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The schwa was here, p.1

The Schwa Was Here, page 1

 part  #1 of  Antsy Bonano Series

 

The Schwa Was Here
 


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The Schwa Was Here


  LAB JOURNAL

  The Schwa Effect: Experiment #1

  Hypothesis: The Schwa will be functionally invisible in your standard classroom.

  Materials: Nine random students, one classroom, the Schwa.

  Procedure: We set nine students and the Schwa seated around an otherwise empty classroom (if you don’t count the hamsters and the guinea pig in the back). Then we dragged other students into the room, and asked them to do a head count.

  Results: Three out of five students refused to go into the classroom on account of they thought there’d be a bucket of water over the door, or something nasty like that, which is understandable because we’ve been known to play practical, and less practical, jokes. Eventually we managed to round up twenty students to go into the room, count the people in the room, then report back to us. Fifteen students said that there were nine people in the room. Four students said there were ten. One student said there were seventeen (we believe he counted the hamsters and guinea pig).

  Conclusion: Four out of five people do not see the Schwa in your standard classroom.

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  Tripping Over the Lunch Lady Nancy Mercado, ed.

  THE

  SCHWA

  WAS

  HERE

  Neal Shustərman

  THE

  SCHWA

  WAS

  HERE

  PUFFIN BOOKS

  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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  A Penguin Random House Company

  First published in the United States of America by Dutton Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2004

  Published by Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2006

  Copyright © 2004 by Neal Shusterman

  Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

  THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS HAS CATALOGUED THE DUTTON EDITION AS FOLLOWS:

  Shusterman, Neal.

  The Schwa was here / Neal Shusterman.—1st ed.

  p. cm.

  Summary: A Brooklyn eighth-grader nicknamed Antsy befriends the Schwa, an “invisible-ish” boy who is tired of blending into his surroundings and going unnoticed by nearly everyone.

  [1. Self-perception—Fiction. 2. Friendship—Fiction. 3. Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)—Fiction.] I. Title.

  PZ7.S55987Sbe 2004 [Fic]—dc22 2004045072

  ISBN: 978-1-101-66052-2

  The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

  For my grandparents Gussie and Dave Altman,

  who will always be the spirit of Brooklyn to me

  Schwa: The faint vowel sound in many unstressed syllables in the English language. It is signified by the pronunciation “uh” and represented by the symbol e. For example, the e in overlook, the a in forgettable, and the o in run-of-the-mill.

  It is the most common vowel sound in the English language.

  Table of Contents

  1. Manny Bullpucky Gets His Sorry Butt Hurled Off the Marine Park Bridge

  2. The Weird and Mostly Tragic History of the Schwa, Which Is Entirely True If You Trust My Sources

  3. Quantizing the Schwa Effect Using the Scientific Method, and All That Garbage

  4. Making Big Bucks off of Stealth Economics, Because Maybe I Got Some Business Sense

  5. Which Is Worse: Getting Mauled by a Pack of Dogs, or Getting Your Brains Bashed Out by a Steel Poker?

  6. As If I Didn’t Already Have Enough Annoying Things to Do Every Day, Now I Gotta Do This

  7. The Lowest-Paid Male Escort on the Entire Eastern Seaboard, Except for Maybe the Bronx

  8. Are Those Your Fingers in My Mouth, or Are You Just Happy to Not See Me?

  9. Maybe They Had It Right in France Because Getting My Head Lopped Off by a Guillotine Would Have Been Easier

  10. Earthquakes, Nuclear Winter, and the End of Life as We Know It, over Linguini

  11. The Youngest Doctor in Sheepshead Bay Gets Held Hostage When He Least Expects It

  12. A Horror Movie Blow-by-Blow, with the Undisputed Queen of the 3-B Club

  13. A Russian Train, a Pulsing Vein, and My Mother’s Bag of Snails

  14. More Than I Ever Wanted to Know About the Schwa’s Childhood

  15. Vortex in Aisle Three—Can Someone Please Clean Up the Ectoplasmic Slime?

  16. A Late-Night Trip to the Land of Beef That Could Turn a Person into a Vegetarian

  17. A Traumatic Experience I’ll Live to Regret, Assuming I Live

  18. Larger Than Life, in Your Face, Undeniable Schwa

  19. The Schwa Gets Radiation Therapy in a Room That Doesn’t Smell Too Good No Matter How Much It’s Disinfected

  20. The Weird Things Kids Do Don’t Even Come Close to the Weird Things Parents Do

  21. Why I Started Vandalizing Brooklyn

  22. My Anonymous Contribution to Popular Culture and to My Parents’ Phone Bill

  DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  Special Excerpt from SHIP OUT OF LUCK

  1. Manny Bullpucky Gets His Sorry Butt Hurled Off the Marine Park Bridge

  I don’t really remember when I first met the Schwa, he was just kind of always there, like the killer potholes on Avenue U or the Afghans barking out the windows above Crawley’s restaurant—a whole truck load of ’em, if you believed the rumors. Old Man Crawley, by the way, was a certifiable loony tune. A shut-in, like Brooklyn’s own Howard Hughes, almost as legendary as the lobsters served up in his restaurant below. See, there was this staircase that went up from the restaurant to the residence on the second floor, but with each step it got darker around you, so when you tried to climb it, you kept thinking you heard the horror audience behind you yelling, “No, don’t go up the stairs!” Because who but a moron would go up to search for Old Man Crawley, who had fingernails like Ginsu knives that could dice, slice, and julienne you, then serve you up in like fourteen thousand plastic dog bowls. Those bowls, by the way, would probably be made by my father, the Vice-Executive Vice-Vice-President of Product Development for Pisher Plastic Products. If you’re a guy, I’m sure you already know that their most famous product is that little plastic strainer at the bottom of urinals, and you probably still laugh every time you look down while taking a leak and see PISHER ® written in happy bold letters, like maybe it was to remind you why you were standing there.

  But what was I talking about?

  Oh, yeah—the Schwa. See, that was the whole point with the Schwa: You couldn’t even think about him without losing track of your own thoughts—like even in your head he was somehow becoming invisible.

  Okay, so like I said, I don’t remember when I met him—nobody does—but I can tell you the first time I remembered actually no
ticing him. It was the day Manny Bullpucky jumped from the Marine Park Bridge.

  It was a Saturday, and my friends and I were bored, as usual. I was hanging out with Howie Bogerton, whose one goal in life was not to have any goals in life, and Ira Goldfarb, who was a self-proclaimed cinematic genius. With the digital video camera his grandparents had gotten him for his bar mitzvah last year, Ira was determined to be Steven Spielberg by the time he got to high school. As for Manny Bullpucky, we kinda dragged him along with us to various places we went. We had to drag him around, on accounta he was a dummy. Not a dummy like Wendell Tiggor, who had to repeat the fifth grade like fourteen thousand times, but a real dummy. More snooty people might call him a mannequin, or even a prosthetic personage, because nobody calls things what they really are anymore. But to us normal people in Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn, he was a dummy, plain and simple.

  As for his name, it came in the natural course of human events. Dad had brought him home from work one day. “Look at this guy,” he says proudly, holding him up by the scruff of his neck. “He’s made of a new ultra-high-grade lightweight plastic. Completely unbreakable.”

  My older brother Frank looks up from his dinner. “Bullpucky,” he says—although I’m editing out the bad word here, on accounta my mother might read this, and I don’t like the taste of soap.

  As soon as Frankie says it, Mom, without missing a beat, hauls off and whacks him on the head in her own special way, starting low, and swinging up, like a tennis player giving a ball topspin, just grazing the thin spot on his head that’s gonna be bald someday, probably from Mom slapping him there. “You watch ya mout!” Mom says. “Mout,” not “mouth.” We got a problem here with the “th” sound. It’s not just us—it’s all a Brooklyn, maybe Queens, too. My English teacher says I also drop vowels like a bad juggler, and have an infuriating tense problem, whatever that meant. So anyway, if you put the “th” problem and the vowel thing together, our family’s Catlick, instead of Catholic, and my name’s Antny instead of Anthony. Somehow that got changed into Antsy when I was little, and they’ve called me Antsy ever since. It don’t bother me no more. Used to, but, y’know, you grow into your name.

  Anyway, Dad tosses me the dummy. “Here, take it,” he says.

  “Whadaya giving it to me for?”

  “Why do you think? I want you to break it.”

  “I thought you said it was unbreakable.”

  “Yeah, and you’re the test, capische?”

  I smile, proud to figure in my father’s product development job. This was the first time in recorded history that either of my parents had singled me out to do anything.

  “Do I get to break something?” my little sister Christina asks.

  “Yeah,” says Dad. “Wait a few years and you’ll be breaking hearts.”

  Christina must have liked the sound of that, because she flips open the journal that’s practically glued to her hand and makes a note of it.

  So Howie, Ira, and me, we started doin’ unpleasant things to Manny that might break him. Ira loves this, because he can get the whole thing on film. We rode our bikes down Flatbush Avenue to the Marine Park Bridge, which is no easy task considering I gotta carry Manny on my handlebars. God forbid Frankie, who just got his license, could give us a ride in the old Toyota he just got. No, he’s too busy hanging out with all the other perfect people—but don’t get me started on Frankie.

  We got to the bridge, and the three of us, not including Manny, worked out our game plan.

  “I should go down to the rocks to film,” Ira said. “I’ll get a good view of him falling from there.”

  “Nah,” says Howie, “let’s go to the middle of the bridge—I wanna see him hit the water.”

  “If he hits the water,” I reminded them, “we won’t get him back.”

  Howie shrugs. “There’s lots of boats goin’ by, maybe we can time it so he hits a boat.”

  “We still won’t get him back,” I said, “and we might sink the boat.”

  “That’d look good on film,” Ira said.

  Now all this time I got this creepy feeling like we’re being watched. But then of course we are being watched. Everybody driving by has got to be wondering what we’re doing standing with a dummy by the guardrail of the bridge—but this feeling is more than that. Anyway, I ignore the feeling because we had important business here.

  “We’ll drop him onto the rocks,” I told them.

  “Yeah,” says Howie. “Maximum breakage potential.”

  “Great. Howie, you stay up here on the bridge to push him over; Ira and me’ll go down and watch.”

  We climbed down to the rocks and looked up to where Howie stood holding Manny by the scruff of the neck—it’s a pretty high drop. I didn’t envy Manny. Still that feeling of being watched just won’t go away.

  “Should I push him or should I throw him?” Howie asks.

  “Do what comes naturally,” I yelled back.

  “I don’t know,” he says. “This is a very unnatural thing.”

  “Rolling,” says Ira. “And . . . action.”

  Howie backs up for a second, and a moment later Manny Bullpucky comes hurtling over the side of the bridge, arms and legs flailing like he’s really alive, and he does a swan dive headfirst toward the rocks. WHAM! He hits the jagged boulders, and it’s all over for him. His bald head goes flying like a cannonball shot straight at me. I hit the deck, narrowly miss being decapitated, and when I get up again, a headless mannequin lies with his arms strewn on the rocks, just another casualty of the fast life.

  Howie comes running down from the bridge.

  “What happened? Did he break? Did he break?”

  “Yeah,” I told him, picking myself off of the ground. “We’re gonna have to change his name to ‘Headless Joe.’”

  Ira, still behind the camera, moved in closer to the body, paused dramatically, and finally stopped filming. “Where’d his head go?”

  I shrugged. “I don’t know, over there somewhere. So much for unbreakable plastic.”

  “Are you looking for this?” I heard another voice say. The voice was scratchy, like a kid who’s screamed a little too much. I turned, and I swear to you, the first thing I see is Manny’s mannequin head floating in midair. I only see it for a split second, but it’s the creepiest thing. Then in that split second my brain does a quick retake and I see that there’s a kid holding the head under his armpit. I couldn’t really see the kid at first on accounta his clothes are kind of a brownish gray, like the rocks around him, and you know how your mind can play tricks on you when the light is just right.

  “Excuse me,” said Ira, “this is a closed set.”

  The kid ignored him. “That was pretty cool,” he said. “You should have dressed him up, though, so when he fell he looked like a person and not a dummy on film.”

  Ira pursed his lips and got a little red, annoyed that he didn’t think of it.

  “Don’t I know you?” I asked the kid. I took a good look at him. His hair was kinda ashen blond—real wispy, like if you held a magnetized balloon over his head, all his hair would stand on end. He was about a head shorter than me; a little too thin. Other than that, there was nothing remarkable about him, nothing at all. He wasn’t good-looking; he wasn’t ugly; he wasn’t buff and he wasn’t scrawny. He was just, like, average. Like if you looked up “kid” in the dictionary, his face would be there.

  “I’m in some class with you, right?” I asked him.

  “Science,” he said. “I sit next to you in science class.”

  “Oh yeah, that’s right, now I remember.” Although for the life of me I have no memory of him sitting next to me.

  “I’m Calvin,” he said. “Calvin Schwa.”

  With that Ira gasped, “You’re the kid they call the Schwa?”

  “Yeah, I guess.”

  Ira took a step back.

  “I’m Anthony Bonano,” I told him, “but everyone calls me Antsy. These are my friends Howie and Ira.” Then I pointed to th
e head in his hands. “You already met Manny.”

  He took Manny’s head back to his body. “So what’s all this for, anyway?”

  “Pisher Plastics product stress test,” I told him, trying to sound professional.

  “Manny gets an F,” Howie said. “He’s supposed to be unbreakable.”

  “Technology fails again,” I said, all the while noticing how Ira still kept his distance from the Schwa, as if he were radioactive, like some of those flounder they found off Canarsie Pier.

  The Schwa knelt next to Manny’s headless body.

  “Technically he’s not broken,” the Schwa said.

  “If your head comes off, you’re broken,” says Howie. “Trust me.”

  “See? Look here.” He pointed to the neck. “His head is held on by a ball-and-socket joint. It just popped off—watch.” Then the Schwa snapped Manny’s head back on as if it were a giant Barbie. I was both relieved and disappointed. It was good to know my dad’s work was successful, but upsetting to know that I couldn’t destroy it.

  “So what do we do to him next?” Howie asked.

  “Pyrotechnics,” said Ira. “We try to blow him up.”

  “Can I come, too?” asked the Schwa.

  “Yeah, sure, why not?” I turned to him, but he’s gone. “Hey, where’d ya go?”

  “I’m right here.”

  I squinted to get the sun out of my eyes, and I saw him. He’s waving his hands, like to get my attention or something.

  “I don’t know,” said Ira. “You know what they say about too many cooks.”

  “No, what?” asks Howie.

  “You know—too many cooks stink up the kitchen.”

  Howie still looks confused. “What, don’t these cooks know from deodorant?”

  “It’s an expression, Howie,” I explained. Howie, you gotta understand, ain’t dumb. He just doesn’t think out of the box. Of course, if I ever told him that, he’d wonder what box I was talking about. He’s the kinda guy who’s hardwired to take everything literally. Which is why he’s so good at math and science, but when it comes to anything creative—he tanks. He’s about as creative as a bar code. Even when he was little, he would do real good at coloring when there were nice thick black lines in the coloring book—but give him some crayons and a blank page, and his forehead would start to bleed. So, anyways, by a two-to-one vote the Schwa is allowed to join us in our next attempt to bust Manny. Ira voted no, but he wouldn’t look at any of us when he did.

 
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