Tag Archives: Ed Staskus

All My Friends at Once

85

Chapter 14

“I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

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. Mel’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 pretend.

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. Mel’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. Mel’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 St. Mel’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. Mel’s teachers on Facebook. If you do it’s the kiss of death. At St. Mel’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. Mel’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 when I had the flu. “It pretty much sucks.”

Eleven people liked it

“I was wondering where you were.”

“Yeah, I’m laying 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 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. 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 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.

 

 

 

 

Rules of the Game

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Chapter 13

“Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).

I don’t have a girlfriend. I have a dog, Scar the bold proud stand-up Beagle, so I should have a girlfriend, the same as my dog. I’m a good-looking cool-enough fleek 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 sdo 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.

“Boys, get back to bed,” 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.

 

 

Going for Broke

 788247

Chapter 12

“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

I started running for the St. Mel’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 a Mel’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.

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. Mel’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. Mel’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 St. Mel’s 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 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. Mel’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. Mel’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.

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. Mel’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 sort of fit, but not super fit. He’s not very tall, either, and 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. Mel’s. Nobody says so, but everybody knows. 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 book of rules 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. Mel’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.

 

 

Bird on the Wing

doe-lake-camp

Chapter 11

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

I would trade any day in the real world, reheated meatballs with the folks at home the drumbeat of the future at St. Mel’s hanging with my boys doing nothing at Crocker Park Mall, for five minutes at summer camp. After the next two summers have come and gone, when I’m older, after my last year at camp, when I’m not allowed to be a camper anymore, I’m going back as a counselor. That’s a sure thing.

I’ll be a senior by then and I’ll know a thing or two. I’ll be bigger and wiser. I’ll know how to handle the kids both right-on and off-track.

Summer camp is different than being at home different than freshman year high school different than Lakewood, Ohio, different in every which way. There are fewer grown-ups, which is a good thing, and nobody’s parents are there, even better. There are no Mr. Rote’s Mr. Krister’s Mr. Hittbone’s, thank God! The counselors are almost like you. They let you run amok and hope no one dies. All your friends are together again and there are more of them than at home. Nobody yells at you for two weeks. The counselors scream at you if you do something dumb, but you don’t get yelled at for doing something wrong just by mistake, like at home.

Even when you do, it’s all over in a few minutes, not like at home, where it never ends. No sir, it never ends, it just goes on and on. You’re on the bottom and you’ve got to keep your trap shut.

The summer sky at summer camp is big and fresh and windy. There are birds on the wing. There are swallows thrushes woodcocks buffleheads. We’re way up in Canada, on the Georgian Bay, at Wasaga Beach. It’s spic and span, too. Some kids don’t shower when they’re at camp and that’s disgusting, although nobody cares too much about it. But one time somebody’s parents wouldn’t let him in the car when his two weeks were over, and he hadn’t showered even once.

“No, go back, go hose yourself off, and brush your teeth! What is wrong with you?“ his mother said through her nose.

Last year we had bedbugs. We caught them with scotch tape and kept them in a glass jar. I tried to kill some of them with poison spray, because when they sucked your blood, they left itchy clusters on your skin, but the bugs didn’t seem to care. When the camp commander found out about it, he hired a bedbug sniffing dog.

It was a Beagle, just a little bigger than Scar, my Beagle at home. He was lean, brown black white with floppy ears and a loopy smile. He knew what was up, though, coming into our cabin with an all business look in his eyes.

He was a scent dog. Scar is a detection dog. He searches out BS wherever it is, like up in Jack’s room. Jack is my older half-brother who thinks he knows everything and talks down to me. Scar finds it and growls. We live on a wider bigger better street in Lakewood, broad tree lawns and a concrete roadway, but Scar still sits on the front lawn looking both ways, ready to growl. He knows the future isn’t what it used to be, not with my stepbrother Jack on the way.

Our sniffer was so good he got a bead on a sneaky bedbug hiding behind the plastic cover of an electric outlet. The next day everyone whose cabins had the bug plague piled their stuff into big black plastic garbage bags and threw them inside the cars at camp, in the hot sun, with the windows closed. All the bedbugs died.

My friends and I are in the smallest of the nine boy’s cabins, which is cabin 6. The only space we have on the floorboards is for us to slide back and forth to our beds. Matias is my best friend and number one. He’s shorter than me shiny blue eyes like buttons and stick slender. We like to run around, not get too uptight, and soft chill at the end of the day. We’ve been rooming together in the same cabin for seven years and know each other better than anything.

Lukas is my second-best friend. He’s a little taller than me, funny, and chunky. He chews green frog gummies and spits them out on the cabin floor, where we squash them flat like pancakes. He likes to play paintball. He’s strong, too, but not loud or belligerent. He has in-grown toenails. Don’t step on him! One night he punched someone who stomped on his bad toe.

He was, like, “Dude!” and stood up and pushed the guy and then got punched in the stomach for it. Logan punched him back in the face, but without being mean about it. We were at the Night of the Super Starz in the mess hall. We were just sitting there watching the show when the stomper started it, and then he suddenly started crying. He had a bruise on his cheek and a black eye.

There was a midnight mass after the show, but Lukas wasn’t allowed to go. He had to go back to our cabin early, although all that happened the next day was the counselors made him sweep the mess hall. He just helped, but not too much, since that’s somebody else’s job, anyway.

Lukas is in cahoots with ghetto folk. He’s not poor, but he likes being hip hop rundown. He’s from Toronto and lives uptown, although I don’t know where that is. He said he lives in a neighborhood of chinksters, like in Chinatown. He smokes weed sometimes, although he’s not good at it. He and one of his friends went to a creek on the far side of camp and smoked some. He got funky paranoid and dreamed up disasters.

“I thought I was going to die,” he said.

Story time with Lukas at the head of class is always for grins fun gut-busting. When he spits out a gummy, and goes loosey-goosey, man, oh, man. He knows a lot of dirty jokes, too.

In our cabin at night we talk about movies, TV shows, and our favorites on YouTube. We talk about girls, some of them more than others, and we talk about video games a lot, even though we don’t have any at camp. They’re not allowed. The one of us in our cabin who doesn’t talk much is Titus, who we call Tits, unless we are calling him the Titmouse. He just sits in his corner all secluded. He does play some video games, so I talk to him about that, sometimes, but not much.

Call of Duty is my game, except I don’t play it on my xBox anymore, only on my computer. I love it when they say, “In war there is no prize for the runner-up.” I’m not sure what games Titus plays, although he’s mentioned some of them.

Nobody knows what’s wrong with Titus. We love Tits, but he’s quiet. He doesn’t do anything, which is the problem. At night when we’re all laying around in our cabin he’ll start crying. The Titmouse’s bulgy black eyes get soggy and his hair tuft goes limp. He will just sit teary-eyed on his bed, looking at the floor. When we ask him what’s wrong, he says, “I don’t know. My stomach hurts.”

We don’t ignore him, and we never do anything to him. We punch him every once in awhile, but not hard, on the arms. Mostly when he’s looking, but sometimes when he’s not looking.

He gets pinkeye every summer. We don’t make fun of him, though. But then he got double pink eye. That was too much. We were all, like, “God damn it, Titus!” Everybody made fun of him as a joke, and then he cried and got mad. but not because of that, just because he’s Titus.

The girl cabins are on the other side of the flagpoles, up a sandy hill. Amelia, who is part of Natalie’s tootsie posse, but who is actually nicer and even pretty, has a reddish birthmark on her face, like a spotted dog. I think she’s self-conscious about it because she always turns to her left whenever anyone takes her picture, away from the birthmark.

We never say anything about the birthmark to her. We talk about it in our cabin, but nothing bad, really, although sometimes we’ll say, “What’s that thing crawling on her face?” One night, Titus was laid out on his bunk in the corner while we were talking home stories when out of nowhere he said, “Did somebody have their period and rub it on Amelia’s face?”

We all sat there quiet for a minute. Like, who says that? Then we just burst out laughing, although Matias looked embarrassed. I think he has the hots for Amelia. It was a brutal thing to say, especially coming from Titus. We call him Tits because he has them. He’s always been flabby and lately he’s been getting heavier. He doesn’t play any sports, at all.

Kajus sleeps in the corner opposite Titus. He’s a big-time flea bag. He thinks he can play guitar, but all he does is play the same part of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ over and over. Who needs that? We are always yelling, “Shut up!” We finally broke his guitar, but it was a piece of junk, anyway.

We broke the new fan his parents got him, too. Lukas was angry that day, his toes hurt, and he started taking it out on the fan with a comb. We hauled it out behind the cabin and beat it with a hockey stick. It was hanging on rags when we were done. The spiny part was smashed, giant chunks were missing, but we just kept beating it. We threw bottles of water at it, finally.

We did everything to it. Kajus wasn’t too happy when he found out.

When his parents came mid-week from Toronto, they asked him what happened. He told them we did it, but not surprising to us, they didn’t believe him. After that he tipped a Mountain Dew on my bed. I poured the rest of it on his bed, and he pushed me, so I punched him, and he punched me back, and I finally punched him harder but not crazy hard, and he stopped.

We have a food-eating contest every summer after the Counselor Staff Show. The little kids have to go to bed, but we stay up late to play the game. Whoever volunteers are blindfolded and have to eat whatever the counselors make. Everyone has to keep their hands behind their backs and lap it up like a dog. Sometimes the other guys puke, but I never throw up.

The counselors made bowls of Rice Krispies with ketchup mustard strawberry jelly lots of salt and all mashed together like potatoes. It was horrible. It was like eating last place on one of my stepmom’s cooking shows she watches all the time on TV. Everybody cheers you on and you have to eat it as fast as you can if you want to win.

Some nights if we have stayed up late the night before, we try to go to sleep a little earlier than usual, no later than two or three in the morning. We don’t keep track, but we have to get some sleep because the counselors shake us up at seven-thirty for calisthenics. They march us to the sports field and make us do a butt load of jumping jacks, push-ups and crunches, and we have to run the track, even though the sun has barely come up.

If they see you are tired and slacking, they will make you do more. We jump on the used tire monkey bars and mess around. They make us do pull-ups on it, but it’s small price to pay.

We wake up every morning to music. It’s always Katy Perry or Duck Sauce, or whatever the counselors want, played from loudspeakers hidden in the trees. Even though I try, sometimes I don’t hear it because I’m flat out asleep. The counselors carry water shooters. If they say you have twenty seconds to wake up, and you don’t jump right out of bed, they start squirting you. They shake your bed and jump on you, and scream, but mostly they’re going on to the next bed, so it doesn’t last long.

After we’re done exercising, we go back to our cabins, clean up, and raise the flags before breakfast. There are three flags: American, Canadian, and Lithuanian. But, sometimes we’re too tired to clean up and instead fall right back asleep in our cabins and are late for the flag raising.

When that happens it’s time to swallow the pill. Whoever is late has to step out into the middle of everybody on the parade ground and do the chicken dance. All the boys on their side of the parade ground do the chop, swiveling their arms like tomahawks and chanting. Nobody knows what it means, but they all do it, and the girls stand there watching. Then they do their own dance, like cheerleaders, except they aren’t cheering for you.

Everybody gets their fair share.

All the cabins have to keep a diary for the two weeks of camp. We get graded on it every day. If you write something stupid, like “ugi ugi ugi” or anything that doesn’t make sense, you get a bad grade. The counselors tell us to be sincere.

“What does that mean?” Lukas asked, but they just laughed.

Matias always writes our diary because everyone else in our cabin is retarded. Titus once wrote something dumb in our diary, even though he said it was sincere, and at the flag lowering that night we all had to do the Rambo, running down the slope to the flagpoles with no shirts on and singing “cha cha cha” while everyone did the chop.

We wrestle in the old older oldest boy’s cabin. It’s the biggest cabin, so it’s got space for fighting. We move the beds and duct tape a sleeping bag onto the wood floor. There is no punching allowed, no hammer blows, or anything like that, but you can kick and throw each other on the ground.

We aren’t supposed to fight, because the camp commander doesn’t like it, but everybody wrestles and gets bruised up.

One night at wrestlemania Chase and Arunas were locked up when Chase grabbed Arnie’s head and flipped him over. Arnie slammed hard into a bedpost and got knocked out. We let him lay there, but when he didn’t wake up for twenty seconds, we threw dirt on him. He jumped up and was fine after that.

The next day we were walking to New Wasaga Beach, which is where the whole camp goes every afternoon for a swim, and Arnie jumped on Chase’s back for no reason and almost cracked it. But they didn’t punch each other. They’re not haters. Besides, the counselors were watching, and that would have been trouble. They say only they can get physical.

Every year another year goes by and when I’m back at summer camp it’s like I never left. As soon as I get there, I unload everything I’ve brought, my clothes sleeping bag snacks. All my stuff has my initials written on it with a Sharpie. We find our cabins and claim our beds, and then your parents are gone before you know it. Sometimes I don’t even realize they’ve left.

You see your friends again, everybody in your cabin, and everyone you’ve ever camped with. There are high-fives knuckle-touches bro-hugs all around. “What’s up dude.” We all punch each other and laugh it around.

We reunite with the girls and get overdue hugs from them. When all the moms and dads are finally gone, all the parents that nobody in his right mind thinks about from that moment on, we have sandwiches in the mess hall. Father Elliott says a prayer and the camp commander makes a speech. He writes the camp rules in big block letters on a chalkboard.

The best night of summer camp is every night, but the best night is the Saturday night we play our manhunt game. Sometimes it’s called Fugitive or Stealing Sticks. It’s always the same, although it’s always different. This year Lukas called it Nazis and Jews. He said he saw a movie about Polish Jews fighting against the Nazis, shoot-outs and torture, but nobody could understand what he was talking about. We all said, OK, that’s what it is. The little kids had to go to bed. The older campers were the Jews and the counselors were the Nazis. We started running as soon as it got completely dark, so we had a chance, and then the counselors came after us.

It was like Capture the Flag with no holds barred. It was as much fun as ever. We banded together and surprise caught a counselor and he had to sit in the shower for an hour. It served him right!

The Titmouse never plays, and he didn’t play this summer, either. He said it was wrong and started talking about Lithuania, where all of our parents grandparents uncles aunts family are from, and how terrible things happened there. He said it was a holocaust, not a stupid summer camp runaround, but we just told him to shut up, and he got sulky. Nobody knows what’s wrong with Titus. I know what’s wrong with him. He knows he’s low man on the totem pole and nobody cares what he says.

The next day rumors started spreading about our game. “It was probably grown-ups complaining,” the counselors said, old folks complaining about our horseplay. Take a breather, folks. We’re not planning on killing everybody in sight like grown-ups did in WW2. We talked and paced around about it. In the end, though, the game will go on, although everybody is thinking we better call it something else next year.

It doesn’t matter what the powers that be think they can do about it. Grown-ups think they know everything, but what they don’t know is what goes on when they aren’t around. It’s a legend at camp, boss man, not like an old man with his crazy stories, always telling you the way it was, what he used to do, how we should do it his way. What we do at camp is our own tradition. You can’t stop what we do just dead on a dime, kicking our legends to the curb.

It wouldn’t be right.

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Dancing the Night Away

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Chapter 10

“I beg your pardon?” said Alice

“It isn’t respectable to beg,” said the King.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bert plays soccer, and is taller than me, but he’s a toothpick. He’s sort of ugly, too, to be honest. He was really scared for a second. Allan’s side shadow is bigger than him.

“I was, like…” he stuttered.

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

Jess is short skinny spunky blonde. She’s kind of pretty in her own way. I might even have liked her once. She was over to our house for dinner, with Jake, one night when Allan and Paul were over. My stepmom liked her. That was a black mark against her.

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

“Jake, Jess kissed Bert,” I said.

“What? Are you kidding me?”

“No, dude, I’m sorry, but it’s true.“

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

“I’m sorry, dude,” I said. He was sad and really down. Then he jumped her on the spot, surprising everybody, except himself.

“Yeah, gangster,” I thought out loud.

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

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

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

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

“Maybe I’ll just do LSD,” DB said, spinning his head in fast tight circles. DB is a nut, but that’s what happens when grown-ups get involved. They’re so crazy they make everybody else crazy. They make the whole world go nuts. They’re the lords of the fly world, eating everything, like maggots, all for themselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The parents don’t know the grinding that goes on. Girls put their butts on you and figure eight. Sometimes we form lines, forty or fifty of us in a conga line. Nobody’s parents want to know about that. NO WAY! BELIEVE ME! I can hardly believe it myself.

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

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

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

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

They can look through your phone and anything else of yours, bags, pockets, lockers, everything. I’ve seen cell phones thrown away into trash cans. “Don’t bother,” they say when you reach down for it. They look at you and there’s nothing you can say. They can drag you away. I don’t even know all the stuff they can do.

They can kick you out of school, for sure. If you do something bad it is suddenly Steck Time. He is the Dean of Students, who is a mangy mean man, tall thin pale. He can say, “Don’t come back tomorrow.” When Mr. Steck-It-To-You says it he means it and he can make it stick. Because it’s a private school they can lock you out and you can’t ever go back. And then you’re out, that’s all, and you have to try to explain it to your parents and grandparents and the neighbors.

Nobody ever believes you and they even resent your explanations. I’ve heard of some kids who got thrown out once-and-for-all for good. That’s bad. I play it smart. You’ve got to watch your step.

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

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

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

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

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

I have some good friends who go to Mag’s, but St. Joe’s, no. St. Joe’s girls are Catholic girls all out all over and done. They are ever not so nice. I will run past Joe’s with Scar and keep going before I even look at them playing lacrosse on their fancy new playing field on Rocky River Drive.

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

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

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

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Only Crazy People Take Themselves Seriously

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Chapter 9

Mad Hatter: “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”

“Have you guessed the riddle yet?” the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.

“No, I give up,” Alice replied. “What’s the answer?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said the Hatter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He sleeps with a boomerang in his bed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody loved him, except for Mr. Rote.

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

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

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

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

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

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Big Spike Mean Ethan

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Chapter 8

The Red Queen shook her head, “You may call it nonsense if you like,” she said, ”but I’ve heard nonsense, compared with which that would be as sensible as a dictionary.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My friends are on the big side, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There aren’t many black guys living in Lakewood, which is mostly white man’s land. My stepmom said more of them are being section-eighted, complaining complaining and complaining. I didn’t know what she was talking about. When Jack started nodding his head, agreeing with her, I started ignoring it. I’ve seen more black guys at St. Mel’s than I expected. One of them is in the locker next to me. He is big fat evil Ethan. I’m OK with fat people, although I’m not a chubby chaser, but Ethan and I don’t get along. We’re two totally different kinds of people.

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

Fee fi fo, walking to Detroit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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