On his first day of college, farm boy Asa Hearthrug enthusiastically jumps out of bed—and discovers that his pajama pants are caught in the bedsprings. He learns that his dog has died, and his father, in an effort to soften the blow, tells an absurd story about a female bullfighter. Next, the freshman pays a visit to his high school sweetheart to say a heartfelt goodbye, but Lodestone La Toole is more interested in hamburgers than vows of devotion. And when Asa finally arrives at the University of Minnesota—wham!—he gets run over by a frat boy’s convertible.
Max Shulman’s bestselling debut novel, written when he was almost as fresh-faced as his protagonist, delightfully skewers every sacred cow of collegiate life. From the faculty expert on “Merrie Olde England” who once spent two weeks on that distant land to the sidewalk booby-trap used by the Alpha Cholera fraternity to round-up reluctant pledges, Barefoot Boy with Cheek bursts at the seams with outrageous characters, delirious set pieces, and gut-busting one-liners.
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Barefoot Boy with Cheek
By Max Shulman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1943 Max Shulman
All rights reserved.
Le livre est brun. — RABELAIS
The morning of the big day dawned bright and clear. As the rosy fingers of the sun crept through my window and illuminated the C&H on my homemade bed sheet, I could scarcely contain myself. "Huzzah!" I shouted. "Huzzah!"
I bounded joyously from my bed. I bounded right back again. My drop-seat pajamas had become entangled in a bedspring during the night. Disengaging myself, I ran to wake Mother. "Mother," I called. "Mother, give me to eat."
But lovable old Mother had anticipated me. She had been up for hours. While I had lain in drowsyland, she had slaughtered the brood sow and bustled about preparing the morning meal. When I came into the kitchen, my favorite breakfast was already on the table.
"Mother!" I cried. "Johnson grass and brala suet. Just for me."
"Set down and eat, slugabed," she chided gently. "You don't want to be late the first day."
I could not help taking her in my arms and kissing her careworn cheek. A person can choose his friends and select a wife, but he has only one mother, I always say. The trouble with many of us is that we don't appreciate our mothers. I think that a certain day should be set aside each year and dedicated to mothers. It could be called "Mother's Day."
"Son," she said, "you ain't my baby no more."
"The hell you say, Mother," I said. "The hell you say."
"You're agoin' off to thet air university and get your haid all full of l'arnin', and you're gonna fergit your pore old igerant mother."
"Aw, you're not so dumb," I protested.
"Yes, I be," she declared. "I don't know no more than your old houn' dog Edmund layin' over there by the stove."
I jumped up from the table. "Now just you be careful what you're saying about Edmund. I don't mean to have that dog run down when I'm here. He's a mighty smart dog." I whistled to him. "Play dead, Edmund," I said. "See," I told Mother. "Look at how he obeys. All four feet sticking up in the air."
"He ain't playin', son," Mother said softly. "I didn't want to tell you. He's been dead since Friday."
Edmund dead! I couldn't believe it. Why, only last Friday I had seen him happily flushing grouse. In his excitement he had flushed too many, and we had had to call a plumber. But it was all fixed now, and Edmund was forgiven. Naturally, I had punished him, but — No. No! I couldn't have —
"Mother!" I cried.
"Yes, son," she said. "He died right after. That last time you ran over him with the car did it."
I stumbled over to the window and pressed my hot forehead against the pane. A cloud passed over the sun, and it began to rain. The room was oppressively quiet. A loon cried over the lake.
Father came into the kitchen. "Good morning, son," he said. "I came to say good-by before you went off to the University."
"Thank you," I said simply.
"Button your fly," Mother said.
"Oh, button your lip," Father exclaimed testily, and hit her in the mouth with a skillet. Mother went to weld her dentures.
Father came over and put his arm around me. "Son, today you are entering a new phase of your life."
"Oh, can't you leave me alone?" I snapped. "Can't anybody leave me alone?"
Father drew back. "Why, son, what's the matter? This should be the happiest day in your life."
I laughed ironically. "The happiest day of your life, he says."
"No, no," Father interrupted. "I said the happiest day in your life. Not of — in!"
"Oh. Excuse me. The happiest day in your life, he says." I lifted my clenched fists. "Oh, ironical gods! What a mockery you have made of this day."
"Why, son, what —"
I pointed mutely to Edmund.
"I understand," said Father simply.
The door opened and two men from the animal rescue league came in. They took Edmund. "Neighbors been complaining," one of them explained.
Father put an arm around my shaking shoulders. "You know, son," he said, "I had a dog once. A little Pekingese bitch named Anna May."
"Is it true what they say about the Pekingese, Father?" I asked.
He winked obscenely and continued: "She wasn't much of a dog, I guess. She couldn't hunt. She was no good as a watchdog. All she did all day long was lie on a chaise longue reading slim yellow French novels and eating bonbons. But when I came home at night from a hard day at the egg candlery, Anna May was always waiting, wagging her little tail and being sick on the rug. I — I guess I loved her, that's all," Father said.
"I understand," I said simply.
"But I didn't have Anna May long. One day my cousin May Fuster came to visit me. You remember May, don't you, son?"
"Of course," I said. "Whatever became of her?"
"It's a long story. She ran off with a full-blooded Chippewa named Alf Mountainclimbing. He took her to La Paz, Bolivia, where he found employment as a clerk in an Adam hat store. At first May loved it down there. She used to watch the colorful pesos riding around in their old-fashioned tortillas. Every afternoon she used to lie down and take a hacienda. During the carnival season she would put on her vincent lopez and dance in the street with the rest of the happy natives. In her own words she was, as the expression goes, very muy Usted.
"But a cloud passed over the sunshine of her life. Alf's Chippewa heritage manifested itself. He started to drink heavily. One could always find him sprawled drunkenly over a table in one of the lower-class cojones of La Paz. He lost his position at the hat store. Poor May, in order to keep body and soul together, was forced into inter-American relations with the natives.
"Alf grew progressively worse. His alcoholic brain cells finally failed him. One day he dropped to all fours and declared that he was a pinball machine. From that day on he remained in that position, complaining occasionally that he was being tilted.
"May's sultry Northern beauty brought her a large and varied clientele. One of her patrons was Ed Frenesi, the local bullfight impresario. Frenesi remarked the supple grace of her limbs and suggested to her that she should become a female bullfighter.
"Of course she scoffed at the idea. But after he offered her 5,000 muchachas (about thirty-four hundred dollars) while she was learning and 5,000 more for every bull she killed, May accepted."
"I understand," I said simply.
"Then began a rigorous training period. First she trained with less dangerous bulls from which the horns had been removed. May was up early every morning making passes at the dehorns. All day long she practiced in the hot sun with a draped cape and a gored sword. She retired every evening at eight, and after reading Hemingway for an hour fell into the deep sleep of fatigue.
"Frenesi watched her progress with considerable satisfaction. He saw how easily she mastered the intricate art of dominating the bull, and he knew that if everything went right he would have a great attraction. He taught May by easy stages until she learned the ultimate accomplishment in the bullfighter's craft — the Veronica, or killing a bull while your hair hangs over one eye. Then Frenesi knew that she was ready for her debut. He Latinized her name to Yanqui Imperialismo, and splashed posters all over La Paz.
"Frenesi's shrewd showmanship had its desired effect. For weeks before the bullfight nobody in La Paz talked about anything but el toreador broad — the lady bullfighter. From all the surrounding territories people poured into La Paz. Hotel rooms were filled almost immediately, and thousands of visitors had to sleep on makeshift frijoles in the lobbies. The wineshops and cafés were unable to handle all their trade. Alf, May's husband, took in a considerable sum posing as a pinball machine in a downtown tavern. La Paz's choked streets resounded with good-natured cries of 'I spit in the milk of your motor,' and 'I this and that on your this.' The land office did a land-office business."
Father took a guitar from the mantel and struck chords as he continued his narrative. "The day of the big fight dawned bright and clear. In the morning Frenesi went down to the bull pen and selected a crowd pleaser named Harry Holstein as May's opponent. May went to her dressing room at the arena where her cross-eyed seamstress named Pilar helped her with the involved business of dressing. May was nervous and frightened, but Pilar reassured her. 'Do not be afraid, my little,' she said. 'We all got to go sometime.'
"At last May heard the fanfare, and she knew that the Presidente had entered his box. The fight was about to begin. Suddenly May was in the center of the hot white sand of the arena. A roar rose from a hundred thousand throats. A gate swung open, and Harry Holstein, pawing and snorting, charged into the ring.
"Now the fear left May. Coolly she prepared to nimbly sidestep the initial charge of the beast. But, alas, her cross-eyed seamstress had tied the laces of her two shoes together. She could not move.
"May was impaled on the horns of the bull. What a dilemma! The attendants rushed from the sidelines to rescue her. The angry, cheated people in the stands cut off their ears and threw them into the arena with enraged cries of 'Olé! Olé!'"
"May eventually recovered. As soon as she could, she left La Paz. Her name was anathema in the town. She tried to see Frenesi once, but he instructed his housekeeper to pour hot water on her.
"So she wandered from one South American city to another, eking out a bare living tuning guitars and dealing double Canfield. Today, a broken woman, she earns a meager subsistence as a harbor buoy in Havana."
"But what about your Pekingese, Father?" I asked.
"Gad, son, look at the time!" Father exclaimed. "You'll be late for school."
"Gracious!" I cried. "It is late. And I want to see somebody before I go off to the University."
"It couldn't be Lodestone La Toole, could it?" asked Father slyly.
I blushed becomingly.
"Good-by, Father," I called, and closed the door on his kindly chuckling.CHAPTER 2
Le crayon est sur la table. — VOLTAIRE
As I made my way up the devious path that led to the grassy knoll where I knew Lodestone would be waiting, my heart was heavy with the thought of leaving her. And when I achieved a promontory and saw her in the middle distance, her lithe young legs stretched before her, the sun casting golden ripples on her tawny hair, I knew it would be hard, hard, hard.
I hastened to her with love-quickened steps. Then I was beside her, and my funny little crooked smile gleamed across my bronzed face, and my brooding gray eyes crinkled at the corners. "Lodestone," I said simply.
"Asa," she breathed, for that was my name.
She was in my arms. Our lips met. Time crashed wildly about us as the entire universe was resolved into our embrace. I was laved in the fragrance of her. I knew a pulsing, mounting ecstasy. Then suddenly I was still, at peace in a pastel world.
"I'm hungry," said Lodestone at length. "Can't we get something to eat?"
"Not now, my own. I haven't time. I must leave you in oh, too short a time to go to the University of Minnesota."
"Maybe we could just get a hamburger. That don't take long."
"I am going," I continued, "and yet I am not going. For you will always be with me. Wherever I am, whatever I do, I shall always think of you."
"There's a White Castle down the road a piece. They have real nice hamburgers. It don't take them hardly no time to fix them neither."
"Who can say that we are apart when we are together in our hearts? Is there, indeed, a closer proximity than the spiritual?"
"We could get a little pot of beans too. They got the beans already made. All they have to do is put them in a little pot."
"Lodestone — oh, I know this will sound crazy, but believe me anything is possible for two in love — every night at midnight, no matter where I am or what I am doing, I will pause for a moment and think of you. You do the same, and I know we will both be able to feel that we are together. Promise me you will, Lodestone."
I took her two hands in mine and gazed into her green-flecked golden eyes. My mouth found the garden of her lips. I was engulfed in the yielding delight of her. And then the earth was quiet, save for the song of a full-throated bobolink.
"Listen to the bird, Lodestone," I whispered.
"Birds. Next month the pheasant season opens. Pa's gonna shoot us some pheasants. Yum, yum." She rubbed her tummy expressively.
"That bird song is our love, Lodestone — free and gay and young."
"I like quail, too, but sometimes they're kinda gamy. I like pheasants the best."
"We will grow old, you and I, Lodestone, but our love will be young always, forever and ever." I sang softly, "When your hair has turned to silver ..."
"When your hair has turned to silver," she mused. "They played that there at Ma and Pa's silver wedding anniversary. What a party that was. We had a whole shoat with an apple in his mouth barbecued on a spit. I eat till I thought I'd bust. My aunt Alice B. Toklas, she eat so much she got bloated, and they had to roll her home. Talk about eat."
"I'm going to leave you, Lodestone. I'm going off to the University. It isn't for myself I'm going. A man can always get along. It's just that I want to be worthy of you, my adored one. I want to make something of myself for your sake. I want to deserve you, and I want you to be proud of me."
I laid my cheek in the classic curve of her throat. My lips sought the cool alabaster of her skin. Then I was swept aloft on the pounding crescendo of our united psyches. Now all was tranquil, and the scent of clover filled my passive nostrils.
I turned my eyes, dark with tenderness, upon her. "Often I wake in the middle of the night and cry out, 'Tear mine tongue from out mine head, tear mine eyes from out mine sockets, but tear me not from Lodestone!' And then a voice deep down inside me says, 'Fond child, you must go for her sake. She would have it so.'"
"Ma always puts a bowl of lard drippings and one hundred and twenty slices of bread on the table, and then tells us to go ahead and eat. Ma never was one to stint. Like she says, what's food for if not to eat it? Lord, how we eat."
"Even now I can feel the thrill that will come when we two meet again. Absence makes the heart grow fonder may be just an old saying and a bromo, but all the same, it's true, true — as true, Lodestone, as my love for you."
"Will I ever forget the time Pa slaughtered the milch cow? She was a old cow. The last time Pa took her over to Lafe Sorenson's bull to have her serviced, the bull just turned her down flat. So Pa slaughtered her. I just eat and eat and eat till I like to have died."
"Time is short, Lodestone, and I must not waste it groping for words to express my love for you. Mine is not the poet's tongue. Not yet. Perhaps when I come back from the University I shall be able to express myself more adequately. Someday — ah, but it is but a dream — someday perhaps I shall be a writer. But I must not even let myself think of that now. And so, Lodestone, this is it — not good-by, but au Wiedersehen."
I held her close against me, drinking in the perfume of her hair. I was transported in the familiar, unknown rapture of her. All creation shimmered transfixed in the evanescent exaltation of now. Then, like a leaf, I was wafted to rest.
"Jesus," she said, "can't we get something to eat?"
"I guess I could use a couple of eggs," I confessed.
Hand in hand we floated down from the grassy knoll.CHAPTER 3
Ou est mon chapeau? — ANATOLE FRANCE
St. Paul and Minneapolis extend from the Mississippi River like the legs on a pair of trousers. Where they join is the University of Minnesota.
I stood that day and gazed at the campus, my childish face looking up, holding wonder like a cup; my little feet beating time, time, time, in a sort of runic rhyme. A fraternity man's convertible ran me down, disturbing my reverie. "Just a flesh wound," I mumbled to disinterested passersby.
With eager steps I proceeded to explore the campus. All around me was the hum of happy men at work. Here were masons aging a building so they could hang ivy on it. There were chiselers completing the statue of Cyrus Thresher, first regent of the University. It was Thresher, as you know, who said, "It takes a heap o' learnin' to make a school a school." Yonder were landscapers cleverly trimming a twelve-foot hedge to spell "Minnesota, Minnesota, rah, rah, ree. Little brown jug, how we love thee."
The architecture at Minnesota is very distinctive, and thereby hangs a tale. It goes back a good many years, back to the time when the mighty, sprawling University was just an infant. At that time Art Chaff, the son of a wealthy Minneapolis flour miller named Elihu Chaff, was expelled from Harvard for playing buck euchre on the Sabbath. Old Elihu was deeply incensed by the indignity. He was determined that Art should go to college, and, moreover, to a bigger college than Harvard.
Excerpted from Barefoot Boy with Cheek by Max Shulman. Copyright © 1943 Max Shulman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Nowhere near as funny as I was led to believe. Even Mama, on re-reading it many years later, wasn't as amused as when she first read it in 1944.