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Many things change in a teenage boy's life when he meets the overweight girl who answers his ad for the cat he must give away.
"DON'T TELL PEOPLE WE'VE moved to Brooklyn," Tucker Woolf's father always told him. "Tell them we've moved to Brooklyn Heights."
"Why? Brooklyn Heights is Brooklyn."
"Believe me, Tucker, you'll make a better impression."
Which was very important to Tucker's father—making a good impression. That fact was one of the reasons Tucker felt sorry for his father now. It was hard to make a good impression when you'd just been fired.
No sooner had they moved from Gramercy Park in Manhattan to Joralemon Street in Brooklyn Heights, than Tucker's father lost his job. At the same time, he developed an allergy to cats. That meant Tucker had to give away Nader.
Nader was a nine-month-old calico cat Tucker had found under a Chevrolet the first night they moved into their new Heights town house. Tucker had named the cat Ralph Nader, who had done his own time under Chevrolets. But when Tucker discovered he was a she, he had shortened her name to Nader.
Nader had lived for three months with the Woolfs, until Tucker's father began wheezing and sneezing at the sight of her.
In Brooklyn Heights when you wanted to find something or get rid of something, you put a sign up on a tree.
Tucker's sign read:
DO YOU FEEL UNWANTED, IN THE WAY, AND THE CAUSE OF EVERYONE'S MISERY? ARE YOU TALKED ABOUT BEHIND YOUR BACK AND PLOTTED AGAINST? THEN YOU KNOW HOW I FEEL. I AM A CALICO KITTEN PUTTING MYSELF UP FOR ADOPTION. I HAVE ALREADY BEEN SPAYED BY DR. WASSERMAN OF HICKS STREET, AND I AM IN GOOD CONDITION PHYSICALLY. MENTALLY I AM ON A DOWNER, THOUGH, UNTIL I RELOCATE. IF YOU KNOW HOW A LOSER FEELS AND WANT TO HELP, CALL MAIN 4-8415.
The only one who called was Dinky Hocker of Remsen Street. She came waddling down to Joralemon and took Nader away in a plaid carrying case, telling Tucker to visit the cat whenever he felt like it.
At first Tucker went there often. But after a while he stopped going, because of what was happening to Nader. Dinky, who was fourteen, a year younger than Tucker, ate all the time. She fed Nader all the time, too. Dinky was five foot four and weighed around 165. Now Nader was toddling around like something that had had too much air pumped into it. Her eyes were glazed over with too many memories of too much mackerel, steak, raw egg, hamburger; milk, and tuna fish.
Nader knew how to retrieve empty, wadded-up cigarette packages. But on Tucker's last visit to her, she had refused even to get up on her feet at the sound of the cellophane crinkling. She had cocked one eye, looked at Tucker forlornly, and sunk back into a calorie-drugged sleep.
Although Tucker stopped visiting Nader, he didn't stop thinking about her. He had never owned a pet, and to have found this one huddled under a car, flea-ridden and runny-eyed, made him feel all the more responsible toward her.
"Somehow," Tucker's mother had commented, "you identify with that cat, and I don't see why. You've never been a stray. You've always been loved. Is there anything you've ever really wanted that you couldn't have?"
"I guess not."
"Then why all the concern over this animal? She has a perfectly good home now."
"I just don't think a cat should weigh about two tons, that's all!"
"Hey, Tucker," his father said. "What did the two-ton canary say as he prowled down the dark alley late at night?"
"I don't know," Tucker said. "What did the two-ton canary say?" But he knew. It was such an old joke.
Tucker's father said, "Here Kitty, Kitty. Here Kitty, Kitty."
Tucker's mother laughed unusually hard at the joke. She had been overdoing everything where Tucker's father was concerned, ever since he'd lost his job. She pretended it took great effort to stop laughing. Then she told Tucker, "You're probably right to just put that cat out of your mind. Don't go over to the Hockers' anymore. I thought Dinky would be a nice new friend for you, but don't go if it gets you worrying about the cat!"
Tucker attended private school in Manhattan. Afternoons, when he got back to Brooklyn, he often went directly to the Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. It was easier to study there. Tucker's father and uncle spent their afternoons at the town house dreaming up some new scheme that was supposed to make them both millionaires in five years. They hadn't said yet what the scheme was. Their discussions were noisy and argumentative. Around four thirty, they always began "the official cocktail hour," which made them noisier and lasted until Tucker's mother returned from her temporary job.
Tucker was an authority on libraries. He went to them as often as drunks did to dry out and read up on their symptoms in the medical books; and as often as crazies did to talk to themselves in corners and warm themselves by radiators.
As a small boy, Tucker had been allowed to watch only fourteen hours of television a week. He could watch whatever he chose to watch, and if he wanted to spend one day watching television for fourteen hours straight, he could do that. But he could never watch more than fourteen hours a week.
He had become a reader and a sketcher. In the libraries of New York he found he could do both easier than anywhere else.
As a reader, he was what his mother called a "dilettante." A dabbler. He often didn't finish books and magazines he started. If he checked six books out of the library to take home to read, he never got around to reading any of them. It was the way his father was about their eating in neighborhood restaurants. They never ate in them. His father always said, "We'll get around to them eventually. Let's try something not so close at hand."
But in the library, Tucker could read parts of as many books as he wanted to. It was a smorgasbord.
As an artist, Tucker was what his mother called "a depressing Bosch." The first time she had called him that, he had asked why. She had answered, "Bosch, as in Hieronymus Bosch. Look it up." His mother was a great researcher on every subject, but she never did anyone else's research for him. This was what Tucker found under Bosch, Hieronymus:
A Dutch painter known for his scenes of nightmarish tortures in hell at the hands of weird monsters.
Tucker had looked up the paintings of Bosch. With his mother's special talent for overstatement, he could see why she would say that. Tucker's scenes of library life were odd imaginings: the prissy-looking, middle-aged woman with seams in her stockings, checking out a book with "corpse" in the title, should be sketched with a limp hand hanging out of her purse. In a balloon above her head would be a line of handless people marching into a hand laundry. The nervous-looking man back by the law books, reading up on leases with his overcoat on and necktie loosened, would be sketched reading in a chair before an apartment house, with all his furniture piled around him on the sidewalk, in a snowstorm.
As a sketcher, Tucker could find a face smorgasbord in the libraries, too. It seemed to him sometimes that anyone with any trouble at all eventually found his way to a city library, and the really troubled ones became regulars. Their features were wrecked with disappointment and forbearance. Tucker would look for them at the Epiphany branch on East 23rd, back near the religious books; in the basement reference room at the Jefferson in Greenwich Village; in the lobby at Donnell in the West Fifties; the whole of Tompkins Square, and Circulating in the 42nd Street main branch. Tucker loved wrecked faces, sad smiles, and soft tones, and the libraries of New York abounded in them.
But of all the libraries Tucker had ever visited, the one in Brooklyn Heights was hands down the winner.
Tucker had intended to write a long poem about it and how it wasn't phony like many. It didn't pull something like putting books almost as old as My Antonia in the Pay Duplicate section and charging you five cents a day to read it. It had no Pay Duplicate section, in fact. It was air-conditioned. It had bathrooms and telephone booths and lockers. It was like what someone had once said about the difference between being rich and poor: rich was better. It was plush.
One afternoon, a week before Thanksgiving, Tucker had gone there to work on a poem for his Creative Writing class. The poem was supposed to have a theme of "thanks for something out-of-the-ordinary."
Tucker's poem was about the library. For that reason he would never finish it or show it to anyone. He was aware that a male cat-lover, who was also a lover of libraries, was better off keeping all that to himself. Another fact he kept to himself was his ambition to be a librarian. He figured he'd announce it one day in college, after he'd scored the winning touchdown in a football game or won high honors in some course like Outer Space Cartography.
His poem began:
I never thought that anything I'd like best,
would be located on Cadman Plaza West,
He jotted it down on the outside of his spiral notebook, saw its promise, abandoned it, and put on his coat. It was five o'clock. In the days when he was still visiting Nader, it was the time he'd start over to Remsen Street.
Instead, he headed down Clinton and turned into Pierrepont, and because Brooklyn Heights was the way he'd heard the English were about animals, he saw cats on stoops, with bells and name tags around their necks, saucers left on windowsills for cats, cats looking down from windows, and cats sunning themselves under lamps in people's parlors. There were dogs everywhere, too, but Tucker had become a cat man.
Tucker had to pass the First Unitarian Church. On the lawn in front was a sermon board behind glass. Instead of the Sunday sermon title and the names of the ministers, there was always a saying on the board: a line from a poem or book.
That afternoon there was something taken from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
If you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world.
Tucker got a sudden flash of Nader sitting under the Chevrolet on Henry Street the evening he found her. He could remember taking her home under his jacket and telling her not to be wild, everything was going to be okay for her. In fact, he told her, she had walked into a very good deal. That was the truth, too, because Tucker's father hadn't been fired yet. He hadn't been allergic yet. He'd simply been this professional fundraiser Tucker'd always known him to be. No sweat about money problems. No postnasal drip. He hadn't even minded Nader's litter pan in the bathroom.
Tucker got another flash, not of the past, but of the future: Nader keeling over one day, finished from a massive coronary at nine months. Dr. Wasserman, the Heights vet, told the assembled mourners, "This kitten was stuffed to death." That was what Tucker's father had once said about a client: "His wife stuffed him to death until he suffered a massive coronary."
Tucker's mother had corrected the statement. "His wife stuffed him until he had a massive coronary and died," she said. "He didn't have the massive coronary after he died, dear."
Tucker's mother had her PhD in English Lit. She had once been an editor. Now she was working as one again, temporarily. Just as Tucker was not supposed to say they had moved to Brooklyn, and was supposed to say Brooklyn Heights, so was Tucker not supposed to say his mother worked on Stirring Romances, and was supposed to say she worked for Arrow Publications.
If you tame me, then we shall need each other.
Tucker Woolf was tall for his age, with a certain way of standing which had landed him in Corrective Posture two years in a row. He was blue-eyed and bespectacled, with chin-length straight black hair. He shifted his book bag from his right hand to his left. He straightened his shoulders and stopped looking down at the street. It was time to take a stand.
If it would make his father feel better, he was willing to remember to add Heights to Brooklyn when he said where he lived. If it would make his father feel better, he was willing to say his mother's temporary job was at Arrow Publications, never mentioning the crummy magazine which employed her. He was willing, in life, to be discreet, diplomatic, subtle, gentle, and forgiving; but there were times when this behavior was wrong.
Tucker Woolf marched across Pierrepont past the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court, down Henry Street past the Church of Our Lady of Lebanon, and across and down Remsen Street almost to the river. He thought of how he had forced himself to concentrate in Dinky Hocker's presence, so he would never even say something accidental like "fat chance" or "fathead" or "the fat's in the fire." He had handled the whole enormous problem with kid gloves and kindness; but there were times when this behavior was wrong.
He stopped before a red brownstone with a yellow door, went up the stone steps, and lifted the brass knocker.
Dinky herself answered.
Dinky had dusty blond hair, and her cheeks flushed from the slightest exertion. She favored ersatz articles of clothing, like her father's tweed-suit vest worn over a T-shirt, with green cotton pajama bottoms and old white tennis socks.
That was the way she was dressed as she answered the door.
"I thought you weren't going to exercise your visiting rights anymore," she said. Dinky's father was a lawyer, and her conversation was sometimes peppered with legal jargon.
"I just dropped by to tell you I doubt that Nader's happy having a weight problem," Tucker said. "I doubt that you are, either. But you've given her your problem and it isn't fair."
"She's given me a problem, too," Dinky said, undaunted by this sudden pronouncement. "She's scratched her claws on our Hide-A-Bed and ruined it, just when we need it."
"You didn't even listen," Tucker said, walking into the foyer and setting down his book bag. "I'm going to stay until it sinks in, Dinky! Nader doesn't deserve your problems."
"No one deserves my problems," Dinky said.
"Why do you have to feed her so much?"
"Don't worry," Dinky said. "We've got another mouth to feed, suddenly. We'll be lucky if there's enough to go around."
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about my cousin."
Then suddenly from behind Dinky this girl appeared.
The first thing Tucker noticed was her eyes. They were very bright, and Tucker found himself wanting to smile at the girl, as though they both had some sort of mischief as a secret between them, maybe on Dinky, maybe not. But there was a definite vibration, an exchange, and Tucker almost did smile, except Tucker rarely smiled. He smiled to himself, usually; no one could tell. But he had an idea this girl could tell. Her own smile grew all the broader.
"This is the other mouth," Dinky said, her hand sweeping grandly and cynically toward the girl. There was something old-fashioned-looking about the girl. She was wearing a navy-blue jumper and a white blouse with long, billowing sleeves. She was wearing a string of pearls, white stockings, and black shoes. The girl was how old? Older than Tucker? Younger? The same age? He wasn't sure. Her hair was black and it spilled down past her shoulders. Her eyes were green like Nader's, and her skin was very smooth and very white.
"I'm Tucker Woolf," Tucker said, because Dinky forgot to introduce them beyond announcing that the girl was the other mouth.
"I'm Natalia Line."
"Fine," Tucker said, embarrassed because it rhymed.
"Natalia has a fine line," the girl laughed. "Natalia has a fine, divine line," she continued, laughing all the harder, "a fine divine line, that's mine," and her eyes were flashing.
Tucker didn't laugh easily. He didn't like silly girls. He wouldn't have liked the whole scene at any other time, but somehow it was different because of this girl. He smiled at her. Then he laughed out loud.
Tucker's mother often used to say whenever he laughed, "Oh, don't tell me you're going to choke up some youthful laughter, Tucker!" because he was usually so solemn.
Dinky Hocker was the only one who wasn't amused. "We have a walking, talking, rhyming dictionary living with us," she said very sarcastically, "and I can tell you I'm thrilled about that."CHAPTER 2
IT WAS LATE IN the morning, the day after Thanksgiving.
"Four times this week." Tucker woke up to hear his mother's voice coming from the kitchen, where she was breakfasting with his father. He remembered that his mother had the day off, too.
"To see the cat?" his father's voice asked.
"This niece of Helen Hocker is staying with them now."
"He goes to see her?"
"Yes. With the excuse he's visiting the cat."
"Cal, I think he's—"
Excerpted from Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack! by M. E. Kerr. Copyright © 1972 M. E. Kerr. 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 December 26, 2013
Posted December 26, 2013
Posted May 16, 2002
Focus on the 4 teenage characters in this book. They are complex and fascinating. The parents are a bit stereotyped, however. It's worth sticking with this novel although it wasn't riveting. Kids are kids and teenagers have the same issues today as 30 years ago. Read and enjoy.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 4, 2002
The book Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack is a great book. It is very interesting and keeps you on your feet. The title seems to have nothing to do with the book, well you will never know if you do not read until the end. The book gets kind of confusing at times because of all the different people but it was still good. I really enjoyed many parts of the book, like the baloon game, but you will never know what that is until you read the book. You should really read this book, and now the question is who is Dinky Hocker and what is smack.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 11, 2011
No text was provided for this review.