Johnny America


All the Im­por­tant Days of the Sec­ond Grade and Some Re­cess­es Too



In sec­ond grade I was in the Yel­low read­ing group. The Yel­low read­ing group sat around the yel­low ta­ble in yel­low chairs and read books not as ad­vanced as the kids at the Green ta­ble in green chairs. Up un­til my friend Ryan Wil­son brought a Pun­ish­ercom­ic to re­cess, read­ing was bor­ing. Once I saw the Pun­ish­er tied to a nu­clear war­head as Sad­dam looked on I was hooked. When Ryan read a com­ic he on­ly read the in­audi­ble words, the words that start­ed with a let­ter but then were fol­lowed by sym­bols of all kinds. I liked the stories.

Ryan was in the Red read­ing group. The Red read­ing group sat around the red ta­ble in red chairs and read books not as ad­vanced as the kids at the yel­low ta­ble in yel­low chairs.

On Colum­bus Day we were giv­en trail mix in Dix­ie cups. We made repli­cas of the Ni­na, Pin­ta, and the San­ta Maria by fold­ing news­pa­per in­to boats that we could wear on our head. We sig­ni­fied which ship we made by writ­ing Ni­naPin­ta, or San­ta Maria with glit­ter glue. Emi­ly White’s was the best. She used greenyel­low and blue glit­ter glue to make shoot­ing stars all around the sides. Emi­ly looked so re­gal in her boat-hat.

Emi­ly was in the Green read­ing group, which stood be­low no­body and was the en­vy of every­one in the Yel­low read­ing group and no­body in the Red.

Ryan dared An­drew Mop­kin to eat news­pa­per and he did. Mop­kin was the on­ly oth­er white kid in the Red read­ing group. Mop­kin thought he was a G.I. Joe. He used to re­spond to Mrs. Prick­ly by salut­ing and shout­ing, yes sir. Mop­kin ate so much news­pa­per on Colum­bus day that he puked all over the red ta­ble and went home ear­ly. Ryan was sent home ear­ly too. I spent all af­ter­noon re­cess not read­ing The Pun­ish­er.


Dix­ie cups of can­dy corn, can­dy pump­kins and skit­tles were giv­en out. The en­tire class dressed up. Emi­ly was Snow White and Ryan was a sol­dier. I asked mom for a Pun­ish­er cos­tume but end­ed up be­ing a mum­my. The string on my plas­tic mum­my mask broke. That was ok be­cause I couldn’t see out the eye holes very well and my bot­tom lip kept com­ing out of the of the mouth hole which was too low on my face. I just wore the shirt and pants. Cool pa­ja­mas, Ryan said over and over.

That night I went trick-or-treat­ing down Bak­er Street. In­stead of wear­ing the plas­tic mask I wrapped toi­let pa­per around my head. That night I found out that every­one in the Green read­ing group lived on Bak­er Street. I was so ex­cit­ed to tell my par­ents. To live on Bak­er Street was to be fa­mous. All the hous­es looked like doll­hous­es. Every hol­i­day Bak­er Street would be on the front page of the Grant Coun­ty Reg­is­ter be­cause of its dec­o­ra­tions. This year coffins sat in every oth­er yard with re­al peo­ple in them, sit­ting up and look­ing around.


My birth­day in sec­ond grade fell on the Chi­nese New Year. Our class had a big par­ty com­plete with for­tune cook­ies, fin­ger traps, and pa­per place­mats with the Chi­nese cal­en­dar on them cour­tesy of Hap­py Teriya­ki. Be­cause they had scored so high on our read­ing test, the Green read­ing group got to choose the game the groups played against each oth­er at the par­ty. They chose hang­man. I thought that maybe Ryan would make some good guess­es be­cause of the way he could fill in the bleeps in Pun­ish­er. He did not. The Green group won every round of hang­man. They were award­ed ex­tra for­tune cookies.

Ryan walked home with me and spent the night be­cause it was my birth­day and be­cause it was a Fri­day. On the way home Ryan told me his dad was in­ves­ti­gat­ing a dou­ble homi­cide. What’s that, I asked.

On the way home we stole ap­ples from an ap­ple tree for no rea­son but to throw them at each oth­er and feed them to the col­lie at the end of the street. We al­so lit match­es and dropped them in­to the wa­ter run­ning along­side the side­walk and fol­lowed them un­til they went down a storm drain. So long Sad­dam, we yelled as the tiny match­es fiz­zled out in the air.


We were giv­en a Dix­ie cup of Martinelli’s Sparkling grape cider. This is the good stuff, Ryan kept saying.

We were giv­en ei­ther a black and white pic­ture of George Wash­ing­ton or Abra­ham Lin­coln. I got George Wash­ing­ton so I spent my time glu­ing cot­ton balls on his head while one of the moms from the Green read­ing group read a sto­ry about how he cut down a cher­ry tree and was rid­dled with guilt.

We had a speech con­test; each read­ing group chose some­one to read the first para­graph of the Get­tys­burg Ad­dress. The Green read­ing group won; they won sil­ver dollars.


I asked mom for Pun­ish­er valen­tines but got Su­per­man. Ryan told me that they didn’t make Pun­ish­er valen­tines. Ryan had Thun­der­cat valen­tines. He gave me one with Jackalman on it. I drew a mus­tache on Su­per­man and gave it to Ryan. He laughed. I gave Emi­ly a card with Lois Lane on it and watched her open it from my yel­low chair. We end­ed the par­ty by hav­ing a po­et­ry con­test. Each ta­ble picked a per­son to rep­re­sent their group. Emi­ly read for the Green ta­ble and her po­em was so good that Mrs. Prick­ly de­cid­ed that the Green read­ing group should start writ­ing the books for the Yel­low and Red group to read.

The sto­ries the Green group wrote were bor­ing. Most sto­ries took place in hous­es with fire­places and sit­ting rooms. Re­al read­ing hap­pened at re­cess. Re­al read­ing hap­pened past the soc­cer field right be­side the corn­field that marked off where we weren’t sup­posed to go. Mrs. Doo­ley the re­cess mon­i­tor, a.k.a. nin­ja tur­tle calves, hat­ed when we sat right on the bound­ary. But Ryan insisted.

That week we read The Pun­ish­er every re­cess. Desert Storm was heat­ing up. Pun­ish­er was tak­en pris­on­er and tor­tured. He was beat­en un­til he was a bloody mess and thrown in­to a small cell. His words were writ­ten small and wob­bly and fol­lowed by a bunch of pe­ri­ods. It doesn’t look good for us, Ryan said.

At re­cess that week a mem­ber of the Red read­ing group chased a soc­cer ball that was kicked from the field and rolled to the bound­ary. He asked Ryan how long he was go­ing to hang out with a yel­low.

Most of the kids from the Red read­ing group played soc­cer dur­ing re­cess. Most the kids from the Red read­ing group spoke two lan­guages. An­drew Mop­kin nev­er played soc­cer. He spent most his re­cess­es army crawl­ing and do­ing spin­ning kicks by him­self. He was re­al­ly good at spin­ning and kick­ing. Some­times me and Ryan would watch him from across the play­ground and nar­rate the ac­tion. This time Ryan was nar­rat­ing and didn’t know Mrs. Doo­ley was be­hind us. Ryan used the same word the Pun­ish­er used when an Iraqi shot him in the side. Ryan was sent home early.


Mrs. Prick­ly read a book about John­ny Ap­ple­seed to the class while we all fo­cused hard on draw­ing the ap­ple that was placed in the mid­dle of each of the col­ored ta­bles. Moms from the green read­ing group brought in dif­fer­ent kinds of ap­ple deserts: ap­ple pie, ap­ple frit­ter, ap­ple strudel and caramel ap­ples. We were al­lowed to have a lit­tle of everything.

That week I got a ride over to Ryan’s house and spent the night be­cause it was his birth­day and be­cause it was Fri­day. Ryan’s par­ents were di­vorced and his dad was a soft-bel­lied, stressed-out de­tec­tive who blew cig­a­rette smoke out the side of his mouth. Ryan al­ways talked about how his dad shot a guy and bust­ed a big coke smug­gling op­er­a­tion, but all I ever knew of Ryan’s dad was him sit­ting on an up­right cin­derblock hud­dled up to a Fol­gers can, chain smok­ing and blow­ing smoke out the side of his mouth.

His car was small and full of pa­pers. I kept my eye out for a gun. Ryan said that his dad, like the Pun­ish­er, car­ried a black Desert Ea­gle. I found noth­ing but fast-food wrap­pers and a phone book. Ryan’s dad took us by Rob’s video to rent a Nin­ten­do game for Ryan’s birth­day. We looked for The Pun­ish­erbut set­tled on Bub­ble Bob­ble. We played Bub­ble Bob­ble all night with a lit­tle break for skateboarding.

We made a ramp out of a cin­derblock and par­ti­cle­board and tried to ride off it. Ryan’s pa­tio was small and cracked up, so we just went off the ramp and in­to the grass. When Ryan’s dad came out to smoke he yelled at us for us­ing his cin­derblock and made us go in­side. Late at night we snuck out and watched True Crime from the hallway.


Moms from the Yel­low and the Green read­ing groups came in and we read to them a list of things we were thank­ful for. Our moms were on their best be­hav­ior. The mother’s of the Yel­low read­ing group spent half their time laugh­ing and de­light­ing in us and the oth­er half look­ing at the Green ta­ble. Dur­ing the par­ty the Red team most­ly drew pic­tures. They were all good draw­ers, that read­ing group.

The next week the book the Green read­ing group wrote was all about mom’s and how they vol­un­teer to read to the class, make pas­ta, and have the brick foun­da­tion in their house re­placed with a con­crete one.

That week I told Ryan I was go­ing to tell Emi­ly that I liked her. I gave her a piece of pa­per that an­nounced my love for her. Will you be mine, it read. I gave it to her and ran off. I told her friends a bee chased me. I avoid­ed her the rest of the year.

That was the week that Mrs. Prick­ly an­nounced that she was go­ing to have a week-long read­ing com­pe­ti­tion and the group that read the most books would get to dec­o­rate the room.

The next week the Green read­ing group, with the help of their mom’s, paint­ed the en­tire room to be one big mur­al. When they were done each side of the room was done up like a side of Bak­er street in the sum­mer. Like­ness­es of the Green read­ing group stood in the yards wav­ing at us. They paint­ed every­thing even cov­er­ing the class win­dows with hous­es so that light on­ly came through the tiny win­dows left un­paint­ed on the hous­es. A re­porter and pho­tog­ra­ph­er came from the Grant Coun­ty Reg­is­ter to take pic­tures of the mur­al for the front page. A pic­ture of Emi­ly and her mom in front of their paint­ed like­ness­es ran on the front page that night. I cut the pic­ture out and shoved it un­der my bed with my rollerblades, army ants and Ted­dy Ruxpin.

The next day the mur­al was ru­ined. Red mus­tach­es were on the face of every man, women, and child on the mur­al. Emi­ly tried to hide her sobs in­side the hinge of her el­bow, but her back bounced up and down. The oth­er mem­bers of the Red read­ing group hud­dled to­geth­er and talked qui­et­ly, as if this was all a mys­tery to be solved. I raised my hand. I knew Ryan did it. I told Mrs. Prick­ley about the red mus­tache I drew on the valen­tines and how Ryan loved it. Every­one but Mop­kin stared at Ryan as I rat­ted him out. Ryan lost re­cess for the rest of the year.

At re­cess I climbed up on one of the pipes that ran along­side Moun­tain View El­e­men­tary and looked through the win­dow. I looked at Ryan sit­ting with his head on his arm. He was bit­ing his arm hairs. The Gulf War would end with­out me know­ing it and I’d nev­er read how Pun­ish­er es­caped prison.

Filed under Fiction on February 4th, 2011

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Reader Comments

Sue wrote:

This was won­der­ful What about the 3rd grade? Guess ryan for­gave you

Wanda Houge wrote:


Travis E. wrote:

Great sto­ry, takes me back to when the lit­tle things were everything.

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