Authors: Geoff Herbach
I'm With Stupid, II
On Tuesday, I felt a little better, so after school, I lifted weights again. (You're not supposed to lift upper body two days in a row like that, but Monday had been such a waste.) Then I ran the stairs next to the gym for an hour. I felt a little stronger. No alcohol in my hammies. Usually, the basketball team has a game on Tuesday, but they were off. During a break from practice, Cody stood watching me run.
“Looking tough, man,” he shouted.
I didn't answer right away. When I got back down the stairs, I said, “Whatever, Ken.”
“What does that mean?” Cody spat.
I turned and ran back up the stairs, and Cody's practice began again. Between plays, he looked at me. My energy drained away. I stopped and went home.
After I showered, I saw that Cody had texted:
what up with you guys?
I didn't answer. I didn't really know what was up.
Abby texted a couple of times after that, but I just went to sleep in my sad bed.
Wednesday was sunny and in the 40s right away in the morning. I'd slept terribly again, totally haunted by Dad and buzzed by pleading texts (Abby). Instead of opening my Facebook page to read what mean things Wisconsinites might have left for me overnight, I found Pig Boy's home phone number and, without allowing myself to think twice, called it.
The phone rang six times. No answering machine or voicemail picked up.
Then Pig Boy: “Hello?” He was breathless. Scared?
“Hey, Tommy. It's Felton.”
“Hi!” he pretty much shouted. “Hi!” he said again.
“Hi. Hey. Do you have a bike?”
“Uh-huh,” he said.
“Can you ride to school today? Let's ride back to your place this afternoon and take away Curtis's bed.”
There was a pause. Then he whispered. “Okay. Okay. Good. Let's do this thing.”
“Okay. We'll take care of it.”
“See you later,” he whispered.
When he hung up, I thought,
Good. Good. Good.
Then I texted Abby:
sorryâ¦so tired i fell asleep early and was dead to the world.
She texted back:
thank you so much for msg i was scared you abandoned the team
I biked to school feeling cleaner. I could smell the soap on my body from my shower.
I thought that as I biked in the spring-like air.
I cruised through the day with little incident. Even Mr. Linder decided not to call on me, which was good because I hadn't read whatever short story I was supposed to read.
I thought that.
After school, Pig Boy and I met by the bike racks and rode over to his house. Pig Boy's bike is exactly the same as Aleah's from the summer she was in town, except Aleah's was a brand-new crap bike (girl's) and Pig Boy's (also girl's) was two years old, super crappy, and rusting to hell. It creaked and groaned as he pedaled. I pretty much pedaled twice and coasted the rest of the way because he moved so slowly.
It took us twenty minutes to cover what usually takes me five. That's okay because Tommy wanted to talk.
“You ever dream you can fly?” he asked.
“No. I dream bad stuff. That's just me.”
“My flying dreams are awesome because I can punch holes in clouds and that helps Curtis get to heaven.”
“Hmm. Sounds sort of scary.”
“No, it's great. It's really fun too. I'm a fast flyer.”
“Cool,” I said.
He was not, however, a fast biker.
Several decades later (so it felt), we arrived.
His house is on Fourth Street, a couple of blocks from where all the bars are in town. I think of this neighborhood as Dirty Town. There are lots of houses with old beer bottles and cans littering the yard. There are lots of old broken-down cars. The Dumpsters stink up the alleys. Tons of stray cats prowl around. It's a sad state of affairs.
The paint on Pig Boy's house was peeling. Three old carsâone without any wheelsâsat in the driveway. I thought: If I ever criticize Jerri's maintenance of the yard again, please, somebody, punch me in the face.
We pulled between cars and he said, “Let me make sure Dad's not here.”
I stood on the driveway and Pig Boy disappeared into the house. While he was gone, I watched some drunk college kids stumble by and saw two cats almost fight in the street until a speeding car caused them to run like lightning in opposite directions.
Tommy popped his head out of the front door. “He's down at the bar, but Grandma's home.”
I was nervous going in. I didn't know what to expect. Here's what I got: the house smelled like Gus's old cigarettes mixed into Campbell's bean and ham soup. There were a couple of broken recliners in the living room and a long, plaid couch that sagged in the middle. His grandma sat on the right side of that and smoked a cigarette. She was watching
on TV. She didn't look at me, say anything to me, nothing. She held that lit cigarette and stared at the box.
“This way,” Tommy whispered.
I followed him into a dark hall. The doors were open to a couple bedrooms, but no lights were on and the shades were all pulled. Tommy's was at the end of the hall.
“Right here,” he said. He flicked the light on.
I don't know what I was expecting to see. Blood maybe? Lots of trash? Not in Tommy's room. There were lots of Sharpie markers, which I assume Tommy took from school, and a big roll of butcher paper. (Andrew had a roll a couple of years ago that he used to collect quotes from great composers, so I knew what it was.) Most importantly, the room was just filled with pictures, drawings. Taped all over the walls. Giant pictures on that butcher paper. Good pictures. Superheroes and sidekicks. Action shots of cars speeding around corners. Muscle men in karate poses. Really, really good.
“Whoa. Nice,” I said.
“Dad draws some too,” Tommy told me.
I remembered Jerri asking, “What happens to people?”
“You're awesome, man. You do such good stuff.”
“Can you lift that?” Tommy pointed down to the floor.
And there was the bed. Curtis's. Lonely little bed. Just a single mattress lying on the floor, no sheets or blankets on it.
Pushed against the opposite wall, Tommy's bed was made neatly, a Green Bay Packer bedspread over the top. Several stuffed animals sat at attention, leaning against the cracked paint. Two bears, a penguin, and a baby seal.
“Well,” Tommy exhaled. “Let's move it, okay?”
I leaned over and picked up the mattress. It smelled like a kid, like Andrew. Tommy tried to help, but there wasn't really any point. The mattress was light. I balanced it on my shoulder and followed Tommy out into the hall. This got me: my shoulder sank into a depression, probably made by Curtis's body as he slept. This empty space made by that poor, dumb kid. I swallowed hard. We walked past a picture of Curtis in the hall.
“I'm sorry,” I whispered. “I'm sorry.”
In the living room, Grandma sprang to attention.
“What are you doing with that mattress?” she asked.
Tommy and I stopped. She took a drag on her cigarette and eyeballed us.
“Getting rid of it,” Tommy said.
“Your daddy might want to sell it. You better ask him.”
“No,” Tommy said. “Just don't tell him. He won't notice. I look at it all night long. I don't want to look at it anymore.”
She stared a moment longer, nodded slightly, then said, “Okay then. Go.”
I followed Tommy out of the house and breathed deeply, like I'd been holding my breath underwater.
We walked behind the house and into the alley. A few houses up from Tommy's, there was a big green Dumpster. I followed Tommy over to it. The beer and puke smell was terrible. “College boy house,” Tommy said. He pulled open the lid and I lifted the mattress high over my head and dropped it in. The Dumpster had been emptied recently because the mattress slid down to the bottom, nestled on top of empty bottles.
“You got a match?” Tommy asked.
“No,” I said.
“Just kidding,” he said.
“I don't have any bongo drums either,” I said.
“What?” he asked.
“Nothing. My mom justâ¦she wanted some drum thumping when she burned my dad's crap. She had a couple of friends hit drums.”
“That's weird,” Tommy said.
We walked back to his house.
He said, “Okay. Thanks. Bye.”
I said, “No problem, man. Let me know if youâ¦”
He walked up to the door, then turned and looked at me.
His big head sort of cracked me up. Gave me an idea. “Hey, you want to help make a comedy video on Saturday?” I asked.
“Really? I'm not funny,” he said.
“Oh yeah.” I smiled at him. “You're funny.”
Pig Boy stared for a moment, then nodded, “Okay. I am pretty funny really.” He smiled for maybe the second time ever.
During the day, Gus had forwarded me a Karpinski script he'd written based on the very mean notes Abby sent him. Funny though. And you know what? Pig Boy fit perfectly in it.
I biked home fast in that weird February warm air. I breathed deeply. I felt clean. Tommy wouldn't have to stare at Curtis's bed anymore.
In Current Events the next day, Thursday
Karpinski glared at me. He shook his head at me. His mouth kept running, even though no sound came out. When the bell rang, he chased me and Abby out into the hall. He'd apparently just gotten devastating news.
His forehead was covered in little bullets of sweat. His cheeks burned. His eyes shifted back and forth between mine and Abby's. “What the hell? Are you messing with me? This is terrible. What theâ¦What are you doing?”
“Uhâ¦what?” I asked.
“You two? When did you two happen?” He turned to Abby. “Jess says you're with Felton? We're prom dates, for shitâ¦you know you saidâ¦”
“Stop,” Abby said.
“Me? You want me toâ¦” Karpinski sputtered.
“Shut up,” Abby said. “I am not going to another dance with you.”
The air came out of Karpinski. He shook his head. “We said we'd go to prom together. We always said that senior yearâ¦”
“Stop,” Abby said. “I'm tired of you people.”
“Jesus Christ,” Karpinski said. “You teach her this, Rein Stone?
” he spat. He spun and walked down the hall fast. He sort of ran into, sort of elbowed this quiet kid, Erik Hallberg, on his way.
” I shouted.
Karpinski flipped the bird over his head.
“Oh my God,” Abby said. “How did I ever like him?”
Cody passed. He didn't look at me.
Jess said, “What's up with you two?”
“Karpinski's mad,” Abby said.
“Yeah. He'll get over it,” Jess said. She beamed at me. “Can't believe you're finally together. You getting a little action, Reinstein?”
“Ha, ha,” I said. “Quite a bit. Sort of.”
“Love. Birds,” Jess said. “I knew this would happen.”
Abby stared at the floor. “Whatever,” she said.
“Whatever?” Jess asked.
Abby shuffled away. I could smell this sort of lip-gloss smell. I knew it was peach schnapps though, not lip gloss.
“We might have a problem,” I whispered to Jess.
“Love. Birds,” she said.
I Will Not Leave You Alone, Ever
On Thursday night, I went over to Abby's and we drunk studied like we said we would. Go, team. Except I didn't drink. I faked it as best I could. (Abby poured me one fuzzy navel, which I had a sip of, then dumped in the toilet, then poured myself a glass of pure orange juice.) Then we “studied.”
“Felton,” Abby whispered. “I didn't go to cell biology at the college today.”
“Did you drop it?” I asked. “Are you okay?” Her head wasn't holding up straight. Her eyes kept closing.
“No. Didn't drop it. I came home and did a few shots and then I broke two Van Halen vinyl records because they're Dad's.”
“Oh. Then you came back for Current Events?”
“Uh-huh. I don't feel good. I'm going to sleep and then study. Is that okay?”
Before I could answer, she went to bed. I waited for twenty minutes. She didn't wake up. I ran through the house, hoping not to see Nolan. I rode my bike through a chill night.
At home, I pulled out my phone to see if Abby had called. She hadn't, but here's what I foundâa text from Andrew saying:
I do not understand what you're hoping for, Felton, but I will wait. You can't shake me. I won't go away.
There was a text from Tovi too:
dude i won't leave you no matter what, ok?
These were weird messages, but they made me feel good. I have a pretty good family in some ways. I doubted anyone was treating Abby so well.
I texted Abby:
had to go sleep, but you're not alone, not ever, okay?
I brushed my teeth and put on my sleeping shorts and tried to read this Hemingway story for Linder's class (couldn't concentrate), then texted Tovi and Andrew
Then I disabled my Facebook account (Crazy! What a relief!) and I went to bed without watching Homo Reinstein.
At 3 a.m., I woke up because my phone buzzed.
You are only one who cares. I am so lucky you are alive.
Team Eskimo Sexy Dance
Before school Friday, I got up early and ran. Not bad. I ran the hill on the main road. My muscles were not heavy. Each time up, I imagined Roy Ngelale running next to me, trying to beat me. Good run.
While I stretched afterward, I looked at the track team manual from the year before because I was curious about when the indoor state meet would be held (the only time before the end of the year that I'd face Roy Ngelale), and in bold letters on the second page of the manual, it said: “Any violation of the Athletic Code will result in immediate suspension from the team for the duration of the season.”
I'd already violated the code. Alcohol. Did Nolan Sauter know about Abby's drinking?
Then, at school on Friday morning, Abby slid up to me at my locker and whispered in my ear (in a way that made my heart go), “Let's go back out to Cal's barn tonight. Let's really tie one on. Let's let loose, man.”
I turned to her and she kissed me right next to my mouth.
“Sound interesting?” she whispered.
“Yeah,” I said. I breathed. “But let's talk later, okay? I want to make sure Gus is ready for filming tomorrow.”
“We're gonna hang tonight though, right?” Abby said, back stiffening, her cheeks falling from a smile.
“Yeah. Yeah. For sure,” I said.
She nodded. “Okay.” She sort of zombie-walked down the hall.
I had to do something. In Current Events, I leaned over to Abby and whispered, “Gus has some work for us in the morning. We can't blow out tonight. Just come over to my house. I'll make you dinner.”
There was no alcohol at my house. Jerri is generally the opposite of a drinker.
“You'll make me what?” Abby whispered. “Will Jerri be there?”
“Food. I don't know. Jerri might be there.”
“Will my dad?”
Lightning bolts! “Uh. Maybe?” I said. Didn't want to bring Abby to hang with Terry and Jerri.
“Okay,” Abby said. “Maybe just order a pizza? I'm not sure what you would cook.”
“A sandwich,” I said.
She nodded. “Pizza?”
At home, I slid around the basement clearing away my dirty clothes. (I did my own wash, which means there could be some exploding clothes hamper disasters from time to time.) Jerri wasn't home yet. I ran up to the kitchen and loaded the dishwasher because the sink was totally full. I used 409 to spritz off all the counters. This action would've blown Jerri's mind.
Not that I wanted to see Jerri.
In fact, I felt serious relief when Jerri called at six and told me she'd be at Terry's for the night.
“Sounds great, Jerri!” I said.
Jerri paused. “Is something going on?” she asked.
“No! Why?” I shouted.
“You sound odd, Felton.”
“I do? No! Just going to watch some TV or whatever!”
“Um. Okay. I might come home and check on you.”
“Go ahead,” I said. “Come by whenever.” Jerri wouldn't follow through.
Then I called Abby. She was on her way. I ordered the pizza from Steve's.
Damn pirate Abby.
When she arrived, she held up two six-packs of this super-brown beer. “Look what Dad left in the fridge in the basement!”
“Oh. Awesome,” I said.
shit, oh shit, oh shitâ¦
“It's like specialty brown German beer,” Abby said. “It's super expensive, I bet.”
Did it occur to me that Abby believed her dad might show up at my house and we'd have that beer? Yes. Did I fear the slight possibility that Jerri would come to check on me? Yes. Did it even occur to me that Coach Knautz might swing by on a whim, just to say, “Hi!” and find me drinking so he'd have to kick me off the track team? Yes.
But I have problems, okay? I wanted to help Abby feel good! I wanted to feel good because beer fills me with that loving feeling.
Did I drink one of those weird, smelly brown beers when Abby pestered me to drink a beer? Yes. Did I fill up with the beautiful tears of a thousand crying angels? Yes.
Am I a danger to myself (and others)? Yes.
This beer was not Hamm's, like Gus bought. It was very strong or filled with cocaine or something. (I think more alcohol in itâthat would make you stupid faster, right?)
By the time the Steve's dude delivered the pizza, Abby and I had already had a dance-off to that goofy song about what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and I'd put on a pair of Sorel snow boots and was stripped down to my boxers.
“Sexy Eskimo!” Abby shouted.
The doorbell rang.
I opened the door in my underpants.
It was my old friend Peter Yang's older brother, Carl, with the pizza. Carl's in college at the University of Wisconsin. He delivered pizzas when he was in high school. Sometimes, he'd bring a pizza home to me, Gus, and Peter when we'd stay there late to play
Dungeons and Dragons
“Reinstein,” he clipped. “Looking pretty sexy.” The Yangs show no emotions when they talk. They are intimidating.
“Uhâ¦Aren't you in college?”
“Steve gives me a weekend shift when I need extra cash,” Carl said. “So I come home.”
“Cool?” I said.
“Sixteen-fifty,” Carl said.
I had taken a twenty from Jerri's cash drawer (stole itâI had no cash). I handed it to Carl.
“You need change?” he asked.
“I don't think so,” I said.
“Good,” he said.
I nodded. Holy balls was I dizzy from the smelly German beer!
Then, for no reason, Carl said, “You're enemy number one up in Madison. Most hated man on campus. Can't believe you screwed around with the hat at your news conference. I wouldn't visit anytime soon.”
Smelly beer buzzed in my veins (that and straight-up piss because of my generalized Wisconsin problem).
“Really?” I said. “I shouldn't visit?”
“They'd kick your ass if you did.”
“Oh no,” I said. “Would they kick my ass real bad, Carl?”
“Yes,” he said.
“How bad?” I asked. I leaned toward him.
He backed up a step. “Shut up, man. You're wasted.”
“I'm going to stick that change in your ass if you don't get the hell away from my house,” I said.
“See you later, Reinstein.”
“Yeah, take care, Yang.”
I turned to Abby. She was lying on the floor.
“Give me another beer,” I said.
“Awesome,” Abby said.
“Let's go downstairs.”
We half stumbled into the basement. Can't believe we didn't drop the pizza.
We ate about half the pizza and drank like four beers each. I felt really full and mad about Wisconsin people.
And then my cell rang and it was Steve's Pizza's number. I picked it up.
“Yes?” I asked.
“This is Rick Heiser over at Steve's. I'm the manager.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“I just wanted to let you know we won't be making any more deliveries out to your place. You can't physically assault one of our drivers, okay? You can't do that. You're lucky we don't press charges, Mr. Reinstein.”
“I didn't assault anyoneâ¦”
“Be that as it mayâ¦”
“Be that as it may, no more delivery.”
“Are you kidding me? Carl verbally assaultedâ¦”
“That's all, sir.”
He hung up.
” I shouted.
“What?” Abby asked.
“Jesus Christ. I just got banned from Steve's delivery.” It's my favorite pizza of all time. “What the hell?”
“Why?” Abby asked.
“I physically assaulted Peter Yang's brother?”
“No, you didn't. I didn't see any physical beatings of any kind,” Abby said.
“Why is everyone such a hater, baby?”
“Come here,” Abby said.
I bent down and she kissed me. Tasted like sausage and that smelly beer.
“You better now?” she asked.
“Yeah. Sure,” I said.
Abby popped another beer. She sat cross-legged on the floor. Her eyes were watery and she sort of swayed while she talked. I sat on the couch, and my gut just clenched.
people, oh yeah? Better not show up on campus, huh? You better not show up on my campus or my police force will engage in some police brutality, okay?
“Don't you think it's dumb that Terry and Jerri's names rhyme?” Abby asked.
spanked. All of them. One after the other. In a big line stretching down Yang Street.
“It's really dumb. If your name was Gabby, I wouldn't date you. Abby and Gabby? Stupid.”
“Do I look like a Gabby to you?” I barked.
“Flabby,” Abby said.
“Not as muscley as you used to be,” she said. “Not like before.”
“Really?” That hurt my feelings. “I need to work out more, huh? What am I doing? This is stupid, Abby. I'm stupid.”
“Terry and Jerri aren't coming here tonight, are they?”
God. You stole Terry's beer.
“We should break some of Jerri's stuff,” Abby said.
“No. No. Why would we break Jerri's stuff?” I shouted.
“Okay. I didn't really mean that,” Abby slurred. “Don't be mad at me please? I have problems.”
“Yes!” I said. “What's wrong with you?”
She smiled. She said, “I love you, Felton.”
Then she climbed up on the couch and we lay back and I turned on the TV, an NBA game.
“Look at that dude's beard,” she said.
I think we were asleep in two minutes. Weird beer.
I woke up at about 2 a.m. Abby's sausage pizza, brown beer stanky breath assaulted my nostrils. I had to go into the bathroom and puke.
Then we both slept until 10 a.m., me on the floor, wrapped in my towel from the bathroom.
That's when Gus called. “Phone buzz,” Abby mumbled.
I answered, super groggy. “Hey. What?”
“Where the hell are you guys?” he whispered. “Pig Boy's here. I don't know what to say to him. He's freaking me out.”
“Oh yeah. Okay. We'll be there soon.”
“Don't forget your costumes,” he said.
The video. Pig Boy was already there.
“Abby,” I said. “We're late.”
“Oh my God. What's wrong with my head?” she whispered. “It really hurts.”
Then Abby sort of cried. I slid onto the couch next to her and hugged her head. “We have to go,” I said.
“I don't want to,” Abby said.
Then I got a little pissed. “Jesus. Come on. Gus is sitting there with Pig Boy.”
“What?” she mumbled.
“Please,” I said.
“Just hold my head a few seconds longer,” she said.
She breathed deep. “I might barf. I don't like Dad's beer. It almost killed us.”
“Maybe he tried to kill us,” I said. “Maybe he knew you'd steal it?”
“Probably,” Abby said. “He wishes I was dead so he wouldn't have to pay for me.”