UnBooks:Early 90s Young Adult Novel
We at CBS regret to inform you that tonight's episode of The Amazing Race has been postponed until next week so that we can bring you the 44th annual Country Music Awards. We do not advise that you watch it; instead, why not read a book or something? Perhaps a book you got for free in elementary school as a part of Reading Day?
High school is the worst.
My name is Peter McCrary and I'm a freshman at White Suburban High School. I'm your average kid: I make okay grades (except in Biology, that class is hard!) and I play in a band. I'm part of the chess team, I lead the debate team, and I'm terrible at meeting girls. I live at home with my parents, my younger brother Nick (he's so annoying!) and my dog, Dog. See, pretty normal kid. My life was pretty normal too, that is, until last fall.
I was late for school again. Why didn't my alarm go off until 6:50 instead of 5:50? I was dead! Mom and pop said that if I got one more tardy, they weren't going to buy me that new guitar I wanted for my birthday and that I was gonna be grounded for a week! That bites! I jumped out of bed and took the world's fastest shower. I got out, raced to the kitchen like some kinda Olympiad, and grabbed my lunch and my backpack and hurried out the door. No time to drink the glass of milk my mom poured for me every morning. I figured it would be waiting for me when I got home.
Just as I got to my bus stop, I could see the bus pulling away. Oh great, I thought. (Even though it wasn't great, I was saying that it was to be funny. Get it? I'm a funny kid.) I started running after the bus while the other kids on the bus watched. Some of them opened the windows and started cheering for me as I tried to catch the bus at the next stop. But the juniors sitting in the back made faces at me and laughed. The juniors always rode in the back of the bus. If you ever want to survive high school, the first thing you learn is not to mess with juniors.
I ran and I ran, coughing from the exhaust fumes and trying not to fall. I stepped in a puddle and now my sneakers were SOAKED. Even better, I thought. (See? It's the same kind of joke. I think it's called "sarkasm" or something. Maybe it's Russian. What do I know, I'm just a stupid kid. But I'm funny.) Finally, I managed to catch the bus. The driver looked at me like I was crazy. I didn't say anything to him.
I sat down next to my friend Sam. Sam and I go all the way back to second grade. My family had just moved here and I was the new kid. We were both in the gym and we got paired up to run the relay race. I remember passing him the baton and watching him just take off. Sam was fast. Still is. I don't know why he doesn't run track. He's fast enough. But I don't push it. I guess Sam's just gonna do whatever he wants to do.
"So, I see you got in your morning exercise," he smartly remarked.
"Jeez, Sam, I don't know why I keep missing the bus!" I replied. I was somewhat annoyed with myself for being so late all the time. But high school is just so hectic and sometimes it's just too much for one kid to take.
"Maybe you should knock it off with the late night study sessions. Are you drinking a lot of soda late at night?"
"Of course I am."
"That may be contributing to it." Sam was smart. I wish I were smart like him.
"Yeah, but if I don't get time to study, I don't know how I'll ever pass this Biology test on Friday. And if I don't pass that test, mom and pop are gonna KILL me!" I started thinking about how I was ever gonna play this gig on Saturday if I was dead.
"You'll do fine. You always find a way to pass." Sometimes I envied Sam's faith in me.
I looked up. Mr. Lawry was looking right at me. Must have dozed off again, I thought.
"Yes, Mr. Lawry?" I croaked.
"I said, would you care to share your answer to number 5?" Yikes! Now I was on the spot. I didn't have time to do my algebra homework last night. Well, that's not true. I had time, I just fell asleep.
I got up and approached the board. The board. One of the most terrifying places in the whole world. I hated standing at the board and having the whole class looking at me. I could just tell they all thought I was a dork. I hated all those cool kids with their white sneakers and their backwards caps (I couldn't ever find the baseball caps with the bills in the back, those are so cool) and their expensive blue jeans. I wish I were cool.
I looked at the problem on the board.
All of those numbers and letters were so disorienting! I didn't know what to make of it. But I stayed up there, studying the problem. I picked up the chalk and moved to write. Then I pretended to change my mind and I lowered my hand. I was putting on a pretty good show, I think the teacher was buying it. I motioned to write again. I rewrote the problem underneath the first one. I did this again. Halfway through writing the same equation for the fourth time, Mr. Lawry yelled at me to sit down. Whew, I thought, glad that's over.
As I walked down to the principal's office, wondering what it was I was in trouble for, I heard the lunch bell ring. 12:00. Oh brother, I thought, I'm missing pizza day! Pizza day was the only good day to buy school lunch. All of the other lunches looked like something that came from Chernobyl. The first day I had the mystery meat, my fork melted. Never touched that nuclear hazard again after that.
I sat down outside the principal's door. What could I have possibly done to get myself in trouble, I thought. I ran down my day. Today, I showed up at 8:05 for the bell. First period Algebra from 8:30 to 9:20. Second period English from 9:00 to 9:50. Then I had third period Earth Science from 9:30 to 10:20. And now it's noon and I'm at the principal's office. When did I even have time to get into trouble?
I stepped in to the office and sat down. I was terrified. I didn't want to be there. I wanted to close my eyes and think about pizza. But I couldn't. I was frozen under the icy glare of Principal Sheppard. He stared at me for twelve seconds. I counted.
"Son, do you know why you're in my office?" he barked. I was visibly terrified. I was shaking. And boy was I sweating. I always broke out into sweating when I was nervous.
"uhh, well...erm...you see, uhh..."
"Why don't you take a look at this? See if it...jogs your memory." He broke out into a slight grin that quickly went away as he turned on the television he had on his desk.
There was static for a minute, and then I saw what appeared to be the opening to The Brady Bunch. After the theme song was over, the screen went blue. Suddenly, a happy-looking cartoon chicken wearing an American flag shirt appeared on the screen. I don't remember this episode, I thought. Then a live-action camel came on screen. Upon seeing Live Action Camel, Cartoon Chicken immediately grew an enormous erection and started humping the camel, smiling the whole time. This continued for three and a half minutes (I counted) before Principal Sheppard paused the tape.
"I don't understand," I said timidly.
"Oh, you don't understand?" Principal Sheppard was now turning red and becoming increasingly upset. "You don't understand what has been going on at this school over the past week? You don't understand that the school was having its annual Brady week, and that this year we were going to feature a rare archival print of a never-released episode?"
"I'm still not really sure what's going on," I interrupted.
"I had to pull a lot of strings to get that episode into this school, young man. Oh sure, you thought it would be funny to sabotage the tape. Oh sure, you thought it would be funny to tamper with television history. Just a harmless prank, right? A victimless crime, right?"
"Mr. Sheppard, are you saying I did this?"
"When you first came to this school, I thought you were a nice boy. I guess I was wrong. I'm very disappointed in you, young man."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Not only had someone tampered with this tape, they were blaming me for it! I gulped and tried to explain to him that I couldn't have been the one who messed up the tape, that I had been working on homework all last night and had no way of breaking into the school, but Principal Sheppard would have none of it.
"Bah! Why should I believe you? You're just a kid! A freshman, for that matter! Besides, I remember you. You were the one responsible for ruining the Brady Bunch episode!"
"...Principal Sheppard, that's what we're talking about right now. That's happening now."
"Aha! So you did mess with the tape! I knew it! Why don't we just call your parents right now and get them down here? Then we can all have a nice little chat about our favorite episode of the Brady Bunch. And of course, you know what mine is." He turned the television back on and there was Cartoon Chicken again, humping away at poor Mr. Live Action Camel's hind end for another good 80 seconds or so. I counted.
As I sulked at the ice cream parlor, my usual hangout after school, my sundae melted slowly as Sam studied me intently.
"Perhaps you have some alien twin that is trying to eliminate you so that he can take your place," he suggested. The idea amused me but I didn't laugh. I wanted to, but I didn't. I wanted to enjoy every minute of my misery, you know, really soak in the pity. I think pity is underrated. I like pity.
I continued to stare at my sundae-turned-milkshake as I sighed heavily. "I just don't see how my life could get any worse," I said, hoping that Sam wouldn't notice that I was milking him for pity. I waited a few seconds before looking up. Sam was now just as fascinated with my melting sundae as I was. Time to fire again. "I'm so useless. I can't even think of a way out of this."
"Now don't get so down on yourself," he snapped. The sympathy felt good. "We'll think of a way to get you out of this. But that means we'll have to solve this mystery ourselves. Now, when did the actual tampering take place?"
I thought back to my conversation with the principal. I couldn't remember if there were any clues there. "I have no idea."
"Well that's the first thing we need to know. We need to find out when the tape arrived at the school, who had it and when. Then we just need to tell Principal Sheppard where you were at the time the tape was tampered with and your name will be cleared!"
I looked up again. Sam was a genius. I swear he's gonna be a scientist or a president or something. "Sam, you're a genius. I swear you're gonna be a scientist or a president or something."
He sat back, smiling. "It's what I do, it's what I do."
I stood frozen outside the principal's door. He was expecting me at any moment to present my evidence that I was innocent. But I wasn't sure. I needed Sam to reassure me.
"What if he doesn't believe us?" I asked.
"He has to, we have evidence." I could always count on Sam for emotional support. Gosh, who could ask for a better friend?
I opened the door and stepped in. There was Principal Sheppard, with my parents and a few teachers, including Mr. Lawry. I was so nervous. But I had Sam to back me up. I turned around. He was gone. I could hear him sprinting down the hallway. "Well, I always knew he was fast," I thought.
And then, something changed. I stood up straight. I felt brave. I looked Principal Sheppard in the eye. "Principal Sheppard, mom, pop, Mr. Lawry, thank you for meeting with me today."
"You better be going somewhere with this, McCrary," Mr. Lawry snapped. He looked like he was ready to bite my head off. But I didn't care. I set the envelope on the table.
"I have solid evidence here that I did not alter the archival print of the Brady Bunch episode, Mr. Sheppard. Not only did I find the evidence to prove that I did not insert the chicken-camel scene, I also found out who did."
"Yes, why don't we watch that again first before you continue?" Principal Sheppard made for the VCR.
"Please, Mr. Sheppard. I'd rather just hear what my son has to say," said my dad. I made a note to thank him later. I didn't want to have to watch that tape for another second.
"Thank you, dad." Oh well, this counts. "Now, I first went about researching where the tape was at different times. The tape arrived at the school last Friday at 7:49 AM. It arrived on a truck and was delivered to the front office. At 8:20 AM, it was sitting on the counter at the front office when the secretary, Miss Kitchenson, picked it up and took it to the computer lab. At 8:20 AM, the tape had been locked in the computer lab closet and was not removed from the closet until Thursday of the next week and taken to this office, where it remains now."
Mr. Lawry was quick to interrupt. "So some little delinquent broke into the computer lab closet!"
"No. That is impossible. Mr. Dave never leaves the computer lab unlocked, and he's always in there. He doesn't go to the bathroom while at school, and eats lunch in his room. For the entirety of all school hours, he is in his room, staring at that closet. And when he is not in his room, his door is locked. There is no way anyone could have gotten in there. If there was a break-in, we would have heard about it."
"So then where in this timeline was the tape altered?" Principal Sheppard asked.
Everyone gasped and took a step back. You could feel the shock reverberate through the room.
"What?" everyone exclaimed simultaneously.
"I was frustrated when I couldn't find any holes in the timeline. So I started thinking outside of the box." Since Sam decided to abandon me, I might as well take credit for his work. "I started to think, 'what is the probability that the Brady Bunch writers would actually do an episode featuring a chicken fucking a camel?' Being an edgy and controversial show, I thought that the probability was pretty high. I then found this memo from Robert Reed to the producers of the show."
I opened the envelope and took out the memo. My mother picked it up and read it aloud.
"It says, 'I was not impressed with the most recent episode I found on my desk this morning. Oliver Goes To The Zoo is perhaps the worst script I have ever read in my entire career. The situation seems implausible; chickens rarely fuck camels in the ass, and I have yet to meet a chicken with a phallus larger than mine. I do not want to find myself typecast as 'the Brady dad', something I think this episode is trying to do and will certainly do if aired. Signed, Robert.'"
There was silence for a moment. About twelve seconds. I counted.
"You see, I didn't tamper with the tape, because no one did. There actually was an episode called Oliver Goes To The Zoo. It was filmed and finished but never aired because Robert Reed was afraid of being typecast. You can find all sorts of memos like this; Reed had a tendency to fight with the producers. But this means that I did not try to edit the tape in any way, because no one could make it any more awful than what it already is: a chicken fucking a camel."
Mr. Sheppard still seemed to be in shock. "Well then why would they even make such an episode?"
"They thought it would be a cure for Cousin Oliver Syndrome. You know, shock people into forgetting all about him."
"But the episode was called Oliver Goes To The Zoo!"
"The producers were idiots. These were the same people who came up with Cousin Oliver."
There was another moment in which no one said a thing. This one was shorter, I think it was only about nine seconds or so.
I rushed home like some kinda Olympiad. I jumped over Dog and Mom's rosebushes and landed in the freshly cut grass. The sun was out, the sky was blue, and I had my biology test in hand. 89% was written at the top in red ink. I used to hate the fact that all teachers used red ink. Now I almost wished that 89 was written in big, bold Sharpie. I had never been so proud of a biology test score in my life.
I threw open the door, dropped my bookbag, and raced into the kitchen where I found both my parents.
"Mom, dad!" I exclaimed as I caught my breath. "Guess what?"
"There's no way that's your biology test," my mother said, smiling. I could tell she was proud of me. Pop too.
"Yes way! I studied so hard for it and it paid off! I passed!" I was so excited. My parents were proud of me, I wasn't going to fail the 9th grade, my name had been cleared, and I was about to get that shiny red guitar.
"I'm so proud of you, son," my father said. Wow, was he glowing. I felt so good in that moment. I wanted to bottle that energy and savor it.
"Does this mean you're going to buy me a new guitar?" I asked, eagerly. I had been bugging them about this guitar forever. And now that they were finally proud of me, they were going to get it for me and everything was going to be better.
My father looked at my mother, smiling. Then he turned back to me, still glowing. "No."
I felt as if my insides had just shot down to my feet. "...wha...what?"
Still smiling, he shook his head. "No, son."
"How could...why...how..." I was literally at a loss for words. I didn't know what to say. I could barely form vowel sounds. I was just so hung up on this...this disappointment. There was no more happiness. There was no more faith in humanity. There was no God. There was just me, with no guitar.
From that day forward, I wasn't the same. I stopped going to school. I stopped sleeping, but I didn't get out of bed. I just sat there, barely eating what my mother brought me. I stopped smiling, stopped laughing, and stopped speaking. I lost faith in everything. Nothing was able to bring me joy. I was completely dead inside. But at least I knew that my name was cleared. And that's all that mattered to me anymore.