Tomo Saves the Day
Copyright 2019 by Madeline Slovenz
Neathery on Unsplash
Tom Stillwell, my son-in-law, the comic book writer
had to go back
to class after the meeting with the principal and his mother; but not
before his mother grabbed him by the elbow just outside the office.
She waved his sketchbook in his face. “This is the last time I
will take time off work to come down to this school for your
shenanigans. Got it?”
from her grip. “But Ma, it’s art. Please.”
tucked the book
under her right arm and stormed toward the lobby. “I have to
get back to work.”
his breath he
mumbled a few choice words then ran after her. When he tried to grab
the book back he was startled when she turned around. “Mark my
word young man.”
held his hands up in surrender and took a step back. His mother
tucked the sketchbook in her tote bag. “This notebook of yours
is not art. Understand? Principal Cranpolito says your drawings are a
distraction and I agree. They have no place in a middle school. Now
get back to class. I’ll deal with you when you get home. Got
get real. They’re not a distraction.”
sketchbook is not going to be a problem in this school anymore.
Consider it gone. Vanished. No longer in or of this world. Do you
hear me? ”
I’ll keep it at home this time. Promise.”
think so. How do you think you’ll get into Bronx Science or
Stuyvesant if you waste your time drawing cartoons instead of
studying? Not happening any more. It’s over” She turned
and stormed out of the school.
sound of her
high heels clacking on the hardwood floor, as she marched out of the
building, echoed through the hall. The heavy door slammed shut behind
her. It was final. Ricky was doomed.
if on cue, the
natural light that poured in through the windows dimmed when a storm
cloud shaded the sun. Ricky stood there not sure how to take it all
in. She meant it this time. She was really going to toss the
sketchbook. He needed that sketchbook for his audition to get into
Art and Design High School. As a lump formed in his esophagus a bit
of bile crept up burning his throat. He took a deep breath to calm
himself and held back the urge to throw up.
* * * *
soon as the
dismissal bell rang, Ricky dashed out to the parking lot to get his
bike. Kids in this Staten Island neighborhood were in love with their
bikes; they were their vehicles of freedom that afforded them just
enough separation from their parents to establish a sense of self and
independence. One of the students at the bike rack greeted him with
bad news. “Hey Ricky, looks like you got a flat.”
his bike and yelled a string of obscenities.
man. It’s not the end of the world.”
glared at his
friend then threw a punch into the air. “That a-hole
Heard the loudspeaker when they called you to the office today. You
sketchbook, man. He gave it to my moms.”
“That sucks. Can’t help you there.”
about lending me your pump?”
help you there, either. Someone boosted it last week. Sorry, I have
to go,“ he said, then biked off, leaving Ricky to solve his
was no quick
solution to the flat, so Ricky walked his bike all the way home from
school, which gave his anger about losing his sketchbook time to
fester and build. Even the neighbor’s border terrier, who
usually whined and jumped up to greet him, growled at him baring its
teeth from behind the chain-link fence that separated their yards.
Ricky was giving out a vibe that demanded attention and he yapped
back at the dog. “Get outta my face you ugly hound. Git. Git
fence and locked up his bike in the garage. The house was empty. As
usual, his mother was still at work, so he grabbed an apple from the
refrigerator, dragged himself into his room and flopped onto the bed.
With eyes closed, he took a bite of the apple and tried to imagine
how he could tell his mother that he was sick of academics and really
wanted to go to art school. She was dead set on him getting into a
specialized math and science high school.
sound of her car
pulling into the driveway brought his rage back to the surface. He
jumped up, grabbed his jacket and darted out the front door just as
his mother entered the kitchen door yelling, “Ricardo Teo
Perez, present yourself right now!”
was out of there
and ran at top speed toward his uncle Manny’s house, desperate
for advice. Out of breath, he pounded on the front door. Manny pulled
it open. “What’s going on? Come in. You look scared.”
scared,” Ricky said as he smacked the doorframe with the heel
of his hand. “I’m royally pissed and can’t take it
son. Come on in, sit.” Manny made a sweeping gesture of
invitation. He was a close family friend who had taken Ricky under
his wing ever since he was a baby and he always felt welcome at
stomping his feet on his way to the kitchen. “I’m not
kidding around, Manny. This is it. This is . . . where’s Lucia?
Is she here?” Not sure how much Manny’s wife Lucia
gossiped with his mother, Ricky wanted to ensure privacy before
sharing too much.
clear. Sit down. Tell me what’s bothering you.”
had it. I missed the deadline for applying to audition for LaGuardia
High School and now I'm not even going to get into Art and Design.”
He walked to the sink, looked out the window and made a fist.
be so hard on yourself. You’ve been working diligently on your
portfolio. All you can do is keep working and do your best. This
isn’t the time to give up,” Manny said. “Remind me,
when’s your portfolio due?”
and pounded his fist into his other hand. “That’s just
it. Tweedledum confiscated my sketchbook again and my mother had to
come to school and get it this time.”
paced back and
forth. “I’m doomed. She tossed it. It’s gone.”
She said if she got one more call from the office, that would be the
end of my sketchbook. And today she got that call. I’m toast.”
his breath, “That woman’s like a dog with a bone.”
not enough time to start over. I’m screwed any way you look at
portfolio’s due when?”
glanced at the
calendar on the wall. “Mid December.”
the fourteenth. It’s on a Saturday.”
. . .
that gives you a little more than two months.” Manny went over
to the refrigerator. “Take a load off your feet. What do you
want? A Coke? Or I can give you a — ”
you need a shot with that.” Manny laughed as he put a can down
in front of Ricky and popped open a Bud for himself.
funny, Manny. I can’t start all over again.”
turned one of
the kitchen chairs around and straddled it. “You know I still
have some of your drawings you did that summer you stayed with us. I
can probably dig them out.”
Egyptian mummy comics? No freekin’ way.”
I kept them.”
in sixth grade when I drew those? You still have them?”
Give me a minute.”
popped the top
on his Coke and took such a big swig he nearly choked. Soda fizz
bubbled out of his nose. A tea towel hung from the stove, so he
grabbed it and wiped up the mess.
pulled out a
shirt box from the bottom drawer of the secretary and handed it to
opened the box
and fingered through the drawings. “Oh, man. This stuff is
good work. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
much better artist now.” He slid the box toward Manny. “Naw.
It’s not going to get me into Art and Design. You keep them.
I’m all about Ancient Chinese warriors and kung-fu fighters
phone rang. “I
bet that’s your mother. What do you want me to tell her?”
went over to
the phone. “You’re off the hook, it’s Lucia. I have
to take it.”
took the last
sip of his Coke. Grabbed a couple of his old drawings, folded them
up, tucked them in his back pocket and waved to Manny as he ducked
out the back door.
he got home his
mother was gone again, thank goodness. It was Wednesday, a school
night for her. She left him a note saying she had to go to class and
that his dinner plate was in the fridge. But she added that she was
table, he started to sketch on a piece of notebook paper he ripped
out of his binder. In no time, he had completed three panels of a new
comic. Entirely forgetting about dinner, he used colored pencils and
a black fine-tip pen to make cross-hatching and box outlines. By
portraying his mother as a Chinese Empress Dowager who had piles of
artwork on scrolls that she had confiscated from her subjects stacked
high on each side of her throne, he got some of his frustrations out.
an appearance, too. Ricky characterized him as a huge, angry bird
trying to break out of its gilded cage, and in the third panel he
drew the Monkey King as a kung-fu hero flying in from behind to slay
them both. He left three white bursts around the hero to pen in,
FWACK! POW! BAM! On the next page, he started to sketch in a full
panel to show the Monkey King distributing the scrolls to the throngs
of peasants who had
* * * *
next day, Ricky
woke up early and snuck out of the house before his mother woke up.
He cut school and took the Staten Island Ferry into Manhattan with
all the commuters. Usually when he snuck into the city, he went on a
Saturday and hung out in Chinatown at the martial arts store,
admiring the weapons and checking out the kung-fu magazines. But it
was day one of the annual New York Comic Con and he thought he’d
try his luck at getting in.
open until 10 o’clock so he decided to walk all the way from
the ferry terminal up to 34th Street to kill some time. He didn’t
have a badge so he had no idea if he’d be able to get in.
Badges were fifty-five dollars and he had a little over eight dollars
in his pocket.
was a chilly
October morning. The Javits Center was close to the Hudson and the
winds from the river chilled him to the bone. He decided to warm up
with a hot coffee and butter roll from the food truck on the street.
coffee light and sweet with a roll.”
him a roll wrapped in foil and a coffee.
be two bucks kid.”
dug into his
pocket, pulled out his wad and peeled off two singles. He found a
sunny corner that wasn’t windy and leaned against the wall to
eat his breakfast alone. People were starting to arrive for the Comic
Con and he wondered how he would manage to get in. Every single
person who entered had a badge hanging from a lanyard. There was no
way he was going to get through the doors. So he thought he’d
hang around the will-call window and see what he could do. He got in
line and thought he’d try his luck. When it was his turn he
leaned up to the round hole cut in the window and said, “Do you
have a ticket for Ricky Perez?”
Yeah, two tickets. You with an adult?”
Maybe he could pass for Ralph. “Um. My father’s parking
the car. He told me to pick up the tickets.”
kid. Step aside until your father’s here. No unaccompanied
children allowed in.”
was a fleeting
moment of hope that he knew would not return. His luck had run out
and it was only 10:15 a.m. He watched while the next guy stepped up
and picked up two badges. He looked over at Ricky and said, “It’s
going to be a great con this year. See you inside.”
inside. Fat chance. Ricky’s hopes of getting a badge were slim
to none so he thought he’d try to slip by security at one of
the entry points. He hung around watching the throngs arrive all with
badges swinging from their necks. It was a Thursday and he was
practically the only school-age fan there. Sure, a few kids passed
through the gates but they were all accompanied by their parents.
man with two young
kids in tow, a little boy and a girl, approached Ricky and said, “You
took him by
“Sorry, but I
saw you standing there all alone. Are you lost?”
lost. I came alone and thought I’d be able to get in, but no
luck. I can’t even get a badge.”
a tough one. Sold out?”
phone rang. “Gotta take this. Good luck,” he said then
took his family off to the side to answer his phone.
the crowd that had clogged the entry points hoping he’d be able
to get by security. He was tall for his age so he stood out.
Badges out. Keep the lines moving.”
opportunity. A group of teenagers were filing through and he got in
line with them.
“Where’s your badge kid?”
“My uncle has it and he already went in, we got separated.”
grey-haired Javits Center security guard in an ill-fitting black
uniform came over to assist. “I’ll take care of this,
Sam. Keep the lines moving.” He turned to Ricky. “Step
aside, sonny. Come with me.”
He was in. At
least he got through the gate. As the security guard led Ricky over
to the wall, he said, “What’s your name, son?”
see your uncle anywhere?”
neck, feigning a search, and said, “Nope. I don’t see
sure he’ll come back to the entrance as soon as he notices you
aren’t with him.”
loud stream of
static emanated from the guard’s radio hooked on his belt.
“Stand here,” he said, pointing to the wall. “Hold
on, let me get this.”
turned his back
on Ricky and took a couple of steps away to answer his walkie-talkie.
“Go for Jimmy,” he said. “What’s your two-o?”
Ricky’s instinct to run kicked in. He took off in the direction
of the main hall at top speed, weaving in and out of the attendees.
It was looking good until, seemingly out of nowhere, two plainclothes
cops grabbed him by the elbows. “Hold it right there!”
tracks, Ricky froze on the spot. Never having been questioned by the
police before, he started to sweat. Why did I run? What was I
tall one said,
“What’s your hurry?”
other one got in
his face and demanded, “Where’s your badge?”
crowd started to
form a circle around the scene.
along. Nothing to see here. Move it along folks,” the tall one
the other cop
tugged on Ricky’s elbow to pull him toward the wall. “Let’s
go. Move it over here.” Safely off to the side, he parked Ricky
with his back to the wall. His partner came over and jutted his chin
out. “Come on. Let’s see your badge.”
He thought, what do I do now? Lie and say I lost it?
him and the cops seemed endless. He started to feel queasy. This was
the first time he had ever been approached by a cop and he knew he
was guilty. Can they arrest me? Oh my god.
the tall cop
said to his partner, “I got this.”
finger at Ricky and pressed the button on his radio, “Ten-twenty
main hall midway. Ten-seventeen. Male teen. Entry breech.”
to his right, he
saw the security guard that first pulled him aside approach. Oh my
god. I’m in big trouble now. There’s no way out of this
thanks but I’ve got this.” Then he turned to Ricky. “Did
you see your uncle?”
opening to continue his first lie. “I did, sir. I thought I
did. But when these officers stopped me I lost him again.”
tall cop said,
“You got this one?”
need assistance.” The police officers walked off, leaving Ricky
with the Javits Center security guard.
somewhat relieved to be back with the rent-a-cop rather than the
N.Y.P.D., Ricky knew he was not totally out of the woods yet.
go to the office, I can get on the P.A. We’ll find your uncle.
Is he always this irresponsible?”
started to walk
back to the entrance area.
cool. He let’s me go on my own a lot. He probably forgot he
didn’t give me the badge. That’s all. I think I can find
him. I know his favorite comics. I’ll be okay if you let me
man with the two
children Ricky had encountered earlier started to pass by, but
stopped. The man turned to Ricky. “Are you in trouble?”
guard said, “Are
you the uncle?”
say anything, the man with the two children said, “What’s
the problem officer?”
“Do you have
your nephew’s badge?“
man took off one
of the two badges hanging around his neck and handed it to Ricky and
nodded to the guard. “Will that be all sir?”
Why did this man, almost a total stranger, do that?
said, “I’m just glad you all got together. Was about to
call you on the P.A. You have to wear your badges at all times. Have
a nice day.”
radio started to
squawk again. He picked it up and walked away.
know what to think. He wanted to hug the man, but squeezed out a
small, “Thank you, Mister.”
of it. My wife called just as you took off. She can’t get out
of work today. You said you had no money, so I looked around for you.
Guess this is your lucky day.”
“Yeah, it is.
You don’t know how lucky I feel,” Ricky said.
man extended his
hand to shake. “I’m Mr. Kenopik and this is my daughter,
Sasha, and my son, Eric. What’s your name?”
polite mode and shook the man’s hand. “Ricky Perez.
Pleased to meet you Mr. Ken . . Ken-op—”
Ken-op-ik. Come on in, join us.”
But I can’t afford to pay you. I only have six dollars left.”
all paid for. I tried to return it at will-call but there’s no
put the badge
over his head and stared down at it. “Thank you. This is the
best thing that has ever happened to me.”
you be in school?”
over and whispered, “You shouldn’t be cutting school or
jumping gates for that matter.”
all done it,” he said.
Kenopic again and went off on his own to explore. He had a mission.
His heart was set on meeting the indie artists and to get tips on how
to break into comics.
attended an event so colossal. It was a mob scene. Everywhere he
looked, he saw something that drew him in. He got the biggest kick
out of the cosplayers who were dressed up like their favorite
approached a guy
dressed as Superman. “Hey, Superman. Can I take your picture?”
include my Lois Lane.”
felt he was
getting into the spirit of the convention. “How about we do a
Then Superman and Lois Lane put their arms around Ricky as he extend
his phone to shoot the selfie.
felt great until
he reviewed at himself in the picture he took. Sad. Dressed in old
jeans and a faded T-shirt that didn’t even have a comic book
image on it. What was he thinking when he left the house to go to the
con? Not much. But he did have the presence of mind to bring some of
his work with him.
of his back
pocket he pulled his drawings all folded up, the two he took from
Manny’s and the one he threw together on loose-leaf paper at
the kitchen table. He unfolded them and felt small as he compared his
work to the vibrant and professional images on display. Ricky knew he
would never get a chance to be that good if he lost out on getting
into Art and Design. His sketchbook was his ticket to getting into a
good school. He knew all the work he had put into his portfolio was
gone and the sorry state of what he had in hand was never going to
of the big
booths and cosplayers, Ricky was on a mission. After asking a few
people, he found Artist Alley. Wow. There were lines of tables, on
which independent artists were displaying original work. There were
authors and artists for as far as he could see. Walking up and down
the rows of tables, Ricky took it all in. He never dreamed there were
so many professional comic book artists. He was a fan and consumer of
comic books but this was the first time he had ever seen the original
works. Some sold panels wrapped in plastic for one hundred dollars
each, others for twenty-five. It was clear there was no way he was
going to acquire any original art that day. He had already had his
lucky break when Mr. Kenopic gave him a badge to enter.
exhausted with delight, he came upon a table labeled “Forces of
Honor.” It was a comic he was unfamiliar with.
the man sitting behind the table said.
work,” Ricky said.
it. I’m Tom, the author and publisher. The artwork is done by a
variety of artists all over the world. Enjoy.”
that someone actually spoke to him. At the other tables, he was
intimidated, afraid to say anything or ask any questions.
picked up a
graphic novel, Rage Fanatic, and started to leaf through it.
don’t do the drawings yourself?”
Chicago based and I work with artists, letterers and colorists over
that some of your work you got there?”
of a sudden
Ricky felt small again. He had forgotten he took his drawings out.
They paled in comparison to what was on display.
not so good.”
got to start somewhere. Let’s have a look.”
presented the three pages to Tom and cringed while he looked them
of Egyptian mythology I see.”
It’s ancient China and kung-fu these days. Look at the last
pulled out the
recent work on loose-leaf and said, “Very different style in
this one. I like it. Who’s the wicked empress?”
with the bird in the cage?”
He’s the a-hole who got me in trouble with my mother.”
looked up over
the top of his glasses and gave Ricky a look.
Monkey King to the rescue?”
impressed that you’re grounded in the classics. A lot of kids
your age . . . How old are you?”
A lot of kids your age don’t read enough classical literature
to bring to their work. You’re off to a good start. What’s
You think my work is good?”
good start. Sure. I think with some training and enough practice, you
will be even better.”
to get into Art and Design?”
put the drawings
down. “What’s Art and Design? A college?”
Ricky looked down and shuffled his feet. “It’s one of the
art high schools here in New York. It’s not LaGuardia, but you
still have to audition to get in.”
perked up. He
felt empowered by the attention Tom was giving him. Finally someone
was seriously interested in his work. His voice got a little life in
it. “You have to present a portfolio. They interview you about
it. Then they have you draw on the spot. It’s hard to get in,
but they have a track for commercial art. That’s where they
teach cartooning, but I need to get my portfolio ready by December
you keep a
the problem. The principal confiscated it and called my mother in.
She threw it away so I have to start from scratch.”
Egyptian panels are from when I was in sixth grade. They’re
crappy, I know.”
Tom said. “But you’ll have to redo them.” He picked
up the latest drawing. “You show promise. This one has much
more style. The cross-hatching is well done. I can help you.”
did that thing
of looking over his glasses again in a scolding way. “But you
skipped school today, didn’t you?”
want to lie anymore so he told the truth. He and Tom bonded over a
conversation about their shared tastes in comic book artists and
authors. The highlight was when he invited Ricky to sit behind the
table to mind the shop while he went out to get them both a sandwich
beginning of a two-month online exchange where Tom mentored Ricky in
building his portfolio. It was a grueling two months of back and
forth criticism and re-drawing.
the day of his
audition, Ricky showed up with his sketchbook and fifteen of the
drawings he had mounted on pieces of white oak tag. Most of the
students were with their parents, but parents were made to wait in
the auditorium. Applicants only in the registration area.
desks, each student checked in, got a number and took a seat. There
was no one he recognized, but he already knew there wasn’t
going to be any other students from his middle school. Ricky saw an
empty chair near some other boys. He sat down, tucked the rolled oak
tag between his knees and clutched his sketchbook to his belly. It
looked like all the other applicants arrived with their portfolios
bound in black rigid folders or big colorful plastic cases with
handles. There was part of this process he was not understanding.
gazed down at
his lap, embarrassed that he didn’t have a fancy portfolio case
like the others. He shifted his eyes all the way to the left, then to
the right checking to confirm that everybody else had a separate
portfolio. He knew then that he misunderstood what was required for
the interview but tried to make the best of it.
calling numbers, the students in his group filed into the studio.
Someone collected the portfolios and said that faculty would be
grading them during the studio piece.
at drawing tables arranged around a still life that was displayed on
a pedestal draped with a sheet in the middle of the room. It was the
first time he had been in an art studio. It smelled of turpentine and
oil paint. Layers of paint drips covered the easels and the floor.
Canvases were stacked against the walls. This environment reeked of
creativity. This is where I belong, Ricky thought.
pencils out of his coat pocket. Two of them had broken points. At
least one was still good. He looked around and everyone else had
already started drawing realistic renditions of the bowl of fruit.
show them, he thought.
into the commercial art program for cartooning, his competitive
spirit of kung-fu kicked in.
was time to take
a chance. Ricky used the still life as an element in a cartoon panel.
By prominently placing the fruit bowl in the foreground of a Chinese
palace foyer he sketched in a kung-fu warrior sneaking in from behind
to steal one of the plump grapes. Using cross-hatching for lowlight
he had just enough time to add the shadow of the palace guard looming
in the distant doorway before time was called. That’s when he
started to worry about the choices he made. He wiped the sweat off
his upper lip, took a deep breath in and let it out with an audible
drawings were required. The second was to draw a chair with a pile of
books and a coffee cup. And the third was a toy box with a teddy bear
sitting on top. He set each of them in a cartoon context.
one down; the
interview was next. Once back in the waiting area, the applicants’
numbers were called one by one. Finally, he heard his. He collected
his sketchbook and followed the interviewer into the room.
the interviewer said.
I’m Mr. Stein, one of the commercial art teachers.”
wiped his hand
on his trousers before he extended it to shake just to be sure it
a seat. You probably will want to take your jacket off. It’s
warm in here.”
his sketchbook and sat down in the chair across the table. He saw his
observation drawings on the desk. The bowl of fruit assignment was on
top. Looking at it upside down, he noticed that the pedestal wasn’t
straight. A bead of sweat that had been forming on his forehead slid
down landing to his cheek. He started to have second thoughts about
not doing a classic still life sketch and tried to casually wipe his
cheek with the back of his hand. This was not a good start. Stein was
right, it really was hot in his office, but it was too late to take
his jacket off.
“Do you like my drawing?”
reading glasses down from his bald head and picked up the still life.
“I like how you think outside of the box, Ricky. This one tells
“Whew, I was
afraid you wouldn’t like it. ”
to tell you the truth, this was an observational drawing exercise,
not where you draw from imagination. So this may be a problem.”
got huge, his jaw dropped open and he fell back in the chair. “So,
not that you failed.” Stein sat back in his chair and wagged
his finger at Ricky. “Have you had much art in school? Or do
you attend any after school art classes?”
not after school.”
knew he wasn’t
doing well right off the bat when Stein said, “And your teacher
never taught you about observational drawing?”
really have an real art teacher. She moved before school started, so
we get a different sub every six weeks. We just draw whatever we
nobody helped you prepare for this interview?”
Is that a problem?”
felt Mr. Stein
was quieter than he’d expected. He didn’t even look at
Ricky. He quietly started flipping through the sketchbook looking at
random pages. As he did so, he scratched behind his neck,
occasionally pulling the sides of his mouth down, as if he were
cleaning off some stray food. Ricky became uncomfortable with the
silence; it felt like more than five minutes had gone by and Mr.
Stein wasn’t really interviewing him.
suppose you brought any letters of recommendation with you.”
was going his way. Ricky perked up. “I did.”
out of his back pocket the letter that Tom had sent him and passed
the envelope to Stein. “I have this from the publisher and
author of Spin That Rack Comics.
letter from the envelope and unfolded it. Without looking at Ricky,
he glanced down at the printed page and said, “Hmmm.”
sound good to Ricky. “Something wrong?”
up at Ricky,
Stein said, “Garfinkle’s still out in Chicago last I
heard. How did you get a letter of recommendation from him?”
was about to
explain when Stein placed his glasses back on the top of his head and
said, “I see he’s been your mentor for the last two
months. Impressive. Tell me more.”
life came back
into Ricky’s voice. He told the story of meeting Tom at the con
and then added, “I’m going to be his intern. He wants me
to keep my grades up, so it’ll be a summer internship.”
excellent academic standing carries weight in our decisions. Your
good attendance record too, so that will count in your favor when we
discuss the lack of variety of media and subject matter in your
rolled up the
portfolio pieces on oak tag and bound them with a rubber band. Then
tucked the three observational drawings into the sketchbook.
it?” Ricky expected more.
stood up and
said, “That’s it.”
portfolio isn’t very good?”
not bad. You show great promise as a cartoonist.” He placed
both of his hands on the desk and leaned toward Ricky. “But, it
lacks the range of skills and media we would have liked to have
got up and
eked out a quiet, “Okay.”
don’t forget, I’m making a note on the glowing
recommendation you got from Garfinkle, and the internship he offered
you. All that counts in your favor.”
were not bolstered by Stein’s words of reassurance. He left the
building deflated, knowing his portfolio lacked variety and that his
observational drawings were creative but all wrong.
* * * *
time between the
interview and finding out the results was a long two-and-a-half month
process of waiting. Although Ricky had taken the specialized high
school exams that his mother arranged, his application to Art and
Design was still a secret.
was March and
eighth graders all over the city knew that results would be out soon.
Students in New York City list twelve high schools in order of
preference in the fall and then have wait until March to see if they
are matched with their first choice. Word had been going around
school all week that the guidance office would probably get the
acceptance letters by Friday. Ricky was distracted most of the day.
He even tried asking the guidance counselor to give him his letter
early, but he said he had given the match letters to the homeroom
teachers to distribute at the end of the day.
Homeroom teachers passed out the envelopes as students filed out.
Some ripped them open immediately and cheered running out into the
hallways to share their good news, others slunk down in their chairs
totally depressed. Ricky hesitated. He didn’t want to find out
in front of everybody else; he was a loner. Emotions were running
wild; he didn’t trust what he would feel.
pedaled home at
high speed. The coast was clear. He leaned his bike against the
garage, pushed open the side door to the kitchen, raced to his room,
tossed his book bag on the bed and sat on the floor. He pulled the
letter out of the pocket of his bag, staring at his name on the
outside of the envelope. He could not bear it any longer and ripped
the envelope open. When his eyes saw he was matched with Art and
Design High School his heart stopped. He started hyperventilating and
jumped up and down screaming, “I did it! I did it! I did it!”
He ran all through the house, screaming his excitement into the air.
He had no idea how he would tell his mother.
was time to thank
Tom. He went to his desk, got out his art supplies and started
drawing a comic just for him. He wanted to make a story depicting Tom
as the superhero. He made a good likeness of his face and cast him as
a blond Sumo wrestler named Tomo who battles the Yakuza gangsters
that terrorize Chicago. In the last panel, he showed an aerial view
where he pictured Tom in full Sumo regalia getting ready to push over
the Willis Tower, which crushes the bad guys who are running up the
street from behind.
he wrote a
heartfelt email thanking Tom for helping him and attached photos of
the letter and the new panels he drew as a gift to his mentor. The
subject line was: “Tomo Saves the Day.”
wrote back right
away saying that he was thrilled at the news and how much he enjoyed
the new panels. He added that no one had ever drawn him into a comic
before. He urged Ricky to level with his mother about what he had
been doing behind her back. He wrote:
need to share
your passion for graphic arts with your mother. She will be proud of
the work you did and your accomplishments. You need to come clean
with her, Ricky. If you do, I’ll give you a chance to draw for
my next story. I’ve got one in the works about a teenage ninja
artist and I think you could make your debut as a professional. But
not until I know you’ve squared things with your mother. How
heavy on Ricky’s heart for days. Then the specialized high
school exam results finally came in. That was what his mother had
been waiting for. An offer from any of those schools would trump the
one from Art and Design. Ricky didn’t make the cut for any of
them; he only scored 520 out of 800. The cut off was 522, which meant
that his only choice would be art school. He was afraid of his
mother’s wrath so he sought advice from Manny again.
time Lucia was
home and overheard the conversation about Ricky’s dilemma. She
chimed in, “Oh Ricky, honey, your mother already knows. She
called me right away after she spoke to the guidance counselor today.
She told her how happy you had been with the good news about your
acceptance into Art and Design. Your mother’s been waiting for
you to tell her yourself so she can celebrate your success.”
was music to
his ears. He couldn’t wait, so instead of going home he biked
all the way to Victory Boulevard to the insurance company where his
mother worked and waited for her in the parking lot. When he saw her
walking toward the car he started to get scared. Maybe she had
changed her mind.
could hear his
mother’s voice from a distance. “Ricky, what are you
and said, “You got the exam results, didn’t you?”
started to walk
to the car together. “I called the guidance counselor today.”
Usually she sounded pissed off, but he detected kindness in her
voice. “I’m sorry you didn’t make the cut. Are you
not mad at me?”
“Why should I
be mad at you? Miss Jordan said you were accepted at Art and Design.
She says that’s one of the best art schools in the city.”
stunned by her
change of heart, he said nothing.
on. Let’s get dinner out and celebrate.”
thanks to my friends at the Chicago Writers Circle at Next Door Café
– Fannie Price, Carlos Ernesto McReynolds, Sheila Cronin,
Nasrin Menalagha, Bonni McKeown, Michael Boal, Ben Diseroad; my tribe
at The Write Practice Spring 2019 Class – Andrew Fairchild,
Jonathan Srock, Catherine Ryan, Kelly Knaar, Tammy Bryan, Monica
MacKinnon and Desiree Wild; and Emily Weatherburn at Literary Edits.
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