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Feeling terrorized by girls, thirteen-year-old Steven and three of his friends form a club to learn how to become he-men.
Lynch, fresh from the Blue-Eyed Son trilogy (Mick, 1996, etc.), sets out some distinctly non-PC characters and their beliefs; readers who like to feel superior to people they meet in books will—unfortunately—lap this up.
The Monica Haunts
I hate her.
You'd hate her too.
But don't get me wrong, she hates me also.
I hate her so much, I dream about her. If that's not hate, I'd like to know what is.
I've hated her since the third grade, that horror-of-horrors day when the whole class marched in a circle, chanting it. Like devils, all holding hands, and chanting, right there in the schoolyard.
Steven loves Monica, Steven loves Monica, Ste-ven lo-oves Mon-i-ca....
And they had us pinned there, me and what's-her-name, in the center of their vicious circle, where we couldn't escape it.
So of course I hit her. Go on, you would have done the same thing. It was her fault. It had to be her fault. I never would have done anything to get them started on something so stupid.... Steven loves ... it had to be her. So of course I hit her.
So of course, she hit me back.
But see, this is the kind of thing girls just don't understand. There are rules. In this world, there have to be rules so that we can all understand each other. Without those rules, see, nothing makes sense, and we all go around feeling crazy and confused and maybe even afraid—though I personally don't allow myself to do much fearing. For instance, you can't get mad and shoot a guy. Just not cool. I mean, you can do it all right, but then you have to go to jail for it. Makes sense, right, so we don't just all go around popping off on each other every day on the sidewalk. And your parents, they are not allowed to have, like, other families, fathers with fifty wives, you know, none of that. It would just be too confusing, and everybody would be upset, so it's out.
Girls, though. They don't get the rules. Or they don't like the rules. Or they don't care about the rules. Because for whatever reason, girls sure don't play by them.
Like when I hit Monica. I hit her on the shoulder, with the meaty part of the fist that runs between the pinky knuckle and the wrist. A non-lethal punch, to say the least. For those civilized among us who play by the rules in life, a similar hit would be expected in return.
That's what I expected.
That's what I anticipated as I closed my eyes.
That's right, I said I closed my eyes. I have never closed my eyes on a girl since.
I had my first Monica dream right there in the nurse's office as I sat, weaving in and out of consciousness, sniffing the wake-up ammonia, and the nurse interrupting my dream with all that "How many fingers?" and "What day is it, Steven?" business. I could still see Monica's face—white and smooth as yogurt, round, framed by crazy roped hair that was like red seaweed, slanty small eyes—as she puckered up her whole expression in hatred of me.
There are no rules for girls, and that is the problem.
The other problem is the dreams, the Monica Haunts. I still get them five years later. In fact it's even getting worse this year, for no good reason. Almost every night, and sometimes during the day, even when she's sitting only two rows away.CHAPTER 2
"First, no dames here. Second, no smutty language."
"Why, Steven?" Jerome asked. Jerome was my first recruit, so there was a lot of ground-zero explaining I had to do with Jerome. "And what does that mean anyway, dames? What are those?"
That's where we started, okay. Nowhere, is where we started. The whys were not the point. The rules were the point. If you don't have rules, you don't have anything. That's what I had to drill into these guys before I could teach them anything else. If you could teach them anything at all, which I don't know.
So I got three words for these boys: Nation of Islam. We ain't black, any of us, and the religion and god and bow-ties business is probably a little more than we want to bite off, but beyond that, the Nation of Islam has got everything. They know. Most clubs won't admit it, but these guys have exactly the profile every operation wants: they are tough; they are clean and wear nice clothes; they are scary as all bejesus.
The Muslims get it. The Dallas Cowboys likewise get it. The Green Berets get it. This club, too, is gonna get it.
Because we got rules, junior. Rules is where it's at. Club's got to start with rules, with telling guys what they can and cannot do, because if you can't live with bossing or being bossed, then why even bother clubbing, right?
"Let me tell you a very frightening and devilish story," I said to Jerome back there in the beginning. "There was, way before us, an ultimate cool men's club run by a couple of right thinkers named Spanky and Alfalfa. They had it all—great private headquarters, loyal members like Porky and Buckwheat, and very strict rules to live by. But then one day along came a wicked evil creature, whose purpose in life was to do nothing but break up the mighty bond these men had developed. The creature's name was Darla, and she was powerful. So powerful was she that, in like fifteen minutes, she had Alfalfa insane in his devotion to her, betraying his fellow men left and right. Spanky was destroyed. Porky and Buckwheat were confused and left, like, homeless."
"Whoa," Jerome said.
"No kidding, whoa," I answered. "And of course the wicked Darla left Alf chewed like Doublemint and spit, stuck, and trampled on the sidewalk."
"This won't happen to us," Jerome pledged. "No Darlas getting in this club."
"That's right. That's why I tell you this story. That's why we have adopted the name of the late, great He-Man Women Haters Club. So that we do not ever forget."
Jerome pledged he'd never forget.
You may be wondering, Where do you get men for such a club? Let's go back to the start.
First, let's get it right out in the open. I swim, all right? On a team, Speedo suits and bathing caps, and the whole slippery wet picture. And yes, I know what that picture looks like. Ha ha.
I could play football, if I wanted to. Or hockey, or baseball, or any other major team sport I felt like. But I don't feel like it.
My father thinks I swim because ... never mind what he thinks. Let's just say when I was born and he first bounced me—bounced me wicked hard, as I recall—on his knee, he was picturing me wearing shoulder pads, not a coating of Vaseline.
It was during fall swim season that I hooked up with Jerome. First, he started showing up at our home meets, which will make a guy stick out in a crowd of four spectators. Then, he became our team manager. Picking up the used Speedos and bathing caps and towels after we were done with them.
Team manager for a junior high swimming team. There's a fairly clear status-snapshot, huh?
I left Jerome pretty much alone. I never jammed my bathing suit over his head when he came by and politely extended the laundry bag. I never grabbed his ankles and pulled him into the pool for a Friday afternoon game of Free Willy/Let's Not. I never stripped him down to his underoos, greased him up, and made him do a bodybuilder posing routine to the music of "The Name Game" (Shirley Shirley bo birley, bo nana fana fo firley, etc.).
But I didn't try to stop all that when it did happen, either. There is a natural order to things, and when you are the swim team manager ...
Yet even I could witness only so much. The last day of the season, after the last meet, I was walking home, my hair still wet from the shower and turning to icicles. I was feeling nasty and cheated over my exit talk from the coach.
"You gotta start shaving it, Steven. Or a depilatory cream would be even better."
"This is a joke, right, coach?"
"Look at the other guys. You see any body hair on 'em? It slows you down in the water. You gotta be aerodynamically cutting edge if you're gonna be competitive."
I rubbed my chest absentmindedly.
"I could slick it down, with hair spray or mousse or—"
"Off. Steven, either the hair or yourself, but one of you's gotta be off the team by the spring."
So I was walking in a daze through the slushy street. I wanted to swim, but it had taken me thirteen years to grow those hairs. That's three hairs per year, by my count, and the only way he was getting them off me was with a flamethrower.
I was depressed when I reached Lars's Garage. Lars is my uncle, my father's brother, and he always lets me hang out at his auto restoration shop. He even lets me have my own car, a black 1956 Lincoln that's been sitting in there since 1971.
"You're absolutely right, Steven," Lars said when I told him my dilemma. "Don't you give up them chest hairs to nobody, under no circumstances." He unzipped his one-piece jumpsuit, which was olive green in some spots, motor-oil brown in others, and speckles of a million different paint colors all over. Once he had that open, he popped wide his urban-cowboy denim shirt with the embroidered flowers and pearly purple snaps where the buttons would be on a normal shirt. After that, he pulled up his T-shirt to reveal a tattoo of a snake weaving in and out of his very visible rib cage, and a thin garden of reddish chest hair growing in a patch shaped like a baby's handprint.
"That's your manhood right there," he said, brooming the wisps with his fingertips. "Look at 'em, wouldja? Thirty-nine little oaks."
"Thirty-nine?" I was stunned. "Thirty-nine? Lars, you have thirty-nine? I have thirty-nine."
"Course ya do," he said, grinning. "We all do. That's your family legacy. Your old man's got thirty-nine too. All the more reason you gotta look out for 'em. You got your full set right there. They might get a little longer, a little thicker, but you ain't gonna get a single one more as long as you live."
"Jeez," I said, petrified. I mentioned to my uncle that this was the first really big challenge to my manhood I was going to have to face down.
"Ya, the first of about fifty million," Lars said. "So you better get good at it. Everybody in this world wants a piece of a guy's manhood."
So we were standing there, the two of us stroking our own sternums, when the banging and cackling started outside. It sounded like fat rain on a tin roof, with witches flying around in it. Lars and I went to the door and cracked it to see.
Nothing this pathetic had ever happened in front of me before. There, scrunched down on his haunches in a corner of the big garage doorway, was Jerome. Across the street from him, fanned out like a squad of snipers, was a group of six girls, winging snowballs at him, pummeling him like an arcade dummy. Their coats were open to the cold—oh, you're so tough, girls—exposing their highly decorated Girl Scout uniforms.
I pulled the door shut.
"Whadja do that for?" Lars demanded.
"I think I'm going to barf," I said. The pounding on the garage door increased, like they'd gone semiautomatic. A whimper from Jerome snaked under the door, meaning he'd slunk down to pavement level.
"You can't just leave him out there, Steven. They're wicked. I know those Girl Scouts. They might not leave him alive."
"Ya? Well, I know them too. Know one of them real well. In fact, she's their king."
We listened some more. Some of the shots sounded like they could shatter the door, and from the placement of Jerome's moans—holding tight down there at street level—it didn't appear he was going to break away anytime soon. He was pinned, and they were not through with him.
"I suppose," I sighed.
The two of us pulled our shirts back down, and our collars up, and on the count of four blasted out the door. I heard Satan's Scouts squeal when we came into view, and they unloaded on us as we scurried out to retrieve the body. We hung tight, shielding each other just like in the war movies, although we slithered snug to the wall, like rats do.
Jerome was borderline lifeless when we hauled him in, but he was full of life once he realized what we had done.
"Oh my god, thank you thank you thank you," he said.
I stared down at him, lying there flat out on the garage floor. He looked even smaller than I'd thought. He had small bones, little fine hands, a head like a perfect honeydew melon, with thick, short brown hair that looked like he brushed it in circles rather than down or over or back like the rest of us do. His ears stuck out about ten inches on either side of his head.
All I could feel by then was embarrassed. "If you tell anybody I had anything to do with this pathetic scene—"
"You want me to go scare 'em?" Lars butted in. Seemed Lars was taking all this pretty personally now, with his pink face heading for purple. "Rotten Girl Scouts. Always the same, never changes. Jeez, when I was your age ...Huh, kid, you want me to scare 'em good for ya? So they don't bother you again?"
"This is really embarrassing," I said. "Why don't we just cut our losses and—"
"Yes," Jerome blurted.
That was all Lars needed. He jumped to his feet, unzipped and jumped out of his jumpsuit—"Now you know why they call it a jumpsuit," he growled, totally serious—and charged out the door.
"I would have kept the jumpsuit on," Jerome said to me as we watched the door. "Doesn't that make more sense?"
I shrugged, but I knew my uncle. "He's making a statement ... or something."
"Hey!" Lars's voice boomed outside. "You. And you. Why don't you all go sell some cookies or somethin'. Don't you come around here and think—"
Lars's message was interrupted by the sound of thunder. Only it was not thunder. It was the sound of six Girl Scouts throwing as many half-frozen snowballs in ten seconds as it is humanly possible to throw. And it was the sound of one auto restorer bouncing off the metal door of his own establishment.
"Where's Stevie?" sang the Haunt. "Doesn't little Stevie want to come out and play?" This was the thing, the whole rotten thing of it how they—okay, how she—just can't let it alone. Like Darla, they just had to get into your castle and muck it all up just in case you were having any fun they didn't know about. "Come out, come out, Stevie," Monica hooted.
Jerome and I were dead silent when Lars staggered back in. He tried to keep it together, dusting snow and ice chips off himself calmly. The embroidery on his shirt now looked like it was the Alps instead of flowers. He picked up his jumpsuit and dragged it toward his office, like Linus with his blanket.
"I forgot," he said. "I'm not supposed to do that. With the probation ... I ain't allowed to do no scarin' people off. Sorry, kid."
I shook my head sadly. "Girls," I growled.
"Well," Jerome offered, "these girls, anyway. Maybe they're not all like that."
"Yes they are," Lars snapped before he slammed the door to his office.
Jerome finally got to his feet. "You're on the swim team," he said.
"Maybe," I answered. "What's it to ya?"
I don't make friends easily.
"Sure you are. I'm the manager. Cut it out, you know me."
I shrugged. "Ya, I do know you, but no, I might not be back on the team. They're asking for compromises I'm not prepared to make."
"Really?" Jerome sounded interested. "What kind of compromises?"
I looked him up and down. Shook my head. "Forget it. You wouldn't understand."
I walked away from the kid, and got right into my Lincoln. I sat, like always, in the driver's seat, adjusted my rearview. Good, he was gone. Adjusted my sideview. Bad, he was not gone.
"So what do you do here? I mean, what are you doing here? Do you work here? Whose car is this? It's a great car. You hang around here all the time? Is that all right? Can anybody just ..."
He was like talk radio. I turned away from him, pretended to be tooling down the highway while Jerome chattered on. I turned the volume knob down, beeped the dying-moan horn twenty times. He didn't seem to notice.
"It's my uncle's place," I said finally. "That was my uncle. And this "—I tapped the Lincoln's dashboard with my index finger—"is mine."
"Holy smokes," Jerome said, jumping back. "This whole thing is yours? That's unbelievable. I mean ...unbelievable."
I watched as Jerome crouched down and looked at his reflection in the chrome full-moon hubcaps. Polishing was my specialty.
"Unbelievable. I mean, I believe you, but this is just ... immense, a kid owning a thing like this."
Jerome got it. Some people don't get it. But Jerome got it.
"Go on," I said, pointing across the broad front bench seat toward the passenger door. "You can ride shotgun."
He raced, and slammed the door before I could tell him ...
"Don't slam the doors, Jerome. It needs work. The doors can fall off, you know."
Excerpted from Johnny Chesthair by Chris Lynch. Copyright © 1997 Chris Lynch. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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