off the bat I want to say that I never meant to bug Mr. G.
like that. Mary Alice, she’s a whole ‘nother story;
little sister was BORN talking so she’s always going a mile a
minute from the time she wakes up in the morning until she falls
asleep with all her stuffed animals and dolls around her at night.
Yeah, M.A. has a lot to say all the time. Probably a girl thing. Or a
five year old thing.
I’m pretty good about
bothering grown-ups. Unless I have to, and even then I don’t
to ask too much because I never know how they’re going to
Dad taught me to be polite and I usually am—it helps, and it
the first time I had to talk to Mr. G.
Tep and I were playing catch out along the little green strip of lawn
by our townhouse. Allan’s shorter than me but runs faster. He
lousy aim though, and most of the time I can field his pop flies
without even looking. It pisses him off so bad that I can do
that—just hold up my glove and snag his tosses—so
getting harder and meaner with his pitches. It didn’t help
was teasing him about getting a D in Ms. Herman’s biology
the time, but he knows I didn’t mean it. Ms. Herman grades
Allan, he threw the last
pitch and I reached for
it, but it bounced off the very edge of my glove and took this wild
skim right over the top of the security fence, then disappeared into
the next yard. I heard it smack against a wall and thump on the
ground and I knew I was in trouble because dad told me Mr. G worked
nights and we probably just woke him up with that hit. It was pretty
told me I had to go get
the ball, and I told
him HE had to since he threw it, and he told me I had to because it
was my ball and he was right but I was pretty pissed. I threw my
glove at him and dragged myself over to Mr. G’s door really
I hadn’t met him before but I knew what he looked like and
he was a baseball fan so I hoped that would make it easier to ask him
for the ball back. I rang the doorbell—it was a black metal
shaped like a cricket. Allan was making faces at me the whole time,
and I managed to flip him off just as the door opened. I looked up
and started to apologize.
excuse me, my name is
Meyer and I lost my ball in your yard?” It sort of trailed
because it dawned on me that Mr. G was already holding my baseball in
one hand, and was looking at me. I couldn’t tell if he was
not—his face was still and quiet. What my English teacher Mr.
would call impassive. I looked at the ball because it was easier than
looking at Mr. G.
found your ball.”
knocked over my cockroach
hutch,” he told me,
and I didn’t say anything but I was thinking it was the
thing I’d ever heard a grown-up say. A cockroach hutch? I
people kept rabbits in a hutch—
if you don’t mind,
I need your help in setting it up again.”
grown-up talk for ‘you’re going to do this because
up.’ That kind of talk I knew, so I nodded. He motioned with
head for me to follow him and I did, looking around as we went
through his house.
weird. He had butterflies
bugs all over his walls. I mean everywhere—framed and stuff.
looked a little like some weird museum display and Mr. G caught me
looking as we passed through his living room and towards the sliding
door for his back yard.
an entomologist. I
in insects,” he told me and I started to feel a lot less
out after that. I mean if it’s part of what he does for a
makes sense that he has them on the walls, right? The only thing that
still bugged me was that so many of them were butterflies. I always
thought butterflies were very girly bugs.
G’s back yard
was small, like ours, but he didn’t have the Barbie Townhouse
bikes and stuff in it. Instead, he had this weird box built along the
back fence, with long rows of Plexiglas in it. Next to that was this
knocked over brown box on legs, and I knew that had to be his
cockroach hutch so I started over to help him get it back up. He took
one side and I took the other. When we lifted it I could hear a lot
of scratching going on inside the box and I had to wonder just how
big his cockroaches were.
My mom, she
HATED cockroaches. She
called them water bugs and sprayed and got really worked up whenever
saw them. Once when I was really little, smaller than M.A. I stepped
on one and crunched it good and my mom had a fit about the bugjuice
on my shoes. She’s dead now, and even though it’s
time—nearly three years—I still can remember that
sound she’d make when she saw a cockroach.
Mr. G looked
me. I guess my face must have been funny, because he asked me if I
was okay. I nodded.
just my mom
cockroaches, so she’d be freaking out big time if she knew
some here. Are they okay?”
lot of moms don’t
cockroaches,” he told me. “Even MY mom.
see.” While he opened the top of the hutch I thought for a
about Mr. G having a mom. I could sort of see it. I bet she had the
same grey hair. But not the beard. Then he reached into the box and
pulled out this huge freakin’ brown thing that looked like
my dad’s shoe inserts except it had legs and I know I said a
word and backed up until my butt hit the sliding glass door. It
crawled on Mr. G’s hand and all of a sudden I though my mom
been abso-freak’n lutely right about them.
called Drain Man,” Mr. G told me. I started to laugh; I
mean to. Talk about embarrassing! But I couldn’t help
the thing had scared me, and now it had a name. A really dorky name.
I tried really hard not to crack up, but it came out in sort of a
snorty noise and Mr. G. was trying not to smile but I could tell he
wanted to. He fished in the box for another one. Now that I knew what
to expect I didn’t jump, even thought this one was a little
this is Tessaroacha
mean Tessarossa?” I asked, and even as I did, I got it. Duh.
Roaches, so yeah, Tessaroacha. Mr. G. saw that I figured it out and
didn’t say anything. I pushed away from the glass and came
to have a look at the bugs. The one on his right hand had a DM
written on it in silver ink, and the other one had a T. I looked at
Mr. G and he sighed.
I can’t tell
unless I mark them,” he told me, and I could respect that.
really do look alike. I peered down into the hutch and it was all
neat inside—six little clear plastic boxes with water dishes
food dishes. Two of the boxes were empty of course, but Mr. G. put
Drain Man and Tessroacha Ferrari back.
are the other
ones called?” I asked him.
I’ve got Wally
Crunch McGoo, Cucaracha Jones and Hissing Jessica Stein.”
cracked me up, and I laughed. Couldn’t help it, and
to, but Mr. G smiled a little too and set his roaches back in to the
hutch. I helped him latch the top again.
you have pet
bugs. Cool. Do they do tricks?”
race them. The
International Championships are in Australia, and there’s the
Bowl in Purdue, although to be honest I haven’t come in any
than eighth in the last couple of years.” He sounded
and I don’t know why that got to me but it did. Maybe because
know how it is when you hit a plateau. I had one in pitching, and I
guess Mr. G. had one with roach coaching.
though—I never met anyone who raced bugs.”
he reminded me, and he sounded just like a teacher.
than spitting crickets.”
contest with frozen ones that you spit, for distance,” he
“I used to do pretty good at that one until the year I
gave a little nod and tried to make him feel better. “Yeah,
says pressure can be like that.”
G’s face twitched a
little again and I was starting to figure out that that was his way
of laughing. “Sorry Peter, but I mean I really choked. Got a
cricket lodged in my throat. My distance was good, but it
count since someone was doing the Heimlich on me at the time.”
lost it, then and just busted up big time. I really did because the
whole idea of Mr. G choking and then hoicking up a dead bug for a
world record just GOT to me, you know? Here he was all dignified and
I just couldn’t get around the idea of him spitting anything,
less a frozen cricket.
I guess he
thought it was funny too
because he laughed as well, and then motioned for us to go back
through the house.
didn’t mind the butterflies
this time, and when we got to the porch, Mr. G was about to hand me
my ball when he hesitated.
I got it.
I smiled and
to run out along the greenbelt, looking back until I was about twenty
yards out. Allan came over and was watching as I waved to Mr. G.
“Okay, give it a shot—“ I hollered to him.
off his porch and right into a pitch stance, and it was great because
I could see the exact set of his shoulders. He looked left and I
grinned—no first base, but he was checking anyway. Then he
at me and I nodded. Mr. G threw.
League rocketed out of his hand in the sweetest fastball I’ve
seen. I know Mr. G was holding back but still, it hit my palms and I
felt the sting all the way through my wrists. I hung onto the ball,
but barely, and Allan was staring.
That was sixty,
know,” I yelped,
since I was the one waving
my fingers and blowing on them. Back at his porch, Mr. G was looking
my way, kinda concerned, so I waved a hand at him to show I was okay.
Allan took the ball from me and threw it back even as I protested,
and Mr. G. snagged it one-handed, just pulling it out of the air. It
was then that I figured he’d played a lot of ball when he was
A lot of
good ball from the way my
okay Peter?” he
called to me.
fine—let me try it again with my glove on this time though,
pouting about wanting to
catch it, and even
though I didn’t want to, I gestured to Mr. G to go ahead and
it to him. Mr. G did, but it was an easy pop fly, and Allan fielded
it, grinning the whole time. Then he tossed it back to Mr. G and I
got another rocket pitch, but now I had the glove on, so it made this
great little smack into the leather. I felt good about catching it;
We got into
an easy three-way game
catch, and Mr. G made Allan and me work for some of those snags. He
had a good pitch, yeah, but his grounders were sneaky, and he kept
changing his speed. Right in the middle of a really bouncy pop fly I
saw that M. A. was pulling her wagon right out in the middle of our
triangle, getting ready to spoil everything like she does whenever
I’m having a good time.
that’s not fair,
honestly, she’s like a piece of gum on your shoe, you know?
with you whether you like it or not. And here she was, looking at Mr.
G with that scowl of hers that I KNEW was going to be trouble. I love
my little sister, I do, but that never stops her from being a pain in
Who are you?” she
yelled, really loud,
embarrassing the heck out of me. M.A. dragged her wagon right up to
Mr. G. and planted herself in front of him. In the wagon I could see
Charlie, our cat lounging in a baby doll dress. Charlie weighs about
twelve pounds and he’s the only cat I’ve ever known
care if my sister dresses him up. He’s so big and round and
that Dad and I call him Pudge most of the time. M.A. has him in a
green flowered dress and he looks . . . gah.
Like a big
cat in a dress. I am SO humiliated, and I know it’s the end
playing Catch, so I trot in and holler at M. A.
go home, okay? Mrs. Sanchez will be mad about you being out front
Mr. G. was
already squatting and
looking at my sister eye to eye. I thought that was pretty brave of
him, but he didn’t know any better. I did. She was glaring
I knew why—Dad always told us not to talk to strangers, and
she didn’t know Mr. G he was a stranger, blah, blah, blah.
Gil Grissom. You must be Mary Alice Meyers. I think I have one of
your dolls. Are you missing a Barbie with . . .” he paused,
watched him think about how to ask it, “. . .Er, short hair?
gave her a haircut,”
Mary Alice told
him, still looking at Mr. G with her suspicious face.
mom. Okay, wait
here and I’ll
go get her, all right?”
ultra embarrassed now, “You don’t have
a problem,” he told me in that calm voice of his. He
into his house and the minute he was out of sight I let my sister
a LOT, M. A! He was
pitching good and now
you had to go and ruin it with your stupid yelling!” I yelled
M. A. just
scowled at me. She
doesn’t cry when I yell
at her; probably because I do it a lot. Instead she just started
stamping her feet.
said no strangers and YOU
not a stranger,
he’s Mr. G!”
he’s not, he’s GilGrissle! And he is TOO a
was hooting and laughing like he always does when I get into it with
M.A. but he’s smart enough not to take sides. He did once,
A. hit him. It should have been on his leg, but her hand slipped, and
. . . well, now Allan doesn’t take sides—at least
little sister’s around.
NOT, M. A. He gave
ball back and he’s getting your stupid Barbie, so
was not about to give in
though, and when
Mr. G returned she was still looking mad. Then she sees her doll and
she yells again.
got CLOTHES on!”
. . .
I wasn’t comfortable having her lie naked on my bookcase, so
the liberty of buying her a dress. I hope you don’t
said to her as he handed M. A. her stupid doll. M. A. looks at it a
minute, then takes it and grabbed Mr. G’s hand and gave it
serious hard handshake. He looked a little startled, but I clear my
throat. It was going to be okay now—Mr. G’s in M.
are NOT a stranger now,
GilGrissle, so thank you.
Wanna play Barbies?”
time,” he told
when he looked at me he winked. I snort into my glove, and it dawns
on me that through all of this Mr. G is actually a pretty cool
For a dude
who keeps cockroaches.