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Authors: Josh Farrar

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BOOK: Rules to Rock By
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“Yes, yes, baby, for certain you are my family, my family most important. But I have my cousins and my sisters here, and they understand what it mean to be old lady like me, and how to help old lady like me. They can take care of your Abuela maybe better than you fathers take care. I never been to this Providence, this new city, and would be very
hard
for me to change now, to live there now.”

“But I miss you!”

“I miss you, too, Annabella, you know I do. I come visit so soon, I promise you, okay?”

“Wait, hold on,” I said. “Did you just say a second ago that you didn’t come up here because you know Mom and Dad can’t take care of you? Or
won’t
take care of you?”

“Annabella, I know you think me so strong, but I not so healthy all time anymore. Is hard to get older. Consuela, she take care me, and your uncle Roberto. Your mommy and daddy, they too busy.”

I suddenly realized what Abuela had obviously understood for a long time now: my parents weren’t so hot at
parenting
. They had been okay while Abuela was young enough and strong enough to hold everything together. But she was getting old and needed rest. And my parents were in no condition to help anybody but themselves.

“Maybe X and I should have stayed in Brooklyn with you,” I said. “Even though you’re getting older, you could take care of us way better than they can.”

“Annabella, no! I no like hear you speak this way, okay? You must love you fathers, and respect them. Even though they not perfect. Even though they make you angry.” She blew her nose, and I could picture her picking up one of the frilly baby blue handkerchiefs that she always carried around with her when she had a cold, hand-washing them with the rest of the laundry three times a week. “Life sometime very hard, baby,
very
hard. But you have to be strong. You got to be. And you got to remember that I love you, too, okay? Abuela love you
very
much.”

“I love you, too, Abuela,” I said, trying to ignore the voice inside my head that said,
You are not as strong as she is. Will you ever be?
“Very much.”

CRACKERS ’N’ CHEESE

Mr. V gave me back my “homesickness” assignment on the following Tuesday. It didn’t have a grade, but it was covered in red marks.

Everything’s better in Brooklyn

Fried salami, goopy cheese

Egg Mountain shows and the East River breeze

Take me back to Brooklyn, please

Man, I miss my old hometown

Milk shakes at Uncle Louie G’s

What’s for dinner tonight, pizza or Chinese?

Take me back to Brooklyn, please

Ms. Cabrera, a few comments:

•     Nice emotion in this piece

•     What is the Egg Mountain?

•     “Goopy cheese” is a nice colloquial phrase, which makes me very hungry.

•     I want to know more. There is a great deal of greasy food in Providence as well, I’m sure you know. What else are you missing? Other places, other people? Can you write more verses, please?

•     “Uncle Louie G’s?” Is this the proper spelling? Please verify.

•     “pizza or Chinese”—nice touch, celebrating multicultural cuisine

This is a nice beginning. It begs questions of the reader, which is a good thing. Is it a poem or a song? Songs are a legitimate form—you should keep working on this—but even short songs have more than two verses, usually, don’t they? And a chorus?

Keep going!

Mr. V

Jonny and I met again at lunchtime. We passed the activities board in the hall, and I spotted my sign, now hanging at a funky angle. It was starting to get tattered around the edges, and someone had written “LOSER” at the bottom! That insightful comment had been there for at least three hours.

“This is so depressing,” I said. Although it was probably time to pull the sign anyway—I hadn’t gotten a single response after the ADHDisaster. I ripped the sign off, folded it up, and threw it in the trash.

“Ah, don’t worry about it,” Jonny said. “Child’s play.”

“What do you mean? That’s so obnoxious.”

“Sticks and stones, Cabrera. Forget about it. Listen, I’ve got a lead on a musician. A piano player.”

“A
piano
player?” I hadn’t really thought about keyboards—guitar, bass, and drums were the real essentials. I didn’t want to sound too much like Benny and Joon, either.

“A
keyboardist
. Whatever. She can play.”

“Well, okay. Sure.”
Rule number one
, I thought.
Got to go for it.

At this point, I probably would have hired a kazoo player if that kazoo player had shown some serious commitment. If I had to mold the talent, I’d mold the talent. Jonny said he had heard really good things about this girl, at least musically. He didn’t say a
word
about her personality.

We walked down the hall and I spotted Bumblebee Shoes, the kid who was constantly being thrashed by the team of Federal Hill thugs. I gave him a nod. He started to give me a smile, but then he took a quick look at Jonny and turned white. The kid was so spooked, I guess anybody over five foot six gave him the heebie-jeebies.

“Did you see that?” I asked Jonny.

“What?” he said.

“Nothing.” It was too complicated to explain.

Jonny led me up two flights of stairs to a short hallway on the top floor of the school.

“This is where the practice room is,” Jonny said. “Every once in a while a band will work up here, but it’s usually where the classical kids come to geek out and practice for an hour.”

“I hear somebody going at it right now,” I said. I could hear fast, furious classical piano music.

“Yup.”

We peeked into the room and saw a girl absolutely punishing a piano. She stared at her sheet music like a psychic looking into a crystal ball, and she pounded the keys as if fighting some private war. The girl didn’t notice us. Then the music changed, and suddenly she was playing quiet, spacey melodies. She looked like she was in a trance.

“Ah, yes. Crackers ’n’ Cheese has some crazy technique,” said Jonny.

“Crackers ’n’ Cheese?” I repeated, loudly and stupidly. The music stopped.

“I don’t like to be called that anymore,” the girl said. She stood up so suddenly that the piano bench fell over. Furrowing her brow, she picked up the bench and then turned around to see who had so rudely interrupted her practice session. She was African American, very tall, beanpole thin, and had a goofy expression, like Martians had dropped her off on Earth, hightailed it back to space, then left her here to fend for herself.

“Wow, you’re really tall!” I said. Duh. Another brilliant comment.

“Yep, I know.” The girl popped a Triscuit in her mouth and followed it with a cube of orange cheese. Her lavender top was covered with crumbs.

“You’ve, uh, got something on your shirt,” Jonny said, then, to me, explained, “That’s why they call her Crackers ’n’—”

“It’s just a snack,” Crackers ’n’ Cheese said, brushing off some crumbs.

“Hey, aren’t you in Mr. V’s class?” I asked.

“Yep.”

“I thought you looked familiar.”

“You look familiar, too, Annabelle Cabrera.”

“How’d you know my name?”

“You talk a lot. You’re kind of loud.”

Loud? I had barely opened my mouth in that class.

“Well, what was that excellent music you were playing?”

“It’s by the composer Ravel.”

“Ra-who?” I said.

“Maurice Ravel. He’s French.”

“It’s great. Play some more, Cracker— Sorry, what’s your real name?” Jonny said.

“Christine. Christine Briar.”

She put her hands on the keyboard again. At first, she didn’t play a note. Resting her fingers on the keys, she closed her eyes and took one deep breath, then another. Jonny looked at me and raised an eyebrow. Then Crackers/Christine’s hands started to move, and waves of big, round sound came out of the piano. With slim, powerful hands, she played up and down the instrument, her fingers racing across the keys like spiders. When she frowned, a big wrinkle appeared in the middle of her forehead, like there was an old woman trapped in her sixth grader’s body.

“Whoa, that’s amazing playing, Crackers,” I said. “I mean, Christine. Want to join our band?”


Our
band?” Jonny said.

“Sorry, my bad,” I said. “
My
band.”

I explained the idea of the rock band while Crackers pigged out. How’d she get all those Triscuits into that skinny frame?

“You want to have a piano in your rock band?” Crackers asked.

“It might be kind of hard lugging a piano around to clubs, but I have a keyboard you can borrow. I want great musicians in my band, and you’re pretty great.”

“Well, I don’t know if I’ll ever be a
great
musician, but I definitely work at it.”

Crackers started up the Ra-who piece again, playing even harder and faster while Jonny and I listened in awe. Crackers finished the piece with a flourish, closed the lid of the piano, and turned to us.

“I’ve thought it over and decided I’d like to participate.”

Jonny gave me a quick whoa-she-could-be-nuts look, but I was stoked. I clapped my hands together, let out an embarrassingly girly squeal, and jumped in the air.

“Cool!” I said. “A band member! One down, a couple to go. Can you get together to practice this Saturday at my place?”

“Sure.”

“Excellent. Thank you so much, Cr— Oops, sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Christine said. “You can call me Crackers once in a while. Just don’t do it in the halls. And leave off the ‘ ’n’ cheese,’ please.”

I returned from school, and yet again there was no party in honor of my coming home. My parents barely looked up from the soundboard, where supposedly they were in the final stages of mixing. But they’d been saying that for weeks. X wasn’t there. My mom said Jake had taken him over to Don’s, so apparently his violent outburst hadn’t gotten him banned for life.

I found Ronaldo on IM.

Bassinyrface:
so do u think everyone in a band has to be cool?

EggMtnRckr:
what do you mean?

Bassinyrface:
I mean, I found a girl today who’s a pretty amazing musician. But she’s kind of strange.

EggMtnRckr:
Strange how? Funny looking?

Bassinyrface:
No, more … funny acting.

EggMtnRckr:
yeah?

Bassinyrface:
Like, she eats constantly, and she’s always got crumbs all over her shirt, and people call her Crackers n Cheese!

EggMtnRckr:
no way, seriously?

Bassinyrface:
word.

EggMtnRckr:
Well first of all, image is definitely a big deal. People arent just listening to you. Theyre WATCHING you.

Bassinyrface:
I know. That kinda freaks me out.

EggMtnRckr:
like at SummerStage that time.

Bassinyrface:
yeah, exactly!

EggMtnRckr:
But you got over that. And you always had good stage presence.

Bassinyrface:
Thanks … but does my whole band need to have that? Stage presence?

EggMtnRckr:
Well it does help. But it’s not everything. As long as at least you and one other person in the band have it, you’ll be all right.

Bassinyrface:
And do they need to dress all rock? Because Jonny kind of does, but this girl dresses like a super dork.

EggMtnRckr:
Mmmm, well maybe THAT will be your image.

Bassinyrface:
?

EggMtnRckr:
like, maybe NOT having an image is your image.

Bassinyrface:
Not following you. At all.

EggMtnRckr:
Here’s what I mean. It’s back to the “Be Yourself” thing. Some bands who have a really intense image look really cool, and other bands look like theyre trying way too hard. Animal Collective had their animal mask thing going for a while, but now they just get up and play in T-shirts and jeans. You know?

Bassinyrface:
yep.

EggMtnRckr:
And take somebody like Bono. He’s got the crazy big sunglasses that he wears like all the time.

Bassinyrface:
Seriously, ALL the time! Weird.

EggMtnRckr:
But it fits somehow. He’s a big, loud guy and he wears big, loud shades.

Bassinyrface:
And he’s saving the world. One child at a time.

EggMtnRckr:
Heh.

Bassinyrface:
But yeah, I do get it. So we just have to sort of figure out who we are as a band, ya?

EggMtnRckr:
Right. Then the image stuff can come later. And it’ll make sense.

Bassinyrface:
Gotcha. Thx.

BOOK: Rules to Rock By
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