Monday, February 23, 2015

The Tragic Age - Blog tour!

Coming soon to a book store near you is
The Tragic Age
by Stephen Metcalfe. A debut coming-of-age novel!
Read on for an excerpt and for links to more bloggers on the tour!

It’s between morning classes when Deliza Baraza comes up to her locker, which for two, going on three years at good ol’ High School High has been next to mine. I can actually feel her approaching. It’s like there’s a seismic pheromone shift in the hallway. Anything male begins to flutter and jerk. Deliza’s father’s a Mexican-American financier. Her mother’s a former Telenuevo star. You won- der how they ever let Deliza out of the house. This morning she’s done up in a sheer white blouse with a Peter Pan collar, a tiny cardigan sweater vest, a little tie, and a pleated short skirt. Her smooth dancer’s legs are stuffed into white anklet socks and six-inch spike heels. Her dark hair is in pigtails and her makeup, which is always professionally perfect, is that of a toffee-colored geisha. “Hey, Billy,” she says. She has a deep, confident voice. Deliza only dates older guys. Rumor has it she charges them for the fun of it.

“Hey, D.” I try to sound casual, as if chatting with a dirty old man’s Japanese schoolgirl fetish is an everyday occurrence. Deliza throws some books into her locker, grabs another, and turns back to me. She leans in close. She whispers.

“Hey, Billy, you want to go out with me Friday night? I might even suck your dick.”
My balls jerk as if cupped by a handful of ice cubes. “You mind going on a skateboard?” I say.
“A skateboard,” she says. “It’s how I roll,” I say.

Deliza laughs. We both know there’s no way we’re ever going to hang together let alone engage in illicit sex acts. Even so, we’re pretty good locker buddies. And we’re not all that unalike. Deliza runs with the popular crowd, but the truth is, we both fly solo.

“You are one weird chavo, Billy.” Point of reference.

Chavo is this poor, homeless orphan in an old Mexican sitcom. The plot revolved around the idea that the other characters think it’s hysterical to insult him, beat the crap out of him, and generally torture him. Needless to say, the show was a huge hit.

Deliza leans in again. “It’s why I like you.” The tip of her tongue lightly touches the inside of my ear, the concha, which is Spanish slang for vagina. My pelotas, which is Spanish for balls, jerk again.

Deliza smiles like the total innocent she isn’t. She turns away. Farther down the hall some jocks give her some shit, hoping she’ll give them the time of day. She blows them a kiss, gives them a perfectly manicured, French- tipped middle finger, and moves on. 

Anything male wipes its brow and begins to breathe again. It’s not even the highlight of the day.

Though most of the students at High School High leave campus for lunch, some of them even going home and not returning, the school still provides meals for people. The food is pretty much inedible but the old school cafe- teria is pretty nice. It’s usually a quiet place to read. In fact, a lot of people skip lunch and just use it as a study hall.

But today, maybe because it’s still early in the year, it’s a scene. It’s noisy and almost crowded, people hanging out, each with their own tribe, jocks and queen bees at one ta- ble, the black athletes, nerds, aspiring rockers, emos punks, and surfers at others. Thankfully there’s an empty table over by the window. I’m reading some sci-fi novel about some little kid who defeats a race of alien ants and saves the known universe. It’s ridiculous but the only other book in my knapsack is Being and Time, by the philosopher Mar- tin Heidegger, which is also ridiculous but it’s the kind of ridiculous that takes a concentration and focus that is not especially conducive to cafeterias. So today it’s alien ants.

“Hey, Billy. Can I sit?”

It’s Ephraim and I don’t look up. Ephraim Landgraf is my neighbor, meaning we live down the street from one another, each of us behind locked gates and high walls. Ephraim is small and skinny and, without his glasses, half blind. He has straw-colored hair that doesn’t seem so much blond as lifeless. Ephraim’s the kind of kid who gets pushed around for no real reason. The kind of kid, you play hide-and-seek, you don’t look for him.

“It’s not my chair,” I say.

Ephraim sits and dives into the prepackaged, pre- servative-infested lunch he’s brought from home. It’s truly a magnificent collection of unhealthy, high-fat food groups. Ephraim is the kind of kid who would eat alien ants.

“I found Death Hunt 9,” Ephraim says. This, coming out of nowhere.

Death Hunt 9 is a video game so violent it hasn’t been released. The only way to get it is to illegally download a bootleg copy off the Net. Only the truly wounded would want this game and Ephraim’s been searching for it for weeks.

“Good for you, Ephraim, now go disappear into your bedroom, and let me read about alien ants, okay?”

“Nah,” says Ephraim. “I already beat it. It wasn’t hard at all . . . no way . . . yeah . . .” His voice trails off. He sounds disappointed.

Here’s the thing.

Ephraim surprised his parents. His siblings are all at least fifteen years older than he is and Ephraim’s mother was never supposed to get pregnant again. Hence his parents have decided Ephraim didn’t really happen and they ignore him. And because they do, Ephraim spends the ma- jority of his time living as an avatar in an online, computer- based community in Illinois. The avatar is nothing like him. Ephraim’s avatar has his own apartment, an impor- tant job, a social life. He, the avatar, even gets laid on oc- casion. Ephraim’s built an online fantasy world where he’s safe and happy and can control things. In real life, Ephraim stays home sick a lot.

“Hey! Hey, Willard!”

Ephraim and I both turn to see that a couple of tables away a big, handsome guy named John Montebello is standing, gesturing for someone to join him. On the moron scale of one to ten, John Montebello is a twenty. If Dad—Gordon—has decided he’s earned everything we have, John Montebello has long since decided he’s earned everything his father has.

“Hey, Willard, over here!”

Willard Twomey has come out of the kitchen, a tray in his hands. I’ve seen him in classes now, a couple of days running. He still hasn’t uttered a word, still hasn’t so much as looked at anyone. If he’s changed his clothes since his first day of school, you wouldn’t know it.

“Come on, dude!” says Montebello. “Sit with us!” Montebello’s at a table surrounded by his popular jock posse who, added up, push the moron scale into the high two hundreds. Normally they wouldn’t be here at all. All of a sudden I wonder if they’ve planned this.

“C’mon, we don’t bite! Much!

Again, I get the sense that Willard Twomey feels none of this is happening to him, and if it is, he couldn’t care less. Montebello nudges the kid right next to him out of his seat.

“Pull up a chair, dawg. You don’t want to eat by your- self, right?”


“Dawg” is an example of what is called Ebonics. Eb- onics is the study of nonstandard African-American vernacular English, meaning speech often used by black people.


The closest kids like John Montebello ever get to black people is listening to deafening rap music while parked at stoplights with the windows of the car rolled down.

Willard Twomey crosses to the table, sits down and begins to eat. Montebello looks around at his jock posse as if to say, Watch this.

“So, Willard. Monaghan got you up to speed yet? ’Cause, dude, you look like you still got the brakes on.” Har-har-har. The jocks all snark and slap palms with one another as if in the entire history of the world, this is the sharpest thing anyone has ever said.

Willard Twomey just eats his food.

“Willard, huh? That’s, uh—that’s kind of a retarded name, huh?”

Giggle-gaggle-gaw! Willard Twomey eats his food. “Y’know,  there  was  this  movie called  Willard.  All about this freaky guy who loved rats. I mean, like, he slept with rats, Willard. When he took a dump in the morning, he did it with a freakin’ rat on his lap. You do that? You take dumps with rats? Is that cheese you’re eatin’ or what, dawg?”
The jocks think that’s really hysterical. One of them gags and spurts milk out his nose.
Willard Twomey eats.

“Yeah, ol’ Willard here looks like a guy who loves his rat food,” says Montebello. “Squeaky-squeak!”
“Squeaky-squeak,” intone all the other morons at the table, in different voices, a regular rat choir. “Squeaky- squeak.”
Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, Willard Twomey rises. Montebello looks surprised, then annoyed. He’s definitely not used to people his own age ignoring him, especially when he’s being such a comedian.
“Hey, Willard, come again, when you can’t stay so long, okay? And say hi to your rats.”
Willard Twomey picks up his tray and swings it into John Montebello’s head, knocking him out of his chair. Plate, silverware, and uneaten food fly.
No one can believe it. John Montebello began lifting weights at age twelve just to get a head start on beating people up. As Montebello tries to rise, Willard Twomey hits him over the head with the tray again and again, forc- ing him back down to the floor until he curls into a fetal position and covers up.
“Fuck!” Montebello whimpers. “Fuck!” No one can believe it.
Willard Twomey throws the broken tray down at John Montebello. It bounces off his head and clatters away.
Believe it.
Willard Twomey turns. He stares contemptuously at the other jocks as if daring someone to do something. Anything. Not one of them moves, not even the guy with milk in his nose.
The dam breaks and the whole room begins hubbub- bing at once. Some of the surfers are laughing. The Asian kids are talking excitedly in Chinese. The black guys are all slapping palms. Girls are pretending to be horrified. Faculty members come rushing across the cafeteria from wherever it is they’ve been standing. One goes to Monte- bello. Two others grab Willard Twomey who is as docile as a baby as he’s led out.
I’ve never seen real violence before. I see why people find it effective.

“He’s awesome,” whispers Ephraim.

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