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Authors: Sean Beaudoin

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BOOK: Going Nowhere Faster
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He laughed. He gave me a wink and then opened a deluxe pack of peanut butter cups from our cardboard movie concession stand (1.15 pounds, $5.95 plus tax) and gobbled them like an Escalade topping off with diesel. His throat bulged. His ears turned pink from lack of oxygen. A customer came to the door, peeked in, then left. Keith tossed the final candy in a high arc, mouth as wide as it would go (unbelievably, amazingly,
ridiculously
wide), and missed completely. The chocolate hit him in the center of the forehead and rolled under the desk.

“So how’s business?”

“Slow,” I said, handing over the evening’s receipts. Millville had finally gotten cable (probably the last town in America) six months ago. Everyone was at home watching infomercials or old movies with Liz Taylor where all the characters walk around in bathrobes and slippers.

“You run the numbers?”

On my first day I’d made the mistake of helping Keith when his calculator wouldn’t work. (It was a solar one. It was night. He was convinced it was broken.) “Hey, Stan! Get a pencil and times me one thousand three hundred forty-five by $2.99!”

I blinked and then told him $4021.55.

He stared woozily. “How’d you do that?”

I really didn’t know. Math and breathing. Breathing and math. Has anyone ever made a good movie about long division?

“Okay, smart guy, try this . . .”

He threw other numbers at me, three then four then six digits, add, subtract, multiply. I did them in my head and told him the answers. I knew math prowess was something to hide, not show off, mostly because it usually led to being punched after class, but I guess I thought Keith might give me a raise. What he did, instead, was make me start doing the books. Since his two duties as manager consisted of (1) doing the books and (2) locking up at night, this gave him plenty of time to sneak out and drink beer.

“Yeah, I ran ’em.”

Keith flexed his gigantic shoulders. “My own personal genius!”

FIVE THINGS KEITH WAS BIGGER THAN:

1. Industrial boiler

2. Fish barge

3. Smallish building

4. Fattish triceratops

5. Milk truck

“Leave me alone,” I said.

“Einstein with acne!”

“Shut up.”

“The Michael Jordan of numbers!”

“Piss off!”

“Good idea!” he said, patting me on the shoulder and then slamming the door of the employee bathroom. An extended deluge followed. I envisioned Noah. I envisioned his ark.

“Much better,” Keith said, when he finally emerged. “Now let’s close this sucker down!”

I saluted and turned off the lights. He started to lower the steel gate, like he did every night, with one finger.

“Let me try.”

“Go ahead.”

I pulled. It wouldn’t budge. I tugged and grunted. I winched and fulcrummed and levered. Finally, I just hung from the rusty bar and moved it, maybe half an inch.

“Wheaties,” he advised, making a muscle.

“We’re not allowed to have corporate cereal at home.”

Keith winced. “No Puffs? No Pops or Smacks or Jacks or
Loops
?”

“Nope. No Loops.”

He knew it wasn’t a joke. My mother is six-three and vegan. She wears overalls and grows her own produce and has calloused hands and drinks gallons of carrot pulp. She’s possibly the world’s healthiest person. No one makes jokes about her.

“Time to run away,” he advised.

“Good idea,” I said, “but first I’ll be needing a large raise. You know, to save up for a knapsack and a harmonica?”

Keith laughed, extra loud, like he always did when the word “raise” was used, and then got into his white Town Car (backseat full of concession candy) and peeled away. I laughed, quietly, like I always did when ending a shift at Happy Video, and then got on my white ten-speed and rolled out of the lot. Keith’s headlights disappeared. I was alone. My parents’ house was three miles away down a dark road, and Chad Chilton wanted to kill me.

So what else was new?

CHAPTER TWO

NAPOLEON taking his ten-speed off some sweet jumps STANAMITE

The humid air felt good on my face as I pedaled. The smell of skunk and poke-grass wafted by. Crickets sawed their legs together like a Russian orchestra, and there wasn’t a car in sight. I crossed the yellow line, back and forth in wide arcs. There was a bolt of heat lightning, way off over the trees, a
wha-CRACK
that gave me goose bumps. It wasn’t going to rain, it was just the sky letting me know it was there.
Wha-CRACK!
I stood on the pedals, hands raised. The ground whirred and plants whirred and it was like being in on a secret, alone in the middle of it all. I downshifted, trying for a wheelie and getting about an eighth of an inch off the ground.
SWEET!

A pair of headlights crested the hill. They were way behind, and then I barely had time to take a breath before they were
right
behind me. An engine growled, LOUD, then louder, the car roaring past, too fast and too close as I skidded to the side of the road.

“Nice driving, GENIUS!” I yelled, the car already gone, over the hill in a wisp of exhaust. Top-notch insult, Stan. Way to crush them, verbally and emotionally. “Genius” was what Keith usually called me (obviously without having read any of my scripts). It’s a word that tends to lurk. My mother never says anything (“genius”), and my father never says anything (“genius”), but I know they sometimes look at me strangely, not because I’m strange (even though I am) but because I just said something that probably should have come out of someone else’s mouth. Someone older and smarter and less Stan-like. Which is amazing, since when I was in second grade I could barely write at all. My classmates all made it to advanced cursive, penning capital
C
’s and ornate
T
’s and generally making the teachers happy with their evident potential. My handwriting was so bad they thought I might have a tumor. First I was sent to the doctor. No tumor. So then they thought I might be Just Plain Dumb.

Administrator: “Does he drool?”

Teacher: “I don’t think so.”

Administrator: “Does he eat glue?”

Teacher: “Not that I’ve seen.”

Administrator: “Does he frequently sniff his fingertips?”

Teacher: “Actually, now that you mention it . . .”

Administrator: “Let’s test him.”

So they showed me circles and squares and triangles and asked which didn’t belong (duh, the Stan one). Or read analogies, like “Fish is to water as Stan is to . . .” (drowned?). Afterward, I was sure they were right and I was even dumber than your run-of-the-mill finger-sniffer, but the results came back and after a lot of hemming and hawing and calls to the state testing board and calls to my parents and possibly even an aborted call to the local news station, it turned out I had an eyecue of 165. Go figure.

I stood up on the pedals again, pumping away, working hard to make it to the top of the hill. Halfway there I noticed another pair of headlights. This time they weren’t racing, just lingering on the horizon, keeping pace. They were round like the other car’s. They were big like the other car’s.

I pedaled faster.

So the teachers stopped caring about my handwriting or laughing out of turn or making fart sounds with my armpit, and pretty much left me alone. Actually, from that point on they seemed to fear me. My father said, “Most teachers top out in the eighty to one hundred range as far as intelligence quotient, and I think that’s being generous, so naturally you’re an anomaly.” I was in second grade and knew what an anomaly was, so, of course, I went to my room and cried. Why would anyone fear me? I spent a majority of my time picking my nose or reading books about courageous Irish setters. It all seemed so
unfair.
At least for a couple of weeks, until I forgot all about it. I mean, how smart can you really be reading Dr. Seuss and playing kickball?

“Hey, guy, throw that here.”

“Um, okay.”

The road flattened and I picked up speed, leaning over the handlebars and shifting into low. My tires hummed. The headlights kept their distance.

The real problems began in sixth grade, when I was taken out of regular classes and placed in Assisted Learning, which meant spending all day in a room with Ms. Cobble (cognitive specialist), Ms. Vanderlink (clinical child psychologist), and seven other kids bussed in from around the state. There were beanbag chairs and orange walls and an always-on coffeemaker we dropped crayons and lint and nickels into. Ms. Cobble was round, had a head like a squash, and smelled like
eau du
Velveeta. Ms. Vanderlink was thin and wore black turtlenecks and pointy glasses and seemed, to the exclusion of almost everything else, preoccupied with removing lint from her clothing. We spent entire afternoons playing with clay (making enormous-breasted sculptures of Cobble and then crushing them) and drawing (sketching enormous-breasted Vanderlink tied to a tree and shot with arrows.) For some reason, we never got into trouble. “Discipline” was apparently equated with “creativity stifling.” No matter what horror we concocted, Cobble continued to guzzle her tar-and-floater coffee and Vanderlink continued to remove nonexistent fluff from her shoulders. It was accepted, after all, on some unspoken level, that none of us would ever be considered normal.

“Hey, aren’t you the kid from the egghead class?”

“No. Aren’t you the egg from the kidhead class?”

“That doesn’t even make sense.”

“That make even sense doesn’t.”

Punch.

“Ouch.”

Still, every one of my classmates has gone on to great success. Millie Crown, her nose an endless faucet and shirt a bottomless repository, went to Juilliard to study violin. Paul Stark, extraordinarily thin and with a penchant for torturing Goober, the class gerbil, won a language scholarship and moved to Indonesia to live with natives (who later crowned him Sun King). Even Kate Bellner, who would burst into tears if you
even thought
about looking at her sideways, now writes a column on the “Young Adult Beat” for
The Washington Post.

Have I mentioned my name’s Stan and I work in a video store?

I approached a long downward slope, pedaling madly before the steep incline that led to my parents’ house. The bike whirred as I leaned over it, momentum and gravity and wind, a sixty-second
mad rush
that made me open my mouth and howl. For one second I actually outran myself, the shadow-on shadow of peeled Stan-ness dragging behind the back wheel. But then, of course, the second was over. My shadow caught up and my legs surrendered to the rise, slowing, a sudden raincoat of sweat and gravity and inertia that felt like every minute of every day and almost everything else.

Also, the headlights got a little closer. I tried to keep my sandals from slipping off the grips.

When the money finally ran out for the Assisted Learning program (the Play-Doh costs alone must have been staggering) and it was canceled by a unanimous vote of the school board, and Cobble and Vanderlink were sent packing, probably to teach poetry in a maximum security women’s prison, and as a result, for the first time in years, I was sent to
regular
classes, I got beat up a lot.

Is that why,
you may ask,
poor Mr. 165 eye-cue, you get straight Ds?

It’s actually an excellent question. One Dr. Felder really tries to “get at.”

Dr. Felder: “How’s school?”

Me: “Aside from every single second being just another opportunity for embarrassment and humiliation?”

Dr. Felder: “Yes, aside from that.”

Me: “It sucks.”

Dr. Felder: “Okay. Then let’s talk about how ‘sucks’ feels.”

Me: “That’s a joke, right?”

The truth is, I just don’t know. At some point, in class, I can’t make my brain work. It freezes. Goes into sleep mode. Winters in Palm Springs. The teacher will ask, “Who knows the name of the estate Thomas Jefferson designed and built in Virginia?”

I do. It’s called Monticello.

But when I open my mouth, “Monticello” never comes out. Nothing does. Or maybe something like “mayonnaise” or “moray eel” might, which is even worse. Then everyone laughs. They laugh, and I mentally attempt, like a dwarf star, to collapse in on myself due to my own incredible field of gravity.

I should probably mention, at this point, that I’m disabled.

I know, I know, it’s totally not fair that I held that back for so long.

I guess I just didn’t want your pity.

The truth of the matter is that I have a rare medical condition known as
Mentasis Futilis.
There’s a telethon every year called the Mentathalon. You may have seen it. You may even have called in and pledged a nickel. All-girl lip-synch bands lip-synch, and fat comedians make fat jokes, and skinny comedians make skinny jokes, and out-of-work jugglers drop chain saws and bowling pins on their feet. Some guy in a sequined jacket begs you to call in and begs you to “pledge now” and begs you to feel sorry for me and all those like me.

It’s a good thing there’s 462 other channels on cable, because, to be honest, it’s pretty unwatchable. Plus, there’s no cure.

Okay, okay. I made all that up. I’m as fit as seventeen years of downing gallons of carrot pulp could possibly make me. To tell the truth, I actually wish I
did
have some kind of disease. At least then I’d have an excuse. I think the real reason my brain freezes is because I’m a chickenshit.

I hunched over, taking the long wide turn before my parents’ street. The headlights were closer. A LOT closer. The car came up to my back wheel, high beams on. I waved it by, but it stayed there, inching forward. There was nowhere to pull off the street without wiping out in sharp rocks and gravel, and there was no way I could pedal faster. I looked back, almost blinded, circles and stars behind my eyes. What did they want? Was it Chad Chilton? Was it just some crazy old lady?

The car beeped and lurched ahead. The bumper almost touched my wheel. The engine growled and I could barely keep control. In one long careening sweep, I got to my parents’ lawn and jumped the curb. My front tire caught on a log and I went over the handlebars, crashing into a patch of tall grass. The car laid rubber and sped away. I threw a rock at it, which missed by only about five hundred yards. Crickets boomed and my head boomed like it was hollow, one artery trying desperately to channel blood and fear and relief. It only took about a half hour for that to go away. In the meantime, no beautiful nurses came running up to wipe my forehead with a cold rag. I checked my arms and legs. Nothing broken. Mostly normal, if by normal you mean skinny and unmuscular. But someone was crazy. Maybe I was crazy. It occurred to me that I should have gotten the license plate. Sergeant Rick Steele would have gotten the license plate.

BOOK: Going Nowhere Faster
13.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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