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A Note from Greg Gaines, Author of This Book



A Note from Greg Gaines, Author of This Book

Chapter 1. How It Is Possible to Exist in a Place That Sucks So Bad

Chapter 2. The First Day of Senior Year in Convenient Script Format

Chapter 3. Let’s Just Get This Embarrassing Chapter Out of the Way

Chapter 4. Where Are They Now?

Chapter 5. The Dying Girl

Chapter 6. Phone Sex

Chapter 7. The Gaines Family: A Summary

Chapter 8. Phone Sex II

Chapter 9. A More or Less Typical Conversation with Earl

Chapter 10. I Put the “Ass” in “Casanova”

Chapter 11. I, the Wrath of God, Will Marry My Own Daughter, and Together We Shall Start the Purest Dynasty the World Has Ever Seen

Chapter 12. I Put the "Idiot" in "Videotape"

Chapter 13. Even More Earl Backstory

Chapter 14. Cafeterioration

Chapter 15. Gaines/Jackson: The Collected Works

Chapter 16. Hopefully the End of What Has Been a Ridiculous Amount of Earl Backstory

Chapter 17. Mr. McCarthy’s Office

Chapter 18. Drugs Are the Worst

Chapter 19. Earl Betrays Our Entire Creative Partnership While I Am Distracted by the Munchies

Chapter 20. Batman Versus Spider-Man

Chapter 21. Two Poncy Dudes

Chapter 22. Spider Versus Wasp

Chapter 23. Gilbert

Chapter 24. Pasty Teen Has Uneventful Day

Chapter 25. A Moron’s Guide to Leukemia

Chapter 26. Human Flesh

Chapter 27. You and Me and a Perpetually Exploding Turkey Makes Three

Chapter 28. Rachel the Film: Brainstorming

Chapter 29. Rachel the Film: The Hallmark Version

Chapter 30. Rachel the Film: The Ken Burns Version

Chapter 31. Rachel the Film: The Sock Puppet Version

Chapter 32. Rachel the Film: The Wallace & Gromit Version

Chapter 33. Jesus, Now What Am I Supposed to Do

Chapter 34. Fight Club, Except Lamer

Chapter 35. Deadline

Chapter 36. Rachel the Film

Chapter 37. The Ends of Our Lives

Chapter 38. Aftermath

Chapter 39. Aftermath II

Chapter 40. Aftermath III



About the Author

A Note from Greg Gaines, Author of This Book

I have no idea how to write this stupid book.

Can I just be honest with you for one second? This is the literal truth. When I first started writing this book, I tried to start it with the sentence “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” I genuinely thought that I could start this book that way. I just figured, it’s a classic book-starting sentence. But then I couldn’t even figure out how you were supposed to follow that up. I stared at the computer for an hour and it was all I could do not to have a colossal freak-out. In desperation, I tried messing with the punctuation and italicization, like:

It was the best of times? And it was the worst of times?!!

What the hell does that even mean? Why would you even think to do that? You wouldn’t, unless you had a fungus eating your brain, which I guess I probably have.

The point is, I have no idea what I’m doing with this book. And the reason for that is, I’m not a writer. I’m a filmmaker. So now you’re probably asking yourself:

1. Why is this guy writing a book and not making a film?

2. Does it have to with the brain-fungus thing?

Answer Key

1. I’m writing a book instead of making a film because I have retired from filmmaking forever. Specifically, I retired after making the Worst Film Ever Made. Usually the goal is to retire after making the best possible thing you can make—or, even better, die—but I did the opposite. A brief outline of my career would look like this:

i. Many Bad Films

ii. A Mediocre Film

iii. Some OK Films

iv. A Decent Film

v. Two or Three Good Films

vi. A Bunch of Pretty Great Films

vii. The Worst Film Ever Made

Fin. How bad was that film? It killed someone, that’s how bad it was. It caused an actual death. You’ll see.

2. Let’s just say that it would explain a lot of things if there were a fungus eating my brain. Although that fungus would have to have been eating my brain for basically my entire life. At this point it’s possible that the fungus has gotten bored and left, or died from malnutrition or something.

I do actually want to say one other thing before we get started with this horrifyingly inane book. You may have already figured out that it’s about a girl who had cancer. So there’s a chance you’re thinking, “Awesome! This is going to be a wise and insightful story about love and death and growing up. It is probably going to make me cry literally the entire time. I am so fired up right now.” If that is an accurate representation of your thoughts, you should probably try to smush this book into a garbage disposal and then run away. Because here’s the thing: I learned absolutely nothing from Rachel’s leukemia. In fact, I probably became stupider about life because of the whole thing.

I’m not really putting this very well. My point is this: This book contains precisely zero Important Life Lessons, or Little-Known Facts About Love, or sappy tear-jerking Moments When We Knew We Had Left Our Childhood Behind for Good, or whatever. And, unlike most books in which a girl gets cancer, there are definitely no sugary paradoxical single-sentence-paragraphs that you’re supposed to think are deep because they’re in italics. Do you know what I’m talking about? I’m talking about sentences like this:

The cancer had taken her eyeballs, yet she saw the world with more clarity than ever before.

Barf. Forget it. For me personally, things are in no way more meaningful because I got to know Rachel before she died. If anything, things are less meaningful. All right?

So I guess we should just start.

(I just realized that you may not know what “fin” means. It is a filmmaking term. Specifically, it is French for “This movie is over, which is good, because it probably confused the hell out of you, because it was made by French people.”)

Fin for real this time.

So in order to understand everything that happened, you have to start from the premise that high school sucks. Do you accept that premise? Of course you do. It is a universally acknowledged truth that high school sucks. In fact, high school is where we are first introduced to the basic existential question of life: How is it possible to exist in a place that sucks so bad?

Most of the time middle school sucks even worse, but middle school is so pathetic that I can’t even bring myself to write about it, so let’s just focus on high school.

All right. Allow me to introduce myself: Greg S. Gaines, seventeen. During the period described in this book, I was a senior at Benson High School in lovely inner-city Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And before we do anything else, it is necessary for us to examine Benson and the specific ways in which it sucks.

So, Benson is on the border of Squirrel Hill, an affluent neighborhood, and Homewood, a non-affluent neighborhood, and it draws about equal numbers of students from both. On television, it’s usually the rich kids who assert control at a high school; however, most of Squirrel Hill’s genuinely rich kids go to the local private school, Shadyside Academy. The ones that remain are too few to impose any kind of order. I mean, occasionally, they try to, and that tends to be more adorable than anything else. Like when Olivia Ryan freaks out about the puddle of urine that appears in one of the stairwells most days between 10:30 and 11:00 AM, shrieking at bystanders in an insane, misguided attempt to try to figure out who did it. You want to say, “Liv! The perpetrator has probably not returned to the scene of the crime. Pee Diddy is long gone by now.” But even if you did say that, she probably wouldn’t stop freaking out. And anyway, my point is that the freak-out doesn’t have any measurable effect on anything. It’s like when a kitten tries to bite something to death. The kitten clearly has the cold-blooded murderous instinct of a predator, but at the same time, it’s this cute little kitten, and all you want to do is stuff it in a shoebox and shoot a video of it for grandmas to watch on YouTube.

So the rich kids aren’t the alpha group of the school. The next most likely demographic would be the church kids: They’re plentiful, and they are definitely interested in school domination. However, that strength—the will to dominate—is also their greatest weakness, because they spend so much time trying to convince you to hang out with them, and the way they try to do that is by inviting you over to their church. “We’ve got cookies and board games,” they say, or that sort of thing. “We just got a Wii set up!” Something about it always seems a little off. Eventually, you realize: These same exact sentences are also said by child predators.

So the church kids can never be the alpha group, either. Their tactics are just too creepy. At many schools, the jocks would be a good bet to ascend to the throne, but at Benson, they’re pretty much all black, and many of the white kids are afraid of them. Who else is there to lead the masses? The smart kids? Please. They have no interest in politics. They’re hoping simply to attract as little attention as possible until high school is over. Then they can escape to some college where no one will mock them for knowing how an adverb works. The theater kids? My God, it would be a bloody massacre. They would be found beaten to death with their own dog-eared The Wiz songbooks. The stoners? Too lacking in initiative. The gangbangers? Too rarely on the premises. The band kids? It would be like with the theater kids, except somehow even sadder. The gothy dorks? Impossible even as a thought experiment.

So at the top of the Benson social hierarchy, there is a vacuum. The result: chaos.

(Although let me also note that I’m using overly simplistic categories here. Are there multiple separate groups of smart kids/rich kids/jocks/etc.? Yes. Are there a bunch of groups that don’t have easy labels because they’re just loose collections of friends without a single defining characteristic? Also yes. I mean, if you wanted, I could just map out the entire school for you, with geeky labels like “Middle-Class African American Junior Sub-Clique 4c,” but I am pretty sure no one wants me to do that. Not even the members of Middle-Class African American Junior Sub-Clique 4c [Jonathan Williams, Dajuan Williams, Donté Young, and, until he got really serious about the trombone midway through junior year, Darnell Reynolds].)

So there are a bunch of groups, all jockeying for control, and consequently all of them want to murder each other. And so the problem is that if you’re part of a group, everyone outside of that group wants to murder you.

But here’s the thing. There’s a solution to that problem: Get access to every group.

I know. I know. This sounds insane. But it’s exactly what I did. I didn’t join any group outright, you understand. But I got access to all of them. The smart kids, the rich kids, the jocks, the stoners. The band kids, the theater kids, the church kids, the gothy dorks. I could walk into any group of kids, and not one of them would bat an eye. Everyone used to look at me and think, “Greg! He’s one of us.” Or maybe something more like: “That guy’s on our side.” Or at the very least: “Greg is a guy who I am not going to flick ketchup at.” This was a brutally difficult thing to accomplish. Consider the complications:

1. Infiltration of any one group must remain concealed to most, if not all, of the others. If rich kids observe you chatting amiably with goths, the gated community closes its doors to you. If church kids notice you stumbling out of a stoner car, cloaked in smoke as though exiting a sauna, your days of conscientiously not blurting out the F-word in the church basement are over. And if a jock, God forbid, witnesses you hobnobbing with theater kids, he will immediately assume you are gay, and there is no force on earth greater than the fear jocks have of homosexuals. None. It’s like the Jewish fear of Nazis, except the complete opposite with regard to who is beating the crap out of whom. So I guess it’s more like the Nazi fear of Jews.

2. You cannot become too deeply enmeshed in any one group. This follows from point one, above. One must instead be at the periphery at all times. Befriend the goths, but do not under any circumstances dress like them. Participate in band, but avoid their hour-long jam sessions in the band room after school. Make appearances at the church’s ridiculously decked-out rec room, but shun any activity wherein someone is actively talking about Jesus.

3. At lunch, before school, and at all other times in public, you must keep an insanely low profile. I mean, just forget about lunch. Lunch is where you are asked to demonstrate your allegiance to one group or another by sitting with them for all to see—or, God forbid, being asked to sit with some poor sap who’s not even in a group. It’s not that I have anything against group-less kids, obviously. My heart goes out to them, the wretched bastards. In the chimpanzee-ruled jungle of Benson, they are the cripples, hobbling along on the forest floor, unable to escape harassment and torture from the others. Pity them, yes; befriend them, never. To befriend them is to share their fate. They try to hook you by saying things like, “Greg, d’you wanna sit with me.” What they are really saying is: “Please hold still while I stab you in your legs, so that you cannot run when we are overtaken by the Biting Ones.”

But really anytime you’re in a room with a bunch of groups mixed together, you have to disengage as much as possible. In class, at lunch, wherever.

At this point, you may be asking: “But what about your friends? You can’t ignore your friends if you’re in class with them.”

To which I say: Maybe you haven’t been paying attention. The whole point is that you can’t be friends with anyone. That’s the tragedy and the triumph of this whole way of being that I’m talking about. You can’t lead a typical high school life.

Because here’s the thing: The typical high school life sucks.

You may also be asking: “Greg, why are you talking trash on the group-less kids? It sounds like you’re basically a group-less kid.” You have a point, sort of. The thing is, I was in no group, but I was also in every group. So you can’t really describe me as group-less.

Honestly, there’s no good word for what I was doing. For a while I thought of myself as a practitioner of High School Espionage, but ultimately that was too misleading of a term. That made it sound like I was sneaking around having illicit sexual liaisons with voluptuous Italian women. For one thing, Benson doesn’t have any voluptuous Italian women. The closest thing we have is Ms. Giordano in the principal’s office, and she’s kind of lumpy and has a face like a parrot. Also, she does this thing women sometimes do with their eyebrows where they just completely shave them off and draw new ones in a different weird place with a Sharpie or something, and the more you think about it, the more your stomach starts churning around and you want to claw your own head.

That is literally the only appearance Ms. Giordano is going to make in this book.

Let’s just move on.

So I guess we should start with the first day of senior year. Which was actually awesome until Mom got involved.

I mean, “awesome” is a relative term. My expectations were low, obviously. Maybe “awesome” is too strong a word. The sentence should be: “I was pleasantly surprised when the first day of senior year did not make me want to freak out and hide in my own locker pretending to be dead.”

School is always stressful, and then the first day of any school year is especially insane because the hangout spots have to be realigned. I failed to note in the previous chapter that the traditional groups of Rich, Jock, Smart, Theater, etc., are further subdivided by grade: The sophomore gothy dorks live in resentful terror of the senior gothy dorks, the smart juniors are dismissive and mistrustful of the smart freshman, etc. So when a class moves out, all of the spots that they used to occupy before school are up for grabs, and there’s usually some weirdness as a result.

Mainly it made for a busy morning for me. I showed up stupidly early to see how things would play out, and there were already some kids staking out their ground. These tended to be representatives of Benson’s more dicked-upon groups.


JUSTIN HOWELL is hovering nervously near the door to the library, hoping to claim it for the theater kids. He is pacing back and forth humming THE THEME FROM RENT OR MAYBE CATS. With visible relief, he notices GREG approaching.


clearly relieved that it is not a jock or gangbanger or anyone else who will immediately call him a faggot

Oh hi Greg.


Justin, good to see you.


Good to see you. Greg how was your summer.


It was hot and boring, and I can’t believe it’s over already.





This seemingly innocuous JOKE has caused Justin Howell to completely lose his shit. Perhaps it is the MIND-DESTROYING ANXIETY of being back at school.

Meanwhile, this was not quite the response Greg was hoping to get. He had intended to say something bland and unmemorable. Now he is SHRUGGING and FIDGETING AWKWARDLY and attempting to avoid EYE CONTACT, which he usually does when people are laughing at a thing that he has said.


turning his eyebrows into a weird shape



MRS. WALTER, the librarian, arrives. She is glaring at both of them. She is almost definitely an ALCOHOLIC.


Hi Mrs. Walterrrr.


with dislike



Greg that is too funny.


All right man, I’ll see you later.

I was obviously not gonna go into that library and have a lengthy bro-hang with Justin Howell, for reasons I’ve already explained to you. It was time to move on.


LAQUAYAH THOMAS and BRENDAN GROSSMAN have not been let into the band room yet. Despite not having instruments, they are poring over some SHEET MUSIC. You can sort of tell that they are doing this to show everyone that they are good enough at music to just casually sit around reading sheet music.


Gaines. You doing orchestra this year?



Couldn’t fit it in.





But you woulda got timpani this year! Now who’s gonna play timpani?



It’s gonna be like Joe DiMeola.


Yeah, probably Joe. He’s a better percussionist than me anyway.


Joe gets the sticks all sweaty.


That’s because he’s so focused.


Two senior gothy dorks, SCOTT MAYHEW and ALLAN McCORMICK, are camped out in some seats near the back playing Magic cards. GREG enters cautiously, his eyes darting from side to side. The auditorium is perhaps the school’s most valuable real estate. It is highly unlikely that this little goth colony will survive the WAVES OF JOCKS, THEATER KIDS, AND GANGBANGERS that will doubtless arrive later this morning.


Hello, gentlemen.


Good day to you.


blinking rapidly and forcefully for probably no reason

Yes, good day.

The gothy dorky kids are very low in the social hierarchy, but at the same time they are almost impossible to infiltrate. Maybe it’s because they’re so low in the hierarchy. They’re insanely suspicious of everyone who tries to talk to them. This is because pretty much all of their characteristics are targets of ridicule: their love of elves and dragons, their trench coats and long un-groomed or maybe-too-well-groomed hair, their habit of striding around way too fast while breathing really hard out of their noses. Getting them to accept you is difficult without becoming a gothy dork.

Actually, I feel kind of a soft spot for them because I completely understand their worldview. They hate high school, just like I do. They’re constantly trying to escape it and instead live in a fantasy world where they can spend all their time striding around in the mountains, jabbing people with swords under the eerie light of like eight different moons or something. Sometimes I feel like, in an alternate universe, I could have been one of them. I’m pasty and chubby and completely insane in social situations. And if I’m being honest, attacking people with swords is awesome.

That was what I was thinking a little bit, crouching there with them in the auditorium. But then I had a realization.

SCOTT MAYHEW, after much deliberation, plays a CARD entitled “Horde of the Undead.”




Scott, great horde.

My realization was that I could never actually live a life where I had to be constantly doing things like praising a dude’s horde.

So that made me feel better about myself.

It did not take me all that long to respectfully get the hell out of there.


All four members of MIDDLE-CLASS AFRICAN AMERICAN JUNIOR SUB-CLIQUE 4C are positioned near the doors. Meanwhile, a lone sophomore church kid, IAN POSTHUMA, has spread his stuff farther down the hall and is grimly waiting for REINFORCEMENTS.

This is a classic situation in which you try to engage people as little as possible, because if you look like you’re part of one group, the other group will take notice and ostracize you. I mean, being ostracized by sophomore church kids would not be the worst thing in the world, but my one goal in life was to not be ostracized by anyone. Were there times when this goal seemed like the goal of a moron? Yes. But honestly, name one life goal that does not occasionally seem like the goal of a total moron. Even being president would completely suck, if you really give it any thought at all.

GREG gives IAN POSTHUMA a low-key head-nod greeting. Then the RUBBER BALL that JONATHAN WILLIAMS has been flinging against RANDOM SURFACES ricochets into one of GREG’S TEETH.

In previous years, there would have been no dignified way to deal with this. The ball-throwing group would have burst into raucous laughter, and my only course of action would have been to stride briskly away, probably while being further pelted.

But pretty quickly, it became clear that this year, things were different.

Instead of glorying in the fact that his ball has bounced into GREG’S TOOTH, JONATHAN WILLIAMS tucks his head into his shirt with embarrassment.


visibly annoyed

I told you you would hit someone.


Dude’s a senior.





It’s all good.

DAJUAN WILLIAMS gives Jonathan Williams a shove.


cleaning a fingernail

Can’t be throwing shit.

Basically, being a senior means that when people throw things at your teeth, it’s accidental. In other words, being a senior is awesome.

All morning before school, and then all day, that was how things went. It was kind of a perfect day in that regard. I spent a few minutes in the parking lot with a gaggle of ill-tempered foreign kids led by Nizar the Surly Syrian, then exchanged some hellos with the soccer team, and this year none of them tried to grab and injure my nipples. Dave Smeggers, noted stoner, began telling me a long and excruciatingly pointless story about his summer, but was soon distracted by some birds, at which point I made my escape. Vonta King tried to get me to sit with him across from room 318, so I pretended I was on my way to a meeting with a teacher, and he accepted it without argument. And so on and so forth.

Also, at one point I almost walked into one of Madison Hartner’s boobs. Her boobs are about at eye level for me.

For the purposes of this god-awful book, I have to talk briefly about girls, so let’s see if we can get through that without me punching myself in the eyeball.

First things first: Girls like good-looking guys, and I am not very good-looking. In fact, I sort of look like a pudding. I am extremely pale and somewhat overweight. I have kind of a rat face, and my mediocre vision makes me squint a lot. Finally, I have what has been diagnosed as chronic allergic rhinitis, which sounds interesting but basically just means a constant booger problem. I can’t really breathe through my nose, so most of the time my mouth is hanging open, which gives the appearance of major stupidity.

Second: Girls like confident guys. With that in mind, please reread the previous paragraph. It’s hard to be confident when you look like a chubby, squinty, mentally defective rodent-human who picks his nose.

Third: My girl tactics need work.

Failed Girl Tactic #1: The Non-Crush. In fourth grade, I realized that girls were desirable. I had no idea what you were supposed to do with them, of course. I just sort of wanted to have one, like as a possession or something. And of all the fourth graders, Cammie Marshall was definitely the hottest. So I had Earl go up to Cammie Marshall on the playground and say: “Greg doesn’t have a crush on you. But he’s worried that you have a crush on him.” I was standing about five feet away when Earl did this. The hope was that Cammie would say, “Secretly, I totally have a crush on Greg and want to be his girlfriend.” Instead, she said, “Who?”

“Greg Gaines,” said Earl. “He’s standing right over there.”

They both turned to look at me. I took my finger out of my nose to wave. That was when I realized that I had had my finger in my nose.

“Nope,” said Cammie.

Things did not really improve from there.

Failed Girl Tactic #2: The Nonstop Insults. Cammie was obviously out of my league. But her best friend, Madison Hartner, was also pretty hot. In fifth grade, I figured Madison would be starved for attention, given that Cammie was so hot. (Note: In retrospect, at seventeen, it’s hard to understand how a ten-year-old could be hot. At the time, though, this made perfect sense.)

Anyway, with Madison I used a tactic I had seen work for other fifth graders: insults. Constant vicious insults. Insults that didn’t even make any sense: I called her Madison Avenue Hartner, not knowing what Madison Avenue was. Bad-ison. Fat-ison. It took me a while, but eventually I discovered Madison Fartner, which made some other kids giggle, so I used it all the time.

The thing was, I was relentless. I went way too far. I told her she had a tiny dinosaur brain and a second brain in her butt. I said her family didn’t have dinner, they just sat around and farted at each other because they were too stupid to know what food was. At one point I even called her house to tell her that she washed her hair with barf.

Look, I was an idiot. I didn’t want people to think that I had a crush, so I decided to give everyone the impression that I truly, honestly hated Madison Hartner. For no reason. Just thinking about this really makes me want to punch myself in the eyeball.

Finally, after about a week, the day came when I made her cry—something about Booger ChapStick, I forget the specifics—and the teacher gave me the elementary school equivalent of a restraining order. I quietly accepted it and didn’t speak to Madison again for like five years. To this day, it remains an unsolved mystery: The Week Greg Was Filled with Unexplained Hate for Madison.


Failed Girl Tactic #3: The Diversion. So, Mom made me go to Hebrew school until my bar mitzvah, which was a colossal pain in the ass and I don’t want to talk about it. However, Hebrew school had one thing going for it: a terrific boy-girl ratio. There was just one other boy in my class, Josh Metzger, versus six girls. The problem: Only one of those girls, Leah Katzenberg, was hot. The other problem: Josh Metzger was sort of a stud. He had long bleached-out frizzy hair from swimming. He also was sullen and untalkative, which made me afraid of him and at the same time made him very attractive to girls. Even our teachers used to hit on him. Hebrew school teachers are all women, mostly unmarried.

Anyway, in sixth grade, it was time to throw some game at Leah Katzenberg. In order to win her over—get ready for record-setting stupidity—I decided that I would try to make her jealous. Specifically, by flirting with Rachel Kushner, an average-looking girl with big teeth and hair even frizzier than Josh Metzger’s. Rachel Kushner was also not especially exciting to talk to, because she talked really slowly and never seemed to have anything to say.

The one thing going for her was that she thought I was the funniest guy in the entire world. I could make her laugh by doing literally anything: impressions of teachers, going cross-eyed, Dance of the Pigeon Man. This was awesome for my self-esteem. Unfortunately, it was not awesome for my chances with Leah Katzenberg, who rapidly came to think that Rachel and I were a cute couple, and one day after Hebrew school told us exactly that.

Suddenly, I had a girlfriend. And it was not the girlfriend I wanted.

In the words of Nizar, the surliest and least-English-speaking of Benson’s ESL kids, “Fuck dick shit ass.”

The next day, I informed Rachel over the phone that I wanted to be Just Friends.

“That’s fine,” she said.

“Great,” I said.

“Do you want to come over?” she asked.

“Uh,” I said. “My foot is stuck in the toaster.” It was idiotic, but needless to say, this got a huge laugh from her.

“Seriously, do you want to come over,” she asked again, after literally thirty seconds of helpless giggling.

“I have to sort out this toaster thing first,” I said. Then, knowing that there was no going forward with that conversation, I hung up.

This joke went on for days, then weeks. Sometimes when she called, I said I was glued to the fridge; other times I had accidentally welded myself to a police car. I started branching out to animals: “I have to fight some angry tigers,” or “I’m digesting an entire wombat right now.” It didn’t even make any sense. And eventually, Rachel stopped thinking this was so funny. “Greg, seriously,” she started saying. “Greg, if you don’t want to hang out, just tell me.” But I wasn’t able to tell her for some reason. I would have felt too mean. The stupid part was, what I was doing was way more mean. But I didn’t realize this at the time.

I just punched my own eyeball.

Hebrew school became incredibly awkward. Rachel stopped wanting to talk to me, but this didn’t help things with Leah at all. I mean, obviously. She thought I was a huge jerk. Actually, I may have helped convince her that all boys were jerks, because she became a lesbian not long after the whole Rachel fiasco.

Failed Girl Tactic #4: The Boob Compliment. In seventh grade, Mara LaBastille had a terrific pair of boobs. But it’s just never a good idea to compliment a girl’s boobs. I had to learn this the hard way. Also, it’s somehow worse to draw attention to the fact that there are two boobs. I don’t know why this is, but it’s true. “You have nice boobs.” Bad. “You have two nice boobs.” Worse. “Two boobs? Perfect.” F minus.

Failed Girl Tactic #5: The Gentleman. Mariah Epps’s family moved to Pittsburgh in eighth grade. When she was introduced to us on the first day of school, I was so fired up. She was cute, she seemed smart, and best of all, she was completely unaware of my history of dickhead behavior around girls. I knew I had to move quickly. That night, I broke down and asked Mom what girls really wanted.

“Girls like gentlemen,” she said. She was being kind of loud. “A girl likes to get flowers every so often.” She was glaring at Dad. It was the day after her birthday or something.

So the second day of school, I wore a suit and brought an actual rose to school, which I gave to Mariah before first period.

“I would be honoured and delighted to escort you to an ice-cream parlour this week-end,” I said, in a British accent.

Would you,” she said.

“Greg, you look like a fruit,” said Will Carruthers, a nearby jock.

But it worked. Unbelievable! We actually went on a date. We met at a place in Oakland, and I bought us some ice cream, and we sat down, and I thought, from now on, this is how my life is going to be, and that kicks ass.

That’s when The Talking began.

My God, that girl could talk. She could go for miles. Invariably it was about her friends back in Minnesota, whom I didn’t know. It was all she wanted to talk about. I heard hundreds of hours’ worth of stories about these people, and because I was being a gentleman, I wasn’t allowed to say, “This is boring,” or “I already heard that one.”

And so the problem became that the gentleman tactic worked too well. The expectations were ridiculous. I had to wear my nicest clothes to school every day, pay for stuff constantly, spend hours on the phone every night, etc. And for what? Definitely not sex. Gentlemen don’t get to fool around. Not that I really knew, back then, what fooling around was. Plus I had to keep talking in that stupid British accent, and everyone thought I was brain-damaged.

So I had to put a stop to it. But how? It obviously wasn’t an option to be honest and say, “Mariah, if spending time with you means paying lots of money and listening to you talk, then it’s not worth it.” I considered a campaign of freaking her out by suddenly only talking about dinosaurs, or maybe even pretending to be a dinosaur, but I didn’t have the courage to do those, either. It was a major quandary.

Then, out of the blue, Aaron Winer saved the day. He took her to some movie and made out with her in the back row. The next day at school, they were boyfriend and girlfriend. Bam! Problem solved. I pretended to be bitter about this, but in fact I was so relieved that I started laughing hysterically in history class and had to be excused to go to the nurse.

And that was that. During high school I didn’t even bother with girls or girl tactics. Frankly, the Mariah thing completely cured me of wanting to have a girlfriend. If it was going to be like that, then screw it.

Cameron “Cammie” Marshall is now captain of the Math League. She still has a Hello Kitty backpack, which might not be ironic. She is definitely not the hottest girl in her class anymore, although I think that does not really bother her all that much.

Madison Hartner is smokin’ hot and probably dates one of the Pittsburgh Steelers or something.

Leah Katzenberg has a shaved head and a bunch of metal embedded in various parts of her face, and four out of five Benson English teachers have given up trying to make her read books written by men.

Mara LaBastille and her two equally phenomenal boobs went to a different high school.

Mariah Epps is a theater girl now. She has a posse of 100 percent gay male sidekicks, including Justin Howell, and holy shit, do they do a lot of talking.

Rachel Kushner got acute myelogenous leukemia our senior year.

I found out about Rachel’s leukemia pretty much as soon as I got home.

So, just to repeat, the first day of senior year had been, if not awesome, then unexpectedly non-horrible. Everyone, from wealthy designer-nosed Olivia Ryan to Nizar the Surly Syrian, thought I was OK, and no one was actively plotting my downfall. This was unprecedented. Plus, in general things were a lot less stressful, now that there weren’t upperclassmen who could squirt mustard packets at my head or backpack. That is what being a senior is all about. My teachers were talking a lot of trash about how hard class was going to be, but by senior year, you realize that all teachers say that every year, and they are always lying.

My life had reached its highest point. I had no way of knowing that as soon as Mom walked in, the prime of my life was over. It had lasted about eight hours.


GREG is sitting on his bed. He has just gotten home from school and is trying to read A Tale of Two Cities for class, but it is difficult for him to maintain focus, because inside his pants he has AN INEXPLICABLE BONER. An image of some BOOBS on GREG’S LAPTOP, open nearby, is not helping things. There is a KNOCK at the door.



Greg? Honey? Can I come in and talk to you?



Fuck fuck fuck


entering room as GREG conspicuously shuts his computer

Honey, how are you doing.

MOM squats down on the floor in front of the bed with her arms folded. Her eyebrows are scrunched, she has a crease in her forehead, and she is staring Greg in the eyes without blinking. These are all reliable signs that she is about to ask Greg to do SOMETHING ANNOYING.

GREG’S INEXPLICABLE BONER is in full retreat.



Honey? Are you doing OK?




after a long silence

I have some really sad news for you, honey. I’m so sorry.

CLOSE-UP of Greg’s confused face as he considers what this news might be. DAD isn’t home. Maybe the university fired him? For weirdness? Can you get fired for weirdness? Or maybe all along Dad has led a secret double life as a CRIMINAL MASTERMIND? And now he’s been discovered, and the family has to flee to an undisclosed ISLAND in the Caribbean? Where they will live in a little hut with a rusty tin roof and AN ACTUAL GOAT? And will there be LOCAL GIRLS with coconut halves on their boobs and skirts made of foliage? Or is that Hawaii? Greg is mistakenly thinking of Hawaii.




I just got off the phone with Denise Kushner. Rachel’s mom? Do you know Denise?


Not really.


But you’re friends with Rachel.


Sort of.


You two had kind of a thing, right? She was your girlfriend?


feeling uneasy

That was like six years ago.


Honey, Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia. Denise just found out.



after a short silence, stupidly

Is that serious?


now starting to cry a little bit

Oh, honey. They don’t know. They’re doing tests, and they’re gonna do all they can. But they just don’t know.

leaning forward

Sweetie, I’m so sorry about this. It’s really not fair. It’s not fair.


sounding even more like an idiot

Uh . . . it sucks.


You’re right. You’re absolutely right. It does suck.

passionately, and also bizarrely, because parents don’t say that things suck

It does suck. It really, really



still struggling to find something appropriate to say, and failing

This, uh, just sucks . . . really bad.

maybe if he keeps talking, he will say something that is not stupid?

It sucks so hard.




breaking down

It sucks. You’re right. It just really sucks so hard. Greg. Oh my poor baby. It sucks so very much.

GREG, feeling just insanely awkward, gets off the bed and on the floor and tries to hug his MOM, who is rolling back and forth on the balls of her feet, crying. They SQUAT-HUG for a while.

CLOSE-UP of Greg’s confused and kind of blank face; obviously he’s upset, but actually the really upsetting thing is that he’s not as sad as his mom—not even close—and he feels guilty and sort of resentful about this. Does Mom even know Rachel that well? No. Why is Mom FREAKING OUT SO MUCH about this? Although, at the same time, why isn’t Greg freaking out more? Is Greg a bad person for not needing to cry about this? Greg has a premonition that this is going to turn into some REALLY ANNOYING, TIME-CONSUMING THING.


finally crying less

Sweetie, Rachel is going to need her friends now more than ever.




again, forcefully

Now more than ever. I know it’s hard, but you don’t have a choice. It’s a mitzvah.

“Mitzvah” is Hebrew for “colossal pain in the ass.”




The more time you spend with her, just, you know, the more difference you can make in her life.




It sucks. But you have to be strong. You have to be a good friend.

It definitely sucked. What the hell was I supposed to do? How would it make things better if I were to call up and finally offer to hang out? What would I even say? “Hey, I heard you got leukemia. Sounds like you need an emergency prescription . . . for Greg-acil.” I didn’t know, for starters, what leukemia was. I reopened my computer.

That was when, for a second or two, Mom and I were looking at boobs.



Ugh, Greg.


How did those get there?!


Let me ask you—do you actually like looking at those? They look so fake.


You know what this is? They, uh, have these new pop-up ads on Facebook, and they’re basically just porn–they just appear randomly sometimes—


Real breasts do not look like water balloons.


It’s an ad.


Greg, I’m not stupid.

So it turns out leukemia is cancer of the blood cells. It’s the most common kind of cancer that teenagers get, although the specific kind Rachel had—acute myelogenous leukemia—is not the normal kind for teens. “Acute” means that the leukemia basically came out of nowhere and is growing really quickly, and “myelogenous” has to do with bone marrow. Essentially, Rachel’s blood and bone marrow were being invaded by aggressive, fast-moving cancer cells. I was picturing her in my mind, with her big teeth and frizzy hair, under this invisible microscopic attack, with all these screwed-up things floating around in her veins. Now I actually was getting really upset. But instead of crying, I sort of wanted to throw up.


Does everyone know about this?


I think Rachel’s family is keeping it pretty secret, for now.



So am I not supposed to know about it?


acting a little weird

No, honey. It’s fine if you know about it.


But why?


Well, I was talking to Denise. And, you know, we decided that you were someone who could make Rachel feel better.

starting to nag

Rachel can really use a friend, honey.




She can really use someone to make her laugh.




And I just think, if you spend some time—


OK OK Jesus Christ.

Mom gives Greg a sad and knowing look.


It’s OK to be upset.

I sat there, paralyzed by the problem of what to say. What can you possibly say to a dying person? Who might not even know that you know that they’re dying? I made a list of opening lines, and none of them seemed like they would be any good.

Opening line:

Date: 2015-12-11; view: 1336

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