It was going to take me about fifteen minutes to get to Janet Hippely’s, so I decided I’d leave my house at two. I didn’t want to get there at two or two-thirty because then it would look like I’d planned too much. I had my Walkman set to “All You Need is Love.” The titles of Beatles’ songs are good because they’re not like the Karate Kid at all.
I picked up my bike from the floor of my garage and wheeled it out the side door. It was rainy and very cold. I rode past John’s Express and up Lake Cook Road, which is right next to the big golf course. My parents aren’t that rich, but we come from a very wealthy town.
There were two cars at Janet Hippely’s. There are usually three cars, so I thought somebody wasn’t home who was usually home, which was good. I always think that it’s better if there are less people home at someone’s house because I always want to express myself in a for-real way and that’s difficult when there are a lot of people around. I can barely talk to somebody if there are other people around and they’re listening. Neither can most people, I think. They’ll talk more to the people listening than the person they’re talking to.
I didn’t have to lock my bike up because we live in a safe neighborhood, so I rested it against a tree in Janet’s front yard. Then I started to worry that it wouldn’t look so good if my bike was rested against a tree. Janet would know I had a messy garage. I was standing out on her big front lawn. I tried to think what my brother Sam would do if he had his bike at Janet Hippely’s house. My biggest problem is that I always try to do what I think other people have done. That is probably my weakest point. I started to bring my bike up the porch stairs with me. It was around two twenty-five, I estimated, and I had wanted to ring the doorbell well before two thirty.
I worry about time quite a bit. My worst problem is that I’m afraid of open time. If I have a large block of time free, then there’s a pressure on me to make good use of that time, but, if my time is occupied, then I don’t have to be accountable for how I spend it. How you spend your time is one way that people judge you. It was very cold outside. Janet’s house was on a hill and I could see two separate highways in the distance. My teeth were chattering, I realized. I put my right hand in my pocket and held my bike with the other. I could barely even feel my fingers by the time Mrs. Hippely finally opened the door.
“May I help you?” she asked. She was surprisingly tall. She was pretty, too.
“Is Janet home?”
“Yes, she is. I’m Janet’s mother.” She reached her hand out and smiled. I tried to push my right hand forward, but it was still in my jacket pocket.
“I’m Yos,” I said, finally shaking her hand. I smiled, but not too much. I didn’t want to seem ingratiating.
“Janet didn’t know I was coming. I just wanted to bring her this CD.”
“She’s doing homework upstairs. Come in.”
“I have my bike with me.”
“It’s a little cold to be riding your bike, isn’t it?”
“It’s a little too far to walk.”
“It should be just fine on the porch,” she said, smiling. She was really friendly.
It was nice and warm inside the house, but I was still very freezing. I looked down at my shoes while Janet’s mom walked up the stairs. They were pretty dirty and I hoped Mrs. Hippely wouldn’t notice. I heard Mrs. Hippely and Janet talking.
“Hi Yos,” Janet said before I could even see her. She sounded very excited.
“Hey, Janet,” I shouted up the stairs.
She was wearing a gray cashmere sweater and blue jeans when she came down. I felt bad that I had smoked a cigarette that morning. Janet’s dad was a doctor, I knew. They were half-Spanish but I didn’t know which side was Spanish and which side was not and I didn’t know if it was okay to ask.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hi,” she said. “You look nice.”
“I wanted to bring you this CD,” I said.
“The one we’ve been talking about! Thanks.” She took it from me and started reading the back of it. “You want to come upstairs?” she asked me, still reading the back of the CD.
Mrs. Hippely was still standing there watching which seemed kind of disrespectful, I thought. As if I was going to grab Janet in the tush right in the hallway.
Janet sat down on her bed when we got into her room. She was wearing wool socks with white ones underneath.
“Thanks for stopping by, Yos” she said. She used my first name a lot.
“I wanted to.”
“I was just doing homework.”
“What class?” I asked.
“Oh yeah? What were you reading about?”
“John F. Kennedy.”
“That guy is pretty interesting.”
“I know. My mom thinks he’s very good-looking.”
“Really?” I said. “Huh. I never understand why girls think certain guys are good-looking.”
“Well, he is pretty good-looking,” she said. “And Mr. Shalembarger said he used to date Marilyn Monroe.”
“I hate social studies.”
“I don’t know. It’s just not interesting to me.”
“But you think John F. Kennedy’s interesting.”
“I guess. I am interested in learning about history. I just get bored in class. I’d rather read it out of a book or something.”
“I usually like class.”
“Yeah,” she said. Janet laughed in an easy way. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“I don’t know. It’s just boring. And Mr. Shalembarger is never reallyÉI don’t know. I just get the feeling that he was never like me. He was never interested in the same things I am.”
“What are you interested in?”
“A lot of things.”
“I don’t mean that I’m interested in studying insects or anything. I’m not interested in one subject. I just mean the type of things I like to talk about. I feel like he’d never be interested in talking about anything that I’d be interested in talking about.”
Janet shrugged. “Have you ever tried talking to him about something you’re interested in?”
“No. I think he’d just look at me and think I was an idiot.”
“Why would he think you’re an idiot?”
“I mean the stuff that I think about all the time. What’s in my head. All we talk about in school is what happened when. We never talk about stuff that seems important.”
“I think Mr. Shalembarger does a fine job.”
“Maybe he does. I don’t know. I just know that it never interests me. I don’t know why I’m supposed to care about John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis. I can’t just start caring because someone tells me to.”
“But, Yos. Don’t you want to understand things? I don’t understand why some people are so apathetic.”
“I’m not apathetic, though. I’m really not. I’m interested in everything. I mean, I don’t know. I want to know what Mr. Shalembarger thinks about. That’s what I want to know. I don’t care what he knows. That doesn’t matter to me.”
“He probably thinks about the same things we all think about.”
“Does he though? I don’t know. I want to know what’s really important to him. I want to know what’s the most important thing that’s ever happened to him.”
“But that’s not his job. It would be pretty solipsistic for him to talk about himself all the time.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“But, wait. That’s not what I mean. What I mean is that there are a lot of things happening and he doesn’t pay attention to them.”
“What kinds of things?”
“Things happening between people. There are things happening between people that Mr. Shalembarger won’t talk about. Right there in the classroom. There are all these kids sitting there and we just have to listen to him. He is pretty solipsistic I think.”
“But he’s just doing his job, Yos.”
“Is he doing his job, though? I don’t get that. Is he just supposed to do what everyone else does? Is that good enough?”
“Do you think you could do a better job?”
“Yeah. Yeah I do.”
We just kind of sat there for a minute. I didn’t know what to say. We just weren’t communicating. I figured I’d better change the subject.
“Who do you hang out with?” I asked.
“Erica Vinestein’s my best friend, probably. We do track.”
“I didn’t know you did track.”
“Yup. Almost everyday.”
At the same time we both noticed this little black space heater on Janet’s floor that would make this loud whirring sound every few minutes and Janet’s lamp would dim.
“It gets really cold in here,” she said. We were quiet again. “Who are you friends with?” she asked.
“Nate Jones,” I said. “And Dave Eckman.”
“I’ve seen you and Dave Eckman on your bikes together.”
“We hang out a lot.”
I saw that it was two forty eight. Janet had one of those clocks where the numbers are white on black squares and they flip over and flap down very rapidly. I decided that by two fifty-two I had to let her know I liked her romantically. I always want to get things accomplished, or else I feel worthless. I promised myself that if I didn’t let her know I liked her by two fifty-two then I wouldn’t eat dinner.
“I was thinking maybe you and I could go for a walk or something,” I said.
“I actually really have homework.”
We looked at the space heater again because it was whirring.
“Have you seen the Karate Kid?” I asked.
“I saw it last week.”
“Did you like it?”
“It was okay.”
“I thought it was really disappointing.”
“I thought it was going to be about this kid who was really good at karate, but he wasn’t. The kid wasn’t good at anything.”
“He was pretty good at karate. By the end.”
“But not good enough to be called the Karate Kid.”
“That doesn’t make it a bad movie. I liked it.” She started looking around her bedroom. “I should get back to my homework, soon,” said Janet. “I have a test on Monday.”
“I’m sorry to go off like that,” I said. “I didn’t mean to. You’ve got a right to your own opinion.”
“You’re very opinionated,” said Janet. She said it as if I’d really hurt her feelings.
“I know. I think that’s my worst quality. I worry about that sometimes. I can be very stubborn. I don’t listen to what other people have to say.”
“I’m sure you do sometimes.”
“I just want to say, Janet, that I brought the CD over here just because I wanted an excuse to come over. I like you. I think you’re pretty.”
Janet looked down at the bed very quickly. “Thanks,” she said. “That’s nice of you to say that.”
She wouldn’t stop looking down at the bed. I wished she’d look up at me and say something. I felt pretty panicked. We sat there like that before I decided I should take off. I really didn’t feel very good.
“Thanks for having me over,” I said.
“Thanks for bringing me the CD.”
I smiled at her and then I pushed myself up off the bed. When I got to the door I turned around. “Janet. I want to go to the beach with you sometime. I really like walking down to the beach, even when it’s cold out.”
“We can talk about it at school,” she said.
I was going to wave my hand but I just lifted it up, as if I had some reason to show her my palm. I don’t really know how to wave goodbye to people.
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