The Day I Ditched School
“Yo, wanna ditch today?” Geoffrey Peterson asked me. “We’ll blow this place and head to my house. It’ll be cool.”
Geoff asked me this question at 7:28 a.m. Come 7:30 the bell would ring and then adults from all over would start rushing us to class. It was a now or never decision.
“Sure,” I said. I’d never ditched before. Sounded like fun. As we snuck away from campus I heard the school bell ring in the background behind me. Whether I was there or not, it seemed the day would go on.
We walked twenty minutes to Geoff’s. “My mom’s at work,” he said as he turned the key. “She won’t be home til ‘bout 4:30.”
“Cool,” I answered.
First thing we did was eat. But Geoff didn’t really have any good food. There were no frozen pizzas or microwave burritos, just cereal, but his mom was out of milk. I thought about pouring water on some Fruit Loops but that seemed gross so I simply decided to snack on some fat free tortilla chips. That’s the only thing Geoff had that I thought I’d like, a two pound bag of fat free tortilla chips.
We turned on the TV. I never realized how many dumb shows were on in the morning. Fat woman talking about their problems. Skinny women talking about their problems. Lots of shows about lots of women talking about their problems. Finally we decided to watch a program where old people played price games to try and win a washer/dryer. Dumb! I looked at the clock. It was only 8:53 a.m. and already I was bored. Since I never got home from school until 3:15 p.m., I still had more than six hours to go before I could leave. We decided to play video games.
Geoff had weak vids though, stuff I had played over and over again about a hundred million times. After two and a half hours I was bored again. And hungry, too. But not really that hungry cause it seems I had eaten about a pound of fat free tortilla chips since I cranked open the bag. A gross, nasty taste sat on my tongue. Wow, could I have used a Pepsi. But Geoff didn’t have any Pepsi, just water and ketchup.
I thought about leaving, but where was I to go? Back to school? No, I’d get in trouble. To the park? No, we could get caught by someone. To a friend’s house? No, all my friends were at school.
I was SO bored.
The only excitement in the next few hours came when the mailman showed up. Geoff and I hid behind the couch thinking he might try and bust us or something, but he never even looked in the window. He just dropped off some letters and left.
When 3:00 finally came I opened the front door and felt the sun for the first time that day. I had a headache and wanted to throw up. It was like I’d been trapped in a shoebox all day and holy smokes did I need my toothbrush. I left.
“How was school, honey?” my mom asked when I walked in the door.
For a moment I panicked. I thought it was a trick question.
“Fine,” I said nervously waiting for her to explode with rage.
“That’s nice,” she answered.
Turns out it wasn’t a trick question. My mom never knew the difference.
The next day I found out our science teacher Mr. Roddy had brought a live tarantula to class and let it walk across his face. And Mrs. Ingram, the math teacher, broke her heel and fell down in front of everyone. Plus, I got an F on a pop quiz for history I totally would have aced and I didn’t get to see Amanda Byrnes, a girl I had a huge crush on, all day. Big bummer.
Then the kicker of all kickers came. I had written a creative writing assignment for English class. A story about a terrible babysitter. It was fun to write and funny to read and had a lot of laughs. Not only did I get an A on the assignment, but it was so good that my English teacher, Mr. Thompson, decided to read it aloud.
Not just to my class, but to ALL of his classes. The entire 8th grade!
So where was I during my moment of fame and celebrity and awesomeness? Trapped without food in a land of weak video games, watching the seconds slowly tick by on a tortuous clock .
Sure, the next day people congratulated me and told me they liked my story, but I totally missed The Big Day. It would be like winning the Super Bowl on Sunday afternoon but not finding out til Monday that you were victorious, long after everyone had partied through the night. By the time I had learned of the news it was old news.
In a word: anticlimactic.
Later that week, when I saw Geoff at 7:28 a.m., I hustled into class before he could make eye contact with me.
And I never ate fat free tortilla chips again.
“Wanda Pansuckle: The Worst BabySitter Ever!”
by Alan Lawrence Sitomer
Cruel. Vicious. Has no right to be around kids whatsoever much less babysit them.
Of course I am speaking about Wanda Pansuckle. This loony, nutty, totally coconuts woman who nearly ruined my life!
I could tell you about the three yellow warts on her nose. I could explain about her green colored breath. I could go on and on about how she had claws instead of fingernails, razor blades for teeth, and webbed feet.
None of it would be true. Wanda Pansuckle appeared to be as polite, nice, and normal as any regular ol' lady could be. That's what made her so sinister. What she looked like on the outside and how she actually acted were totally opposite.
"Hello, I'm Wanda Pansuckle. Quite pleased to make your acquaintance."
Those were the lines this 600 year old woman used to fool my parents into hiring her. Mom won a trip to Europe in a contest through our local supermarket and Dad, as he clearly said, “Refused to take our son Benjamin out of school.” Not that I was disappointed because traveling with people who were actually excited to walk through museums and go ga-ga over portraits painted by dead people sounded like the boringest vacation ever offered to a kid.
I didn't want to travel for a gagillion hours on an airplane, I didn't want to eat food from menus written in languages I couldn't read, and I didn't want to stare at buildings and pretend that roofs and doors and window frames hammered together 500 years ago captivated my interest.
And my parents didn't want to travel with a non-stop complainer. So we struck a deal. They would go away and someone would stay with me for a week.
Of course whoever it was would have to be responsible, they would have to make sure I took care of all my responsibilities, and they would have to make absolutely certain I did everything my parents would have expected me to do.
Let’s just say, it didn’t quite work out that day.
On Day 1 Wanda Pansuckle let me go to school with chocolate on my face. After letting me eat chocolate chip cookies covered in double fudge chocolate sauce dunked in chocolate milk for breakfast. I didn’t need to gobble any fruit, I wasn’t required to brush my teeth before I left the house, and I didn’t even have to wear clean clothes or comb my hair.
She just let me do whatever I wanted. And when I came home, it was more of the same.
I didn’t have to do my homework. I didn’t have to clean up my plate. I didn’t have to turn off the TV, stop playing video games, or go to bed on time.
She let me do anything.
“This babysitter is weird,” I told Mikey Lumpkin as we chatted in the school cafeteria on the second day of this. Mikey’s lunch consisted of a turkey sandwich, a sliced apple, an organic fig bar and a few non-fried sesame crisps. My bag, packed by me of course, contained powdered doughnuts, salty potato chips, a pickle and a warm can of soda pop. “Like I don’t think she has rules whatsoever.”
“Dude, you are the luckiest kid alive,” Mikey told me. “You gotta push this babysitter to the limit. See how far you can go.”
I plunked a tip of a can of whip cream into my mouth and filled my face with a glob of white fluff. (Yeah, I brought that, too.).
“Absolutely,” Mikey said. “Find this woman’s limits.”
“Wanna come over?”
“Can’t,” Mikey said. “My parents know your parents are out of town and they already told me I shouldn’t even bother to ask.”
“Bummer,” I said. “But at least you’ll know that this lady, Miss Wanda Pansuckle, is about to meet her D-O-O-O-O-M!”
“Awesome, Benny. And remember, you’re not just doing this for yourself,” Mikey said. “You’re doing this for all kids everywhere.”
I spent the rest of the afternoon making plans. Wanda Pansuckle had no idea what kind of ride she was in for.
When I walked in the house after school Wanda Pansuckle passed me the phone. “Oh Benjamin, it’s your parents.”
I covered the speaker with my hand.
“Should I tell them everything is okay?”
“Tell them whatever you want.”
Was this a trick? I looked around the house. Dirty dishes in the sink. Clothes scattered everywhere. I’d forgotten to feed the dog.
Things were not okay. Not at all. But that’s not what I told my father.
“Hi Dad, how’s your trip?... Yeah, yeah, things are fine… Sure, sure, I am being a good listener… Of course, I am keeping up with school… yep… Hi Mom, how’s your trip… Yeah, yeah, things are fine… Yes, Mom, I am being a good listener… Very clean… Not up too late at all… Yep, limiting the TV… Pepper’s great… Okay, speak to you tomorrow… Love you, too. Bye.”
I hung up and realized I’d just told my parents more lies in one phone call than I ever told them in the entire history of my life.
What was this Wanda Pansuckle woman doing to me? I passed her the phone.
“I’m sorry, did you want to talk to them again?” I asked.
“You know,” I said. “To, uh, fill them in?”
“Well, I guess you want me to go do my homework right now?”
“If you think.”
“Or maybe clean up some of the mess I made last night or go feed Pepper or something?”
Wanda Pansuckle sat down on the couch and opened a book. “Up to you.”
I squinted my eyes. This was very suspicious.
That’s when I had my A-ha moment! Oh, I get it… she’s testing me.
Well, let’s just see how she likes this. I raced to the kitchen and grabbed a piece of silverware from the drawer.
“Is it okay if I put this steak knife into the electrical socket?”
I put the tip of the blade right next to the wall outlet. Wanda Pansuckle casually looked up from her novel.
“If that’s what you’d like to do.”
I edged the steel tip closer. I wasn’t even supposed to handle these kinds of super sharp knives, much less go anywhere near electrocuting myself.
“I’m gonna do it,” I said.
“I really am,” I told her. “On the count of three I am going to jam it in there. One…”
She licked her finger and turned a page.
“Two…” I warned, moving the silver tip right up next to the plug.
“Two and a half…” I said real slow. Wanda Pansuckle didn’t budge. “THREE!” I yelled and tensed up all my muscles.
Wanda Pansuckle scratched her ear and continued reading her novel, relaxed and at ease. I put the knife down.
This woman is an absolute loon, I thought. Time to take this to the next level.
Playing with matches!
I settled on a lighter when I couldn’t find any matches. “Is it okay if I set the curtains on fire?” I asked with a click of the lighter.
I brought the orange flame oh-so-close to my mother’s favorite drapes. Wall to ceiling, the material extended at least twelve feet and for sure this kind of fabric had to be flammable.
“If that’s what you want to do this afternoon, Benjamin, sure.”
“Hello. Excuse me. I am, like, playing with fire right now.”
“Do you need some help?”
“Help?” I said, flabbergasted. “You’re supposed to stop me from... OUCH!”
The heat from the flame burned my finger and I decided to go put the lighter back in the kitchen drawer before I really did something stupid to hurt myself.
This woman was clearly using psychology on me. Maybe reverse psychology. Maybe even reverse reverse psychology, the kind they use in the C.I.A., and at the movie theater to try and get you to buy the over-priced popcorn with a large drink in the combo deal that’s never worth it. I fed the dog and loaded the dishwasher. I needed a new plan.
“So where are we?” Mikey asked the next day.
“Well,” I said popping a chunk of apple in my mouth for lunch. Last night I’d eaten candy for dinner. So much of it that before I went to bed I did one of those wet burps that gurgled up a small puddle of vomit in the back of my throat. After four days, taking a break from junk food wasn’t an option; it was a necessity.
“The situation is not looking good. I’m losing the battle.”
“Take it to the next level, buddy.”
“The next level? What’s that?”
“An R-rated movie.”
I gasped. “An R-rated movie? No way!” Then I thought about. “Mikey, you’re a genius!”
I’d never seen an R-rated movie before and I knew that if I chose something super scary with lots of blood and guts and murder and death then Wanda Pansuckle would come to her senses, turn off the movie, and I’d have my first victory in the war to get her to make me behave and act like a proper caregiver.
I entered the house and asked, “Can we watch a movie together?”
“But I want to watch something scary,” I said giggling to myself.
“Something R-rated. Like REALLY R-rated.”
“That’s fine. What’s the name of it?”
I paused. I didn’t know any R-rated movies. Hmm, I felt stumped.
“Want me to pick it?” Wanda Pansuckle offered.
“YEAH!” I said emphatically. “But make sure it’s absolutely terrifying.”
“You got it,” she said. “Should I start it now?”
“Naw, let’s watch it after the sun goes down. Scary movies are always better when it’s dark.”
“I agree,” she said.
I went to my room, ditched my homework for the fourth day in a row, a new record for me, and eagerly counted the minutes until the sun sank over the horizon.
At 9:00 p.m. when it was good and black out, I went downstairs. But not before turning off every light in the house. That’ll get her, I thought.
“Ready?” Wanda Pansuckle asked.
“Ready,” I said, stuffing a grape in my mouth. The thought of popcorn made me want to barf.
Three minutes into the movie I saw a dead person’s head spin around. Fifteen minutes later I realized the dead person whose head had just spun around wasn’t really dead and was outside of a two-story house that looked kind of like mine. And he was about to cut off the pinky toes of a bunch of giggling teenagers after having escaped from an insane asylum. Twenty minutes after that the bad guy with the spinning head who’d escaped from the insane asylum had not only chopped off eleven different pinky toes, but he’d eaten 8 of them and was wearing three others on a necklace. Next plan for him had something to do with chewing off a kitten’s ear.
I couldn’t let Wanda see, but I needed to get away from this movie. Far away. And I would have, too, but all the lights were turned off and I was too scared to walk through the dark house all the way to my room unescorted.
Wanda Pansuckle suddenly jumped. “Did you hear something?”
“Huh? What? Where?”
“Oh, nothing,” she said relaxing back against the couch. “Thought I heard a squeak coming from upstairs.”
A squeak, I thought. The head-spinning, pinky-toe-eater who escaped from the insane asylum had an artificial leg made of rusty metal that squeaked.
“I’m getting a little tired,” I said, faking a yawn. “Maybe we ought to call it a night?”
“Don’t you want to watch the end of the film?”
“Ya know,” I lied. “It’s not really all that exciting.”
Wanda Pansuckle reached for the remote. “It’s one of my favorites because usually the bad guy dies at the end of the movie but in this movie the bad guy lives.”
“Lives?” I said.
“Well, sure,” Wanda Pansuckle replied. “It’s based on a true story. Ya can’t just change things like that.”
A true story? Gulp. I reached down and touched my pinky toe just to make sure it was still there.
“Well goodnight, Benjamin.” Wanda Pansuckle headed off to the guest bedroom. Which, of course, was downstairs.
“So if you were too scared to walk to your room where did you sleep?” Mikey asked me the next day when I told him all about the movie.
“On the couch with paper towels for a blanket.”
“What’d ya use for a pillow?”
“Ooh, rough. You were that scared, huh?”
“I told ya, this Wanda Pansuckle woman is crazy.”
“You still have time to beat her,” Mikey assured me.
“I dunno,” I said.
“I do,” Mikey exclaimed. “And you must. I have the answer.”
“Oh yeah, what’s that?”
He looked around to make sure no one else was listening.
“Cigarrettes.” Mikey rubbed his hands together and cackled. “You’ll smoke an entire pack.”
I wrinkled my nose.
“You’ll get her to take you to the store, buy you a pack of smokes, bring you home and then light you up. After you puff the first, you go for a second. After you finish a second, you go for a third. And then,” Mikey said completely in love with this idea, “you go into your parents’ bedroom and you smoke three more butts. The smell will never come out by the time they get home tomorrow and they’ll freak out ten thousand percent. This, my friend, is a guaranteed win.”
He smiled, big and proud.
“So let me get this straight. You want me to get cancer?”
Mikey didn’t answer.
“And you want me to choke? Also, you want me to smell like an ashtray, pollute my lungs, foul up my parents whole house and inhale an entire pack of the worst substance a kid could ever put into his body? You know what the real problem is, Mikey? The real problem is that I’ve been listening to you!”
I stormed out of the cafeteria and when I got home I did a week’s worth of homework in one night in order to turn it all in for at least some sort of school credit. And then I did two loads of laundry, washed all the dishes, mopped the kitchen floor, bathed the dog, and even scrubbed the toilets.
Gross, right? Well, not to me. For dinner I had a fresh green salad, for breakfast I ate a scrambled egg and for lunch I packed my own turkey sandwich with a side of sliced apple and an organic fig bar.
Which I ate far, far, far away from Mikey Lumpkin.
When I got home, my parents were just arriving back from Europe.
“Benny!” they exclaimed as we shared lots of hugs. After kisses, gifts, and me offering to help them bring their luggage in, both my mom and dad looked around at the house in amazement.
“Goodness gracious, this place is clean. Thank you, Wanda.”
“Wasn’t me,” Wanda Pansuckle said. “It was all Benjamin.”
“Benny!?” they squealed at the same time. Mom and Dad looked at one another in shock.
“I don’t believe it.”
“What’s your secret?” they asked her.
“Secret? There’s no secret.” Wanda Pansuckle picked up her suitcase and got ready to leave. “Really, I didn’t do anything at all.”
She then walked out the door and left. Thanks goodness, I thought. Spending a week with Wanda Pansuckle was absolutely terrifying.