For my report I am doing a report on Mark Twain, who is famous. Mark Twain (1835-1910) was a writer who wrote many books, included The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Except he wrote another book that nobody ever heard of, because I’m the only one who seen it until this year. I was in the newspaper because of it.
Mark Twain used to live in San Francisco. My great-lo (that’s my great-great-grandpa, my lolo’s lolo) was a marine in the US Army. So was my dad. Great-lo got a medal once at a meeting and Mark Twain was there. My regular grandpa lived in Philippines, I didn’t know him much.
Anyway when my dad died I got to go through his stuff in the attic and I found a leather folder that smelled like cat piss and which had in it a bunch of old papers that were all written by hand. It was real old-timey, and waid like ten pounds, and I could barely make out any of the words. I’m not that good a reader nohow. But mom said I could go through his things with her and pick stuff out to keep or sell. I asked her if I could keep the leather folder with the papers, and she said ya.
Mark Twain is famous for saying “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” which is funny because it’s true. He also said “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog” which I like best. It means you don’t gotta be big, just mean. I’m pretty mean. The pinoys in Daly City gay me a hard time but I show them what’s what and so they don’t mess with me too bad. They also know my dad was a marine, but that don’t mean shit no more.
My older sister Daisy is the one who tole me who Mark Twain was at first. She’s all “shit lil bro, he’s like in all the school books. Everybody know who he is. That shit’s prolly worth a million bucks.” But I wasn’t sure about that. My sister’s pretty dumb, first of all, and anyway if those papers were worth a million bucks, why would Mark Twain leave them lying around in our attic? Besides, I looked him up online. Another thing Mark Twain is famous for is being poor. I can relate to that. I guess he lost the papers or gave them to Great-lo for safe keeping but then died before he could cash them in.
But this gave me an idea.
We’re poor. My mom works at a flower shop here in Colma. She serves food to gamblers. That place reeks of smoke. We been getting some money after dad died, but I guess it wasn’t a lot. And there’s like a lot of bills and stuff.
What if Daisy was right? I mean, I don’t need a million bucks, but even if the papers were worth half a million to somebody, I could probably sell it and give the money to mami. You could prolly retire on half a million. Maybe there’d be enough left to get a new skateboard. And a Playstation. And I guess something nice for Daisy.
This is when I looked up Mark Twain online at school. I had to pick Mark Twain for my report because that’s the only way I could get away with looking at him on the school computers. That’s when I learnt he was poor too.
I put the leather folder in my backpack, but I couldn’t get it closed so it just stuck out like that. I grabbed my bmx bike and went down the street to sell the book.
I dint know where to go really, but I knew enough to stay away from the library because everything’s free there so there wasn’t much in it for me. I went to the Barnes and Noble bookstore at Metro Mall because I know they sell books at least.
Mark Twain did a book where a prince and a poor boy chance places. Sounds like the prince got jacked if you ask me. Still though, I bet it’s a good book. I tole myself that I’d buy that book with some of the money from the papers, and I could do my report on that one.
I barely got out onto El Camino when some BNG pinoys (that’s a gang, they pretty badass) saw me. They was just hanging on the curb, big ol’ group with they saggy jeans and white t-shirts, lookin to start shit. I made up my mind to ride past them, but they just come out to the street right where I’m headed, like they’s calculating the distance and everything before I get there.
So there they are in the middle of the street and I can’t go nowhere on account of my little bmx bike can’t go no faster. When I got up to them they gripped the handle bars forcing me to stop.
“Whatchu doin outta your crib, tisoy?” they say, I don’t remember which. The lead guy.
“None of yo business, chixilog,” I tell him. Then everyone laughs and is like, “oh-ho! hay naku! you believe what he just called you homes?”
The guy grabs my head, his hands are huge, and he squeezes, like he’s gonna lift me up outta my bmx bike just by squeezing my head. “Chixilog. Where you learn that word, ‘stizo?”
They always try to get to me by calling me tisoy and mestizo. I seem them hangin out by the Lucky Chance sometimes and I worry about my mom. She just doesn’t have a clue about the BNGs or Temple Street or any of the Chinese or Vietnamese gangs.
I give this guy a solid kick and it hits him in the shin. “Pakshit!” he yells, and then he moves his hand from my head to my face and he shoves me over. I trip over my bmx bike, and one of the other guys catches me and another one grabs my bag.
“Let goa me!” I yelled, but they was too busy laughing.
“What’s dis,” they say, pulling out my leather folder from Mark Twain.
“Give that back!” I yelled harder. I got free from the other guys and was in my fighting stance. I was in aikido, so I can do flips and stuff.
“Lookit the pinizzle, lookit the karate kid!” they laughed. “What’ll you give me for it,” the main guy asked, waving the folder over his head.
I thought about this for a moment. I had four bucks on me, but that was my allowance. I remembered a saying my papi had: a bird in your hand is worth two in the bushes. That means it’s better to have a sure thing, even if there’s less of it, than to go for some big prize you don’t know you can get for sure. No way was I giving up my allowance! That’s totally a bird in my hand right now.
“Go ahead and take it then,” I said. “You baboons can’t even read anyway.”
They were already spilling out the pages and sharing them, looking at them. But they couldn’t read it I could tell. All I had to do was pretend not to care. And it totally worked, they lost interest pretty quick. Except it backfired when one of them grabbed my elbows and pinned em back so I couldn’t move, while another one dug through my pockets and found the four bucks anyway. Fuckers.
“That’s for protectin’ your lily white ass,” the main guy said. He motioned to the others and they all just walked away.
I hate those guys. But you just have to know how to deal with them.
“I’m not white, you cholo!” I yelled after them, because I figured callin’ em Mexican was just as bad. The laughed at each other but they didn’t come back. Cuz they knew I woulda kicked their ass.
Anywayz, some of the pages were getting scattered already, so I ran after those and put em all kinda together and stuffed em back in the folder. None of the pages had numbers, so I figured nobody would notice they were out of order.
Oh yeah and they took my bmx bike.
I walked the rest of the way to the Metro Mall, which was only about a quarter mile but seems a lot longer in a situation like that.
At the Barnes & Noble, I went straight up to the information desk.
“I got a book I want to sell,” I said to the fat blonde girl with glasses behind the counter. I took out my Mark Twain book and put it up on the counter.
She just sorta looked at it and said, “we only sell books here,” which I thought was stupid because where do they get the books they sell? They sure as shit don’t make em.
“Look,” I said, “I know it doesn’t look like a book, but it really is. It’s by Mark Twain. He’s famous. Look him up.” The girl did this thing with her eyes and then turned to this other guy who worked there who had just walked up behind the counter too. He looked like a dooshbag.
“Scott, this kid wants to sell a book.”
“It’s a Mark Twain,” I added.
Scott looked at me and then got all smiley, which is what some white people do. He leaned closer a bit and said “why don’t you try a yooz bookstore? They’ll buy your book.”
“Where do I find a yooz bookstore?” I asked.
“Well there’s a lot of them up in the Mission District. You could try there.”
“San Francisco?” I asked, because I didn’t know where the Mission District was exactly. I knew there were a couple BART stops.
“That’s the one.”
“Okay,” I said, and put the papers all back in the leather folder. “Um, do you know which stop?”
“You taking BART? Try Sixteenth Street. I’m pretty sure there’s some yooz bookstores right around there.”
“Okay,” I said. “What do you think they’ll give me for it?”
“I don’t know. I suppose if it’s a paperback, they might give you anywhere from two to ten bucks. I have no idea really.”
“Okay,” I said, “thanks,” and I left. Those people I think are retarded.
* * *
I had a spare BART card in my back pocket that the BNGs didn’t get, so I used that. It’s freakin expensive to get to SF! While I was on the train I read parts of the book by Mark Twain. It was good I guess. I’m sure he did a good job.
Anyway, I got to thinking: what if I’m not supposed to sell the book? It belonged to my father, and to his father, and to Lolo before that, and my great grandpa, then his papi my Great-lo who I never met. What if I was supposed to keep it? I was the man of the house now. I had to keep the traditions. I figured I would join the Army Marines when I turned eighteen, but I wasn’t sure what to do before that. Look after mom and Daisy, I guess.
The money would sure help, but what if it wasn’t worth a million bucks? What if it wasn’t worth even half a million? What if it was only worth a few bucks? Well then for sure I would keep it. But if it WAS worth a million? Crap, what do I do then?
My stop came and I got out. The station smelled like cat piss. I swear, everything is smelling like cat piss these days. I don’t know if I can say that in a report, Mrs. Gravmeyer, so if you want I can just delete it later, okay? Just don’t give me an F.
I go up the escalators to Mission Street, where the light hurt my eyes. Then I’m all alert an shit, because there’s sketchy ole Salvadoran dudes selling drugs and there’s a few wasted people that smell bad. An they all poor an shit. Like, not poor like me, Daisy and mami. I’m talkin’ like, homeless and never shower. The hells a bookstore doing in this neighborhood, I wonder. But the guy did say it’s a yooz bookstore, so maybe that makes a bit more sense, whatever, I don’t really know what yooz is.
Okay right, so I ask this one tweaky white guy wearing just cut-off jean shorts and a Army shirt open and showing his chest which is sunburnt beyond belief… “Is there a yooz bookstore round here?” His head is small but he’s got a really big round nose with lots of little dots in it like a golf ball, and a big ol’ orange mustache. He sniffs real loud looking up over my shoulder, up Sixteenth Street. I turn around and look up the street too. I thought maybe I saw what he was looking at, but I don’t know. I thanked him and went that direction.
It was actually pretty easy. There’s a place just a block or two up Sixteenth, I forget what it’s name is, but it’s a bookstore. They even had a cart of books out front that anybody could just steal, which is pretty stupid if you’re trying to sell them for money.
Inside it was way different than Barnes & Noble. Way smaller, for one thing. But it’s like they tried to pack all the books that they have in a place the size of Barnes & Noble into a tiny place the size of our living room. It smelled like our attic. And cat piss. There was even a cat, a long-haired black one with a white chest, sitting on a pile of big books on one table which proves my point. The books all looked old, too. I had definitely found the right place, I thought.
I could tell the guy behind the counter was looking at me. I knew what he was thinking, like maybe I stoled the Mark Twain book from him or something. I look like a thief, I guess. I wonder how that kind of look sets in? I only stole a couple things before. When I was a kid, you know. I was pretty stupid then. Now I just look after my mom.
Anywayz, I figured I’d just get this all over with, so I went up to the counter and set down my backpack. The old guy with stringy white hair looked at me over the edge of his cut-off glasses like he was having fun or something. I didn’t like the way he was looking at me so I looked down and got the folder out of my bag.
“I got a book to sell,” I said. He didn’t say nothing. Well, or maybe he said like “Okay, let’s have a look.” I pulled the old papers out of the brown leather folder. One of them tore a bit. It was really old paper though so really it actually just kind of broke in half. I tried to make the pages all neat on all sides, and then looked at him, and looked back down the Mark Twain book, then back up at him.
“What have we here,” he said. “A book, you say?” He was way old school. He looked at the paper, touched it, then flipped through some random pages. Reminded me kinda of the magic wand seller from Harry Potter. That was wayyyy back in the day.
“Where did you get this, my young friend?” And I just looked at him like, whoa, dude, are you saying I stoled it? And second of all, I’m not your friend.
“It belongs to me. It was in my attic. Mami said I could keep it.” Grownups don’t scare me the way they do some of kids, and I can also talk proper when I want to.
“I see,” he said, holding up one of the middle pages to the light, lifting his glasses and then lowering them again. I’m like, dude, are those glasses supposed to be able to help you see, or not?
Anyways. He goes, “Do you know what this is?”
I shrugged. “It’s a book by Mark Twain.”
“That’s what I think, too. But it’s an original manyuscrip. I recognize the handwriting, but not the test.”
“The test of the book. A book is test. Sometimes it has pictures, as in the case of Mark Twain’s books. But of course those were added on publication. This test is not from any of his published works though.”
He waited for me to say something. So I said “So? What’ll you give me for it?”
He leaned in a bit. I hate it when old people do that. Like they all try to be sneaky an shit.
“I can’t buy this from you.”
This guy was being a total doosh. “Why the hell not,” I asked.
“Because this is worth a lot.”
“Well so then give me a lot,” I said.
“It’s worth more than I have,” he said. “Maybe you should reconsider parting with it.” At first I thought he said partying, but that didn’t make no sense if I thought about it. He meant selling it.
“I did think about it. Just give me my money. I don’t care, you don’t have to give me a million dollars, just give me half of it.”
The doosh started laughing like Santa Claus. He leaned back on his stool with one hand on his forehead. I thought he was being inconsiderate. I had a hard time on that BART ride deciding if selling it was the right thing to do. But the more I thought about it, the more I pictured my mom at the Lucky Chances with the BNG pinoys circling around her and I thought of dad kicking their asses and taking us all away back to Oceanside, where everything would just be way better.
Oceanside may be a crap city, but at least it ain’t Colma, where it’s all just cemeteries. Did you know that the official saying of Colma is “It’s great to be alive in Colma?” It’s true. Because everyone’s dead there. So if you have a pulse you’ve got a leg up on anyone. Most people just live in Daly City.
Anywayz, here was this guy laughing at me, and all I wanted was my money, but now I wasn’t sure I was going to get it, and I was even less sure now if selling it was a good idea.
When he was done laughing, the old guy dried his eyes and looked at me all smiling.
“I’m sorry son, I just don’t have that kind of money. And even if I did, what you’ve got there is worth more than money. You said you got that from your attic?”
“Well look. You could very well have yourself there an original manyuscrip by Mark Twain. That means it’s never been published. Which means,” here he looked at me closer, “that it’s never been a book. Tell me,” he was practically leaning over the counter now, but he wasn’t as scary. “When you make copies of something, what do you do with the original?”
“You keep it…” I said, catching on, “in case you need to make other copies.”
“Right. And this Mark Twain was a popular fellow, right?”
“I know that.”
“Well, so wouldn’t a lot of different people want copies of his book?”
“And what if you made a bunch of copies, and they ran out?”
I looked down at the pile of papers in front of me.
“You see? You need to hang on to this for safe-keeping. Except…”
I looked up at him. I totally saw where he was going with this. “It’s safe back in my attic.”
“Yes, probably. But when they need to make more copies, what are they supposed to do?”
“They can call,” I said. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to cheat me and my mom out of our money. I didn’t think so, but it’s best to be safe. “We’re listed.”
The man leaned back again and sighed. Then he put his hands on his knees and stood up off the stool, moving like a creaky old man. I didn’t see before but under his gray sweater vest he had a pretty big gut. He came out from behind the counter and pulled up a stepping stool (like the kind you stand on while brushing your teeth when you’re little) and sat down.
“Look, you’re obviously a real smart kid” the old man said. “And you want to do what’s right, yes?”
I just looked at him, waiting for him to tell me to hand the book over to him for free.
“That manyuscrip belongs in a museum,” he said. “That way, millions of people can look at it for free.”
I waited for the catch. I think I said “what’s the catch,” or maybe “do museums pay well?”
“Museums pay all right,” he said all slow. He looked at me again in that funny way, with his head tilted to one side a bit. He was smiling, but I don’t think he was happy. Not the way I’m happy when I smile anyhow. “I can’t tell you what to do. I can only tell you what I think is right. Do your parents know you’re here?”
Well he got me there. I said “of course” which was a lie, but I wanted to throw him off because I couldn’t see what he was getting at and it made me nervis.
“There is no bookstore that will buy that from you. I assure you that. If they offer you money for it, they are nothing more than pedi crooks. The only place that can buy your book there is a museum. But your parents have probably already thought of that. Which,” and now he was getting up again and going back behind the counter, fishing for a pen and piece of scratch paper, “is why they intelligently sent you here to me.” He wrote something down on the sheet of paper and then handed it to me. It said
I looked at him and said “a library?”
“It’s no ordinary library, it’s more like a museum,” he said. “They keep track of everything Mark Twain ever wrote.”
I sat there not knowing what to do. He started to put the papers back in the leather folder for me. “They’ll be very interested in seeing what you’ve got here,” he said. Then he added (so I could still hear) “Why, I’d think it’d be like gold to them.”
To Be Continued…