The book about a man’s (semi-autobiographical) journey for the search for true love.
After indulging in several “significant and unusual” relationships,and being left at the alter, the true love found was the love of self.
Read an Exclusive excerpt: Ms. Grammeth
It was free time and the classroom was buzzing with liberated fourth graders. I was still adjusting from the move from Hague Street and last year’s humiliation. Being somewhat introverted, I sat in solitude under my teacher’s industrial puke-brown metal desk. I could hear my potential friends laughing, playing, and energetically whispering devious plots. I waited in confidence, knowing that Ms. Grammeth would eventually return to sit at her desk. I felt safe there in my little cave. Like a turtle’s shell, the desk sheltered me from the culture shock. My old classmates had every range of colored faces, but not here. Not in the suburbs. This was true, pure lily white. I felt like a chocolate morsel lost in a snow blizzard. A black penguin who missed the migration flock. I sat Indian-style, waiting for Ms. Grammeth. Her short, tapered hairdo framed her earnest, cute face. Her copious, caring personality reminded me of Mary Tyler Moore in the Dick Van Dyke Show. When I was teased by the class for getting my haircut in the beginning of the year, Ms. Grammeth had each student write me an apology. When we’d watch clips of the civil rights movement and I felt everyone pointing at me as if I was to blame, it was Ms. Grammeth who addressed me several times, giving me comfort. When we saw the video of a lady who had a tracheotomy who was addicted to smoking, it was Ms. Grammeth who walked the traumatized, weeping Shawn to the nurse to phone my Mom so I could try to get her to stop smoking. My mother’s habit—two packs of Pall Mall Reds a day. Ms. Grammeth was my personal concierge into the world of white. She made my transition into this new land about as smooth as any guide could. And for it, she was awarded my affection. She was fit and cute. I’d watch her mouth as she taught and would dreamof her kissing me. When she held my hand to the nurse’s office, I imagined her to be my girlfriend. And when she rubbed my head and told me that my haircut was just perfect, that was it—I fell for Ms. Grammeth. With the exception of an occasional crash outside my desk-shell, I felt safe. I could hear Burt Bucholtz bullying people to trade his Wacky Packs. The parody trading cards of consumer products were somewhat a phenomenon here in suburbia. They made fun of products like Listerine, calling it Blisterine; or Manwich, calling it Cavemanwich; or Shot Wheels, instead of Hot Wheels, the latter being the most rare card and in extreme demand. Ironically, I was the only one that had the most coveted Shot Wheels card. It was upon Burt’s discovery of this that he yanked off my cap and ridiculed my haircut, making a spectacle of me. Trading the card would have been easier, I think. That incident gave Kaleb De Kerk carte blanche to tease me. Funny, because De Klerk was from South Africa and was perplexed on why even one black was allowed in the school. Nothing like that happened where he was from. So he often resorted to calling me “kaffir,” often followed by his diabolical cackle. Once, when we were playing four-square, he missed the ball and I got him out. After fetching the ball, he cranked it up and smashed me in the face with it. I remember the sting of the industrial red, rubber sphere, its dusty taste and mostly his evil laugh. “The kaffir ate the ball. The kaffir ate the ball.” Bellowed in his South African accent. I still didn’t know what “kaffir” meant until one day I was wearing my plaid Garanimals pants and De Klerk started making fun of the size of my behind. “The kaffir has a monkey-ass. Look at the monkey-ass kaffir.” I just looked at him, knowing that he was making fun of the size of my behind. Then he saw in my eyes that I didn’t know the reference to his insult. “Oh, the kaffir doesn’t know that kaffir is a NIGGER! The kaffir is too stupid to know that he is a nigger.” This was by far the funniest thing he had ever experienced in his life. He went bellowing down the hall, pulling himself off the ground as if he was shot by a rifleman of laughter. That day I went home and begged my Mom for a flat ass just like all of my white friends. The next day on the four-square court, De Klerk butted in for revenge. Our volley was intense, with me eventually edging him out. A few of my classmates actually congratulated me. De Klerk cranked the ball at me again. I ducked. He charged at me with fury. Knocked me over and we began to scrap. His white fists flew at me in every direction. Hitting me in such rapid succession that I couldn’t think. Then there was something inside me that began to emerge. I don’t know if it was rage, oppressed feelings about the move and being forced to be around all of these white people, or mad about my dad leaving me, but a chocolate thunder brewed and my fist bulged like anvils. My first connect was to his cheek, just under his eye. I could feel his saliva leave his mouth and enter the inside of my fist. I saw his head snap to his right, but his eyes stayed for a fraction of a second before catching up to his face. He spun only to connect with my left fist, echoing the same damage. His hatred for my race kept him on his feet, reaching for me like Frankenstein on amphetamines. Taking advantage of being on the up side of the slope, I charged De Klerk like a Zulu warrior, landing on top him with my knee pitting his gut. His mouth forced open, vomiting the air out of him. His face turned blue and his eyes scrambled in his sockets like the devil escaping from tear gas. He began to buck like a demonic white horse. I knew that if I lost my edge, Kaleb’s wild whiteness may never be contained. I slammed my hands on his shoulders. Buck. Buck. My knees slid near his chest. Buck. Buck. With every buck I flattened him more, and I thanked God then for my big ass. And as if we both knew it was the weight of my earlier-teased butt that was keeping him down, De Klerk went into psychotic frenzy. He screamed “kaffir” until his blue face turned red. His lips and eyes shined with rage. I knew that I must extinguish the possessed racist demon. I screamed at the top of my lungs, half out of fear and half out of pure adrenaline to survive. I grabbed his hair to bash his head like Jermaine did Fluff. Kaleb’s hair was short, the opposite of an Afro. So I grabbed his cheeks to lift his face and started bashing his head into the ground. There was no curb, no Afro, no blood, no Mom standing beside me. Just me pushing De Klerk’s head deep into the thick, well-manicured suburban grass. Even the ass beatings were more comfortable in the suburbs. As Kaleb squealed into what I would call a submission, Sue Foley returned with Ms. Grammeth. “Shawn, get off of Kaleb right this moment,” Ms. Grammeth said, lifting me off. I turned to see Ms. Grammeth confused and disappointed. “The wild kaffir jumped me, Grammeth!” Kaleb exclaimed. I just stared at Ms. Grammeth. I had let her down. Then Sue Foley chimed in at my defense. “Ms. Grammeth, Kaleb was the one that started it. He has been picking on the brown boy for the longest.” “Is this true, Shawn?” Ms. Grammeth asked. Several onlookers piped in, supporting Foley’s statement. The big girl, Terri Renfro, who drew horses; Greg Pedro, the only ethnic besides me; Teddy Coulter, a thin, nice kid with a cute sister; Lydia Graham, super smart; and even the spastic Burt Bucholtz stood in encouragement. Kaleb rose to his feet and got directly in my face. “Nigger!” Ms. Grammeth grabbed him by the ear, pulling him into the building. Eventually Kaleb apologized through the direction of the administration. Slowly, we started hanging out and doing projects together. One day, just before going fishing in the school pond, we removed a hook from Pete Boyer’s eye. Terri Renfro’s fishing line got loose and when she reeled it in, it caught Pete’s eye. Kaleb told Pete not to move while I cut the fishing line. Ms. Grammeth, Kaleb, and I walked Pete, with the hook still embedded in his eye, to the front office to be picked up by the ambulance. That was our bonding moment. No longer did he see me as a kaffir. When news of the civil rights movement was brought up he felt ashamed for his previous beliefs. I thought of Ma’s forgiving nature and found a way to accept Kaleb. During parent-teacher conferences, Kaleb introduced me to his mom and dad as his best friend. His father looked down at my extended arm, snatched Kaleb and his wife away, and headed toward Ms. Grammeth. He had a heated discussion with her and stormed out. In the weeks to come, Kaleb avoided me when he could. Later, he told me that he was moving back to South Africa but did not explain why. On his last day, he asked me to meet him during recess. We met on the side of the school. He had tears in his eyes as he gave me a piece of paper. He said to me in his South African accent, “You are a good friend to me. Keep in touch.” I opened the paper. It was a foreign address to some place called Johannesburg. “It’s my aunt’s address. I’ll be staying with her.” I reached in my back pocket and pulled out the most prized possession of the entire student populous: my Wacky Pack Shot Wheels trading card. “But it’s the only one in the whole school.” After a significant stare I replied, “I know.” That was the last time I saw Kaleb De Klerk. Back under my desk, I sat in my shell, waiting, reflecting on how I landed here. I missed Kaleb. Although I did think about giving my Shot Wheels card to Teddy Coulter so that he would put in a good word with his sister for me. Then I thought about Sue Foley and how cute she looked defending me. I heard Natalie Wurst use her flowery voice to explain to Burt Bucholtz why Wacky Packs will never be as cool as rug hooking. I think I liked her too. She smiled at me a lot. She even asked to touch my curly hair. Then there was Lydia Graham, whose laugh was contagious. I even imagined kissing Terri Renfro, but only on the cheek because she was so big. None of them, however, came close to how I felt toward Ms. Grammeth. I watched her legs walk by the chair. Her knee-high navy blue skirt was barely lower than the top of the desk. Her legs stood firmly as she wrote on the board. The three-inch slit in the back of her dress was stretched open as she reached the end of a sentence. She turned, pulled out her chair, and sat down, facing the desk. At the end of the two-legged tunnel was the light—light pink panties. I stared in amazement. I had to admit this was not the first time I had seen a woman in her underwear. I saw Latoya’s, and once a friend of my Mom’s. I walked into the bathroom while she was washing her hands. I asked if I could see her underwear. She shut the door and flipped up her dress. Once, when my cousin tried to get me to put my peeper in her opening. That, as I may have mentioned, I did not enjoy. And now with Ms. Grammeth. She rolled her chair forward, her knees hit my head. “Oh my! Who is that in there?” Ms. Grammeth said while peeking into my desk shell. I stayed silent. “Shawn, what are you doing in there?” “Just waitin’,” I replied. “For what?” “You.” “Well, what is it you need, sweetie?” “Will you be my girlfriend?” She crouched down under the desk, looked me directly in the eyes, held my face with her soft hands, and planted a kiss right on my lips. “Better?” she asked. Speechless, I just smiled. “Just our secret, Ok?” “Ok.” She gave me another kiss right back on the lips and said, “Now you get out from under there and play with kids your own age,” closing our moment with a wink and a smile. Ms. Grammeth…my first adult crush. First 500 To Pre-Order receives an Exclusive signed copy of the book Convertible Chocolate – Register here.
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