You’ll Laugh Your Head Off
The banner in the lunchroom said MIND YOUR MANNERS! It was new. And red. You couldn’t miss it. A bunch of third graders painted it. They got caught spitting watermelon seeds and cherry pits. The watermelon seeds won.
I wasn’t spitting seeds or pits. I was just hanging out. Kids were leaving the lunchroom for the playground, and I hadn’t even started to eat.
I stared at my lunch. That’s when Patrick tapped me on the shoulder. “Hey, Richie,” he went.
He plopped himself down in the chair next to me and said, “Richie, this is your lucky day. You wanna know why I’m still here? I’m gonna sit with you today while you eat, that’s why. Mind your manners, right?” He pointed up at the banner. “And—”
“Wait a minute,” I interrupted him. Patrick likes jokes. He likes to play jokes on you, and he likes to tell jokes. Sometimes he’s funny. Mostly he’s not.
He didn’t sit down to eat with me. He wanted to tell me a joke. Here’s how I knew. He had a dollar bill taped to each of his ears, that’s how. People don’t usually wear money.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Why are you calling me Richie? My name is Richard. Nobody calls me Richie. Not even my mom.”
“I can, because we’re friends,” he said.
Friends? Just the day before, I lost two front teeth because of Patrick. Two! Top ones. He knew they were loose, too. Every kid in Mrs. Zookey’s class knew. All week long I’d been showing the kids at Table Two how they wiggled. I even showed them how one was looser than the other, so they’d for sure come out at different times.
He knew it, all right. And that’s why he gave me this big fat gummy octopus at recess. It was licorice. I like licorice, but it was a bad idea to bite it. Now I know. But at that minute, I was just super hungry.
I took a bite.
I bit. But I didn’t swallow. That’s because my two front teeth weren’t loose anymore. They were stuck in the octopus. They were not stuck in me.
“Eeewww, gross!” Patrick yelled, and he ran around pulling kids over to see me and my teeth. He was going, “Eeewwww! Everybody look. Everybody look at Richie!”
My chin was bloody.
In my hand I had a licorice octopus with two teeth sticking out of it.
“Eeewwww, gross!” said the kids on the playground. “Eeewwww!”
That’s the kind of friend Patrick is.
Patrick is trouble. What’s more, he gets me in trouble, too. I decided right then, right there, on the playground, that I would never let Patrick get me in trouble again. “I’ll get you back, Patrick,” I told him. “Just you wait and see.”
By now Patrick and me were just about the only ones left in the lunchroom. I had a tuna salad sandwich sitting in front of me. I hadn’t touched it. I couldn’t figure out how to eat it with two missing teeth.
It smelled so good. I tore off a piece of it with my side teeth. It made a ginormous mess. Goopy tuna salad oozed onto my fingers.
Patrick laughed. So I stuck out my tongue at him. And I started making a plan to get him back. It was his fault.
He smiled at me like nothing was wrong. Then he wiggled his head to make the dollar bills flap.
“Everybody else has gone outside to play four-square and kickball,” Patrick told me, “but I’m still here to cheer you up.”
No way, I thought. I licked the tuna salad off my fingers. It was good, but it didn’t fill me up.
Patrick shook his head again, and the dollar bills shivered. “You look super sad with those two teeth gone,” he went on. “So, I’m here to tell you a joke that will make you laugh your head off. You won’t be able to figure it out. I’ll be here to help you out. Okay?”
Not okay. I knew what he wanted. It was as clear as the nose on his face. He wanted me to say, “Patrick, why do you have dollar bills taped to your ears?” so he could tell me the joke.
I didn’t say it.
I didn’t say it because I already knew that joke. My mom told it to me the day she got her ears pierced. I laughed my head off when she told it. I did that because it was polite and my mom is big on polite. Also I really thought it was funny.
This time, I would get Patrick. “No, no!” I told him. “Me first! Remember, I’m the one without the teeth.” I gave him a sad, toothless smile and stuck out my hand to stop him from talking.
“It hurt a whole lot when you pulled my teeth out, but now I’m okay,” I said. “Maybe I can cheer you up. You must feel really bad that it was your fault. I’ve got a good joke, too. This one is so funny, you’ll break up! I’ll have to sweep you off the floor.”
The thing is, I could tell just by the dollar bills swinging from his ears that Patrick’s joke was the exact same joke as the one my mom told me. I had to tell it fast. I had to tell it first.
“So,” I said quick, “here it is. Ready, set, go! Do you know what a pirate charges to pierce your ears?”
His mouth dropped open. He knew the answer. He knew it because that’s what he was about to ask me. But now it was my joke.
“You know what ‘pierce’ is?” I asked him. “It’s when you poke a needle in somebody’s ear so they can stick an earring in the hole.”
He nodded and the dollars moved. “Basketball players have them,” he said. “And rock stars. But I—”
“Okay, ready?” I went on, talking faster. “Okay, I’ll tell the joke again. How much does a pirate charge to pierce your ears? Take your time,” I said. “Ask a friend.” I was stringing him along.
I looked around the lunchroom and spotted this girl from our room sitting a couple of tables over. This was only her second day at Sumac School. Our teacher, Mrs. Zookey, had told us to be especially nice to her because she mostly spoke this other language. The language was French. Mrs. Zookey said the kid had studied English in school. It was a subject, like math. Chances are she wasn’t good at pirate jokes.
“I think the new girl won’t help you a lot,” I told him. “Sorry about that.”
Patrick opened his mouth. I think he started to give me the answer, but I said it first, loud and clear. “A dollar bill is also called a buck. And that’s what a pirate charges to pierce your ears. You’ve got two ears. He charges a buck an ear. A pirate...