Editorial Work on Here’s Waldo has Begun, and a Cover Concept is Coming Soon!

Working with Atmosphere Press and Nick Courtright has been a true joy. They’ve been fast and responsive throughout, Nick is communicative and kind, and he really “gets” the book. Bonus points for having the same name as me. 😂 But seriously, I couldn’t ask for a better publisher. Editorial work is officially underway (coincidentally exactly six years to the day since I started writing this manuscript), and a cover concept is coming soon!

 

Smile

It’s spring, and I’m eight years old. That puts us at 1998. Mom and Dad are heading out for a couple hours, leaving Drew in charge of the place. They’ve got to run a few errands before coming back to pick us up so we can all do family pictures at Sears. We’re supposed to go through our closets and find our Good Clothes. Our Good Clothes are the pants that we can still hold up with safety pins, the shirts whose holes are low enough where we can hide them by tucking them in.

My Good Clothes are hand-me-downs from Drew’s old Good Clothes, and the sizing is all off. After Mom and Dad leave, Drew starts vacuuming. This is weird, because they didn’t ask him to, and Drew never vacuums. I sit on the couch like a lump while he moves around the apartment, not quite knowing what to do when it gets to the couch. I scoot to one end of it so that he can clean without me in the way, but I keep getting in the way. He detaches the hose from the vacuum and starts to clean the couch cushions. I get up from the couch and start to walk away. He tells me to get out of the fucking way. I yell that I already did, partially because the vacuum is running and I have to yell to be heard, and partially because I’m angry. He drops the vacuum but leaves it running and walks toward me.

Before I can respond, he’s punched me in the stomach so hard that I can’t make a sound when I hit the ground. When I can move, I start to get up, but he pushes me from behind. I scramble around and get to the back of the couch, but he’s already there. From here, no one could see me. With the vacuum on, no one could hear me.

Drew starts hitting and kicking me. No method, no technique, just anger. I’m crying by now, trying not to because apparently that makes me a little bitch, and I’m doing the best I can to kick him and get back to my feet. In this moment, it hits me for the first time that you can be completely trapped. That you can be hurt and hurt badly with no chance of escape. That the people who hurt you can be the people who love you. I thought those things in simpler terms as I saw Drew through a cloudy bubble world of tears, trying to catch my breath and reaching up to grab his arms as they came down.

When I can, I get back up to my feet and run for the vacuum’s power cord. Drew chases behind me, tries to stop me, but he’s too slow. I yank the cord out of the wall and run for the other room, yelling for someone to help. I hardly finish the word when my legs are pulled out from under me. My face hits the floor, and when I can turn over and open my eyes, nothing seems to be put together just right.

I take slow, deep breaths. The vacuum is back on. For a moment, I imagine that everything that just happened was a dream, that I fell asleep, or fell down and hit my head, and I imagined everything. That Drew was finishing up the vacuuming, and we’d play some N64 after, maybe race in Mario Kart. But that’s not right.

Drew is walking over to me with the vacuum still on in the background to cover up the noise. I can’t be sad anymore, so I get angry. I think of the words I’d heard hurled between Mom and Dad, the words I’d heard the big kids use. Drew pulls his fist back, and I scowl at him:

“Fuck you. I hate you.”

I brace for the hit and take in a breath. The hit never comes. Instead, Drew studies me like I’m a lizard who said the same words. He doesn’t know what to make of it.

By the time Mom and Dad get home, I’ve already cleaned up and gotten dressed for family pictures. When we get to Sears, the photographer puts the family in every configuration possible–Mom and Dad, Dad and Drew, Mom and Drew, me with both, the whole family. Then:

“Let’s get the brothers.”

The photographer has Drew and I get in close with an “act like you love him” that he immediately laughs at right after he says it. We get a little closer for the picture. The photographer adjusts our posture while a void opens up between us. It seems like there is no light and no sound. He tells Drew to put his arm around my shoulder, and Drew does. When he’s satisfied, the photographer gets behind the camera and looks at us:

“Smile!”

Float

It’s summer, and I’m four years old. That puts us at 1994. Mom, Dad, and I are at a waterpark that doesn’t exist anymore, and I’m running around and splashing. My nose burns from trying to inhale while underwater, and the chlorine’s effects have spread to my eyes, making everything look impressionistic. This is my earliest memory.

Drew isn’t there. He’s at a friend’s, maybe, or football practice, I can’t remember. Either way, I’m wandering around while Mom suns and Dad goes to get himself a drink.

There are some other kids there, but not very many, and most of them are so young that they can’t even stand yet. I look from them to my mother to them again. A little farther past, there’s the main pool where all the older kids and adults are swimming.

The main part of the pool is open, but at the end, at the deep end, there’s one of those pool dividers to set up lanes for competitive swimming. A bunch of teenagers are messing around in those lanes, holding onto the dividers, dunking their heads under, and reappearing on the other side. The lifeguards aren’t watching.

I run over to the edge of the main pool, laughing, having no concept of the world other than what’s right here. I crouch down and put my small hands on the edge. I dip my toes in. One of the lane dividers is just a few feet in front of me. It would be so easy to reach it. The teenagers are still over there splashing, dunking, and carrying each other on their shoulders. I scoot off of the edge and fall into the pool.

The extent of my knowledge about swimming at this time has come from Drew holding me afloat in the pool while I doggy paddle, so my body goes back to that out of instinct. It doesn’t work, though. I splash and thrash, but I can’t keep my head above water. Even under there, I can still hear the happy sounds of people enjoying themselves, but the sounds seem to be coming from miles away.

I know it’ll burn, but I open my eyes anyway. Everything is harsh. Harsh blue of the water, harsh reds and oranges of bathing suits, faraway wrinkled feet, and beneath me a Band-Aid swirling in the pool’s eddy. My senses do that desperate thing where every sensory detail stands out all at once, so I can see the smudge of blood left on the Band-Aid’s bandage strip, and in that moment I see my own mother putting a Band-Aid on me. I was running around with a dollar store cap gun trying to shoot bad guys, and I fell down, skinning my knee. She came up to me, still smoking a cigarette, and put a Band-Aid where my skin had been cut open, her not knowing then that she shouldn’t be blowing smoke in my face while doing it.

I look past the Band-Aid and see the teenagers, who are moving away. I want to call out to them, but they won’t hear me. They don’t even know I’m there. One of the lane dividers is a couple feet away, but it might as well be a couple miles away. I’ve moved maybe a few inches from where I started, just far enough where I can’t reach the edge of the pool anymore.

I don’t have a fully-formed concept of death yet. I’ve killed bugs by this point and have seen roadkill in the Bay Colony parking lot from where a squirrel had no chance against a truck, me going over there when my parents weren’t looking, which was pretty easy to do, crouching down and talking to the squirrel, poking at its body and at its head, its mouth opening when I do, and a few flies coming out, me recoiling and not understanding, running home but not crying, being horrified but also curious. I knew those things, but that was about it. None of my family members had died yet. That would come later. For all I knew, this moment would last forever.

When I open my mouth to breathe, it isn’t like opening my eyes and feeling the burn of the chlorine. It’s much worse, but then it isn’t so bad as the darkness sets in, everything going from too harsh to too dim, and then it fades altogether and I’m just not there.

The next thing I remember is me opening my eyes. I’m on my back next to the pool with cold water on my mouth and chest. I’m looking up at a lifeguard who looks absolutely terrified. My mother is next to him, and when she sees that I’m alive, she starts crying uncontrollably. My dad is next to her. His face is hard to read, but it’s red, almost purple. It looks like he’s getting ready to fight someone, though he doesn’t know who.

ME AND MY COMPUTER

NOTE: I wrote the following when I was nine years old. I’ve transcribed it here, errors and all, from my barely legible writing. Enjoy!

 

 

I’m an unusual computer. Sometimes I work, sometimes I don’t. I’m always trying my best, but I’m a newcomer, so I mess up occasionally. I feel so sorry for Nick O., because he has to deal with me day after day, because I don’t know the basics of being a good-enough computer. I wish I could do better.

Hey!, don’t shut me down! I’ll do better, I promise! It’s hard to load websites. No! Hi. I’m back on. I just got shutdown for the fourth time today. I wish he would at least give me a chance! Every time I try to do something, I screw up, and the next thing I know, he shuts me down! I wish I could tell him I try as hard as I can.

Why can’t I work? I try and try and try, and just can’t do it. It’s as simple as that. I just give up. It’s Tuesday, and I heard Nick O. saying that he was going to throw me away tomorrow. How am I going to be a better computer in 24 hours? I know I can do it if I try.

Here’s Wednesday, the most extremely important day of my life, the day I could become an adult computer. I either become a better computer today, or never. I am so nervous, that I’d be sweating if I could. I’m too young to be disconnected! Wish me luck!

Mission: Computer, It’s still Wednesday, I don’t know why he’s taking so long, but that’s of course very good for me.

Let’s start on my modem. Just a few minor loading problems. Fixable. Okay, a little wire switching here and there, a little upgrading, and a little deleting of files, and I’ll be ready. Hmmm, this is harder than I thought. OW! It hurts when I clip a wire, but I have to do it. Oh no! Nick’s coming. I have to be quiet. Whhew! That was close! He walked past me and went outside.

“I’m going to bring you to the dump you dumb computer!

Come on, I have to fix my internet connection, but it’s way too slow. I’ve got to figure a way out of this!

“I can’t wait until 1:00, when I’ll take you to the dump!”

Wait! What did he say? 1:00? It’s 12:43 in the afternoon. I only have 17 minutes!

Internet connection is now fixed! Alright! Now it’s the free space. No wonder I’m so slow, all the free space is taken up throughout the Harddrive. 25%. 50%. 75%. 100%. Good! All the space is free! Now for errors. Error number one, not responding. Get into programs, general, there we go, a little wire clipping, done! Alright! That’s two down:

“Ten minutes, and you’re gone! My parents are going to leave at 1:00, and then I’ll throw this hunk of junk away!”

Did he say ten minutes? Oh no! Error number two, won’t run AOL. Initializing Data, Uninstall AOL. 2%. 5%. Full power! I’m going fast now! 75%. 100%. Now to reinstall it, but do some minor changes.

AOL, programs, reinstall, 75%. 100%! screename. There we go. Password, got it! AOL, settings, general, speed. No wonder! The speed’s on 0. There. 100. I’ll check my clock. Good. It’s only 12:52. Eight more long minutes of working.

Error number three, glitches in sound when I play a movie clip. That will be taken care of.

“Six minutes! I wish I could throw him away now!”

Okay. Six minutes. I only have a couple more errors. Three to be exact. Now for the glitches in sound. Where’s my sound card? Oh, here it is. The chip was put in the wrong way. There we go! One error down, two to go:

I’m cut down to three minutes. Next error, video card makes all video clips load slowly. The cord wasn’t plugged in! Two errors down, one to go, oh no! I have one minute left! I can do this!

Final error. Nothing is upgraded. Full power! 100%! AOL’s upgraded! 100%! Documents are upgraded. 100%! Downloads are upgraded! 10 seconds left! Oh no! Microsoft Word won’t upgrade. Wait. Here we go. 25%. 30%. 50%. 75%. 99%! 1 second left! I can do this! 100%! Time’s up! I did it!

“Time’s up! I’ll play around with this computer one more time before I trash it.”

Hey! It’s going into AOL! I can play movie clips! The sound works! Best of all, no errors! I guess I’ll keep you after all.

I did it! I actually became a better computer in 3 days.

button

COME ON AND SLAM AND WELCOME TO THE JAM

Chris had been maxing out on all things nostalgic, thoroughly satisfied with his decision to have a ‘90s Day. He’d just beaten Aztec on Expert in Goldeneye, his belly was full of Pizza Lunchable and Mondo, and he was fanning out his Pokémon cards like they were hundred dollar bills.

He went on youtube, watched intros to the shows of his childhood. He didn’t care what anyone said, the theme to Duck Tales was a serious musical achievement. Chris was just about to turn off his computer for the night, satiated with his ‘90s fix when he saw it. “Quad City DJ’s – Space Jam for 10 hours.”

Now that was it. Space Jam had to be the pinnacle of ‘90s movies. Sure, he was a bit biased being from Chicago and living through the repeat three-peat, but come on now. What mentally sane young adult didn’t have fond memories of that damn movie? No one, that’s who.

He clicked the link, waited for his slow internet to load the abnormally long video. He perused the comments to pass the time. Among them: “DO NOT LISTEN TO THIS ALL THE WAY THROUGH. PLEASE, SPARE YOURSELF THE TORMENT AND MENTAL ANGUISH. THIS WILL FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGE YOU AS A HUMAN BEING. THE JAM WILL BE ALL YOU KNOW.”

Chris couldn’t help but smirk. Clever posts like this made it almost worth sifting through the illiterate muck that was youtube comments. Right then he decided that he’d do it. He’d top off the night by listening to the whole damn thing. Even if he had to stay up till 8 AM to do it.

The video loaded up. The song’s crowd cheered as that nearly monotone female voice cut in:

“Everybody get up, it’s time to slam now. We got the real jam goin’ down, welcome to the Space Jam. Here’s your chance, do your dance at the Space Jam… alright.”

And just like that, Chris was back in 1996, bowlcut on display as he watched Bugs and the rest tear up the Monstars on the blurriest of VHS tapes. He snapped back from his reverie and popped open a Wonderball, too distracted by the greatness of Space Jam to even wonder what was inside.

After five hours, Chris’s mouth was covered in chocolate, which chocolate smeared up perilously close to his eyes as his hand awkwardly propped up his half-asleep self. He was very soon passed out, the song still playing on without him.

What followed that morning was by far the stiffest and most uncomfortable of wake-ups that Chris could recall in recent memory. He smelled like Capri Sun and chocolate, spent Baby Bottle Pops stuck half-eaten to his socks, and he had spilled Lunchable pizza sauce on his fossilized, first edition, baby Raichu card.

Chris got to his feet, kicking away his sticky candy adornments and made his way to the fridge for a non-diabetes-inducing meal. He opened the fridge, and: nothing. He’d have to pick up some groceries real quick.

He made his way to the supermarket, cartoon theme songs still playing in his head. He walked in the door only to be greeted by a strange noise. It almost sounded like a crowd cheering. But just as soon as it appeared, it was gone.

“Welcome to the Space Jam.”

Chris’s head whipped to the source of the quote. A rather chipper employee stood smiling at him.

“What’d you just say?”

The employee’s grin faltered.

“Welcome to Trader Sam’s… Is something wrong, sir?”

Chris shook his head, more to wake himself up than respond to the employee. He headed over to the cereal aisle, trying his best not to jump to conclusions. Something caught his eye immediately. Among the cereal boxes stood a jar of jam that someone had left behind.

Chris grabbed the jar, incredulous. Behind it, none other than Michael Jordan’s smiling face greeted him from the cover of a Wheaties box. Chris dropped the jar, shattering it. He came to his senses almost immediately, shocked at himself.

He bent over to clean up the mess when a worker who saw the whole thing approached and politely brushed him aside.

“Don’t worry about it sir, I’ve got this. Just work that body, work that body, make sure you don’t hurt nobody.”

Chris blinked rapidly, as if that would alleviate the strangeness of whatever the hell the employee just said.

“Uh, what?”

The employee just smiled, returned to his job. Just then, the store’s muzak cut out abruptly. An intercom voice flooded the store.

“Attention shoppers, down in aisle nine you’ll find we’ve got a real jam going down. Welcome to the Space Jam.”

Chris backed away slowly, not even noticing as he knocked over a nearby display. Several toy basketballs fell from their perch on the toy rack, their bouncing noise somehow heightened, louder. The employee stared at Chris as he wiped the same spot on the floor over and over again, smiling all the while.

“Wave your hands in the air if you feel fine. We’re gonna take it into overtime.”

Chris was now officially losing his shit. He turned away from the creepy employee and started to briskly walk away from the whole jam situation. But standing there blocking his path was a mob of customers, their carts boxing out any possible escape. They all sang in unison:

“HEY, YOU, WHATCHU GONNA DO? HEY, YOU, WHATCHU GONNA DO?”

Chris turned around, toward the creepy employee. An even bigger mob of managers and employees had already appeared, joining in the chorus. They all slowly approached as they sang, arms outstretched. Chris opened his mouth to yell.

CRASH

Chris’s hand slipped, making his head smack against his laptop’s keyboard. The Space Jam loop had just started. He had the feeling he’d just had the weirdest dream, but couldn’t for the life of him remember any of it.

Chris shut the video off and went to bed, satisfied with his very successful ‘90s Day.

button

I REMEMBER

I remember Toy Story on Ice.

I remember the dollar store, and games on floppy disk, and toy guns that broke within the day.

I remember accidents.

I remember warheads, and Pokémon trades, and pizza lunchables.

I remember Doom.

I remember snow days, and Wolverine’s blades, and hot wheels cars that went vroom.

I remember recess.

I remember box tops, and baby bottle pops, and Stretch Armstrong.

I remember Daria.

I remember playpens, and Lisa Frank, and kiddie pools.

I remember Courage the Cowardly Dog.

I remember Beavis, and Golf Mill, and wondering what’s in a Wonder Ball.

I remember multiplayer.

I remember road trips, and gold stars, and refrigerator magnets.

I remember homework packets.

I remember AOL, and Surf Monkey, and boomerangs.

I remember Nickelodeon.

But most of all, I remember the feeling of a slow passage of time that will never return.