I Am Drums, page 1
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Middle Grade Mania!
About the Author
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New York, New York 10016
Copyright © 2016 by Mike Grosso
All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.
Clarion Books is an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
Cover illustration © 2016 by Matthew Tyler Wilson
Cover design by Lisa Vega
The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:
Names: Grosso, Mike, author.
Title: I am drums / by Mike Grosso.
Description: Boston ; New York : Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,  | Summary: “A single-minded twelve-year-old drummer, challenged by her school's budget cuts and her family's financial woes, must find a way to keep her dreams of drumming alive”—Provided by publisher.
Identifiers: LCCN 2015041139 | ISBN 9780544707108 (hardback) Subjects: | CYAC: Drummers (Musicians)—Fiction. | Middle schools—Fiction. | Schools—Fiction. | Sex role—Fiction. | Interpersonal relations—Fiction. | Family life—Fiction. | BISAC: JUVENILE FICTION / Performing Arts / Music. | JUVENILE FICTION / School & Education. | JUVENILE FICTION / Family / Marriage & Divorce. | JUVENILE FICTION / Girls & Women. Classification: LCC PZ7.1.G79 Iaah 2016 | DDC [E]—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2015041139
To Anna, because I would’ve stopped on page two
If I had one wish, I’d ask for a headphone jack in my head. Not a pony, or a crazy-fast car, or a big pile of money to waste on ponies and crazy-fast cars. That kind of stuff is predictable. With a headphone jack in your head, you could let anyone plug right in and listen to your thoughts, especially the complicated stuff, like the hisses and hums in your brain. I want people to understand me when I can’t say what’s on my mind.
That happens to me a lot. Most days I say a ton of things that don’t make sense because I don’t know how to say things that do. With a headphone jack, I wouldn’t have to find words to explain myself. I’d just let people plug in and listen.
One of those moments happened today, right after I hit Danny Lenix with my marimba mallet and right before the lunch lady hauled me into the principal’s office.
“Have you lost your mind?” she shouted, and grabbed the mallet out of my hand. I thought it was a rhetorical question until she said, “Say something, Sam! Explain yourself!”
All I could think to say was “I’m not sure I had my mind to begin with.” Like I said, a headphone jack would be pretty handy.
“Of all the—” she said, before shaking her head and escorting me out of the lunchroom.
She brought me to the person I’m staring at now—Dr. Pullman, the tall-and-deep-voiced-to-the-point-it’s-scary principal of Kennedy Middle School.
Dr. Pullman is one of those adults who shaved his head because he was too impatient to go bald. One day his head started to get a little shinier, and then . . . POW! No hair at all! The pitch-black suit he wears makes him all the more eerie.
He looks at me and says, “Take your hat off in school.”
I pull the baseball cap off my head. I wear it so often, I can never remember to take it off when I enter the building.
“Can you tell me why you’re here?” Dr. Pullman asks.
I know what he wants me to say. He wants me to admit that I hit Danny and I’m really sorry for doing such an awful thing and I’ll never do it again. But there’s more to it than that. It’s like I said—if only I had that headphone jack.
“A lunch supervisor says you hit Danny with a drumstick,” Dr. Pullman says.
“That’s not true,” I say. “I hit Danny with a mallet.”
Dr. Pullman’s entire head gets seriously red. The bottom of his chin to the top of his head is a cherry tomato. I don’t know if he’s mad or trying not to laugh.
“Is that supposed to be funny?” he finally says. “Do you think you’re still in elementary school?”
“Danny said girls look stupid playing drums,” I say, looking down at the floor. “He said girls have no rhythm and I sound like I’m playing on a garbage can because that’s all my family can afford. People thought that was pretty funny.”
Dr. Pullman sighs. “Well, he shouldn’t have said that. But, Samantha—”
“Sam,” I say, correcting him. I hate it when people call me Samantha. There’s nothing wrong with the name Sam that can be fixed with an extra two syllables.
“Sam,” he says with emphasis.
“I was minding my own business, practicing with my mallets, and he started saying my rhythm sucks and I ruin every song in band class.”
“I already said he shouldn’t have said that, but you have to learn that there are other ways to solve problems that won’t land you in trouble. You chose to solve your problem by hitting Danny with your mallet, and as a result, it is you in my office instead of him.”
“Danny’s been making fun of me all year. He acts like there’s something wrong with me for playing drums.”
“Plenty of girls play drums. Why would you even let that bother you?”
That’s easy for Dr. Pullman to say. There are plenty of men who work at Kennedy, but I’m the only girl in the percussion section in band.
“I’m sick of him saying I stink at drums when he doesn’t know anything about them.”
“That still doesn’t mean we solve our problems by hitting people or picking fights. You’re in a bigger school now, with bigger consequences.”
I nod, imagining a rubber band stretched from the top of my forehead to my chin, forcing me to bob my head in agreement.
“You’ll have to serve lunch detention with me,” he says, “and I’ll be handing these over to Ms. Rinalli”—he holds up the mallets—“until I can trust that you will only use them for playing the timpani.”
“They’re not for the timpani,” I say. “They’re marimba mallets.”
“Whatever they are, I’ll make sure—”
“It’s just that they’re really not the same thing. Two different materials, two different sounds, and they—”
“I get the point!” he says, louder this time. There goes my mouth, getting me into even more trouble. Why can’t I ever shut up?
“I’m sorry,” I say. “Are you going to talk to Danny? Is he in trouble too?”
“That’s between me and him. It’s none of your business.”
Well, then, I gue
“As for you,” he says, “you’ll be coming down to my office for the next few lunch periods. And don’t plan on seeing those drumsticks again until you’re at band.”
“Mallets,” I say. “Marimba mallets.”
“Whatever they are, they stay with Ms. Rinalli until further notice.”
Dr. Pullman writes a few notes and gives me a hall pass to get back to class. I guess our conversation was supposed to mean something, but I’m still in trouble and Danny still made fun of me for playing drums and people still laughed. Serving a few lunch detentions with the principal won’t change any of those things.
I dread going back to class. Almost everybody saw what I did, and those who didn’t have probably heard about it by now. Everyone who watches me as I walk into sixth-period social studies twenty minutes late knows where I’ve been. The only two whose eyes don’t follow me from the door to my seat are my teacher, Mrs. Pitts, and Scott, who probably feels bad for not sticking up for me at lunch.
Scott can be weird like that. He’s another drummer in band, and he talks to me during rehearsal, but not so much anywhere else. It’s like he crawls inside himself whenever there’s a lot of people around. That’s okay with me, but I wish sometimes he made it clear whether or not he actually wants to be my friend outside of band.
Danny makes a face at me as I take my seat, but I look away. I don’t have anything against blond hair, but I suddenly hate that color every time I see his tangled little bowl haircut.
The rest of the period passes slowly. I spend most of it reminding myself that I don’t have any other classes with Danny until band at the end of the day.
I look at Mrs. Pitts’s poster that says No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. I can’t help thinking that I do a pretty good job of making myself feel inferior without anyone else’s help.
Later that day, I’m walking home with Kristen, who seems to be the only person I can stand this week. She’s been my best friend ever since first grade, and even though I’m not sure she’s thought of me as her best friend since elementary school, she’s still cool and fun to walk home with.
We’re crossing the big, noisy bridge over the Eisenhower Expressway when Kristen says, “I still can’t believe you hit Danny with a mallet.”
I look past the guardrail at the cars speeding underneath the bridge, passing through the town of Eastmont, and heading toward the skyline of Chicago in the distance. “He hits people all the time. Why is it such a big deal when someone hits back?”
“Probably because he was screaming like a little girl!” Kristen lets out a big laugh. I’m not proud of hitting Danny, but it’s nice to know someone appreciated it.
“Yeah, well, I’m totally grounded for it,” I say. “As soon as my parents get home and hear Dr. Pullman’s message, I’ll be imprisoned in my room for the rest of my life.”
Kristen sighs. “What about my pool party? They’ll let you out for that, right?”
I shrug. “It’s not for another two months, so my dad should be cooled down by then.”
“You’ve been there every year since first grade, Sam! You have to come.”
“I’ll be there. My dad can’t stay mad forever.”
Kristen looks at the ground as we walk side by side. “You didn’t need to hit him.”
“Nobody cares what Danny says.”
“Then why were they all laughing?” And why were you laughing with them? I think but can’t bring myself to say aloud.
Even Kristen, one of the smartest people I know, doesn’t have an answer for that. I don’t think anybody does. She’s not shy like Scott, and she’s known me much longer. She could have stood up for me.
We’re well past the bridge over the Eisenhower Expressway and walking by Silverlight Jewelers. I look in the window at glowing necklaces and bracelets, imagining the price tags.
Later we’re passing numerous houses and trees when we hear the sounds of beating and banging. They fill my ears as we approach a familiar brown house at the end of a long block. The sounds are like candy. I can’t explain it without that headphone jack—how else can you describe sounds so amazing they give you chills just thinking about them?
“I hate walking by Pete Taylor’s house,” Kristen says. “It’s so obnoxious.”
“I think it’s awesome,” I say. “Is it true that Pete has two full drum sets?”
“Why would I know? I can’t think of anything more boring.”
I listen to the clashing sounds of snares and cymbals bleeding through the basement windows. “I wish I could take private lessons.”
“I like drums. Scott says he’s the best teacher in town.”
Kristen gives me a weird look. As cool as she is, she can certainly act just like everyone else sometimes. Is it really that weird for a girl to play drums?
“Why don’t you just ring the doorbell and ask Pete to give you lessons?” she asks.
“My parents wouldn’t pay for it,” I say. “Did you know he charges thirty dollars for a half hour?”
“How’d you find that out?”
“I called his house once, pretending to be my mom. Pete gave me the cold shoulder, saying he’s overbooked already. No room to take on a new student.”
Kristen opens her mouth to say something else but stops short. “Sorry.”
I shrug as we keep walking, the perfect blend of rhythmic craziness disappearing behind us. We don’t talk much for the rest of the way home. Kristen spends most of it playing with her hair—she’s letting it grow long this year. It’s a much brighter shade of brown than mine, which is so dark it almost looks black. I’ve tried to let it grow out, but it doesn’t seem to want to go past my jaw.
Suddenly, I say, “Do you think what Danny said was funny?”
Kristen stops walking and turns toward me. “I don’t think anything that idiot says is funny. Anyone that thinks he’s funny is a moron.”
I want to say thanks, but I can’t get the image of her laughing out of my head.
My parents still own an encyclopedia. A real encyclopedia, not something you find online that claims Bigfoot invented the lightbulb. I’m talking about a collection of four-hundred-pound books full of stuff you never wanted to know until your teacher assigned a research paper about it. I’m glad my parents still have them, because they make a solid THUMP that’s perfect for the sound of toms, the drums mounted on top of the bass drum. They meld flawlessly with an old, falling-apart Calvin and Hobbes book that I use as a snare—it’s a paperback, so it makes a nice, high-pitched THWAP when I hit it. A huge—and I mean really huge—dictionary is my bass drum, so I put it on the floor under my computer desk and stomp it with my Converse All Stars whenever I need a thick WHOMP.
My computer desk is kind of funny, because it doesn’t have a computer on it. My parents call it a homework desk to make me feel better about my lack of a computer, which seems totally lame to me, even if it is a pretty good place to do homework. It beats working in the kitchen, where my younger brother, Brian, complains nonstop about how much homework third-graders get.
Whenever I go near Brian, he says, “Stop staring at me.”
And I say, “I’m not staring at you.”
“Can you see me right now?”
“How could you see me unless you’re staring at me?”
“If I was staring at you, my eyeballs would be on fire.”
“Mom! Sam’s staring at me!”
It’s all downhill from there.
I’ve been calling my computer/homework desk my drum desk for five years, ever since I saw a drum solo by John Bonham from Led Zeppelin in an old music documentary. My brain exploded as his arms flew across the kit during the song “Moby Dick.” I went online and researched each piece of a standard drum set that night, memorizing the purpose and setup for each one.
I told my dad about the John Bonham video and asked if he liked Led Zeppelin when he was younger. He laughed and said, “Would you still like him if I told you he died from drinking vodka for twelve hours straight?”
I didn’t know how to respond. I get what he was trying to say, but it’s not like playing drums and having an alcohol problem are the same thing.
My desk set has two levels, so I put the encyclopedia toms and the Calvin and Hobbes snare on the lower level. I pull the latest edition of the Chicago Tribune out of the recycling bin and put that on the top shelf. The big fat Sunday paper is my crash cymbal, and the Monday and Tuesday papers are my ride and hi-hat. This is my homemade drum set—the only set my family can afford. And I make it work pretty well, thank you very much, even if it just makes me imagine the real thing. Sometimes I put earplugs in to dampen the noise and make it sound thicker. If I hit as hard as I can, I can almost hear what it would be like if I was rocking out on a real set. That’s usually when someone barges into my room and tells me to knock it off.
I can’t exactly blame them. It’s not a real drum set, so it can’t be pleasant to listen to. I taught myself enough to get placed in Kennedy’s symphonic band earlier this year instead of beginning concert band, but I know that’s not saying much. It’s hard to get good at something all on your own.
Today is nice, because no one’s home yet, and I’ve been rocking out for a full twenty minutes when a thought enters my mind.
Listen to the message. Find out what Dr. Pullman said so you can at least have an idea of how bad it’s going to be.
I stand up from my drum desk and walk downstairs, the wooden steps creaking and the railing rattling. I pick up the phone and listen for the double click of the dial tone that confirms there is a new message. I punch in the four-digit password and hit 1 to hear new messages, and I hear Dr. Pullman’s voice: