So, it's a little before ten a.m. and I'm just starting to get a good buzz going. Theoretically, I should be in Algebra II, but in reality I'm cruising over to my beautiful fat girlfriend Cassidy's house. She ditched school to get her hair cut and needs a ride because her parents confiscated her car keys. Which I guess is a little ironic considering that they're punishing her for ditching school with me last week.
Anyway, I have this sweet February morning stretching out in front of me, and I'm like, Who needs algebra? So what if I'm supposed to be trying to boost the old grades up before I graduate in May? I'm not one of these kids who's had their college plans set in stone since they were about five. I don't even know when the application deadlines are. Besides, it's not like my education is some kind of priority with my parents. They quit keeping track of my future when they divorced, and that was back in the Precambrian Era. The way I figure it, the community college will always take me. And who says I need college anyway? What's the point?
Beauty's all around me right here. It's not in a textbook. It's not in an equation. I mean, take the sunlight--warm but not too brash. It's not like winter at all. Neither was January or December for that matter. It's amazing--we couldn't have had more than one cold week all winter. Listen, global warming's no lie. Take last summer. You want to talk about getting a beating from the heat. Last summer was a hardcore pugilist. I mean, burn-you-down-to-the-roots-of-your-hair hot. It's like Cassidy says--global warming's not for lightweights.
But with this February sun, see, the light's absolutely pure and makes the colors of the sky and the tree limbs and the bricks on these suburban houses so clean that just looking at them is like inhaling purified air. The colors flow into your lungs, into your bloodstream. You are the colors.
I prefer drinking my whisky mixed, so I pull into a convenience store for a big 7UP, and there's this kid standing out front by the pay phone. A very real-looking kid, probably only about six years old--just wearing a hoodie and jeans, his hair sticking out every which way. Not one of these styling little kids you see in their brand-name outfits and their TV show haircuts, like they're some kind of miniature cock daddy. Of course, they wouldn't know what to do with a girl if she came in a box with the instructions on the lid like Operation or Monopoly, but they have the act down.
Right away, I take to this kid, so I say, "Hey, dude, aren't you supposed to be in school or something?" and he's like, "Can I borrow a dollar?"
I go, "What do you need with a dollar, little man?"
And he's, "I'm going to buy a candy bar for breakfast."
Now that gets my attention. A candy bar for breakfast? My heart goes out to this kid. I offer to buy him a breakfast burrito, and he's okay with that as long as he gets his candy bar too. When we come back out, I look around to size up what kind of traffic the kid's going to have to negotiate in his travels. We live just south of Oklahoma City--technically it's a whole different city, but with the urban sprawl you can't tell where one leaves off and the other begins--so we have a lot of traffic zipping around here.
"Look," I tell him as he drips egg down the front of himself. "This is a pretty busy intersection. How about I give you a ride to wherever you're going so some big rig doesn't barrel down and flatten you like a squirrel."
He looks me over, sizing me up just like a squirrel might actually do right before deciding to scamper off into his lair. But I'm a trustworthy-looking guy. I have no style either--just a pair of reasonably old jeans, beat-up sneakers, and a green long-sleeve T-shirt that says Ole! on the front. My brown hair's too short to need much combing, and I have a little gap between my two front teeth, which gives me a friendly, good-hearted look, or so I'm told. The point is I'm a long way from scary.
So the kid takes a chance and hops into the passenger side of my Mitsubishi Lancer. I've had it for about a year--it's silver with a black interior, not new or anything but pretty awesome in a basic kind of way.
"My name's Sutter Keely," I say. "What's yours?"
"Walter," he says around a mouthful of burrito.
Walter. That's good. I've never known a little kid named Walter. It seems like an old man's name, but I guess you have to start somewhere.
"Now, Walter," I say, "the first thing I want you to know is you shouldn't really take rides from strangers."
"I know," he says. "Mrs. Peckinpaugh taught us all about that at Stranger Danger."
"That's good," I say. "You should keep that in mind in the future."
And he goes, "Yeah, but how do you know who's a stranger?"
That cracks me up. How do you know who's a stranger? That's a kid for you. He can't comprehend that people might be dangerous just because you haven't met them yet. He's probably got all sorts of sinister ideas about what a stranger is--a black, slouchy hat and raincoat, a scar on the cheek, long fingernails, shark teeth. But think about it--when you're six years old, you haven't met all that many people. It would be pretty mind-_boggling to go around suspicious of ninety-nine percent of the populace.
I start to explain the stranger thing to him, but his attention span isn't all that long and he gets sidetracked watching me pour whisky into my big 7UP.
"What's that?" he asks.
I tell him it's Seagram's V.O., so then he wants to know why I'm pouring it in my drink.
I look at him and he has this authentic interest in his big, round eyes. He really wants to know. What am I going to do, lie to him?
Revue de presse
"[A] smart, superbly written novel."
Starred Review, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February 2009:
"A sobering look at the rationalizations of a teenage alcoholic."