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STUCK IN NEW SODOM
This all began on the day I came home with straight Fs. F in English, F in math, F in social studies, F in science. I'd even managed to get Fs in gym and homeroom. I was proud of that.
My parents, however, weren't.
"What is this?" my father raged when I showed him my grades.
"A report card," I said. "They put these letters down on it, see, and it tells you what grade you got."
"I see the letters," he said. "And the comments with them. 'Cody has turned in no homework at all for nine weeks.' 'Cody has been absent or tardy every day this quarter.' Oh, this one's a classic. 'Cody has spent every day in class trying to prove that Sir Isaac Newton was mistaken about the law of gravity. These experiments have consisted of repeatedly jumping off my desk and flapping his arms. This is distracting to the other students. He has done no other work.' And homeroom. There is no comment from your homeroom teacher, so I suppose I'll have to ask you--how on God's green earth did you manage to flunk homeroom?"
"Easy. I never went," I said.
"And what's this?" said Dad. "A special note from the principal? Yes. 'Your son has shown the intellectual development of an illiterate hurdy-gurdy grinder and the attention span of his monkey. It is impossible to evaluate his work as he has not done any. He is lazy, sly, and generally useless. I confidently predict he will be spending the rest of his life in ninth grade. I only hope it will be at some other school. Go back to California.'"
That last part sounded like good advice to me. But I doubted Dad would take it.
We glared at each other in that way we'd developed ever since he'd moved us from home to this dump of a town, New Sodom, Massachusetts. He wouldn't drop his eyes and I wouldn't drop mine.
This was Mom's cue to stop making terrified little gasps and whimpers and start making excuses for me. I liked this part.
"It's not his fault, Jack," she said.
"It's this place."
"He's been miserable ever since we moved here."
Three rights. Dad's out.
But Dad didn't know he was out.
"Beth, he's cutting off his nose to spite his face," he said. "I can't accept that."
Yeah. And you can't do anything about it, either.
Dad threw back his head like he was about to explain to a jury why only an idiot wouldn't see things his way and give his client what he wanted.
"Now, look here, young man," he said. "This move is the best thing that's ever happened to us. I was going nowhere at Billings, Billings and Billings. Jack Elliot was good enough to handle their really tough cases, but not good enough to promote. No, my name wasn't Billings, so that was that. When this opportunity opened up at Leach, Swindol and Twist, I knew it was the best chance I'd ever get to have the career I wanted. So here we are. And here we stay. And you'd better get used to it."
Fine. And I will go right on flunking. And you can get used to that.
I didn't say it. I only thought it. But I meant it.
Dad looked at my report card again.
"Homeroom," he said softly. "My son flunked homeroom."
Mom came over and put her arms around me.
"It won't do any good to get mad, Jack," she said. "These grades are a cry for help. Cody needs something in his life to connect to. He needs something to love."
Good idea, Mom. I would love to go home.
"Extracurricular activities, perhaps," Dad said. "Working on a road gang after school. Freelance garbage collection. He needs to acquire a skill with which he can support himself, since college will obviously be out of the question."
"That's not fair," Mom said. "You dragged us three thousand miles from home to further your career and you expect us both to accept it as though nothing has happened. Well, that's not realistic."
Now it was "us." This was sounding pretty good. Better than usual. Maybe enough "us" would get me back to California. I thought about doing the stare again but dropped my head instead.
"And another thing," Dad said. "That hat is an obscenity."
He must have thought Mom had made a good point. He was changing the subject.
"That hat goes," he said. "At least don't wear it in the house."
This was my Black Death baseball cap, which I always wore backward because Dad hates baseball caps worn backward.
"Don't change the subject," Mom said. "You're not in court now. Cody needs something in his life to care about."
"All right, all right," Dad sighed. "Tell us, Cody, can you think of anything you want that would make you happier?"
Dad crumpled up my report card.
"I partially agree with you, Beth," he said. "Our son does need something new in his life. He needs a tougher school. Tomorrow I'll start making inquiries."
The next day I was so worried that Cotton Mather High started to look almost good to me. The cracked ceilings, the wooden floors that creaked like they were in pain; even the boys' bathroom, which was as dark as a grave and smelled worse. The thought that I might never see them again made them seem almost friendly. No, that wasn't true. It was just fear that, bad as this was, Dad was determined to find someplace even worse.
When he came home that night, he had a thin smile on his face and a couple of big manila envelopes in his hand.
"Seek and ye shall find," he said. "I have learned that there are not one, but two really hard schools in this excellent town. I've got all the information right here."
"You work fast," Mom said, crossing her arms.
"It turns out that there are other members of my law firm who have children in each one," Dad told us. "Clancy Kincaid has a son and daughter in Our Lady of Perpetual Homework. He speaks very well of it. And there's a public school that's just as good and even harder to get into--Vlad Dracul Magnet School. Hamilton
Antonescu's daughter goes there."
Our Lady of Perpetual Homework?
My stomach froze. I'd heard about that place. Every kid in town was afraid to be sent there.
From the Hardcover edition.