Max Quigley doesn't think he's a bully. He's an "observer". He observes the habits, interests and peculiarities of other people, which he then points out. A lot. Triffin Nordstrom isn't really all that clever. He's a nerd. He reads too many fat books, makes medieval seige machines out of Lego, and probably speaks fluent Elvish. Plus he lives way out in the bush with his mum, who he calls Ulrika. Max and Triffin. It's a match made in hell, and it's going to get uglier than a second-hand cheesecake. In this hilarious look at playground politics, James Roy has created the ultimate odd couple, two boys who don't see eye to eye, but have to, somehow.
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By James Roy, Max Quigley
University of Queensland PressCopyright © 2007 James Roy
All rights reserved.
That Monday I went to school, I had a pie for lunch and it was nice.
Really, I should say that my pie would have been nice if that complete idiot Josh Hargreaves hadn't knocked it out of my hands and onto the ground. He claimed he was just trying to defend himself, but who defends himself with a pie? I mean, honestly! No one, that's who. And even worse, who defends himself with someone else's pie? That idiot Josh Hargreaves, that's who. Which just proves what an idiot he actually is.
So yes, my pie would have been nice, if I'd been able to eat more than two bites before stupid Hargreaves went and lashed out wildly after I flicked his ear, and knocked my half-eaten pie all over the ground. So I figured I was totally justified in throwing his baked-bean sandwich onto the ground next to my tragically splattered pie and grinding it into the concrete with my shoe.
Mrs Hinston didn't see it that way, but she's practically blind anyway, so what would she know? Not much, since I told her halfway through detention that my irritable bowel syndrome was playing up and that I had to rush to the loo to avoid a very messy accident. She said I could go so long as I came straight back. I went, but I didn't go back.
On the way to meet Jared down near the netball courts as planned, I ran into Triffin Nordstrom. Or Nerdstrom to his friends. If he had any. Which he doesn't, probably partly because of his faintly ridiculous first name and partly because he's got no interesting aspects to his personality at all. Nerdstrom was sitting on one of the benches near the cricket nets, reading some absurdly fat book, and as I went past I caught him glancing up at me. I wondered if he was about to say something, but he didn't, probably because he couldn't think of the right words to use. Elvish, for example.
I didn't care, though. Nerdstrom means nothing to me. He's like a boil on the bum of our school. Actually, that's not quite right, because a boil is irritating and weepy, like Luke Keynes in 5F Nerdstrom's more like a little skin tag, like the ones my grandma has just below her ear. Not painful, not really in the way, just there. Only noticeable at all if you know it's there and you bother to look.
Yeah, that's what Nerdstrom is. A skin tag.CHAPTER 2
A WORTHY ADVERSARY
That Tuesday I went to school, I had a pie for lunch, and it would have been nice if I hadn't thrown it against the library window trying to scare some of the Year One kids who were inside pulling stupid Year One faces at me and Jared. Kids these days have no respect. I've heard Dad say that, and I reckon he's right. When I was in Year One I never would have made faces at someone who'll be in high school next year, or anyone older than me at all, for that matter.
And I decided something else that Tuesday. I decided that Mrs Hinston holds a grudge. She did notice when I didn't come back from 'going to the loo' the day before, so she added all of Monday's 'incomplete' detention onto the detention for the Meat Pie Meets Window incident, and decided that that added up to three days of lunchtime detention, starting the following week. I'm glad I wasn't in her class in Year Four, if that's an example of her maths. Those poor kids wouldn't have a clue about sums or times tables or anything if she thinks one plus one is three.
She also said that a note was going to get sent home to Mum and Dad the next time I did something 'antisocial'. Ordinarily I wouldn't have worried about that kind of threat, since teachers don't usually remember those things. But Mrs Hinston had shown herself to be a Worthy Adversary, so I figured I was going to have to be careful.CHAPTER 3
MIRACLES OF MATHS
That Wednesday I went to school and had a pie for lunch, and it would have been nice if I hadn't found a hair in it. I took it back to the canteen and told the lady, and even showed her the hair, and I said that I wanted my money back, or at the very least a new pie.
She looked at the hair and shook her head. She reckoned it was one of my hairs, and said that if she gave me my money back all I'd do would be spend it on lollies and junk.
So I said, 'Fine, just give me another pie.'
But she said that after I'd eaten two-thirds of the pie I could tell that I would still be hungry when I'd finished, so I'd stuck a hair in it and taken it back so I could get a whole new pie, which would add up to one and two-thirds of a pie for the price of one.
I said that her maths was good, much better than Mrs Hinston's, but that she was still wrong. Then I said, 'Anyway, if that's true, how come I only eat one pie every other day but I want one and two-thirds today?'
'I wouldn't know how many pies you have every day, Lovey, but it certainly wouldn't surprise me if you did eat two pies for lunch every day' she said.
That was when I said, 'We're lucky to get any pies at all when you're in the tuckshop.'
And that's when she went a bit mad and called one of the teachers over and told him that I'd called her fat. Which I hadn't, even though I could have, because she was.
And Mrs Hinston went on to demonstrate yet another miracle of maths by somehow making one plus one plus one equal five.
I decided then that the next day I'd have a sausage roll.CHAPTER 4
A RHETORICAL QUESTION, AND NERDSTROM DOESN'T THROW UP
That Thursday I went to school and had a sausage roll for lunch and it was nice. It would have been nicer if I'd been able to eat it without interruption from several teachers, who were all wondering what I'd been up to, just because I was sitting quietly eating my lunch. One of them, Mr French, was walking past on his way back from the tuckshop, and he said, 'You're trouble, Quigley' as he went past, and he was all sneery and mean. But I didn't say anything back to him, even when he added, 'You've been up to something, haven't you?'
I said (quite respectfully, I thought), 'No sir, I haven't.'
But he just kind of sneered and said, 'That was a rhetorical question, Quigley. Do you know what that is? It's a question that doesn't require an answer.'
So I didn't say anything else, because his forehead-veins were starting to bulge, and I already had five days of detention planned for the next week, and I didn't want to add to them. The way Mrs Hinston's maths had been going, one more detention was going to turn five lunchtimes into every single lunchtime until the end of the term, plus even a bit of after-school detention maybe.
Besides, we were going on an excursion to a cake factory on Friday, and Mr Sigsworth had grabbed me before lunch and told me that if he heard one more peep out of me I'd be staying behind and helping Ms Lalor cover textbooks in the library. Which I've done before. That's how I knew it was a fairly useful threat. And it was also why I'd been trying very, very, very hard to be good. Especially good, as Mum would say. Which is weird, because I don't think you can be a bit good or very good. I've always thought you're either good or you're not, and if you go past being good and try too hard to be even better, you just end up being a suck-up. Which might look like being good to most adults, but to anyone with any intelligence it looks like what it is. Sucking up. Which isn't good at all.
So I'd been trying hard to be good. Just plain good. See, if I'd been trying too hard, I would have jumped up from my seat, run after Mr French and said, 'Please, Mr French, sir, can I help you by cleaning up the playground today? It's really messy, and inconsiderate kids have been chucking their papers all over the ground, and it needs cleaning up.' But then he would have frowned sideways at me and told me that now he definitely knew I was up to something. So I decided that the best thing to do was to just sit quietly, say nothing, and let the teachers believe that I'd been doing something bad, when I actually hadn't.
Something else happened that Thursday apart from the sausage roll for lunch and my pretty impressive effort at being good. I was waiting in one of the lunch queues, and Nerdstrom was waiting in the one next to me, and I saw him peek my way. So I said, 'What are you staring at, Nerdstrom?'
And he looked away, and I heard him say, 'Nothing.' Then he must have decided to get all brave or something, because he said, really quietly, 'I'm not frightened of you.'
What was that?' I asked him.
And even though he looked like he was about to fall over from being too pale, he said it again. He said, 'I just want you to know that I'm not frightened of you.' Which was plainly wrong, because, as I mentioned, he'd gone all pale in the head, and looked like he might even throw up, which would have been heaps funny. Smelly and messy, but still funny.
But he didn't throw up, and I said to him, 'Why would you even tell me that you're not scared of me?'
That was when he said, 'Because I'm not.'
So I went 'Boo!' and sort of stamped my foot a bit towards him, and he flinched like I'd slapped him across the face or something.
He is such a lamo weirdo.CHAPTER 5
A NON-RHETORICAL QUESTION
That Friday we went to a cake factory I ate too many cheesecakes, and then I threw up on the bus. And I bet that Nerdstrom would have laughed at me along with everyone else if he hadn't still been at the factory trying to get back into the seconds shop through the emergency exit.
Places like cheesecake and chocolate factories that have schoolkids coming through all the time should have plans in place to make sure that the kids don't eat too many of the free samples, and that they don't double back to the end of the queue for another free sample. Several times. And if each person is allowed only one piece of each sample, they should put out only as many pieces as there are people. It makes sense. Otherwise it's just encouraging kids to take more than one piece then double back, like I said.
So I was already feeling a bit crook when we got to the seconds shop, which is this shop where they sell pies and cakes and puddings and things that are the same as the ones you buy at the supermarket, except that the label's been put on the pack crooked, or the pie's a bit smaller than it's supposed to be, or the packet says 'Apricot Danish' when it's actually a blueberry Danish. And everything's heaps cheaper. It's the kind of place where poor people buy posh food.
So anyway, Mum was planning for some of her friends to come over for this party where she shows them all these face creams and stuff, and they put on perfume and tell each other how fabulous they smell, so she gave me ten dollars and asked me to get as many cheesecakes as I could, which ended up being five. But once we got on the bus I had to check that I'd bought what I thought I was buying, so I opened one of the packets. And it was what I'd thought it was, which was good, but I couldn't really give it to my mum opened, so me and Jared ate it, even though after all the free samples I'd eaten I wasn't really hungry at all, and was actually feeling a bit sick.
Then we thought we'd better check another one of the packets, and we ate that one as well, just to make sure that it was only in the seconds shop because it was slightly out of shape, and not because they'd put salt in it instead of sugar, which can happen, since salt and sugar look almost exactly the same. But they'd done that one right, because it was really, really sweet, and not at all salty.
Then we opened another one, and I was feeling heaps sick by then, so rather than actually eating it I just flicked bits of it at some of the girls. They were going to dob, until Jared and I threatened to get them when we got back to school. So they just cried instead. Girls are so stupid, the way they cry so easily.
By the time we were down to our last cheesecake we were feeling very sick, but I couldn't go home and tell Mum that we could only get one cake for ten dollars, so we decided to get rid of it. By eating it. That was when I threw up. It was a heaps big spew, that's for sure, right in the aisle of the bus. You could even see bits of blueberry in some of it, and everyone was squealing and going on about how gross it was, and all the girls that we'd made cry were laughing now, which made me pretty angry. I mean, haven't they ever felt that sick? If they had, they'd know how awful it is to feel that uncomfortable hotness and coldness, and your throat's all tight, and your stomach sort of bounces up and down a bit, and how it tastes all different coming up, and bits go up the back of your nose, which stings quite a lot. Jared told the other kids to shut up and stop laughing, and so did Mrs Hale, but it didn't stop them. In fact, one of the girls still had a bit of cheesecake on her cheek from when we'd flicked it at her, and Mrs Hale thought that I'd thrown up so violently that I'd got her from several seats away. That was funny, especially when she started gagging as well. Mrs Hale, that is.
But the funniest thing of all was when we got back to the school. Nerdstrom's mum was there, and we watched her waiting patiently as the kids filed off the bus. Then she came up to Mr Sigsworth and asked where Triffin was, and he said that he'd been told that she was picking him up early at the factory to take him to his violin lesson. The story was complete bull. That was just what we'd told the teachers when we got on the bus at the end of the tour and they'd done a head count and asked why there was one fewer than there should have been. When Mr Sigsworth had found out that Nerdstrom's mum had picked Triffin up without telling either of the teachers, he'd been heaps cross that he'd not been told earlier, but he'd told the bus driver to go anyway. Which was the funniest thing about the whole day, because me and Jared had pushed Nerdstrom out one of the exits in the seconds shop, and there was a sign on the door that said THIS DOOR LOCKS FROM THE INSIDE. EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY.
But when Mrs Hale made a call on her phone, and Nerdstrom's mum went and got into her crappy old orange Volvo and sped off, and Mr Sigsworth started turning in circles going, 'Where are Max Quigley and Jared Fernmarsh? Where the blazes are Quigley and Fernmarsh?' (which definitely wasn't a rhetorical question, judging by the confused look on his face), we knew that the joke was over. And we knew that even Mrs Hinston's creative maths wasn't going to explain how long we were about to be put in detention for.CHAPTER 6
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
I'd really done it this time. Man, were Mum and Dad peed off about the whole Nerdstrom thing! Not that it was all our fault. Nerdstrom had been pretty annoying all day, especially when he told Mr Sigsworth that me and Jared were going back for extra free samples. We saw him do it, and it really irritates me when kids dob. The way I see it, if a teacher isn't good enough at their job to see what's going on around them, they should either find another job where they can see everything they need to see without even trying that hard (like standing in one of those freeway toll booths, for example) or just accept that stuff is going to happen. Stuff like kids getting pushed out of emergency exits and left there to find their way around the back of the factory, through a warehouse and between about a gazillion trucks and forklifts.
Mum and Dad were pretty much in total agreement with the people at school, which I suppose is predictable. They always take the teachers' side. Always. I can't think of a single time when they disagreed with a teacher.
Actually, there was one time, back in Year Four, when Ms Gleeman said that I'd done a heaps good job on my project about India, and my parents disagreed. She tried to argue, until they pulled out my brother Cameron's Year Four project on India from two years earlier, the one where he got nine out of ten. They showed her how I'd just done a colour photocopy of Cameron's project and put a new title page on it. So you see, even when they disagree with the teachers, they're taking someone else's side instead of mine.
So for the Cheesecake Caper, as me and Jared called it, I was given a pretty harsh range of punishments, considering that no one actually got hurt. They were as follows:
1. Grounded. Predictable, but pretty effective, I think. A standard kind of punishment, favoured by parents of kids who go out a bit or play a lot of sport, especially kids of high school age. I'll be in high school next year, although Mum says that it's a bit 'touch and go' as to whether I survive that long. Grounding doesn't really work for kids who have no friends or stay in a lot. For example, Nerdstrom would find being grounded a bit of a wasted experience. But I was missing out on several very important games of baseball, which was highly frustrating. So all in all, a good choice of punishment. It also meant that I couldn't see Jared. I decided that his parents and mine planned this together.
Excerpted from Problem Child by James Roy, Max Quigley. Copyright © 2007 James Roy. Excerpted by permission of University of Queensland Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Other Books by James Roy,
Chapter 1 – Skin Tags,
Chapter 2 – A Worthy Adversary,
Chapter 3 – Miracles of Maths,
Chapter 4 – A Rhetorical Question, And Nerdstorm Doesn't Throw Up,
Chapter 5 – A Non-Rhetorical Question,
Chapter 6 – Crime and Punishment,
Chapter 7 – Dad Ups The Ante,
Chapter 8 – Doing Time,
Chapter 9 – Nerdstorm Stays Away,
Chapter 10 – The Kid,
Chapter 11 – The Kid Returns,
Chapter 12 – A Little Chat with Nerdstorm,
Chapter 13 – The Big, Stupid Idea,
Chapter 14 – The Bigger, Stupider Idea,
Chapter 15 – Nerdstorm Talks About Attitude,
Chapter 16 – The Recruit,
Chapter 17 – Mr Sigswoth Screws Up,
Chapter 18 – Cameron Learns (Some of) The Truth,
Chapter 19 – The Development of Casey,
Chapter 20 – April Fools Day,
Chapter 21 – Dad Runs Out of Ideas,
Chapter 22 – Nerdstorm Calls,
Chapter 23 – Loyal Casey,
Chapter 24 – Nerdstorm Has A Theory,
Chapter 25 – Jared Gets Sick and Tired,
Chapter 26 – The Treb,
Chapter 27 – Jared Kind of Finds Out,
Chapter 28 – The Poem,
Chapter 29 – Stupid Casey,
Chapter 30 – Nerdstorm Knows It,
Chapter 31 – I Do Some Research,
Chapter 32 – Nerdstorm refuses to Help Himself,
Chapter 33 – We Put the Smack-Down On,
Chapter 34 – Nerdstorm is Stuffed,
Chapter 35 – Casey Gets Lost,
Chapter 36 – We Have Our Stupid Book Assembly,