Authors: Geoff Herbach
Hamlet Had Chickens
The rest of the day Sunday, I didn't move. It felt like I'd break the world if I moved at all.
Knautz? Don't moveâ¦
I only turned on my phone once, to tell Andrew to leave me a message about Grandpa as soon as he heard anything. A text from Aleah came through while the phone was on.
Composing is what I want to do, Felton.
Aleah! You are not part of my life!
What the hell did composing have to do with me? Really? I had tragedies unfolding all around.
Otherwise, the phone was off, the computer was off. I stayed in bed.
After staring at the ceiling for hours, I reached in my backpack and pulled out the Shakespeare book we were using in Linder's class. For the first time in weeks, I read our assignment. I read more than our assignment. I read two weeks in advance. All of
? Story of a kid obsessed with avenging his father's death.
It was hard to readâbut Jesus Christ. Suicidal thoughts? Bad choices? Trying so hard to sort it all out, to the point of driving himself crazy, harming those he loved, and then everybody dies in the end? This play spoke to me.
I read parts three times. I read one part four times. That “To be or not to be” part. I wasn't sure I got it completely.
he's talking about, right?
Chickens Land on Abby
You turned off your phone?” Abby said. “Why?” We stood at my locker between first and second hour Monday morning. Her face was red and her eyes were sort of bloodshot. She looked haggard, worn out.
“I can't deal.”
“With everybody loving that video?” she asked.
“I know,” she said. “It's so funny. It's mean though. It's really mean.”
“Really,” I said. “I don't want to watch it.”
“I tried to call you over and over,” Abby whispered. “I had a rough weekend.” She exhaled hard and grabbed my hand. “And you left that message about alcoholâ¦”
“Jerri found our beer bottles,” I said.
“Yeah,” Abby said. “Dad called me. He totally screamed at me. He talked to Mom last night. He screamed at her too.”
“About the beer?”
“That and he got a progress report from the college Saturday that I'm flunking cell biologyâ¦he's paying, you know?”
“What are we doing?” I asked.
“Mom freaked at me and I called her a stupid bitch and she slapped me and Nolan had to hold her arms so she wouldn't hit me more.”
“Oh shit,” I whispered. “Abby, I'mâ¦”
“It's my fault,” she said. “I've been a wreck for months. I've been a messâ¦Mom flipped. She broke every bottle of alcohol in the house. There's glass all over the back patio.”
“Are you okay?”
“No. I need quiet. Things areâ¦things are breakingâ¦” She nodded.
“I know,” I said.
“I have to stop. I'm going to stop. I'm not going to flunk that class, Felton.”
“Okay,” I said, nodding.
“Yeah,” Abby said. “And you left that message about people who hang themselves and then I cried for five hours.”
I nodded. “My dad. Alcohol. Andrew told me.”
“Why does Andrew know everything?” Abby asked.
Then something. Abby leaned her forehead toward me. She locked eyes with me. She said, “You will never fall. Not on my watch. I'm serious, Felton.” She grabbed my shirt in her fist. “I'm going to protect you.”
I almost cried for some reason.
Abby isn't a drunken Russian swimsuit model by nature. She's a really tough person.
One Chicken Makes the Dipshits Happy
Something weird happened at school the next couple of days (not as weird as it would become).
The Dickinski effectâ¦
In English on Monday, Gus, out of his mind excited, told me the Dickinski video had been viewed 1,100 times.
“Weird,” I said.
“Yeah, whoa. My best YouTube video otherwise has nineteen views and probably seventeen are me.” He tried high-fiving me, but I wasn't looking. “Dude, high five.”
I looked at him and he was holding his hand up. Gus is not a natural high-fiver. “Oh. Okay,” I said.
By the end of the day, I could totally feel it. That video totally changed the energy in the school. The orchestra geeks (Bony Emily's crew) and the general dipshits (the spattering of humanity represented by Pig Boy) walked the halls with their heads held a little higher. It was like:
out. You can kick us in the ass. But we'll come back and crush your balls 1,100 times over!
The masses of balloon heads who'd been whispering “traitor” and “homo” behind my back stopped. Instead, they said, “Hey, Felton. You were awesome in that video!”
I nodded. I've always wanted to be a comedian. People laughed at me a lot when I was young but not because I'd made any good jokes. (I flinched a lot and dropped my books and crap.) It felt sort of good to be recognized for being funny.
Did I feel bad for Karpinski? Yes and no. He wasn't in school. He stayed home. I felt bad about Cody. He avoided me like death, so I avoided him. He'd told me to stay away and I had to because what if he told Coach Knautz about the Kwik Trip Dumpster beer? I had to do what he said.
I didn't think I could make it through spring without track.
Monday night, I lifted weights and ran stairs. The basketball team practiced on the gym floor below me. Cody didn't look at me once. I mean, I could tell he was avoiding looking at me.
On Tuesday morning before school, I saw Pig Boy. He looked like a different person. He wasn't wobbling when he walked. He passed me in the hall near the choir room and offered his fist for a bump. “Dude,” he said.
That was a kid feeling pretty good about himself. How could I feel bad for Karpinski? Hadn't Karpinski walked through school feeling awesome his whole spastic life? Shouldn't Pig Boy, who had suffered so much, get the chance?
By the end of the day, I saw why Tommy was feeling so good. Bony Emily wore a “Bully Me” shirt like Tommy's but with “Cello Girl” written underneath it. Tommy had drawn my number 34 on the back of her shirt too.
Not all chickens are bad. Good chickens you send out can make larger good chickens happen. Is that karma?
I don't know. Ask Andrew.
I felt good when I saw Bony Emily's new shirt. But then feeling good made me feel bad for Karpinski and about Cody. Then I got angry at Karpinski for being a dick.
years! He should feel what it's like to live Pig Boy's existence!
Then I felt bad for everybody.
Then I ate a monster cookie I bought from the band's bake sale and I forgot about everything until after school. It was a pretty good cookie.
Hamlet and Mr. Linder
After school, instead of going to run right away, I visited Mr. Linder to talk about
Linder was a little surprised when I walked into his room.
I knocked on the doorframe and said, “Can I ask you some questions?”
“Reinstein? Really? I'm not a coach, you know. I can't help you with your footballs.”
“I'm here about
. I've read it a couple of times.”
“Well, I'll be damned. I thought you forgot how to read.”
“No. I've read some parts like five or ten times.”
“Okay. Sit down.”
I sat at the desk in front of him. I squinted. I asked, “Is Hamlet talking about suicide in that âto be or not to be' speech?”
“I thought so.”
Linder cocked his head to the side. He nodded. “There's a larger context in the story though. Hamlet's revealing the kind of person he is in that speech. It's called a soliloquy, by the way.”
“What kind of person is he?”
“He's depressive and darkâhis dad is dead.”
“Yeah, I get that. Butâ¦”
“But his big problem is the human condition, which is everybody's problem. It's the mortal coil. Remember that from the speech? The mortal coil?”
“Yeah. I picture a killer snake.”
“Good enough. But the mortal coil is a symbol, okay?”
“Okay,” I nodded.
“It represents the trouble of being human. Right?”
I paused. I nodded. “I really don't know,” I said.
“What's the human condition?”
“Uhâ¦We're hungry a lot? I mean, I am.”
“Psychological, not biological, Felton.”
“We think a lot,” he said.
“Oh. Yeah. I do. Too damn much.”
“But we can't be sure we know anything. We don't know if we're right. We don't know about the future. We're born into all these responsibilities and relationships and histories that are so complex.”
“Oh,” I said. I nodded.
“We're tiny, but we have to make decisions about big things.”
“Hamlet has a huge responsibility, right? Huge. He's the son of the king! He believes his father's been murdered! But he isn't exactly sure. Is his mind playing tricks on him?”
“My mind plays tricks on me. I picked up that Wisconsin hat,” I said.
“No kidding, Felton. What a stir over nothing, huh?”
“I don't know.”
“I don't care about that.”
“Good,” I nodded. “Thanks.”
“What are Hamlet's choices? To act on his belief, to harm those he loves? To avenge the death of his dad when he's unsure and not naturally given to fighting? Or to die, let go, shuffle off the mortal coil? Just dump it all! Break away!”
“Shit,” I said.
“But he's afraid of death too. Afraid of the unknown that death represents. What if he dies and spends an eternity dreaming of his failings?”
“Tortured guy, Prince Hamlet.”
“Shit, shit,” I mumbled.
“Yeah,” I said. “Not everybody has a mortal coil. My brother, Andrew, isn't like Hamlet. He doesn't worry about that kind of crap. He's all action.”
“Everybody has a mortal coil. Some people are better at handling it.”
“Butâ¦you're like Hamlet?” Linder asked.
“Maybe,” I said.
“How so?” Linder leaned forward. He nodded slowly.
“My dad killed himself.”
“I know. And you're some kind of prince, aren't you? The football hero.”
“That's genetics from my dad.”
“Prince isn't an elected position. It's passed from parent to child.”
“Yeah. Of course. Right.”
Linder smiled. “Soâ¦do you understand something about your own existence from reading about Hamlet's plight?” he asked.
“Definitely. I should hurry up and murder my mom and my uncle.”
The smile dropped from Linder's face. He shook his head. “I don't think that's the message.”
“I don't actually have an uncle, not a blood uncle. My aunt is married to this guy, David. I've never met him. He couldn't marry my mom because he's already marriedâ¦”
“Stop joking,” Mr. Linder said.
“Don't take the easy way out. You're in here for a reason, I assume.”
I stood up. Linder winced. I didn't really mean to joke. It just happened because shit falls out of my mouth. “I'm not like Hamlet. I do act,” I said. “I do great when I'm on a football field.”
“That's easy. There's a specific goal and there are set rules.”
“Perfect. I like that.”
“But Hamlet isn't playing a game. He's dealing with real life where there aren't set rules. He has to make up his own rules and it's driving him crazy.”
“He's crazy?” I asked.
“Do you think he's crazy?” Linder asked.
“If you make up your own rules, then there aren't any real rules, and if there aren't any real rules thenâ¦thenâ¦then it's chaos! Who wouldn't be crazy?”
“That's the mortal coil right there, my friend,” Linder said, nodding.
“That sucks,” I said. “Somebody should make some rules.”
“Make your own. If Hamlet had considered his values instead of messing around, drinking beer at university, maybe he would've been decisive when the crisis came. He'd have had his rules. He could've avoided the whole mess.”
I started sliding toward the door. “Why are you talking about beer?”
“I'm not,” Linder said. “Are you leaving?”
“I have to go running,” I said.
“Of course you do,” Linder nodded.
“Plus, if he had his rules and was decisive, then the story would be too short and it wouldn't be a tragedy and nobody would care,” I said.
“Hamlet had to have his problems or Shakespeare wouldn't have a play. You're right.”
“Everybody dies. It's Hamlet's fault.”
“That's the magic of fiction, Felton. You get to experience the crisis and the causes without actually living through them yourself. What did you learn from
“That's my Facebook relationship status,” Mr. Linder said.
“Gross,” I said.
“You can do better than Facebook, can't you? Think.”
“I really have to go for a run,” I said. I ran out the door.
“Nice seeing you!” he shouted behind me.
WTF? Why are you running?
I was running down the hall.
Mr. Linder emailed me five minutes after I left and told me he'd walk me to the guidance counselor's office if I needed the help or we could talk more about Hamlet another time. I saw the message when I got home.
Before that, I ran sprints for an hour.
After I saw the message, I sat at my desk and thought.
You're not like Hamlet. You do stuff. You decide. You act. You make funny videos that make dipshits happyâ¦
Then I was struck:
balls. Hamlet made a play.
Seriously, Hamlet makes a play in
to see how his mom and uncle would react.
That's like an old school video.
balls. You're Hamlet?
Thankfully, Abby called at that moment to make our evening plan.