So, as usual, not sure where it's going... but here's Chapter 1!
 
I hate reading.

No I don’t think you understand. I effin HATE reading. If there was something better than all caps that could illustrate my hatred, I’d use it. Wait! That’s what bold and underline are for. So here: I HATE reading.

The only thing worse than reading is...drumroll...writing.

Once there was an evil witch who invited these two strange kids, Hansel and Gretel, into her candy house and she promised them all sorts of candy and they came in because they're stupid. I mean, she’s a witch, people. Gnarly mole on her nose, hunched back, creepy laugh; smells like milk farts. Well she stuffs the two kids into an oven. She cooks them.

That’s the real story. They don’t let us innocent little angels in America read that version, though; we get the bread crumb version where the kids escape. How quaint. But trust me, in the original, she bakes ‘em up quick as croissants.

Do you know what else is in the original? The witch’s origin story; that’s right; why she became a witch in the first place: Her English teacher made her write too many essays.

It’s true.

That is why I thank you, Ms. Pendleton, for creating a whole new generation of creepy, obedient slave children who will grow up to be creepy old witches who bake and eat children.


“Well,” says Ms. Pendleton. “I like the quick as croissants metaphor.”

“Simile,” says Nick.

“Right,” she says. “See, you learned something!”

She’s so excited. Nick thinks she might be missing the point of his paper.

“That said,” says Ms. Pendleton. “I think you might be missing the point of the essay.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, Nick. The essay question was to write about the best story you ever read.”

“Hansel and Gretel,” says Nick. “It’s in there.”

“And what’s an effin?” she says, studying the word, trying to see if she’s misreading it.

“It’s a word I made up,” Nick says. It’s kind of a lie. “It’s like when you mean ‘really’—but more than really—like, super really. Like this: if you’re bungee jumping, you say ‘this is exciting.’ But if you’re bungee jumping over shark-infested waters, you say ‘this is really exciting!’ But if you’re bungee jumping over shark-infested waters in pterodactyl-infested airspace with a serial killer holding your line, you’re like, ‘Wow, this is really effin exciting!’”

Ms. Pendleton presses her lips together. Teachers have a habit of doing that to Nick Brown.

“I see,” she finally says. She crosses out effin. “You can’t use that word in school.”

He already knew that.

Ms. Pendlton looks at him for a long time. He refuses to smile. He’s really good at not smiling. Like, effin good.

Ms. Pendleton is new. And genuinely shocked. Nick supposes nobody warned her about the Brown family. Nick comes from a long line of rule breakers.

The rest of the class is tapping pencils away on their loose leaf papers, silently, finishing up their essay assignments. Nick was the first one done.

“It’s actually a very creative approach to the assignment, Nick.”

He nods. He already knew that too.

Impatient, he watches the second hand of the clock on the wall while Ms. Pendleton keeps talking. The little red needle ticks in one spot over and over, like it’s nervous. It wants to commit, it really does, but it just can’t bring itself to take that leap from 48 to 49. Nick’s dad says he has the same problem.

It’s his dad’s birthday tomorrow, and Nick smiles to himself, noticing how funny it is that the clock and his dad are stuck in the same place. Or want to be.

Weird, though, the minute and hour hands still work. It’s either 1:40 or 2:10. He can never remember, didn’t pay close enough attention when they did that lesson in 3rd grade. Ah, 3rd grade. His elementary school had the best playground the world’s ever seen. All wooden, a long, metal slide that was three whole kindergartners wide. Real craftsmanship, it was. Nick got his first boner on that playgr—

“Nick!” says Ms. Pendleton. “Were you listening to me?”

“You said my imagery of the witch was very impressive, but I needed an ‘and’ before ‘smells like milk farts.’” Nick grins. He made his teacher say milk farts.

“Oh,” she says, sitting back in her seat. “So, like I was saying, when you list items like that...” her voice trails off in Nick’s head, but he nods to keep her interested.

Nick Brown has this thing that doctors call Attention Deficit Disorder. In a nutshell, it means he’s very smart, plus more creative than most people. But not in a jerky, know-it-all kind of way. Any smart nerd can be a know-it-all, but a kid with ADD has what Nick calls an ADDude. It’s like attitude, but better. That’s how he explains it in his daily vlog.

Here’s an example of ADDude: When he was a kid, early in the morning, he would sneak out to the field behind his house and roll around in the hay. The thing about hay is Nick is so crazy allergic to it that someone should catalog it in a medical journal. Within about three seconds, his eyes would get all puffy and his skin, with little red dots all over, you’d think he had smallpox. Snot would run out of his nose like a scoop of ice cream melted up there, and he’d run home, crawl back in bed until his mom came to wake him up for school. His mom was busy worrying about when the next time Jesus will be coming, so she still has no idea how allergic he is to hay.

That’s how Nick got out of going to school.

The special things about Nick though, what gives him ADDude, is that he can still follow along with what’s happening around him. He can still—

“Nick?” says Ms. Pendleton. “What did I just say?”

Nick had been watching Collette Campbell. He doesn’t stop watching Collette Campbell while he tells Ms. Pendleton that what she said was, “Alliteration is a great way to make your writing memorable.”

“Oh,” she says.

“You’re probably referring to ‘quick as croissants’ again?”

“Um, yes,” says Ms. Pendleton.

Nick figures this is the part where his teacher says something like, BUT, you know you have misspellings all over the place and your thoughts are jumbled and disorganized and why do you use so many semicolons and everything -- this paper is outside of the neat little box college professors told me student writing had to fit into so here’s your barely passing C minus, Mr. Brown. You should work on applying yourself. You don’t want to fail another grade, do you?

She makes another mark at the top with a red pen and turns the paper around so he can see it. The whole thing is marked up—all his misspellings, his incorrect commas and semicolons. She’s got a couple circles and arrows suggesting he rearrange some things. The usual.

But then, at the top, circled in the same red pen: A-

It’s the first one he’s ever gotten in English.

At first he thinks she’s joking, so he laughs. “How’d you pass college?” he asks.

“If there’s one thing I learned in college, it’s that plenty of horrible writers use perfect grammar.”

Nick thumbs at the frayed edges of the paper where he tore it out of his spiral notebook. He looks back over at Collette, then out the window at the people protesting God. Then back at Collette, who thinks no one sees here sneak a Tootsie roll into her mouth.

“There’s a lot more to storytelling than knowing how to spell,” says Ms. Pendleton.

Now Nick understands. She’s trying to win him over. Week two of school, and she has heard about him. She knows all about Nick Brown, and she’s trying to create an ally out of him.

Nice try, he thinks.

“Ms. Pendleton,” he says. “Is it true that girls like a guy who can make them laugh?”

She cocks her head, then looks in the same direction as Nick, at Collette. “Sure,” she says. “Girls like to laugh as much as anyone.”

“I made up this joke yesterday,” says Nick. “Do you want to hear it?”

“Yes.”

“What’s green and fuzzy and if it falls out of a tree it will kill you?”

She laughs. “I don’t know. What?”

“A pool table.”

Ms. Pendleton snorts through her nose, then covers her nose with her hand, because girls are embarrassed about their bodies or whatever. “I love it!” she says.

Nick makes a mental note to add the joke to his standup routine. Last year, at the regional talent show, that creeper Stanley Hart got the “Funniest Act” for Thacher School District. He was only a ninth grader then, like Nick is now, but Stanley Hart moved to Saratoga High last year. His routine wasn’t even that funny, and Nick would have won if that rascal Mr. Pitts hadn’t caught him cheating on a spelling test.

Well, it wasn’t “cheating” so much as it was “erasing Collette Campbell’s name from her test and writing in his own.” Probably, by definition, it was “stealing.” Nick figures he’s lucky they only hit him with a cheating charge.

They banned him from the talent show, but that wasn’t even the worst part; Collette still hasn’t forgiven him.

He’s ready to put it behind him. Last year’s funniest kid moved, and this year he's going to “keep his nose clean,” as his wrestling coach likes to put it. A few months of prepping and testing his jokes, and Nick Brown is going to make his Class Clown title official. As that movie about snowflakes liked to put it: the past is in the past. If only he could make Collette see that.


After English is Religious Studies. New experimental curriculum, just started this year. If you live in Thacher, work around Thacher, or have a TV or an internet connection and don’t spend your days with your head buried underneath tree roots, you’ve heard about it. All summer, the local news was hot as salsa in Thailand with it.

With the opening of this school year came the deployment of the “Bring God Back” law. Many people, Nick included, call it the Act of God.

Someone somewhere decided God should come back into our classrooms. Okay, so it wasn’t “somebody somewhere” it was the mayor of Thacher and several prominent and powerful New York politicians. It was the pressure on schools in the area to improve academic performance and discipline. It was people who were fed up with kids being kids. Unruly, menacing, ADDude kids.

It’s obvious what you’re thinking. New York? Like, the second-most liberal state next to that hippie-infested California?

If this is what you’re thinking, then you might consider looking at a voting map by county. New York is one hella red state. The City pulls the whole thing to the blue, but a lot of Upstaters are red as a baboon’s ass.

So... the Thacher County School Board got together in front of the NYS Department of Education and proposed a bill to — among other things — teach the ten commandments starting in the first grade, have a bible in every classroom, and legalize corporal punishment.

The dialogue went something like this:

School Board: “Our nation’s youth is falling apart, all Facebooking and whatnot everywhere – plus we had that school shooting, like, ten years ago – and we want to lead the fight in bringing God back into the classroom.”

Dept of Ed: “What’s your plan?”

School Board: “Among other things, teach the ten commandments starting in the first grade, have a bible in every classroom, and legalize corporal punishment.”

Dept of Ed: {long as hell silence} “You’re out of your goddam minds.”

School Board: “See, this is what we’re talking about!”

Dept of Ed: “Unless you have something realistic and worth-our-time to propose, your time here is up.”

School Board: “Fine. Then you know what, we’ll just cram a condensed version of all these propositions onto the back end of a routine budget bill we know you’re going to pass anyway, and we’ll do it at the eleventh hour so no assemblyman will have time to review it. Then it’ll be law.”

Except that last part, they didn’t say it out loud. They just went ahead and did it.

Lo and behold, God is back in the classroom at Thacher School District, the newspapers have so many letters to the editor they run out of pulp to print them on, and the national news goes wild as a basket of rats. One atheist in Pennsylvania went on a hunger strike and died the day school started. Nick thinks that was probably a waste of time.

And now, when Nick Brown walks into his first year of high school — which really should be his third year of high school if only he wasn’t such a dumass – there’s news vans and hot-reporter chicks and bright white lights and people with picket signs chanting like it's a song they're so clever for writing: “We won’t give up the fight / until we see our first amendment rights!" And there’s the ten commandments hanging in the lobby.

And then, fifth period after English with Ms. Pendleton, it’s Religious Studies with Dr. Shapiro. He gets really mad if anyone calls him “mister.”

Really, Nick doesn’t care about the hoopla. None of the students do. Adults are such babies. They’re all losing their effin minds, and for every one outside with a picket sign, there’s four thousand bitching all over Facebook.

The division goes like this a) the fragile little minds will be irreversibly messed up from learning about God, or b) they’ll be irreversibly redeemed from learning about God. There’s no in between.

They also word all this hateful stuff on Facebook in the name of Christ in a way that makes it sound like their talking to the students – “Stay strong ur day of judgment will come like all ours and youll be spared hell and be thankful we saved you from this evil world" -- but if any of them were actually paying attention to their kids, they’d be having all these enlightening conversations on Instagram. Who the hell is still on Facebook?

Nick’s just worried about popping pimples, keeping his grades high enough so he doesn’t get kicked off the wrestling team, and maybe, someday, getting laid or something. At least the first two are realistic goals.

On the way to Religious Studies, Nick passes an old mural that the class of 2003 painted. It has a painting of the twin towers in Manhattan, about three hours south of here, with the words “We Will Never Forget” across the top and “Class of 2003” at the bottom. On the right side, written over top of some nondescript buildings that make up the rest of the New York skyline, a quote from Ghandi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Beneath the quote, in red-permanent-marker block letters, fresh as yesterday, someone wrote “News flash: Ghandi’s in hell.”

It’s ironic at least. On the way to Religious Studies.

Class gets started and there’s Collette Campbell. Always chewing gum and being so damn pretty.

Dr. Shapiro walks in, drops his briefcase next to his table, then stops to savor the moment or something. He breathes deep through his nose, eyes shut. Lets it out.

“Well then, it’s a beautiful day to worship God, isn’t it?”

Bailey Harpo says amen. Nick thinks that both her first and last names are dog names.

Dr. Shapiro squeaks open a dry erase marker and turns to the whiteboard. He draws an equation: “x + 5 = 25.”

“Nope,” he says. “You didn’t actually stumble into the wrong class today.” He laughs way too hard for that lame joke. “Who can tell me what this is?”

Bailey’s hand tries to smack the ceiling.

“Mhhm,” Dr. Shapiro tells her.

“An algebraic equation.”

“Well, correct,” Dr. Shapiro says well all drawn out, like waall. “What is x?” he asks.

“20,” someone says.

“Waall, you see...”

Dr. Shapiro taps the marker against the palm of his hand. The sound is meat hitting the counter. His smile says the person is wrong, and that the Doc is happy for some reason that the person is wrong. Nick thinks 20 is probably the right answer.

Nick wonders what it’s like to be addicted to something. To be a “holic” to something. Like a mathaholic. There’s the obvious things – alcohol, work, methamphetamine. But Nick wonders if anyone out there is addicted to something weird, like getting your hair done.

Whole marriages in shambles because the wife can’t stop getting $80 dye jobs. Every other day, it seems, she’s home with a new do. A closet full of weaves and no room for new jackets for the kids this winter. The husband serves her divorce papers he had to take loan out to pay for. Nick wonders if the reason he'd state for divorce is that she's a folicaholic.

“How about you, Nick?” Dr. Shapiro says.

“Folicaholic,” says Nick.

“What?”

“What?”

“What does x mean to you, Nick?”

This year Nick is trying something new. Was a time when he didn’t know things and he simply shrugged, or he muttered I dunno so Teach would move on and leave him alone. But this year he’s not going to actually try to answer. He's not going to increase his effort. Let's be realistic, here. He’s just going to work on the delivery.

He stares at the board, rubs the adolescent fuzz on his chin, and then says, too slowly, “I...don’t...know?” And he says it kind of like a question, kind of like he’s contemplating the meaning of life.

“Right you are!” says Dr. Shapiro.

Holy shasta, it worked.

“X,” says Dr. Shapiro, drawing a giant circle around it in case anyone here skipped first grade. “Is the variable we don’t know. Well, God is like that.  Except the equation to know God would look something like this...”

Dr. Shapiro writes x + 5x (3502-34)x {fx (2x-6)} SUM(95–x) = 34x3+xy4 ≤ {tan450 + ∑(206+460) cos(2x+y)}

“Solve for x,” says the Doc.

Nick says, “Seven-and-a-half.”

“Well, you see,” says the Doc. “I’m being facetious. The real equation wouldn’t fit on this dry erase board. It wouldn’t fit on the side of this school. It wouldn’t fit written on the dark side of the moon. Because God is unknowable.”

Archer MacDonald, fellow wrestler, is sitting next to Nick. He puts a fist to the side of his head, makes an exploding sound, and opens his hand to the air. It’s brain matter flying all over the place. Then he does it again on the other side. Double brain explosion.

“Everyone open your Bibles to Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians,” says Dr. Shapiro.

Imagine someone addicted to wasting food. They couldn’t help themselves. At the end of every meal, no matter how hungry they were, into the garbage with a forkful of porkchop. The kind of person who lets leftovers rot and mold in the fridge, not because they forgot about the cold, now milky soup behind the grape juice, but because they can’t bring themselves to finish it. Resourcefulness is a weakness.

Discardaholic.

Or the opposite. A person who can’t stand fresh food. You make a full rack of ribs with four cheese macaroni and cheese with homemade cornbread, then eat old soup for dinner, sticking the whole BBQ masterpiece in the fridge, covered by half-stuck Saran wrap. Five days later, the barbeque sauce and cheese are sticky and coagulated and tasting a little like the inside of your fridge. If you nuke it too far, the meat gets dry, so the best way to eat it is lukewarm and still a bit cold in the middle – a weird comfort for a leftoveraholic.

Nick figures we’re all addicted to something. Dr. Shapiro, he’s a Godaholic. So is his mom. Not all addictions are that bad, really.

So Dr. Shapiro will think he’s paying attention, Nick scribbles in his notebook:

X + addiction = religion

X – G = odd

X + 10 = polytheism

  And tries to ignore the chanting of the protesters out the window.