This is an excerpt from chapter 28 (book three) of my serialized novel Meeting Dennis Wilson. After a snafu-filled schoolday in which 16-year-old narrator Brian is convinced that his girlfriend Christy is mad at him for telling one of his friends her bra size, Brian sits out on the patio at his best friend Margo’s house and writes in his journal while they “study.”
Meeting Dennis Wilson is a serialized YA novel in seven books. For more information, scroll down or click here.
You feel so old when you’re in high school. Relatively speaking, of course… compared to what precedes it. I remember when I was a high school sophomore, junior, senior –16, 17, 18 years old– and thinking, feeling, like I was mature, or at least not a kid. Yet now I look at kids that age and I think Now that’s young! I wonder if they feel “old” or “mature” the way I used to, just because I wasn’t a grade schooler or middle schooler or (Egads!) a freshman.
But then, they probably are alternately blind to and painfully aware of the same thing that I was: they might not be kids, but they’re not adults, either. The learner’s permit is the perfect metaphor for that age: You can take the car out, but make sure there’s an adult with you, and if you fuck up, man, are you (or, more likely, are your parents) gonna pay!
At that age, there were so many old habits dying hard and vying for time and energy and attention with new interests, typified by baseball cards. In 1975 –a baseball card year considered by many collectors and card geeks to have produced the sine qua non of modern baseball card design: the Topps 1975 series, with its groovy two-tone full-color borders– I only bought four packs of baseball cards: three wax packs (when they first appeared in the stores in April) and then a rack pack which I might not have even bothered with, had Margo not snagged it for me. We were at Murphy’s in downtown Quaker Valley, and I was browsing the three-for-a-dollar bin of cut-out 45 rpm singles, and Margo, who’d been digging through the boxes of rack packs (plastic-wrapped strips of baseball cards with three clear panels, through which you could preview six different cards: three fronts and three backs), came up and tossed the pack in front of me and said, “Here, Bri. You won’t do any better than this.”
And she was right: among the six visible cards were Mike Schmidt, Brooks Robinson, and Greg Luzinski. My favorite player of all-time (Brooks) along with my then-favorite Phillie (Schmitty) and then-second-favorite Phillie (Luzinski) all in the same pack… and when I opened it, sandwiched between those cards were Steve Carlton, Jim Palmer, and Boog Powell.
No, I wouldn’t do any better than that, and really, I stopped trying. What a difference four years made: back in 1971, that haul of players would have thrilled me for a couple weeks. The 1971 Topps baseball cards might be my favorite set of all time. Talk about a great baseball card design, first of all: austere black borders with the team’s name big and bold at the top (so that you could stand a double on its end and use it as a divider in your filing system)… plus the cards had pictures on both the fronts and the backs.
More than the design, though, the ‘71s are my favorites because they’re relics of the last year that I bought and enjoyed –loved– baseball cards like a little kid. By 1971 (age 11), I was already finding other interests: music, mainly… playing drums and spending my allowance on records. Of course, I’d heard the Beatles before the summer of 1971 (I would have had to have spent the previous seven years in a coma to have not heard them), but summer of 1971 was the first time I remember really being aware of them… not just as music, but as voices and as people whom I felt really spoke to me.
That summer, I bought a 45 of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” at the college bookstore, Capitol Records catalog number 5810, and (on another design note) for as sleek and cool as that summer’s baseball cards looked, this record was UGLY: a red and orange “target” label with awkward, big rounded title print (crooked, no less), and a blurry Capitol “C” logo stylized to look like a record. It wasn’t the first record I ever bought; nor was it even the first Beatles record I ever bought. But somehow, it felt different. Even though I’d bought records before, and I’d buy baseball cards again, that copy of “Strawberry Fields Forever” signified the start of a shift in my spending priorities.
The next summer, age 12 (1972), I kept up my usual baseball card-buying pace in the springtime, but lost momentum toward the end of the summer and didn’t get most of the cards in the high series; same thing the following season (1973); at age 14 (1974), the cards weren’t even released in series, but came out all at once, with many of the traded players still pictured on their old teams, as if Topps couldn’t even bother to wait to get new pictures, and, well, truthfully, I couldn’t either (meanwhile, my record collection was growing, thanks to an increased allowance and the discovery of two flea market dealers who had a regularly replenishing stock of cheap used albums); at age 15 (1975, the multicolored year), I bought just those four packs; and finally, at age 16, learner’s permit in my wallet and girlfriend on my mind and Penthouse magazines hidden in my bedroom, I sat there on Margo’s patio watching her open six wax packs of 1976 baseball cards, and just as I found myself wondering You know, why does she even bother? she sighed and answered my unspoken question, as she so often did.
“I know I’m a little too old to be buying these things,” she said, “but it just doesn’t seem like spring without baseball cards.” She took the narrow pink slab of bubble gum from a pack and pondered it. “Plus, in May, the gum’s still fresh.” She SNAPPED! it in two (no bend). “Kind of,” she added, and she popped it in her mouth and crunched it two or three times before her spit softened it and reconstituted it back to Fresh, chewing it big, mouth opened and head bobbing, like a dog would work a chunk of rawhide.
I laughed at her shtick, like I always did (another old habit, except one that was reinforced and refreshed by new experiences), and then looked back down at my journal, or diary, or notebook, or whatever it was that I was trying to write in…
“Whatcha writin’, Bri?”
I looked up from my notebook, a little self-conscious, and I started to flip the cover shut, but then thought Nahhhhh… it’s just Margo.
“Ohhhh, just… trying to figure out stuff.”
“Oh.” Margo leaned back in her chair, teetering a little on the back legs. “So is that a diary?”
Girls use diaries. Writers use journals.
“No, it’s just my notebook,” I said.
“Thought so,” Margo said. She had a copy of the 1976 Who’s Who In Baseball in her lap, pages opened to the position players, and every few seconds, she’d flip backward or forward a few pages to find whatever player (“Or pitcher”) had crossed her free-ranging mind. She looked down at the pages as she flipped. “So what’s the difference, anyway? Between a journal and a diary.”
“I think a journal is what you write in a diary,” I said. “Like… a diary is a kind of book you can write a journal in, but you can basically write a journal in anything.”
I don’t know where I got that, but it sounded better than Well, girls use diaries…
Margo nodded, satisfied with my explanation. “So then that’s a journal, right? Or a notebook with a journal in it.” She flipped back a few pages. “I just always thought diaries were for girls and that writers used journals.” She scanned whomever’s stats were staring up from the pages in front of her, biting her lower lip. “Christy has a diary,” she said after a short pause. “With a lock on the cover. Bet you’d like to unlock that tonight.” She huffed a dark laugh. “Or maybe not.” She shut the Who’s Who and tossed it onto the tabletop in front of her. The spine of the book hit her short stack of cards and scattered a few of them across the table…
…including the ’76 Brooks Robinson, which, lying on the table in front of me, suddenly looked tempting.
“Margo,” I said, oddly interested, “is that a double?”
“What? Which one?” She looked down at the cards. “Brooksy? Nahhh… they’re all singles. These are the only ones I’ve gotten so far this year.” She looked at me, and her question spoke volumes about her level of interest (or maybe disinterest) in those cards: “You want it?”
Really? Who said? The quiz (European History) wasn’t until Monday. There was a ballgame on the radio (Sox vs. Orioles, Gossage vs. Palmer). I had my journal; Margo had baseball cards and a copy of Who’s Who. Clearly we wanted distractions from the task at hand… or maybe from something else. After all, I’d just shot my own foot off by hiding from a distressed, probably-not-angry (“Oh, she was angry, Bri… just not at you”) Christy; Margo, meanwhile, had the triple whammy of Scott (“‘She’s made her choice,’ huh? Well, he has, too. Eff him.”), Christy (“‘Mui’ meant she was mad at moi”), and softball (“Maybe if Gettysburg also lost tonight we can back into Districts. I’m not holding my breath, though”), along with whatever else was going on with her (“Let me just say: I know that guys have wet dreams, but maybe you’d like to swap your next one in exchange for a period some month. Yeesh.”) that we wouldn’t be talking about if we were Studying.
“Well…” I set my pencil flat on my notebook, but was still touching it with my fingertips, like I wanted to remember it was there. “You’re sure Christy wasn’t mad at me?”
“Positive, Bri. Positive.” On the radio, Pat Kelly singled off Jim Palmer to start out the game. “Crap,” Margo said, slapping the Who’s Who on her thigh once. “True,” she continued, settling back into her seat, “that Christy did say what Karen said she heard: ‘I could kill you two.’ But she meant me and P.A., not you. The only time you got mentioned was when she kept asking me why I told you her size, and I said, ‘He’s your boyfriend. Don’t you want him to know?’ I just figured she wanted you to know. I mean, she told you her old size. Right?” She blinked. “Or did I do that?”
“You told me, but she said she didn’t mind.”
Margo nodded. “Right. Right.” Inhale… exhale. “Any-way,” she continued, “I don’t see why she was all upset about you knowing. Besides, as I kept telling her–”
“–I don’t count. Right?”
I didn’t think that I said that in a wounded way, but given everything else on my mind, it must have carried that overtone, because Margo’s eyes widened and softened a little bit with sympathy.
“Brian…” She sighed quietly. “I didn’t… you know I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant… you know. You’re you. My best friend… her boyfriend. In the loop, you know? It’s not like you telling Marty… which,” she added quickly, “I did not so much as hint at.” I was looking down, but I could feel her looking at me, like she was picking up hurt that I wasn’t even aware of. “I’m sorry, Bri,” she said, and just when I thought she was being a little too sympathetic, she held out a wax wrapper from one of the packs of cards that she’d opened. “Here,” she said. “Have some gum!”
Meeting Dennis Wilson by Max Harrick Shenk…
“Today marks the day that I officially add Meeting Dennis Wilson to my ‘Favorite Coming of Age Books’ list. I adore John Green and his work [and] I fell in love with this book just as easily as I fell in love with Paper Towns or An Abundance of Katherines. Meeting Dennis Wilson can easily be compared to a teenager who’s just coming of age: awkward, quirky, hilarious, and loads of fun to be around.Meeting Dennis Wilson is incredibly comical, sweet, and ultimately feel-good.”
(The Literary Connoisseur)
Meeting Dennis Wilson is available in both softcover print and Kindle editions, in either seven serialized installments or as an omnibus edition gathering all seven books.
To read other excerpts from Meeting Dennis Wilson, click here.