Read “Teenage American Dream” Chapter 3

Note: The current state of Teenage American Dream is a work-in-progress. I’m posting Chapters 1-5 as a sample for things to come, but keep in mind that these are still in rough draft form and do not necessarily represent the final product. I will update this page with revised versions as they become relevant.

Teenage American Dream is currently in the drafting stage. It was previously scheduled for release on April 30, 2016, but due to other projects cutting into development time, this date has been changed to June 30, 2016. As of now, this, too, is tentative, as my life is a bit crazy at the moment.

Anyway, enjoy the preview:

Chapter 3

Eric’s math class was held in a portable on the edge of the high school’s perimeter. The front door faced a nearby convenience store where the 11 a.m. boozers preferred to hang out instead of at their jobs (if they even had one). An easily scalable fence and a rarely traveled side street stood between them. The boozers gawked at the lanky teenagers every time they ascended the steps into the portable. The tardy students were prone to receive the brunt of their nastiest insults.

“Hey, marshmallow,” said one of the boozers from a hundred feet away (a fifth of the legal limit they had to obey but never did), as Eric rounded the corner from the portable maze and scooted up the walk toward the stairs. “They teaching you sex ed or driver’s ed today? You can learn a lot from both, you hear me, marshmallow? I learned mine at the same time. Best damn lesson of my life! Look at me now! They teach you multitasking yet, marshmallow?”

Even though Eric couldn’t exactly ignore the catcalling boozers, he was pretty good at keeping his mouth shut. He had heard tales about a kid named Lester Nugget who had once dared to talk back to the loiterers of the Quick Pick convenience store before mysteriously disappearing that night. The boy was likely invented as a cautionary tale by administrators who simply didn’t want to deal with the red tape that the law liked to bring, so any fable designed to keep the boozers at bay was better than nothing, including the truth. But no one had been able to prove the story false. There was, according to the yearbook staff, once a boy by the name of Lester Nugget who transferred here his senior year, sassed the boozers of the Quick Pick parking lot, and was never seen nor heard from again. The story was often told with a companion fluttery fingers and spooky whistle. Whether the Legend of Nugget was true or fabricated, Eric didn’t want to engage these lazy alcoholics, for he simply had nothing to say back to them. He was just hoping he could’ve made it to class early enough to escape their targeting gaze. Maybe tomorrow.

“Mister Bachner,” said his math teacher, Mr. Devins, when Eric slipped into the classroom. He glanced at his digital wristwatch. “Late again. This pattern gonna have to start eating into your grade?”

Eric shook his head as he moved toward his desk, this time only halfway down the aisle.

“No, sir. I will be on time tomorrow, sir.”

“Considering the percentage you have right now, with the grading scale I offer the class, with the value I weigh on quizzes, exams, homework, extra credit, and lateness penalties, can you tell me what your overall grade would be, down to the exact decimal, if I were to factor your lateness today into your final grade?”

Eric set his books to the floor and took his desk. He faced forward, thought about the problem for eight seconds, then gave his answer.

“Ninety-eight point six,” he said.

Mr. Devins squinted as he smiled. He was a portly gentleman who was nicer than he looked, though still strict as a drill sergeant. He was the only teacher Eric had who treated him with adult-sized respect.

“Ah, so we have proof that you’re a normal, warm-blooded creature. Perhaps I should give you the penalty, if only to bring you back down to the level of the rest of us mortals.”

“That would be perfectly acceptable, sir, if that’s what you feel you must.”

Mr. Devins banged his cue stick against the side of his desk. He used it as both a pointer and an attention-getter.

“That, class, is how you show maturity in the face of blatant failure. Own up to your mistakes and you might just be thanked for it. Mister Bachner, are you going to be late again tomorrow?”

“No, sir.”

“Are you sure?”

“No, sir.”

He banged his cue stick against the desk again.

“Correct! A genius resides among us.”

Mr. Devins set the cue stick in the corner nearest his desk and started writing numbers and variables on the board. At the top of the equations he wrote and underlined CAVALIERI’S PRINCIPLE. Eric was familiar with this one. He had studied it on his own time during Christmas break when his Playstation 2 had finally broken. Cavalieri’s Principle was used for finding the volume of an object or three-dimensional shape that could be cut in pieces, yet each “chip,” as the study materials Eric was reading had referred to them, measured equally in area. It essentially multiplied the area of each phantom piece (no one would actually want to cut the object up, for the second half of the equation would never find its accurate footing if they had) with the height or length of the object. So, if a lead pipe, a cylinder of equal circumference at any given point along its length, but because no one is going to actually cut it into washers, could just be measured from the tip, had an area of three centimeters (determined by measuring the radius and multiplying pi by the radius squared), and a length of ten centimeters, or height of ten if the pipe is standing vertically, then, according to Cavalieri’s Principle, the lead pipe has a volume of thirty centimeters (volume equals base times height). It was pretty basic stuff for a calculus class, and Mr. Devins undoubtedly saved it for near the end to give his students’ brains a rest—another reason why he was officially Eric’s favorite teacher.

Of course, some students found a way to struggle with this stuff. Next to Eric, his best friend McKenzie, or Mack for short, was groaning under his breath.

“Just shoot me already,” he said.

Eric leaned back in his chair and folded his arms behind his head. Immediately, the kid behind him pushed him away. Eric rested his elbows on the desk and pitched into them instead.

“Devins is soft-balling it today,” Eric whispered. “I know you can keep up with this one.”

“Dude, I’m just hanging on to this class to fill a time requirement. I’ve already failed it.”

“We talked about this. You can pass the class if you ace the remaining quizzes and get at least a C on the exam. Come on, you actually care about graduation. Don’t you want the honors credit?”

“Don’t you?”

Eric straightened his back. For him, math was the only class where he wasn’t a lost cause.

“Let’s focus on getting you out of here.”

“Fine. You remember our deal?”

“Of course. Now hand it over.”

Mack reached into his bag and searched its contents blindly. The agreement was to avoid arousing suspicion, and keeping his eyes locked on the front of the classroom was the only way to keep their plans off the radar.

“Hurry up,” Eric whispered. “You’re taking too long. He’s gonna turn around any moment.”

Mr. Devins was still writing the sample equations on the board, but Eric could see that he was just about finished. The teacher had a habit of writing ten simple equations on the board or three complex ones for the classroom exercises. Cavalieri’s Principle was born out of simplicity (or so it appeared that way; Cavalieri himself probably didn’t think coming up with the formula was exactly simple—the fact that it looked so easy was likely the sign of a master), so it took only about fifteen seconds to write out one equation sufficient for the lesson, eight seconds for the equation’s length and another seven for the legible penmanship (or chalkmanship, rather), times ten for ten equations. Mr. Devins had already finished writing seven equations.

“Found it.”

Mack lifted his hand out of the bag. He was holding the copy of Neanderthal Ninjas he had promised Eric he would bring to school today. This was the reason Eric hadn’t tried to fake a sickness last night. This was the reason he had skipped his movie and endured a full night’s writing of an “overly complicated” if not “interesting” perspective on his viewpoint regarding the amount of wrongs it takes to make a right. Eric snatched it from Mack before the teacher could finish chalking on the board.

“Don’t forget our deal,” Mack said. “I’m counting on you.”

“As long as the game doesn’t suck, I promise to—”

“Uphold your end or give me my game back.”

Eric stuffed the disc in his bag. Then he zipped it up to where the threads were tangled over the tracks. The zipper always got snagged here.

“I promise. Sheesh.”

This last part, Eric may have said just a little too loudly. Mr. Devins, who was wrapping up the ninth equation, turned to face him.

“Promise what?” Mr. Devins asked.

Eric zipped up the rest of his bag with a jerk. Then he quickly sat upright and folded his hands on the desk.

“To walk Mack out of here. He’s afraid of the Quick Pick boozers.”

Mr. Devins wrinkled his nose as he turned back to the board.

“Eh, you should be. Lester Nugget wasn’t so lucky,” he said, as he started the tenth and final equation. “Good student, but not too bright.”

***

            The deal that Mack had arranged with Eric in exchange for time with Neanderthal Ninjas was not at all relevant to the Quick Pick boozers, but the real reason was one that neither Mr. Devins nor the rest of the class needed to know about. Unfortunately, the problem with making in-class deals with anyone, no matter how private or soft-spoken the conversation, was that someone was always within listening range, and whether it was their business or not, that person, if they were both smart and obnoxious, was likely to ask questions and run interference on the plan, especially if that person lived and breathed competition, even if he wasn’t good at most competitive things, at least those that required anything beyond academic skill. When Eric and Mack stepped out of the portable and jumped down to the sidewalk, the kid who sat behind Eric, Kippie French, grabbed them both by the shoulders and asked what they were really planning.

“None of your business,” Eric said.

He was trying to stay with the crowd, but Kippie was holding onto their shoulders with all of his strength, which wasn’t much, but his slippery, snakelike arms had somehow entangled across his and Mack’s chests. The crowd was quickly peeling away, and they had hardly cleared the steps outside the portable.

“It’s big enough to warrant a game trade,” Kippie said. “I saw it with my own eyes. What are you planning?”

Eric stopped fighting the resistance. Stood firmly in place and spun to face the nuisance dragging him and Mack down.

“It’s like we told the teacher,” Eric said. “And it’s also none of your business.”

Kippie gave a tight-lipped smile as he shook his head in denial.

“I think you’re hiding something.”

Eric cupped his hands over his bag straps and pulled it tighter to his back. Then he shuffled his feet in place. The classroom crowd was nearly gone, and he was getting hungry, and he hated talking to Kippie French. The worst thing about calculus class, in his opinion, was that he had to sit in front of him.

“What do you want?” Eric asked.

“Yeah, seriously, man,” Mack said. “You’re prying into things that don’t need your attention.”

“I want the game,” Kippie said. “Give me the game, or I tell Mister Devins what you’re really planning.”

Eric chuckled. He tried to keep it low-key, but he sometimes forgot what counted as a low-key expression. Kippie didn’t seem to like his sudden burst of good humor.

“We already told you. Mack gives me the game, I walk him past the Quick Pick.”

“That’s a bunch of malarkey. You walk him all the way to the cafeteria every Tuesday and Thursday. Try to one-over something else on me.”

“It’s none of your business how he’s helping me,” Mack said. “And you can’t borrow my game. I’m not fond of even letting Eric keep it for a week, and he’s my best friend.”

Kippie offered an evil grin.

“Who said I wanted to borrow your game, McKenzie? Listen to my words. I want to have it. Or I tell Mister Devins you plan to spray paint his car.”

Both Eric and Mack rolled their heads to the side in their disbelief.

“We are not—we are not vandalizing anything,” Eric said. “What’s wrong with you, man?”

Kippie slipped through the crack between them and stood before Eric with his feet steadfast to the sidewalk and his palm outstretched.

“The game,” he said. “Or I squeal.”

“Hey, Marshmallows,” said a boozer across the street, “I’ve got something for those hands of yours!”

Eric clenched his jaw as he poked Kippie in the chest.

“You’re an ass,” he said.

Kippie’s face turned red at this remark. His tense spine softened a little. His jaw fell open as if someone had just kicked him between the legs.

“How, how dare you talk to me that—”

Eric turned to Mack before Kippie could finish his retort.

“Screw this kid and his threats,” he said to him. “The know-it-all doesn’t need to know a thing.”

The stuff that keeps me awake at night.

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