Would Joey Do?
By Jack Gantos
Published by Farrar Straus & Giroux
October 2002; 0-374-39986-7; 240 pages
About three weeks ago Dad suddenly showed up in town and started buzzing us on his motorcycle at all hours of the day and night. At first I was afraid because I thought he had come to get me, but I was wrong. He was much more interested in Mom. I lost track of how many times he roared down our street and ran the corner traffic light past Quips Pub, where Mom lounged in the leather window seat sipping a mixed drink with her new boyfriend while making plans for her future. Dad must have spotted her there during one of his rounds. He didn't say anything, but he'd look at her in the window like she was something he wanted. Then, he'd blast off. If it was dark out, I could look through my back bedroom window and between the lines of damp laundry catch his single jittery headlight brightly striking the white marble tombstones lined up like crooked teeth behind our yard as he cut through St. Mary's Cemetery and raced out and around the neighborhood making a crazy eight before he looped back down Plum Street and past our house again. He must have been watching her closely because sometimes he'd show up the minute she got home from work. Then, her face would go red and I'd watch her run out to the front porch and yell at him as he raced by, but the louder she yelled the louder he revved the engine.
"I'm losing my patience with that man," Mom would say when she came back inside, pacing wildly up the hall, swinging around and down again, past the furniture and me and Pablo and Grandma, as if she too were on a motorcycle that was darting past us.
"If you didn't yell at him I bet he'd get bored and go home," I said once while trying to be helpful.
"He'd better return to the hole he lives in," she said, or I'll send him into the next kingdom."
"Just ignore him," I advised. "It'll drive him nuts."
'And I'll go nuts if I don't yell at him," she replied.
I knew Dad. Yelling at him was only going to make him want to yell back twice as loud. The only way Mom could be louder than him was to be quiet. He couldn't stand to be ignored and Mom couldn't stand to be quiet, so I knew something bad was on the way. I could feel it coming, just as I could hear his motorcycle circling.
And then it finally happened. We were out on the front porch late one afternoon. I was squatted down behind a wooden railing, holding my dog Pablo and peeking out between the slats, while Mom was on the top step hollering at Dad. The muffler on his motorcycle was dragging across the asphalt and a steady stream of sparks trailed behind him like the lighted fuse on a bomb that was headed right at our house. He looked like a giant black bat in his studded leather biker outfit with his hands raised up in the air on his chopper handlebars and his shiny blue-eyed wrap-around sunglasses clamped tight against his bony face. He had already circled our block about ten times in a row and each time he got a little closer to the house, as if he were zeroing in on a target. He was really flying and when he reached our yard he jerked up on his handlebars and lifted his front wheel over the stone curb. When his back wheel hit the curb the rear of the chopper bounced up and almost catapulted him forward. Still, he hung on and landed with a smack back in his seat as he fishtailed across the sidewalk and headed straight for the porch.
But Mom was waiting for him, and she was ready for a fight. As soon as he jumped the curb she sprang forward and bolted down the porch stairs with a broom held up over her head as if she would swat him like a biker vampire who had come to suck our blood. But when she reached the bottom stair and leaped forward he stuck out his leg with a huge, nasty boot on the end of it and without flinching knocked her back on her butt as he turned and roared across our rutted dirt yard and toward the street. She bounced just once and flattened out like something heavy dropped from the roof as he laughed, or cursed, or announced his return---I couldn't tell which because of the engine noise, and with Mom's yelling and Pablo's yapping in my car, I couldn't hear anything clearly. Then, as he flew off the yard, his muffler hit the curb and suddenly there was an explosion of sparks like a comet smashing into the earth, only it was his muffler flipping into the air and spinning like a pinwheel, showering the street with sparks. Instantly the engine noise was a hundred times louder and I had to drop Pablo to cover my cars as Dad snarled down to the end of the block where he turned right and I could hear him open the throttle along the straightaway and rattle the windows across the neighborhood, across all of Lancaster, maybe the whole state of Pennsylvania.
And then Mom scrambled to her feet and raised her fist in the air. "So you want to play dirty?" she hollered. "I'll show you what dirty is!" She charged up the porch stairs two at a time. "Outta my way, " she panted, and rushed past me with her broom held forward like a witch about to launch herself.
"Are you okay?" I asked. "Are you hurt?"
"This time I'm gonna kill that creep," she promised with a murderous look on her face that made her words seem real to me. "I should've done it years ago and put him out of my misery."
I followed her into the house.
"I don't think you should kill him," I said, and held on to the back end of the broom. "He's just a nut."
'A dangerous pain-in-the-butt nut," she replied, and yanked the broom away. "He can't scare me, but I'm gonna make him pay for messing with you."
"Don't do it because of me," I said. "Just leave him alone and he'll go away."
"No, this time he has to pay."
"But he doesn't owe me anything," I pleaded. "Just lock the door and call the police."
"Hey, I'm doing this for you!" she replied, and gave me an exasperated look as if I didn't appreciate her protection.
"But you don't have to," I said.
"Fine! Fine!" she snapped. "Fine!"
And because it looked like she might blow a gasket I stood up on my tiptoes and imitated her by saying "Fine! Fine!" right back, just like a mirror she might see herself in and calm down, and then we would call the cops and they would scare Dad away and all of this would be over with.
© 2002 Jack Gantos
"Do my parents seem unusual to you?"
When his dad roars into town, the sparks fly between Joey Pigza's long-separated parents. His ailing grandmother is certain that all the feuding (and flirting) will unleash a series of terrible events on the Pigza household. Fading fast, she wants Joey to find a life outside the family, proving he will be all right once she is gone.
"You know, Joey," Grandma said, "you gotta make some friends."
"I have Pablo," I said.
"Pablo is a dog," she replied.
To put his grandmother at ease, Joey tries to make a friend of Olivia Lapp -- his blind, bratty homeschooling partner -- who only gets meaner the more Joey tries to please her. But Joey's not the type to give up on anyone in his life, even as his grandmother's predictions of Pigza family disaster come true.
"I want to help everyone be nice. That's all I want to do. Just help. That's my whole thing now. I'm Mr. Helpful."
In this final book of the Joey Pigza trilogy, Jack Gantos's acclaimed hero is attempting a breathtaking balancing act, as he tries to keep a handle on his wild, wired behavior without letting his hyperactively helpful ways spin him out of control all over again.
Jack Gantos was born in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania and was raised in Barbados and South Florida. While in college, Gantos begin working on picture books with an illustrator friend. They published the first Rotten Ralph book (about a very nasty cat) in 1976. He continued to write children's books and developed a master's degree program at Emerson College in Boston. Using material he has collected since grade school, he has written collection of stories for middle-graders featuring his alter ego Jack Henry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Boston, Massachusetts.