Tag Archives: Wyatt Staskus

Ricochet

Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“HALLO!”

I’m, like, “Hi.”

“YES?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The folks watch FOX News every night. It’s doing to them what they think video games are going to do to me.

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

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

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

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

It’s AMMO, CAMO, and RAMBO!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They would never be allowed back.

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

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

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

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

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

“Shut up.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back then if you got a detention you had to help dig out the new basement with a shovel.

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

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

 

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Chapter 2

“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hate pain, even though I can take a lot of it, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Mr. Rote, our religion teacher, says we measure our pain by God, whatever that means. A lot of my prayers are thanking God I’m mostly healthy. We talk about evil in class, but I think the worst evil is pain. When my grandfather got old, before he died, he was in pain all the time. He was always hunched over, but he never complained. He could hardly walk. Dad said he just had to accept it. IT SUCKS TO BE OLD! When you’re a grown-up it’s right around the corner and you might as well brace for it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does he know?

 

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Chapter 3

“Contrariwise,” continued Tweedledee, “if it was so, it might be, and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.”

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

I didn’t think about it, at all. St. Mel’s was Mel’s and Lakewood was Lakewood. No problem there.

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

They probably ran out of money since they were almost in the ghetto. Back then the ghetto was coming downtown. But now downtown has gone to the ghetto.

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

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

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

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

But I still didn’t want to go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The school used to be for working class guys, but that’s changed, too, which isn’t funny because St. Mel was a blue-collar guy.

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

Nobody smart does that anymore, especially not at St. Mel’s. NO CHARITY is the rule, or at least as little as possible. It’s the 20th century now, the USA, not the middle of nowhere a thousand years ago, or some god-forsaken place today. We’re all in on that. I take it smart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many of my friends from the Lakewood middle schools applied to St. Mel’s, but only three of them made it. It’s competitive getting in, but that’s good because it makes you stronger and better. It makes you more determined. You have to watch out for the CHOPPING BLOCK.     That’s the thing that matters the most. Don’t get chopped. That’s what everybody does at St. Mel’s. They chop the other guy. That’s why we win all the state championships.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Mel’s wasn’t the school I wanted to go to, but now I call it my school. Some people call it the facility, but most guys call it St. Mel’s. Cooper calls it THE ORGANIZATION, but that’s Cooper, always slapping his nuts. Nobody calls it our Catholic School or High School anything, nothing like that.

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

 

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Chapter 4

 “So she sat on with closed eyes, and half believed herself in Wonderland, though she knew she had but to open them again, and all would change to dull reality.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My mother named her Sadie because it means princess.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cafeteria gave us milk that was four years old.

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

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

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

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

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

Eighth grade is the hardest year, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mrs. Puga was short, dark, and blonde. Her hair had sweet highlights. She wore glasses, dressed nicely, but hobbled because she had had her hip replaced, but it still didn’t work too good. Whenever she got mad, she would stare at you, make faces, and her features started twitching. Whenever she was down pressing and her face was twitching, I would lean forward and look at her. I would just stare at her, dead serious.

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

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

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

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

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

Science was my favorite subject.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It smelled horrible, no matter what.

 

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Chapter 5

“O Tiger-lily,” said Alice. “I wish you could talk!”

“We can talk,” said the Tiger-lily: “when there’s anybody worth talking to.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe he is Irish, after all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all stayed quiet and kept waiting waiting waiting.

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

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

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

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

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

“One hundred percent depends on the Holy Spirit in the pursuit of holiness,” said Mr. Rote. It’s the Stairway to Heaven, yeah yeah yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re still talking.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was so annoying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He talks down to the boys.

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

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

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

 

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Chapter 6

“Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas – only I don’t know exactly what they are!”

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

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

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

We were only four years old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did I ever do to you, I wondered?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I don’t skateboard anymore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better to be the robin who gets what he wants.

 

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Chapter 7

“O Tiger-lily,” said Alice. “I wish you could talk!

“We can talk,” said the Tiger-lily: “when there’s anybody worth talking to.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a FULL DETENTION!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

enuff-skully-complete-skateboard-b7

 

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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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.

 

enuff-skully-complete-skateboard-b7

 

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.

 

enuff-skully-complete-skateboard-b7  

 

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.

 

enuff-skully-complete-skateboard-b7

 

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.

 

enuff-skully-complete-skateboard-b7

 

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 so many times I wore the crap out of it.

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

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

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

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

“Oh, my God, I’m not doing that.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Turn sideways,” I said. She did.

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

“Ha, ha, ha, you look like a zipper.”

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

I liked her much more after that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonas is a counselor. Alana is almost a counselor.

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

We just stood there.

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

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

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

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

We were all laughing and yelling and punching each other.

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

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

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

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

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

“Get out of here, man!”

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

“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.

 

enuff-skully-complete-skateboard-b7

 

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.

 

enuff-skully-complete-skateboard-b7

 

Chapter 15

“I like the Walrus best,” said Alice: “because you see he was a little sorry for the poor oysters.”

“He ate more than the Carpenter, though,” said Tweedledee. “You see he held his handkerchief in front, so that the Carpenter couldn’t count how many he took: contrariwise.”

“That was mean!” Alice said indignantly. “Then I like the Carpenter best – if he didn’t eat so many as the Walrus.”

“But he ate as many as he could get,” said Tweedledum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was, like, “Oh, man.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s wrong with Mark?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“That really hurt!” I cried out.

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

“You’ll be fine,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

 

enuff-skully-complete-skateboard-b7

 

Chapter 16

When his eye happened to fall upon Alice, he turned round rather instantly, and stood for some time looking at her with an air of the deepest disgust.

“What – is – this?” he said at last.

“This is a child!” Haigha replied eagerly.

“I always thought they were fabulous monsters!” said the Unicorn. “Is it alive?”

“It can talk,” said Haigha, solemnly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would also definitely shoot Spoons.

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

“Just shut up, dude,” I say.

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

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

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

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

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

There would be no mercy for Spoons, though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m DONE with it,” I said.

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

He’s better than the cleathead tards. At least he doesn’t give us PHONY pep talks.

 

enuff-skully-complete-skateboard-b7

 

Chapter 17

 I see nobody on the road,” said Alice.

“I only wish I had such eyes,” the King remarked in a fretful tone, “To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance, too! Why, it’s as much as I can do to see real people, by this light!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“CJ, what are you doing?”

“Dude, shut up,” he says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We get our own clubhouse going.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who cares? You?” they say.

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

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

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

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

 

enuff-skully-complete-skateboard-b7

 

Chapter 18

“If you’re going to turn into a pig, my dear,” said Alice, seriously, “I’ll have nothing more to do with you. Mind now!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nobody likes you,” I told him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

enuff-skully-complete-skateboard-b7

 

Chapter 19

“You may look in front of you, and on both sides, if you like,” said the Sheep: “but you can’t look ALL round you – unless you’ve got eyes at the back of your head.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was, “OK, but don’t wait long.”

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

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

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

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

“Let go of my tie,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Chapter 20

“She generally gave herself good advice (although she very seldom followed it.)”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They win a life of LUXURY.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had to let him wear mine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What else do you read?”

“I read the ‘Inferno’. It was good.”

“I’m impressed. I didn’t read that until I was in college. What else have you read? The ‘Iliad’, Homer’s other book?”

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

“How about ‘Paradise Lost’?”

“I don’t know what that is.”

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

“I don’t know her.”

“George Elliot, or any of them?”

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

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

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

“How about Ernest Hemingway?”

“I’ve heard of him, he’s a poet, too. We read ‘Hills of White Elephants’.”

“James Baldwin, anybody like that?”

“No, never heard of him, who is he?”

“Charles Dickens?’

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

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

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

“Oh,” he said.

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

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

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

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

 

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Chapter 21

“Tut, tut, child!” said the Duchess. “Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t think that was right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s not going to happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can’t just back down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The future starts right here. Running down the finish line to the beginning like a bullet on the ricochet, playing it smart not blowing my mind staying lean and clean breaking the waves keeping the blood and scars as small as pinpricks.

   “The end,” said the King of Hearts.

 

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