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The Music of What Happens
Author:Bill Konigsberg

The Music of What Happens

Bill Konigsberg

To Chuck, my love, my life, who sacrifices so much so that I can write these books and still eat food occasionally

There’s this thing my dad taught me when I was a kid. One time when I was eight, and he was swinging me around the living room by my ankles. Man I used to love that, flying free with that centrifugal force, knowing that if my dad let me go I’d go flying. He got a little wild this one time I guess, and my head thwacked against the armoire where we keep board games.

The world went spinny and a sharp pain radiated across my skull. I was shocked too. Which I guess is why I didn’t cry right away. But then I did.

“This is when you warrior up,” he said as my tears fell. “Pain doesn’t mean that much.”

I sat on the floor crying and rubbing the spot on my forehead that would soon turn into a purple bruise in the shape of Texas just above my right eye. Kept wailing and waiting for my mom to come and make it all feel better. But I guess she was out buying groceries, because she didn’t come. For the longest time. And Dad turned on the TV and ignored me. He wasn’t the perfect dad while he lived with us, but he was right about this one thing. My tears dried, my headache went away, and I sat down next to him and watched the end of the Cardinals game, and when he cracked a joke about how Kurt Warner’s wife looked like a boy, I laughed a little. I came away realizing I had powers I didn’t know I had.

I was a freakin’ warrior.

That’s the lesson I’m thinking about, nine years later, as I stand here at the Gilbert Farmers’ Market with my mom, freaked out about whatever the hell last night was. I’m thinking about the shit show that went down when I skulked in at six in the morning to my mom standing there, arms crossed, brow furrowed fierce. As I look around the market, I’m realizing that I could freak the fuck out about everything, or I could warrior up. I force a smile, choosing the latter.

And when my mom’s enthusiasm for grass-fed beef makes her start saying creepy things she probably doesn’t mean to the seller guy, I decide it’s time for this warrior to wander off on my own.

“I can’t wait until I get your beef in my stew,” she says, and since she’s my mom and that’s disgusting, I say, “Uh, I’m gonna hit the food trucks.”

She glances my way and says, “You watch yourself, Maximo. No more trouble, you hear?”

Cumin. Creosote. The bleating of cicadas and my heartbeat, pounding. No. Nope.

I nod, gulp, and hurry away. The fine people of the Gilbert Farmers’ Market do not need to know my business.

I love the Saturday morning farmers’ market. I know it’s weird and I’d never tell Betts and Zay-Rod, but I dig the friendly people, the parade of cute dogs, the booths giving free samples.

Organic cotton candy is like, really? I pass them up because sugar is sugar, organic or not. I like the hot sauce guys, Homeboys. Anything spicy is good to me, and they give you chips to sample the sauces, so. Double win. I’m a closet foodie. The Amigos don’t know, but at home I will sometimes cook dinner. Mom’s the tamale queen, but I like to cook Asian, Italian, French. It’s fun to experiment in the kitchen. Give me some garlic, soy, and sugar, and I can whip up some magic with just about any protein.

I try a few samples and head to the food trucks, because everything tastes better coming off a truck. I’ve sampled them all. There’s a kettle corn truck, a waffle truck — my favorite — a burrito truck, and one that makes ceviche. And then there’s this new one at the end of the aisle.

The exterior is dirty and faded white, and it says Coq Au Vinny across the top in bloodred Comic Sans lettering, which looks a little amateurish. There’s an angry-looking cartoon chicken standing there with its arms crossed and its eyebrows raised, like it’s about to peck someone’s head off. Above it is an upside-down fryer, held by a short, squat Mario Brothers kind of guy. He’s using the fryer as a chicken catcher, like he’s about to capture the angry bird.

I walk closer to check out their menu. That’s when I see the skinny kid who sits in the back of my AP Language and Composition in the ordering window, looking like he’d rather be anywhere else in the world. My chest tightens.

The kid is just — striking? It’s a weird word but I don’t know what else to call him. He’s rail-thin, super quiet, with a strong nose and a triangle mouth with narrow lips, all angularity and sinew. Sometimes in class I find myself staring at him and thinking about how he’s all simple lines, no extra anything. When he did his oral report a few weeks ago on “This I Believe,” he stood up and lazily ambled to the front of the class and it was almost like a dance, the way his long limbs moved. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I remember wondering what it would feel like to be that spare.

And then he spoke. They were maybe the first words I ever heard him say, and apparently what he believed in was yogurt. The logic went something like this, as best I can remember:

I believe in yogurt because it’s creamy and a good use of milk that would otherwise go sour. Think about it: Where does all the sour milk go? That goes for people too. Not that we ferment, though I guess we do lactate, but everyone has skills and desires that go unused and unmet, and they sour. How can we make yogurt of these soured attributes? How do we make something delicious, how do we salvage them?

I was like, dude, how in the world did you manage to bring human lactation into your oral report? If I ever said anything half that creative, half that unusual, my best friends would divorce my ass. How can a guy be so comfortable with being weird?

The kid is behind the ordering window, his chin on his hands like he’s uber bored, staring off into space. He’s wearing a maroon V-neck T-shirt that highlights his almost alabaster, toothpick-thin arms, which take up almost the entire windowsill. He has dark emo hair that covers his eyes.

I walk up to him, and he turns and sees me. I smile, and his eyes go wide like he’s shocked, like I’ve found him in his secret life as Food Truck Guy.

“What up?” I ask. “You go to Mesa-Guadalupe, right?”

He gulps and looks around nervously, and I immediately feel sorry I said anything. “Oh hey. Yeah.”

Acne blemishes dot his cheeks, and his eyebrows look manscaped, raised up at the ends. It makes him look a little bit like the angry chicken, or maybe just like he’s questioning everything and everyone. Not sure if he’s gay or not, but anyway, he’s that kind of emo kid who hates jocks. I can just tell.

“I’m Max,” I say.

He looks behind him. There’s a large blond woman frantically scraping off the grill with the edge of a metal spatula. Maybe his mom?

He turns back to me. “Jordan,” he says, kinda monotone.

“Nice to meet you. And you work on a food truck. That’s cool.”

“Is it?” he mumbles, raising an eyebrow, and I nod my head because, yeah. It totally is. I’m about to be sentenced to a summer at State Farm Insurance with my mom as punishment for a night I wish didn’t even happen, and I’d much rather do this than that.

I point to the truck and read the name. “Coq au Vinny?” I ask.

“Yup,” he says, like he thinks it’s embarrassing. “Coq au Vinny. Um. ‘We do Italian things with chicken.’ ”

I laugh. There he goes again, saying shit I could never get away with. “Italian things, eh?”

He raises his eyebrows twice in quick succession. It just makes his face more angular, and it’s like I can’t look away. “This ain’t exactly Florence. Well, it’s almost Florence, Arizona, I guess.” His voice is soft, a little high.

“Ha. So nothing too fancy, eh?”