This one kid, he got kicked out of school.
That’s not easy to do--you need to break some actual laws. We heard lots of rumors, but nobody gave us the straight story.
The kid’s name was Jammer, and I got his locker.
Who knows what he kept in there, but he must’ve given out the combination to half the school. Kids were always messing with my stuff when I wasn’t around.
So I put a snake inside the locker. Problem solved.
It was an Eastern diamondback, a serious reptile. Eight buttons on the rattle, so it made some big noise when people opened the locker door. The freak-out factor was high.
Don’t worry--the rattlesnake couldn’t bite. I taped its mouth shut. That’s a tricky move, not for rookies. You need steady hands and zero common sense. I wouldn’t try it again.
The point is I didn’t want that rattler to hurt anyone. I just wanted kids to stay out of my locker.
Which they now do.
I set the diamondback free a few miles down Grapefruit Road, on the same log where I found him. It’s important to exit the scene fast, because an adult rattlesnake can strike up to one-half of its body length. Most people don’t know that, and why would they? It’s not a necessary piece of information, if you live a halfway normal life.
Which I don’t.
“What does your dad do?”
I hear this question whenever we move somewhere new.
My standard answer: “He runs his own business.”
But the truth is I don’t know what my father does. He sends a check, Mom cashes it. I haven’t seen the guy since I was like three years old. Maybe four.
Does it bother me? Possibly. Sure.
I’ve done some reading about this, how it can mess up a person when his parents split, especially when one of them basically vanishes from the family scene. I don’t want to be one of those screwed-up kids, but I can’t rule out the possibility.
Mom doesn’t say much about Dad. The checks always show up on time--the tenth of the month--and they never bounce. We might not be rich, but we’re definitely not poor. You wouldn’t believe how many pairs of shoes my sister owns. God, I give her so much grief.
The way I look at it, Mom doesn’t get a free pass just because she doesn’t want to talk about my father. That’s not what you’d call a healthy, open approach to an issue. So I stay on her case, though not in a mean way.
“What does he do for a living?” I’ll say, like I’ve never asked before.
“Well, Billy, I’m not exactly sure what he does,” she’ll begin in the same tight voice, “but I can tell you what he doesn’t do.”
Over time, based on my mother’s commentary, I’ve scratched the following professions off my Phantom Father list:
Astronaut, quantum physicist, lawyer, doctor, heavy-metal guitarist, veterinarian, architect, hockey player, NASCAR driver, jockey, plumber, roofer, electrician, pilot, policeman, car salesman, and yoga instructor.
Mom says Dad’s too claustrophobic to be an astronaut, too lousy at math to be a quantum physicist, too shy to be a lawyer, too squeamish to be a doctor, too uncoordinated to play the guitar, too tall to be a jockey, too hyper for yoga, and so on.
I don’t like this game, but I’m making progress, information-wise. Mom’s still touchy about the subject, so I try to take it easy. Meanwhile, my sister, Belinda, acts like she doesn’t care, like she’s not the least bit curious about the old man. This fake attitude is known as a “coping mechanism,” according to what I’ve read.
Maybe my father is a psychiatrist, and one day I’ll lie down on his couch and we’ll sort out all this stuff together. Or not.
At school I try to keep a low profile. When you move around as much as my family does, making friends isn’t practical. Leaving is easier if there’s no one to say goodbye to. That much I’ve learned.
But sometimes you’re forced to “interact.” There’s no choice. Sometimes staying low-profile is impossible.
The last week of school, some guy on the lacrosse team starts pounding on a kid in the D-5 hallway. Now, this kid happens to be a dork, no question, but he’s harmless. And the lacrosse player outweighs him by like forty pounds. Still, a crowd is just standing around watching this so-called fight, which is really just a mugging. There are dudes way bigger than me, major knuckle-draggers, cheering and yelling. Not one of them makes a move to stop the beating.
So I throw down my book bag, jump on Larry Lacrosse, and hook my right arm around his neck. Pretty soon his face goes purple and his eyes bulge out like a constipated bullfrog’s. That’s when a couple of his teammates pull me off, and one of the P.E. teachers rushes in to break up the tangle. Nobody gets suspended, not even a detention, which is typical.
The dorky kid, the one who was getting pounded, I didn’t know his name. The lacrosse guy turns out to be a Kyle something. We’ve got like seven Kyles at our school, and I can’t keep track of them all. This one comes up to me later, between sixth and seventh period, and says he’s going to kick my butt. Then one of his friends grabs his arm and whispers, “Easy, dude. That’s the psycho with the rattler in his locker.”
I smile my best psycho smile, and Kyle disappears. Big tough jock who likes to beat up kids half his size. Pathetic.
But lots of people are terrified of snakes. It’s called ophidiophobia. The experts say it’s a deep primal fear. I wouldn’t know.
During seventh period I get pulled out of class by the school “resource officer,” which is what they call the sheriff’s deputy who hangs out in the main office. His name is Thickley, and technically he’s in charge of campus security. He’s big and friendly, cruising toward retirement.