Whale Talkby Chris Crutcher
Intellectually and athletically gifted, TJ, a multiracial, adopted teenager, shuns organized sports and the gung-ho athletes at his high school until he agrees to form a swimming team and recruits some of the school's less popular students. See more details below
Intellectually and athletically gifted, TJ, a multiracial, adopted teenager, shuns organized sports and the gung-ho athletes at his high school until he agrees to form a swimming team and recruits some of the school's less popular students.
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
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- Product dimensions:
- 5.00(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.80(d)
- Age Range:
- 14 Years
Read an Excerpt
In the end, write it down. Back up and find the story. Mr. Simet, my English and Journalism teacher, says the best way to write a story, be it fact or fiction, is to believe aliens will find it someday and make a movie, and you don't want them making Ishtar. The trick is to dig out the people and events that connect, and connect them. No need to worry about who's wearing Nike and who's wearing Reebok, or anybody's hat size or percentage of body fat. Like Jack Webb on the Dragnet series on Nick at Nite says, "Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts."
The facts. I'm black. And Japanese. And white. Politically correct would be African-American, Japanese-American and what? Northern European-American? God, by the time I wrote all that down on a job application the position would be filled. Besides, I've never been to Africa, never been to Japan and don't even know which countries make up Northern Europe. Plus, I know next to nothing about the individuals who contributed all that exotic DNA, so it's hard to carve out a cultural identity in my mind. So: Mixed. Blended. Pureed. Potpourri.
Big deal; so was Superman.
And I like Superman, I was adopted by great people. The woman I call Mom - who is Mom - Abby Jones, was in the hospital following her fourth miscarriage (and final attempt) at the miracle of birth) where she met my biological mother, Glenda, right after my presumed bio-dad, Stephan, had assisted in my natural childbirth only to come eyeball-to-eyeball with the aforementioned UNICEF poster boy. A second-generation German-American married to a woman ofSwiss-Norwegian descent, he was a goner before my toes cleared the wet stuff. Any way he matched up the fruit flies, he couldn't come up with me. Because my mom is one of those magic people with the natural capacity to make folks in shitty circumstances feel less shitty, she consoled Glenda and even brought her home until she could get her feet on the ground. Evidently Glenda was as surprised as Stephan; she'd had a one-night stand with my sperm donor to get even for a good thumping and had no idea the tall black-Japanese poet's squiggly swimmer was the one in a billion to crash through to the promised land.
Things sped rapidly downhill for Glenda as a single mother, and two years later, when she brought Child Protection Services crashing down on herself, getting heavily into crack and crank and heavily out of taking care of me, she remembered Mom's kindness, tracked her downa nd begged her to take me. Mom and Dad didn't blink - almost as if they were expecting me, to hear them tell it - and all of a sudden I was the rainbow-coalition kid of two white, upwardly mobile ex-children of the sixties.
Actually, only Mom was upwardly mobile. She's a lawyer, working for the assistant attorney general's office, mostly on child-abuse cases. Dad likes motorcycles; he's just mobile.
We never did hear from Glenda again, Mom says probably because the separation was too painful and shameful. Sometimes I find myself longing for her, just to see or talk with her, discover more about the unsettledness within me; but most of the time that ache sits in a shaded corner of my mind, a vague reminder of what it is not to be wanted. At the same time all that seems out of place, because I remember nothing about her; not what she looked like or the sound of her voice or even the touch of her hand. I do admit to having a few laughs imagining how history rewrote itself inside Stephan's head when my shiny brown head popped out.
It's interesting being "of color" in a part of the country where Mark Fuhrman has his own radio talk show. My parents have always encouraged me to be loud when I run into racism, but I can't count on racism being loud when it runs into me. Very few people come out and say they don't like you because you aren't white; when you're younger it comes at a birthday party you learn about after the fact, or later, having a girl say yes to a date only to come back after discussing it with her parents, having suddenly remembered she has another engagement that night. Not much to do about that but let it register and don't forget it. I learned in grade school that the color of a person's skin has to do only with where their way-long-ago ancestors originated, so my mind tells me all racists are either ignorant or so down on themselves they need somebody to be better than. Most of the time telling myself that works. Once in a while my gut pulls rank on my mind, and I'm compelled to get ugly.
I called "All News All Talk Radio" a couple of days after the first time I heard the spectacularly racially sensitive ex-L.A. detective giving Spokane and the rest of the Inland Empire the hot poop on big-time crime fighting. The talk show I called had featured the mayors of an eastern Washington and a north Idaho town declaring that the racist label put on this region is undeserved, blown out of proportion due to the presence of the Ryan Nations fort over in Hayden Lake, Idaho, and the existence of several small militias spread out between central Washington and eastern Montana.
The mayors had departed when the talk-jock finally said, "We're talking with T.J. from Cutter, about fifty miles outside our great city."
I said, "So this racist label, it's undeserved?"
'I believe it is," he said. "An entire region can't be held responsible for the ignorant actions of a few. Certainly you can't argue with that."
"You're right," I said. "I can't. But if the racist label is about perceptions, and in this case, undeserved perceptions, why would you guys have the Mark Fuhrman show?"
"Have you tuned into Mark's show?"
"Not purposely," I said, "but I was scanning the stations and landed right on him."
"How long did you listen?"
"Long enough to convince myself it was really him, that you guys weren't just pulling my chain."
"Then you heard a man who knows a lot about crime prevention and an accomplished professional radio man."
I said, "His voice was okay."
The jock said, "What's your point, T.J.?"
"That if you guys are running the most powerful AM station in the region and you're worried about people's perceptions of that region as racist, you might think twice before you give one of the true icons of racism in this country two hours of drive-time radio every week."
"We didn't hire Mark to talk about race relations. We hired him to talk about criminals and the criminal mind, and about the intricacies of police work. He's written books on the subject, you know."
"You didn't hire him because of his famous name?"
"No, sir, we did not."
"So when you decided your listeners needed to learn about Spokane, Washington, police work, you figured you'd get better expertise from a dishonored ex-L.A. cop rather than some retired veteran Spokane cop who might have covered Spokane's streets for twenty-five or thirty years?"
He said, "How old are you?"
"What does that matter?"
"Your voice sounds like a kid."
"You tell me why that matters, and I'll tell you how old I am."
"It matters because if you're too young, you might lack the experience to carry on this conversation intelligently."
"I'm a fifty-six-year-old retired Spokane policeman." I said, and paused a moment. "Guess I don't have the voice for it." I hung up.
Meet the Author
Chris Crutcher has written nine critically acclaimed novels, an autobiography, and two collections of short stories. Drawing on his experience as a family therapist and child protection specialist, Crutcher writes honestly about real issues facing teenagers today: making it through school, competing in sports, handling rejection and failure, and dealing with parents. He has won three lifetime achievement awards for the body of his work: the Margaret A. Edwards Award, the ALAN Award, and the NCTE National Intellectual Freedom Award. Chris Crutcher lives in Spokane, Washington.
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