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A boy is puzzled by the comic and confusing questions of youth and worried by disturbing insights into adult conflicts.
Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde
BINGO BROWN FELL IN love three times during English class.
Bingo had never been in love before. He had never even worried about falling in love. He thought love couldn't start until a person had zits, so he had plenty of time. Bingo was worried about being called on.
It was the kind of assignment Bingo dreaded. "You are successes," Mr. Markham had told them. "You are tops in your field. Your picture has been on the cover of Time. I have written to you for advice because I want to be exactly like you. Now write a letter back to me. Describe your career and give me some advice."
Bingo's letter was face-down on his desk. His arms were crossed over it.
Tara Emerson was reading her letter. Tara had picked a career that she said was physically hard but rewarding and brought pleasure to millions of people. Tara was a Solid Gold dancer.
"Could I be a Solid Gold dancer?" Mr. Markham asked when she was through. He was twirling a yellow Scripto pencil between his thin fingers. He was better at twirling than a majorette.
"I don't think so," Tara said.
"Why not? Are they all girls?"
"No, but the boys are hunks," Tara said.
There was an amused murmur. Mr. Markham stopped twirling his pencil and looked around the room, his bright, unsmiling eyes as sharp as a bird of prey's.
When Mr. Markham looked like that, as if he were going to pounce, Bingo wondered why he had wanted to be in Mr. Markham's class, why he had run all the way home to yell, "Mom! I got Mr. Mark!"
Mr. Markham said, "Melissa, I'd like to hear your letter."
Melissa said, "I've got two careers, Mr. Markham. Is that all right?"
"It's your life."
Melissa stood up. "I'm a scientist and a rock star," she said.
Her words electrified Bingo. He stopped breathing. It was exactly like a movie he had seen recently called Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
He had a stunning picture of Melissa in the starring role. She was in a laboratory pouring formulas from one vial to another. Then as night approached, she threw off her white lab coat, spray-painted her hair different colors, and jumped into a limousine.
The picture of Melissa at a rock concert, on stage in a wild pink spotlight, was even more stunning; Bingo couldn't help himself. He fell instantly in love with Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde.
Although Bingo had had no previous experience with love, he knew that this was not a fleeting, everyday kind of love. This was a love that would go on till the end of time. A love for eternity. Maybe even infinity.
Harriet Conway got up next. Harriet was a conductor. Bingo started breathing again. He knew he could never lose his heart to a train conductor. Even if he was not already in love, he—
Then he heard the rest. Harriet was the conductor of a symphony orchestra! When Bingo heard that, he was electrified all over again.
This time he saw Harriet on stage. She was dressed in the outfit that the good witch wore in The Wizard of Oz. She even had the tiara. The wand was her baton.
Bingo saw himself in the front row of the concert hall. His hair was combed down as flat and shiny as a Ken doll's.
This concerto, Harriet said, pointing the baton at him, is dedicated to Bingo, without whose help tonight would not have been possible. Bingo, will you stand?
Not only would he stand, but he would turn and bow to the right and left and—
Bingo broke off. He was actually on his feet. He was bowing!
"Not yet, Bingo," Mr. Markham said mildly. "I'll tell you when. Gang, I know how eager you all are to read your letters, but I must ask you to wait until you are called on. Can you wait just a little longer, Bingo?"
Bingo sat down. His face burned. He was now in love with two girls. Five minutes ago he had been carefree, totally unattached romantically, and now he loved two girls and loved them both for eternity, maybe even infinity. He hoped the National Enquirer didn't get wind of it. BOY LOVES TWO GIRLS FOR INFINITY, SETS WORLD RECORD.
Mr. Markham said, "Mamie Lou."
Mamie Lou got up. Mamie Lou was the biggest girl in the room, and since Bingo was the smallest boy, she had never appealed to him. Also Billy Wentworth had told Bingo that Mamie Lou wore brassieres. The last thing on Bingo's mind was falling in love with a girl who wore brassieres.
Mamie Lou began to read. Mamie Lou, it turned out, was President of the United States.
Bingo stiffened. It was like being hit by lightning three times in a row. As Mamie Lou's husband, he would be First Gentleman of the United States of America.
Visions mushroomed in his mind—Airforce One ... Camp David ... Russia. He would accompany Mamie Lou everywhere. At summit meetings he would not go shopping with the other presidents' wives. He would sit at Mamie Lou's side. They would have a ranch and he would take up horseback riding. He would be a popular First Gentleman and fill in for Mamie Lou at parades and Easter-egg rolls. Barbara Walters would—
"Now, Bingo, now," Mr. Markham said. "This is the moment you've been waiting for."
"Your letter, Bingo. You have one, don't you?"
"Oh, yes, sure, but it's not very good."
"It will not be, I assure you, the first thing I have heard in this classroom that was 'not very good'. What advice do you have for me?"
Bingo got up. He cleared his throat.
"Dear Mr. Markham,
As the leading science-fiction writer in the world today, I am glad that you asked me for advice. The best advice I can give you is to buy all of my books. Then read them. I am enclosing the opening paragraphs from a few of my best-sellers so that you can see what you have to shoot for."
Bingo paused. "Mr. Mark, you want me to read the paragraphs?"
"I am, as they say, all ears."
Bingo cleared his throat again.
"At eight-thirty the earth beneath the city began to move. The tremor measured nine on the Richter scale. People thought it was an earthquake. The animals knew better. The animals knew that what had moved beneath the city was alive, alive after four thousand years of sleep! It was alive and it was coming up!"
Bingo paused. "You want the next one?"
"It's sort of short."
"Something was stirring deep within the volcano on the island of Mau Mau, and it was not lava." He looked up at Mr. Markham. "You want the next one? It's kind of like the others, only it takes place in the Arctic."
"Bingo, don't make me beg. I want them all. Every last one. All!"
"This is all. It's the last one." Bingo turned the paper around so Mr. Markham could see for himself.
Mr. Markham closed his eyes as if he were tired. "Bingo, read."
"Deep within the frozen Arctic, the ice that had been untouched for one thousand years was beginning to melt. Something hot stirred in the tundra."
Mr. Markham opened his eyes. "That's it, Bingo?"
"Well, I'm not sure anyone can top the magnificent spell Bingo has woven, but who would like to give it a try?"
As Bingo sat down, he made a decision. If Mr. Markham called on another girl, he was going to put his fingers in his ears. He could not fall in love a fourth time. He understood now his weakness for powerful women.
Bingo got his fingers ready to put in his ears.
Billy Wentworth turned around. Out of the side of his mouth he said, "You were wrong, Worm Brain."
"Your paper wasn't 'not very good.'"
"It was rotten."
Billy Wentworth had been drawing a python on his arm with a Magic Marker. He flexed his muscle, and the python writhed toward Bingo.
Mr. Markham said, "Billy, I'd like to hear your letter."
Mr. Markham always called on Billy when he talked out of the side of his mouth, but Billy had not yet caught on to this.
Billy stood. He smoothed down his Rambo t-shirt. He said, "I'll tell mine, Mr. Mark, if you don't mind. Everybody knows I'm going to be a member of the Special Services division of the armed forces."
"I didn't know it."
"Come on, Mr. Mark. Don't—"
"You didn't write a letter?"
"Oh, I wrote one." Billy tapped the side of his head. "It's up here. I can say it if you want me to. It'll be like an oral composition."
"Did I ask for oral compositions? Is this a lesson in recitation?" Mr. Markham slumped forward, the Scripto pencil pressing into his chest. His eyes looked as hurt as if the pencil had pierced his heart.
"The only way you can restore my faith in you, Billy, is to hand in the letter about your career in the armed services tomorrow. Can you manage that, Billy? Otherwise I'll have to write a letter of my own—to your mommy."
"Sure, Mr. Mark, no problem."
The bell rang then, but Bingo kept sitting at his desk. He was so burdened by the three unwanted loves that he was not sure he could walk. Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde. The orchestra conductor. The President of the United States of America. Loving important women like that was tiring.
Bingo wondered if anybody else had ever been in love with three such women. Or could this be just the beginning? His heart sank. Was he going to fall in love with three girls every day? How long could he keep it up? How many girls were there in Roosevelt Middle School? How could he find out? Would the office tell him? He had to know, because the total number of girls, divided by three, would be the length of time it would take him to fall in love with all of them. It made an impressive formula.
After that, what? Would he have to transfer to another school? Another city? Would he spend his youth desperately searching for three new girls, then three more new girls, then—
"The—bell—rang," Mr. Markham said. He was strapping on his motorcycle helmet. He spoke as carefully as he would have spoken to an infant. "School—is—over. You—may— go—home—now."
Bingo got up quickly and left the room.CHAPTER 2
IT WAS MIDNIGHT. BINGO was in the bathroom, staring at himself in the mirror.
The face looking back at him was tired, but the eyes were restless, too bright. I look like Mr. Markham, Bingo thought.
He turned his face from side to side, checking out the similarity. Yes, it's the eyes, he thought.
Could it be possible that Mr. Markham was also in love with three women? Could that account for the way he looked lately?
Should I say something? Bingo wondered. Something like, "I know how you feel, Mr. Markham, because we're in the same fix." Should he hold up three fingers? Or should—
"What are you doing in the bathroom, Bingo?" his mother called.
Bingo opened the medicine cabinet and fumbled noisily.
"I'm trying to find the junior aspirin," he called back.
"What's wrong? Are you sick?"
"No. Don't bother getting up, Mom. I'm not sick."
"Then why do you need aspirin?"
"I can't sleep. Oh, here they are. I found them. Don't get up."
Bingo did not want to face his mom. She might make him tell her the reason he could not sleep. His mother would definitely not be sympathetic about his being in love with three girls.
"You can't do anything without going totally overboard, can you?" she would say.
"Well," she called from her bedroom, "take the aspirin and go back to bed."
"That's what I'm trying to do."
The aspirin didn't help much, and Bingo spent a restless night chasing Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde, the Orchestra Conductor, and the President of the United States, none of whom wanted to be caught. The final chase scene took place on the White House lawn and was broadcast on the CBS evening news.
In the morning Bingo was even more haggard. He stumbled into the breakfast room, sat down, and knocked over his milk. "Sorry," he said. "I just caught a glimpse of myself in the toaster."
His mom said, "Honestly, Bingo, you get more like your father every day."
His dad said, "Say thank you, Bingo. Your mom just paid you a great compliment."
"Thank you, Mom."
His mother did not look amused. She started pulling napkins out of the holder and laying them over the milk. She said, "You get exactly two things from your father—his clumsiness at the table and his freckles." She sat down.
Bingo's mom hated freckles. The first thing she had asked in the delivery room after Bingo was born was, "Is he freckled?"
"Not yet," the doctor answered.
This was not the first thing said in the delivery room, however, when Bingo was born. The first thing the doctor said was, "Bingo!" He probably said this every time a baby popped out, but Bingo's mother thought it was a first. "Mom, he wasn't naming me," Bingo had said once. This was when he was in kindergarten and they were learning a song about a dog named Bingo. The song went like this:
B - I - N - G – O
B - I - N - G – O
And Bingo was his name—O!
Every time they sang that, tears of shame would come to Bingo's eyes. He felt as bad as if he'd been named Fido or Poochie.
Anyway, Bingo's father was very freckled. He told Bingo one time that he had counted his freckles and he had five thousand, two hundred and twenty-four of them.
Bingo was impressed. "How do you know that?"
"Well, I took a ruler," his father said, "and I marked off one square inch on the back of my hand, right there. I counted all the freckles in that square inch—there were seventeen and a half."
"There can't be a half of a freckle. There can be a small freckle but—"
"It was on the line—half in, half out."
"Then I found out how many square inches of skin there are on the human body, and I multiplied by seventeen and a half, and it came out five thousand, two hundred and twenty-four."
Bingo stood up. "May I please be excused?" he asked.
"You haven't eaten a thing."
"Mom, I can't help it. I've got something on my mind—three somethings."
"Oh, all right, you may be excused."
Bingo got up and headed for the bathroom. Perhaps a Yogi Bear vitamin would ...
Bingo opened the medicine cabinet and reached for the vitamins. His hand stopped in midair.
There was a new product in the medicine cabinet. He took out the can and read a new word. Mousse.
The instructions were simple. Spray an egg-size ball of mousse into the palm of your hand.
Bingo did that. His egg was the size of a dinosaur egg, and he felt better.
Apply to hair and style as usual.
Bingo's usual method of styling was to comb. He applied the mousse, combed, and looked in the mirror.
For a moment Bingo could not move. He had transformed himself. Here, in the mirror, was not the haggard, pained face of last night. Here was the boy he had always wanted to be. When he got to school, every girl in her right mind would fall in love with him. He was going to have to hire a bodyguard like Sly Stallone or become a recluse like Michael Jackson.
"Why are you standing there smiling at yourself?" his mom asked from the doorway.
"I like the way I look with this mousse on my hair."
"There's such a thing as too much mousse."
"Mom, some people need a lot of mousse."
"You overdo everything."
The last thing a boy in love with three girls wanted to hear was a lecture on overdoing things. "I'm off to school," he said cheerfully, glancing at himself one last time.
As he went out the door, he wondered if mousse could bring new happiness to Mr. Mark. What would be the best way to let Mr. Markham know about mousse? Should he write an anonymous note? Should he wait until the class went out to recess and write the word on the blackboard in capital letters? MOUSSE! Would the class know he had written it? Would it give away the secret of his new looks? He wanted Mr. Markham to have the secret because they shared a similar pain, but he didn't want Billy Wentworth to know.
As he went down the steps, he asked one last question. If Billy Wentworth does find out, will he start calling me Mousse Head?CHAPTER 3
Insults and Burning Questions
BINGO SPENT THE MORNING inspecting the girls he was in love with. This was because he hoped to discover something he had previously overlooked—a wart, a mustache, a loose tooth, anything that would turn him off. If he could fall out of love with just one of them, that would be a major breakthrough.
Would it be conspicuous, he wondered, if he brought his dad's binoculars? If he could look at them through the zoom lens, wouldn't he be sure to—
"Oh, sorry, Mr. Mark. Did you want something?"
"Class, from now on, assume that if I call your name, I want something. Like, I just called Bingo's name—what does that mean? All together!"
"You want something!"
"What do you want?" Bingo asked.
"I want you to pass out the notebooks."
"I'd be glad to." With the confidence of a newly moussed person, he got up, accepted the notebooks, and made his way down the rows.
Mr. Markham said, "Gang, these are going to be your journals. They are your property. They will stay in your desks. Part of every day will be spent writing in your journals."
After he had given out the notebooks, Bingo sat down quickly and opened his journal. He felt he should be the first one to start writing. After all, he had announced the day before that he was the top science-fiction writer in the world.
He looked up. Others had beat him to it. Mamie Lou ... even Billy Wentworth. What did they have to be writing about?
Bingo decided to check this out. Weeks before, he had worked out his route to the pencil sharpener.
As he passed Billy's desk, he glanced down.
Billy Wentworth was not writing after all. He was drawing a picture of himself in combat gear and labeling the various weapons—flamethrower, radio-control missile, noxious-gas grenades, etc.
Excerpted from The Burning Questions of Bingo Brown by Betsy Byars, Cathy Bobak. Copyright © 1988 Betsy Byars. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted July 29, 2006
Not a very good book.The story goes Bingo and his school mates go through things that would never acctully happen like the school bans t-shirts with words cause 1 kid had a vulgular shirt on,a teacher toatlly abuses his job by having the students write to his girlfriend and letting the students make their own test and grade it.It's just a pretty boring you can't wait to finish and forget it!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 27, 2002
A boy named bingo brown has questions for every thing in his life. A couple of days later their teacher is acting wierd. Marissa and bingo think they know whats wrong with him .A couple of days later their teacher asks them to write a letter thats telling a person that they should'nt do suicide. A couple of days later their teacher is in a car accident. Bingo and marissa are figuring the clues out. they think that their letters effected him and that he was the one they were writing to about to not do suicide. But they soon find out that his girlfriend was the one they were writing to about the suicide. The End.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.