Authors: Geoff Herbach
Tags: #Young Adult, #Humor, #Contemporary
This could be a dark tale!
I don’t think so.
I can’t sleep. It’s 1:03 a.m. Almost September. The weather is warm, even though it’s football season. There’s this huge moon in the sky, but I can’t see it from the basement, where my bedroom is. I saw it plenty.
Dark tale? My dad did commit suicide.
Not so dark? I’m me. I hop up and down.
Where to start?
Not in the ’70s, when Jerri was a little girl. Not ten years ago, when I was five and found Dad dead in the garage. How about last November?
I should really be exhausted. But I’m not.
I, Felton Reinstein, stand on my bed because I can’t sleep.
I am not stupid funny. I am stupid fast.
My last name is Reinstein, which is not a fast name. But last November, while I was a sophomore, my voice finally dropped, and I grew all this hair on my legs (and other places) and then I got stupid fast. I’m serious.
Before my voice dropped in the fall, when my class was outside for gym, I played flag football and felt like trying for some reason. I was pretty good because even though I hadn’t yet fully gone through puberty like all the chuckleheads in my grade, and never tried before and wasn’t even interested in the slightest, I’ve always been good at sports (a fact I hid by not trying) but not ridiculously good.
Then Thanksgiving came, and I couldn’t stop eating and I couldn’t wake up before like noon, which drove Jerri nuts, and I grew taller and got all this crazy hair.
The hair was like corn coming up in June. You look one day and there are sprouts in the dirt, but mostly, you see dirt, and then like a week later, those sprouts aren’t sprouts but corn and are already knee-high and you can’t see the dirt at all.
I ate too much at Thanksgiving, about a thousand pounds, and I couldn’t wake up in the morning, and I sprouted hair. A week later, I had a thousand pounds of hair everywhere.
Then because my voice dropped, I got moved to baritone for the Christmas concert, which was bad news because I didn’t know the parts at all, so I sang the tenor parts except an octave below, which you could totally hear.
And it went on. I kept sleeping and eating, and Jerri yelled at me to get out of bed, and I yelled at Andrew to stop playing the piano so I could sleep. So Jerri yelled at me for yelling at Andrew and I’d get pissed and get out of bed and go to the refrigerator and stuff bread in my mouth because I was so hungry. Then Jerri would yell at me for eating too fast, and Andrew would shout “Felton’s a pig!” and on and on all winter—my pants getting too short and my shirts looking shrunken, not covering my belly button, which is gross (Jess Withrow and Abby Sauter told me it was gross), and Jerri and Andrew shouting at me and me shouting back.
Jerri never yelled before November.
And then in the spring, my gym class had to go outside to run the 600 yard dash for some physical fitness test thing (apparently the last one we ever have to do), and I was just mad, all wound up from all the yelling and my clothes not fitting right, and when Coach Knautz, the gym teacher, yelled go, I took off. I ran like an angry donkey, a very fast one, even though I didn’t care about winning. I just needed a release. I sprinted all 600 yards. And I beat everybody, even the other fast kids, by about 150 yards. People were screaming, “Look at Rein Stone go!” Peter Yang, my second best friend, whispered, “What happened to you?”
“Hee-haw!” I shouted and pumped my fist.
Peter Yang rolled his eyeballs and walked away.
Jerri—who happens to be my mom but also a big hippy who doesn’t like hierarchy, so she’s always had me and Andrew call her by her first name—was all puffy and weird during dinner that night. She was a crossing guard at the middle school at the time. The middle school is right next to the high school but lets out a little earlier so the high school kids don’t scare and beat the pee out of the middle school kids. She was out there on the corner when I ran the 600. She saw it. I could hear her screaming from the corner. “Run, Felton! Go! Oh my God!”
“Felton,” she said, serving me and Andrew whole grain, organic macaroni and cheese, “Listen. You need to do something about that speed of yours.”
“Oh,” I said, digging in.
“Are you listening to me? Really, Felton. That speed is a gift…from the Universe…and I know you need to be who…need to be who…” She sat down at the table and stared up at the ceiling.
“Who, Jerri?” I asked.
“I heard you’re fast, Felton,” Andrew nodded at me.
“I’m eating macaroni here,” I said. “Mind your own business.”
“You’re super fast, Felton Reinstein,” Jerri nodded. She spoke really quietly. “It’s like you’re Jamaican instead of…the son of a small, sad Jewish dude.”
She was referring to me and Andrew’s father, who was already long dead but was in life—so we were to believe—not built for speed.
I thought for a moment before sticking more macaroni in my face.
“Were you fast, Jerri?”
“No. Not fast. I played guitar and read poetry. You’ve got a gift from the…from your…from the Universe, Felton.”
“I’m not fast either,” said Andrew. “Of course, I wouldn’t want to be. Athletic prowess is a curse, I think.”
“What the hell do you know?” I glared at him. He stared back at me through his big, plastic nerd glasses. “You’re a punk middle schooler.”
“It’s just the way I feel,” he said.
“No, Andrew. Wrong,” Jerri said.
“I simply think sports are bad for a young man,” Andrew said.
“No, goddamn it,” Jerri said all hot and red-faced, “We…We have to support…what the Universe provides. Do you understand me?”
“You shouldn’t swear, Jerri,” Andrew said.
“Just shut up, Andrew,” Jerri said.
“Don’t say shut up,” Andrew shouted back.
“I’m sorry,” Jerri said, looking down.
“Dad wasn’t a Jamaican Jew, was he?” I asked.
“No,” Jerri frowned. “Your father was a sweet, fat American Jew.” Then she stood up from the table, walked to the sink, and dropped her bowl of whole grain, organic macaroni into it. I didn’t even see her take a bite.
Jerri was acting a little freaky. This might have been a sign to me, but I didn’t really pay attention because she was standard issue weird forever (big hippy sandals, organic turnip soup, drumming circles, making us call her Jerri). But freaky? Not really. Well, maybe a little. Sometimes. Off and on.
Jerri wasn’t the only one acting weird. Coach Knautz pulled me out of biology the next day. He knocked on Mr. Willard’s door, pointed at me while the whole class stared, and then said he had to have a word in private. Private? That’s a gross word. It reminds me of bathrooms and people’s privates all hanging out. Gross.
I was scared. I hadn’t gotten in trouble since eighth grade, when I took a bathroom stall apart with a screwdriver (totally grounded from TV and suspended for three days, which ended my life of crime and vandalism), and I couldn’t imagine why a coach would pull me out of class. He walked me down the hall without saying a word. He took me into the gym offices in total silence. He sat me down across the desk from him and then stared at me and shook his head and breathed through his big nose.
“Yes…uh…sir?” I asked.
“Listen, Reinstein, I have never seen anything like it.” (Nose breath.)
“Like what?” I said meekly. I was completely shaking in my shoes because I thought I must’ve done something horribly terrible.
“I have never seen a kid run so damn fast in the fitness test,” he said.
“Ohhhhh,” I breathed easier. “Yeah. Jerri is pretty excited.”
“Right. Jerri. And she’s right to be excited, Reinstein. I’ve been doing this for twelve years, and I have never seen anything like it. Ken Johnson wasn’t even close to as fast as you, and he took two firsts at State last year.”
“I know,” I said, without any enthusiasm, I might add. Why? Ken Johnson has always been a jerk. The summer after eighth grade, Ken Johnson shoved me off my Schwinn Varsity, which he called a stupid bike because he said my brake lever scratched his car, which maybe it did, but only because he parked like a jerk so I couldn’t get my bike past him. Ken Johnson.
“I’m guessing you’re a sprinter,” Coach Knautz nodded, “just by the way you run. I’m guessing you’re really built for 100 meters or maybe 200.”
“Maybe,” I said, still not knowing what he was getting at.
Mr. Knautz’s eyes were watery. He nodded more. He was sweaty.
“You have to do something with your God-given speed. You have to go out for track,” he said.
“Oh,” I said. I squinted and thought, those locker room lights beating down on my head,
Hmm. Am I going to say yes to this silliness? Hmmmm.
I wouldn’t have said yes, but I had Jerri’s voice echoing in my head from the macaroni dinner
(the Universe…the Universe…the Universe)
, and I thought about Andrew all arrogant and superior, even though he’s just a punk kid, and there was this poster hanging on the wall behind Coach Knautz (I was squinting at it) with this dude running in the desert with the word
underneath him, and I was emotionally moved by it, which is ridiculous, I know, but whatever. And, yes, I wanted Jerri to be proud of me. Andrew has his thing, his piano, which everyone loves him for. Jerri’s so proud of Andrew. Jerri has never seemed proud of me. I mean, man, what young son doesn’t want his mom to be proud of him even if he has to call her Jerri?
(The Universe, Felton…the Universe…)
So I said, “Uh, okay, sounds good,” which caused Coach Knautz to punch his fist in the air, shout yes, and then try to high-five me.
So even though track season was half done by that time, and even though I had no intention before to do anything but eat and sleep and grow hair on my body and practice my completely lame and humorless standup routine (I’ll get to this later), and even though I’ve always thought that track is dumb because you just run like you’re a scared buffalo getting chased by hyenas on Animal Planet, I joined the team.
It was right to do so.
I was totally nervous about it. The juniors and seniors have always been jerks.
But seriously, I did pretty well.
In fact, right away, it became obvious, even though my last name is Reinstein and not something Jamaican like Bolt or Lightning or Nitro or Napalm, that I’m sincerely fast. Actually, it turned out that I am so fast that I made varsity in the 100 meters, which pissed off a couple of seniors,
, but it wasn’t my fault. (Coach Knautz kept me off the relays for political reasons, he said.) It turned out I could already run almost as fast as that jerk Ken Johnson.
All the rest of the spring, a growing crowd of sweaty dudes who looked like Coach Knautz—balding, wearing those elastic coach shorts pulled halfway up their fat bellies because they’re also coaches, albeit football coaches—kept coming up to me, saying, “I’ve never seen anything like it. You’re what, fifteen?”
All the rest of the spring, Jerri kept yelling from her crossing guard position out on the corner or from the stands at other schools or from next to Andrew at big invitational meets, where I always placed a closer and closer second right behind Ken Johnson. “Run, Felton! Go!” (Even as she got freakier at home.) And all spring long, all the jocks in my grade, especially Cody Frederick, who I always thought smelled like an old urinal cake in a locker room (sorry), kept saying, “Can’t wait for football. You’re going out, right, Reinstein? We’re going to kick some ass in the fall.”
“I guess,” I’d tell them.
I did not enjoy the jock bus rides. I missed Gus, my first best friend, who sometimes sat on the hill watching track practice, shaking his head in disapproval. But I loved to run.
Fast like donkey. Very fast. Zing!
But then at Regionals, the qualifier for the State meet, because I was filled with donkey adrenaline that made me shake, because I knew—seriously understood—that I’d gotten as fast as that jerk Ken Johnson and I had a good shot at beating him and making him feel like the jerk he is, I false-started twice—yes, two times—and was disqualified and then—oh, I’m not proud—I cried and blew chunks right there by the track. I did. Vomited. And then…drum roll…it was all over.
Ken Johnson whispered “Head case.”
A couple other seniors whispered “Squirrel Nuts,” for that was my nickname with the upper classes.
Coach Knautz said, “Another year of experience and that won’t happen to you, my boy.”
Gus showed up outside the locker room and said, “You should quit stupid track because it’s foolish and dumb,” because track made it so I didn’t have time to drive around with him and Peter Yang. He didn’t have to say that, by the way. Track was done for me for the year.
And Cody Frederick said, “We’ll kick ass come fall, Reinstein.”
For the next five days, I stayed home. I didn’t go to school because I was wrecked by the false starts. I didn’t barf anymore, but I felt sick. I felt sweaty. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t rest. Moist sheets. Disgusting. Didn’t smell good. Jerri paced around the house all day while I lay there. She only stopped pacing to stare at me (or to go be a crossing guard for an hour). By day six, I was pretty hungry, so I ate a couple of bagels.
And that was that. No more track. Sophomore year was almost over. Summer was almost here.
While track was going, I felt I had a reason for getting out of my bed: Beat Ken Johnson. Without track, I was back to lying in bed wondering if I’m funny. (I really wanted to be a comedian…maybe I still do.)