It is a cool September morning. The sun is breaking through the pines, and the air carries a tangy scent of freshness and renewal only to be found on the first day of school. I am rocking my plus-size Phillies sweatshirt and waiting with the others at the bus stop. Well, not exactly "with" them. As often happens when I'm out in the world, I place myself a little bit apart from the herd. I lean against a tree a few feet off to the side of a triangle formation of two cute girls and a dude. I get their names: A.J., Teresa, and Gabby. They hardly acknowledge me, so I return the favor. I have a lot on my mind anyway.
Will I survive at the mainstream school? Should I seduce Nurse Weaver to stay out of special ed? I don't have a proven talent for normal, and it strains the limits of credibility to come up with a scenario that involves seducing Nurse Weaver, the school district RN who did my hearing test. (I passed, barely, by guessing and promising to wear my hearing aids, which are already stashed in my pocket--sucker!) Still, it is a fun thought. Nurse Weaver is a cutie. Thinking about seducing her is certainly preferable to imagining doing sexual favors for the person who really holds my future in her hands: Superintendent Sylvia P. Zirkel.
I had to write a plea to SPZ to let me transfer from the deaf school to Carbon High. It was mostly lies, since I figured she wouldn't really understand the fight that forced my departure from the school for the deaf. Infights and deaf-world arguments rarely make sense to anyone else. She gave a distinctly wary OK, but I still have to be on her good side. If she deems it necessary, I will be bounced. Regardless, I will not allow myself to be taken advantage of by Superintendent Zirkel--a woman who looks like a skeleton in a Beatles wig and smells like beef. This is my solemn vow. Amen.
Nurse Weaver might have guessed that I was fumbling through the hearing test, but she was impressed with my lipreading skills. They are fantastic, if I do say so myself. I was one of the two best lip-readers at my old school (the other being my ex-"girlfriend," Ebony). I'll have to rely on lipreading to get by, since this school district is still relatively underfunded despite all the newly rich moving in on the fringes of coal country. CHS cannot afford a cool captioning system like some of the fancy schools over the river. There are no interpreters. There's no structured "inclusion" program. What they have is pretty much "sink or swim." And from what I hear (so to sign, not speak), sink is the more common outcome.
The school bus comes, and I cruise on. Geez. I didn't factor in this being so terrifying, seeing these unfamiliar faces all scrubbed and happy. Who are these people? There is one guy, a half-asleep-looking weirdo, slouching in the back, who seems like he should be on a prison bus. I plop down on the first seat behind the bus driver.
The bus driver is a wiry and dangerous-looking man with a bizarre beard that rings his tanned face like an upside-down halo. Even though it is pretty cold out, he is wearing sandals, which reveal unnervingly long toenails. He is also eating a family-size bag of pork rinds for breakfast.
A cocky kid who gets on at a stop after mine says something to Jimmy Porkrinds about his sandals, to which he replies, "My feet, my business." Pretty deep. Someone should engrave it on a plaque and/or make it into an inspirational poster to hang in bathrooms. For the rest of the trip, J.P. talks to himself. I love people who talk to themselves. through the rearview mirrow, I lip-read some strange stuff coming out of his mouth. Stuff that might have been song lyrics: "Dig, dig, dig the hole, hidey-hidey hole" and "Joke the mole, smoke a bowl." I write in my notebook: JIMMY PORKRINDS = ADDLED POTHEAD OR GIFTED LYRICIST?
I also watch a few conversations from the rows behind me. Several kids, including Teresa and Gabby, have brought large envelopes with them and are waving them around. Those without envelopes seem a little sad. Somebody grabs Gabby's envelope, and a shiny piece of paper falls out and flutters to the ground. She freaks out and dives to catch it as if it was a baby falling to its death. "Dude, I am not missing that party," she says. "No way." She grabs it back up and carefully slides it into the envelope again with a smug expression. A.J. looks like he's not sure if he should laugh or cry. Join the club. Before long, with a fabulous mutter of "Watch yo' ass, Philip Glass" from J.P., we have arrived at school.
My day begins with a meeting in the principal's office. Principal's office already? Am I in trouble on the first day? I admonish myself. You are quite the miscreant, William Badboy Halpin.
Excerpted from The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk Copyright © 2010 by Josh Berk. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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