your friends and keep it to themselves. Rages are the bomb. They’re awesome, trust me on that. TRUST ME! The grown-ups don’t and won’t ever know. They have their own rage, which I try to stya out of the way of. I play it smart.

Music pumps at our rages and you’re having fun going wild going crazy. You party at your hardest, out of control, although not exactly all out of control. You have to keep your head, just in case.

Boys are not allowed to be in the girl’s cabins at night, but my friends and I go to their side of the camp at least once a day. We sneak around the woods and climb in through the back window. We could run to the front door, but the back window is better. We mostly rage during the day because getting caught at night is more likely, and more likely to bring more trouble when it happens.

The camp counselors only chew you out if they catch you during the day. It’s a different story if they catch you at night. It gets serious on the mattresses of blame.

The one time I almost got caught was bad. It was at night. We were cutting down a path, zigzagging to the girl’s side of the camp, keeping low and slow. When we got to the Jungle Jim next to the sport’s field we ran into Jonas and Alana. They were making out.

Jonas is a counselor. Alana is almost a counselor.

“What the hell are you doing?” Jonas asked, jumping up.

We just stood there.

“Go back to your cabin,” he said, shrugging. “I don’t care.”

When Jonas was a camper, he used to bring fireworks and spray paint to camp. One summer that no one has ever forgotten he tagged the inside of one of the counselor cabins.

We were jogging back past the tall birch trees behind our cabin when we saw flashlights crisscrossing in the windows. Some counselors were inside looking for us. We had packed our sleeping bags with leaves covered over with clothes. The flashlights were stabbing all around and the counselors were laughing. We lay on the ground when they came out. They didn’t notice we were there. Once they were gone, we ran into the cabin.

“Are you kidding me?” Lukas sputtered, coughing up a gummy bear.

We were all laughing and yelling and punching each other.

In the morning they dragged us out of bed early and made us sweep the mess hall. While we were working Father Elliott and the camp commander came in. They saw us cleaning up and didn’t know why, but they were so impressed they gave us a ton of Liberty Dollars for the auction coming up soon.

It was sort of a slap in the face to the counselors, although I don’t think they ever found out about it. We didn’t say anything. We told the Titmouse to keep his mouth shut.

Every morning Raymond the night guard staples the screens we have ripped off the girl’s cabins back onto the window frames. He was a Lithuanian who had been in the Russian Army, like my Uncle Valdas. He was an ex-Spetsnaz. Uncle Valdas had to ride around in and fix tanks in Afghanistan. The Spetsnaz did different kinds of dirty work.

One day the Titmouse, Titus, one of our cabin guys who peeps in the corner by the door, was stung in the ear by a hornet. He started crying. Raymond, the night guard, told him to “tough it out.” We all laughed at the idea of Tits toughing it out.

Raymond would sometimes stand behind our cabin at night, in the bushes, or next to a birch tree. He was going security guard. He said he liked birch trees because they bent, but never cracked. Once, at two in the morning, Lukas started screaming at him.

“Get out of here, man!”

But he didn’t. He came around to our front door.

“Get back to bed boys,” he said, more softly ever even than it was the soft dark in the night. But everybody could tell he meant it. There was something wrong with Raymond, all serious about 14-year-olds. He was like Bruno, the Foreign Legionnaire, who was a vadovas when my dad was at camp, the same camp, except then it was called Ausra.

Sometimes when we were in the girl’s cabins someone would knock on the door. We always jumped underneath a bed or in between any crack we could find.

“Hold on, we’re changing,” the girls would singsong.

We just waited where they couldn’t see us, quiet and hiding out. The counselors came in for random reasons, but they didn’t care about the noise, as long as it wasn’t nighttime. There’s music playing all the time, anyway. Nobody cared as long as there weren’t massive amounts of f-bombs in the songs. If they caught you raging during the day they would just laugh and call you pathetic.

“Idiots,” they’d say.

We dance to the beats, although Lukas slowed it down one day and sang “I Did It My Way” and everybody loved it. For the rest of camp whenever we chanted his name he had to jump up n a picnic table and lead everyone in “I Did It My Way.”

There isn’t much room to dance in the cabins because girls bring so much crap to camp. They have a pavilion with drawers in the middle of their cabins where they put everything. We dance on the beds jumping around running around bouncing around. We open the drawers and throw stuff on the ground.

It’s a rage, so throw it in the air, it’s flying all around. YOLO!

After the electro pump music and Skrillex samba, chilling and eating their candy out the wazoo, we all go back to our cabins and do what has to be done before dinner. You’re only at camp for two weeks and there are no trading days the rest of the year.

Madison was my favorite girl at camp last summer. She’s my age, just a papoose shorter than me, and dirty blond. But she wasn’t too dirty blond. I didn’t know we had known each other at camp for five years until she told me.

She’s pretty and nice and doesn’t try to be an “Oh, my God” girl. She’s smart and kind and likes me, especially because I’m funny. She appreciates the whole nine yards of me. We talk in the woods every day. Most of the time I can’t remember what we’ve talked about. I just stare at her and listen as best I can.

She talks about her girl stuff her clothes her friends, and all of what she likes.

“That’s cool,” I say.

I danced with her at the last camp dance as much as I could, but it wasn’t easy because I’m the BOSS at dances. I love dancing. It’s the best day and night. I’m completely happy when I dance. I just zero out on everything else, especially when I’m dancing close and cheesy. What makes me dance even more is when there’s a boat load of summer camp girls reaching out for me

Everybody wants to dance with me. The girls and guys get in a circle and I go in the middle of it, busting steps breaking moves. They can’t resist me.

Our cabin got a bonus for being the cleanest, although I don’t know how. It was actually disgustingly dirty. Our prize was we got to pick a cabin of girls and be with them one and only for a half-hour at the Saturday night dance. They let us pick the play list, too. We made it a mix of party songs and slow songs. It was smooth and it was awesome.

What makes me the BOSS is I do the party boy, popping beats, and shuffling at dances. I’m learning how to liquid, too, which is something you do with your hands. One of the counselors goes to things called raves and he is teaching me how to do it.

At the end of our bonus time, after going crazy, we did some sweet dancing. I love party music, but that night it was a close second. The slow dancing was just a nip better. Madison and I danced the last two dances together.

It was nice satisfying epic sweet. It’s all about tamales being tamales and wrapping them up warm and close.

Chapter 14

I go to summer camp every summer, up north to Wasaga Beach, before school starts, after school ends, and I think about in school and at home whenever the grown-ups aren’t making me think of something else. Every summer we play a manhunt game. It is the main event.

Our summer camp game starts near the end of camp and goes down as soon as it gets dark and everyone’s finally assembled at the bonfire pit. We get the lowdown from the counselors, since they tweak the game a little every year. They’re like Mr. Strappas, our science teacher at St. Mel’s, always on the lookout to see for themselves what is in store.

One summer whoever was a child had to run around and find passports for their family. They had to get out of the country before the evil dictators got them. That was the main prize. When they got caught, and they all got caught because there were traps everywhere, the rest of us, their family, had to jailbreak them out somehow.

It’s like manhunt capture the flag hide and seek all rolled up into one, but much, much trickier.

Last summer the counselors took us to the mess hall, closed all the doors, and darkened the windows. They turned off all the lights and made us sit on the damp concrete floor. There were two people broadcasting the nightly news, but then a counselor warned us they were going to shut it down.

It got super quiet. You couldn’t hear anything. It was eerie.

When the counselors came back, they were dressed in black, charcoal from the bonfire smeared on their faces. They acted like they were mad Nazis. They split us up into groups and gave us directions. We had to find books and save them from being burned. They weren’t real books, just pieces of paper. The more we found of the papers the more Liberty Dollars we got for the auction. The more of us in our group who got caught the more our Liberty Dollars would be taken away.

The papers were scattered around the camp in the hands of three special counselors, who were hidden in the woods, and kept moving around. We had to find them and when we did they were supposed to hand over the paper. But sometimes you had to beg them for it. Other times you had to fight them for the scraps.

If the hunters caught you, they would take the paper away, rip it up right in front of you, and you would have to start all over. A lot of people hid them in their shoes, or their underwear, or different places no one would look.

It can get very dirty, like when dirt ruled the Earth. The dirtiest I got was when I was by myself, not far from the art house, but on the edge of the woods. One of the counselors came walking past and I dropped flat fast. I lay in a bunch of crap, leaves, twigs, mud, bugs, and rotting stuff. He just walked right past me.

I was, like, “Oh, man.”

You can try to get away when the counselors catch you, but it’s hard to do because the ones who catch you are the strong fast ones, while the other ones can’t and don’t catch you. The strong ones don’t like it when anyone makes them look bad by breaking out of jail. It doesn’t matter what the other ones think. You can try to break free when no one’s looking, but if they snatch you back then you have to stay longer. The longer you sit the less chance you have to win Liberty Dollars, which isn’t a good thing. 

IT’S INTENSE. I’M DEAD SERIOUS.

One summer Matilda, who plays for a college basketball team and is fast, decked me, blind-siding me out of the blue. At first, I wasn’t sure what happened. When I got up I tripped her, although I didn’t exactly mean to, and started running away. When she caught me I fell on the ground like I was out cold. She was forced to drag me by my arms and legs. While she was dragging me I noticed a large lump on her chest. When I asked her what it was she gave me a sly look.

“It’s a tumor. I have cancer,” she said.

I couldn’t believe it. She seemed so healthy. I jumped to my feet so she wouldn’t have to drag me. While we were walking the tumor started to jerk back and forth. I didn’t know what to do. Was she going to collapse and die? Then, just as we walked up to the jail, her baby gerbil poked its head out of her bra.

The jail was inside the art house, where supplies and costumes are stored. It’s at the farthest end from the sand dunes. Makayla was the guard that night, and although she isn’t very big, she’s totally strong.

There are two rooms in the art house. She had to patrol both of them alone. She carried a broom, pacing back and forth, her head swiveling this way and the other way. We had to sit in straight chairs and be quiet. If you talked too much you had to sit there longer. If you got up from your chair for any reason you had to stay in the jail longer, too.

You could try to escape, but it wasn’t easy. Makayla would hit you, not really hard, but hard enough. She hit us with her twine broom, but usually with the soft end. When anyone got nervy, she jabbed the broom down on you and yelled the whole time.

You don’t want to try escaping too many times, either, because if you try a couple of times and they catch you both times, they will kick you out of the game. It isn’t fair, but that’s what they do if they get annoyed about it. If you sit there quietly and tell Makayla you’ll be good she would smile and let you out before the others. That’s what I did.

I was good. I play it smart. It’s the only way.

When the counselors broke us up into groups in the mess hall, they marched us to the flag ground. They were dressed in black and most of us were dressed in black, too, or camouflage. The counselors were spitting out commands, when out of nowhere they started screaming and sprinting at us. We ran in every direction. That’s how the game actually started. IT WAS CRAZY!

I broke off from my group right away. I had planned to run with my friends, anyway. We made it to one of the boy’s cabins and hid there, catching our breath, and then started running around. We searched for the counselors with the scraps of paper and dodged all the others.

The counselors are fast. Make NO MISTAKE about it. They aren’t sludges, even the sludges, who have fast up their sleeves if they need it. Even the girl counselors can catch you if you don’t see them right away and they are already sprinting straight at you.

You can push counselors away, but not punch them, although you can punch them, just not all of them, only the ones who don’t care. Your friends can help you, and if the counselor is alone, you have a good chance of getting away. He can’t catch both of you at the same time, no matter how big he is.

The counselors tackle hard when they want to. They can be bottle rockets and they don’t mess around. If they’re your cabin’s counselor sometimes they’ll cut you some slack. They’ll use you as a distraction. The trick is to act like you’re getting caught when someone else is walking by, yelling, “Help me!” Then your counselor will throw you to the side and get them, instead.

A couple of summers ago the jail was the boy’s bathroom. They took out the light bulbs. It was dark and clammy, damp and sort of soggy. There was only one door so it was hard to escape. We had to sit in there with the rotten smells and daddy long-legs crawling all over us.

This summer it was on the edge of the sports field beneath a pole lamp. It was a pressboard box used to store basketball backboards. The jail was small, the size of a dining room table, but tall and deep to the back.

The counselors squeezed us in there, around the edges, and then made more of us stand in the middle like cattle. They nailed two-by-fours to the sides so we wouldn’t spill out. Everybody was packed tight inside like rats. You could try to crawl out, but they would have already gotten you by then, dragging you back.

We escaped when some counselors grabbed a pack of new runners and were bringing them in, but there wasn’t any room because it was so crowded. Someone pushed us out. We had a couple of seconds of leeway. They can’t just grab you again that same instant, so we ran into the woods to the Hill of Crosses.

The Hill of Crosses is on a small sandy hill. There are nothing but crosses, hundreds of them, some bigger than me. Everybody’s parents know all about it. It has something to do with their past, with back in the old country, back in Lithuania. It’s been there forever, but no new crosses have been added so long as I can remember. There’s a white fence around the hill and a gate, but it’s never locked. We go there for fun sometimes, to talk and chill, because almost no one ever goes there anymore. IT’S PRIVATE AND SECLUDED. Everything has its good points.

We were cutting through the Hill of Crosses, talking about what we were going to do next, when Lovett, who is really fit and really fast, jumped out of a sand dune. He was waving a flashlight like a crazy man. Somebody smashed into him, who singled Mark out for it, running after him. We just flipped, and everybody scattered, none of us going the same way.

Norville sprinted to the border of the camp where there is a crappy old barbed wire fence. It was his first year at camp and he didn’t know it was there. When he tried to jump it he got all tangled up. He ended up stuck, his t-shirt ripped, and his hands got scratched. He couldn’t get off the sharp wire.

Later, when we all found each other, we saw Lovett again with his big flashlight. He was still searching for Mark. Everyone lay down in the sand. We were nervous, like moles, but he ran right past us. We stayed behind the little hill where we hang our clothes after coming back from the beach, and later snuck into our cabin. All of us were sitting on our beds, laughing in the dark, when Mark started freaking out.

He was so afraid he got down on his knees, put his hands together on his bunk bed, and started praying. He was praying out loud, crying, and saying “I don’t feel good.” That’s when Lovett walked in with the flashlight stuck in his back pocket.

“What’s wrong with Mark?” he asked.

“I don’t feel good,” Mark said, and walked outside the cabin and threw up.

He tried to throw up in the trashcan, at least it looked that way, but his aim was way off. The next morning, we dogged him about it, because Mark’s an idiot, but all he wanted to say was he just didn’t feel good during the manhunt and didn’t want to talk about it.

I almost broke my neck playing Nazis and Jews that night. It was tiger by the tail. I was the tail. It happened when BIG AL started chasing me. He’s ripped out of his mind and jacked up. He climbs trees and survives out on the tundra. I was jogging lazily away from Ned, who is fat and slow, when BIG AL jumped me. I screamed and went into adrenaline mode. When I saw his girlfriend waiting at the fork in the path, I sprinted the other way into the woods.

I got away clean, but it was when I lost BIG AL that Ginty came out of nowhere. He was wearing a bandana and waving a basketball in his hands. I knew he was going to throw it straight at my ankles, because that’s what he was doing to a lot of guys. It was a hard inflated basketball and he’s a mean dude who can sling it fast and hard. It smashes you on the legs. Guys were face planting.

I was running all out and jumped when he threw the ball. I jumped right into the low branch of a pine tree. It smashed me. The whole branch raked across my neck. It felt like my neck artery had popped.

“That really hurt!” I cried out.

I kept running, but I was suddenly scared, so I stopped. My neck was all scraped up and bleeding, but not gushing blood, thank God. When Ginty found me, he took off his bandana and wrapped it around my neck.

“You’ll be fine,” he said.

Then he grabbed me and tried to drag me to the jail. You can always trust a rotten counselor to be cunning and rotten. But I got away. I made sure my roll of burned book paper scraps was still in my pocket. I slept with them curled up in my fist and my fist tucked under my pillow.

The next day I ran to the front row of the auction. The camp commander stands at a podium with a wooden mallet. There is a chalkboard behind him full of a boat load of the things you can get and everyone starts bidding. There are t-shirts and baseball hats, breakfast in bed, and counselors who leaned on you having to clean your cabin.

There’s stargazing with another cabin of your choice, which is obviously always a girl’s cabin, and that’s a good thing. But I put everything I had, every one of my Liberty Dollars on the first shower of the night. It was the big night of the formal dance and I wanted to look my best for it. I made ABSOLUTELY SURE nobody outbid me because it was do-or-die for the hot water.

You get to shower first, all by yourself, for as long as you want. The camp commander posts a counselor to stand guard at the door and they don’t let anyone in except you. It’s ONLY you and you can use AS MUCH of the hot water as you want. There is only so much of it at camp, but you can take it all, and everybody else is left with the cold dead remains.

Oh, yeah, that’s what you always do, because everybody else would do it to you.

Chapter 15

My big brother the big brother who is my so-called brother Jack thinks he’s an expert marksman. He tells everybody that he is, and he’s going to join the Army next year to be a weapons maintenance man, but expert marksman? He’s definitely not that, unless he shot into a crowd.

He’s definitely not my brother, either. Halfway is as far as it goes, in all ways.

We have guns, which are mostly his, and he’s a good enough shot, but he’s never been in a real competition. I’ve gone shooting with him and he’s shown me videos of himself shooting, but he doesn’t shoot very far. He’s a marksman, I guess, if he’s close enough to his man to see his bloodshot eyes.

He knows how to handle guns, take them apart, and clean them. He can clean them better than anybody I know, although he won’t spend a second glance of half a minute cleaning our house, which means I have to do his part. My stepmom thinks it’s a privilege he’s her natural-born son. He just beams in his sulky way about that.

If you’re his girlfriend and want to know how he’ll treat you if you ever get married, just listen to him talking to me sometime. Fee fi fo, here comes Jack.

I don’t know how he got started with guns. He has always liked the military, and uniforms, and the superior straight back look. When he was a kid, he got a BB gun, but then, so did everybody else. He knows a butt load about guns and thinks they’re awesome. They’re awesome because of how they work, how they can kill people, that’s all. Just because ou buff up the bullets diesn’t mean you know what to do with them.

There are a couple of guys I wouldn’t mind shooting.

There’s Patrick, for one, whose dad works for the Cleveland Browns. He’s a total d-bag, on the tall side, and wears his hair puffed up and blonde. He’s the quarterback on the freshman team. He’s always depressed, though. Every day at his locker he’s just kind of unhappy, like he’s stuck in midair.

He’s a mean spiteful guy, though, and a jerk. Most guys are jerks once in a while, but Patrick burns that fire day in and day out. When I see him walking to school, he always looks mad. He’s not awkward in any way, and dresses fine, but he slumps when he walks. It’s noticeable even across the street from the front door of the Red Door Deli. I always wait until he’s gone his way.

Another one in the boat load of mean and spite is Martinelli. We call him Matty, although not for any reason. He’s in my math class and he’s a stripe. He’s a crap basket full of annoying, too. I’m fine with annoying people because everyone rubs you the wrong way sometimes, but he’s a weirdo. I heard he’s been one since he was a kid. He’s sour and strange.

Maybe God was having a bad day when he made Matty, because he’s a stalker and a creeper, too.

He’s been creeping on one of my friends from Lakewood Catholic Academy. He sneaks around her house and neighborhood looking for her. He creeps her on Facebook, which isn’t unusual. Lots of guys do that. It would be super if he were stalking me. I could pick him off bit by bit with air pellets. But stalking a girl isn’t right just because you can’t get a real date.

I don’t know what he wants, although whatever it is he isn’t going to get it. My friend just hates it. At one of our dances it turned into a thing in the middle of the gym, a thing everybody stopped what they were doing and watched. I was dancing with her when he came up to us, tried to cut in, and she started yelling at him.

“Matty, you’re such a CREEPER, get out of here!”

“Are you kidding me?” he asked, his mouth all twisted, and just walked away.

He’s a freshman, like all of us are, and it doesn’t seem like he should be so weird. He’s a tad taller than me, but totally vampire pale, with a narrow face and slanky brown hair. Even if I just threw bullets at Patrick and Matty it might get me a little happiness.

I would also definitely shoot Spoons.

He’s on my cross-country team and he’s a JERK all the time. Everybody’s annoyed with him so no one would miss him, at all. It’s because of how he acts most of the time that no one likes him anymore. He always tries to talk big man on you. He comes right up to you for no reason and calls you an idiot.

“Just shut up, dude,” I say.

“No, you shut up. What are you going to do about it, anyway?” he says.

It’s always hard to take crap like that. Other people want to shoot him besides me. There’s a line and he cross’s that line. There’s no going back once you’ve crossed the zoolock line.

I’ve shot plenty of people with air soft guns and BB guns, so I know what it’s like to shoot somebody, although so far, they’ve all been my friends.

Air soft guns shoot plastic fliers. They go fast so they can hurt, but they’re only pellets. They leave a smallish bruise. Bullets are better, but I’ve never shot a person with a bullet. In fact, the only thing I’ve ever killed is a frog, although it was really a toad. It was at summer camp in Wasaga Beach. One of my friends was trying to stab it behind our cabin, where there were always a lot of them. I don’t know why. They never did anything to us, even though they were gross. He hit it a few times, but mostly kept missing.

“Give it to me,” I said. I grabbed it and stabbed it in one try and then slammed it on a tree so it would die quickly. It was a mercy killing. My friend threw it into the bushes.

There would be no mercy for Spoons, though.

Spoons is Spoons because we say so. When you’re a freshman at St. Mel’s on any of the teams, you get a nickname. No one’s allowed to give himself a nickname, like Super Nova, or anything like that. The upperclassmen give us tags on the cross-country team. I’m Blue, and there are Squints, Puma, Barney, Elmo, Coin, Rondo, and Spoons.

Squints doesn’t squint, and he’s not even a chinkster, so none of us know how he got the tag. Puma is Puma because he’s fast, fast like a cat. Spoon’s nose and mouth are bad, like his features were spooned like soup onto his head. He’s mostly ugly and has long brown furry hair that’s matted like a monkey. At the beginning of the year, he started off being a nice guy, but got worse and worse all winter long.

Every once in a while, he would try to be nicer.

“Ahh, OK,” I would say, but that was usually a mistake, because before the end of practice he would be the same mean old wrong way Spoons. He’s a better runner than me, so as the year went on I couldn’t and didn’t have to be near him during practice.

We train on trails in the Metropark, on the Towpath, and at Edgewater Park. They’re hard to run over because they’re rutted and bumpy, winding up and down, and you have to watch where you’re putting your feet. We get wet and muddy. We trained five days a week, running six miles here and there, and there were sprints on top of that. There were some distances that went seven or eight, but we’ve never gone past eight miles, thank goodness.

At first, you’re dying, but after a while, you start feeling less bad. Then you have to go harder, and faster, so you start feeling bad again. It’s a rat race. But we’re a good team. We took second in the Districts and we’re going to the Regionals. If we make it out of there we’ll go to States.

I’ve played baseball, basketball, and soccer. I wish I would have stuck with soccer, but I didn’t. Not enough action, honestly. I played football for five years, until I went into eighth grade. It was FUN until the coaches RUINED it. I always wanted to play football, though, so I did. My dad wanted me to play soccer. He said it was safer, but he signed me up for football when I said soccer sucked. He bought all the stuff I needed, and I was ready to go!

He took me to a store to get me my own pants with built-in pads. Otherwise, the team gave you baggy pants from a long time ago. They were the kind where you have to stick the skanky pads in and they never stay. The new ones have things on a little belt that you tie on. It was a big deal to have all my own brand new out of the box stuff.

I got my own chinstrap, too, because the team chinstraps were nasty sweaty stained things that hardly worked at all. I got my own strong one with padding. I take it smart, so I have to protect my head. Who want to be a doughnut?

My dad bought me special Hex pads. They’re hexagons spread out over a skintight muscle shirt. You have pads all over so when you get hit rammed smashed knocked down run over it won’t hurt as much. There’s something in them that cushions the blow. Oh, my God, thank God they work! You get hit HARD playing football. Sometimes, even when you have ROCKED the other guy, you totally get CRACKED, too.

I played on the defensive side, and when you are the defense, you are a CRASH TEST DUMMY.

No matter what, though, pads or no pads, I got hurt. Everybody got hurt, even the big guys, got dinged got a stinger got busted up. I hit someone bursting up the middle one game one day hard and shoulder on and an awful buzz shot down my arm. It felt like when you fall asleep and your hand goes numb, but it was my arm, all at once. It hurt for two weeks, mostly in my shoulder, and I had to go see a doctor. I don’t know what he said, or did, but it got better after a while.

“Real boys love the pain of competition,” our head coach Brad Reagan and his brother Gold were always saying. Whenever they said that we knew we would be doing a butt load of Bull in the Ring drills next.

I was a cornerback, and I was good. I was a rocketman now and then. Hitting people was fun, especially people who were better than you, except if they were really good, which wasn’t the greatest. Then it was like, OH, NO! But if they were as good as you, or just a little better, you’d make each other better. You would have to make sure to try hard. If you ran them down, you’d be terrifically happy.

“Good job!” everybody would be yelling, jumping up and down.

We were like that on our team. Everybody supported each other. That’s what I liked best. But then the coaches became more total stupid grown-ups than they already were.

My friend Chad’s dad was the defensive coach. He was the best, such a nice man. We had a great head coach, too, at least for a while. He was Coach Hamm. He had played football in college and been a coach all his life. But his son started playing for Garfield High, and he went there to coach him.

We got our new coach in seventh grade, Coach Reagan, who brought his brother the angry man along. They were just total downpressers, full of themselves. They didn’t care about us one bit.

“You boys are a bunch of pansies,” is all we ever heard from them.

“Take a hit for the team,” they would say. “Just make sure the other bastard takes a bigger hit for his team.” They were always swearing, like Mr. Rote, our religion teacher at St. Ed’s, except you couldn’t laugh at them. Mr. Rote wouldn’t get spitting mad in our faces, not like our coach and his madman brother.

They called us pansies and other select names. Whenever we lost, they called us pussies. We were in the seventh grade, 12-years-old, barely teenagers. My dad got mad when I told him how the coaches were treating us. He talked to them about it, but they said he didn’t understand football, and nothing ever changed.

Many of the other guys didn’t like the new coaches, either. The brothers Rotten Reagan were a tag team. They were always on us, always yelling at us, squeezing us every chance they got. Coach Falco, who was our offensive coach, told them they shouldn’t talk to us that way, but they were complete idiots, and did whatever they wanted.

Coach Falco’s son was an amazing dude wide receiver for us. He got an award from the league for being one of the best players. Coach Reagan’s son was not so good, so he got the academic award, instead, somehow, even though he was thick in the head like his dad. A lot of guys did the same, or better, on the ACT’s, and were better players, but the coach had to give his son something, so he got the academic football player award. We had to go to the ceremony, too.

It was just a lot of nothing. What a waste of time. I try to take it smart, but sometimes grown-ups with their bad ideas get the better of you.

They gave us pep talks before games, but it was always a boat load of whatever, empty talk hot air baloney skin. I don’t remember anything they ever said, and it never made a difference. It didn’t make us play better. It made things worse. They were so wrong and negative it made you not want to play. It made all of us sad and angry.

Coach Reagan’s brother was the assistant coach. He had a “V” pasted on the side of our helmets. “It stands for victory,” he said.

“Don’t play defensively, ever!” he yelled every minute he could. “Attack and attack and attack some more!” Nobody cared what he was saying, especially when he was playing charades on the sidelines, but we ran around like nuts, anyway.

“We finally got one,” they would say whenever we won. We didn’t win many games. They spit yelled all the time about it.  That’s what ruined it for me. At the end of the season in seventh grade I hung up my cleats.

“I’m DONE with it,” I said.

I’m thankful I played football when I did, but after I started running cross-country at St. Ed’s I found out how much more I liked it, even though our coach is Grumpy Gillis. That’s what we all call him, who is our Coach Krister. We make fun of him because he tries so hard to be grumpy 24/7.

He’s better than the cleat-head tards though. At least he doesn’t give us PHONY pep talks.

Chapter 16

I love Facebook, always have. It’s totally gagged up takeoff fun. I don’t know what I used to do before I signed on the dotted line. I think I used to call people on the phone to see how they were doing. It seems like a hundred years ago.

Life and everything must have been horrible before Facebook. It might have been fine, I guess, if you had a horse and buggy, but it’s more of a merry-go-round to know people, hang out with them on-line, and maybe meet them in real life. Whenever I’m away from Facebook for a few hours I feel out of touch.

You can literally put your thoughts about anything on it, especially funny things, and then your friends can comment on it. They can like it, too, which they always do. I do that whenever I see what they post. I’m always on Facebook. I may not be on it excessively, like some guys, but I check it all the time.

I’m a fast typist since I play video games. I’m way faster than most people. Much much faster. Almost everybody I know pecks. It only took me two weeks in a computer class to learn how to type without even looking. It just came to me, like a gift. Almost nobody is as fast as I am.

I posted Mexican Coca-Cola Chex Party Mix Breakfast of Maniacs and thirteen people liked it. They didn’t say anything about it. They just liked it. I post weird stuff, stuff that pops into my mind, like best night of my life, and eleven people liked it. That’s all I said on my post.

BEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE!

I post a butt load of funny stuff. I posted “poking ‘dem ladies at the mixer” hash tag #13 and fourteen people liked it.

There was a dance at St. Ed’s, the kind of dance they call a mixer, since we mix it up. It was only for freshmen and sophomores, at which you didn’t need a date, just come as you are. During the mixer, since I’m the dance master, three girls gave me their cell phone numbers. I posted that select information and got mucho likes.

I post a crap load of pictures of myself, too.

There’s one of me with my foot behind my head. My friends think it’s funny. “Old people do yoga all the time and they can’t do that,” said one of my buds. Another one is of me sitting on a couch making an odor face. Our English teacher told us he would give us extra credit if we posted something and got at least ten people to like it. More than definitely twenty people liked my odor face and Mr. Orwell had to give me extra credit. HE WASN’T HAPPY ABOUT IT! He shot me a sour look, but he’s from Bay Village, where it’s all pretending.

It’s totally great in that aspect. You can go to the home button and see all your friends, what they’ve posted, and their pictures. You can see all their weird stuff. Somebody posted “God is not mad at you.” I wish I had thought of that. I shared it all over. I got likes up the wazoo.

You can post all kinds of random things. Somebody put a noose around a dog’s neck, which was a puppy, and they put it on Facebook. It’s a real dead dog, although you don’t know if it’s really dead. It could be trumped up. They’re ugly freaks monsters, of course, meatheads who do that. They might go to jail, which you have to assume, which is where they belong.

Scar would rip into their faces if he knew.

I have a boat load of friends on Facebook, more than six hundred, but I’m starting to delete some of them. It seems like that many might be too many, but I know people from everywhere. I could have thousands. I know them in Lakewood, from St. Ed’s, St. Ignatius, and Mag’s, summer camp, running around, and everywhere else. I have a broad opportunity for knowing people.

People send me friend requests all the time. I haven’t accepted eighty-one people lately, because even though I know them, I basically don’t want to be their friend. It’s because they’re hounds, roundheads, nobody heads, or whatever. Not that it matters, at least not to me.

Some people I don’t even know poke me. “Why are you poking me?” They never have any reasons that make any sense, although sometimes they’re funny.

There’s Tommy, who goes to St. Ed’s, but I don’t really like him. I don’t like Eric, either. He’s kind of YECH! And there’s Carson, too, who used to go to Ed’s. He’s weird and queer. He’s not just gay. He’s actually gay, on top of being weird.

Some gays are all right. I have some of them who are my friends on Facebook and in real life. Skip was like that in middle school, although I don’t know what’s happened to him lately. He was actually gay, even though he’s a stud. He’s built like the Rock. I know he’s gay because he told me back in the day.

“I’m gay,” he said. “I like guys.” He lives in Lakewood somewhere anywhere I don’t know where. I didn’t accept his friend request. I don’t know why, but I backed away from it. I play it smart.

Mr. Rote talked about social media in our religion class one day. He was angry about it. He’s always mad about something. That’s how grown-ups are, always steamed up about something that doesn’t matter.

“When I was a kid my social network was called outside,” he said. “None of you are famous and your fifteen minutes of fame has been going on forever. I hope the next Facebook trend is shutting all of you the hell up.”

Nobody cared what he was all bent out of shape about. He is always raging about something. When he isn’t, he wants us to listen to him on his guitar. We all just hate him the most. How come he gets to swear in class?

You can never talk about St. Ed’s teachers on Facebook. If you do it’s the kiss of death. At Ed’s they will expel you on the spot for doing that.

One kid landed in a can of stinkbugs for posting the breaking news he was going to have a party at his house that weekend. He got called down to the Dean of Students even though he didn’t say anything bad, like promising that everyone could get wasted or smoke all the weed they could bring. He got in trouble for posting it and had to lose the party, at least that party.

Nobody knows who it is exactly at St. Ed’s that checks Facebook, but they do. Only the retards don’t know they do. I’m careful about it. I never swear, or anything close to that. I only do that in my messaging conversations. Those are between two people and they’re private. I NEVER show those to anybody.

I was talking to Chris, one of my summer camp friends, about a girl I liked.

“She’s my cousin. You better watch out.”

“You know I’m a pimp, Chris.”

“I feel it, player.”

“OK, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

“OK”

“Saudi, bye.”

“I miss you and love you” is what I say to a lot of people on Facebook. I don’t actually love them, but they’re my friends. I don’t say it to everyone, just most people. Two of my friends liked it when I posted “I love you” with a smiley face.

“I love you like a fat kid loves cake,” one of them said.

“Thanks, Johnny, you make me blush.”

People can be my friends when they’re nice to me. That’s the baseline. It’s all about not being a jerk to other people. If you’re a girl and you’re pretty, that’s good, but nice is better. But if you’re ugly, I probably don’t want to talk to you. That’s just the way it is. It doesn’t matter how nice you are. Ugly is ugly and not good. If you become a jerk, like Sarah, who used to be my friend, then I won’t accept your friend request, no matter how hot you look.

They always know, of course, that I haven’t accepted them. So, in real life I try to stay away from them. There’s a guy named Ryan in my Spanish class who’s weird strange peculiar. I didn’t friend him and I have to see him every day. He sits right behind me. It’s awkward, but that’s LIFE!

He’s a JV football player, but not very good. He runs track, too and he’s good at sprinting. He never says anything to me about Facebook, thank God. There are some girls from summer camp who pester me, but they are either too young or too old. I don’t want to be friends with them, either.

I truly know a lot of my six hundred friends. I see some of them every day at school. Some of them I never see, but I talk to them on Facebook all the time. My friend Tony has a band. I like some of his songs. We post back-and-forth all the time. I posted a picture of an orange dresser filled with creampuffs next to a dog peeing and and a can of on the loose Cherry Pepsi.

“You’re such a freak and I like it,” he posted.

“Thanks, bro.”

I added a winkie face.

“Being sick isn’t fun,” I posted the day after I got the flu. “It pretty much sucks.”

Eleven people liked it.

“I was wondering where you were.”

“Yeah, I’m lying in at home, unable to move.”

“Same here,” Lukas posted from his neighborhood of chinksters in Toronto. “Whenever I drink something, I puke it out five minutes later.”

My friend, Laurel, who might be my girlfriend soon if I play my cards right, posted a sad face.

“Aw, thanks, Laurel. What are you doing?”

“Sleeping.”

“Ha, ha, I just woke up.”

“Lucky you.”

“Are you watching the Super Bowl?”

“Yeah, 49ers all the way!”

“I hate you. The Ravens have class. If they don’t win, I’ll be peeved. But I’m glad one of us will be happy.”

“Cool, so what are you doing?”

“Watching the game. I’m glad you like football. It’s essential to understand it.”

After halftime I posted Madison, my other girlfriend who was my girlfriend at summer camp.

“What are you doing?”

“Nothing. How’s life?”

“Not bad, but not great. I miss you.”

“I know the feeling. What’s the matter?” she wrote and added a smiley face.

“I miss you, too. I hate school, but I don’t want to tell my dad because he pays thousands for me to go there. I just wish camp was forever.”

“I know,” she posted. “Come live with me.”

She lives in Collingwood, not far from our camp in Wasaga Beach.

“That would be awesome. I could move there, and we could actually see each other.”

“Yes, but no. Just move into my house and you could live with me. That would be fun.”

“Yeah, a little drama, but I think we could make it work.”

That’s about it, what we talked about, which wasn’t much. Most of my conversations on Facebook are just messing around. Others are funny and some are nobody’s business.

Everybody’s looking for a friend. That’s why everybody’s on Facebook. Maybe in the slums of India they’re not, but I’m positive about here and I know they are where I live. I don’t post a boat load of pictures, but, still, I post a boat load of them. People like them because they’re cool.

One of the coolest pictures is of me with no shirt on, although I do have a shirt on, except it’s wrapped around my head. I’m touching my nipples and my pants are sagging. When Call of Duty came out I posted a picture of me in a pink and black camouflage cowboy hat. I’m sticking my fingers and tongue out all weird.

One of my classics is from when I was eight years old. I made a music video at my grandmother’s house. I’m wearing blue chest hair, checked pants, and a sequined fishnet shirt that is cut low. My hair is all jelled up. What I was was CC Hammer. In the picture I’m pouting.

My best one is even better because it’s two pictures in one. I have a zombie shirt on that says “Have you seen my zombie?” In the second picture I’m lifting it up and there’s a zombie on the underside that makes it seem like my face. I’m making a sideways peace sign. I was trying to be like a gangster. In my other hand was my cell phone. The reason I had my phone was I was taking the pictures of myself in the mirror.

Grown-ups think Facebook is either cool or it’s stupid. Many of them think it’s a waste of time, even when they don’t know anything about it. My stepmom is special ops about it. I found out she spies on me by checking my pages.

“I’m all over you whether you like it or not,” she said.

I don’t always care what she says. She’s not as smart as she thinks she is. I might spread some breadcrumbs and make a fake Facebook page with my name on it

Even my Uncle Gray hates it, no matter that he has a million boomerangs he needs to sell and that’s where he could sell them. He should wise up, but he probably won’t. Grown-ups get stuck in the mud of time. That’s all there is to it.

“You have a profile picture, you sit around writing on walls, and guys you don’t know try to poke you. It’s like being a criminal,” said Uncle Gray at Christmas, when everybody comes over for brunch, stuff themselves, and sit around mumbling. When they finally don’t have anything else to say, and the football games are over, they all rush off and I have to clean up after them.

They say, “It’s a waste of time.”

I say, “You don’t know, you never use Facebook.”

But they’re weird, the old people, the grown-ups. They’re not necessarily all weird, but they’re ignorant when they say it’s stupid. It’s fun to connect with people. You hang out with your friends and make friends. What’s wrong with making friends?

Sarah Palin even quit her job as governor to be on Facebook more. She’s on it every day and she has more than a million friends. It broadens my perspective on people. I don’t want to know a ton of people, but at the same time I do. I’m not going to leave it unless something new catches the drift.

The Zuckerberg billionaires are freaking geniuses.

You have to be smart about it, though. You can click to friend me, but all you’ll see is my picture and all my friends. Everything else is blacked out until I accept you. The booksters and National Security can see everything, but I’m not planning on killing Obama, even though he’s a dope. I’m not going to post anything like that. You can’t be an idiot about it. You can’t just be an ignorant fool. I go smart that way.

The Facebook people are cool. I don’t think I would like them if I met them, but they created a great website. I have to give them a hand.

I get so many likes, no matter what I post. It’s like I can be whatever whoever I want to be. I can’t let my friends down. The ladies are all over me. What can I say? I love that.

Chapter 17

I started playing my first video game the first minute I got my first game cube. I was eight years old and I loved it. It was a cube by Nintendo that had little play disks. The next summer when I got home from summer camp my dad bought me a PS2. I played the mondo out of it. It was a great system.

There are kids today who still play game cubes and PS2s. There is no reason to kick a good thing to the curb. That’s what grown-ups do, always getting tired of it, looking for the next thing to make them happy. That’s why there’s junk and trash and garbage everywhere. They can’t ever be happy doing one thing.

I never stopped playing video games, but I didn’t play them much for a while, which was the summer I was eleven years old. I got a used xBox when I was ten years old, but I went back to my PS2. I didn’t like the XBox, not at first. Then, two years ago, I got a new XBox. Now I only play it, nothing else. It is the greatest, the boss.

It’s a Limited Edition Controller. It’s better different state-of–the-art, with lights on the side, and the triggers are a new style, the latest. They light up green. There are tactical set-ups, using different buttons, and it’s complex overall. It’s not for amateurs. There are many different ways to play. It’s not for children.

You can either play the tower or you can play on-line, although it costs money to play on-line. Play Station 3 lets you play for free, but the connection to the game is not good. It’s not bad, but it’s not great, either. You have to pay to play xBox 360, but it’s reasonable, and it’s definitely worth it, since they have more dedicated servers.

I play a lot of guys and sometimes even a few girls. There aren’t many Daisy May’s, but there are some of them. We talk to each other on our headsets. But I broke mine, so I had to beg my dad to buy me a new one. You can talk to your friends while you’re playing laugh have a good time get into the flow. Fee fi fo, walking to Detroit.  You can play seriously, too, telling everybody, hey, there’s a guy here, come and get him!

Some guys take video games too seriously. “The world outside burns through skin,” they say. But then they take it too far. Whenever a new game comes out, they have trouble in school. They don’t necessarily get F’s, but their grades start to sink fast, because they’ve gotten addicted.

That’s never a good thing, and why it’s not cool to play video games all the time.

There are some guys who play every day, start playing the minute they home from school, and stay up late on school nights. They play just about any chance they get. They even skip their part-time slavery jobs so they can get on their consoles. They don’t have any spending money, but they don’t care.

My ex-friend-to-be Mario at St. Ed’s plays video games all the time, which is basically any chance he gets. He’s chunky and doesn’t play any sports. “It’s the only thing that’s fun to do anymore,” he said. He doesn’t get good grades anymore, though. He has a C- in my science class and it’s definitely because of video games. He is getting chunkier by the minute.

You get addicted to them and don’t even know it’s happening. All you can think about is playing. You think, I just want to play this! Then you play it all night. The next morning you wake up, shake it off, and go to school. Then when you look at your planner, oh, my God! I had all this homework and I forgot to do any of it!

Even if it happens only four times for only one quarter for only every class, that’s four homework assignments, which are usually ten points. That’s forty points off your grade. It adds up fast to a butt load of bad grades.

Our teachers don’t know what’s happening, or if they’re deluded and think they know, they don’t actually know. No one ever tells their teachers they’re failing because they play video games. “I’m just having trouble,” is what everybody says. Nobody says I’ve been playing video games all the time and didn’t write out any of my notes.

It’s not just video games, though. It can be anything.

CJ is in my history class and sits in front of me. He’s a good artist and all day long he draws pictures of basketball and football players because he’s gay. Gay as in gay. We take notes every day and I have at least a twenty-five-page book filled back to front, but he doesn’t take any notes, at all. Taking notes is a big thing in our classes. I started taking them and it helped me super immensely. It showed on my grades.

“CJ, what are you doing?”

“Dude, shut up,” he says.

Cartooning isn’t video games, but it’s the same thing.

I study my notes at home every day, which is something you just have to do. If I didn’t my time would be gone up in smoke playing video games. I would have a test the next day and fail it.

You can’t just get on your console and think you will be in control. Everyone thinks they have board control, but it’s usually the other way around. Your parents will know. If I sat at home every day after school and played Call of Duty, when my stepmom got home, she would notice, and there would be trouble. When my dad prints out my grades and I have a D he would know it wasn’t because I didn’t understand things, but that I was playing video games every day after school. He’s no dope, not when it comes to the facts of life.

I don’t have dibs on many parents playing video games. Some of the on-line commentators are probably parents, because they’re old, or at least older. But they make money off of it. They have a boat load of subscribers on YouTube. They don’t care. They’re rich as dictators and playboys and movie stars.

The very oldest adults who play are probably twenty-five. They’re mostly guys on their headsets, sitting at home, who don’t have a job, in their sweatpants noon to midnight. You rarely see girls playing. It’s not for them. They don’t have what it takes, not really. They’re better at dating sims than doming.

Adults always say video games are bad for you. That’s what they say about techno music, too. They say it about everything kids do, except schoolwork and housework and all the other kinds of work. What do they know? My grandmother says the screen will weaken my eyesight. Now it’s all about how video games will make you violent. I don’t know about that. Everybody knows murder in real life is illegal.

The one thing I know is spending all night at a console will get you girlfriendless. I love video games, but sometimes you need to get up and do something. Otherwise, you start to grow a sofa butt. The pretty girls don’t go for that.

Almost everybody plays video games, although some guys aren’t allowed to play some of them. But if you’re a smart parent, and your son likes playing video, you should let them. That’s how they connect to people. That’s definitely how I connect to many of my friends. If they didn’t play the same video games as me then we wouldn’t be friends. But we do, and when we became friends, we notice we have many other things in common, too.

We get our own clubhouse going.

Video games are all about reflexes and aiming. That’s it in a nutshell. You have to have good reflexes, or you’re sunk. You MUST be able to RUSH and SLOW DOWN.  You have to be able to go fast in slow-motion. There are different maps everyone plays, so knowing the maps is a huge part of it, too. If you know the maps you know where people are going to be and you can strike fast, faster than the turtle who just duck and cover. They always lose.

Staying focused is super important. When you’re playing on a twitch you have to control your emotions. Some people get ticked off and that affects their play. When you’re angry you don’t play as well. You end up running around trying to kill that one person who’s hiding in that one spot you just have to scratch. You’re so crazed about it that you can’t see anything. They can see you, but you can’t see them, and they’ll see you first time every time and shoot you.

It’s better to control other people’s emotions. That’s best and better. It’s the max plan to make them angry rather than to be a madman yourself. Every time you play video games it’s a first-person experience. Only you can torch it. It’s all up to you. Nobody can tell you anything. There’s no time for that.

Killing other people is fun, especially doing it with friends, and other people who might be your friends. They’re all around the world and talking to them about it afterwards is fun, too. You kick back and count recount the corpses.

When you play on-line there are game modes, like free-for-all, which is where you’re by yourself against everybody else. There’s also death team match, which is where you’re on a team killing other teams. Whatever way you play, whoever gets to a certain number of points wins. In the end, it’s all about wiping.

There’s domination, which is like capture the flag. There’s sabotage, which is where you have to find a case, unlock it, and type a code in. There’s demolition, which is a search-and-destroy game. There are just a carnival load of different games.

The idea is to prestige it. As you do that you get different guns better guns bigger guns more and more guns. You get SMG’s, assault rifles, and grenade launchers. There are no cannons, but rocket launchers, yes. You get more bullets for your magazines, higher power, and more accuracy. There’s just a arsenal of better everything because you’re on a higher level.

Video games are a great way to connect with other people all over the world. Even if it’s just your friends at home it’s all good. In the winter you’re not going to go outside for three hours straight. You can stay inside, relax, and play some video games. It can be an icebreaker if your friends are new friends.

War games are the biggest attraction, DEFINITELY. Massively multi-player on-line games are tremendous. It’s all about first person shooting and killing. But it’s not JUST shmup and bleeding all over the place. When you get shot, because it’s from a first-person point-of-view the screen gets a little bloody, but it’s not like blood spurting out of your arteries, although it is.

Back in the day I loved fantasy role-playing games. You would become a character, start at a low level, and grow your parts. I fought monsters and won better armor. I used to play those all the time, but I quit. The last one I played you could tell it was going all to hell, so what was the point?

Guys who are good at video games are different than other guys. They don’t say they’re better than you, but when they’re playing, and they’re better, you just know they’re GODS. If you go back and watch their games in theater mode, you can see how they play is much much different than everyone else. They don’t run around all crazy. They’re cold-blooded and calculating. When I started I sucked bad. But after a month of playing, I got into a rhythm. I could do what I wanted on the maps and I thought that maybe one day I could be a GOD, too.

Guys who don’t play video games act like you’re stupid if you do. They’ll act superior by saying their parents won’t let them. They act just like their crappy parents, all serious and smug. My dad understands that I’m not going to run out on the street and really kill people because I play war games. We all know it’s just a game.

If I was on my xBox every day, not that playing every day is bad, although it can be a bad thing if you play too much, my dad would probably not like it if he found out, but I think he knows I’m responsible about it.

Some parents are probably scared of their kids being introduced to violence. They say it’s INAPPROPRIATE. They think it is bad news to play any games with guns. I don’t know of any other reason they would be scared. They don’t like violence, shooting, and a graveyard of gore. I’ve heard about parents who believe a guy played Call of Duty and afterwards went out and murdered a girl. It never happened, but it doesn’t matter even if it happened. I don’t think that should be a reason for not playing.

You can’t say, oh, my God! VIDEO GAMES ARE EVIL! Playing a video game doesn’t make anyone get a real gun and shoot a girl or a random dude on the street. That doesn’t have anything to do with playing Call of Duty. A lot of grown-ups try to pull that stupid argument, but they’re only being self-serving. Sometimes video games are just scapegoats for crappy parents. The only bad thing video games can do for sure is get you bad grades in school. Some guys take it too far, quit their jobs, and literally play games all day. That is truly bad and stupid. But it’s a personal problem. It’s not an awful thing if it’s personal. I like to say, it’s your life. I play it smart, sure as a thunderstorm, but I don’t interfere.

Video games are a way to feel good about yourself. If you get made fun of at school, and people don’t respect you, playing video games is a way to get away. It makes you feel good, and important, like you can do anything. It makes you feel like you can take on the world.

It was a big day when Modern Warfare Call of Duty 3 came out. I had my AC130, which is my gunship, and I got on a kill streak. I was literally mowing guys down, making them spawn tracks, just mowing them down with my gunship. WHOA! You feel big and bad, like those jerks at school don’t have anything on you, just for the little bit of time that you’re playing. You always have to go back to real life, of course, but you can go back to the game later and feel good again.

Video games are ridiculously popular, although some guys say it’s all a waste of time. “I can do so much more, so many better things,” they say, all smug and sure.

They might be a waste of time, but it’s fun to lay back, relax, and not take it too seriously. I don’t know what those guys do instead of playing video games. I never ask. They just say it’s a waste of time. They were probably raised that way. Some of them get angry about it.

“What’s the big deal, dude?” I ask them.

“Who cares? You?” they say.

“Yeah, yeah,” and I walk away. I don’t walk in anybody’s shadow.

“Dude, you’re a tard,” CJ told one of the haters, even though CJ doesn’t even play video games. “If you like the games, that’s cool, if you don’t, you don’t have to say they’re stupid and a waste of time. Mind your own business. Move along, move along.”

Some grown-ups think video games are fine. They don’t care too much. The real geezers don’t care at all because they’re beyond caring. Many grown-ups are sulky about them, bitter, and kind of mad. But I hope they’re not against them, in general. Everybody should know something about video games. You shouldn’t say they suck when you hardly know anything about them. Grown-ups do that all the time, like they know everything.

That’s useless talk, that’s all, just comments in the blah blah blah section that nobody cares about.

Chapter 18

I busted the crap out of my abs before the spring dance at St. Ed’s, which is the dance for sophomores and freshmen, since we don’t have a prom. I was working out with my track guys in the weight room. You don’t want a pooch in the summertime, or anytime, really. There are different colored weights, and we do weird kinds of exercises, like putting weights on our stomachs.

We have a new machine that’s a kind of half-cylinder, standing high off the ground, in which you put your ankles through traps that are padded, and do crunches. The pads hold you fast in place. Everyone puts weights on their stomachs and does their sit-ups. I was using two fifteen-kilogram plates, which are heavy, believe me, and I went hard at it.

You start by going flat and basically do your crunches, except you start in the sitting up position and then go flat. They’re the kind of crunches I saw Tim Tebow doing on YouTube. Tim Tebow’s a GOD among men. I love him. He must have a really small wiener to counteract his amazingness on the football field. There are many doubters of Tebow, but they suck, and are retarded, too, and wrong.

But I hurt my abs trying too hard to be like Tebow doing the Tebow crunches. I actually hurt them. They shouldn’t be sore for three days. Nothing is ever sore for three days, not at all, never, not when you’re in the prime of life, or else there’s a problem.

Laurel and I went to the spring dance. The nice girls like Laurel are super, sugar pie, honey bunch. When you talk to them, they don’t send off the superior vibe. They don’t try to act like all that. They aren’t prissy girls, running around all the time, trying to make a ruckus of things. Laurel is probably my best friend who’s not a guy, except for my gal Madison at summer camp. Laurel and like a lot of the same things and she’s easy to talk to.

If you go to a St. Ed’s dance or any other Catholic school dance, you have to have a date. You can’t go by yourself, or one of your friends, or with the crew. If you talked to the Dean and made your case, I’m sure you could, but then why would you want to go? Everybody would know you plead yourself out.

I wanted to bring someone who was a girl, and it came to me, why don’t I bring a friend. “I could ask someone I’m good friends with, and it would be a lot of fun,” I thought it up to myself in my bedroom. So, I brought Laurel. I danced with her all night, too, but no grinding. OH, GOD, NO!

Bigger Blaze, one of my better friends in math class, brought a girl. It didn’t work out, though, for good reason. Blaze is pale, has ginger hair, and loves his iPod. He had his buds on all the time, staring at the iPod in his hand, and walking in circles instead of dancing. While he was going solitary, I thought, “Why would you come, anyway?” His girl left him milling around solo and danced with her other friends all night.

Laurel is a nice girl, which is great for me, since there are plenty of bad girls. There are many girls who are mean and dirty. They are just like sluts. The bad girls don’t believe in love or respect. They just believe in teasing. Oh, God, YEAH! You can tell by how the bad girls act and dress. They all wear boaters most of the time. They all like to be casual most of the time. It’s a front since they are NEVER casual.

They are all fourteen years old and all over guys. “Oh, my God, I love you.” I hear them saying it all the time to whoever has just stepped off the handsome hunk bus.

The other project they all have is to date a butt load of guys. The slutty girls wear short pants and short tops. They want to expose as much of themselves to guys as possible, so the guys like them. Most guys like it when their slutty crush likes them back. They call it love. I call it imagination. Their parents don’t seem to care.

Maybe their parents care to an extent, but they’re too afraid to say anything. Or maybe they care, but they think, “My child is not a bad kid. That can’t be.” Sometimes parents are just like my dog and badgers. They don’t know their own minds and they don’t want to know. They even drive their slutty daughters to see their boyfriends. That’s the moral of the story, except there’s no moral.

My dad drives us to the dances, or I ride my bike and meet my girl there. My stepmom is too busy grading work she’s brought home from school, or she has to take Jack somewhere, or she’s planning my future. I don’t walk in anybody’s shadow, but she’s always shadowing me.

There are plenty of girls who like guys who are jerks. Even some nice girls like them. Most of them are smart enough to know it’s not going to get you anywhere. They think, “Wow, he’s a jerk. Why would I ever date him?” But there are so many guys like that at St. Mel’s, and all the other schools, too, that it’s easy to fall into the pit. It’s a load of annoying. But that’s how it is.

It’s annoying because they are the kind of guys who are mean to other guys, especially the ones who are smaller than them. MIGHT MAKES RIGHT is what they all think. They think they’re better than everybody else. They know better than to get into fights at school because the Dean can just kick you out if he wants to, so they tend to stay away from that crap. But they are rude and pushy.

When you’re a freshman you can’t always look out for yourself. You’re outnumbered outmanned out of luck, so I play it smart.

I have some good friends, which is a good thing, especially since they are friends who are football players. They are big guys, like Sconnie and Bigger Blaze. Blaze is the boss of the hallways. When you have friends like that, and someone pushes you around, they will confront them for you. They are your friend and care about you. The IDIOTS generally leave you alone then. Sometimes, though, they have to be talked to twice. That’s because they’re not just idiots, they’re weasels who just don’t care.

That’s when Bigger Blaze steps in. That’s when the fire goes out of them. That’s when they start to care.

When you’re a freshman the other freshmen who think they’re cool, and believe they’re more at the top, are kind of retarded, although you can’t tell them that. They don’t care. Once you get into the sophomores and juniors, especially the juniors and seniors, it’s the fun guys who are at the top. The retards either stop being that way, or they trickle away. It’s because, truly, nobody likes a jerk. When you get older and you’re still like that, stuck in the tard turd bin, my friends and I don’t like you. Neither does anybody else.

It’s all about how you act. Clothes are something, to an extent, but nobody cares what you wear. It’s all about what you do and say, dude. A jerk in a million-dollar suit is still a jerk in a million-dollar suit. The Toad Family is proof of that. The sons of St. Ed’s don’t stand for random grown-ups in silk suits!

It’s unbelievable how many grown-ups are like that. It sometimes seems that there are more of them than most of the rest. My dad’s boss, Ken the Toad, is a complete d-bag, a total D. He Jew baits and calls black people niggers. He hates anyone who works with their hands. The only thing he did with his hands at their boring Christmas party was drink his booze and wave them around like he had something to say.

“Unions and niggers,” he said at my dad’s sad stupid company Christmas party that I had to go to with him and my stepmom. “They’re all trying their hardest to live off us, the people who really work in this country.” The party was in their custom-built party room upstairs, in their custom-built building in Brookpark right next to Holy Cross Cemetery. It’s the biggest Catholic graveyard in Cleveland. It’s where all the policemen and firemen and mayors go when it’s all over.

“Where’s my latte?” dad says Ken the Toad is always shouting out the door of his office. “Get to work, let’s get some orders going, what the hell are you all doing?”

Ken is the Bossman with his swank blond hair and FBI chin raises his kids like he’s the boss day and night, except when he’s ignoring them. I don’t understand how his wife stands him because she’s so nice. She should dump his butt and put his billboard face away. She should have him arrested and he could go to jail for a year-or-two. His butt hole would be the size of a silver dollar.

Although, maybe she can’t, maybe he just dominates her.

There are plenty of guys at St. Ed’s who are JUST LIKE THE TOAD. Matt is one of them. He’s always messing with me in the hallways, at least until Big Blaze settles things down for a few weeks. Matt’s kind of sloppy and kind of ugly and thinks he’s kind of good at football. The truth is he’s a third-string lineman sitting at the end of the bench. He’s not even a guard. He’s a tackle. He just stands around on the field. Matt’s a jerk-off and he acts like it, too. He’s not in any of my classes, thank God!

I run into him in the halls all the time. He lurks in the shadows.

“Sebastian, you’re so dumb, you need to shut up,” he says, edging at me, nudging me toward a wall.

“Dude, get away from me, I’m not going to listen to you.”

I’ve told him more than once to stay away from me. At lunch and in the library, whenever he sees me, he makes a point of saying his butt load of crap.

“Nobody likes you,” I told him.

“You mean you don’t like me,” he laughed.

He has a little mouth, little eyes, and little ears. His neck is bigger than his face. When we’re standing face to face, I am staring straight at his blotchy fat neck. When he’s walking away from me down the hallway, shuffling and swaggering, all I see is his big broad humpback and slouchy butt.

I never mouth off to guys. It’s not worth it in the long run. I play it smart. If someone gets in my face once, it’s, “Hey, whatever.” I can deal with it. But when they do it a couple of times, then they’ve started to get in my way. That’s when I tell my boys and they talk to whoever needs to be talked to.

“Lookee here, leave him alone,” is what they basically say, and the rest is body language. All I ever have to do is tell one or two of my boys and they always take care of business. Oh, YEAH! You make friends and they become the friends you care about. Matt doesn’t mess with me much anymore. He learned his lesson one day when Bigger Blaze manhandled him in the shadows.

The last day before Spring Break the main music man at St. Mel’s walked into the lunchroom and came right up to me.

“Hey, babe,” he said, in his fake Jamaican accent. I didn’t know what it was all about. Seth is the music man and he seemed happy as a lark. He’s a DJ and goes to raves. I thought that was what he was happy about. Seth’s fifteen years old and takes pills when he DJ’s. Nobody can tell him anything, not us, not the teachers, not his parents. He shrugs everybody off like cotton balls.

Raves are dance parties where you go crazy. Sometimes guys drink at them, which is what they usually do. They do that, and go crazy, and do pills. The only pills I ever take are the Tylenol kind, when I don’t feel good. Getting high on pills, or whatever, isn’t worth it in the long run. I have better things to do, like playing sports and hanging out with my friends.

Sports are better than drugs because you can’t get a bad high. Rocking it is always a good high, most of the time, unless you get rocked from the side when you didn’t see it coming. You can have a bad low, but not a bad high. When you get high on drugs it feels good at first, but then it just gets bad.

The kids who do drugs get bad and get the worst grades. All of them do, every single one I know, and every single one everybody else knows. I don’t have any friends who do drugs. But guys do drugs at school all the time. Everybody knows. There are definitely a lot more of them than the teachers know about. There are a butt load more, believe me. Most of them are older guys, of course. I know some of them.

Johnny is everybody’s favorite doper. He’s a senior, a white boy, and kind of lanky tall. He has short brown hair, and is strong, definitely very lean muscular. Everybody on the cross-country team knows him, although he only runs by himself and for himself. He would be the frontrunner on the team if he was on it, but he’s not.

“My sack, my junk,” he’s always saying.

He’s a party animal and smokes weed all the time. Some of the guys from the team have gone to parties with him where he just goes fun punch crazy. He gets drunk and does drugs and goes wild. It’s not like punching people, just getting excited.

The girls like him. He’s a lady’s man and all the ladies flock to him. They know the score. I’ve never actually seen him do drugs, but the cat is out of the bag. Everybody can tell what he’s been up to when he starts smiling like the Cheshire Cat, all loopy.

I don’t know what my stepmom would do if she found out I did drugs. She thinks she knows everything, since she’s a grown-up and a teacher. She’s not as smart as she says she is, but there’s no telling her anything. There’s no telling grown-ups anything anytime ever. They just sneer at you like the man in charge, and that’s that.  I think I would have to move out of the house, or she would make me move out. When she puts her foot down you are squashed.

I could probably always live at one of my uncle’s houses. no matter what I did. I know a few of them would have me, at least the ones who don’t think they know everything, the ones who don’t downpress you the minute you wake up in the morning. My paper boy uncle, for sure, would have, since he could use some help. He’s a doper, so my stepmom never talks about him.

Although you never know, they might leave me hanging, because might makes right. That’s how grown-ups are. You can’t trust them. They’re always up to something. Bloodshed could be is for sure in our blood, I always say. It’s not just blood is thicker than water. What choice would I have? I would have to pretend and make it work. I know how to do it and I would get it done.

My head needs a soft pillow and a good night’s sleep to stay sharp stay smart.

Chapter 19

I had to read a book by Elie Wiesel. I read it at bedtime. It didn’t give me nightmares. I’ve dreamt worse. The Wiesel is a famous writer who won the Peace Prize, although why is beyond me. It wasn’t that great of a book, which is probably why it didn’t win any other prizes, just the peace thing. He’s written a butt load of books about the Holocaust, but “Night” is the one that made him famous.

We had to read it in our religion class. Mr Rote made us read every word. There wasn’t anything I could do about it. He just would have said, “Shut up and sit down, Sebastian, and crack open that book.” The reading project didn’t make him any friends, but at least the book was short and creepy. It’s about getting dragged off to Auschwitz and about everybody getting tortured gassed shot killed by the Nazis. After that they were thrown into carts and taken to crematoriums.

When they got to the concentration camp the women, at least most of the women, and the children, and the weak people would have to go to the side. They made them take off all their clothes. The Nazis wanted to save the clothes and shoes. They cut off their hair so they could make wigs for themselves. They would tell everybody they were going to the showers to clean up. But the showers would really be gas chambers. After a while they would burn their bodies.

They were some sick turd bastards. You couldn’t even fight back, since they had all the submachine guns and you had nothing. What Jack my half-brother sees in them is beyond me. He’s going to be a hell of a policeman when he’s done, has got his diploma, and the uniform, and another handgun to add to his collection.

You don’t want to be a Jew speeding down the highway with Jack on your tail.

We watched a gruesome video about the Holocaust and then read the book. It would have been more fun if we had been able to read it at our own pace, but Mr. Rote made us read so many pages every night. The next day we had a quiz on it. We only had to remember one specific thing every day, so it wasn’t that hard. It was actually kind of easy and boring. I always got a 5 out of 5 or a 10 out of 10. Mr. Rote usually quizzed us on something that happened in one of the chapters. It was some kind of fact, so it was retarded, his stupid quiz.

Jack my so-called brother upstairs in his attic fortress thinks Hitler had his reasons and is misunderstood. He even went to one of the mustache man’s mountaintop bunkers when he was in Germany for his slap dancing championships, but he was disappointed. He said everything was damp moldy falling apart. He and his creepy dance friend were the only ones there.

“It’s all wrecked,” he said. “Even the Germans don’t care.”

Jack is all about the Germans way back when, with his pictures of the Teutonic Knights, the should-have-beens of the world, which is what he calls them. Dad went there, to Germany to the light bulb factory, for work, and told Jack it wasn’t anything like that, but Jack is a turd, like the has-beens. He dresses up in deer-hide leather shorts, a green wool hat with a grouse feather, and black shoes when he goes slap dancing at the German American Cultural Center. The black shoes have two-inch heels and cleats as big as horseshoes.

His dance group performs at the Labor Day Oktoberfest in Berea at the fairgrounds every year. They dress up like old men with canes. A lady comes on stage with a big sign saying she’s got a special beer, and they drink it, and limp around to the back of a glockenspiel. When they come back, they have lost their white beards and scraggly wigs and limps and they’re dancing all spry and happy.

“It’s the German beer that makes you younger,” Jack says. What a waste of time! Drinking all that beer just makes you fat.

They have sponsors who give them bead necklaces and sunglasses and they toss a butt load of the crap to the crowds during their shows. One year when I was there, since my stepmom always makes us go see her boy wonder son dance, they threw out Jagermeister thongs. That was nutty. Everybody was grabbing for them. Who wants a cheap thong? There was a riot anyway. It was totally fun. I grabbed a thong, but then somebody tried to grab it from me, and it ripped in half.

Hitler must have been insane. He and his flunkies made mass insanity break out. I found out he had only one nut, which probably explains it. He was crazy, but he was a crazy mastermind. He was flipped out brilliant. His master plan was to make a master race by killing all the Jews. The Jews couldn’t be part of the plan because they didn’t have blond hair and blue eyes. But in the end, he killed his wife and himself, and the Jews got off the hook.

Hitler is always blamed for starting the war, but that’s just winner talk, because Hitler or no Hitler there would have been a war. There’s always a war. Nobody cares who starts something. It’s just like how I want to bomb somebody.  Anybody. Then I get excited. I go looking for my xBox.

My Uncle Valdas was in the Russian Army when he was young and lived in Lithuania and it was the USSR. They made him go to Afghanistan and fix tanks during the war, but the terrorists crushed the commies, anyway. When he got back to Lithuania, he became a policeman, living on the bribes, but now he’s a big rig driver here, driving from coast to coast.

He’s not annoying, although he can be, and actually is most of the time. He just comes right into my room with his radio and iPod and I have to download crime books from the library for him. I got his new radio working because he had broken his old one, but I screwed up on the downloads and had to call Apple. They were good about it, but they said, “Don’t let it happen again.”

It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t exactly know exactly what I was doing. Uncle Valdas was over for more than four hours with all his stuff. Thankfully, Aunt Lizzie showed up.

“The shit!” he said. “Put the iPod under the bed.” He gave me a fistful of cash. I hid the iPod under my pillow.

Uncle Valdas is a weird talker. He has a weird accent. He’s a weird guy. He’s always working, working hard, at least when he’s not gambling at some casino somewhere. Aunt Lizzie says he’s throwing all their money away. He’s nice, but a little assertive. He’s not aggressive, just assertive. He doesn’t ask questions, since he doesn’t NOT KNOW IT ALL. He makes a butt load of statements about things. Sometimes it seems like he thinks he knows everything. When we were downloading his books, he kept telling me to do the same thing that wasn’t working.

“I already tried that,” I told him. “It’s not going to work,” I said.

But he wouldn’t listen. He’s relaxed when we talk, he doesn’t pace or wave his arms, but he’s crazy. Not mentally crazy, but fast and loud crazy, basically. He’s always been. It’s nothing new.

I met Uncle Valdas when he and Aunt Lizzie got married nine years ago. I was five years old. There’s a picture of him and me when I was only a couple of months old. I’m buck-naked and my dad is holding me. Uncle Valdas is in the picture and there’s a big wet stain on his shirt. I must have thrown up on him.

Uncle Valdas never lets anyone get anything over on him. He will punch anyone in the face if he has to. He’s not a violent guy, even though he was in the commie military, but he knows that non-violence is pointless. It’s fine as long as it works, but it hardly ever works.

My friends and I were at Crocker Park, walking the mall, not doing a single thing, when a pack of little retards walked smack up to one of my friends. One of them started swearing at him. They were ten years old and swearing up a storm. I could have slapped that kid in the face, I was so mad about it.

“Shut up and get out of here” is what I should have said, but I didn’t say anything, for some reason.

“Can you punks just go away,” one of my friends finally said, shoving the squirt away. But the little retards kept cursing up a storm, not stopping, getting louder. If I had slapped him in the face to begin with, he would have run away crying because he was just a small senseless Westlake butt head.

I can’t believe a ten-year-old CUSSED ME OUT! I should have gotten VIOLENT. We saw them later, running around a Barnes and Noble store, and security guards were yelling at them.

Is non-violence what it means to be a disciple of Jesus? Nobody knows, not even Mr. Rote. I don’t think so. Most guys at St. Ed’s would say non-violence is pointless. That’s because violence is a good thing. Maybe not always, but sometimes it’s necessary, when it’s needed. It depends on the situation.

More often than not non-violence doesn’t solve anything. It can, but most of the time it won’t solve a thing. It’s good to try to talk things out. No one should go straight to brute force. Lots of grown-ups have a craving for it. It’s all about adrenaline. It’s like a drug. Most guys at svhool like fighting, except the smarties.

There are a butt load of shows on TV about jails, jailbirds, and drugs. The people in jail, especially if they do drugs, like fighting because they feel it gives them a fix. They feel the adrenaline.

Everybody at St. Ed’s is always messing around and fighting. I was wrestling with a friend of mine and he punched me, so I punched him in the stomach. But we were just messing around, so I didn’t do it super hard. Violent stuff happens at school all the time. It’s just a bunch of guys punching each other, hitting slapping tackling. They throw the other guy to the ground. We usually do it after school, sometimes in the gym, or during practice for something, or other. We hardly ever do it in the hallways.

I’m not even especially competitive. I’m all for sports, I love it, but I don’t care about being the best. I do it for fun, at least most of the time. Teachers and grown-ups and parents want their kids to be competitive. They’re always yelling at us. I hate that. Even the mall guards yell at us.

I was at the Westlake Mall waiting for my dad to pick me up one night when a guard came up to me.

“What are you doing, get going,” he said, all aggressive.

“Excuse me,” I said, trying only a little bit to not be sarcastic. “I’m waiting for my ride.”

He was, “OK, but don’t wait long.”

Teachers parents grown-ups always want to push around anybody who’s smaller than them. They want to be the alpha male, to have power over their kids, to be authoritative about everything. Grown-ups are the ones who are aggressive in this world. They’re the aggressive grapefruits squirting their juice. BELIEVE ME! That’s how guys learn to be mean and horrible.

Mr. Krister, my history teacher and cross-country coach, is like that. He yells at guys all the time for no reason. “Sit down and shut up! Pay attention!” His class is like a sit-down fracas. Running on his team is a brouhaha. Everybody is slightly unhappy constantly. He’s ugly with nasty teeth. He’s not too tall, on the skinnier side, and has sad sack scruff. Nothing matters, though, when he’s at St. Mel’s. He steps through the doors and he’s THE MAN!

When he pulled my tie one day when I was walking to study hall, he pulled it down hard. It was on purpose. He definitely meant to do it. I wasn’t saying or doing anything. He did it because he wants to have power over guys.

“How are you, Sebastian?” he said, all smug.

“Let go of my tie,” I said.

“What?” he said, all smirking and playing with me. I don’t like being played with, but I played it smart.

He’s a grown-up man, just like a full-scale adult, and knew he shouldn’t be doing that. I might have told the Dean of Students about what he did, but I didn’t. I told my dad, instead. That took care of it. He had a talk with Mr. Krister at one of the pasta dinner fundraisers for the team. I don’t know what my dad said to him. I didn’t ask. I didn’t have to ask.

My dad is forty pounds bigger and two or three inches taller than Mr. Krister and boxed when he was in the Army. I know he’s been afraid of my dad ever since then. I can see it in his shifty look shiftiness of mind. I don’t need eyes in the back of my head anymore when it comes to Mr. Krister.

I screw around with him all the time now, partly because he’s a JERK, but mostly because I know he has to watch what he does or says to me. He doesn’t pull my tie anymore and hardly ever even yells at me. Even if he never did anything, but I said he did, my dad would never believe anything he said, so K-pop has to be careful about what song he sings.

Shutting him down shutting him up down for the count. I like the sound he makes when the trap door has been sprung on him. It’s too bad for you, Mr. Krister. Sit down and shut up!

Chapter 20

I didn’t miss St. Ed’s during Spring Break, NOT AT ALL. I didn’t give it a thought, the empty hallways, the empty classes, the school all dark. I thought about Mr. Hittbone for a second, wondering what he might be doing, with nothing to do.

I didn’t think long. Spring Break is about lighting it up. My Uncle Gediminas and I threw a day-glo stick for Scar to fetch all night towards the end.

It was nice being away from everybody. I hung out with my new friend who lives in Avon Lake, and all my other old friends, and didn’t think about school. I had been staring out of windows a lot, anyway, waiting for spring. I felt like a crab apple tree sniffing out warm weather. I needed a break.

I did a lot of reading and relaxing. I re-read the “Hunger Games”, which is absolutely one of the best books of all time. It is a series, there are three of them, and I read all of them when they first came out. I was in middle school back then and we had a book fair one week at school. I spotted it there, right on the spot, and snagged it.

Not many people knew anything about it, but I saw it right away, and I had a feeling that it was going to be something. It said’ Hunger Games’ on the cover and it looked very cool. I read it and two days after I finished it, I bought the second one. When the third one came out I got it right away, too.

I’ve re-read all of them because the movie is coming out and I’m going to see it as soon as possible, and I want to have it all straight in case the movie screws it up.

It’s about a semi-post-apocalyptic America. Everything is run by the Capital. That’s another name for Washington, but they don’t call it Washington. There are thirteen districts, although now there are only twelve, and the Capital tells them all what to do. Every year they have something called the Hunger Games. Each district has to send one boy and one girl to the games. They all go to an arena and they have to fight each other to the DEATH. The last person left is the WINNER.

They win a life of LUXURY.

Mr. Orwell told me to read the story of Theseus and I would understand what “Hunger Games” was all about, but I didn’t. I don’t think he read my new “Hunger Games” so why should I read his old thing called Theseus? Besides, I don’t believe it really had anything to do with my book. How could it? That was then and this is now.

I don’t usually read too many books, much less re-read them, but the “Hunger Games” is a series and I’ve re-read it three times. The emotions, the action, and the conflicts are all great. It’s all so real, not like home, more like summer camp.

Barely anyone I know reads. GOD, NO! They feel like they’re missing out on something when they’re reading. “It wasn’t half-bad,” they’ll say. “At least for a book.” Then they hit the phone, the tablet, the laptop, the TV, the cineplex.

My dad reads a little, and one of my uncles is always talking about books, but at St. Ed’s nobody reads. Some of the kids don’t even crack open the textbooks they’re supposed to read. That’s how much they don’t like all the butt load of words in books, no matter how short they might be.

“What if you’re reading something and there’s a misprint?” one of my friends asked. “If it was a cookbook you could get food poisoning.” They just don’t want to stick their fingers in the socket for themselves, or maybe they do. It could be a word to the wise, but lots of my buds are not wise buds.

Truly, almost everybody doesn’t read, not us and not the seniors. They think reading is a waste of time. They would rather watch anything on their phones and tablets. That way they don’t have to imagine something to make it real. But if you ask them about video games, almost nobody would say they were a waste of time. It doesn’t matter that they are totally not real. I don’t think they are a waste of time, and I love to play them, but I like to read, too, at least a little more than most.

In our English class we hardly read any books. We mostly read parts of them. I read the entire “Inferno,” even though I didn’t have to. I liked it because everyone is always getting ripped up from their mouths to their butt holes. We read a smidge of the “Odyssey,” but it was for a project that involved an essay. It’s too long, although Mr. Orwell says it isn’t. Nobody cares what he says, because it is long. It’s retarded, too, although some parts are good.

The first three months of school we read different parts of it. We read the sirens passage and, basically, some of the other good parts, like about the Cyclops. That was really something, him being stabbed in the eye with a nasty burning poop-filled sickle thing. Fee fi foe, going to Detroit. That was like a video game.

We read a few more parts, but they were so bad I can’t even remember them. Then we had to write an essay about what we read. It shouldn’t have been hard, but it was actually harder than not, because of Mr. Orwell. If you don’t write your essay how he likes it he won’t give you a good grade.

I don’t know about that. You just have to get used to it. He’s a boat load. He’s got some of Mr. Hittbone in him. He lives in Bay Village. He’s always telling us how great it is to live there. I don’t know about that. It sounds like there’s nothing to do, although last year a friend of mine who lives in Lakewood got in trouble when he shot rocket fireworks that he had tied M80s to level to the ground down Lake Road on the Fourth of July and one of them exploded under a car that a yoga teacher was driving and she stopped, got mad, even though nothing was damaged, and called the police, who dragged his butt back home and told him to stay in Lakewood where he belonged.

Mr. Orwell is younger than a lot of the codgers at St. Mel’s and has a totally different style of teaching than most of the other teachers. I like him, because I can relate to him, but sometimes I dislike how he teaches and grades. We have English class every day and he’s had us write a butt load of essays this year. I don’t know about that. I don’t like writing essays.

He had us write one about home in the book, another one about women in the same book, and even another one about why it takes Odysseus so long to get home to his wife. Mr. Orwell grades every essay and no matter what grade you get you have to revise it. It is more writing! I got a 93 on one of them and I still had to revise it. When you revise it, if you do something different with it that he doesn’t like, he will give you a lower grade. That’s the grade that will count, the revised grade, no matter what.

Sandy told me you have to write a lot of essays in college, and she thought he was prepping us for that, so it seems like what he is doing is actually a good thing. But we do a ton of vocabulary, too, Greek and Latin words, and words with all kinds of weird endings. He said he wanted us to know where words came from. WHO CARES? Even grown-ups don’t care. Most of them would laugh in my face if I told them I was studying Greek words, words from thousands of years ago. They would fall down laughing! Or they would not care one bit.

Mr. Orwell said he usually has students read a book over the Christmas holidays, but he had us do a group project, instead, which I thought was a horrible idea. We had to pick a part in the “Odyssey” and work with a group on it.

There were three of us in our group, including me. The others were Tommy and Tyler. I called Tyler a few times, but he never answered. I called Tommy, who was good at drawing, texted him, and booked him, and then called him again. He finally came over to my house. It was a struggle.

I had a great idea for the cover of our project, which would be a bow. “At the top there’s going to be a bow, cocked and ready, and a long arrow in the shape of a question mark, going down to a T made out of a trident, and under that the title of the thing all in capital letters,” I told Tommy.

“All through the arrow there’s a question mark, which is about Odysseus being gone so long, and where he was for so long, and being all clueless to his wife and family and the whole kingdom. There are his wife’s boyfriends, too, who had to shoot an arrow through rings, to get the honeybun” I said.

I had a bunch of them in the drawing. There was a big Cyclops eye, too, and axes with little circles right at the top of the question mark, and then it all curved down. At the down curve, right in the middle, there was the poked Cyclops eye, and then the sirens, all pretty on the water, and everything ended up with the trident.

It was all about showing the main points of the book. The top part was dark gray, the middle was white with lightning bolts and the sea, and the bottom part was blue. I did the rough draft, but Tommy threw it out and drew it out because I’m bad at drawing and he’s a good artist.

The other part of the project was to dress up like something from the book and take photographs. My idea was that we pose like it was a modern day, now not then. I picked the Lotus Eaters, because they’re all on dope, and stuff. But Tommy and Tyler were worthless guys. They’re not too smart to begin with and they didn’t care, either. I had to tell them what to do, bring the camera, and then one of them, Tyler, who else, forgot his clothes.

I had to let him wear mine.

Tyler wore the dress clothes I gave him, and Tommy and I were in shorts and mesh shirts, like we were working out. In the picture we grab the dressed-up Odysseus and try to feed Sun Chips to him. I had the idea to use Sun Chips instead of lotus berries because they are delicious. After we did the picture, we had to describe the shooting angle, the framing, and the mise-en-scene, one of Mr. Orwell’s fancy words. We had to write a paragraph, too, about why we chose the part we did.

I had to do it all, which was busted, because Tommy and Tyler wouldn’t do anything. They went home. Tyler forgot to give me my clothes back.

We also had to pick someone to interview, each one of us, so they ended up having to do something, the big butt turds, which is what they are since they hardly ever do anything.

The person we interviewed had to be a girl from 14 to 20, or a woman, 21 to 55, or 35 to whatever they were, as long as they could talk. We had to ask them a certain set of questions, and after that we had to make up our own questions. Mr. Orwell told us to use his questions and their answers as a springboard, although I wasn’t sure what he meant by that.

We had to ask them about the roles of women, what they expected in a relationship, and things like that. It didn’t matter that the book was written three thousand years ago! It was just a crap load of questions that didn’t mean anything. I didn’t even ask Tommy or Tyler whether they did, or not.

We didn’t read much of the “Odyssey,” anyway. It was really about Mr. Orwell wanting modern day depictions of whatever, so we did that. I don’t understand why we did it.

We don’t read much in English class, which is kind of sad. At the beginning of the year, after we came back from Christmas, we watched a boat load of movies. The first one was “Batman, The Dark Knight,” with Keith Ledger, the actor who killed himself. I don’t know what it had to do with English. The next movie we watched was”‘28 Days Later,” which is a zombie apocalyptic movie in England. At least it was about creepy zombies and was in England, which has something to do with English.

Mr. Orwell said we were doing film studies, and it was so we could learn the language of the camera. I have NO idea, JEAH! I hardly ever watch movies. Who cares about them?

My Uncle Ged, who reads books, was over our house one day and saw I had the “Hunger Games.” He asked me about it. I read some of the first pages to him, the ones filled with Roman names.

“What else do you read?”

“I read the “Inferno.” It was good.”

“I’m impressed. I didn’t read that until I was in college. What else have you read? You said you read about Odysseus, how about the “Iliad,” Homer’s other book?

“No, but I think I’ve heard about it.”

“How about any other epic poem?”

“I don’t know what that they are.”

“That’s a tough one, sorry. How about Jane Austen?”

“I don’t know her.”

“George Elliot, or any of them?”

“Wasn’t he a poet? We read George Bilgere in class. He’s from Cleveland. He’s a famous poet. I think he’s still alive.”

“I’ve never heard of him. In my own backyard, too,” he laughed.

“He’s famous, he teaches at John Carroll, and everything.”

“How about Ernest Hemingway?”

“I’ve heard of him, he’s a poet, too. We read something about white elephants.”

“James Baldwin, anybody like that?”

“No, never heard of him, who is he?”

“Charles Dickens?’

“I know him. He wrote the Scrooge movie. I saw the old one. My dad loves it. I went to see the play at Playhouse Square. It was exquisite.”

He gave me a funny look when I said exquisite. Scar barked. I got a little nervous. Uncle Ged makes my stepmom nervous because he doesn’t care about anything she has to say. He doesn’t hide it, either. I felt like her for a second.

“I read a book about the middle ages,” I told him. “I don’t remember who wrote it, but it’s about this prince in England who controls all these giant robots. It was very cool. And I read an awesome Greek mythology series called the “Demigod Diaries,” which was awesome.”

“Oh,” he said.

We were sitting outside in the backyard throwing an orange day-glo plastic stick for Scar to catch and fetch and bring back. It was a clear dark night with an almost full moon. The light was yellowish on the house.

“That’s OK, read whatever you want, whatever you think is good,” said Uncle Ged. “Don’t worry about anything or what anybody says.” He clapped his hands to call Scar back to us.

I threw the day-glo stick again because, honest to God, I hardly knew what he was talking about. Uncle Ged was a grown-up, I knew, I could tell, but he was telling me to do what I wanted to do, which was a surprise.

A big surprise. Scar brought the day-glo stick back. It made a dim crawly pool of dazzy orangeness at our feet where we were sitting.

Chapter 21

Even though summer is almost here, which is great, and I’m going to be a sophomore at St. Ed’s coming up in the fall, and it’s great that I made it through my freshman year, I’m not optimistic about the future. NOT AT ALL! Maybe I am some of the time, but only because of technology, OUR technology. Nobody beats it. It might be enough. I hope so.

The world isn’t in good shape and it’s getting worse faster and faster. It’s getting hot. Sadie says climate change is going to doom us to storms mayhem destruction when we are grown up if we don’t do something about what the grown-ups are doing now. There are terrorists and wars, although lately they have been small ones, but they’re on the go all the time somewhere and everywhere.

The economy is bad and there’s a crap load of pollution, too. All kinds of stuff is happening that I barely know anything about, the rainforest on fire, too many people, too much methane, although DB says it is just trillions of cows farting, and slaps his nuts.

He’s a nut, obviously. End of the line, bud. Head of the line soon.

We’re spending China’s money, and that’s not good, because one day it’ll come back and bite us. We owe them a ton of dough. That’s going to start another world war. They’re going to try to nuke us. I’m sure of that. They have nukes, but we have nukes, too, and we have much better technology, so they can’t win. The chinksters will go down the drain.

Sooner or later, they’re going to want their money back. We owe them the bank. Nobody even knows how much, but everybody knows whatever it is it would break the bank. “We want our money and you better pipe up.” That’s what they’re going to say. I think we’re going to say, “We aren’t going to give it to you,” and then the war will start. They’ll make a threat on us and we’ll retaliate with our missiles.

We have missiles that can go anywhere in the world in a heartbeat. They’re big missiles, absolutely huge, and pinpoint deadly. The military has them hidden away. They can blow a butt load of stuff up. They’re big, but we can squirrel them right inside a three-foot by three-foot hole, even smaller if we have to, and blow everything up, no matter what.

There are a boat load of Chinese, so we’re going to need a boat load of missiles. But we don’t really need to get all the Chinese, just the main men. We could do that, easy. We are definitely going to war with China. Soon, I hope, so we can get it over with. It will be so crazy scary interesting. There are plenty of them, but there are plenty of us, too, even though there are many more of them.

We are so outnumbered, but it doesn’t matter. Our technology will work for us, so I’m not worried. They’re the ones who should be worried. They should be going back to their villages if they know what’s good for them.

We have NSA and DARPA and everything in the dark that’s secretive and massive. If we ever do go to war with China, which I know will happen, they’ll have to use all of that hardware, which will be groundbreaking. There will be so much news coverage of it, all over the world, for sure.

DARPA is a military secret, the most secret thing of them all. It’s where all our big projects come from. They used to be based in Area 51, where the UFO’s and aliens are taken to and kept. It’s actually a real place. But now they’re on some island, somewhere else in the world. We don’t know, nobody knows, but obviously the government knows. Wherever they are in the world it’s remote, and a secret, although it’s all probably closer than not to China. They know what they’re doing. They’re not FOOLS!

It’s not a good idea to go to war with anybody especially China, but I know we would win. If and when we went to war with them, we would learn everything about ourselves and about them, too. We’d learn who we truly are and what we’re capable of doing. Our military is better, unbelievably better, than anybody else’s. The Chinese would find out what we’re capable of doing. It wouldn’t be pretty. You could never look back once it started.

St. Sebastian is the patron saint of soldiers. He was the captain of the Praetorian Guards, like the Secret Service and the Mafia all rolled up in one, for the emperor, when nobody messed with the Romans. The emperor took care of the Persians like they were the Chinese, no problem. St. Sebastian made sure none of the Persians got too close to the main man.

Our military should wear a St. Sebastian medal with their dog tags. We’re a Christian country. Since they are all atheists, the Chinese and the Muslims would know where they stood when they saw the medal.

We got the job in Iraq done fast, but then it got all messed up. It just went on and on. It’s just like Afghanistan. It’s always been a screw-up. We should have finished up there before going back to Iraq. The towelheads just drag it on forever. Back in the day the Romans knew how to get things done. They would crush your army, destroy your city, and everyone left over would become their slaves.

We probably had to make sure about the oil in Iraq, that we would be getting it all, and making sure we got it cheap. That’s the only explanation for going there over and over.

I don’t know why we’ve been in Afghanistan so long. I don’t know what’s going on there. It’s all garbage since nobody can trust the Afghans. We’re fighting towelheads and not getting the job done. We can call them that because that’s what they are. I don’t know why we can’t beat them.

But none of them or any terrorists have come here again, obviously, since 9/11, even though there have been threats one after the other. None of them have been able to come back to blow anything up. Our military has made sure they can’t do it, no matter how much they want to. They keep us safe.

Most of our military knows what it’s doing; but not all of them, especially not the lieutenants. That’s what Jack is aiming at, being a lieutenant, when he goes. You better not be a Jew Arab Muslim towelhead and run into him over there. The GI’s, the grunts, the guys on the ground, they’re the ones who know what they’re all about. Why they can’t beat the hell out of the carpet is a mystery to me. I don’t know the answer and neither do my buds.

Our grunts are super smart and they’re real people and real people know what they’re doing. It’s the guys who give the orders who are the problem. You can learn all the tactics in the world at military school, but if you aren’t there, on the ground, you don’t know how to apply anything and get it done.

It’s the Rangers and Seals who get it done. It’s just like video games. You have to be the man with the controller in your hand. President Obama? Can’t get it right! Thumbs DOWN. Politicians? NO! Congress? They’re RETARDS, most of them.

I like Sarah Palin and her family. It’s too bad that didn’t work out. She’s a plain-speaking countrywoman. But I didn’t like what she did in Alaska. You have a list of what you’re supposed to do in office. She got everything done in half the time and then she said, “Oh, I’m done,” and dropped her position and went for the presidential election.

I didn’t think that was right.

John McCain wouldn’t have been a good president, anyway. Sarah Palin wouldn’t have been any good, either. Who wants a woman in the White House? No way! I’m not saying she’s ugly or can’t think, but she’s just a girl.

Hillary Clinton is the only woman who could be president. She would have been the best one. She would have gotten things done, I’m sure. She’s always on her toes. She knows when to punch you in the face. Obama doesn’t do anything, or at least nothing good for us. I don’t remember exactly what I expected him to do, but all he ever does is talk  superior down to you.

I know the economy is bad, but it doesn’t affect me like some other guys. My stepmom and dad both work and make a boat load of money, even though they always complain that they don’t have any. They are always scheming to save here or there, shave their taxes, not give me anything. Dad is willing but my stepmom, NEVER! We are better off than most. I know we are better off because we added a big addition on to our house.

I don’t exactly know any poor people. There aren’t any of them where I live. But one of my friends on the next street over doesn’t have it that good.

His mom has to work two jobs and she’s never home because she works all the time. He lives with his sister and brother. Their father is gone. He’s not dead, just gone and missing. On top of that his brother became a schizophrenic and he couldn’t live with them anymore. The last two years, when I was in school with him, my friend got worse and worse grades. Then in eighth grade he was always out late at night and never did his schoolwork. So, he failed eighth grade.

I don’t see him much anymore since he got held back. Actually, I don’t see him, at all. He’s a goner.

Money isn’t everything, but everybody’s pawing after it, so maybe it’s everything, after all. Mr. Hittbone always says it is the be-all and end-all. St. Ed’s AIN’T no slouch when it comes to the old breadbasket. Everybody wants all they can get for themselves. If people have a chance to make a dollar instead of making fifty cents, no matter what, they will do that. Most people are just that way. Just about everybody.

I don’t like it that it’s that way. Many of the grabby people in this world win, but others get shot down. You don’t have to be greedy to win. You don’t have to be a winner at all cost. St. Ed’s should test for greed, not test for drugs, but that’s not going to happen since it’s the greedy principal’s greedy brother who’s got the school’s drug testing business.

Being greedy is not good character. Maybe there should be testing for stupid, too, although stupid usually can’t be fixed.

Our pollution is messing up the ozone layer. Everybody says it’s because of global warming, but that’s not actually happening. There’s no such thing, no matter what Sadie says.  It might be warming up a little. I don’t mind that. A thousand years ago it was even warmer. It was actually much hotter than it is now. Everybody survived through that heat wave. All the animals survived, and the polar caps didn’t melt. A couple of degrees one way or another way isn’t going to kill anything.

That’s not going to happen.

Everybody’s worried about global warming. They believe everything they hear. There’s Al Gore, but how can anybody believe him? He gets you drawn in with all his graphs and pictures and videos, but then he lays so much fluff on and on over everything. Whenever he talks about global warming, he says all the polar bears are going to die and become extinct, and then he talks about his dad dying, and finally how he lost the election in Florida.

It’s more about believing him than anything else. Why should anybody believe him? Pollution is going to get worse. You can’t really get rid of it. There are too many people, anyway.

There are way too many people, actually. The world keeps getting bigger, or maybe smaller, since it’s a cage with us in it. There are more than seven billion people scratching it out. That’s bad and it’s getting worse. It causes pollution and you can’t stop it. There are too many people in the world now, so governments are going to have to clear some of them out.

The government is going to have to eliminate a bunch of people in China and India, where there are the most of them. They won’t have to kill them all, but they will have to burn down whole cities. They’ll leave the elite alone, but the less fortunate are going to have to go. There are many more of them, anyway, so that will be all right with most people, as long as it isn’t us.

Our government is the government, so they can do whatever they want. All the white people will lend a hand. They’ll just kill the chinksters and turbans.

People will resist, but the government can do it in a way, not necessarily hidden, but it can be secretive, at least. When a whole city burns down, they could do it in a way that no one would believe they were the ones that caused it. They could cover it up. They could make it seem like an accident, like it was just something that happened. Do it, but don’t do it. Pull the wool over everybody’s eyes.

It’s been done before. Look at the Jews. Big countries and big governments can do whatever they want. There was a book written two years ago about confidential things, but the government saw it right away, when it was getting on the shelves, and they took every copy, hundreds of thousands of them, and burned them all. They can do that. They can destroy whatever they want.

I don’t trust the government and don’t want to be a part of it. But I wouldn’t mind being in one of the agencies, like the CIA. It would be a great experience, even though they’re hard to get into. The Secret Service would be a very cool job. Those guys have a plan for everything. They know how to make knives out of newspapers that cut right through your throat, through the soft spot in your throat, and kill you on the spot. They make their knives out of sheets of PAPER!

If the president gets shot, they pull Uzi’s out of their briefcases. No paper there! They’re ready for anything. They can’t stop the bleeding, but they can make you bleed bad.

Technology will solve our problems, but it’s going to take time. It can solve all our medical problems, make cars electric, and grow more food. What’s best of all, technology solves military problems. Most of our advancements are because of the military. So, it’s a good thing. Even starting wars can be a good thing, although just killing people, even if it’s the military, isn’t always right. But if we have to go to war with someone, then we have to, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

You can’t just back down.

People always ask me what I want to be when I grow up. I’m not going into the military, like Jack, that’s for sure. I take it smart. I started thinking about it after I got into St. Ed’s and saw the lay of the land. The bookster billionaires are freaking geniuses, but I don’t necessarily want to be like them. What I came up with was the idea that I want to be a doctor.

Most kids don’t know what they want to do. Not really. They’re living in the moment. I do that, too, but I know now I want to be a doctor. I could help people a little and make a big pile of money at the same time.

Next year I’m going to take Latin instead of Spanish. It helps becoming a doctor to know Latin. Besides, I hate Spanish. At least I’m good at it this year. I don’t suck at it anymore, but I need all the help I can get to become a doctor. It’s going to be hard and Spanish won’t help me, at all. What doctors speak Spanish? Latin is the way to go. I’m going to join the AMA and fight socialized medicine right away.

When I’m a doctor I’ll be able to make a butt load of money. I might not be rich right away, but I’ll have plenty of money in my bank account. Then, later on, my son can go to St. Ed’s and my daughter can go to Mag’s. I won’t let her go to Joe’s They can go to good schools right away. That’s my motivation. It really is. I’ll do everything for my family, even though my family hardly does anything for me.

I never knew I wanted to be a doctor, but now it’s just in me. I don’t know what kind of a doctor I’m going to be, not that it matters, but I’m going to be Dr. Sebastian. I think it’s a good plan and I know Dr. Sebastian Gray sounds great. I haven’t told anyone. I’m keeping it a secret. All I have to do is hang on to it, keep my eye on the prize, at least until the school year is over. All I need to do is take it smart.

I’ll be Dr. Gray in a white lab coat and money out the wazoo to do whatever I want.

The end of school, the end of my freshman year at St. Ed’s, is right around the corner. I’ll just have to see in what direction things go when I’ve stepped out of the this way in door. I have summer camp and all my friends, all our girls and our manhunt game, and all our other good stuff in the woods to look forward to. I won’t have to go back inside to Mr. Rote Mr. Hittbone Mr. Krister for almost three months.

In the meantime, when school’s finally out, Scar and I will be running down Hogsback into the Metropark every morning, barking it up and chasing down anything that moves, making our own trail on the single tracks that twist along the Rocky River, not trying to make it in anybody’s shadow, going our own way, crashing into paradise, faster than anything anybody anywhere can sling our way.

The future starts here, singing up the crows, hunting down the finish line from the beginning like a rocket on the loose, staying on the ricochet in the seesaw sunshine, playing it smart not blowing my mind staying lean breaking the waves keeping my blood boiling and keeping the scars coming my way small as can be, small as pinpricks.