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Cartboy and the Time Capsule



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About The Author

L. A. CampbellL. A. Campbell

L. A. CAMPBELL grew up in Park Ridge, New Jersey, and attended the University of Colorado, graduating with a degree in journalism. She started her own ad agency, which won awards for work on such brands as Comedy Central and New York magazine. Cartboy and the Time Capsule... More

Cartboy Goes to Camp
July 21 - August 19, 2014
Meet L.A. Campbell as she reads from her new book Cartboy Goes to Camp.

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EXCERPT

Shelter
 
 
Dear Surprised Finder of the Time Capsule Under the Bleachers:
If you are new to planet Earth and looking for shelter (a place to live), I have two things to say:
1. Welcome.
2. Do not buy a house with a deck. You will live to regret it.
I found this out after I asked my parents for my own room.
Why does a twelve-year-old boy need his own room, you might ask. There are lots of reasons, but the top two are called Bea and Perrie. My twin baby sisters. Not only do I share a room with them, my bed is in between their cribs.
Between the crying, teething, spit-up, and diapers, I’ve slept about seven minutes since they were born.
Needless to say, I’ve been working on my dad night and day to let me move into the tiny spare room in our house.
“First of all, I need that room for my job” is his usual reply. “And second, the only way I’d consider giving you your own room is if you bring your history grade up. Way up.”
Judging by how I’m doing in history, it’s going to take a miracle. Even though it’s only October, Mr. Tupkin has already given us ten pop quizzes and tests. So far, I’ve gotten the same grade on every single one.
HINT: My grade is a letter between C and F. Words that start with my grade are Dang, Doomed, and Duh.
“No son of mine will fail history,” my dad says every time I bring home a test. “You must do better, Hal. History is who we are and why.”
“Boy, do I love history too, Dad. But the thing is, sharing a room with two babies makes it so hard to study. If we had a bigger house…”
“Here we go again with the ‘bigger house.’ You know I work at home. And I’ve got my whole shop set up in the spare room. It would take months to pack it up. Besides, business is a little slow. There’s no way we’re moving.”
Usually, at some point during the “Hal, you’ll never get your own room” speech, I look to my mom for help. But she’s got her own “very good” reasons for not getting a bigger house.
“Sharing is nice. You’ll establish an everlasting bond with your sisters.”
Or: “A small home is greener. Much better for the environment.”
And then there’s my personal favorite: “If you’re feeling tired, honey, I could put some needles in your feet.”
That’s the other thing about my mom. Her big plan to help out with the family income is to go to night school. She’s studying for a degree in acupuncture. It’s this Chinese medicine that’s popular today.
They say it’s been around for thousands of years in China, which I really don’t get. Because the idea of acupuncture is to stick needles in people. To make them feel better.
Normally, the conversation about getting my own room ends with me right back where I started. Sitting on my bed, listening to the twins’ nonstop jibber-jabber.
The other night, Perrie was trying to talk. She was holding her favorite puppet, a seashell with a hermit crab inside. “Sell. Sell,” she said, showing me the shell.
I put my hand inside the shell and made the hermit crab pop out.
“Boo!”
Perrie loves it when I do that. She pointed to the shell again, and said, “Sell.”
That’s it, I thought. Sell! If only I could sell our house. Get someone to make an offer my parents couldn’t refuse.
Sure, they kept telling me they’ll never move. But for the right price, maybe my mom and dad would reconsider.
So last Saturday, when my parents said we were going to visit Grampa Janson, I told them I wanted to stay home and study. As soon as they left, I printed out a sign on my computer. It said OPEN HOUSE. It means anyone who’s driving by can come in and look at your house to see if they want to buy it. I even decorated the sign for good measure.
Next, I put on a suit I borrowed from Arnie. It was the one he wore to Billy Cohen’s bar mitzvah. I have to admit, the suit was a little flashy for me. And not just because I’m not the suit-wearing type.
The thing about Arnie is he actually likes dressing up because “girls notice that stuff.” The other thing he does is put gel in his hair because it looks “sophisticated.”
About half an hour after I put up the OPEN HOUSE sign, I heard a sound that was music to my ears.
Ding-dong.
I opened the door and saw a nice-looking couple standing on the steps.
“Hello, we’re here for the open house,” said the man.
“Come in.”
“Is the homeowner here?”
“He’ll be back shortly. In the meantime, why don’t I show you around?”
We started to walk through the house and right away the man started firing off questions.
“How close is the nearest school?”
“The Stowfield Middle School is just a stone’s throw away, sir.”
The couple walked into our kitchen and looked at the ceiling. “Have you ever had problems with mold?” asked the woman.
“Yes,” I said. I figured it was best to be honest. I grabbed a hunk of my dad’s favorite blue cheese out of the fridge and tossed it in the trash. “But not anymore.”
The man looked me straight in the eye. “Are there any structural issues or deferred payments we should know about?”
Ding-dong. Luckily, I was saved by the bell.
The next people to come to the open house were an older lady and her “friend.” After I showed them around a little, I found out her friend was a home inspector.
“I like to bring the inspector with me,” said the lady. “So I’ll know if there are problems right off the bat.”
The lady and the inspector walked down the hall and stopped in front of the spare room. The one that should be my bedroom right now.
“What’s in here?” asked the inspector.
“This room is, um, under renovation,” I said, locking the door. “Don’t want the dust to get out. Very harmful.”
The inspector gave me a look like he knew something was up. But then he turned to the lady, and said, “Why don’t we go see the outside of the house?”
As the two of them went to look at our back deck, I stood in front of the spare room. I knew the real reason I didn’t want to open that door.
I was embarrassed.
The thing is, the room is filled from floor to ceiling with old microwaves. And DVD players. And toasters from the 1970s. Because my dad’s job is fixing appliances.
There are little screws and wires and tools everywhere, and everything is greasy and dirty. Every time I look in that room I can’t help but wonder why it has to be my dad who surrounds himself with used stuff. Didn’t he ever want anything new, like a normal dad?
I was still standing in front of the door when the inspector suddenly walked up and handed me an official-looking piece of paper. As soon as I saw it, my hands started to sweat. Could this really be it? An offer for the house? I mean, it seemed a bit soon. But if you love a place, you love a place, right?
I stood there holding the paper and I couldn’t help but imagine what my new room would look like. Arnie and I would set up RavenCave (the best video game ever). We’d have a special table for chocolate-glazed doughnuts with sprinkles.
I was lost in the thought of where the doughnut table would go when I heard the inspector say, “You have a violation. Code one-thirteen. Section nine. Deck railing.”
“Thank you. Um, what?”
“Your deck railing is not built to code. The rails are five inches apart. They need to be four. Judging by the toys lying around everywhere, I’m guessing small children live in this house.”
“Small children. Yes, two.”
“Young man, I’d fix that deck if you want those children to be safe. And if you want to avoid a fine.”
It wasn’t until later in the day that my family got back from Grampa Janson’s. My dad was pretty surprised to see me on the back deck.
“Haven’t seen you holding a hammer in years, son.”
“I just want to make sure Bea and Perrie don’t fall off the deck. These rails are a little far apart, don’t you think, Dad? What do you say we fix them together?”
“That’s my boy! Why buy new when you can fix the old!”
I spent the first two weeks of October working on the deck, thinking about how I’d never have my own room.
And how I’d be spending the rest of my life next to two girls who have five teeth between them.


 
Copyright © 2013 by L. A. Campbell

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