My Life as a Joke by Janet and Jake Tashjian is a Christy Ottaviano Book
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A Time to Celebrate
“This is going to be a great year—I can feel it!” I watch the hands of the clock as they inch toward midnight.
Yesterday we stocked up on goodies: pepperoni pizza, strawberries and whipped cream, pistachios, coconut ice cream, double chocolate chip cookies, and celery. (I know that celery doesn’t sound like much of a treat, but I like to take giant crunchy bites, let the stalk hang out of my mouth, and pretend I’m a newspaper editor in an old-fashioned movie smoking a cigar and barking out orders to a roomful of reporters. Don’t ask.)
My mother wears a checkered blue dress she got on sale in the Beverly Center. She tells Dad and me how the dress was marked down four times—which is unfortunately the number of times she tells the story now. The silver earrings Dad gave her for Christmas dangle from her ears, and she wears pointy high-heel shoes; it’s strange to see her in anything besides the comfortable flats she wears in her veterinary practice most days.
My dad excuses himself to run upstairs and change his shirt. He says it’s because he’s chilly but I think it’s because in our jeans and T-shirts, we look more informal than Mom, and he knows how much she likes any excuse to dress up. I take the hint and sneak into my room to change.
When I come back downstairs, my mother stops lighting the candles on the mantelpiece. “Derek, you’re wearing your suit!”
The only other time I’ve worn this suit was to Mr. Mitchell’s funeral last September. Mr. Mitchell was our next-door neighbor for the entire time we’ve lived in this house. His obituary said he died “after a long illness,” but anybody in our neighborhood could’ve told you it was from a brain tumor. Ms. Carlton across the street organized an alternating weekly meal calendar so Mrs. Mitchell didn’t have to worry about cooking. Even though we and the other neighbors ended up cooking meals for three months, nobody complained. THAT’S how nice the Mitchells are.
I grab my lapels and spin around. “It’s New Year’s Eve!”
Somehow this coming year already seems different. I know I’m only twelve, but it’s as if I’m about to catapult into feeling less like a little kid and more like an older one. I’ll be a teenager soon, almost as cool as the upper classmen I sometimes watch from the corner of my eye at school. I could never talk with my friends Matt or Umberto about this. Carly, however, would love to sink her teeth into this subject. But the thought of discussing how mature we can be makes me whip off my suit jacket and start jumping on the couch. I grab the bag of confetti my dad went to three stores to find and toss handfuls around the room. My mutt, Bodi, barks and tries to jump onto the couch with me.
“Hey, I thought we were waiting until midnight.” Dad looks at my mother with his Something-Is-Wrong-with-Our-Son face.
“Happy New Year!” I jump off the couch and run into the kitchen to get my capuchin monkey, Frank.
“Derek!” My mother’s voice is a bit louder than my father’s. “I hope you’re not taking Frank out of his cage.”
But it’s too late—Frank is now sitting on my shoulder, grabbing the confetti as I hurl it into the air.
“You might be a little overtired,” my father says.
“It’s only eleven thirty,” I answer. “I’m not tired at all. In fact, I think we need more snacks.”
My mother gazes at the half-empty trays of food we’ve been munching on for hours.
“We need to start the New Year with sliders,” I suggest.
My parents look at each other, deciding what to do. On the one hand, it’s late. On the other hand, they’ve been encouraging me lately to cook some simple meals.
“Okay,” Mom finally says. “But wear an apron so you don’t stain your clothes.”
I take out the apron Dad uses to barbecue that says THIS GUY LOVES BACON and tie it around my waist. My mother gets a package of ground beef from the fridge, but I wave her away, saying I can do it myself. She scoops Frank into her arms and heads to the living room with my father.
I keep my eye on the clock as I form the beef into little patties. My mother pretends she’s not looking into the kitchen, but I can tell she is. She doesn’t realize that when it comes to hamburgers—even mini ones—I know what I’m doing.
It’s ten minutes to midnight and the burgers are almost done when I’m suddenly faced with a crisis. WHERE IS THE KETCHUP? I rummage through the fridge, pulling out bottles and jars of condiments.
“Six minutes to go!” Dad calls.
From over my shoulder, I see my mom hold up her glass and my father pop open the bottles to prepare for midnight. (Champagne for them; sparkling cider for me.)
But before I can join them, an annoyingly loud BEEP BEEP BEEP fills the house.
I cover my ears with my hands as my mom runs into the kitchen.
“Derek, how many times have we talked about turning on the vent when you cook hamburgers?” She waves the dishtowel at the smoke detector. “Jeremy, can you shut this off?”
My father pokes the broomstick at the smoke detector while I hastily remove the now-burnt burgers from the stove. But the charred meat is the least of my problems—Bodi and Frank are going ballistic from all the noise. I try to seize Frank but he’s in the living room, shrieking almost as loudly as the smoke alarm. The television only adds to the noise when the two hosts start the countdown.
“10! 9! 8!…”
Frank jumps into my arms, colliding with the remote on the way. He must’ve hit the channel button because the TV screen’s now full of static and hissing noisily.
“What on earth is going on?” my mother shouts from the kitchen.
My father is on the stepladder, prying the battery out of the smoke detector. When it finally stops beeping, my mother hurries into the living room and presses different buttons on the three remotes until the screen returns to the special at L.A. Live.
“There you have it!” the host announces. “A New Year’s celebration for the books!”
“I think that’s the most spectacular fireworks show we’ve ever seen!” The other host waves to the crowds kissing and having fun at the strike of midnight we missed.
“Happy New Year.” My mom’s acting happy as she makes the toast, but it’s hard to miss the annoyance behind her smile. After we all hug, she puts Frank back in his cage and tells me it’s time for bed.
I pull out the bag I have hidden behind the couch. “Here’s what I was thinking—since Frank wears a diaper, he can be Baby New Year and Bodi can be Father Time.” I hold out the sash and cotton-ball beard I made earlier.
“Bed,” my father says.
Bodi follows dutifully behind me as I storm through the living room. I make a big show of grabbing a burnt slider from the pan to take with me upstairs.
I get into my pajamas and shove my suit underneath the stand of my aquarium. Why did I think this year was going to be different? Why did I think I’d finally get to be in charge of my own life? This year’s going to be another 365 days of taking orders, going to school, doing chores, reading books, doing homework, etc., etc., etc.
They should change “Happy New Year” to “Ha Ha! You Think This Year Will Be Different but Don’t Fool Yourself—You’re Still a Kid.”
Happy New Year? I don’t think so.
Text copyright © 2014 by Janet Tashjian