From the Publisher
“Readers will continue to cheer for this outsider who finds life’s deck stacked against him. . . . A must-read for fans of Chris Crutcher.”–The Bulletin
“[A] remarkable first novel.”–Kirkus Reviews
“Harmon compellingly renders wary, brittle Ian, particularly the tension between his admirable motivations and his self-destructive impulses.”–Booklist
“A marvelous debut.”–Kirkus Reviews
“Harmon knows the world of outsiders, and he writes in a dead-on true voice, both funny and tragic.”–Chris Crutcher
Read an Excerpt
Tony Freemont can’t keep his mouth shut for longer than thirty seconds at a time because Tony is one of those guys where words come out in uncontrollable spasms. He looked at the cut of my ex-girlfriend’s bra through her gym shirt, and I could almost feel it coming.
“Dude, gotta be Victoria’s Secret,” he said, bending his head to my ear. Coach Schmidt’s eyes flicked our way, a big fist wrapped around a small blue paddle, but the Ping-Pong sermon continued.
I had no desire to talk to Tony Freemont about the cut of Veronica Jorgenson’s bra, because I’d seen that particular one without the shirt on over it, and even though we’re not together anymore and it burns a bit, my mouth stays shut about those things. Tony knows I still like her, too, and every chance he gets, he rubs it in.
Tony is a linebacker for Morrison High’s junior varsity football team, and Veronica is captain of the JV cheerleaders. He’s had a thing for her since we started school, and that she dated a guy, even for a little while, with four earrings and another in his eyebrow had him questioning the all-American qualities a Morrison High jacket bestowed upon a person unlike myself.
He nodded her way. “Skater boy wipes it again. Take a look at what you’re missing, dorko.”
I kept my eyes on Coach to avoid the push-ups I knew were coming if we got caught, but I almost couldn’t resist body- slamming him into the floor. Now wasn’t the time to teach Tony a lesson in manners, and anyway, I’d have half the JV defensive line after me if I did. “I heard your mom sticks a cork up your ass to shut you up, Tony. Did it come out?”
That closed his mouth for a few seconds, but it was too late. Coach zeroed in on us with those steel pop rivets for eyes and fell silent. Coach Schmidt is a two-hundred-thirty-pound stump of flesh with a head sticking out of the top of it, and aside from having to shave more than me, she’s the first, and only, female football coach the city of Spokane has ever had. She’s also the state women’s arm-wrestling champion four years running. Her eyes slid from us to Veronica, then back, as if she knew exactly what we were talking about. Just like Mom but with big biceps. “Did you boys have something to share with us today?”
“No, ma’am.” I smiled because she was posed like a state arm-wrestling champion in a ballet class; the paddle midswing, her beefy arms frozen like an action figure. I was tempted to give the class an explanation of Tony’s preoccupation with Veronica’s boob-holders, but I didn’t. Coach Schmidt doesn’t like anything funny unless it has to do with cartilage damage, dislocated shoulders, or death on the playing field, and I’m already on her bad side for blowing off the sports program my freshman year.
She stared at me, then assumed a non–Ping-Pong stance before shooting daggers at Tony. He’s the mouth, so I figured I’d slide by. “And you, Mr. Freemont?” she said. “Do you have something enlightening to say?”
She pointed to the ground. “Push-ups.”
I bent to hit the floor, and Tony held up his arm, smiling. “Bad shoulder. Coach Thompson says I should take it easy for a few days. Strained it on the press.”
Coach Thompson is the JV football coach, so it looked like Tony had an out. Play a sport at Morrison, you got an out. Some way, somehow, it’s always different if you wear a jacket. On the other hand, if you wear ripped black cargos, Anarchy shirts, and secondhand Converse tennis shoes and pack a skateboard, you’re a social leper walking around with enough open sores to have every teacher grimacing like they have a bad rash. Coach Schmidt gave him a skeptical look. “See a doctor?”
He shook his head. “Just a strain.”
“Excused,” she said, letting him skate, then pointed to me. “Hit it, McDermott.”
Coach Schmidt believes the key to life is push-ups. It’s been rumored she once ordered the Coke machine in the cafeteria to pull down fifty for spitting out the wrong soda. Rumor also has it that the machine did them. She also believes the answer to every question in the universe is contained in motivational sports anecdotes. She pointed again to the lacquered wood floor when I didn’t hit it fast enough.
I started pushing up. Instead of going on with her instruction, she made the class wait for me to expend myself. Besides a bunch of Ping-Pong tables and a blue-paddle-holding gym teacher who looks like she could squat a semi-truck, there wasn’t much to look at, so the class looked at me. That’s the way Schmidt liked it, because her philosophy includes the idea that being bathed in the fire of public humiliation makes for stronger character.
Tony looked at everything but me as I tried not to embarrass myself any more than I had already, knowing what was running through my head but not stupid enough to say anything, either. The only thing strained on his big galoof body was his brain for thinking so quickly.
I felt sorry for myself while I did my push-ups, thinking about how convenient things seemed to be for students who play sports at this school. The gem of the city, Morrison is sports. College scouts come every year digging for talent, and the pedestal of sportsdom is the biggest buffer a kid can have against getting in trouble on campus. I did forty-six and couldn’t do any more, so I collapsed on the floor, staring at her feet. Even her ankles had muscles.
“More,” she growled, trying to bring out the disgraced competitor in me. “Come on, McDermott, reach deep and you’ll find it.”
My arms were wet noodles, and the only thing I could find by digging deep was a word Coach Schmidt would find offensive. “No,” I said.
She bent down, her fists on her knees. Coach Schmidt had a one-track mind, and that track is for everybody, whether they like it or not. A minor bump in the road and everything’s cool, but once you get on her list, she’s like a marine drill sergeant. She’ll bust your nuts until there’s nothing left or she’ll kill you in the process. I’m in the middle of a yearlong hell week. “How about three days’ detention?”
I stood. “Fine.”
From the Hardcover edition.