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|Publisher:||Fish Out of Water Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 18 Years|
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SNOT, SARDINES, AND OTHER ASSORTED FOLLIES
There's a dried-up booger hanging from his nose. Again.
"Let's wipe it off," I say.
"Get away!" he screams, alerting every customer on the aisle and at least two cute checkout girls to my abuse.
"You gotta keep your nose clean, kid."
"Keep your nose clean," he parrots. "Keep your nose clean."
Grandpa used to be the one to make demands of me. Now he's almost completely gone. His brain is, anyway. His body's as strong as the day he stormed the beach at Normandy. Maybe stronger.
The doctors pegged him with Pick's Disease, a cruel form of Alzheimer's, when I was fourteen. Back then you could barely notice. He'd lose the car keys in his own jacket pocket, forget to send birthday cards — little stuff you could overlook. By the time I was sixteen he couldn't remember his own name. Ernie.
It's like one day he's bringing me lollipops and slipping five-dollar bills in my plastic cowboy holster, and the next he's chucking grenades at me in Mom's spotless kitchen. The grenades are actually hard boiled eggs. He gets things mixed up, and when he does they take the shape of memories from his war days — which is fitting since being around him is like being on a battlefield, even if you're just standing on aisle two at the grocery store.
"Now blow, Grandpa," I say, staying calm and measured like the doctors taught me. Alzheimer's patients hate havoc. Any memories they have are attached to emotion, so I try not to pressure my grandfather because it makes him remember the bad times. I guess that's why it feels like I'm dealing with a four-year-old.
"Come on, Grandpa, you gotta blow into the hanky."
"No!" At least ten heads spin around to gawk at us. Man, I hate rubberneckers.
"Keep your nose clean, kid," I say again. It's the only way I can get him to calm down and it feels weird. I'm eighteen years old and I'm using the same stupid trick my eighty-year-old grandfather used on me when I was three.
"Stop! Get away from me!" he screams, oblivious to his own technique being used against him. The rubber wheels of the courtesy scooter squeak against the floor as he thrashes his arms like a toddler having a tantrum.
The guy from the meat section is walking toward us. You know the guy. The one who wears a bloodstained apron and a shower cap and walks around the store with a cleaver like he's in a slasher film. He has this look on his face that tells me I better get control of the old man. I grab for one of Grandpa's twig-thin wrists. His arm feels slippery. Then I see why. There's a can of sardines cradled in his lap. The lid is peeled back and there's oil and scales and fishy grossness all over Grandpa's arms, pants, his shirt, everything. I catch a whiff of rotten pier as I move in closer for another attempt.
"Excuse me! You'll need to pay for those," the butcher says as I snatch Grandpa by the wrist and squeeze.
"Aaah!" Grandpa has the rubber tires bouncing off the linoleum at this point. You might have thought the store manager installed hydraulics on the damn thing, like some kind of geriatric low-rider.
I squeeze harder. "Release! Dirty Kraut! Combat!" He's shouting random phrases again. That's about all the communication he's capable of these days, which might be encouraging if I didn't get compared to Josef Goebbels every time.
By now, the butcher is a few steps away. His cleaver reflects little sparkles of light. "Hey kid, I'm gonna need you to —"
"Yeah, I get it," I start to say. I'm reaching for the can of sardines when ... bam! Total stars. Like Wile E. Coyote getting crushed by an Acme anvil. I'm reeling a bit. Not sure what happened. I'm on my back. Something trickles from my nose. I look up at the steel girders of a warehouse ceiling. Rows of industrial-sized lights stare down at me like huge Cyclops eyes. A pair of sneakers squeaks across a linoleum floor. And I smell fish. Grandpa. I'm at the grocery store. A man in a bloody smock stands over me. The butcher.
"You okay, kid?" he asks. Suddenly he's not worried about the can of sardines. "Old guy got you good. Right in the nose. He an ex-boxer or something?"
"Ex-army," I manage to say as I smear a trail of blood across my forearm from my upper lip. "I'm his grandson." The butcher offers me his non-cleavered hand and pulls me to my feet. Grandpa is calm. He slides a greasy sardine around in his mouth.
"Jeez," he whispers, "I'd hate to see what he did to his enemies."
I shrug. What can I say? I just got cold-cocked by an octogenarian. It doesn't get more embarrassing than taking a ten count on a grocery store floor after your grandfather jaws you with an uppercut.
The butcher hands me a crisp, white towel. It's the only thing on him that's not covered in red blotches — until I squeeze it against my nose. Ouch. Stars again. My schnoz is probably broken. Great. Like a kid with the last name LoScuda needs an even bigger nose.
"I'll be sure to pay for those," I tell the butcher.
"This can's on me. Keep the towel."
He pats me on the shoulder and gives me this sympathetic look with big eyes and all that junk. I feel like unleashing Grandpa on him, but then I get distracted.
Marlie McDermott. Homecoming queen. Cheerleader. Goddess of Schuylkill High. Subject of dreams I'd rather not share in public. Or in front of Grandpa, coherent or not.
Oh. Grandpa. Crap. Marlie's staring at me. I start to smile, but then remember it's only because I'm hanging out on aisle two with an old guy in a cart and I'm holding a bloody rag against my face. I see her eyebrows raise and her nose crinkle. She walks toward me like a concerned mother. Great. My heart beats so fast I feel like I might puke. Please don't puke on her, I tell myself.
"Oh my God, are you ok?" she asks at roughly the speed of an auctioneer.
"Oh, yeah. I'm fine, thanks. I ... uh ... I must have tripped into this display or something." I point to a display of Oreo cookies that is neatly stacked and completely untouched.
"Oh, I thought you got hit," she says, "by that old guy."
"No," I say quickly. "No, no. Definitely not. Get hit by that old guy? Come on." Clearly, I have nothing to tell her that can make this situation any less of a nightmare so I go with, "I don't even know the guy."
"Of course not. Just trying to help out the elderly." I can hear myself talking and I know I should shut up, but the words spill out against my will. "He couldn't reach a can, you see, and I —"
"Is he here alone?" she asks.
"I guess so. Yes. I mean ... I'm not sure."
"Shouldn't we get the manager? He looks lost."
A droplet of oily sardine drool rolls down Grandpa's chin. Great timing, old man.
"The manager? Oh, no. That's probably not something —"
"But he's alone. He could be in trouble. I'm getting the manager."
"No, Marlie. I ... uh ... just remembered. He's my grandfather."
"Your grandfather? But I thought —"
"Yeah. Just a big misunderstanding. Hit my head, you know. Memory's a bit foggy."
Please shut up now, Gabe. Why are you still talking? It's like my vocal cords fished a dragon roll out of the dumpster behind Ryoshi and gobbled it down in one bite. The result: verbal diarrhea.
"Don't worry," I continue, "we mess around like this all the time. Just a gag. Right, Grandpa?"
If only someone would gag me before another stupid line crosses my lips.
Marlie glances over at the old man. He's holding the tin can upside down and the remaining fishy oil drizzles into his lap.
"Go fish!" he says with a sparkle in his eyes. "You're the Old Maid," he says, pointing toward Marlie.
And he's laughing. Hard. Like he's watching a comedy act — and who can blame him? His only grandson has to be the biggest joke on the planet.
"Ohhhkay," Marlie says at a speed that would never get someone hired as an auctioneer. She's slowly stepping away. Making her escape. I know I have to do something because I've been in love with Marlie since freshman year and our communication has been about as consistent as the Olympics. Once every four years — and I would hardly call it a gold medal performance.
"So, I'll see you around?" I say.
That's it? I'll see you around? Really?
But that's all I can manage. My vocal cords must have washed back a dose of Imodium because the flow has stopped. The words are all backed up.
"Yeah," she says. But she doesn't sound so convincing. "I guess."
Ugh. The dagger.
"See you around, Glenn."
I spoke too soon. That was the dagger.
Marlie sweeps past me and I catch the soft scent of her golden hair as it swooshes across her slender shoulders. Bubble gum and suntan lotion and cookies baking in the oven. She's intoxicating, and I'm obsessed.
I know I have to give this up. I mean, Christ, she thinks my name is Glenn. Holding out hope for a chance with Marlie carries about the same odds as me winning the Kentucky Derby. And I do mean me. With a pint-sized jockey riding my back as I slog through the mud beside thoroughbreds. Only Grandpa is that jockey, and his riding crop is a nasty can of sardines and a wicked uppercut.
Freaking Grandpa. Why did I get stuck with him?
Gabe LoScuda English 4A – Personal Essay #1
How To Find Yourself Alone
They were supposed to be gone for one night.
One single night.
But they betrayed me.
It was a Friday. The merciful end to a long week spent forcing my eyelids to flutter open in Dr. Wister's Latin dungeon. I don't know what you have to do to become a doctor of Latin. Is there a Useless Language Hospital somewhere swarming with young Latin scholars who all wear stethoscopes and dissect the fossilized remains of Roman soldiers? Did Dr. Wister have to wear a pager on her belt that beckoned her to the ER of Octavius so she could perform emergency verb conjugation surgeries?
Doctor, we need 20cc of dico. Stat!
Clear! Dicam — I say; Dicas — she says; Dicamus — we say.
Only I haven't said anything in Dr. Wister's class since January of sophomore year. The volo incident. To fly. Let's just say the correct answers weren't flying out of my mouth that day. But one of those old, dusty chalkboard erasers did fly out of the good doctor's hand and make an impression on my skull. Since then it's been all sileo in her class. Silent.
My buddy John Chen takes Latin with me. We've been best friends since first grade and have endured a lot of abuse together over the years. But none as sadistic as Dr. Wister.
That night, John and I grabbed a slice and a Coke at Perdomo's. It was our Friday ritual. I think we shared it with the rest of Schuylkill High because the place was always crawling with pimple-faced freshman and you had to lean against the counter and shovel molten cheese down your throat without incinerating the roof of your mouth. Mr. Perdomo was like the ultimate taste bud assassin. He'd sit back behind his pizza counter with the deadliest weapon — an oversized oven peel — and he'd sling pies out of the inferno and on to your plate like flaming Chinese stars. Each slice was equal parts crispy, bubbly, and delicious. If you bit into one too soon — and I always did — it was like drinking napalm. But hey, if you lived in the Philly area like I do — where pizza parlors dot the horizon like freaking tumbleweeds in an old Western — this was a small price to pay for the perfect slice.
After John and I fired off a few straw-paper spitballs at the unsuspecting freshmen that had snaked our usual booth near the pinball machine, we decided to call it a week. We piled into my car — an '81 Trans-Am with 130,000 miles on the clock and t-tops that would leak in the middle of a desert. It had once been my dad's baby — red with silver accents and a grey, cloth interior. He'd wipe it down three times a day with old pairs of tighty-whities that he "couldn't fit his fat ass into anymore."
He gave me the car when I made the baseball team and he got tired of playing chauffeur to all the games and practices. Once I got the damn thing, he stopped coming out to watch me altogether. And I couldn't blame him, because who wants to watch his son collect two butt cheeks full of splinters week in, week out?
I pulled up in John's driveway, careful not to rev the engine a single RPM. John's mom hated loud noises, or neighborhood dogs, or someone breathing or even existing near her rose bushes. Lily's parents had grown up in Chengdu, China where the meanest muscle cars had been men peddling rickshaws, and the neighborhood dogs were strays or chickens. They'd moved to the States in the early fifties and then Lily Chen was born. A first generation American whose parents worked harder than most and, like I've heard Mrs. Chen tell her son from time to time, "had no time for slackers."
John once told me his mom and dad met in college. They were both studying graphic design at Drexel and planned to start a screen printing business together after graduation. They wanted to produce and sell tee shirts with funny sayings on them. Have kids. Live the dream that all Americans hope to live. Then John made his surprise entrance into the world and things didn't seem so funny to the Chens anymore.
"My son never plans ahead," Lily Chen would say. "He didn't even plan to be born." John's lack of planning apparently blew his parents' business model to smithereens. Now Mrs. Chen stayed at home pruning her roses most of the time and his father, Victor, worked a thousand hours a week for the DuPont company. John never talked much about what he did there. Something about space-aged polymers and ballistic nylons and designing flak jackets for law enforcement professionals. It's pretty confusing so I'm not even sure if John truly understood the job description. Probably why he was always so quiet about it.
To the untrained eye, Lily Chen may have looked cute and unassuming in her gardening gear, always outside transforming her yard into a botanical wonderland. But I knew better. I knew she was about five feet of fury. And I knew not to mess with her.
She held the nozzle of her hose in the direction of my car, daring me to make one false step on the gas pedal. The sun, sinking on the horizon, outlined her square shoulders and her floppy garden hat in orange flame. If I didn't know she was John's mom it would have been terrifying. At the same time, I respected Lily Chen for every ounce of tough love she unleashed on her son, because I knew she was the reason he had become John Chen. He didn't complain. Never made excuses. He just woke up every day as the most driven and reliable kid in the entire Delaware Valley. In other words, he didn't turn out like me.
I put the car in park. Let it idle. And I stretched the bill of my Phillies hat down over my eyes so I didn't have to squint.
"You doing anything tonight?" I asked John.
"Promised my mom I'd throw mulch for her," he said as he gathered his books. "Should be done later. Around eight, I guess." Mrs. Chen had her hands on her hips and her head shook slowly, pitifully from side to side. John had about thirty more seconds of chitchat left in him before he'd take a roundhouse kick to the groin.
"Give me a call."
"Why bother?" he asked. "I'll just stop by the house when I'm done. Not like you'll be doing anything."
"Hey, what's that supposed to mean? You never know ... I might be busy tonight."
"Doing what? Dressing your body pillow up like Marlie? Dude, I've seen her. She's not that lumpy."
I wanted to slug him in the arm out of principle, but Mrs. Chen's shadow loomed over me as she tapped at my window with the blunt steel of the hose nozzle.
"John! That mulch won't spread itself, you know!" John slung one strap of his backpack over his shoulder. His eyes swirled in their sockets.
"I'll see you around nine," he said. "By then, I'm sure you'll be three games of Madden in the hole."
"We'll see about that," I told him. But he was probably right.
When I got home, Mom was waiting on the front porch. She had forced at least ten more pounds into her black dress than it could handle. I knew something was up. She only wore that dress when Dad got an idea in his head. The last time she wore it, Garbage Pail Kids were cool.
"Gabriel! Where. Have. You. Been?" She said it in that voice parents use when they want to make it seem like their words should be a headline in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Excerpted from "No Sad Songs"
Copyright © 2018 Frank Morelli.
Excerpted by permission of Fish Out of Water Books.
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