Harvey Deenwaller really shit the bed when he tried out for the basketball team, because he forgot what we all knew: junior high school was bullshit. Trying leads to judging, judging leads to failing, and failing leads to being a loser. Of course we only heard about him, but it was all anyone talked about all day, and when we got into seventh period English we found out that Stacey McCain had seen it. She was always creeping on Carlos Messerschmidt – although she’d never admit it, except she was always admitting it – and Carlos was already on the team.
So yeah, Stacey was an instant celebrity, and old lady Laveau just sat in the corner shaking her head and I guess I kinda felt bad for her, but it was her own damn fault for trying to teach us stuff. Teachers are basically fascists, so I guess I learned something in social studies after all. At least she stuck around though, unlike Hotdog Krasinski last year who we nervous breakdowned. Nervous brokedowned? Broked down? Whatever.
Stacey said that Carlos passed but Harvey didn’t see the ball, and it hit him in the face. It broke his glasses and nose and he lost a tooth and there was blood everywhere, and he crumpled like a third grader getting beaned with a baseball, which I actually saw happen to Dominic Courvoisier. And Jet Marlow said that Harvey shit himself from shock. I don’t know about that, ’cause Jet wasn’t there and he says everyone shits themselves all the time, but then other people started saying it too so I guess it was probably true. Anyway, Harvey cried, which you just don’t come back from.
He wasn’t in school today. If he’s smart he’ll move to a different city.
Stacey started repeating herself so we stopped listening, and then the bell rang. Science was next, but we had a sub ’cause Mr. Van Beekom said racist stuff again, so that meant it was skip o’clock. But just as I was about to leave, old lady Laveau waved me over. I was going to ignore her but she used that voice that’s like “I’m super concerned about this, and I don’t want to call your parents, but”. And anyway, Bachman and the rest of my friends were already out the door so it’s not like they’d see me.
But Laveau smiled when I got to her desk and she was like, “I really like the essay you wrote!”
And I was like, “Okay?”
And then she’s like, “I mean it. That part where you were talking about treading water? How you drifted away from the shore – I’ll assume that’s childhood, right? – and how fear of the future was like trying not to drown… That’s a great metaphor.”
And then I was like, oh my god. I felt embarrassed, but also like, there was this fluttering in my chest. Like, I think she actually read it. Maybe Laveau was all right, for a fascist.
I almost didn’t regret trying, but then she’s like, “I think you should write for the school paper. You have some real talent that you could develop.”
Pfft. Almost got me, old lady, but I’m not falling for that.
I caught up with my friends. I thought we were going to the mall but they’re all going to science after all and I asked why.
“Because,” Bachman said, “this new sub, man. Ms. Morgan.” He chef’s kissed. “She’s hot!” And the others all said the same thing, and then Boner O’Neill stuck his hands in his shirt and made tits, and we all laughed.
And then we went to science because we had to see her for ourselves.
Man, Ms. Morgan was all that and a bag of chips, and when she started talking about titrations we couldn’t stop laughing. Get it, tit-rations? Okay, it doesn’t sound like that, but it was still hilarious, and then Ronnie Cho said he was in love with her and then he got this face, like it was all red and his eyes were wide and Boner figured it out first – because of course he would – and then we really started laughing.
And then some of the girls figured out Ronnie had wood and they were all like, “Ew! Gross!”
And then Ms. Morgan was like, “Gentlemen, please.” And we settled down and I even learned something about science. I mean, okay, you need the minimum to pass their stupid tests, I guess. I could listen to Ms. Morgan. There were worse ways to spend eighth period, and okay, I felt kind of bad for hassling her. Maybe not all teachers were fascists.
Ronnie spent the rest of the class hunched over his desk, trying to disappear, and I didn’t bug him because it could happen to anyone, and anyway, we’d give him shit for it later. Then bell rang and we all started packing up.
I saw Linda Armistice talking to Ms. Morgan, but then Linda came to me and I dropped my book. I’m not afraid of Linda, but like, I kinda am, if you know what I mean? She’s a total teacher’s pet. But she’s also that kid. Honour-everything, advanced-placement-everything, award-winning-everything. She tries, she gets judged, and she wins. And she makes all the rest of us look like butts.
She walked up to me, hugging her textbook, shaking her head. She ran her tongue along her new braces. “You guys are so immature.” And like, what the hell! She’s younger than me but she sounds like a mom!
Well I’ve always been quick on my feet and came back with the perfect comeback.
Linda rolled her eyes. “I wish you were better.” She started leaving, but then something hit me. It was like… this weird little shot of guilt, or something? It’s all ’cause of stupid Laveau’s stupid idea.
“Wait!” I said.
“You’re, um… you’re the editor of the student paper, aren’t you?” I was stalling. I knew she was. Everyone knew it, because she’d never shut up about it. “What would I do if… you know… I wanted to write…”
Her face lit up like it was a birthday – I mean, you know, back when birthdays mattered. We were too old for that stuff now.
She was like, “Oh my god!” She tore through her backpack and pulled out a stack of pamphlets. “I’m so glad you asked!” She shoved one into my hand. It was covered in clip art, and the title read ‘Get You into the Styoudent Paper!’
“So, like, everything you need is in here?” she said. “But, like, it’s real easy, okay? Just, like, write something and submit it by Tuesday, and then we’ll take a look at it? Okay? And then if it passes our rigorous journalistic standards? We’ll publish it for the Thursday edition? Okay?”
“Okay.” I was already regretting asking.
It was Friday, so we all met at the park after school. Bachman had got his hands on a cigarette, and the three of them were already passing it around by the time I caught up.
Bachman was saying he knew a guy, couple years up and a school over, that could get us a doobie. I didn’t know what a doobie was, but I know I wanted one. When my turn came up for the cigarette I took a little puff and then immediately started coughing. That’s how you know it was a good cigarette.
I was still holding the pamphlet in my hand, stupid me, and Boner snatched it while I wasn’t looking.
“What the hell?” he said, and then laughed. “You writing for the paper, nerd?”
“No.” Oh my god. I wasn’t really gonna. And they weren’t supposed to find out.
“I like the paper,” said Bachman. “Especially those comics Walid makes.”
“Oh, holy shit!” said Boner. “Yeah, those are hilarious. Man, that guy draws good.”
“Yeah, wish I could do that,” said Ronnie.
“Good on you,” said Bachman, and it took me a moment to figure out he was talking to me. And later on I realized, that was it. They didn’t really rag on me, which was weird, but okay.
“What are you gonna write about?” asked Boner.
“Oh my god!” said Bachman. “You should write about Ms. Morgan’s tits!”
Then we all laughed.
“Oh my god, you guys,” said Ronnie. “She’s so hot!” He was totally in love with her, just like he was totally in love with Nina de la Cruz last week, and friggin’ April from Ninja Turtles since forever.
Then we all made air tits and laughed and finished the cigarette. Later on I went home and felt pretty good about writing something. It wasn’t going to be about Ms. Morgan though, that’d never get past Linda. And besides, I wanted to write something that would count, something that would shake up the world and change things.
On Sunday, I realized I had signed up for voluntary weekend homework.
But… man, I hate to admit it, but I actually kind of liked writing the piece. I think I had a really good idea, and on Thursday everyone would see it. They’d call me a hero.
On Monday we learned Ms. Morgan would be with us for at least a few weeks, as Mr. Van Beekom really shit the bed this time. Some people said he even got fired, and Danny Eidelbaum’s step-dad’s cousin worked with the school board, so he would know. Only, Danny said he hadn’t heard anything either way, so he couldn’t tell us. Needless to say, none of us were going to skip eighth period science.
I spent lunch in the library typing up my submission, and then put it on a floppy, just as Linda’s pamphlet said to do. After science, I tracked her down and handed it to her.
“Oh, cool!” she said. “Thanks so much!”
My job was done. Now all I had to do was wait till Thursday.
Man, those were the longest days of my life. I didn’t want to tell anyone about my work because I didn’t want to spoil it, but waiting was hell.
But it was so good! I was going to change the world. I wrote a story about kids in a prison. It’s like a metaphor, ’cause school’s like a prison, and we’re the kids in the story. Get it? It was called “The Student’s Struggle”. I had characters based on all the people I know, kind of moping around, until a leader kid came along. Oh, and like the wardens? They’re the teachers. They’re keeping the kids down.
So this leader comes along, and he writes this book about his struggles and the prisoners all pass it along in secret until they all see that he’s the guy who’s going to lead them to freedom, ’cause he’s been through it all and he knows what to do. I kinda based him on myself. And isn’t that the coolest thing ever!? A story where a character in the story writes another story!
Anyway, so the kids all band behind the leader, and he leads them in a glorious revolution and they take over the prison. But he’s a hero, right? He knows there’s other prisons around the world, so he vows to hunt down all the teachers, so that all the kids would finally be free, so that they’d have all the space they needed to do whatever. It’s hopeful like that.
Oh man, I couldn’t wait.
I couldn’t believe it, but I actually got to school early. And I didn’t even care! The papers were normally near the front doors, by the office, and I got there as Linda and some of the others delivered them.
I grabbed one and flipped through it. I skipped past the announcements for next week, but I did stop at the Walid comic. Hilarious as usual! I bet he’s going to do professional comics one day. Then I flipped on to the student submissions.
And you know what I saw? Ronnie Cho ended up submitting a piece. He called it Fata Morgana, whatever that means, and it looked like some kind of lovey-dovey fairy tale poem thing, only as I read on I became pretty sure it was about Ms. Morgan. I mean, it actually wasn’t bad, but holy crap. I think he really was in love this time.
I kept flipping, looking for my own piece.
And I came to the end of the paper, without seeing it.
“The hell?” I said. I flipped through the paper again, and again I didn’t find it. I checked the table of indexes or whatever, and it wasn’t in that either. When I looked up I saw the others had dispersed. I only saw Linda down the hallway.
“Linda!” I ran after her.
She turned around, and she had this weird smile. “Oh, hi.” It’s like she had just come across a kindergartner who fell off his trike and didn’t scrape his knee, but was bawling anyway.
“What the hell! Why’s my story not in the paper?”
“Well,” she said, drawing it out. “It just wasn’t that good.”
I felt like she kicked me, and I wasn’t wearing a cup.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “But, like, there’s spelling errors everywhere? And, like, it’s like seven pages long but there’s only five line-breaks? And, like, the dialogue tags are all wrong? You’re supposed to put the comma inside the quotes?”
Each condemnation, another kick.
No, my story’s good. I had to fight back.
“But you published Ronnie’s poem! It’s about Ms. Morgan’s tits!”
“I know,” she said, looking up at the ceiling like she was weighing things. “But the imagery really is very vivid, and he has a sublime grasp of lyrical language. And while it’s about Ms. Morgan’s tits, it’s also about all of us, don’t you think? Like, it really hits some deep life meanings. It would have been a crime not to publish it.”
I… I didn’t know what to say. Unfortunately, Linda wasn’t done.
“And,” she said, frowning, “frankly, I’m not sure about the subject matter of your story. The main character kind of sounds like Hitler.”
I couldn’t breathe.
“We don’t want the paper to promote fascist propaganda, y’know?”
That’s what I get for trying. Judgement. Failure. Loser.
“Listen,” she said. “Not everyone gets published the first time around. I didn’t. Frankly, it takes a lot of work. I think there’s some good stuff in your story, and you definitely have some great skills. Why don’t you come by writing club? We can help each other learn.”
Wait. Me? And Linda? Help each other? Maybe… maybe I wasn’t a loser, just ’cause I tried. Maybe there was more to life than just win or lose. And maybe me and Linda could figure it all out… in writing club… together.
Then she’s like, “My boyfriend’s really good at dialogue tags. He can help you out.”