That’s what Mickey says to everyone these days.
He might even say it to you if he knew you were here.
It isn’t personal. He has nothing against you. He just wants to be left alone.
Get lost, dog!
It isn’t just people. He even tells his dog to get lost.
“GET LOST, DOG!”
Sometimes Mickey has to say it more than once.
“GET LOST, DOG!”
“I SAID, GET LOST, NOODLE!”
Yes, Noodle is his dog’s name—unfortunately. Mickey prefers not to say it aloud.
You probably think it is unkind for a boy to tell a dog to get lost. Unless the dog is biting him. Or the boy is allergic to dogs.
Mickey’s dog never bites him. Mickey is not allergic to dogs.
Besides, Mickey’s dog is hypoallergenic.
Mickey just wants his dog to go away. And he wants you to go away too.
It isn’t personal. It isn’t doggerel, either.
(That was a joke. Doggerel is bad poetry, or gibberish; it has nothing to do with dogs.)
Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Noodle used to be Mickey’s favorite thing in the world.
He never minded that Noodle smelled when his coat got wet. Or that Noodle always held on to balls when they played fetch. Or that Noodle made muddy paw prints—“Noodle Doodles,” Mickey called them—on Mickey’s bed at night.
You might even say Mickey loved those things about Noodle.
Then one day, for no apparent reason, he stopped loving them.
Like I said, it isn’t personal. He just doesn’t love anything very much anymore.
Get lost, sister!
Well, sometimes it’s a little personal. Like with his sister, Alice.
His big sister, as Alice always reminds him.
“GET LOST, SISTER.”
“GET LOST, BIG SISTER.”
“With pleasure!” she replies. But she never goes very far.
Alice is always telling Mickey to grow up and to think about other people for a change.
“You mean like you?”
Mickey’s big sister is only two years older than Mickey. Well, two and a half. Which is hardly older at all, in Mickey’s opinion.
Being so close in age, Mickey and Alice used to be close friends. Or if not close friends, at least close siblings. Which is close enough.
“You’re my best little brother,” Alice would say.
“I’m your only little brother,” Mickey would say back.
Or Mickey would say, “You’re my best big sister.”
And Alice would say back, “I’m your only big sister.”
It was like a secret handshake.
It meant You’re awesome. It meant I’ve got your back. It meant I love you.
Then, one day, Mickey’s older sister got an older boyfriend. Older, that is, than she. Two years older.
Mickey: twelve. Alice: fifteen. Boyfriend: seventeen.
A two-year difference might not be much in the case of, say, siblings, but when it comes to a boyfriend, in Mickey’s opinion, it’smuch too much.
Alice disagrees. As she sees it, having such an old boyfriend means that she is no longer just a little bit older than Mickey; she is a lot older.
And a lot bigger.
Math is funny that way.
Get lost, sister’s boyfriend!
Get lost, sister’s boyfriend’s friend!
As if all that weren’t bad enough, Alice’s boyfriend is a bodybuilder. He has extra-large biceps, or as he calls them, “guns,” and extra-defined abdominal muscles, or as he calls them, “abs”—features that he shows off by wearing extra-small T-shirts. Aside from his body, which he prizes above all else, and Alice, who in theory comes next, Alice’s boyfriend’s main pride and joy is his vintage muscle car, a 1968 Camaro SS, if you want to know the exact year and model.
(Mickey doesn’t want to know the exact year and model.)
Mickey calls Alice’s boyfriend “Car-Boy”—or, less often, “Car-Friend,” or “Muscle-Boy,” or “Muscle-Friend”—but never to Car-Boy’s face. He doesn’t say much to Car-Boy’s face, if he can help it.
Car-Boy has no hesitation speaking to Mickey. He calls Mickey by names that are unrepeatable and, in Mickey’s opinion, un-clever. Most of these names begin with a word for a rear end, and end with the word-head or -wipe.
Car-Boy lives around the corner from Mickey. When he is not polishing his car in his driveway, he can usually be found loitering on the bridge near Mickey’s school, where his best friend the mime performs.
Yes, Car-Boy’s best friend is a mime. He wears white face makeup and a black beret, and he even has a red plastic carnation that squirts water—most often at Mickey. Mickey’s names for him are “Mime-Boy,” “Beret-Boy,” and “Silent Scream.” And, no, Mickey doesn’t say those names aloud either.
Both Car-Boy and Mime-Boy like to hang out and do nothing except take a lot of selfies and harass whoever is unlucky enough to pass by. In other ways, they are an unlikely pair. Unless you imagine them as a circus act, which Mickey often does to amuse himself. Not that Car-Boy has any circus talents. Unless you count throwing the belongings of young kids over the side of the bridge.
Mime-Boy, on the other hand, juggles small, purloined objects, pats imaginary prison walls, and imitates the way people walk—Mickey, for instance. Judging from Mime-Boy’s miming motions, Mickey is two feet tall and walks like a robot.
Judging from his loud laughter, Car-Boy finds this extremely funny.
Here’s what’s really infuriating:
If Mickey walks like a robot, it’s Car-Boy’s fault.
You see, the first time Alice invited Car-Boy into their house, Car-Boy told Mickey he walked like a girl.
“I do not,” said Mickey. “What does that even mean anyway?”
“You know, with your hands like this—” Car-Boy demonstrated, his hands dangling limply from his wrists.
“Girls don’t walk like that.”
Car-Boy shrugged. “I just thought you should know. Since you’re sort of like my little brother now. Don’t be mad.”
“I’m not like your little brother. And I’m not mad.”
Nonetheless, from that day onward, Mickey has walked with his arms stiff at his sides. Like a robot. And Mime-Boy has imitated his walk. And Car-Boy has laughed. And then laughed again, just in case Mickey didn’t hear him the first time.
For someone so old, I think you’ll agree, Car-Boy is not very mature. He’s definitely not very nice. Same goes for Mime-Boy.
“GET LOST, CAR-BOY!”
“GET LOST, MIME-BOY!”
No, Mickey doesn’t really say that. He’s too scared. Car-Boy is much bigger than he is. So is Mime-Boy. But Mickey thinks it.
Get lost, parents!
Perhaps you will not be surprised to hear that Mickey’s parents are the people Mickey most often tells to get lost. Although he rarely tells them both to get lost at once because his parents are getting a divorce and these days they are rarely in the same place at the same time.
Mickey’s mom and dad do not believe it’s not personal when he tells them to get lost. They think he’s mad at them.
“I feel a lot of negative energy coming from you,” his mom says, tying the laces of her new hiking boots. “You’re not making it easy for me to go through my own process.”
“I’m not mad!”
“Blame me if you need to, but I thought you were smarter than that,” says his dad, trimming his new beard. “Divorce is never one-sided.”
“I’m not mad!”
Why should Mickey be mad? Their divorce is their business.
It’s like he’s always hearing in school: Your body, your choices. Or in this case:Their bodies, their choices.
What Mickey’s parents—his ex-parents—don’t realize is that their divorce has nothing to do with him. Becausehe’s going to divorce them.
Believe it or not, it is perfectly legal to divorce your parents. As long as you meet certain requirements.
Of course, they don’t call it divorce; they call it emancipation. Emancipation means “freedom,” basically.
Look it up. Mickey did.
If there’s anything that makes Mickey mad it’s that he didn’t see the divorce coming. Mickey prides himself on seeing what’s coming.
To be fair, his parents didn’t give much warning. They never fought. They didn’t sleep in separate rooms like some parents Mickey knew. They seemed perfectly happy. Or at least notunhappy.
This past winter, they celebrated the holidays together, as usual. And that is no small thing because Mickey’s family has always celebrated Hanukkahand Christmas. All eight days of one and all twelve days of the other. Collectively known in their house as the twenty days ofChrisnukkah.
They even celebrated New Year’s Eve with their traditional game of charades.
Two days later, first thing in the morning, before the Chrisnukkah menorah could be put away or the Chrisnukkah tree could be taken down, Mickey’s parents called a family meeting.
They had news, they said. Not good news or bad news, necessarily; just . . . news.
They were separating. That very day. Officially, it would be a trial separation, but they expected to make it permanent soon.
In fact, the separation had been brewing for a long time, but they hadn’t wanted to say anything until after the holidays.
“We didn’t want you to think of the breakup every time Chrisnukkah came around,” said Mickey’s dad.
“Not that we think of it as a breakup!” corrected Mickey’s mom. “We’re still very good friends.”
Mickey couldn’t quite grasp what was happening. He’d been certain the family meeting was going to be about household chores and the need for a new system for doing dishes. Or maybe one of his mother’s wild schemes had finally gotten off the ground—the Ostrich Farm, say, or that “Staycation” travel agency—and they were going to have to move to accommodate her new business.
“If you’re such good friends, why are you getting a divorce?” Mickey heard himself ask.
“Friendship is not the same thing as love,” his parents answered.
“Parents have needs and feelings too, you know,” Mickey’s sister reminded him. “Can’t you think about anybody but yourself?”
Then, despite her very grown-up and sophisticated understanding of the fact that parents have needs and feelings too, she burst into tears and ran out of the room.
Instinctively, Mickey followed. In the old days, it would have been his job to cheer her up. To tell her she was hisbest big sister. To laugh when she replied that she was his only sister.
But by the time he got upstairs and peeked into her bedroom, she already had her headphones on. She wanted to be left alone.
Mickey understood. He wanted to be left alone too.
“GET LOST, MOM!”
“GET LOST, DAD!”
“GET LOST, CHRISNUKKAH!”
Get lost, Charlies!
The fact that Mickey’s parents are very good friends is not the only reason they are getting divorced.
One reason is named Charlene, but is called Charlie. Charlie is “somebody new” that Mickey’s father met. Charlie is going to be Mickey’s father’s new wife.
Another reason is named Charlotte, but is also called Charlie. This Charlie is “somebody new” Mickey’s mother met. This somebody new is actually somebody old. An old friend of Mickey’s mother’s whom Mickey has known for years. She is going to be Mickey’s mother’s new wife.
That’s right. Mickey’s mother and father are each marrying a woman named Charlie. What are the odds?
(And why can’t the Charlies just marry each other instead, Mickey wants to ask, but of course he never does.)
Both Charlies compulsively bake chocolate chip cookies.
Mom’s Charlie, who is a yoga instructor, makes her cookies soft and flexible “with inner core strength”; Mickey calls her “Chewy Charlie.” Dad’s Charlie, who is a lawyer, makes her cookies hard and crisp “like a good legal argument”; Mickey calls her “Crispy Charlie.”
While their cookies are not exactly the same, the intention behind the cookies is the same: to win over their soon-to-be stepchildren.
Mickey will not be won over.
The first time he stayed overnight at his father’s new house, which happens to have been the last time he stayed overnight at his father’s new house, he refused to eat Crispy Charlie’s cookies. He wouldn’t take a single bite. He told her he had a stomachache.
Later, lying in bed, he heard his father talking to his soon-to-be stepmother.
“Sorry about Mickey,” his father was saying. “I don’t know what’s going on with that kid. He doesn’t play with other boys anymore. He doesn’t look me in the eye. The only person he talks to is himself! I give up.”
Mickey didn’t really want to listen, but he couldn’t help it. It was like trying to tear your eyes away from a car crash.
“I just want to start all over—with you,” his father continued in a husky voice that Mickey barely recognized. “And I want to do it right this time. The whole family thing.”
Meaning there was something wrong the first time.
Meaning there was something wrong with Mickey.
Well, so what, thought Mickey. Let his father start over. Mickey would start over too.
He certainly wouldn’t be staying at his father’s house again.
“GET LOST, CHEWY CHARLIE!”
“GET LOST, CRISPY CHARLIE!”
“GET LOST, CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES OF BOTH TYPES!”
Get lost, school!
Mickey lives in the desert. Or more precisely in a suburban neighborhood that was once desert and is still surrounded on two sides by sand and rock and cactus.
The name of this neighborhood is Arroyo Perdido.
An arroyo is a dry riverbed. Such as you might find in a desert where the occasional rain causes the occasional river to flow, leaving a deep, wide groove in the desert floor.
Perdido means “lost” in Spanish. Thus, an arroyo perdido is—presumably—an arroyo that cannot be found, whether because it has vanished, or because people have forgotten where it is.
The arroyo that runs through Mickey’s neighborhood is not at all lost; it is marked by a dam and a bridge and a big brass plaque. It is also not completely dry; there is almost always a trickle of water at the bottom.
Nonetheless, it is called Arroyo Perdido, and so, consequently, are numerous nearby institutions. For example, Mickey’s school, Arroyo Perdido Middle School.
Mickey wishes his school were really perdido.
For Mickey, the worst things about school include: class time, which always goes on too long; classmates, all of whom he has known too long; and lunch, which is really much too long when you’re sitting alone.
Why alone? Mickey doesn’t know.
In years past, he always had a friend or two to eat lunch with, and even to play games with after school. But when he entered middle school, something changed.
Nothing happened per se. People simply stopped talking to him unless he talked to them first, and even then they walked away as soon as they could. It was asthough he’d acquired some mysterious condition—visible to everyone but him, and apparently very contagious.
Eventually, Mickey stopped talking to his peers, and started talking to someone who never walks away, and who has the very same condition he has—that is to say, Mickey himself.
No, he doesn’t wander around school having full-on conversations with himself. He’s not that nuts. But he does mumble a bit.
As for lunch, he usually skips it.
Alas, it’s much harder to skip P.E.
Uniforms. Locker rooms. Not getting picked for a team. Or worse, getting a pity pick. Mickey hates P.E.
Mickey hates anything to do with sports. Especially team sports.
He particularly dislikes the soccer team, the Teddy Bear Chollas. And the basketball team, the Jumping Chollas.
If you’re curious, chollas (pronounced choyas) are a type of cactus with deceptively soft- and fuzzy-looking needles. For which reason chollas are sometimes called “teddy bear chollas.” These needles have a terrible knack for sticking to whoever passes by. For which reason chollas are sometimes called “jumping chollas.”
By the way, the fact that he doesn’t like these teams has nothing to do with the fact that his father used to coach the soccer team, or with the fact that his sister plays basketball for her high school.
It doesn’t even have to do with the fact that he gets hit by a ball every time he walks by the soccer field or basketball court.
He just doesn’t like teams in general.
“GET LOST, SCHOOL!”
“GET LOST, TEDDY BEAR CHOLLAS!”
“GET LOST, JUMPING CHOLLAS!”
I know what you’re thinking. It seems like Mickey doesn’t like anything at all. But that isn’t true. There’s at least one thing he likes: bubble gum.
Have you ever looked under a desk and wondered who put all that gum there? Well, you don’t have to wonder anymore.
It was Mickey. (Mostly.)
Here’s a piece of advice:
Don’t chew gum in class.
Here’s another piece of advice:
If, against my previous advice, you choose to chew gum in class, don’t blow bubbles.
If you simply must blow bubbles, let them gently deflate, don’t loudly pop them.
If one loud pop is irresistible, don’t repeatedly loudly pop bubbles after your teacher has told you not to. Depending upon your teacher’s tolerance level, you may or may not be given another chance to stop popping them.
Mickey’s Human Development teacher has a three strikes rule. Or in this case, a threepops rule.
Today, after Mickey’s third pop, his teacher sends him to the counselor’s office.
As it happens, Mickey’s teacher is the counselor. He is sending Mickey to see himself.
What’s more, Mickey’s teacher is Mickey’s father.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Mickey’s teacher = Mickey’s counselor = Mickey’s father.
When he was promoted from soccer coach to school counselor, Mickey’s father inherited the Human Development class.
Do you know what is taught in Human Development? Trust me, it is the last subject you would want your parent to teach.
Mickey has to wait until class is over for his counselor, er, father to arrive.
On the desk is a coffee mug decorated with a dozen or so emojis. At the bottom are the wordsHOW ARE YOU FEELING TODAY?
Mickey looks from the mug to his reflection in the window. His face doesn’t match any of the emojis. Except maybe the one with the straight line for a mouth. Apparently, he is feelingBLAH.
Finally, Mickey’s father sits down opposite Mickey.
“Why do you test me like that, Mickey?” he asks. “You know I have to treat you just like any other student.”
“Was it the topic of today’s class? The Gender Unicorn? I get it—it’s embarrassing to hear your dad talk about that stuff. Well, guess what, I don’t love it either. But it’s my job.”
The Gender Unicorn is a chart, in the form of a rainbow-striped unicorn, that teachers use to discuss subjects like gender identity and sexual orientation.
It tends to make students giggle. Or else, as in Mickey’s case, blush uncontrollably.
“You told everyone I went through a unicorn phase,” Mickey mutters, his face feeling hot all over again. “You know I don’t collect them anymore, right?”
“Oh, come on. I was trying to lighten the mood. Consider yourself lucky: If you were homeschooled, I would teach all your classes,” his father jokes.
“If I were homeschooled, you wouldn’t teach me at all,” Mickey responds, not smiling. “Since you don’t live at home.”
Mickey’s father purses his lips. According to the emoji mug, he is feeling FRUSTRATED.
“Anyway, I thought we were supposed to be talking about gum,” says Mickey.
“Okay.” His father takes a breath, forcing himself to calm down. “What message doyou think you were sending by popping all those bubbles?”
“Uh . . . pop?”
“How about I don’t care about this class? Or I don’t want to be here? Or maybeTake a hike, Dad?”
“No.” Mickey hesitates. “Well, not just you. Everyone.”
“Yeah. And everything . . .” Mickey waves his hand, as if to make the whole room disappear.
His father stares at him. “I have to say, as your counselor, I’m concerned about you, Mickey. Areyou concerned about you?”
“No. Can I go now?”
Mickey’s father drums his fingers on his desk. Mickey stares at the wall.
“All right, here’s what you’re going to do,” his father says after a moment. “You’re going to write a list of things you’re grateful for.”
He walks around his desk and puts a hand on Mickey’s shoulder. Mickey shrinks away from him. “If not your family . . . maybe a friend . . . video game . . . favorite cereal . . .” his father continues, backing off. “Anything that makes you go, Hey, I like that—that’s rad! A rad list.”
“Rad?” repeats Mickey.
“Yeah, rad. Cool. Awesome. Short for radical. Nobody says that anymore?”
“What if I don’t think anything is rad?”
“Think of it as a thank-you note to the world. A little gratitude to fix that attitude.”
Mickey rolls his eyes.
“It’s your homework assignment.”
“You can’t give me homework,” Mickey protests. “You’re not my teacher. I mean, in here you’re not. You’re my counselor, like you said.”
“Well, a counselor can give you detention. You prefer that? And let me tell you something else, as your father . . .” Mickey’s father points at him. “Wipe that gum off your nose.”
Mickey glances at his reflection in the window. His face is starting to furrow like theANGRY emoji. He wipes away the furrows along with the gum.
After school, Mickey does not write a thank-you note to the world. Surprise!—he buys more gum.
Down the road from Mickey’s school is a small donut shop called Desert Donut where some of the more popular middle school kids hang out after school. Along with a number of high school kids. His sister included. She claims that she is “addicted” to the donut shop’s signature coffee drink, the Cactuccino.
Mickey is not a fan of coffee drinks, not even one with green foam and gold sprinkle “needles.” Nevertheless, he often goes to Desert Donut because they make a decent plain glazed donut. (Donuts—there’s something Mickey likes!) And because they carry Mickey’s favorite gum: Bubble Gum King.
Bubble Gum King is an old-fashioned brand thatMickey’s mother introduced him to a few years ago. She loved it when she was young, she said. “There was always this little prize in each pack. Like a puzzle or a set of jacks . . . Have you ever played jacks?”
Mickey was fascinated. He couldn’t believe his health-food-loving, sugar-hating mother had ever chewed gum of any kind. It can’t even be composted or recycled! He insisted on trying Bubble Gum King immediately.
Bubble Gum King bubble gum is packaged like a deck of cards and features a mustachioed king who resembles the king of hearts on a classic playing card. Unwrapped, the gum is an unpleasant, raw- looking shade of pink. It is so sugary that it has a grainy texture, and it loses its flavor after the first few chews.
Mickey’s first reaction was: Yuck.
Then he blew a bubble.
With Bubble Gum King bubble gum, he discovered, you can blow bigger, better, balloon-ier bubbles. Bubbles that (usually) only pop when you want them to. Bubbles that have a great deal of what is called tensile strength. (Not to be confused withtonsil strength, although arguably you also need tonsil strength to blow bubbles.) When the bubbles pop, they make a loud, satisfying sound. Like the snap of a twig.
One pop and Mickey was hooked.
Today, thankfully, his sister is not hanging out at Desert Donut. There are only a few kids around, and they are absorbed in the shop’s single arcade machine, a sit-down driving game called Road Rager. Mickey makes his purchase in peace.
As soon as he walks out, he opens his box of gum, and a slip of waxy paper falls to the ground. Unwilling to bend over, he continues walking. If you don’t deliberately toss something, it’s not littering, right?
Then he starts to feel the itch of curiosity.
Just like in his mother’s time, inside each Bubble Gum King package is a prize. Most often, Mickey throws the prize away, but every once in a while he finds something he wants to keep. Like the little red compass he wears on his keychain. Who knows, maybe the slip of paper is a golden ticket.
He turns around and picks it up.
On one side is a picture of the Bubble Gum King, who seems to be smiling directly at Mickey, as if he has a surprise for him. On the other side is an ad:
Do you ever wish everyone would go away?
Are you anti-everything?
The Anti-Book is the answer!
Return this coupon to claim your prize.
Mickey stares at the paper in his hand. It is waxy and rumpled and looks as though it has been sitting inside the bubble-gum package for years. It does not look as though it was hastily written by his father as a prank. Not that his father has ever been much of a prankster.
In any case, there is no way his father could have gotten to the shop ahead of Mickey, and no way he could have inserted the paper into the package without tearing the wrapper.
It is simply a coincidence that they were only moments ago discussing Mickey’s desire to make everyone go away. A bizarre coincidence. A highly unlikely coincidence. But a coincidence nonetheless.
Mickey relaxes—slightly—and reads the ad over again.
Anti-Book? What’s an anti-book?
Mickey knows what anti means: It means against or opposed to. As in antisocial. (Against the norms of society, or disliking the company of others.) Orantioxidant. (Against toxins, like Chewy Charlie’s stinky herbal teas.) Orantidisestablishmentarianism. (Against . . . well, Mickey doesn’t know, but he knows it’s one of the longest words in the English language.)
So is an anti-book a book that is against books? Or is it nothing like a book? Is it the opposite of a book? A non-book? An un-book? A de-booked book?
Mickey crumples the coupon and puts it in his pocket.
Car-Boy and Mime-Boy are waiting at their normal spot on the bridge. When Mickey passes them, he tries his best not to walk like a robot. He must be successful, because, instead of imitating Mickey’s walk, Mime-Boy pulls out a pink balloon and imitates Mickey’s bubble-blowing.
“Ha-ha,” says Mickey.
“You know gum is a girl thing, right, ***wipe?” shouts Car-Boy.
“Why, ’cause it’s pink?” says Mickey. “That’s stupid.”
“Think about it, what guys do you know who are always chewing gum?”
Mickey knows it’s useless to argue, but he can’t help it. “Gum isn’t a girl thing or a guy thing.”
Car-Boy smiles. “Oh, so it’s a gay thing. Does your mom always chew gum too?”
Mickey’s face burns. “Gum isn’t anything. It’s gum!”
“Just calling it like I see it, ****head,” says Car-Boy. “Don’t be mad.”
“I’m not mad!”
Mickey knows what Car-Boy means when he says “Don’t be mad.” He means Be mad. Just like when he says “It’s a gay thing,” he meansFeel bad.
Gay is a word Car-Boy says a lot. At least around Mickey. For some reason, he never seems to say it around Mickey’s sister. (Or else she seems never to hear.)
Doing homework? “Gay.”
The book Mickey’s reading? “Gay.”
The show Mickey wants to watch? “Gay.”
When Mickey drinks the milk left over in his cereal bowl? “Gay.”
Mickey wants to tell Car-Boy not to use the word as a dis. “It’s not cool,” he imagines saying. Or maybe, “Not cool, man. Not cool.”
The problem is: He knows what Car-Boy would say back.
Mime-Boy releases the pink balloon. It sails over Mickey’s head, spiraling through the air with a high-pitched whine, while the two boys continue to laugh at him.
Mickey doesn’t say anything more. He just wishes they would go away. Forever.
As soon as they are out of sight, Mickey takes the ad out of his pocket and reads it again.
Do you ever wish everyone would go away?
Are you anti-everything?
Copyright © 2021 by Raphael Simon. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.