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By A.S. King
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Copyright © 2013 A.S. King
All rights reserved.
IT'S WWE NIGHT. That's World Wrestling Entertainment, or Smackdown Live! for any of you non-redneck-y people who've never watched the spectacle of heavyweight wrestling before. I've always hated it, but it brings in good money at the PEC Center.
The PEC Center is the Penn Entertainment and Convention Center. That's where I work.
I'm that apathetic kid in the greasy shirt at the concession stand who asks you if you want salsa, cheese, chili, or jalapeños with your nachos. I'm the kid who refills the ice because none of the other lazy cashiers will do it. I'm the kid who has to say Sorry. We're all out of pretzels. I hear parents complain about how much everything costs. I hear them say You shouldn't be eating that fattening stuff right before they order their kid some chicken fingers and fries. I hear them wince when their kid orders a large sugary Pepsi in a WWE commemorative cup to wash it down. At WWE, it's the fried stuff, cups with wrestlers on them, or beer.
I'm technically not allowed to work this stand until I turn eighteen and take a class on how to serve alcohol responsibly. There's a test and everything—and a little certificate to put in your wallet. I'm almost seventeen now, and Beth, my manager, lets me work here because she likes me and we made a deal. I card people. I check for signs of intoxication—loud talking, lower inhibitions, glassy eyes, slurred speech; then, if everything checks out okay, I call Beth over so she can tap them the beers. Unless it's superbusy. Then she tells me to tap them myself.
"Hey, Crapper!" someone yells from the back of the line. "I'll give you twenty bucks to squeeze one out for the crowd!"
It's Nichols. He only comes to this stand because he knows I can get him beer. He comes with Todd Kemp, who doesn't say much and seems embarrassed to be around Nichols most of the time because Nichols is such a dick.
I wait on the three families in front of Nichols and Todd, and when they get here, they barely whisper what they want and Todd hands over ten bucks. Two Molsons. While I'm covertly tapping the beer, Nichols is saying all sorts of nervous, babbly stuff, and I do what my anger management coach taught me to do. I hear nothing. I breathe and count to ten. I concentrate on the sound of the WWE crowd cheering on whatever big phony is in the ring. I concentrate on the foam at the top of the cup. I concentrate on how I'm supposed to love myself now. Only you can allow yourself to be angry.
But no matter how much anger management coaching I've had, I know that if I had a gun, I'd shoot Nichols in the back as he walks away with his beer. I know that's murder and I know what that means. It means I'd go to jail. And the older I get, the more I think maybe I belong in jail. There are plenty of angry guys like me in jail. It's, like, anger central. If we put together all the jails in this country and made a state out of them, we could call that state Furious.
We could give it a postal abbreviation like other states have. FS. I think the zip code would be 00000.
I wipe down the counter while there's a short break in the hungry, thirsty WWE crowd. I restack the cup lids. I count how many hot dogs are left in my hot drawer. I report to Beth that I am completely out of pretzels.
When I get up from counting hot dogs in the next drawer over, I see her walking through the crowd. Tasha. My oldest sister. She's with her boyfriend, Danny, who is about two staircases more than a step down from us. We live in a gated community of minimansions. Danny lives in a rented community of 1970s single- wide trailers. They don't even have paved roads. I'm not exaggerating. The place is like the hillbilly ghetto.
Not like I care. Tasha is an asshole and I hate her. I hope he knocks her up and she marries him and they have a hundred little WWE-loving pale redneck babies. I wouldn't shoot her, though. I enjoy watching her fail too much. Watching Mom swallow her Tasha-dropped-out-of-college-and-is-dating-a-Neanderthal soup every day is probably the best thing I have going for me.
It's probably the only thing keeping me out of jail.
I LIVE ABOUT ten miles away from the PEC Center, in a town called Blue Marsh, which is not blue, not a marsh, and not a real town. It's just a bunch of developments linked together with shopping malls.
I get home at ten and the house is dark. Mom is already sleeping because she gets up so early to power walk and invent exciting new breakfast smoothies. Dad is probably still out with his real estate friends smoking cigars and drinking whatever equity-rich assholes drink, talking about this economy and how much it sucks to be them.
As I near the kitchen hallway, I hear the familiar sound of Tasha getting nailed by Danny the hillbilly.
If I brought a girl home and did that to her that loud, my parents would kick me out. But if Tasha does it? We all have to pretend that it's not actually happening. One time she was whinnying away down in the basement with Danny while Mom, Lisi, and I ate dinner. This was last year when Lisi still lived at home. Mom talked nonstop to block it out, as if the three of us would magically unhear what was going on. And did you see that Boscov's is having a white sale this weekend? We could use new sheets and towels and I think I'll go over on Saturday morning because the selection is always better early in the day and I really would love some that are blue to match the upstairs bathroom and last time I ended up with those red sheets and as much as I like them, they still seem too rough and they usually have nice flannel this time of year and I think it's important to have flannel sheets in winter, you know? Blah blah blah blah blah.
I got about seven mouthfuls into a nice plate of roast beef and mashed potatoes and I finally couldn't take it anymore. I went to the basement door, opened it, and screamed, "If you don't stop planking my sister while I eat dinner, I'm going to come down there and kick your ass. Have some fucking respect!" and I slammed the door.
My mother stopped talking about towels and sheets and gave me that look she'd been giving everyone for as long as I could remember. It said Tasha can't help it. It said We just can't control what Tasha does.
Or, in Lisi's words, "Tasha is out of control and for some reason our mother is totally fine with it. Don't know why, don't care, either. I'm getting as far from here as I can the minute I can."
And she did. Lisi went all the way to Glasgow, Scotland, where she's studying literature, psychology, and environmental science all at the same time while balancing a waitressing job and her years-long pot habit. She hasn't called since she left. Not even once. She e-mailed Mom to let us know she got there okay, but she never calls. It's been three months.
Anyway, Mom should have named Tasha "Trigger." Not just because of the horse sounds she makes when she's getting planked by the redneck, either.
She is my number one trigger.
That's the term the anger management coach uses to describe why I get angry. It's the self-controlled, acceptable word we use for shit that pisses me off. That's called a trigger. I have spent the last four years identifying mine. And it's Tasha.
At least on that night—the time we had the roast beef and Lisi was still home—Tasha and Danny shut up. Which was good, because I was completely serious. As I ate, I had my eye on the fireplace set in the living room, and I was wondering what kind of damage the iron fire poker could do to a human head. I pictured an exploding watermelon.
My anger coach would say Stay in the present, Gerald. But it's hard when nothing ever changes. For sixteen years, eleven months, and two weeks, I've been drowning.
Dad arrives home. He'll hear it, too, the minute he gets out of the car.
Basement sounds—especially Tasha's whinnying—go to the garage first.
I hear his dress shoes tip-tap on the cement floor and the door open ... and he finds me standing in the dark like some freak. He gasps.
"Jesus, Ger!" he says. "Way to give your old man a stroke."
I walk over to the living room doorway and switch on the main hall light. "Sorry. I just got in, too. Got distracted by the, uh—you know. Noise."
"I wish she'd move out again," I say.
"She doesn't have anywhere to live."
"So? Maybe she'll learn how to get a job and not sponge off you guys if you kick her ass out." I don't know why I'm doing this. It's just raising my blood pressure. "She's twenty-one."
"You know how your mother is," he says. You know how your mother is. This has been his party line since Lisi moved out.
We move into the living room, where it's quieter. He mixes himself a drink and asks me if I want one. I usually say no. But tonight I say yes.
"I could use it. Busy night."
"Wrestling. Those people never stop eating," I say.
"Heh," he says.
"Is Lisi coming home for Christmas?" I ask. He shakes his head, so I add, "There's no chance she'll come back with Tasha in the house."
He hands me a White Russian and flops himself on the couch. He's still in the suit he wore to work this morning. It's Saturday, and he worked at least twelve hours before he went out with his real estate group. He takes a sip from his drink.
"Those two never got along," he says. Which is bullshit. Tasha never got along. With anyone. And it's partially his fault, so he has these excuses. You know how your mother is. Those two never got along.
"Thinking about what you want for your birthday?" he asks.
"Not really." This isn't a lie. I haven't been thinking about my birthday at all, even though it's just over two weeks from now.
"I guess you have some time," he says.
We look at each other for a moment, and he manages a little smile. "So what are your plans after next year? You gonna leave me here like Lisi did?"
I say, "My options are limited."
"There's always jail." I let a few seconds pass before I say, "But I think Roger has reasoned all of that out of me." Roger is my anger management coach.
At first he looks shocked, and then he laughs. "Phew. I thought you were serious there for a sec."
"About that? Who'd want to go to jail?"
Right then, Danny the hillbilly opens the basement door and tiptoes into the dark kitchen and grabs a bag of tortilla chips from the cupboard. He goes to the fridge and grabs the whole carton of iced tea. Dad and I notice that he is completely naked only when the light from the fridge shines on his pecker.
"Maybe next time you steal from me, you could put on some clothes, son," Dad says.
Danny runs back down the steps like a rat.
That's what we have. We have rats in our basement. Sponger rats who steal our food and don't offer us shit for it.
I'm still thinking about my last rhetorical question to Dad. Who'd want to go to jail? I thought about going nuts once and hitting the mental institution. We have one of those here, only a few miles down the road, too. But Roger said mental institutions aren't really the way they used to be. No more playing basketball with the Chief like in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
"So where to, then, Ger?" Dad asks, swirling his drink with his index finger.
I don't know what to say. I don't want to do anything, really. I just want a chance to start over and have a real life. One that wasn't fucked up from the beginning and broadcast on international TV like a freak show.
EPISODE 1, SCENE 1, TAKE 3
YES, EPISODE ONE. As in, they did more than one show of the Crapper. I was such a big hit with all those troubled parents around the country, so they wanted more chances to watch poor little Gerald squat and deposit turds in the most peculiar places.
I could almost hear the relieved parents of normal tantrum-throwing children saying At least our kid doesn't crap on the dining room table!
So true. So true.
What they didn't know was this: I didn't become the Crapper until those cameras were mounted on our walls. Until the strangers with the microphones did sound tests to make sure they could pick up every little thing that was going on. Until I became entertainment. Before then, I was just a frustrated, confused kid who could get violent—mostly toward drywall ... and Tasha.
If I was to give a postal abbreviation to my house while I was growing up, it would be UF. I was furious, yes. Livid. Enraged. Incensed. But only because everything was Unfair. Postal abbreviation UF. Zip code: ?????. (The zip code for UF probably changes every five seconds, so there's no point trying to give it one.)
I can't remember a time when I didn't want to punch everything around me, out of confused, unacknowledged frustration. I never punched Lisi or my parents. But then, Lisi and my parents never begged me to punch them. Walls did. Furniture did. Doors did. Tasha did.
From the moment I saw Network Nanny, I didn't really believe she was a nanny. She didn't look like a nanny or act like a nanny. She had starlet hair—something you'd see at a red-carpet movie premiere. She was skinny. Bony, even. She dressed up, as if she was attending a wedding. She didn't smile or possess any warmth. As if she was ... acting.
They'd sent us a fake nanny.
I didn't know this for sure until I was older, but it was true. Nanny was really Lainie Church, who was really Elizabeth Harriet Smallpiece from a small town in the south of England, who'd wanted to make it in Hollywood since she was five. Her first acting jobs were in commercials, and then she got a stint for a while in Iowa as one of those fake meteorologists who don't know anything about weather but act like they do. She had a very convincing Iowan accent, too. But Network Nanny was her breakthrough role.
Alongside our fake nanny was a less camera-ready real nanny. She wasn't allowed to interact with us, but she winked at me sometimes. She told Fake Nanny what to do to play a good nanny. This arrangement made me mad. I remember sitting there watching them set up and wondering what I could do to really show the world how wrong things were in my life.
After meeting with her makeup artist for a half hour, Fake Nanny got into costume and character and came into the living room, where my family sat waiting. She clapped her hands and looked at the three kids. I was five, Lisi was seven, and Tasha was nearly eleven.
Then she looked exclusively at me while she talked. "Your parents have called me in because your family needs my help." She stopped and checked her reflection in the TV screen. "Your mother says you fight all the time and that's not acceptable behavior."
To imagine Nanny properly, you have to give her an English accent. She dropped her r's. Behavior was behay-vyah.
"Sounds to me like you need the three steps to success in this house. And we'll start with some old-fashioned discipline. Gerald, do you know what that means?"
The director told me to shake my head no, so I did. I tried not to look into the cameras, which was why it took three takes to film scene one. How can a five- year-old not look into a camera that's right in front of his face?
"It means we're about to start a whole new life," she said. "And this will be a whole new family, easy as one, two, three."
Nanny only came around for a day and then she left her crew of cameras and cameramen there to film us being violent little bitches to one another. Then, two weeks later, she came back and decided, based on that footage, who was right, who was wrong, who needed prop-ah punishment, and who needed to learn more about responsibility. She taught Mom and Dad about the naughty chair and how to take away screen time. They made homemade charts with rows, columns, and stickers. (The girls got cat stickers. I got dog stickers.)
Nanny didn't actually help make the charts, because her fingernails were too delicate and chart-making wasn't in her contract. "Anyway, it's not my job to parent these children," she said to Mom and Dad. "It's yours."
What the cameras didn't see was: Everything that made us violent little bitches happened behind closed doors or just under the radar of those microphones. And so Nanny (well, really, the nannies) only saw part of the picture. Which was usually me or Lisi running after Tasha, trying to hurt her.
Excerpted from Reality Boy by A.S. King. Copyright © 2013 A.S. King. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
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