It's like this. I used to be one of those kids who could coast through life without having to do any of the unpleasant things most people have to do. I'm fairly smart, pretty athletic, and some have even told me I'm reasonably handsome. The key to the cushy life I used to lead was that I also used to be rich. Not fairly, or pretty, or reasonably, but extremely. Extremely rich. All that changed one day when cops and guys in suits showed up at my house and told my dad that he was in big trouble and that he owed the U.S. government ten million dollars.
Dad tried to run. He pushed one of the cops and tried to make a getaway out the back. It's actually funny when you think about it. Eight armed cops and my dad tries to outrun them through the kitchen. He got as far as the stove before a bald guy they called Pointy tackled him to the ground. I guess it wasn't funny at the time, what with my mom and my sister crying hysterically and my dad's face bleeding. But it's sure funny now, now that it's over and now that I hate him.
My mother says that Dad's a different kind of criminal. He's a white-collar criminal, which she says means he didn't really hurt anyone. (Anyone but me, I always say.) But they still threw him in jail. Our rip-off artist of a lawyer said he'd be in less trouble if he hadn't tried to run.
The thing is that Dad never really acted like a criminal. He laughed a lot, always kept his hair neatly combed, always wore a suit and tie, blah blah blah. And he had a smile that made you trust him, made you think everything would be all right. He even cried when they finally carted him off. That's something you never see in the movies--a bad guy who cries when the cops nab him. That was a rough thing to see. That was probably the hardest thing of all--watching Dad cry as cops threw him into the back of a squad car. Don't get me wrong. Right now, I hate the guy. But that was rough.
But enough about him. He blew it and now he has to live with it. So let me tell you what's really unfair: the fact that I, an entirely innocent human being, had to give up my easy life. I know, plenty of people live happy lives without being loaded. But if you go from the life of leisure that I once had, to the life of toil and drudgery that I have now, it's very, very hard.
My mom even forced me to get a job. She said I needed to start a college fund. Let me tell you what I really need: my old life back. That's it. I don't need college and I don't need a job. I need a house with a pool, and an expensive stereo, and a beach house. Just so I'm clear, let me say that I now have none of these things.
It's not like I thought I'd never have to work. But I planned to put it off until after I went to business school. And I even imagined that I might have to scrimp and save a bit. My best friend, Frank, and I were planning a trip to Mexico for the summer after we graduated from high school. We were going to live by our wits, sleep on the beach, surf all day, and catch fish for dinner. Maybe we'd live like that forever. Never come home. Now life on the cheap doesn't seem so exciting.
When my dad was first carted off, my family tried to be hush-hush about it. "We have to keep up appearances," my mother kept saying. My sister and I continued going to school, playing sports, attending class dances like nothing had happened. My mother even decided to go ahead with an addition we were building on our house. "We don't want people to think anything's wrong," she said. But when a huge article about my father was finally plastered on the front page of the Glenwood Times, people didn't have to spend time wondering what was up with the Gerson family. It was all there in black and white.
After our contractor read the story, he told my mom he was going to bill her for the work he had already done on the addition. He said he billed all his customers this way--bit by bit. My mom was pretty mad after he left. "He's never billed anyone like that in his life," she yelled. "He just wants to make sure he gets his money."
Guess what. She was right. He did want to get his money. And he was right to be worried, cause we haven't paid him a dime. We still owe him. Now the beautiful, happy suburb of Glenwood, California, knows that the Gersons are a bunch of welchers.
"Can't you ask your grandparents for money?" my best friend Frank asked one afternoon by his pool after I finally told him what was going on.
"My grandparents?" I said. "Two are dead and the other two live in Maine and haven't got a nickel. The only one in my family who ever got rich was my dad."
Getting rich was, in fact, something Dad took lots of pride in. He loved to talk about how he was a big-time stockbroker and made lots of money. "Gerson boy makes good," he used to say every time he bought something big. He said it the time he bought a boat, the time he drove home a new Mercedes, and the day he bought our beach house.
He doesn't say it now.
"You must have some money somewhere," Frank said, after thinking it over for a few minutes.
I wanted to hit him. But I forgave him for this stupid remark because it's exactly what I said over and over to my mother.
"We must have some money somewhere," I kept saying. But she only shook her head.
"I know this is hard for you to understand," she told me. "It's hard for me to understand. But even after we sell everything we have, we're still in debt. We've got nothing." She said this and then started crying for the hundred-and-fiftieth time. Funny, after watching your mother cry one hundred and fifty times, it doesn't get any easier. It always hurts. And I'm sure it'll hurt after I see it for the thousandth time.
Excerpted from Pool Boy by Michael Simmons. Copyright © 2005 by Michael Simmons. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.