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Authors: Tom Matthews

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BOOK: Like We Care
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“Dude, I did! It said—”

“I know, I know. So you thought you were
supposed
to say ‘being on the rammer’? What does that mean?”

“The fuck do I know? I don’t know what half this shit you have me saying means. I see ‘rammer,’ I think ‘fucking,’ I figure: Rock and roll, bro!”

Hutch sighed. “Okay. From now on, I’ll have an intern with you when you go over the scripts, in case you have any questions.”

“Make it Roxanne. With the tits.”

Neal’s voice cut in from the studio. “We’re ready, Hutch. We’re backing up. We’d better keep moving.”

Hutch offered Casey a fatherly pat on the back, then sent him back before the cameras. Upon seeing their hero again, the rabble outside started flipping him off to a fare-thee-well.

Casey, too dim to know much but savvy enough to not milk his signature, offered a weak, non-committal bird which, Hutch noted with some concern, was less of a “We’re havin’ a party here”
fuck you
and more of a, well,
fuck you.

“Five.

“Four.

“Three.

“Two.

“One.”

“Hey! What-up? Casey Lattimer, rockin’ on through the night, bringing down the hammer for the third. . .” He squinted at the PrompTer and grinned stupidly. “Ahh, I get it. . .”

“Cut!”

Hutch grimaced and headed back to his office.

The Trajectory of Boys

O
n the fall day Joel’s wires were to be cut, his mother had a staff meeting she couldn’t miss.

His father’s current girlfriend offered to take him to the doctor’s office (his father was himself laid up, having water skied himself into a pontoon boat while attempting courtship with his 27-year-old lady love). But Joel had put her off in the hopes that her mother’s second ex-boyfriend, whom Joel had actually come to like during the eight months he diddled his mother on the other side of his bedroom wall, would come through.

But by the time the ex-boyfriend reluctantly had to beg off due to “relationship concerns” (the woman he was hoping to move in with once her divorce went through found it troubling he was still seeing the children of a prior affair, especially when he seemed to be so miserable to her own kids), Joel’s father’s current girlfriend had made other plans.

“Fuck it,” Joel had thought. He had his own wheels, he was practically out of the house and on his own anyway. And there wasn’t a chance in hell he was going to reschedule the appointment, just so one of his parents and/or their respective sex partners could tag along to play all parent-like.

The X-rays were positive—the jaw had healed completely. It was time.

Still, he was glad to have Todd along that day. More than he would ever probably admit—although he had been thinking he might try, once he got the use of his mouth back—Joel had been grateful for all the help Todd had offered the past twelve weeks.

It had been the most surprising part of this whole experience, the way his perception of his friendships had shifted while waiting to undo the damage Kyle Hoffstetler had done.

When he first returned to school, less than a week after being hurt, Joel bathed in the attention that his apparent martyrdom had brought him. Added to the long-familiar outpourings of adoration and blind faith was a genuine concern for his well-being, supplemented by the perception that Joel’s wounds were
their
wounds.

He had bled for them. He had felt pain for them. To those rendered stupid by too deep a thought, there was profundity in their midst.

Until just about Thursday. After that, the pressing concerns of the classroom and the social meat grinder swung the spotlight away from Joel. And for the first time in his life, he could not swing it back.

Athletic practice was out of the question, given the tenuous state of his jaw, so his traditional star-making arenas were denied him. And because he could not speak, his ability to lead and coerce was stifled, even challenged!

After all, the discourse of a pack of grunting, testosterone-mutated teenage boys was nothing but a mullet-headed assault of endless improvisation—a foul-mouthed choir of crudities, insults, and boorish self-affirmations. To hold your own, you had to be able to talk the shit.

Joel was accustomed to standing at the center of these puberty scrums, orchestrating and modulating the nastiness with the effortless command of a master conductor:

“Fucking Atkinson, giving me another fucking D in Algebra!”

“Fuck right, we’ll fucking take State!”

“Goddamned Stacy Barnes, I’d fucking do her in the ass if I had the fucking chance!”

“Fuck fuck fuck, fuck fuck fuck!”

Joel would oversee these invective free-for-alls with aplomb, making sure each of his tribesmen had his opportunity to howl, and yet always prepared to turn the conversation on a dime with a well-timed “Ah, fuck it.” Next subject:

Cops busted up a rave on Saturday. “Fuck fuck fuck fuckin’ fuck fuck fuck!”

But now, with Joel’s voice stilled, the pack lost its center; the babble, its verve. Joel was grateful, but then alarmed, when Bobby Slopes took it upon himself to step into Joel’s place as point man—a point man with none of Joel’s panache and discretion.

Where Joel would’ve instinctively steered the hurtful bantering away from retarded Donna Vogel, who succumbed to a bout of diarrhea in the cafeteria, fucking Bobby Slopes worked the subject to howling heights of cruelty, with the poor girl cleaned up and still sitting just two tables away!

This was not teenage boys cutting up. This was just mean.

And Joel just had to sit there and
listen
to this crap, not even able to tell them to shut the fuck up. That is, if he would ever dare to judge them so harshly. Like an adult or something.

Still: Was this the way they always sounded, this foul-mouthed and vicious? Now peering in from a step outside, was this all his years of celebrity had brought him? To once have ruled over a pimpled mob of sadistic jerk-offs?

It had been the same with his girlfriend, the stunning and loose Molly DeVry, whom Joel had been seeing pretty much exclusively all senior year. Left to actually
hear
her, where before they vibrated blissfully to the resonant hum of two teenagers being better than everyone else, he began to not like her. Everything she said that wasn’t bitchy nonsense had more and more to do with their future together beyond high school, a future Joel did not see being shared with her. He knew things were pretty much over for them. Maybe they had been for awhile, he was just too busy being wonderful to notice.

Shut up for a few minutes, and you can actually see what’s going on around you. Who knew?

By comparison, things just seemed so quiet, so gentle, down at Todd Noland’s end of the table. Joel and Todd had once been tight, back around third grade. Back before the wrong friendship could fuck you up for life.

They shared the usual fancies of eight-year-olds: clumsy first attempts at sports, collecting and obsessing over whichever hunk of crap Madison Avenue was mainlining them that year, playing boy-on-boy grab-ass on the playground with the sort of innocent abandon that would be looked upon as deeply troubling in another year or so.

Nothing special, merely the entire breadth and width of the universe. When you’re eight.

Joel had already begun showing the coltish swagger of a world-beater; Todd, the contemplative melancholy of an over-informed, over-concerned mope.

They had first met in kindergarten when Joel, ripping around the room like a terror, trod upon Todd’s little finger as he sat diligently on the floor, wondering if so much ripping around the room was really the best use of their time.

Todd complained meekly, referring to his smarting finger as a “pinkie.” Joel, who had never heard the word before, was intrigued.

The wild child took the time to engage one of the room’s presenceless boys, and was rewarded with a new word for his efforts.

They complemented each other.

The bond held for a while, with countless secrets and adventures shared during countless sleepovers and bike odysseys. But sixth grade brought new peer pressures and greater opportunities for Joel to cultivate an empire.

Sports started to mean something, and the simple fact that Joel could not be everywhere at once kept him from excelling at all that was possible.

And, of course, girls started to mean everything. The mysterious trouser yearnings of the healthy male buck began to announce themselves with an insistence awesome to behold. And while most eleven-year-olds were too clumsy and horrified to follow the fevered leash-tuggings of the puppy dog that was their penis, Joel—as he did in most things—ran ahead of the pack.

By the end of seventh grade, he had excitedly and repeatedly pinched a nipple, almost as if to inflate the breast to the pumpkinned proportions found in his father’s poorly hidden collection of
Penthouses
.

By Christmas of the next year, he had found himself tingly-skinned naked with Nancy Stought, her parents’ early return from a holiday party being the only thing preventing Joel from slipping into the promised land.

Still, he had stared down his first vagina, felt her hand, and—very briefly—her mouth on his hap-hap-happy boy thing. This would have to do until late that summer when, in Wad Wendell’s parents’ spare bedroom, Joel went to the mountaintop with Dee Dee Weir during a particularly fine party.

It was clumsier than he had anticipated, more to do with the fitting of parts, like building a model airplane. And, as near as he could tell, it was no fun for her whatsoever.

And yet, it was all heaven and earth needed to provide him for the rest of his natural born life and all that came after. He swore this to God or whomever could’ve squeezed into the room past the line of couples waiting just outside the door for their turn.

Unlike fractions, this was something Joel felt he’d like to spend a lot of time getting a handle on.

Todd had been at that party, too.

Having carved a niche for himself that had him at least on the fringes of acceptance, being neither ugly enough nor fat enough nor effeminate enough nor dorky enough nor bland enough nor brainiac enough nor shy enough nor ethnic enough nor poor enough to earn the pro forma scorn of the in-crowd, Todd was allowed into the occasional party.

The goal at this age, after all, was simply to fill the house—so long as you didn’t reek of the untouchables, what the hell, stop on by. The final measure of the party’s success would be the number of kids who had to be flushed out of the house when the parents and/or cops arrived.

So Todd had been there that night, largely sticking to the margins and straying not at all from his own subset of borderline geeks. He watched, with an almost anthropological focus, the behavior of those who truly belonged here: the primal grunts and high-fives of the bully boys, and the giggly, teasing flitters of the girls. He envied their ease, their utter lack of reserve.


This
is how children should be,” thought Todd, who was probably alone in the room in thinking that all of them were, at age thirteen, still “children.” Life ahead was hard enough, so let loose
now
, for Christ’s sake. Respect nothing. Celebrate the sheer wastefulness of youth.

At least make loud noises or break something.

So why had Todd felt, from the moment he entered the house, the vice-lock on his spine, the queasiness in his belly? Why was this minor league attempt at debauchery, staged by Wad Wendell’s older sister while their parents were away at their grandfather’s funeral, not catching Todd up in its hedonistic updraft? Why was he such a joyless pain-in-the-ass?

As he stood at the head of the short line for the bathroom, he pummeled himself with such self-loathing. Just behind him stood Cindy Becker, just about the most hellaciously fine piece of work the eighth grade had to offer. Hovering around her was Sue DeAngelus, whose reputation for indiscriminate sluttiness more than made up for a horsy face and a stickpin body.

Such girls were never alone, Todd noted, not even in line to use the can. They were always, as now, with their leering, peacockish boyfriends—a jock or a sociopath or whatever it was girls that age fancied. He knew they never fancied him.

BOOK: Like We Care
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ads

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