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It all starts with an assignment. Leon's "gifted and talented" class has to make educational videos for the sixth and seventh graders. Leon originally chooses "sex ed" as his subject in the hopes of showing a flash of boob. But as time goes on, his project starts to mean something. He wants to tell the younger kids that puberty is tough, but what they're going through is normal.
After researching the avant-garde movement, Leon crafts his video in the style of Fellini: La Dolce Pubert. It's deeply disturbing yet comforting.
But when the gifted program's director sees it, she suspends Leon—and he finds himself at the center of a townwide debate over censorship. Who gets to decide how far is too far?
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Adam Selzer lives in downtown Chicago. In addition to his work as a tour guide and assistant ghost-buster (really), he moonlights as a rock star. Check him out on the Web at www.adamselzer.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
It's a good thing my father is an accountant, because he really sucks at being an inventor. It's not that he hasn't given 110 percent or any of that crap; it's just that he never quite got the fundamentals right. For one thing, inventions are supposed to work. Furthermore, they're supposed to be things that don't already exist. He really can't get his mind around that.
"Do you know what the world needs?" he asked one night. "A machine that will automatically pour water into a cat's dish."
I tried to explain that such a machine already existed, but he didn't listen. Even when I showed him the various models that were available at our local pet store, he said that to simply buy something you could invent yourself, using good old American ingenuity, is practically unpatriotic. I tried to explain that buying products is what capitalism is all about, and that it's therefore perfectly patriotic, which anyone who ever took a sixth-grade civics class should have known to begin with, but he didn't listen to that, either. Instead, he worked for three months, and flooded the basement twice, building a machine that I suppose might have worked but that might also have been a dud. There was no way to tell. The cat wouldn't go near the thing.
Dad's inventions aren't the only dangerous things I have to put up with; the meals at my house are just as deadly, and often frankly embarrassing. It isn't that my mother's a bad cook or anything; hell, as far as I know, she could be the best cook in town. But she and my dad are what they call "food disaster hobbyists." It's like being the sort of person who watches bad movies on purpose just to make fun of them, only with food.
My parents' idea of a good time is going down to the thrift store and buying old cookbooks from the fifties and sixties, ones with titles like The Wonders of Lard and You and Your Artichokes. I don't know if you've ever seen one of those, but some of the pictures and recipes in them look absolutely wretched. Every few weekends, my parents buy up a stack of them and spend hours laughing at some of the worst recipes, and then, for reasons I have never been able to fathom, once or twice a week they cook them and serve them for dinner. It's one of their many poor, misguided attempts at "quality family time." Dad's inventions can get a bit embarrassing or dangerous, but cooking terrible recipes on purpose and expecting your kid to eat them simply isn't very nice. Mom and Dad insist that the recipes aren't really bad, just different, and even point out that now and then one turns out to be pretty good, but the odds on that are really pretty dismal. Even orphans in the old days got to eat good old reliable gruel. Nobody tried to make the gruel into an even nastier casserole.
On the night after my first day of eighth grade, I really didn't want to go through with the usual family dinner, since I knew that they'd just bought up another batch of cookbooks they probably couldn't wait to try.
"So, Leon," said my father as we sat down, "how was the first day of school?"
"Fine," I mumbled as my mother heaped a much larger pile of some mysterious form of casserole than I would have liked onto my plate. The casserole clashed badly with the dinnerware, which was from what I guess you'd call the 1950s Vomitesque school of household design, like the ugly, paste-colored trays with swirling designs that we used to have at the cafeteria in elementary school. Even the harvest gold and avocado green of the 1970s haven't been out of style long enough for my mother to get on the bandwagon.
"That's it?" my father asked. "Just fine?"
"He's not telling us something," said my mother, as if I wasn't present. "What aren't you telling us, Leon?"
I shoveled a large spoonful of the casserole into my mouth and chewed it long and hard. This was not a particularly pleasant thing to do, but it was worth it to stall having to talk.
"Well," I finally said, "when we were all introducing ourselves in math class, they made us all say our middle names." This, of course, is a classic first-day-of-school time waster for teachers who aren't very creative.
"What's wrong with that?" my father asked.
"I told them my middle name was Harold," I said.
They put down their silverware and stared at me for a second, as though they wanted an explanation. "Well?" I asked. "What was I supposed to do? I couldn't very well tell them that my middle name is Noside! That could wreck my reputation clear into high school!"
Keeping people from finding out what my middle name is has been a battle as long as I've been in school. When I die, I'm going to come back as a ghost to make sure it isn't on my tombstone.
"That name," said my father angrily as he slammed down his glass of water, causing a few drops to splash onto the table, "is more than just a name, it's a responsibility."
In case I haven't properly established this fact, my father is crazy. I'm convinced that no sane person would name his child Leon in this day and age, and I'm further convinced that anyone who would give his child the middle name Noside is probably a danger to himself and others. I suppose I should count myself lucky that he didn't name me Eureka, which my uncle once told me Dad had wanted to do. I'd never get through middle school alive with a name that sounds like "you reek-a."
I scooped up more of the casserole and popped it into my mouth to keep myself from groaning. I do a lot of groaning around the house, and I knew that my father was about to start in on the lecture I always get when I bring up the middle name. This particular lecture had been the cause of countless groans over the years.
"Noside," he began solemnly, "is Edison spelled backwards. You were given that name as an insult to the late Thomas Edison, who was a jerk who took credit for other people's work. Your middle name carries on our responsibility as decent people to expose him as a fraud."
My father is practically obsessed with hating Thomas Edison. Personally, I'm convinced that my father's real problem with Thomas Edison is that he's jealous that Edison invented a lot of good stuff before he had the chance. And I'm further convinced that Thomas Edison himself doesn't feel the least bit insulted by my middle name, what with being dead and all.
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Book Description Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2007. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0385733690
Book Description Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2007. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # MB010WEPS1Y
Book Description Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2007. Hardcover. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0385733690
Book Description Delacorte Books for Young Read, 2007. Hardcover. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110385733690
Book Description Delacorte Books for Young Readers. Hardcover. Condition: New. 0385733690 New Condition. Seller Inventory # NEW7.0126936