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Shingaling a wonder stor.., p.5
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       Shingaling: A Wonder Story, p.5

           R. J. Palacio
 
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  Ximena’s snarkiness, by the way, was completely put-on. Something she could take off whenever she wanted to. Like a scarf you wear as an accessory until it starts feeling itchy around your neck. When she was with Savanna, she wore the scarf. With us, she took it off. That’s not to say I didn’t still get nervous around her sometimes! OMG. The first time she came over to my house? I was a complete wreck! I was nervous that my mom would embarrass me. I was nervous that the stuffed animals on my bed were too pink. I was nervous about the Big Time Rush poster on my bedroom door. I was nervous that my dog, Suki, would pee on her.

  But, of course, everything turned out fine! Ximena was totally nice. Said I had a cool room. Offered to do the dishes after dinner. Made fun of a particularly hilarious photo of me when I was three, which was fair because I look like a sock puppet in it! At some point during that afternoon, I don’t even know when it was, I actually stopped thinking Ximena Chin is in my house! Ximena Chin is in my house! and just started having fun. That was huge for me because it was a turning point, the moment I stopped acting like an idiot around Ximena. No more word vomits. I guess that was when I took my “scarf” off, too.

  Anyway, February was intense, but awesome. And by the end of February, we were pretty much hanging out at my place every day after school, dancing in front of the mirrored walls, self-correcting, matching our moves. Whenever we’d get tired, or discouraged, one of us would say in Mrs. Atanabi’s accent, “It’s the shingaling, baby!” And that would keep us going.

  And sometimes we didn’t rehearse. Sometimes we just chilled in my living room by the fire doing homework together. Or hanging out. Or, occasionally, searching for Gordy Johnson.

  How I Prefer Happy Endings

  One of the things I miss the most about being a little kid is that when you’re little, all the movies you watch have happy endings. Dorothy goes back to Kansas. Charlie gets the chocolate factory. Edmund redeems himself. I like that. I like happy endings.

  But, as you get older, you start seeing that sometimes stories don’t have happy endings. Sometimes they even have sad endings. Of course, that makes for more interesting storytelling, because you don’t know what’s going to happen. But it’s also kind of scary.

  Anyway, the reason I’m bringing this up is because the more we looked for Gordy Johnson, the more I started realizing that this story might not have a happy ending.

  We had started our search by simply Googling his name. But, it turns out, there are hundreds of Gordy Johnsons. Gordon Johnsons. Gordie Johnsons. There’s a famous jazz musician named Gordy Johnson (which we theorized could explain the rumor the eye-shop man had heard about our Gordy Johnson). There are politician Gordon Johnsons. Construction worker Gordon Johnsons. Veterans. Lots of obituaries. The Internet doesn’t distinguish between names of the living and names of the dead. And every time we clicked on one of those names, we would be relieved that it wasn’t our Gordy Johnson. But sad that it was someone else’s Gordy Johnson.

  At first, Ximena didn’t really join in the search. She would be doing her homework or texting Miles on one side of the bedroom while Summer and I huddled around my laptop, scrolling through page after page of dead ends. But one day, Ximena pulled her chair next to ours and started looking over our shoulders.

  “Maybe you should try searching by image,” she suggested.

  Which we did. It was still a dead end. But after that, Ximena became as interested in finding out what happened to Gordy Johnson as we were.

  How I Discovered Something About Maya

  Meanwhile, at school, everything was business as usual. We had our science fair. Remo and I got a B+ for our cell-anatomy diorama, which was more than I thought we would get considering I spent as little time on that project as possible. Ximena and Savanna built a sundial. The most interesting one was probably Auggie and Jack’s, though. It was a working lamp that was powered by a potato. I figured Auggie probably did most of the work, since, let’s face it, Jack’s never been what one would call a “gifted student,” but he was so happy to have gotten an A on it. He looked so cute!!! Like a little happy but somewhat clueless emoticon.

  And this was my emoticon when I saw him:

  By the end of February, the boy war had really escalated, though. Summer filled me in about what was going on, since she had the inside scoop on everything from Auggie and Jack’s point of view. Apparently—and I was sworn to secrecy—Julian had started leaving really nasty yellow Post-it notes for Jack and Auggie in their lockers.

  I felt so bad for them!

  Maya felt bad for them, too. She had become obsessed with the boy war herself, though I wasn’t sure why at first. It’s not like she had ever made any attempts to be friends with Auggie! And she always treated Jack like a goofball. Like, back in the days when Ellie and I would point out how cute he looked in his Artful Dodger top hat, Maya would stick her fingers in her ears and cross her eyes, as if even the thought of him repulsed her. So I figured her interest in the war had to do with the fact that, quirky as she was, Maya had a good heart.

  It was only one day at lunch, when I saw her hard at work on some kind of list, that I understood why she cared so much. In her notebook, where she designs her dot games, she had three rows of tiny Post-its with the names of all the boys in the grade. She was sorting them into columns: Jack’s side; Julian’s side; neutrals.

  “I think it’ll help Jack to know he’s not alone in this war,” she explained.

  That’s when I realized: Maya has a little crush on Jack Will! Awww, that’s so cute!

  “Sweet,” I answered, not wanting to make her self-conscious. So I helped her organize the list. We disagreed about some of the neutrals. She ultimately gave in to me. Then she copied the list onto a piece of loose-leaf paper and folded it in half, then in quarters, then in eighths, then in sixteenths. “What are you going to do with it?”

  “I don’t know,” she answered, pushing her glasses back up her nose. “I don’t want it to get in the wrong hands.”

  “You want me to give it to Summer?”

  “Yes.”

  So I gave the list to Summer to give to Jack and Auggie. I think Summer might have assumed that I had made the list myself, which I didn’t correct because I had helped Maya work on the list, so I thought it was fine.

  “How’s the dance stuff going?” Maya asked me in her flat-voiced way that same day. I knew she was just trying to be polite, since she couldn’t care less. But she was good that way. At least she made an effort to act interested.

  “Crazy!!!” I answered, biting into my sandwich. “Mrs. Atanabi is absolutely insane!”

  “Ha. Mrs. Mad-anabi,” said Maya.

  “Yeah,” I said. “Good one.”

  “It’s like you’ve been hibernating the whole month of February, though!” said Maya. “I’ve barely seen you. You never walk home with us after school.”

  I nodded. “I know. We’ve been practicing at lunchtime lately. But we’ll be done soon enough. Just a few more weeks. The gala is on March fifteenth.”

  “Beware the ides of March,” she said.

  “Oh yeah! Right,” I said, though I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about.

  “So, want to see the sketches for my newest colossal dot game?”

  “Sure,” I answered, taking a deep breath.

  She pulled out her notebook and launched into a detailed explanation of how she had stopped using grid patterns for her dots and was now using chalk art–style graphics to create murals, so that when the dots got filled in, they would “have a dynamic flow pattern.” Or something like that. The truth is, I had trouble following what she was saying. The only part I heard for sure was when she said: “I haven’t brought my new dot game to school yet because I want to make sure you’re around to play it.”

  “Oh, sweet,” I answered, scratching my head. I couldn’t believe how bored I was at the moment.

  She started saying something else about the dots, and I glanced over at Summer’s table to
distract myself. She, Jack, and Auggie were laughing. I could guarantee you one thing: they weren’t talking about dots! There were times when I really wished I had the guts to just go and sit with them.

  Then I looked over at the Savanna table. They were all laughing and having a good time, too. Savanna. Ellie. Gretchen. Ximena. All talking to the boys at the table across from them: Julian, Miles, Henry, Amos.

  “Isn’t she awful?” said Maya, following my gaze.

  “Ellie?” I asked, because that’s who I was looking at that exact moment.

  “No. Ximena Chin.”

  I turned around and gave Maya a look. I knew she hated Ximena, but for some reason, the way she had said it, in this seething tone, just surprised me. “So, what is this thing you have against Ximena Chin?” I asked. “It’s Ellie who ditched us, remember? It’s Savanna who hasn’t been nice to us.”

  “That’s not true,” Maya argued. “Savanna’s always been nice to me. We used to have playdates all the time when we were in lower school.”

  I shook my head. “Yeah, but, Maya,” I said, “playdates don’t count. Half the time, our moms set those up. Now we get to choose who we want to hang out with. And Savanna is choosing not to hang out with us. Ellie is choosing not to hang out with us. Just like we’re choosing not to hang out with some people. It’s not that big a deal. But it’s certainly not Ximena Chin’s fault.”

  Maya peered over her glasses at the Savanna table. As I watched her, I realized she still looked exactly the way she did in kindergarten, when we would have tetherball games in the playground or go on fairy quests in the park at sunset.

  In some ways, Maya hadn’t grown up that much since then. Her face, her glasses, and her hair—they were almost identical to what they used to be. She was taller now, of course. But almost everything else remained unchanged. Especially her expressions. They were exactly the same.

  “No, Ellie used to be nice to me,” she answered very surely. “Just like Savanna was. I blame it all on Ximena Chin.”

  How February Made Us Money, Too!

  By the end of February, we’d made thirty-six dollars!

  Mrs. Atanabi had been late to every single rehearsal.

  Every.

  Single.

  One.

  It got so that she would actually come to rehearsal with crisp dollar bills all ready in her hands to give us. She would literally show up, begin talking, hand us the money without even acknowledging it, and start the dance class! It was almost like it was the price of admission. What she paid to get through the door. So funny!

  Then at one point halfway through the month, she herself suggested upping the amount of the penalty she would give us for being late from one dollar to five dollars. This, she assured us, would definitely keep her from being late in the future.

  But of course that didn’t work, either. And now, instead of coming to rehearsal prepared with crisp one-dollar bills in her hand, she would come in with crisp five-dollar bills. Which she simply dropped on top of our backpacks by the door without saying a word. The price of admission.

  Swoosh. Swoosh. Swoosh.

  “God bless America.”

  Even Ximena said that now.

  How Ximena Made a Discovery

  Ascension Transcends

  By Melissa Crotts, NYT MuseTech, February 1978

  Ascension, in its world premiere at the Nelly Regina Theater, is the stunning debut by choreographer Petra Echevarri, recent graduate of Juilliard and winner of the Princess Grace Award. A mesmerizing reinterpretation of the dance fads of the ’60s—as seen through the Kodachromic lens of the author’s childhood in NYC’s Barrio—this piece is a riveting and joyful homage to the scratchy, catchy, and soon-to-be-lost tracks of the decade. Chock-full of breathtaking leaps and innovative steps that belie Ms. Echevarri’s own training in the classical style, the work takes one particular dance, the shingaling, and creates a visual narrative through which the rest of the work weaves.

  “The reason I chose the shingaling as the centerpiece of this dance,” explains Echevarri, “is because it’s the only one of the dance fads of the time that actually evolved over the years to reflect the musical styles and genres of the musicians and dancers interpreting it. There are so many types of shingaling: Latin, soul, R&B, funk, psychedelic, and rock and roll. It’s the one dance that intersects every genre. The common thread.

  “Growing up in the ’60s, music was everything to me and my friends. I didn’t have money for dance lessons. American Bandstand was my dance teacher. Those dance fads of the era were my training.”

  Echevarri didn’t begin formal dance training until the age of twelve, but once she did, there was no looking back. “Once I got into Performing Arts, and then Juilliard,” recalls Echevarri, “I knew I could do it. I could defy the odds. None of my neighborhood friends did. The ’hood is a tough place to leave.”

  When asked why she chose the shingaling as the main theme of her dance, Echevarri grows wistful. “A couple of years ago, about a month before graduating from Juilliard, I attended the funeral of a childhood friend—one of those girls who used to come to my house for Bandstand. I hadn’t seen her for years, but I’d heard she was in a bad way, had gotten in with the wrong crowd. Anyway, her mother saw me at the funeral, and said her daughter had made a gift for me, a graduation present. I couldn’t imagine what it was!”

  Echevarri holds up a cassette tape. “This girl had made me a tape of every shingaling song from our childhood. Every single one. ‘Chinatown’ by Justi Barreto. ‘Shingaling Shingaling’ by Kako and His Orchestra. ‘Sugar, Let’s Shing-A-Ling’ by Shirley Ellis. ‘I’ve Got Just the Thing’ by Lou Courtney. ‘Shing-A-Ling Time, Baby!’ by the Liberty Belles. ‘El Shingaling’ by the Lat-Teens. ‘Shing-A-Ling!’ by Arthur Conley. ‘Shing-A-Ling!’ by Audrey Winters. ‘Nobody but Me’ by the Human Beinz. An incredible song list. I don’t even know how she recorded some of them. But when I heard these songs, I knew I was going to create a dance woven around them.”

  The three dancers in the piece, all recent graduates of Juilliard themselves, bring a distinctive vocabulary to the montage, drawing viewers into an experience that is at once life-affirming and joyful, without any bubble-gum sentimentality. This lack of artifice owes as much to the rousing arrangement of songs, which blend seamlessly together, as it does to Echevarri’s poignant narrative. Modern dance at its best.

  How We Texted

  Thursday 9:18 pm

  Ximena Chin

  Did you guys see the article I emailed you?

  Charlotte Cody

  O!M!G!!!! Is THAT really Mrs. Atanabi?

  Ximena Chin

  :) ;-O Crazy, right?

  Charlotte Cody

  R U sure? Who is Petra Echevarrrrarara?

  Ximena Chin

  It’s her maiden name. That’s her! Trust me. I was googling Gordy Johnson tonight and got bored and started googling Petra Atanabi.

  Summer Dawson

  I just read the article. Unbelievable! That’s the dance WE’RE DOING!!!! Ascension!

  Ximena Chin

  I know! Amyaazzzinng!

  Charlotte Cody

  She looks so young and pretty in that photo.

  Summer Dawson

  Aww, that’s so sweet, Ximena!

  Ximena Chin

  [email protected]?????

  Summer Dawson

  That you were googling Gordy Johnson.

  Ximena Chin

  Yeah, well, now im curios too. I want to know what happened to him already.

  Charlotte Cody

  I shuldnt say this but My mom thinks that maybe he’s…

  Summer Dawson

  Oh no!!! I think my mom thinkx so too.

  Ximena Chin

  Sorry guys. I sorta think maybe I agree…?????

  Charlotte Cody

  RIP Gordy Johnson??????

  Summer Dawson

  Nooooooo!!!!!

  Charlotte Cody

  I dont blieve it.

  Summ
er Dawson

  Me neither

  Ximena Chin

  K. 4get I said NEthing.

  Summer Dawson

  Said whaaaat?

  Charlotte Cody

  Ximena Chin

  On completely unrelated note do yu guys want to sleep over my house 2moro night?

  Charlotte Cody

  Yea! Let me ask my mom. BRB

  Summer Dawson

  Sounds fun. Just us?

  Ximena Chin

  Ya. COme @ 6?

  Summer Dawson

  OK

  Charlotte Cody

  My mom says fine so long as your parents home?

  Ximena Chin

  Natch.

  Charlotte Cody

  My parental unit who is at this moment violating my personal space and reading my text over my shoulder wants me to finish homework so I GTG. CU2moro! Gnight.

  Summer Dawson

  Nighty night!

  Ximena Chin

  Til 2moro! Cant wait! xo

  How We Went to Ximena Chin’s House

  It was the first time we went to Ximena’s house. Up until then, we’d always hung out at my house or Summer’s apartment.

  Ximena lived in one of those luxury high-rises on the other side of the park. It was a doorman building, very different from the apartments I was used to in North River Heights. Most of those are brownstones or small apartment buildings that are over a hundred years old. Ximena’s apartment was ultra-modern. The elevator opened directly into the apartment.

  “Hey!” said Ximena, waiting for us in the foyer.

  “Hey!” we said.

  “Wow, this is beautiful,” said Summer, looking around as she dropped her sleeping bag in the hallway. “Should we take our shoes off?”

 
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