Authors: Betsy Byars
Bingo Brown's Guide To Romance
INGO BROWN HAD TOLD
his mom that he was bored and needed new challenges, and he was now on his way to the laundromat to wash the family's clothes.
All his protests had been in vain.
“By new challenges, I didn't mean wash clothes, Mom,” he had said, at first trying to be patient. His father had warned him, correctly, that women with new babies were sometimes easily irritated.
“Well, you've never washed clothes before, have you?”
“Then it will be a new challenge.”
“Mom, the laundromat is right next door to Columbo's, and my friends hang out there, eating pizza and playing video games andâ”
“Wash the baby's things separately and divide the rest of the clothes into piles, bright colors in one, whites and pastels in another.”
“Why don't we just wait until the washer is fixed?” Bingo went on with reason and good humor. “I could run to K Mart and get us some underwear and Jamie some disposable diapers andâ”
“If I had wanted you to run to K Mart and get underwear, I would have asked you to go to K Mart and get underwear.”
Her nostrils flared, which was not a good sign. “I'm working tomorrow and I can't leave the babysitter with all these dirty clothes. Look, if you don't want to go to the laundromat, just say, âI don't want to go to the laundromat.' ”
“Thanks.” With a shrug of regret, he repeated, “I don't want to go to the laundromat.”
“Fine! Great!” Her nostrils were so flared now that Bingo thought he caught sight of her brain. “Then go to your room for the rest of your life.”
Faced with those two choices, Bingo manfully picked up the basket of dirty clothes.
Now he was on his bicycle, pedaling to the King Koin Laundromat. He had a bushel basket of dirty clothes strapped on the back of the bicycle, and he had to take the long way to the laundromat so none of his friends would see his unfortunate burden.
To pass the time, he began working on his
Guide to Romance, A Record of the Personal Ups and Downs of Bingo Brown. Dedicated to My Brother, Jamie, as a Guide and Comfort to Him When He Finds Himself, as He Surely Will, upon the Roller Coaster of Life.
Bingo was now working on the section that contained romantic problems with their solutions. Bingo was determined not to spare himself, even though many of the problems were extremely personal.
Problem #1. The Xeroxed Love Letter.
Suppose that you have written a love letter and suppose that this love letter turns out to be the best love letter in the history of the world and suppose you want to save this letter for future generations and with this in mind, you make a Xerox of the letter and in your haste to mail the letter, you mail the Xerox of the letter. Will this take away from the warmth of the words?
Yes, for I myself have been waiting for three long months for an answer to just such a Xeroxed letter.
Bingo broke off his thoughts and cut swiftly around the back of Winn Dixie, past the dumpsters, and behind Rexall Drugs, and peered around the corner of Columbo's Pizza. Seeing no one he knew, he pedaled quickly to the King Koin. He rode through the open doors and came to a screeching halt at the first available washing machine.
He could not be bothered with patiently separating the clothes. If any of his friends were on their way to Columbo's to spend a pleasant hour with the video games, just as he would like to do, and saw him with little prissy piles of clothesâpink over here, blue over here, pink with blue flowers over here â¦ The thought caused Bingo to shudder.
There were too many clothes for one washer, so Bingo crammed what he could in one washer, crammed the rest in the next washer. Still too many, so he put the remaining diapers into a third washer and slammed down the lids. His heart was pounding.
He made quick work of the change machine and soon the machines were rumbling happily. Bingo went outside for some badly needed fresh air.
While he was standing there, fanning himself with a box of Rinso, he found himself thinking about lifeâabout how in the old days when a boy asked his mom for a new challenge, she sent him to the Crusades or out West to look for gold or on a whaling ship bound for northern climes orâ
“Hey, Worm Brain.” A voice broke harshly into his thoughts.
Bingo saw with displeasure that Billy Wentworth was standing in front of him. He sighed. “What do you want, Wentworth?”
Wentworth was chewing gum and he paused to blow a small purple bubble about the size of a Ping-Pong ball. That done, he said, “I just saw that girl.”
“The girl that used to be in our room. The one you used to like.”
Bingo's heart began to thud against the Rinso box, which he had wrapped in both arms. Actually there had been many girls in Bingo's lifeâthe future President of the United States, the would-be orchestra conductor, Cici, Bootsâbut his only true love had been Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde, known to everyone else as Melissa.
Obviously Wentworth couldn't know that, because Melissa was miles away in Bixby, Oklahoma. Still, the thought of her was enough to make Bingo's imprisoned heart attempt to burst right out of his chest, through the box of Rinso, and fly nonstop to Bixby.
ThisâBingo knewâwas why chests were made so strong. Ribs were designed for one thing. They were prison bars to keep hearts from doing anything foolish. Bingo had been grateful for ribs many times in his life, and particularly now.
Bingo said in a controlled voice, “What girl would that be, Wentworth?”
Bingo dropped the Rinso box with a thud.
“But Melissa's in Oklahoma.”
Wentworth paused long enough to create another purple bubble. “No, she's not. She's in Winn Dixie.”
“Yes, W-Winn Dixie.”
“But she couldn't be. She's in Bixby, Oklahoma.”
“I don't believe you.”
“So â¦ check it out.”
Bingo turned at once toward the grocery store and then stopped. Wentworth would enjoy seeing him rush into the store like a heartsick fool.
“Where, exactly, was she in the store?”
“She and this other girl had gotten a cart with a bad wheel, and they were trying to get it through Produce.”
“What makes you think the girl was Melissa?”
“I got eyes.”
Still Bingo hesitated.
“Look,” Wentworth said, “you don't believe me, check it out.”
“That's what I intend to do.”
“Be my guest.” Wentworth pulled down his camouflage T-shirt in a forceful manner.
Bingo's heart was pounding so hard it was as if tom-tom drums were being beaten inside the grocery store, deafening him.
“Hey, Worm Brain.”
Bingo heard that. He turned.
“You forgot your R-Rinso!”
Bingo returned to the Rinso box and the small pile of blue flakes that had leaked out. It was amazing, the amount of dignity required to pick up a box of Rinso with Wentworth sneering. Bingo felt he did as well as anyone could.
He even managed to say thanks without stuttering.
Then he headed manfully for whatever awaited him amid the groceries.
INGO APPROACHED THE SLIDING
doors of Winn Dixie with caution, but they flew open anyway. Bingo stepped back quickly. Two shoppers passed him with curious looks, but Bingo remained against the side of the building.
When the doors had once again shut, Bingo moved forward. Without touching the floor mats, he peered inside.
Bingo had recently been fitted for glasses. He had wanted glasses for yearsânot because he couldn't see well, but because he liked the idea of himself in glasses. He was the type for glasses.
Finally he had convinced his parents of his need, and nowâthe very moment when he really needed glasses to see into the depths of Winn Dixieâthey were still at the eye doctor's, being ground to prescription.
Even without his glasses, he could see that Melissa was not in sight.
Bingo was tempted to turn around immediately, retrieve the family's laundry, and mark the whole thing up to a cruel trick of Wentworth's. Certainly Wentworth was capable of that sort of cruelty, but Wentworth wasn't sensitive enough to sense the depth of Bingo's longing for Melissa and take advantage of it.
Bingo cracked his knuckles in a manly fashion. He would have spit on his hands but they were already wet with sweat. Bingo prided himself on his manly gestures and hoped, sometime in the future, to get the mature feelings that went along with them.
“You going in, Worm Brain, you gotta open the doors, like this.”
Wentworth stepped around Bingo onto the mat, and the doors opened. Without looking at Wentworth, Bingo entered.
He took a cartâhe hadn't intended to do that, and behind him Wentworth gave a snort of disgust. Bingo put his box of Rinso in the baby's seat and set off. The cart wanted to turn immediately into a display of paper towels, but Bingo wrestled it to Produce.
Bingo moved slowly through Produce. He watched the mirrors at the end of the fruit-and-vegetable aisle to see if Billy Wentworth had followed him into the store.
Bingo seemed to be in everyone's way, so he muttered beneath his breath, “Grapefruit â¦ lettuce â¦ kumquats â¦ we have those â¦ celery â¦ parsnips â¦ not quite fresh enough â¦”
This took him to the bakery department.
He went quickly past the loaves of bread and brought his cart to an abrupt stop. He peered around a pyramid of macaroni-and-cheese dinners. Billy Wentworth was still outside the store. Now he could devote his full attention to finding Melissa.
He proceeded more slowly now, giving each aisle the caution a hunter would give the jungle. He did not think Melissa would be in Baby Supplies and, of course, she wasn't, but he paused there to put a box of disposable diapers in his cart. That, he thought, gave him the look of a serious shopper. If he did run into Melissa, that would make a good impression.
He continued. Of course she would not be in Pet Products, but he gave that aisle the same caution as the others.
He was gaining in confidence now. There were only two aisles leftâSoft Drinks and Health Supplies.
By now, Bingo thought he knew what had happened. Wentworth had seen someone who looked like Melissaâafter all, there were other girls with incredibly beautiful, beribboned hair and jazzy lips, girls whose eyes had a little squint that would make a man's heart beat faster.
Wentworth might even have said, “Hi, Melissa,” and the girl hadn't bothered to say, “I'm not Melissa,” and this had reinforced the mistaken identification. Therefore Wentworth genuinely believed he had seen the real Melissa and reported it as the truth.
This explanation made Bingo feel better. Melissa was still safely in Bixby, Oklahoma.
And, Bingo went on as his spirits began to lift, this would give him an excuse to write an amusing letter. “Today, I almost saw you in the grocery store. Billy Wentworth thought he saw you, and I, of course, rushed into the store and â¦”