The Secret Life of Billie's Uncle Myronby Len Jenkin, Emily Jenkins
Because her rock star parents fail to give her enough attention, eleven-year-old Billie stows away in Uncle Myron's Cadillac and joins him in fantastic travels.
- Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.76(w) x 8.65(h) x 0.73(d)
- Age Range:
- 10 - 13 Years
Read an Excerpt
The Secret Life of Billie's Uncle Myron
By Len Jenkin, Emily Jenkins
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 1996 Len Jenkin and Emily Jenkins
All rights reserved.
Billie aimed carefully. She flicked a juicy spitball right onto the back of the Pigbone's neck. Her marksmanship was perfect. She could see the spit oozing down into her tutor's collar as he droned on. And on. And on.
"Tallahassee is the capital of Mississippi," he said in that low breathy voice of his. "Sacramento is the capital of Massachusetts. New Jersey, of course, is the capital of California. Kansas City, you'll be interested to know, is not the capital of Kansas."
"You fascinate me," Billie assured the Pigbone.
"Instead, Billie, my dear, it's the capital of Minneapolis."
"I'm not your dear Billie."
The tutor smiled weakly and pointed in the general direction of Kansas City on the large map he had attached to the wall of their hotel room. They were in the Princess Suite. Billie flicked another spitball. Bull's-eye!
"The great state of Minneapolis," continued the Pigbone, "is noted for its endless highways without bathrooms and for its large cities without playgrounds. We go there next week, I believe."
He's ignoring those spitballs, Billie thought, just to drive me crazy. Her two-year-old brother, Bix, was rolling around and around on the king-size hotel bed, about to pop from giggling so hard. He was just learning to make spitballs himself.
Billie and Bix were united in the torture of their tutor, Llewellyn Pigbone. His real name was something else, of course. Billie had forgotten it by now. Pigbone was better for him, anyway. He was short and round and had a weak English way of talking. He was probably the most boring man alive. Billie knew very well where Kansas City actually was. She'd been there four times already with her parents.
She had also been to Rome, Paris, London, and Las Vegas, because her parents were almost always on tour. They had been jetting around the world for over a year this time, touching down occasionally at their penthouse in New York City. Billie's mother, Mimi, was incredibly famous. She did ads for Diet Coke and her face had made the covers of Interview, Spin, and Rolling Stone. She had even hosted Saturday Night Live. Billie had stayed up to watch it.
Together, Mimi and Billie's father, Brian, were the rock group Euphoria. Their latest single, "Neon Sky," was number one on the charts. Brian and Mimi played every night to sold-out crowds across the country. Then they had to sign autographs and celebrate and meet executives and old friends from whatever city they were in and celebrate some more and then wind down and fall into bed at the break of dawn. That's why they were still asleep in the master bedroom of the Princess Suite, even though it was three in the afternoon.
"So much for geography," said the Pigbone. The USA disappeared with a flip of his pudgy wrist, and he pulled another chart down from the roll-up on the wall. This one was covered with French verbs. "Bienvenue à la France," he announced.
Billie got up from the table and went over to the window. They were on the top floor. She looked out over skyscrapers, freeways, huge advertising billboards. What city was she in?
She had no idea.
Behind her, the Pigbone was telling a story in French about two dumb kids who lived in Paris. "Bonjour, Yvette. Aimez-vous la Tour Eiffel?" he minced. Billie had been there five times. The Pigbone paused in his recitation. Before he could say, "Are you listening, Billie dear?" Billie reassured him.
"I'm memorizing every word. Continue, s'il vous plaît." Once she and Bix had locked themselves in the bathroom for two hours to escape a French lesson. "Non! Non! Non!" they had chanted from behind the closed door. Luckily, they had been staying at the Ritz in Dallas that week, where there were perfume samples in the bathroom. Billie had tried all of them and decorated Bix's face with her mother's lipstick before they fell asleep on the bath mat.
Finally the Pigbone stopped blabbing and gave her a break while he sorted through his stacks of papers. Billie ran to the telephone. "Room service, please." The lecture had made her hungry, and she had befriended the headwaiter the night before.
"Omaha Splendide Café."
"Hello, Mr. Eggwater? It's Billie. I need an order of barbecue ribs. Desperately. And Bix is flopping off the bed. He needs nourishment. He's wasting away! The suffering in the Princess Suite is worse than you can imagine! Save the Children!"
"Three vanilla puddings, as usual?" asked Mr. Eggwater. He remembered Bix's regular order. The sign of a true professional.
"Yes," answered Billie. "Pudding's all he'll eat. Also, two breakfast specials, double bacon. Thanks." Just in case Brian and Mimi woke up, she wanted to have breakfast waiting for them.
One evening last week, in some other city, she and Bix had eaten dinner while their parents ate breakfast. They'd all gone downstairs to the hotel restaurant at six P.M. The whole meal had been totally embarrassing. Brian had worn leather pants and his pajama top. Even in the dark dining room, Mimi wore sunglasses so people wouldn't recognize her. She brought three jars of vitamin powder down with her and mixed spoonfuls into her orange juice. Her personal trainer, a bodybuilder named Roberta, had her on some special diet for more energy and muscle definition. Brian ate breakfast and dessert, putting peppermint ice cream on his scrambled eggs. Billie stirred her spaghetti around on the plate and looked enviously at the family at the next table. They were tourists, two girls and their parents. They wore bright-colored shirts and had sunburns across their noses. They had just come back from the aquarium. She could tell because the older girl was wearing a hat with a killer whale on it and the younger one had a balloon. They were all eating dinner like normal people. The dad wore a sport jacket and ordered a steak, like dads are supposed to.
After that night, Billie decided to stick with room service. Eating out with Brian and Mimi just reminded her how different her life was from other kids'.
Billie lay back on the bed and looked up at the ceiling. If only the Pigbone would teach me something interesting — something worth knowing, she thought. If only there was somebody on tour to talk to besides maids and headwaiters. She did have Bix, but he wasn't much company. Most of the time he was just annoying, always playing with his horrible Cosmodemon action figures. He was scared to play with other kids in the hotel swimming pools, but he had a stupid friendship with each ugly plastic creature. In fact, they were his only friends. He even spoke to them in his own secret language. "Gorpus mogore bluto," he would say to something hiding in his pocket as they waited for room service to bring the pudding. "Floopus blixin filco," he'd say as he chased his father around the room, holding a figure that looked like G.I. Joe with the head of a tyrannosaurus. Lately he'd been talking to Billie in this secret language, too. That morning he'd woken her up with a hearty "Klaatu barada nikto."
Billie was a little worried about him. Shouldn't he be talking normally by now? Mimi thought he was cute. "He's just a little behind," she'd say, "but he's going to catch up soon and astound everyone with his genius. He'll be a wonderboy! Won't you, Bixie baby?"
"Foofus," Bix would gurgle. Needless to say, French was not his strong point.
Over in a corner, the Pigbone was fidgeting nervously with his glasses. "Billie," he pleaded, "we must return to our leçon." He looked as if he was about to cry. Billie almost felt sorry for him. She was about to ask him to please tell her more about Yvette's feelings for the Eiffel Tower when she heard a loud OOOGA! OOOGA! coming from the street. Billie knew that sound. Not many noises reached all the way to the fifty-ninth floor. She and Bix flew to the window and leaned out. Billie grabbed the back of her brother's T-shirt to stop him from tumbling down into the street and splattering himself across the pavement.
Sure enough, swinging gracefully into a parking space right in front of a fire hydrant was a sky-blue 1958 Cadillac convertible. It had enormous tailfins and a real foghorn bolted to the front hood. Uncle Myron was here. He OOOGAOOOGAed the foghorn again, confusing all the traffic nearby, and Billie could see the shiny top of his bald head in the driver's seat.
"He's here, isn't he?" A tall, stylish figure leaned in the doorway to the master bedroom. It was Mimi, looking rumpled but glamorous in a green silk kimono given her by some love-struck record producer.
"Yes!" cried Billie, running to give her a hello kiss.
"Mixolt!" squealed Bix, and jumped down from the windowsill. Mimi rumpled Bix's hair and scooped him up. Billie grabbed on to her leg. Her mother's toenails were painted black with little silver stars on them.
"Ahem!" The Pigbone coughed loudly into his puffy hand.
"Howdy, Seymour," Mimi said, lighting a cigarette with a gold lighter. Billie wished she wouldn't smoke.
"The children are in a lesson," he whimpered.
"Even Bixie?" asked Mimi, bouncing him onto the giant bed.
Bix screamed, "Towel Eiffus!"
"Billie and I were working on her French. If we're going to bring her up to sixth-grade level, we really must have adequate study time."
"All right, Seymour. Billie honey, get to those savoir faires and je ne sais quois. You'll see your Uncle Mysterious later." Mimi grabbed Bix by the hand. "Come on, baby. Let's go down the hall and wait for Myron!" The two of them ran off toward the elevators, Bix's Euphoria World Tour T-shirt almost dragging on the ground. Mimi's famous voice sailed into a welcome song.
Uncle Myron is there, he's got no hair!
He sails through the air in his underwear!
Billie sighed and sat back down in her chair. What good was it to be the child of famous rock stars, when you never even saw them and all you got to do was stare at the inside of hotel rooms with maps and grammar diagrams taped up to the walls? No friends, no playgrounds, no pets, no Little League baseball team. This was not the good life. This was no life at all.
"Are we ready?" The Pigbone sneered. "Bonjour, mademoiselle. Comment allez-vous?"
* * *
The last time Uncle Myron had appeared was over a year ago, on the snowy evening of Billie's tenth birthday. After the party, with chocolate cake and paper crowns and Bix smearing the ice cream on the hotel bedspread, Uncle Myron's Cadillac rolled out of the darkness. The huge foghorn sounded OOOGA! OOOGA! and they had all rushed down to the lobby and out into the fast-falling snow with their shoes off. Uncle Myron had the top down, and the snow was piled on the seat alongside him, and on his bald head as well. The car's tape player was playing Billie Holiday's "Billie's Blues" in honor of the birthday girl and her namesake. He stepped out of the car, shook the snow off the fur collar of his big coat, and handed Billie a present. It was a pair of sunglasses with a heavy silver frame. They rested elegantly on crimson velvet in a matching silver case. The case was polished brightly, and Billie's name was etched on it in flowing script.
"Billie," Uncle Myron had boomed, slapping her on the back. "This is a very special present indeed! An extraordinary present! A particularly amazing present! It comes with my prediction that you'll become a particularly amazing sort of person." Who knew what Uncle Myron was talking about? The glasses didn't seem that amazing to Billie. But she loved them anyway. They made her feel grown-up and sophisticated.
Uncle Myron then gave Bix, who was only a baby, a box of super-violent Cosmodemon figures. One was a plastic rat with four eyes and jaws of steel. Another had the body of a man and the tail of a hideous scaly sea serpent. A third was dressed for battle in old-fashioned knight's armor. When you opened the visor it looked out at you with the face of a wild boar. Bix loved them. Uncle Myron bowed, got back in his car, and drove away into the dark.
No one knew where Uncle Myron lived or what work he did. He wouldn't tell them. "I do very important work indeed," he'd say, and blow his nose loudly. Billie believed he didn't work at all, but just ran around the universe having fun, living in his Cadillac. And he could have, too. The car was that huge.
By now, everyone else was in the next room: Mimi and Bix and Brian and Uncle Myron, and probably a room service waiter bringing cookies and cake and champagne and Cokes. No one seemed to care that Billie wasn't there, or if they did, they'd forgotten in the excitement of the moment. She could hear Uncle Myron's booming laugh through the half-opened door.
"Too distracting," said the Pigbone, and slammed it shut. "Now for your history lesson. Christopher Columbus had a passionate love affair with the queen of Spain. Yet he was only a scholar, a poor man of learning, a tutor to the royal ..."
Billie didn't care about Columbus and his love affairs. Why did the Pigbone always compare himself to famous explorers? Did he have some sort of sicko obsession? And he never let her go early. She'd probably miss Uncle Myron completely. He never stayed more than an hour or two. "Too many places to get to," Myron would say. Nobody would know what places he was talking about, and before her mom and dad could ask, off he'd go.
Billie wandered over to the window and looked down. The sky-blue Cadillac was still at the curb.
"Billie?" The whispery voice of the Pigbone from behind her made her jump. He closed his book with a solid snap. "Now is not the time for pointless reverie. Now is the time to review the preeminent explorers of the New World: Vasco da Gama, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Ponce de León. Tell me, please, who discovered what?"
Billie barely heard the Pigbone. She was busy having a moment of beautiful certainty, mostly because she was feeling neglected and unimportant, but also because of a mad desire to misbehave.
That shiny blue convertible was calling to her. She'd be a stowaway. It would drive her parents crazy. They deserved it, too. If Billie had to go on tour and miss Little League, and not have a bicycle, and not have any friends, and stay in all these hotels (some of which had perfectly lousy room service), all so her parents could be with her, they could at least find the time to do it.
Oh, they wanted to, all right, but somehow there was always another interview, another party, or another show. They never listened to her when she was right next to them. Maybe they'd hear her better from a few hundred miles away.CHAPTER 2
"Mr. Pigbone, sir, can I go pee?" asked Billie in her sweetest voice.
"Quickly, my dear Billie," answered the Pigbone. He was pleased to be spoken to respectfully for a change. "Vasco da Gama awaits you."
Instead of going to the bathroom, Billie slipped through the suite's living room to her bedroom. Grabbing her pink plastic purse, she hurriedly packed — tangerine lip gloss, candy canes left over from Christmas six months ago, and a peanut butter and Marshmallow Fluff sandwich that was supposed to have been yesterday's lunch. She scooped up her shades, but the silver case for them was nowhere to be found. Better forget it, Billie thought. Bix was always messing with her stuff.
Slipping on the shades, her plastic purse over one arm, Billie tiptoed back through the living room toward the door of the suite. In her parents' room she could see a flash of Mimi's platinum crewcut, Brian still sleepy in his bathrobe, and Uncle Myron, his great mustache waggling up and down. She could make out a few scattered words in Uncle Myron's booming voice: "roller lunchmeat ... baseball chain" — or was that brain? — "rhinoceros underwear" — or did he say underwater?
Billie made it to the elevator unseen. The doors opened. Standing inside was Bix.
"Floxon rodor," he said.
"Floxon rodor yourself, Bixiebutt." Billie pressed L. The doors closed, and they sped down toward the lobby. Billie looked at herself and Bix in the elevator mirror. His favorite Cosmodemon figure, a bright orange warrior well chewed about the head, peeped out of his shirt. Next to him Billie seemed grownup, daring, almost wild.
The elevator stopped, and the doors slid open. "I'm only going to the cigarette machine for Mimi," said Billie. "Go back upstairs. Bye-bye, Bixie." Bix giggled. He whispered, "Gorpus floopus" to his orange Cosmodemon. The elevator doors closed, and Bix was gone. Luckily, the lobby was pretty empty. Billie walked casually through the shiny revolving door.
There it was. Uncle Myron's Cadillac. Up close it was enormous. The tail fins soared up like a rocket ship. The top was down, but a striped blanket was tossed carelessly across the backseat. Billie had one leg up and over the side when she turned to glance back at the hotel.
Someone was watching her. Someone about as tall as a trash can. Bix. He giggled and slipped back into the revolving door. The door began to spin faster and faster as Bix raced hysterically around. Oh, no, Billie thought. The little snitch'll point to where I'm hiding, and they'll catch me. They'll sit me down and I'll have to answer a lot of questions about my feelings. I might as well go back upstairs right now. Or else I could ...
Excerpted from The Secret Life of Billie's Uncle Myron by Len Jenkin, Emily Jenkins. Copyright © 1996 Len Jenkin and Emily Jenkins. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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