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Authors: Robert Lipsyte

One Fat Summer

BOOK: One Fat Summer
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One Fat Summer
Robert Lipsyte

For Sam and Susannah



I always hated summertime. When people take off their clothes.


The first time I ever saw Dr. Kahn's lawn it…


At breakfast my father asked, “Well, Robert, have you made…


Rumson Lake is round with an island in the middle.


I don't remember walking around the lake. Car horns kept…


Robert Marks was melting.


I didn't get to Dr. Kahn's until nearly eleven o'clock…


Our house wasn't directly on Rumson Lake, but from the…


Nine A.M. Sharp. High Basal Time. My watch read 8:55.


Without Dad, it was very quiet in the house. I…


Michelle wasn't in the house when I woke up Monday…


I am going to die.


Tiredness hit me like a ton of bricks in the…


Dad was quiet at dinner Friday night. When he did…


I always used to think of summers in slow motion.


It's sort of interesting being scared all the time. Good…


On Saturday Mom and I drove into the city to…


I made myself invisible for a while. Like The Shadow.


“Just turn around and go out on the dock,” said…


There were little white tables with striped umbrellas on Dr. Kahn's…

I always hated summertime. When people take off their clothes. In winter you can hide yourself. Long coats, heavy jackets, thick sweaters. Nobody can tell how fat you really are. But in the summertime they can see your thick legs and your wobbly backside and your big belly and your soft arms. And they laugh.

I never would have gone to the Rumson Lake Community Association Carnival on the Fourth of July if it hadn't been cool enough that night to wear a long-sleeved knit shirt outside my pants. At the start of that summer, my fourteenth, I couldn't button the waist of any of my pants without getting a stomachache. I weighed more than 200 pounds on July 4th. I don't know exactly how much more because I jumped off the
bathroom scale when the number 200 rolled up. The numbers were still climbing past the pointer when I bailed out.

I was tall for my age and I had large, heavy bones, so I didn't look like a circus freak. Just like a very fat boy. When my pants weren't strangling my belly, and if there were no scales or mirrors around, I could forget for a while that I was fat. But sooner or later there'd be someone around to remind me. The wise guys started up as soon as we got to the carnival, at Marino's Beach Club and Snack Bar.

“Hey, it's the Crisco Kid,” yelled one of the older teenagers hanging around the snack bar.

“Why do you call him the Crisco Kid?” It sounded like a comedy routine. I knew what was coming.

“Because he's fat in the can.”

They all laughed. My face got hot, but I pretended I hadn't heard. Rule number one: never let people know they can get to you or they'll never stop trying. Joanie pretended she hadn't heard, either.

“Look at that girl he's with. The nose knows.”

“She's the one who blew the wind in.”

I felt embarrassed for Joanie. Someday I'd wake up thin, I believed that. But poor Joanie was stuck with that nose for her whole life. It was long and crooked. The rest of her face was pretty, but who ever looked at the rest of her face?

“Hey, let's go to the booths,” she said. “I feel lucky tonight.” Joanie was a terrific pretender, too.

It was early, there was still light in the sky, and the crowds hadn't arrived yet. Strings of colored bulbs danced in the breeze off the lake. The jukebox was playing “Little White Cloud That Cried.”

“There's that dumb song again,” I said.

“It's not so bad when you're in the mood,” said Joanie.

“I'm only in the mood when I've got an umbrella.”

“That's a joke, son,” said Joanie. “It was only funny the first twenty-seven times you said it.”

“Then how come you never laughed?”

“Ha-ha. Okay?”

Then we both laughed.

I've known Joanie since we were three years old. Our parents were best friends. In the city we lived in the same apartment house and we were always in the same classes in school. Somewhere there's a picture of us taking a bath together when we were four. It's cute. I wasn't so fat then, and her nose wasn't so huge. Joanie and I not only grew up together, we grew
together. That's my joke, but I've never told it to her.

A few years ago, when my parents bought a summer house on Rumson Lake, her parents bought one, too. And after that we were together summer and winter. She taught me to dance, but I never danced with anyone except her. We did our homework together. When her father took her mother on a business trip, Joanie stayed at my house.

Joanie and I talked about almost everything; she was a great talker, but only with me. Otherwise she was shy. The only things in the world we didn't talk about were her nose and my fat. When we were alone together I felt thin, and I think she felt pretty. I guess that's why we were such good friends.

“Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, the
wheel of fortune is spinning, spinning, spinning. For one thin dime you can win a beautiful doll to call your own.” It was Pete Marino himself, as usual dressed in nothing except a little bathing suit and a St. Christopher medal around his neck. He was pointing at us. “Now here's a couple of gamblers. Step right up, folks, you look lucky to me.”

“Let's go try the ringtoss,” I said. Muscles like Pete Marino's gave me a stomachache. Cannonball muscles with big blue veins over them. I didn't have any muscles, and my veins were buried in fat.

Joanie slapped a dime on number fourteen.

“I thought six was your lucky number.”

“Not anymore. My age is my lucky number now.”

“Round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows,” chanted Pete Marino. He was waving his arms at the wheel and doing a little dance. He must have known how all the muscles on his back twitched and jumped under his smooth bronze skin.

“He's not conceited,” I said. “He's convinced.”

“C'mon, he's very nice,” said Joanie. But
then she looked at me. “He's not as smart as you, though.”

“The wheel is slowing down, soon we'll have a winner. Who's it gonna be?” He turned around, grinning. He had big white teeth, like Chiclets, and curly golden hair. He looked like a movie star. “Who'll be the lucky one?”

Joanie's dime was the only one on the counter. A few people drifted over to watch. The wheel stopped on fourteen. Joanie started to scream, then put her hands over her mouth.

“A winner!” Pete Marino looked happier than she did. “The first winner of the evening.” He waved at a row of stuffed animals. “Take your pick, sweetheart.”

Joanie picked an enormous pink teddy bear. Pete made a big deal of getting it down and presenting it to her.

“Do we have to lug that around all night?” I asked. “Can't we leave it here and pick it up later?”

“You don't have to carry it,” said Joanie.

“Hey, folks, you can bring it back a little later and I'll hold it for you,” said Pete, “but it would help business if you walk around with it
for a little while. All proceeds go to the community association, you know.”

“Sure,” said Joanie.

“Thanks, honey.” He gave her a big, sexy wink. What did he have to do that for? He's eighteen years old, maybe nineteen, a sophomore in college. On a swimming scholarship, of course.

“Hey, big fella.” He gave me the same wink exactly. “Take care of that little lady, you've got a real winner there.”

Actually, I knew he was a nice guy. He wouldn't remember it, but he talked to me a couple of years ago. The summer the Marino family opened the Beach Club, Pete gave some free swimming lessons, and I went a few times. He told me I had the makings of a really good swimmer, and I should stick with it. But I started feeling embarrassed in a bathing suit about then, and I never did.

Joanie and I strolled along the beach where the booths were set up. People stared at the big pink teddy bear. Usually I hate it when people stare at me, but this was kind of fun.

“You know,” I said to Joanie, “we have to
get going on our project. We don't even have an idea yet.”

“We'll think of something,” she said.

She didn't seem too enthusiastic, but you couldn't be sure about Joanie. She didn't like anyone, even me, to know what was going on inside her. She tried to keep the same expression on her face whether she was happy or sad. And she was sarcastic a lot to cover up. You had to understand her.

We walked around for awhile and tried a few more booths. Ringtoss, the baseball throw, a different wheel of fortune. Nothing. I steered her away from the shooting gallery because the greasy punks from the snack bar were hanging out there now, cheering for a tall, skinny guy in brown combat boots and a Marine fatigue hat, who was puncturing the balloons with a BB rifle faster than Pete's older brother, Vinnie, could blow them up. What a marksman.

The jukebox played “Any Time” by Eddie Fisher, and a few couples began dancing on the wooden dock where the rowboats and canoes were tied up. People were pouring in. From a distance I saw my parents and Joanie's parents
come in together. A few guys turned to look at a really built girl with long black hair. She was wearing a Barnard College sweatshirt and red shorts. One of the guys whistled, but she ignored him. Then I realized it was only my sister, Michelle.

There was a scream from Pete Marino's booth, and a woman began waving a black-and-white panda. Another winner.

“We can take the teddy bear back now,” I said to Joanie.

“It's not so heavy.” She was hugging it.

“You going to carry it around all night? Where you going to put it when we eat?”

“Bob?” Joanie was just about the only person who called me Bob. Usually it was Bobby or Robert or some other things. “We won't be able to start our project right away.”

“Well, if you want to take a few days' vacation, that's okay. We've got all summer.”

“I was going to call you tomorrow. We're going back to the city,” she said.

“What for?”

“We have to go back.”

“For how long?”

“I don't know. Maybe two weeks.”

“How come?”

“We just have to, that's all.” Her mouth snapped shut. Case closed. She'd be a great spy. You could torture her, if she didn't want to talk, forget it.

“Well, what am I supposed to do?”

“Stand on your head and spit nickels, how should I know?”

“Boy, you sure took your nasty pills this morning. I was counting on doing this project. You said in the city you'd do it, we told the teacher.” I felt my summer plans crumbling under me. I had figured the project, an extra-credit paper for economics or civics about local businesses or government, would keep my father off my back till Labor Day.

“You could start it without me,” she said.

“Oh, boy, this is really going to mess things up for me.”

“Well, I'm coming back. It's only a couple of weeks, you said we had the whole summer.”

“But you don't understand. He's not going to let me hang around for a couple of weeks.”

“Your father?”

“I had to talk myself blue in the face about the project; I even told him that the teacher
it to us, that if we didn't do it we wouldn't get into the Honor Society.”

“Why'd you tell him that?”

“He wants me to go to day camp.”

“You're too old for day camp.”

“As a junior counselor. You still have to pay, but they let you help out with the little kids. Big deal.”

“He didn't make you go last year.”

“Yeah, but he's going to be in the city most of the summer, just coming up on weekends, and Michelle's working at camp, and my mother's going to be busy every day studying to be a teacher. He says I have to be doing something.”

“Which camp?”

“He gave me a big choice. Mohawk Hill or Happy Valley.”

“Some choice.”

“The pit or the pendulum. What's so important in the city?”

“Maybe you could be a junior counselor for a couple of weeks,” she said.

“I don't want to go to camp for a minute.
Besides, you have to pay for the whole summer in advance. You know my father, once he pays for something, that's it. Remember the pickled beets?”

“I can still taste them.” That got a little smile out of her.

I could still taste them too. It seemed like we ate them every meal for the whole winter. My father thought he was getting five cases of different vegetables, but they were all beets. And when he couldn't get his money back, we just had to eat them all up.

“I'll tell you a secret about those beets,” I lowered my voice. “That whole winter, my pee was red.”

“Oh, Bob.” She laughed. I felt a little better.

“Can't you do anything? You could stay at my house while your folks are in the city. You could sleep in Michelle's room, she wouldn't mind. Or you could have my room and I'll sleep on the couch.”

“No, I have to go, too.”

“What are you going to do there?”

“Curiosity killed the cat,” she said.

“But satisfaction brought him back.”

“Well, why don't you start the project?”

“That wouldn't be any fun,” I said. “Besides, he'd never go for that. He'd think I'd just fool around if you weren't doing it, too. He doesn't have much confidence in me.”

“Maybe you could get a job for a couple of weeks.”

“Oh, sure.”

“There are always ads for jobs on the bulletin board by the snack bar.”

“To watch little kids at the beach.”

“So what's wrong with that for a couple of weeks? At least it would keep you out of camp.”

I couldn't answer that truthfully, even to Joanie. It would be as bad as camp. You've got to wear a bathing suit and go in the water, or at least shorts and a T-shirt. It's bad enough when older kids call you fatso. When five-year-olds do it…

“I hate little kids,” I said.

“How about cutting lawns?” she asked.

“Who would hire me?”

“You could lie about your age. You do look older.”

“You need junior working papers. Your age is right on the papers.”

“You don't need them to cut lawns. C'mon, let's see what's on the bulletin board.”

“Let's eat first.”

“Right now?”

“Skip it. I'll figure something out,” I said.

“Nothing doing, you made the big deal about me letting you down….”

“I never said that.”

“You thought that.”

“What are you, a mind reader or something?”

“Yep. C'mon. Move.” Joanie was tough. I'm really tougher, but I let her lead me to the snack bar because I knew she felt bad about letting me down.

“Hey.” The punks were back. “What time does the balloon go up?”

“Think you could hit that balloon, Willie?”

Willie, the tall skinny marksman, took a pack of Lucky Strikes out of his fatigue hat and shook out a cigarette. “He looks more like a beach ball to me.” He wore his blond hair in a duck's ass, high on top, long and pointy in the back.

BOOK: One Fat Summer
11.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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