At a book signing in Denver’s Tattered Cover bookstore last weekend I bought Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother. I usually read slowly, but I inhaled Little Brother.
The novel I recently published, Tocayos, takes place in Lima, Peru, in the late 60’s. Little Brother takes place in San Francisco in 2008. Both stories include a scene in the principal’s office. I though it would be cool to compare them.
Here’s Cory’s scene, reproduced from this site according to the Creative Commons, license:
“I ambled the rest of the way to Benson’s office and tossed him a wave as I sailed through the door.
“If it isn’t Double-you-one-enn-five-tee-zero-enn,” he said. Fredrick Benson — Social Security number 545-03-2343, date of birth August 15 1962, mother’s maiden name Di Bona, hometown Petaluma — is a lot taller than me. I’m a runty 5’8″, while he stands 6’7″, and his college basketball days are far enough behind him that his chest muscles have turned into saggy man-boobs that were painfully obvious through his freebie dot-com polo-shirts. He always looks like he’s about to slam-dunk your ass, and he’s really into raising his voice for dramatic effect. Both these start to lose their efficacy with repeated application.
“Sorry, nope,” I said. “I never heard of this R2D2 character of yours.”
“W1n5t0n,” he said, spelling it out again. He gave me a hairy eyeball and waited for me to wilt. Of course it was my handle, and had been for years. It was the identity I used when I was posting on message-boards where I was making my contributions to the field of applied security research. You know, like sneaking out of school and disabling the minder-tracer on my phone. But he didn’t know that this was my handle. Only a small number of people did, and I trusted them all to the end of the earth.
“Um, not ringing any bells,” I said. I’d done some pretty cool stuff around school using that handle — I was very proud of my work on snitch-tag killers — and if he could link the two identities, I’d be in trouble. No one at school ever called me w1n5t0n or even Winston. Not even my pals. It was Marcus or nothing.
Benson settled down behind his desk and tapped his class-ring nervously on his blotter. He did this whenever things started to go bad for him. Poker players call stuff like this a “tell” — something that let you know what was going on in the other guy’s head. I knew Benson’s tells backwards and forwards.
“Marcus, I hope you realize how serious this is.”
“I will just as soon as you explain what this is, sir.” I always say “sir” to authority figures when I’m messing with them. It’s my own tell.
He shook his head at me and looked down, another tell. Any second now, he was going to start shouting at me. “Listen, kiddo! It’s time you came to grips with the fact that we know about what you’ve been doing, and that we’re not going to be lenient about it. You’re going to be lucky if you’re not expelled before this meeting is through. Do you want to graduate?”
“Mr Benson, you still haven’t explained what the problem is —”
He slammed his hand down on the desk and then pointed his finger at me. “The problem, Mr Yallow, is that you’ve been engaged in criminal conspiracy to subvert this school’s security system, and you have supplied security countermeasures to your fellow students. You know that we expelled Graciella Uriarte last week for using one of your devices.” Uriarte had gotten a bad rap. She’d bought a radio-jammer from a head-shop near the 16th Street BART station and it had set off the countermeasures in the school hallway. Not my doing, but I felt for her.
“And you think I’m involved in that?”
“We have reliable intelligence indicating that you are w1n5t0n” — again, he spelled it out, and I began to wonder if he hadn’t figured out that the 1 was an I and the 5 was an S. “We know that this w1n5t0n character is reponsible for the theft of last year’s standardized tests.” That actually hadn’t been me, but it was a sweet hack, and it was kind of flattering to hear it attributed to me. “And therefore liable for several years in prison unless you cooperate with me.”
“You have ‘reliable intelligence’? I’d like to see it.”
He glowered at me. “Your attitude isn’t going to help you.”
“If there’s evidence, sir, I think you should call the police and turn it over to them. It sounds like this is a very serious matter, and I wouldn’t want to stand in the way of a proper investigation by the duly constituted authorities.”
“You want me to call the police.”
“And my parents, I think. That would be for the best.”
We stared at each other across the desk. He’d clearly expected me to fold the second he dropped the bomb on me. I don’t fold. I have a trick for staring down people like Benson. I look slightly to the left of their heads, and think about the lyrics to old Irish folk songs, the kinds with three hundred verses. It makes me look perfectly composed and unworried.
And the wing was on the bird
and the bird was on the egg
and the egg was in the nest
and the nest was on the leaf
and the leaf was on the twig
and the twig was on the branch
and the branch was on the limb
and the limb was in the tree
and the tree was in the bog —
the bog down in the valley-oh!
High-ho the rattlin’ bog, the bog down in the valley-oh —
“You can return to class now,” he said. “I’ll call on you once the police are ready to speak to you.”
“Are you going to call them now?”
“The procedure for calling in the police is complicated. I’d hoped that we could settle this fairly and quickly, but since you insist —”
“I can wait while you call them is all,” I said. “I don’t mind.”
He tapped his ring again and I braced for the blast.
“Go!” he yelled. “Get the hell out of my office, you miserable little —”
Here’s the scene from Tocayos:
“A junior at Del Pinar does not behave like a 2-year old throwing his toys around the room,” Brother Bernard said to Charly, in a tone of voice that made everybody listening think he was very bored.
This was Charly’s impression. But it made no sense to me. As the school principal Brother Bernard had an obligation to display outrage. How could he fail to do this? Perhaps he was employing a traditional yanqui trick: pretending not to care. This has been a custom between American men for many years, yes? John Wayne, after he and Roy Rogers, they shoot 20 indians between them and save the hair of the people of the town from being removed by the indians, they say to each other…
“Howdy Roy Rogers.”
“Howdy John Wayne.”
“Nice day, no? “
“Another day, another town saved from a fate worse than death. “
“Yes, excuse me while I yawn.”
“Well, got to go, Roy Rogers.”
“So long, John Wayne.”
Ha! If it had been me who had beaten the Immaculada boy bloody, Brother Bernard would have screamed at me so hard that the veins in his neck would have looked like dancing serpents. Fat serpents. Doing the mambo. Chaka-chaka-bum. And Papito would have done the same. And Mamina. And my older brother would have also, just to practice.
This behavior, however, was not applied to Charly the American. Even by his own mother! She arrived a few minutes late. On purpose. She apologized with an obvious lack of sincerity. Another yanqui trick, perhaps? She then proceeded to dodge all of Brother Bernard’s questions about Charly’s father. No, he was unable to attend the meeting. Why? You ask me why? Because he was out of town, of course! Rescheduling the meeting for another time would not help, no, because he traveled very much. His business made many demands on his time, but his family understood. Yes, her son would prefer to have more contact with his father, but what teenage boy would not? Her understanding, however, was that in the incident in question, her son had merely defended himself from a personal attack, so her question to Brother Rudy was, “Why doesn’t the Catholic Church in general and La Virgen del Pinar in particular do a better job of protecting the children entrusted to their care?”
Brother Bernard, he exhaled and sat back in his chair. A boy’s mother is a formidable adversary, no? Even for the principal of a Catholic High School. Brother Bernard stared at Charly for a long time. Then he turned to Charly’s mother and explained to him, while talking to her, that it was the burden of a Catholic man to endure suffering and injustice. Provocation would come. Injustice would find us. They were tests of our faith in God’s justice. It was a weighty burden, heavier on the shoulders of the young, but it had to be borne. And it was certainly no excuse for trying to violate the Sixth Commandment.
I am not ashamed to say I had to look it up, too. “Thou shalt not kill,” Moses carved into the book made of rock. This is the sixth commandment. I do not believe Charly was trying to kill the Immaculada boy, but high school principals, they like to be dramatic. Besides, there is no commandment that says, “Do not pound a boy’s face into massamora, no?” To be honest, the New Testament is not much help, either. “The meek shall inherit the earth?” Noooo, this is madness. “Turn the other cheek” is not a philosophy full of appeal to a teenage boy. Perhaps if they had let me write one of the gospels …
1 If a pendejo, he come unto you and violate unto your person’s
honor and dignity to the cheers of his pendejo hijo de puta friends,
2 Yes, this huevon he deserve a beating at your hands, but no,
you cannot give him a beating because the adultos I have
anointed to raise you will beat you in return.
3 You know this, yes? Is this fair? No. Of course it is not. It is stupid.
4 But like you, I was a teenager once, and so I made some mistakes.
5 Nevertheless, I am God now, so please trust me.
6 You run out now and go laugh, you fall in love, you take
long siestas in the shade. 7 One day, when the time is right,
I will smote that pendejo and together, you and I, we will share a high-five.
Let me know what you think.
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