Authors: Jerry Spinelli
Tags: #Children/Young Adult Trade
He loved joining all the colors at the vacant lot and playing the summer days away. Stickball, basketball, football. Half the time he forgot to go home for lunch.
One day a new kid, tall and lean, came to the vacant lot, spinning a football. He spotted Maniac and stopped cold. He came closer, bent over, stared. Then he broke open a billboard grin and called out, "Hey, everybody! 'Member I said 'bout the little white dude snatched the pass off me in gym class? Here he is. This is the dude!"
And this, of course, was Hands Down.
The first thing Hands did, when they chose up sides, was to pick Maniac for his team.
"You crazy, Hands," a high-schooler laughed. "He's just a runt. His peach fuzz ain't even come in yet."
But Hands took him anyway and played quarterback and threw passes to Maniac all day long. They huddled and scratched their plays in the dirt. Down to the tin can and break for the goal. Stop and go at the rock. Curl around the junked tire.
If Hands's pass was anywhere near Maniac, if Maniac could get at least two fingertips on it, the ball was good as caught. The high-schoolers and junior-highers went crazy trying to stop him. Nobody kept official records that day, but legend has it that by the time Amanda Beale showed up and called, "Jeffrey ---dinner!" Maniac had scored forty-nine TDs.
And when they played stickball, and they saw him poling the ball out to the street and into backyards, they started putting two and two together, and somebody came up to him and squinted in his face and said, "You that Maniac kid?"
And somebody else said, "You that Maniac?"
And pretty soon everybody was saying it, including Hester and Lester; and, finally, in the kitchen one day, as he licked white icing from her thumb, Mrs. Beale said it: "You that Maniac?"
He told her what he told everyone. "I'm Jeffrey. You know me." Because he was afraid of losing his name, and with it the only thing he had left from his mother and father.
Mrs. Beale smiled. "Yeah, I know you all right. You'll be nothing but Jeffrey in here. But ---" she nodded to the door --- "out there, I don't know."
She was right, of course. Inside his house, a kid gets one name, but on the other side of the door, it's whatever the rest of the world wants to call him.
*¤* nihua *¤*
Maniac's fame spread all over the East End.
The new white kid.
Who lived with the Beales at 728 Sycamore.
Who ran the streets before the fathers went out.
Who could poleax a stickball like a twelfth-grader and catch a football like Hands Down.
Who was allergic to pizza.
Who jumped up in Bethany Church and shouted, "Hallelujah! A-men!"
Little kids, especially preschoolers, came from all over, bringing him their knots. They had heard about him from Hester and Lester. They had heard he could untie a sneaker knot quicker than a kid could spend a quarter.
The bigger kids came around too, for other reasons. From Moore Street and Arch Street and Chestnut and Green. Heading for the vacant lot to check out the new kid. To test him. To see if everything they'd heard was true. To see how good he really was. And how bad.
They found out he could do more with a football than just catch it. He could run like a squirrel. He juked and jived and spun and danced and darted, and he left them squeezing handfuls of air. Pretty soon the vacant lot was littered with blown sneakers and broken hearts.
He didn't do much talking, but he didn't have to. Hands Down did it for him.
Every time he scored a TD or cracked a home run, Hands was bent over in his face, talking trash. "Do it, man! Smoke them suckas! Poke 'em! Joke 'em! You bad-dudin' it! You the baddest! Five me, jude!"
And they high-fived and low-fived and back-fived, and Hands Down would laugh and laugh.
Maniac loved trash talk. The words were different, but in some strange way they reminded him of church. It had spirit, it had what they called soul. Pretty soon he was talking trash with the rest of them.
And pretty soon he brought it home.
Mrs. Beale was pressing her famous meatloaf into a baking pan one day, when Maniac started talking his trash to her. Her eyes shot open. She straightened up. "Wha'd you say?"
He said some more.
At first she couldn't believe her ears. When she did believe them, she didn't like it. She didn't like this boy bringing the vacant lot into her kitchen; and she didn't like how it fit his mouth. So she put a stop to it right then and there and slapped that trash-talking mouth.
Her lip started to quiver before his, but before she could say "I'm sorry," he was hugging and squeezing her and burying his face in her chest and sobbing, "I love you... I love you..."
And he loved the quiet times after Hester and Lester went to bed. That's when he read Amanda's books. When he had gone through about half of them, he figured it was time to tackle the encyclopedia A.
Problem was, Amanda was always reading it. And she vowed she wasn't giving it up, not even to Maniac, till she read everything from Aardvark to Aztec. To make matters worse, the supermarket offer had expired, so there were no other volumes.
The more Amanda would not let go of the A, the more Maniac wanted it. It reached the point where she had to hide it whenever she wasn't reading it. Unbeknownst to her, Maniac always found it. He would get up even earlier in the morning, read it by flashlight for a while, sneak it back, and go trotting with Bow Wow.
And sometimes Maniac just sat at the front window, being on the inside.
Maniac loved almost everything about his new life.
But everything did not love him back.
*¤* nihua *¤*
Maniac Magee was blind. Sort of.
Oh, he could see objects, all right. He could see a flying football or a John McNab fastball better than anybody.
He could see Mars Bar's foot sticking out, trying to trip him up as he circled the bases for a home run.
He could see Mars Bar charging from behind to tackle him, even when he didn't have the football.
He could see Mars Bar's bike veering for a nearby puddle to splash water on him.
He could see these things, but he couldn't see what they meant. He couldn't see that Mars Bar disliked him, maybe even hated him.
When you think about it, it's amazing all the stuff he didn't see.
Such as, big kids don't like little kids showing them up.
And big kids like it even less if another big kid (such as Hands Down) is laughing at them while the little kid is faking them out of their Fruit of the Looms.
And some kids don't like a kid who is different.
Such as a kid who is allergic to pizza.
Or a kid who does dishes without being told.
Or a kid who never watches Saturday morning cartoons.
Or a kid who's another color.
Maniac kept trying, but he still couldn't see it, this color business. He didn't figure he was white any more than the East Enders were black. He looked himself over pretty hard and came up with at least seven different shades and colors right on his own skin, not one of them being what he would call white (except for his eyeballs, which weren't any whiter than the eyeballs of the kids in the East End).
Which was all a big relief to Maniac, finding out he wasn't really white, because the way he figured, white was about the most boring color of all.
But there it was, piling up around him: dislike. Not from everybody. But enough. And Maniac couldn't see it.
And then all of a sudden he could.
*¤* nihua *¤*
It was a hot day in August.
It was so hot, if you stood still too long in the vacant lot, the sun bouncing off a chunk of broken glass or metal could fry a patch on your hide.
So hot, if you were packing candy, you had soup in your pocket by two o'clock.
So hot, the dogs were tripping on their own tongues.
And so hot, the fire hydrant at Green and Chestnut was gushing like Niagara Falls (courtesy of somebody wrenching off the cap).
By the time Maniac and the rest of the vacant lot regulars got there, Chestnut and Green was a cross between a block party and a swimming pool. Radios blaring. People blaring. Somebody selling lemonade. Somebody selling Kool-Aid ice cubes on toothpicks. Bodies. Skin. Colors. Water. Gleaming. Buttery. Warm. Cool. Wet. Screaming. Happy.
The younger you were, the fewer clothes you had on. Grownups sat on the sidewalk and dangled their bare feet in the running gutters. Teenagers stripped down to bathing suits and cutoffs. Little kids, underwear. Littlest kids, nothing.
Maniac danced and pranced and screamed with the rest. He learned how to jump in front of the gusher and let it propel him halfway across the street. He joined in a snake dance. He got goofy. He drenched himself in all the wet and warm and happy.
When he first heard the voice, he didn't think much of it. Just one voice, one voice in hundreds. But then the other voices were falling away, in bunches, until only this one was left. It was a strange voice, deep and thick and sort of clotted, as though it had to fight its way through a can of worms before coming out. The voice was behind him, saying the same word over and over... calling... a name... and even then Maniac turned only because he was curious, wondering what everybody was staring at. But when he saw the brown finger pointed at him (not a speck of icing on it), and the brown arm that aimed it and the brown face behind it, he knew the name coming out of the can-of-worms mouth was his: "Whitey." And it surprised him that he knew.
He just stood there, blinking through the waterdrop sun blur, the hydrant gusher smacking his thin, bare ankles. The radios, the people, were silent.
"You move on now, Whitey," the man said. "You pick up your gear and move on out. Time to go home now."
The man was close enough to be catching some water around his shoes, which, Maniac noticed, were actually slippers. His pants were baggy, and his shirt wasn't really a shirt but a pajama top covered with high-tailed roosters. White hair curled around his ears.
Maniac gave his answer: "I am home."
The man took a step closer, dropped his arm. "You go on home now, son. Back to your own kind. I seen ya at the block party. Now you get goin'."
Maniac stepped out of the gusher, the water roared on to the opposite curb. "This is where I live. I live right down there." He pointed toward Sycamore.
The man didn't seem to notice. "Never enough, is it, Whitey? Just want more and more. Won't even leave us our little water in the street. Come on down to see Bojangles. Come on to the zoo. The monkey house."
He must be hard of hearing, Maniac thought. So he called it out really loud and slow and pointed again. "I - live - at - seven - twenty - eight - Sy - ca - more. I - do."
The old man stepped closer. "You got your own kind. It's how you wanted it. Let's keep it that way. NOW MOVE ON. Your kind's waitin' " - he flung his finger westward - "up there."
Suddenly Hester and Lester were by Maniac's side, barking at the man. "You leave him alone, Old Rag-picker! You shut up!"
And the man was croaking, ranting, not to Maniac now but to the people. "What happens when we go over there? Black is black! White is white! The sheep lie not with the lion! The sheep knows his own! His own kind!" A woman was rushing in then, pulling him away, up the street. "Our own kind!... our own kind!..."
The water thundered across the silent street.
Maniac, who was one of the world's great sleepers, didn't sleep well that night. Or the next.
He started getting up earlier than usual, not to sneak some time with the A book --- just to run. Bow Wow wasn't even ready for his morning pee yet, but he went along.
Usually Maniac just jogged around the East End; now he did the whole town, plus over the river to Bridgeport. By the third day, Bow Wow refused to go along.
One morning, as Maniac was heading home, Hester and Lester came running up Sycamore. "Maniac! C'mon! We're gonna run too! Let's go that way!"
They tried to turn him around, but he told them to just hold on a minute; he wanted to stop home for a quick drink, then he'd go running with them. They kept yelling and tugging and pushing and grabbing his legs. And then Amanda was pedaling frantically up to him, slapping on a quick smile and gasping, "Hey, I'm going to the store. Wanna come along?"
Maniac checked the sun. It was hardly up to the second stories. "Stores aren't open yet," he said.
Amanda just gawked. She was a rotten liar, Maniac knew. He shook loose from the little ones and trotted on. He didn't know what, but something was wrong.
The little ones jabbered and screeched and grabbed. He ran faster, faster...
Mrs. Beale was out front with the yellow bucket, soapsuds spilling over the brim, a stiff bristle brush in her hand. She was scrubbing the house, the brick wall, scrubbing furiously at the chalk, grunting with the effort, her cheeks wet. He had been way too early, way too fast. Only the F had been scrubbed away. The rest was quite easy to read, the tall yellow letters the same color as the scrub bucket:
ISHBELLY GO HOME
*¤* nihua *¤*
Amanda tried to reason with him. "You can't listen to that old coot. He's goofy. He's always saying stuff like that. You can't go because of something one nutty old coot says."
Maniac pointed out that it wasn't the nutty old coot who chalked up the front of the house.
Amanda laughed. "That? That's no big deal. It wasn't even paint. If they really meant it, they would've done it in paint. And anyway, don't you know they did my mother a favor? It gave her a chance to get out the old bucket and do some serious scrubbing. Ever since the kids stopped crayoning the house, she hasn't known what to do with herself. Now she's happy again."