Mickey Yarblatz helped himself to a handful of cinnamon dot candy from the crystal dish on Vice-Principal Diane’s desk.
While Vice-Principal Diane pulled up Mickey’s conduct record on her computer (the name “Yarblatz” stood alone, and yet it was so familiar), Mickey chewed the candy with a face that passed through three distinct stages: glee, disgust, and then fury. He stuck out his tongue and pulled the gob of red candy from his mouth it as if it were a cookie on a tray. He squinted at it, trying to see why it was so foul, and then smashed the glistening chunk down on the Vice-Principal’s desk.
Vice-Principal Diane stopped typing.
“I can’t believe you just did that,” said Vice-Principal Diane. She put her hands in her lap and stared at the young man who had been sent to her by his home room teacher.
“I do a lot of things!” said Mickey. “Better get used to it!”
Mickey Yarblatz looked like a typical junior high school kid, although he was a bit on the ugly side. He had a face the seemed to glow with acne, as if slapped, and his green eyes were set so far back in his face that you could barely see them, even though they were clear and bright. His face looked like fingers in front of a flashlight beam, the light peeking through the knuckles, the flashlight jiggling to show Mickey blink and collect his thoughts.
Vice-Principal Diane pointed to the wad of candy.
“That certainly doesn’t show a lot of respect,” said Vice-Principal Diane. “In fact, it looks like you are headed for some in-school suspension if you aren’t careful.”
“A’spect?” said Mickey. “What da pig fuck do I care about a’spect? Or suspension, detention, retention, dimension? You ain’t gonna do nuts to me. Hold on, I get it. You are the new chick. I guess you don’t know the score yet, Diane. And you need some new candy.”
Vice-Principal Diane pulled two pieces of tissue paper from a dispenser near her telephone. She handed them to Mickey.
“Please, throw that candy away if you are done with it.”
“You do it,” said Mickey. “It’s your candy. It tastes like the backside of a vending machine. How old is that candy? Is it your mamma’s candy, that you inherited?”
“I got it from the…hold on, that’s not the point. The point is that you aren’t allowed to talk to me like this.”
“Like…you know what!”
Vice-Principal Diane plucked the chewed gunk from her oak desk, and tossed it in the trash can. She returned to her computer, and that was when she saw the very strange thing.
Mickey Yarblatz had a perfectly clean conduct record.
Oh, there were blips and blemishes. And there was a list of infractions as long as your arm -- everything from blanket disrespect to damn-near homicide. But he had been exonerated without punishment on each and every count. Even though this was her first year at Sage Brush Junior High, Vice-Principal Diane had been through the conduct records of hundreds of students, and she had never seen anything like it.
There was a knock at the door, and then the door opened. It was fifteen-year-old Douglas Parch.
“Unnlo, Missus Dinyane,” said
Douglas Parch suffered from severe mental retardation as a result of tonic-clonic seizures that had plagued him since he was an infant. His hands gripped and crunched at his side, and his eyes drifted around the room – unfocused and unhinged. A crust of drool matted the patches of hair that grew on the jaw of his severe underbite, and his furrowed brow showed Vice-Principal Diane that he was in a confused mood, and not in a playful one. There would be no Super-Secret Backrub today. Vice-Principal Diane looked forward to
“What is the matter,
“Missus Dinyane, Perncipal Munchum unts to seen you,” said
“Whoah, man, how come they don’t put those guys in a special hospital?” said Mickey.
“Look at this guy!” said Mickey, standing up in his chair and looking at
“I doan LIKE you,” said
Vice-Principal Diane grabbed
“Wans he being hurnting to you, Missus Dinyane?” asked
“No, Douglas,” said Vice-Principal Diane. “I’m fine. He wasn’t being hurting to me.”
“Onnkay, Missus Dinyane,” said
“Can I hamv a hug, Missus Dinyane?” he asked. But she didn’t hear him, and the door closed behind her.
“You are in there with the Yarblatz boy,” said Principal Meachum, a severe woman in her fifties with close-cropped hair and a low, bedroom voice that revealed her secret vice. Principal Meachum was a pack-a-day smoker, and she had no intention to quit. She never smoked in front of students, but she had actually tinted the windows of her sedan so she could go outside and smoke in peace six or seven times during the school day. Some teachers said that during the spring she snuck cigarettes out of her office window, blowing the smoke through a wrapping paper tube stuffed with fabric softener sheets to hide the smell, as if she were in college.
“That kid has a perfectly clean conduct record,” said Vice-Principal Diane, gritting her teeth in a stage whisper. “There’s no way that’s possible.”
“I guess nobody has filled you in,” said Principal Meachum. “It’s like this. There is a certain kind of person who feels that it is important for their children to be educated publicly, even though they can easily afford the best schools that money can buy. Their children mingle with the commoners to learn their ways. So they won’t be insulated by privilege.”
“Okay,” said Vice-Principal Diane.
“Do you know who Michael Yarblatz’ mother is?” said Principal Meachum.
“I thought the name sounded familiar,” said Vice-Principal Diane.
“Michael Yarblatz mother is Anita Yarblatz, former Secretary of Agriculture to the President, current head of the Pepsodent Corporation.”
“The toothpaste company?”
“The toothpaste company,” said Principal Meachum. “That is why our new gym is called the Pepsodent Gym, and why all of our students have brand new computers. You’ll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent. The price of Anita’s generosity is Michael Yarblatz – her only son.”
“So that’s the score,” said Vice-Principal Diane.
“That’s the score,” said Principal Meachum. “There’s nothing we can do. The kid is going to get away with murder, the other kids are going to think he’s a hero because of it, and we can only grit our pearly-white teeth and wait for him to graduate to high school, when he will then be somebody else’s problem.”
“I thought his mother wanted him to get an education,” said Vice-Principal Diane.
“Not really,” said Principal Meachum.
“Then what exactly is my role as an educator here?” asked Vice-Principal Diane, smiling and feeling as if she were a million years old.
“Diane, that little kid is a serious little asshole. But he knows the limits. He won’t kill anyone. He won’t deal drugs, or rape anybody. Everything else we just have to take. Can you handle that?”
Vice-Principal Diane lowered her eyes. This was not right.
“I need to know if you can handle this, Diane.”
“I can handle it,” said Vice-Principal Diane.
Back in her office, Mickey was picking at his face with one hand and thumbing through Vice-Principal Diane’s Rolodex with the other. Vice-Principal Diane sat down in her chair and stared at him.
“So,” said Mickey. “Is everything unnah’ control?”
“Everything is under control,” said Vice-Principal Diane.
“You got photos on your desk of you and some guy,” said Mickey. “But you don’t have a wedding ring. Did he leave you? Is that it?”
“Get out of here,” said Vice-Principal Diane.
“It’s weird to keep pictures around of some dude what left ya. What do ya use them photos for?”
Vice-Principal Diane put her head in her hands.
“You should let him go,” said Mickey. “Got to move on.”
“GET OUT OF HERE,” said Vice-Principal Diane.
“Wen gont to help out Missus Dinyane,” said
“Utt-ttt-ttts der matter?” said William Allen.
“Missus Dinyane got hurnting, and she is sad,” said
“Ohhhh-nnnnno,” said William Allen. William Allen’s hands couldn’t uncurl like
“Wen gont to do something,” said
“Yunh-huh,” said William Allen.
When the bell rang, the two boys moved into the lunch room like they did every day. And just like every day, the people closest to the door looked up and stopped eating before they remembered who it was, and resumed their meal and conversation with shudders and nudges.
“Lunnn-nnch,” said William Allen.
“Nont yet,” said
“I see him!” said
His eyes grew wide and he began staggering toward the cafeteria’s stage. Right in front of the stage, underneath a huge banner advertising Pepsodent Toothpaste, was a table where only the coolest cats were allowed to sit – the school’s movers, shakers, athletes, intellectuals, and clowns. Mickey sat right in the middle, like a lord at banquet.
The long table was a scene of epic hilarity, like it was every day. Giggling boys were trying to put the feel on giggling girls, sandwiches were being traded for tater tots, and new curses were being developed with such staggering speed and alacrity that a linguist who studied chimps might be forced to reconsider his or her views on language acquisition.
“Wuzzzz-zzz do?” asked William Allen.
“Junst wanch,” said
Across from Mickey Yarblatz sat the quarterback, free safety, and fullback of the football team, and a student well known for her perfect grades, who was polishing her glasses with her shirtsleeve and relating an anecdote about an actress on television who had done something provocative the night before.
The three athletes stood up, sensing trouble. But they sat back down when they saw who it was.
“I din’t get to mank Secret Water winf Missus Dinyane tonday,” said
No one paid him any attention. So
“Uck, you followed me,” said Mickey. “He’s the one I was telling you about, gals.”
The twin girls giggled.
“Minckey Yanblunnz, I DOAN LIKE YOU,” said
William Allen wheeled up directly behind Mickey and sat there, trying to turn his head straight so he could see what was going on. The exertion was almost too much for him, and his shrunken arms and legs quivered as he squirmed and twisted in his wheelchair.
“You guys need to go back to your classroom,” said Mickey. “You aren’t supposed ta just be walking around like normal.”
He looked around for an adult, a lunch room monitor, but they were all the way across the room, and weren’t paying any attention. The lunch room monitors were all dressed up like circus clowns to celebrate “Popcorn Friday,” and they were gathered around a miniature calliope to vend their treat.
William Allen finally managed to twist around in his chair so that one of his underdeveloped legs was free to move. He began to kick Mickey’s seat, as hard as he could.
“Stop that!” said Mickey. “Don’t kick my chair.”
“I doan LIKE you, Minckey Yannlunnz,” said
Mickey stood up and pushed
“I said stop! Tell your retard friend to stop kicking my chair!”
“I doan like you,” said
“The retard is trying to fight me!” shouted Mickey. “Look at this everybody!”
Many people in the cafeteria stood up to watch and laugh.
“Hey, that hurt!” said Mickey. “I said stop!”
Something snapped in Mickey. His hairline flushed deep crimson, and he flew at
“Mickey!” gasped one of the twins.
“Stop it!” gasped the other girl.
“What are you DOING?” shouted the football team free safety.
But Mickey couldn’t hear them. The moans coming from
The cafeteria erupted in boos as the punches kept coming.
Mickey was fast and strong. He only backed away when
Terrified, Mickey stood up and looked at his friends. They stared back at him – shocked, shaking their heads, and muttering to one another. One of the twin girls had even started to cry, and fell down beside
“He was attacking me!” said Mickey. “You all saw him!”