The Blizzard of '69
MUSCLE MAN MCGINTY is a squirrelly runt, a lying snake, and a pitiful excuse for a ten-year-old. The problem is that no one on Ramble Street knows it but me. In the entire town of Massapequa Park, only I see him for what he really is. A phony.
Knowing the truth when others fail to see it is hard on a person. That's because the truth has a way of seeping under your skin and wrapping itself around you, like a coiled-up Slinky.
You know that tinny sound a Slinky makes? Shink. Shink. Shink.
Sometimes I hear it creeping around inside my brain. The closer I get to Muscle Man, the louder it gets. When he's standing right next to me spewing out his whoppers, that Slinky inside me goes crazy.
SHINK! SHINK! SHINK! You can only imagine my headaches. I've even named the really big ones "Muscle Men" after the cause of all my problems.
Personally, I think it's funny to name your pain, but the others on Ramble Street never get my humor. Even Big Danny, who can laugh at dead teacher jokes, fails to see the comedy.
"Jeez, Tamara," he huffs. "The kid only moved here a few weeks ago. Can't you give him a break?" He kicks his foot at the side of the curb.
"Jeez yourself," is all I think of saying back.
Big Danny turns his back on me, and I turn my back on him. We are both standing at the corner of Ramble Street, each one staring in the opposite direction. Neither one of us will give up our spot on the sidewalk because the ice cream truck is about to come around for the first time this season.
It is an important day. Ice cream trucks mean summer is here. No more having Mrs. Webber, my fifth grade teacher, glaring at me through her spectacles. As far as I'm concerned, ice-cream trucks never come soon enough, and they leave far too early. Their time on Ramble Street is fleeting. And if Big Danny wants to ruin the entire morning by not speaking, that's fine with me. It'll be easier to hear the bells without his blabbering.
We wait in stony silence. Every once in a while, I flip my ponytail in his direction just to annoy him.
It's not until Muscle Man McGinty pulls up on his bicycle that Big Danny starts yapping. All that time, Big Danny had something he was itching to tell. As soon as he sees Muscle Man, he blurts it out.
"I made the swim team!" shouts Big Danny.
"Hey, good for you, Big Guy!" Muscle Man pats him on the back. "Making the swim team is not an easy thing to do."
"Yeah, congratulations," I mumble, not sure if Big Danny is talking to me yet.
"I heard there was a lot of competition," says Muscle Man.
Big Danny grins.
Muscle Man is wormy. He always starts with something nice before he slides into one of his whoppers.
I hold my breath, waiting for what comes next.
"Did I happen to mention I'm training for the Olympics in that same sport?" Muscle Man says.
Sure. And I'm waiting for Captain Kirk to beam me up to the starship Enterprise.
"Every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday morning, I go to the pool and practice." He puffs out his puny chest. "My coach thinks I'll win a gold medal in seven races. It would be a world record, but I'm hopeful."
"You like to swim?" asks Big Danny, like it's every day someone announces he's training for the Olympics.
"Yep. Coach says I'll be ready for Munich, Germany. That's where the next games will be." Muscle Man presses his thumb and forefinger so close together they almost touch. "I'm this far away from the world record. All I need to do is work on my flip turn."
Turn, schmurn. First of all, Muscle Man is barely ten, which means that in 1972, when they have the next Olympics, he'll only be about thirteen. Plus, I've never seen him swim. I doubt the kid even owns a bathing suit. World record, my eye. This kid's got as much chance of going to Munich, Germany, as I have of going to the moon.
"Maybe we could go to the pool together," Big Danny says.
"Yeah, and you can both practice for that world's record," I say, with disbelief dripping off my every word.
Big Danny catches my tone and sneers at me. At me! Muscle Man sells him a bag of bull and gets nothing, and I get glared at for pointing out the obvious.
I turn away from both of them, pretending to be interested in a group of ants climbing over a half-eaten Tootsie Roll. Neither boy notices. They're too busy talking about backstrokes and racing dives.
"Of course, no matter how famous I become, I'll always remember my friends on Ramble Street," says Muscle Man.
The spot above my right temple begins to throb.
Muscle Man puts his arm on Big Danny's shoulder. "I'll never forget you, Danny O. And you too, Tamara."
I refuse to even look his way. Instead, I watch a tiny dandelion seed float on the breeze. I catch it before it finds its way to the ground.
"They'll probably want to put my picture on the Wheaties box," he says.
"Jeez. Give me a break." I throw my hands up in the air. Before I can tell him what I think of his lies, I catch another dandelion seed. Soon, my hands are full of them. A flurry of white surrounds us.
Muscle Man looks around. "Where's it coming from?"
Big Danny points to my house. "Tammy's mom."
I glance across the street to where Shirley is wrestling with the dandelions that fill our front lawn. With every pull, she sends up another flurry.
"There must be hundreds of them," says Big Danny.
"Millions," says Muscle Man, which is another lie. I highly doubt there are a million. A hundred thousand, maybe, but not a million.
Shirley yanks harder, and the flurry turns into a blizzard. Like snowflakes, the seeds twist and tumble before they find their way onto the lawns of Ramble Street.
"Cool." Muscle Man cups his hand to catch a seed. Then he jabs at me playfully. "Hey, Tammy. Listen."
I'm about to tell him that he's got nothing to say that I want to listen to when I realize what he's talking about.
Bells ring out in the distance. The Mr. Softee song grows louder.
Any second now that truck will turn the corner. Right in the middle of the dandelion blizzard, summer will come to Ramble Street.
Excerpted from Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle by Nan Marino.
Copyright 2009 by Nan Marino.
Published in May 2009 by Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.