THIS IS A DRAFT
It'll change. It'll get better. So read it kindly.
It is copyright (c) David Weinberger 2002. Because it's a draft, you don't have permission to quote from it without asking my permission first. But I do encourage you to discuss it on the discussion boards listed on the home page. My email address is [email protected] Let me know what you think.
- David Weinberger
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"Keep it down," my father yelled at me from another room.
I was shocked.
My father was being really, really crabby. And that was unusual. Normally, my father is, if anything, a goofball, the type of dad who balances a pillow on his head while dancing around the room singing "It's Only a Paper Moon," for no reason at all. When he gets angry, it's usually because of something particular. Then he confronts you with it in person, you get punished if that's required, and it's over ... he's back to being his normal goofball self. Oh, sometimes he gets a little overly-serious about some issue, but that's Dad being a newspaper editor.
So, I was surprised when he yelled at me for something not very specific, and then didn't get over it. In fact, when I went into the study where he was working on something on his computer, he didn't look up and didn't say hello. He was being crabby.
The next morning at breakfast, he was a big bowl full of crabs again. He stood by the counter reading the paper - not the Gazette, but the big city paper we had delivered - and only talked to us to get us to eat more neatly, which is usually my mother's job. It was as if he was looking for ways to be crabby to us.
That afternoon, he drove me to the dentist. In silence. As we pulled into the parking lot, I asked him "What's wrong? You seem sort of crabby."
He still didn't look at me. "Nothing's wrong," he said, but he must have sounded unconvincing even to himself. "I'm having a little trouble with the paper."
"What kind of trouble? Can I help?"
"No," he answered, almost smiling. "It's nothing to worry about. It's just that advertising is down."
"Competition. The Boyton County Record is eating into the Gazette a little bit. It's just part of business."
"The Record? Why would anyone advertise there?"
"They cover a lot more territory. Of course, they don't cover it as well, but advertisers like having their message delivered all over the tri-county area."
"What are you going to do?"
"There's not much to do. We'll do fine" he said, trying to look unconcerned. But I had a full day of his crabbiness behind me to tell me that he was worried.
After the dentist, I met up with Ari. He was putting decals on his skateboard. "Aren't they cool?" he asked. I agreed, although I thought what would really make him look cool on a skateboard was not falling off of it every time he got on it.
"So, were you kidding about the lottery?"
"That is so cool."
"Yeah, I guess."
"Can we, like, go buy something?"
"No, Ari," I said, getting a little crabby myself. "I told you, no one can know about this." A sudden suspicion came over me. "Did you tell anyone?"
"No!" he insisted convincingly. "Hey, Mimi," he said, waving to her as she zoomed up on her bike.
"Hi, guys," she said.
"Hey, Jake," Ari said, "Can we tell her?"
"Tell me what?" Mimi asked. Naturally.
"Ari!" I said, angry. Naturally.
"You guys are keeping secrets from me?" she asked. I looked into her large brown eyes. They were eyes I'd known since we were both in diapers and our mothers locked us into the kiddy area as they took a pottery class together. I could trust those eyes.
"Ok," I said, and told her the whole tale, from the lottery to the spoon to the need to keep this quiet.
And when I was done, Mimi sat there as silent as a decal, as still as a skateboard that Ari has crashed into a big, smelly pile of dirt. "Wow," was all she said.
Ari broke the silence. "Show her the spoon," he said.
"I don't have it with me. Duh. I'm not going to carry a two thousand dollars worth of spoon on me."
"Where is it?
"It's safe. Don't worry." It was in a shoebox with my old baseball card collection. No one would look there.
"So, how are we going to give it to Amanda?" he asked.
"I'm not sure," I said. "Maybe after school you could go up to her..."
"Go up to her? That makes me nervous."
It was true that Ari wasn't doing too well when it came to talking with Amanda.
"No," said Mimi with certainty, "I think we ought to go for drama here." Ari put down the rag he was using to smooth the decals with. "She'll like that better. Don't just give it to her. Make it reappear mysteriously, and let her know that you're the one that made it happen.
"Interesting," I said. "What's your plan?"
* * *
"So," said Ari to Amanda, one foot nervously rolling his skate board backwards and forwards. In my head I was yelling, "Get your foot off the skateboard!" I knew what would happen.
"So what?" replied Amanda, not particularly warmly.
"So, I was just wondering if your father has a special place for the Twillingham spoon."
Amanda looked at him as if he were from another planet. I couldn't blame her. Although Ari was following our script, he was so awkward and phony about it that he did seem a bit like an alien trying to pass for human. "Why do you care?" she asked in return.
"Just idly wondering. No real reason. Just wondering. Wondering wondering ..."
Lydia, standing next to Amanda, said to her, "Come on, let's go."
"He keeps it on the mantle in the drawing room, if you really want to know" Amanda said.
"Mantle, mantle. Very mantle. Yes, drawing roomly mantle. Very mantle-y." Ari's circuits obviously were melting down. Fortunately, Lydia stepped in and pulled Amanda away as she stared at my gibbering friend.
As was inevitable, the skateboard slipped from under Ari's foot, bounced off the wall, and skittered to a stop at the bottom of the hill. Fortunately, it hadn't actually run anyone over. This time.
"Good job," I said to Ari after the two girls had left.
"Mantle-y," he replied.
Thus concluded Phase One of Mimi's plan, also known as The Easy Phase.
* * *
Phase Two promised to bring much more adventure. Somehow, we had to the spoon back into the Dunn Mansion.
Mimi had worked out the details. That's why I now was drinking more water than I could possible hold , waiting for Amanda to enter the cafeteria. At last, water burbling out of my mouth back into the water bubbler as quickly as it was burbling in, Amanda and Lydia approached. I casually followed them into the cafeteria and sat down next to them, a most unusual move.
"Mind if I sit here," I said, already sitting.
"Well...," began Lydia.
"It's a free country," finished Amanda. Charming girls.
I put my book bag next to Amanda's. And waited.
We were half way through the green Jell-O with mystery fruit before Mimi sauntered up. Lydia had left for her next class. "Amanda, can I talk with you for a minute?" Mimi asked.
Amanda looked surprised. Then annoyed. "I'm eating," she replied, gently nibbling around the Jell-O edges of what once might have been a grape.
"It's important. It'd be a personal favor."
You could almost hear Amanda's inner voice thinking, "Aha! She'll owe me a favor in return ... something I can use against her whenever I want!" "Well, ok," she said out loud. "Go ahead."
"Not here. It's personal. Could you just step over to this empty table?"
While they were chatting, I pretended to knock both my bag and Amanda's onto the floor. While scrabbling under the table to retrieve both bags, I replaced Amanda's social studies book with my own. She was done with social studies for the day and I hoped she wouldn't notice the switch before she got home.
I was just bringing the bags back up to the table when Amanda came back.
"What are you doing?" she demanded.
"Our bags fell off. Just picking them up. Sorry."
Amanda looked darts at me, took one more spoon of green Jell-O, and left for English class.
When she was safely gone, Mimi came over. "You do it?" she asked.
"Yup. What did you two gals talk about?"
"It had to be something."
"Just girl talk."
"Girl talk? I didn't know there still was something called girl talk."
"If you must know, I asked her advice. I figured it would appeal to her vanity."
"Advice on what."
"Something. What was it?
"Well," Mimi said, flushing, "If you really have to know, I asked her if she was interested in you. You know, if that's why she was sitting next to you. I acted jealous."
"Absolutely. And she fell for it."
"She didn't suspect a thing."
I picked up my book bag - the one with Amanda's book in it - and started to go to my next class. But I turned and asked Mimi one more question: "What did she say about being interested in me?"
Apparently that was not what Mimi had hoped I'd ask. She snorted and left.
* * *
On a normal Saturday, I'd be in my worst jeans, which are, of course, the ones I like best - ripped knees, a patch where the back pocket used to be, cuffs torn up and greasy from getting caught in my bike chain. Not this Saturday, though. No, I was dressed better than I dress for school. I even combed my hair with water so that it would stay in place for more than 12 minutes. Today was special. Today, I was going to the Palace of the Dunns.
At 12:30, Ari pulled up to our house. He was not only dressed neatly, he actually had buttoned his top button, making him look like he had escaped from a 1950s sitcom. He was fidgeting, scratching at his arms then his ribs then his arms again. Meanwhile, he had a dumb grin on this face that he just couldn't get rid of.
"Let's go," I said, and we rode off to the Dunn's house.
You could see their house towering over Chestnut Hill as you rode up. First you saw the twin towers, covered with ivy. Then you saw the main part of the house, three stories, old brick, stained glass windows. Then at last you saw the tall iron gate with the steel muskrats atop every post. We announced ourselves at the gate to a man twice my father's age and with twice my father's hair. "You are expected," he said after looking at a list on a clipboard. The gate swung open and we bicycled in.
As we walked up the steps, the front door opened as if by magic. The front hall was the size of a small circus tent, with wood and stained glass everywhere. A stairway wide enough for three horses swept through the center. The hall was colder than outside and smelled like my grandmother's linen closet. Behind the door was a tall man who introduced himself as Mr. Paul and offered us lemonade. I said yes at the same time as Ari said no. Ari switched to yes. As the man's footsteps echoed behind him, Amanda entered from the library, a blaze of red and orange in a house of brown and black.
She was carrying my social studies book, the one I'd "accidentally" switched with hers in the cafeteria on Friday. Ari looked at her like a bird that's just been shot out of a tree. But before he hit ground he saw another person enter from the library: Joel Hess. The football player. Joel. The boyfriend. You could practically see Ari shrink inside his clothes.
As Joel was looking us up and down, no doubt figuring how far he could throw us, Mr. Paul came back with four glasses and a pitcher on a silver tray. "Shall I serve the lemonade on the veranda, Amanda?" Although I was tempted to reply, "How about in the hall, Mr. Paul?", I was a good boy and held myself back. Amanda was surprised that we were staying longer than it took just to drop off the book, but she had been brought up to be polite enough to not object as we walked to a porch full of tropical flowers and the tinkle of falling water. Not half bad.
"This is an amazing house," I said.
"It's a total pain to live in," said Amanda. "You can't leave your stuff around, and if you should happen to get lipstick on the crystal mirrors in the ballroom, well, you have to spend all afternoon cleaning it off. And the heater in the pool breaks all the time." Poor poor Amanda. She sure had it tough.
Ari was gulping his lemonade down, as if being in the presence of Amanda dried out his body like getting too close to the sun. I motioned to him to slow down. Our plan required us to spend a few minutes in the house. "Would you mind if I used your bathroom?" I asked. Amanda rolled her eyes. "It's that way," she said, pointing in the direction away from the library. Too bad!
I left Ari sitting at the table as Joel smirked and Amanda put her tanned legs up on the chair opposite her. I was worried that this might be too much for my friend, but I had no choice. The Plan required it.
I headed off in the direction she'd indicated and found the bathroom - about the size of my bedroom - several rooms away. After standing there for a moment, inspecting the lion-headed faucet and the framed photograph of Mr. Dunn shaking hands with the president of either a large corporation or a small country, I left the bathroom and purposefully went wrong. After a few minutes of wandering, I made my way into the library and, slipping my Twillingham Spoon out of the soft cloth that covered it, placed it onto the mantle of the library in the stand that had been created especially for it. Yes, it looked perfect, the silver shining like a spark of fire in its mahogany frame. Mission accomplished.
"May I help you?" came the voice behind me. I whirled around. Mr. Paul had just entered. "No, I'm just trying to find my way back to the veranda. And Amanda," I said. "Which way is the hall, Mr. Paul?" I resisted the first time, but couldn't help myself the second.
"To your left, go straight, turn right at the potting room, and the veranda is right there."
I thanked him and rejoined the little awkward party. Amanda was putting some type of oil on her legs. Joel was spitting ice cubes at a garden gnome. Ari was breathing heavily, as if trying to inhale Amanda through his nose. I nodded at Ari, our signal that all had gone well and said, "Well, we should be going. Let's exchange books and we'll be on our way." Amanda slid my book over to me and I gave her hers. This was Ari's cue.
He, of course, didn't take it. He sat there like a dog with its head out the window of a car, his tongue flapping in the breeze. "We'll be on our way," I said again, pointedly. More silence. "There's just one more thing," I said, stealing Ari's line, hoping to jump start him. "Isn't there just one more thing, Ari?" Ari was supposed to say, "If you check your library, you'll find the Terwilliger Spoon." Instead Ari said, "One more thing? What?"
Amanda interrupted our stumbling little script. "Oh," she said, "by the way, we found the Terwilliger Spoon thing."
Of course it was that moment that Ari chose to speak his lines: "If you check your library, you'll find the Terwilliger Spoon."
"No," Amanda said, looking at him as if he were an idiot, which, technically speaking, he was being. "We didn't find it in the library. We found it behind a couch in the home theatre. It was just a little scratched and dusty, but Mr. Paul's been fixing it up."
And what exactly would Mr. Paul - and Amanda - and Amanda's father! - say when they found a second Terwilliger Spoon proudly displayed in their library? We had to grab the spoon before anyone noticed.
Ari was not being what anyone could call helpful. Having gotten started on his scripted speech, he was continuing to give it. "You see," he said, "We recovered your spoon ..."
"Ari," I said sharply, "I know you're excited that Amanda's family found the spoon. Very excited. But there's no need to go on about it."
"But..." said Ari.
"No buts. We really should be going. Must be going. Must must." Then I had an idea. "Say, when do you think Mr. Paul will be finished fixing up that old spoon. We'd love to see it. Heard so much about it and all."
"Oh, I don't know," said Amanda, without really thinking. "I think he was working on it this morning."
"Ooh," I said, clutching my stomach. "Stomach ache! Can I borrow your bathroom again."
Amanda rolled her eyes. "Whatever."
I headed down the hall to the library but made a sharp left when I saw Mr. Paul approaching from the opposite direction. I was now in unexplored territory. At the end of the long corridor was a big room with ceilings high enough for bungee jumping. I could picture Mr. Paul jumping, feet first, straight as a pocketknife, bouncing back up without ever losing his perfect posture. In any case, my chances of being discovered were much greater in a room that large and open, so I ducked up a small stairway to my left. Although it wasn't disguised or camouflaged, the stairs were so dark that they might as well have been hidden. I walked up carefully, trying to keep my feet on the edge of each step because I read in a spy book that that's how you keep stairs from creaking. The spy book was wrong. But I made it to the top undiscovered.
And there was Mr. Dunn's private study. I knew it was Mr. Dunn's because there were pictures of him on every wall: photos with the mayor, our senator, and with three former presidents, an oil painting of him standing like a king with one hand on a globe, and photos from newspaper stories about his successes. I knew it was private because there was only one chair in it, a green leather one the size of a throne behind the desk. I started to back out but I couldn't help noticing that there was a copy of my father's Gazette on the left hand side of his desk and a copy of the Boyton County Register on the right hand side. Side by side, carefully arranged. It was as if Mr. Dunn was studying the two papers, comparing them. And sure enough, next to them was a pad of yellow paper with two columns written on it. On the right it said "My Paper" and on the other it said "Enemy Paper." And Mr. Dunn had given "Enemy Paper" devil horns and a pitchfork. How childish. On the other hand, he had done a nice job shading the round pole of the pitchfork and adding shadows. Much better than a kid could have done, except maybe for Mitzi Panhauser who made the rest of us look bad in Art class.
The devilish artwork wasn't the only think that attracted my attention though. Without really wanting to, I saw that Mr. Dunn had written a number under each column. I recognized the number under the Gazette as the number of subscribers. The number under The Boyton County Register was twice as big. Then there was numbers with dollar signs. The number under the Register was twice as big. And then there was a sketch of what looked like a coupon. "10% off any purchase bought from a store that advertises in the Register! (up to $100)" it said. And under that there was a calculation: the Boyton subscriber number times 100 divided by ten. It was a big number. But next to it, Mr. Dunn had written: "Piece of cake!" And then a very nice picture of - you guessed it - a piece of cake. Vanilla cake with chocolate icing from the look of it. I'd heard my father say "Piece of cake" before. It meant that it was easy.
I thought I knew what was going on, but I didn't have time to sit there and figure it out. So, I crept out of the room as quietly as I could and came back down the dark stairway. By my reckoning, if I took a series of right turns, I should have ended up back in the library. But my reckoning isn't very good when it comes to directions. In fact, I once got lost in my own house, although my parents had switched some pictures around so maybe it's not as bad as it sounds. No, it is as bad as it sounds. So, after a series of right turns down big corridors, I found myself not in the library but at a door to the greenhouse...a large, glass-lined dead end. I turned around and saw what could only be Mr. Paul's work room. The door was open and the light was off. It was a small room, but bigger than Mr. Dunn's private office. Mr. Paul apparently was quite the handyman, for the walls were lined with tools for working with wood, for working with metal and for fiddling with watches and other small mechanisms. And there, in the middle of the work table at the center of the room, was the Terwilliger Spoon, as shiny and Terwilliger-y as ever.
I heard footsteps.
I moved in one step and pretended to be looking around for the exit even though it was right behind me.
The footsteps turned a corner and got softer and softer.
Afraid that I might be found at any moment, without thinking I swiped the Spoon and left.
With it safe in my pocket, I made my way back to the veranda where Ari was rocking back and forth on his feet, like a tuning fork. He was apparently trying to have a relaxed conversation with Amanda. "Hey," I said, "We'd better be going."
"Going. Got to going. Going," said Ari.
Amanda barely looked up as she said, "Really? So soon? Well, bye bye. Mr. Paul will see you out."
And so we left that house of many corridors and too many spoons. When we were back on the street, at the end of the long path from their house and safely out of view, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the Terwilliger Spoon triumphantly. "Don't worry," I said, "I got it."
"Me too," said Ari, pulling the Terwilliger Spoon out of his pocket too.
I looked at Ari. Ari looked at me. Without thinking about it - I was tired of thinking about it - I put my spoon into the Dunn's mailbox.
"Let them figure it out," I said and we biked away.
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