"So how was school
today?" Jackson Robert asked as he surveyed the dinner table: dry pot roast smothered
with lumpy gravy, runny macaroni and cheese, string beans so overboiled there was no
hint of green left, and biscuits that were gummierthough admittedly
brownerthan when they'd come out of the refrigerated can. It was hard to
imagine someone who enjoyed cooking as much as Erta could turn out such consistently
"We didnt have school
today," Jet said, closely examining the food he put on his plate to see if he
recognized it. "Its Sunday."
"I now that," Jackson
Robert lied. "I meant, how was Sunday school?"
"We dont go to Sunday
school," Job replied, looking at his father as if hed just come down from Mars.
It was true; the boys had never
gone to Sunday school. Being the children of a fallen Jew and a woman who changed
religions like most people changed underwear, Jet and Job spent their Sundays without
having to think about dressing up, going to church or being repeatedly shushed during
"And what did you
do this afternoon, my dear?" Jackson Robert asked his wife.
"A little of this and a
little of that," she said, certain that neither he nor the boys were even remotely
interested in what the Quite Reverend John Joseph Matthew Paul III had said during the
five hours she watched him on television that day.
It wasnt so much that they
werent interested, as it was they were afraid to raise the subject. Like Ertas
tenth and thirteenth religions, this sect made a great show of speaking in tongues.
All afternoon Jackson Robert and the boys heard Erta in the living roomwatching,
listening, and trying to speak in tongues along with the Quite Reverend.
When she had first tried this she
discovered she was always saying the word about a half second late and, as if that
wasnt bad enough, it didn't sound even remotely like the one she was trying
to imitate. It was much like when she tried to sing along with a song whose lyrics
she didn't know. But since Erta's evangelical TV show wasn't Closed Captioned for the
Religiously Impaired, and the local librarian hadn't even heard of a Glossolalia-English
dictionary, Erta was forced to find her own way to learn the language.
She bought a small hand-held tape
recorder and taped the spoken-in-tongues segment of the show. Then she spent the rest of
the day phonetically memorizing the sing-songy babble. The next day, as soon as the Quite
Reverend reached the point in the show where he lapsed into tongues, Erta would
proudly recite her lines along with him. But each day the preacher seemed to speak in
a new and different tongue. So each day Erta would tape the show and memorize the new
speech. And the next day it would again be completely different.
She just didn't get it.
* * * * * *
No one at the dinner table had to
ask Jackson Robert how he spent his Sunday, for after what he had gone through the day
before at the hands of his son there was nothing he could do except whip his life
back into order by straightening his closet, cleaning out the already spotless attic and
shining everyones shoes. His twice.
"Have you boys done your
homework for the weekend?" he asked.
"Yup," Job said,
macaroni and cheese spluttering out of his mouth.
"I've gotta go to the
library tonight," Jet said.
"What for?" his mother
"To look some stuff up for
"No you don't,"
"Yes I do."
"No you don't."
"How do you know?"
"'Cause I know."
"You don't know
anything," Jet said. "You don't even know what the inside of a library
"Sure I do," Job said,
"it's an old building full of old books, old ladies, and young dorks like
"Okay, you two,"
Jackson Robert interrupted, "that'll be enough." He glared at both the
boys, who turned and made faces at each other. "Who are you going to the library
"He didn't say what,"
Job scolded, "he said who. Are you deaf?"
"No, I'm Jet," he said,
then turning back to his father. "I'm going with Rubber Boots. He's a kid in my
Rubber Boots was indeed in Jet's
English class, though the boy who sat two rows away was so quiet it would have been
easy to overlook him entirely. And yes, his legal name was Rubber Boots. His parents,
Duncan and Mary Bruce, agreed to name him after Robert I, the 14th century king of
Scotland. Instead of telling that to the obstetrics nurse at the hospital where his
son was born, Duncan, ever the scotch-filled practical joker, said the boys name was
Rubber Boots. While it was a cute nickname for the baby, it wasnt until several
years later that his parents looked at the birth certificate and realized what had
happened, for having heard much stranger requests than this one, the nurse had obediently
filled out the birth certificate exactly as Duncan requested. At that point it wasnt
Everyone called Rubber Boots by
his full name except his mother, who called him Robert, and his teacher, Miss
Hellstrom, who called him Mr. Boots. By high school he would be called Rubber, which
embarrassed him no end, but by college hed manage to make the switch to R.B.
* * * * * *
Rubber Boots looked at Jet
admiringly as they left the library; his friend was everything Rubber Boots wished he
could be. Or so he thought. Whereas Jet said whatever came to mind, the lone
trait which separates philosophers from the masses, Rubber Boots kept his
few opinions to himself. He admired Jet much the way a 16 year-old idolized a rock
star; if he could get a poster of him to hang on his wall he would. Until this class
assignment he had always admired Jet from afar, but thanks to Miss Hellstroms
picking names out of her aluminum foil covered shoe box, he found himself paired up with
"That wasn't bad," Jet
said as they walked home in the dark. Since Rubber Boots told his mom Jet's mother
would be picking them up, and Jet told his mother they would take the bus, they got
to do exactly what they really wanted to do: walk and explore.
"Yeah, but we still have to
write the stupid thing," Rubber Boots said.
"No sweat," Jet
replied, "we've got almost a week."
They walked the next block in
silence. Jet was happy watching the cars drive by, looking in the store windows, and
kicking any cans, wrappers, and stones that made the mistake of getting in his path.
Rubber Boots was miserable, trying frantically to come up with something to say to
break the uneasiness he felt.
Jet kicked a soda can into the
street. "you like Hellstrom?"
"She's okay, I guess."
"Mr. Boots," Jet began,
imitating his English teacher, "in your own words, or someone else's if you have
them handy, describe for the class why you think Romeo wore tights and how that
relates to Shakespeare's inability to move his bowels regularly."
Rubber Boots started giggling.
"Mis-ter Boots," Jet
continued, his imitation right on target, "I'm waiting. The class is waiting. In
fact, the whole school is waiting."
Rubber Boots stopped walking,
bent over in laughter.
would you like to tell the class exactly what it is that you find so humorous? I'm
sure we'd all like to share in the joke. You know I like a good laugh as much as the
next person, unless of course the next person happens to be a human being, in which
case I probably don't like a good laugh half as much as they do." Rubber Boots
fell to his knees and was slapping the sidewalk. "Then again if the next person
is a Martian they probably don't get the joke at all, in which case I would finally
get a chance to feel superior. In a very Shakespearean way, of course."
Rubber Boots was balled up on the
sidewalk. "Stop! Stop!" he cried out.
Boots..." Jet began, but was interrupted by something whizzing by his ear.
"...You do understand that..."
Another whiz-z-z. Then another.
And another. Rubber Boots stopped laughing and looked up in puzzlement as the whizzes
flew by and smacked sharply into the store windows. Whiz-z-z clink! Whiz-z-z clink!
"Let's get outta here,"
Jet said as quickly walked away. Sensing he was alone, he turned to see where Rubber Boots
washe was on his hands and knees. "C'mon, let's go!"
"Wait a minute," Rubber
Boots called out.
The round metal missiles
continued their whiz-z-z clink! Whiz-z-z clink! Rubber Boots crawled around the
sidewalk after the projectiles, but each time he got close enough to grab one, another
went zipping by his head, causing him to duck and change directions. He looked like a
bumper car running into invisible obstacles.
"It's money, Jet! They're
Jet hurried back and grabbed
Rubber Bootss arm. "They're not quarters, they're slugs. Let's get the hell
Suddenly the whizzing stopped.
The abrupt silence was unnerving, but it didn't last long; it was quickly replaced by
the sound of heavy footsteps crossing the street.
"Why if it isn't ole Bubba
Roots," an all too familiar voice called out. "And look who hes
Johnny Kasouska and The Turk
came out of the darkness and into the glow of the street lamp. They were the elder
statesmen of the seventh grade, two boys with more time than brains and on this particular
night, more beer in their blood too. As if to prove this, not an hour before they
happened upon Jet and Rubber Boots walking home from the library theyd shot a hole
in the window at Cordins Jewelry Store with a Daisy model 95 spring air BB
"Check out the sign,"
Johnny had ordered his friend.
"What about it?"
"Read it, dumb shit."
Watches * Rings * Gold Bought And Sold
Precious and Semi-precious Jew s
The Turk slowly read aloud.
"No, pencil dick. The
"Precious and semi-precious
jewels," the Turk continued.
"Can't you even read?"
Johnny said. "Try again."
"Precious...and...semi-precious......Jews?" he said, finally noticing what the
peeling paint had done to the sign.
"Yeah, right," Johnny
said. "Precious Jews, my ass. Fat fuckin' chance."
With that Johnny raised the BB
gun, trying to line up the bead with the word "Jews". But the beer in his
bloodstream caused the air rifle to drift gently up and down while his eyes went in and
out of focus ever so slightly. The high-powered BB shot out of the barrel and struck
the glass above and to the left of its intended target, leaving a neat
round hole which obliterated the letter "l". The sign now read:
Watches * Rings * Go d Bought And Sold
Precious and Semi-precious Jew s
* * * * * *
"Hey, Turk," Johnny
said, "Bubba Roots must think he found pennies from heaven."
"Hey look, its the
Slugs from Hell," Jet told Rubber Boots.
"What are you two doing out
this late?" The Turk said. "Isn't it past your bedtime?"
Rubber Boots looked nervously
from one to the other. "We were just coming home from the..."
"Candy store," Jet
interrupted, giving Rubber Boots a shut-up look, "but the jerks wouldn't sell us
"Aw-w-w, what's the matter?
Did your mother run out?" Johnny taunted.
"My mother doesn't
smoke," Jet said, "but I do."
"Me too," Rubber Boots
chimed in a little too quickly.
Johnny raised an eyebrow and
looked at The Turk. Rubber Boots raised both his eyebrows and looked at Jet.
"You got a couple of spare
butts?" Jet asked.
"I'll have your
butt if you're lyin' to us," Johnny said.
"Yeah," The Turk added.
"Yeah?" Rubber Boots
"Yeah," Jet said matter
Johnny laughed and shook his
head. "Give the kids a couple a ciggies."
The Turk pulled a crumpled pack
of Kools from his shirt pocket and tapped it against the side of his hand, trying to
get a couple of the bent cigarettes to slide out. He tapped the pack again. And
again. Johnny grabbed the pack out of his hands and ripped the top completely
open. He pulled out four cigarettes and silently passed them around. reaching into
The Turk's shirt pocket, Johnny came out with a book of matches. With one hand he opened
the cover, bent a match outward, and struck it against the emery strip. Johnny had
spent many hours perfecting this move, first with one hand and then with the other,
telling himself that if he ever lost one of his arms it would be to his benefit to
still be able to light a match. This little show never ceased to impress The Turk,
who had spent many more hours than Johnny trying to learn the trick with only badly
burned fingers to show for it.
Johnny held the match out to Jet,
who put the cigarette in his mouth and tried to light it without inhaling. That not
working, he drew softly on the cigarette in short quick puffs. Johnny extended the
match to Rubber Boots, who stared at the end of his bent cigarette so intensely that
his eyes crossed. He drew the smoke in slowly. feeling his stomach start to churn, he
closed his throat to choke back the rising urge. Johnny put the match in front of The
"Uh-uh," The Turk said.
'uh-uh'?" Johnny asked.
"Three on a match. I ain't
gonna get pregnant."
"How many times do I have to
tell you," Johnny said, "just suck on the thing and you won't get
The Turk warily lit his
cigarette, taking a deep drag. Johnny lit his, heavily drawing on it until the tip
glowed bright enough to light up his face, the smoke drifting lazily out his nose.
"Thanks," Jet said,
"that hits the spot. We'd better get going now."
"Not so fast," Johnny
said, "we haven't finished our cigarettes yet. You don't want to be unsociable,
now do you?"
Rubber Boots took a small drag on
his cigarette, puffing his cheeks out as he held the smoke in his mouth, then letting
it out in an asthmatic burst. "If I don't get home soon..."
"We won't have time to raid
his father's liquor cabinet before he gets home," Jet finished.
Johnny looked at them
suspiciously. "Whadaya drink?"
"Gin and tonic," Jet
"Scotch and tonic,"
Rubber Boots chimed in.
Jet took another shallow drag on
his cigarette, then looked at Rubber Boots, who picked up his cue and took a deep
drag. His stomach flopped upside down, then righted itself, then flopped again as he
clamped his mouth shut and tried not to go bug-eyed.
"I can't hack these
menthols," Jet said to Rubber Boots, "let's go get a couple of your
Jet tried to casually flip his
cigarette into the street, but it fumbled from his hand and bounced off his shoe.
"Fuck this shit, we're going
He tapped Rubber Boots on the arm
and walked away. Rubber Boots dropped his cigarette and casually stepped on it, grinding
the butt until it was tobacco pulp. He turned to follow Jet.
"You were great," he
whispered to Jet, clamping his hand over his mouth as his stomach convulsed.
"Survival of the
"Hey Bubba Roots!"
Johnny called out. "Have a scotch and tonic for me!"
Reaching the intersection, Jet
quickly pulled his friend around the corner. As soon as they were out of sight, Jet
took off running down the side street with Rubber Boots close at his heels. They ran
full out for two blocks until they were both afraid their lungs were about to burst.
"I guess we showed
them," Jet bragged, panting hard.
"Sure did," Rubber
Boots said, right before bending over and throwing up all over Mrs. Jordan's blooming
[ Chapter 8 ]