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       Reality Boy, p.2

           A. S. King
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  “Sounds to me like you need the three steps to success in this house. And we’ll start with some old-fashioned discipline. Gerald, do you know what that means?”

  The director told me to shake my head no, so I did. I tried not to look into the cameras, which was why it took three takes to film scene one. How can a five-year-old not look into a camera that’s right in front of his face?

  “It means we’re about to start a whole new life,” she said. “And this will be a whole new family, easy as one, two, three.”

  Nanny only came around for a day and then she left her crew of cameras and cameramen there to film us being violent little bitches to one another. Then, two weeks later, she came back and decided, based on that footage, who was right, who was wrong, who needed prop-ah punishment, and who needed to learn more about responsibility. She taught Mom and Dad about the naughty chair and how to take away screen time. They made homemade charts with rows, columns, and stickers. (The girls got cat stickers. I got dog stickers.)

  Nanny didn’t actually help make the charts, because her fingernails were too delicate and chart-making wasn’t in her contract. “Anyway, it’s not my job to parent these children,” she said to Mom and Dad. “It’s yours.”

  What the cameras didn’t see was: Everything that made us violent little bitches happened behind closed doors or just under the radar of those microphones. And so Nanny (well, really, the nannies) only saw part of the picture. Which was usually me or Lisi running after Tasha, trying to hurt her.

  Or me squatting on the kitchen table that day—the most-watched YouTube clip from our time on the show—after Nanny took my Game Boy away for throwing a tantrum. That was my first crap—first of many. After I spent the rest of the day in my room, she asked, “You know pooping anywhere but the toilet is dirty, don’t you?”

  I nodded, but the word dirty just kept echoing in my head. It was what Mom had said to me when I accidentally pooped in the bathtub when I was three. “Why did you do this?” Mom asked. “Why would you be so dirty?” I was so little I didn’t remember much else, but I remembered that five minutes before, Tasha had told me she was going to help me wash my hair. Which is not what she did.

  Nanny said, “Every time you poop and it’s not in the toilet, you clean it up yourself and then you go to your room for the whole day. Does that sound fair?”

  I shrugged.

  She repeated, “Does that sound fair?”

  I ask you: Imagine any five-year-old who’s surrounded by cameras. Imagine he lives in the postal area UF. Consider that he has so little giveashit that he has started crapping on the kitchen table in front of video cameras. Then ask him this question. He will not know how to answer.

  So I freaked out.

  I screamed so long and loud, I thought my throat was bleeding when I was done. Then Nanny came over to me and sat down and ruffled my hair. It was the nanniest I’d ever seen her act in the two weeks I’d known her. She asked me why I was so upset, but she laughed when I told her.

  “Your sist-ah isn’t trying to kill you, Gerald. Don’t exaggerate.”


  ONE OF THE first things they told me at anger management class was that I should get regular exercise. I thought about training on the equipment Dad had in the basement and then you-know-who dropped out of loser college for the first time and moved home, so we packed up the treadmill, the weight machine, and the Ping-Pong table and moved them to the corner of the garage.

  When I explained that my home weight room now housed my number one trigger, my anger coach suggested that maybe I go to a real gym. At first, my parents would drop me at the gym a few times a week. But then I saw a different gym inside the real gym—a boxing gym. I decided then that I should go there, because, you know, I liked to punch shit. When I told my coach that I’d joined a boxing gym, he sighed but eventually agreed—with one rule. No actual boxing. As in, no hitting other people. I was thirteen and a half and I’d already hit enough people, so I was fine with that.

  The guys who train at the gym are nice, I guess, but there’s this one new guy. He’s got issues. Postal code FS all the way. He looks at me sometimes and smiles that provoking smile. I know what it means because I used to use it.

  His name is Jacko. I have no idea what his real name is. He’s Jamaican, but not really, because his accent is fake. His parents moved to Blue Marsh when he was three and he’s a middle-class kid now—dreaming he could be as poor as his parents were so he could be as interesting as they are, telling stories about their fishing village and living in a shack with a tin roof or something. That’s why he fights, I bet. Because being middle-class is boring as hell.

  Anyway, I don’t know why everyone is okay with me being in a boxing gym. The whole idea is pretty ironic. I mean, if I couldn’t kick your ass before, I sure as hell can kick your ass now. And that’s what I think about every single minute I’m in the gym. Kicking ass.

  K-I-C-K-I-N-G A-S-S.

  There is part of me that wants to kick that Jacko kid’s ass so bad, I wouldn’t mind going away for it. In jail I would be able to kick more ass and more ass until someone bigger than me killed me. And it’s all anyone expects of me at this point, right? Jail or death, I guess. Jail or death.

  I pound the punching bag. I pound it until I can’t feel my fingers. Sometimes they swell for days. This sunny Sunday morning, they crack and pop, and I think about how badly damaged they’ll be when I’m old and how I’ll have to get cortisone shots like my great-uncle John, and I don’t care. I jump rope for about fifteen minutes and then I hit the speed bag—my favorite because it has rhythm and it puts me in some sort of trance.

  I like the trance. It unwraps me. For fifteen minutes I am unbound from the layer of plastic wrap I’ve been wrapped in my whole life. I can see better, smell better, hear better. I can feel. Sometimes the speed bag makes me want to cry, it’s so good. I don’t cry, though. I just lose the rhythm and wrap myself up again—head to toe.

  Before I walk to the parking lot, I go into the room next door—an abandoned warehouse room that used to have a mail-order business in it. When I started coming here, the company was still operating. Now all that’s left is the shelving units and the little cubicles from the offices.

  It’s dark.

  I walk in fast toward one of the cubicle walls. It’s the only drywall in the whole redbrick place. Then I slam my fist through it, but that isn’t enough, so I pound another hole, too, lower down because I’m starting to run out of space.

  My hand stings and my knuckle is bleeding, but it feels good. When I stand back, I count the holes. Forty-two.

  By the time I get home from boxing-not-boxing, Dad is long gone to his Sunday open houses and Mom is showered after her usual two-hour Sunday-morning walk and is in the kitchen, doing kitchen-y things. She loves doing kitchen-y things. If my mom had her way, she would live in the kitchen and everything would be happy. And if it wasn’t happy, she’d whip up a batch of something and then it would be happy. Or she’d just walk more. You pick.

  After I take a shower, I sit down and she puts a plate of breakfast in front of me. Scrambled eggs, turkey bacon, and a glass of water. Mom has a new centerpiece and it reminds me of Nanny. I must have crapped on this table ten times, easy. Maybe more.

  “Did you have a good workout?” Mom asks.

  “Yeah. I’m getting really fast on the speed bag. I love that thing.”

  “Good for you,” she says. In a good way.


  “I’m glad you found that gym,” she adds. “I never knew it was there.”

  Mom puts her fork on the edge of her plate and downs a handful of some weird pills—supplements and vitamins and whatever chronic power walkers eat to make them not disappear into thin air. I’d say at five foot two, she’s now easily under a hundred pounds.

  “I’m heading out to do some early Christmas shopping today,” she says. “Dad will be back around four. Any chance we’ll see you for dinner?”

ght when I’m about to answer, the rhythmic sound starts in the basement. Ba-bang-ba-boom-ba-bang-ba-boom. Mom automatically gets up, runs the water in the sink full blast, loads the dishwasher, and then starts it, although it isn’t even half-full.

  “Nah. Double shift today. Won’t be home until after the hockey game. Probably as late as ten. I’ll catch dinner there.” I look at the clock. It’s ten thirty. I have to be at the PEC Center at eleven. “Shit. I’d better go now.”

  A few years ago, if I’d said shit so casually in front of my mother, she might have scolded me about my language. Now she says nothing. I’m not even sure if she heard me over the dishwasher and the ba-bang-ba-boom-ba-bang-ba-boom.

  “Leave your plate. I’ll get it,” she says. “Have a great day.”

  “Thanks. You too.”

  Isn’t it sweet? Isn’t it lovely what Nanny did for us? Eleven years ago, my mother was cleaning up my crap from that same table. Now she offers to clear my plate because she knows I have to get to work on time. How polite and thoughtful we all are! What acceptable behay-vyah.



  She usually works register #1, and I like it that way because I always work #7 and she’s far away from me and I don’t have to nervously squeeze past her to get to the kids’ meal boxes or the candy. We have to do a lot of squeezing in stand five because there’s only about four feet between the counter and the hot tables where the cooks put all the food we have to serve up.

  Anyway, for the matinee, she’s at #4 because the stand is half-closed, and I have to squeeze past her twice to get stuff. She smells nice and her hair looks soft. I know… this is the shit I will think about when I’m locked up one day.

  She’s only been working here for a few weeks. Regular hours like me, but not always in my stand. She disappears a lot and I see her at break time in the smokers’ alley, writing in a little book that she keeps in her pocket. She looks at me sometimes. She’s caught me looking at her twice, but I’ve looked at her a lot more than that, because there’s something about her. The way she wears her hair. The way she wears boys’ combat pants to work even though Beth has asked her not to. The way she writes in that little book. She’s beautiful—but not in that Nanny-starlet way where she cares about how she looks. She’s the opposite. She doesn’t care at all, which makes her even more beautiful. If I was a normal kid, I’d ask her out, I guess.

  But Roger, my anger management coach, told me that dating and anger management don’t go very well together. He told me that girls are infuriating. They always want to know so much. Relationships make you think you deserve things, Gerald. Deserving leads to resentment. Girls think you should be doing things for them, too. The rules are blurry. You’re doing so well.

  The matinee at PEC is some singing group for kids. By the time we open and the little kids come in, the only things we’re really selling are pretzels, bottled water, and the occasional pack of red licorice. It’s slow. Most of the parents are well dressed and make their children say thank you. Here’s an example:

  “What do you say to the nice man?” they say.

  “Thank you,” the kid says when I hand him his dollar in change.

  “You should say it more nicely, Jordan,” his mother says.

  “Thank you,” the kid says, no differently than before.

  I hand him his pretzel and he sneers at me because he thinks I’m some sublevel adult who can’t get a better job than concessions at the PEC Center. I hate parents like his. So concerned with appearances. I want to tell them that they’re lucky the kid isn’t taking dumps on their favorite couch. Or in their BMW.

  After the preshow rush, I get to peek into the arena. Four guys dressed in different costumes—a cowboy, a railroad engineer, a suit, and a chef—play songs that use the same chords over and over again. The chef plays drums with cooking utensils. The cowboy occasionally drops the melody and takes off on a country music riff all by himself while the other guys roll their eyes. Then he hops on his guitar and rides it around the stage. The kids can’t get enough of this. The high-pitched screaming makes my ears crackle.

  “That’s messed up,” she says. It’s the girl from register #1. “How can anyone even think that’s funny?”

  “I know, right?” I say. Then I walk away because she’s irresistible, and I am on a mission to resist her.

  I refill the cooler with bottled water and diet soda. I go to the bathroom to pee, and wash my hands exactly as an employee is supposed to. When I come out, she’s nowhere to be found. Probably out writing about me in her little book. About how she tried to talk to the Crapper, but he walked away.



  It’s my manager, Beth. I look at her.

  “Gerald, you’ve been standing there staring into space for five minutes.”

  I look at the clock. I see the well-dressed parents taking their overexcited kids to the souvenir stand for cowboy/engineer/suit/chef costumes and kites and cups and T-shirts. We’ve closed our gate so we can count our drawers and switch up for the hockey crowd. I’ve already counted my drawer. I don’t remember doing it, but it’s done. I notice that Beth looks worried. As worried as Beth can look, anyway—she’s so laid-back she’s nearly horizontal. But still, she looks worried.

  “Sorry,” I say.

  “You can take a break if you want,” she says. “You’ve been here since we opened. And did you even eat lunch yet?” I’d like Beth to be my mother. She totally wouldn’t let Tasha live in the basement with her rat-boyfriend sleepovers. “I have leftover chicken and fries if you want some,” she adds, and points to the shallow stainless-steel tray under the heat lamp full of fried foods that never got sold.

  As I reach in, Register #1 Girl reaches in, too, and our wrists brush against each other. I look at her and smile. She smiles back and takes her hand out to give me first pick. I do the same. Beth intervenes and fixes us each a paper dish of chicken fingers and fries, and we thank her. And then I go way back toward register #7 to eat, and Register #1 Girl goes to where everyone else is eating, over by the sinks beyond register #1.

  I go back to my other day. The one I was living in my head when Beth snapped me out of it. My place-of-no-triggers. I invented it when I was little, thanks to Nanny. I call it Gersday. It rhymes with pairsday or daresday. It’s the extra day I get inside of a week that no one else knows about. I live it in little parts of those other, regular days like Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday, et cetera. While normal people who have seven days in their week may think I’m spacing out or “off in la-la land,” as my asshole third-grade teacher used to say, I’m really living one more day than all of you. A good day.

  All Gersdays are good days.

  Let me repeat. All Gersdays are good days.

  The postal abbreviation is GD. For Gersday. Or good day. Or anything you want to make it, as long as it’s so good that all the bad goes away. The zip code is .

  And if I take a day in GD during every other FS 00000 or UF ????? week, then I get to have a longer life than everyone else. That’s fifty-two extra days a year, which adds up.

  Let me explain further.

  A normal sixteen-year-old (nearly seventeen-year-old) would have lived about 6,191 days. I, Gerald “the Crapper” Faust, have lived 6,815. That’s 624 days more than other near-seventeen-year-olds. Technically, if we go by days, I’m almost nineteen.



  “GERALD, YOU CAN’T keep going off into your own world like that,” Nanny said. “You need to stay here and listen to what I’m saying, do you undah-stand?”

  I nodded because the director told me to nod. But I was still in Gersday, eating strawberry ice cream and walking down a happy street in a city neighborhood where none of the kids did things that made me want to beat them up.

  Nanny must have noticed, because she grabbed me by the arms and put her face right in my face and said, “Gerald! You’re needed here. You either listen or you
spend time in the naughty chair.”

  I answered, “I’ll take the naughty chair, please.” Then I got up and walked to it, sat down, and went back to Gersday and my ice-cream cone. One kid there wanted me to be on his kickball team. Another kid wanted me to go bike riding with him, and he didn’t care that I still used training wheels. I finished my ice cream and thought it would be nice to have another one. And then Lisi was there and she handed me a vanilla cone with rainbow sprinkles. She had chocolate with chocolate sprinkles. We walked down a bunch of roads until we got to our house.

  Mom was there and she hugged us when we got in and told us to finish our ice cream in the kitchen. When Lisi and I sat down at the table, Mom asked us how our day was and we told her how wonderful our day had been. When we were done, she said she had a surprise for us and took us to the hallway and showed us our new school pictures, framed and hung on the wall. Lisi looked like a little movie star. I looked like the cutest five-year-old who ever lived. There was one other picture—of Mom and Dad in that semi-embracing pose, her head leaned in on his chin a little. They looked so in love and happy. I stood back and looked at those three pictures and I cried happy tears. That’s what Gersdays were all about. Happy tears. Ice cream. Mom not ignoring Lisi and me because she was too busy fussing over Tasha. That couldn’t happen on a Gersday because on Gersday, Tasha didn’t exist. Which means she didn’t put plastic bags over Lisi’s head or call me gaytard. She couldn’t do those things because she wasn’t there at all. As Nanny would say: Simple as one, two, three.

  “Did you hear that?” Nanny asked.

  “What?” I asked.

  “The timer. It buzzed three minutes ago. You were off with the fairies for all that time. Smiling.”

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