The Engineer and The Businessman
Life is good
It is impossible for a book to state what should be important to
you. Just like The Dream, goals are as varied as the people who have
them. One important tip, however, is to aim small. There is countless
joy to be found in life’s simple pleasures, and being alive is the simplest
pleasure there is. Never forget that as long as you are alive, things can
always get better and as long as things can get better, you are capable
of great things.
–THE CHAMPION’S GUIDEBOOK
When we got back home, Greg and Perry were upside down. More specifically,
they were trying to do handstands in the living room. Over the summer, we had seen this
movie on cable about this ninja dude who knew this crazy Brazilian fighting style. The
Brazilian fighting style was all about jumping around on your hands and dancing around
the poor fuck that you were kicking the crap out of. In the movie, everyone knew how to
fight like a Brazilian, so at least half the people on screen would be doing handstands at
any particular time. The movie kinda sucked, but we thought it would be cool if we
could dance around on our hands. We’ve been practicing ever since. Of course, that
didn’t mean that we were any good at doing handstands.
A couple seconds after we entered, Greg and Perry toppled over and we had our
opening. “Now!” bellowed Keith and we pounced on our fallen friends.
“The El Nino* strikes!” I screamed as I put Perry in a headlock. I don’t know
why, but I had picked up the habit of referring to myself as “The El Nino” whenever I
wrestled around with my friends.
“Goddammit!” yelled Perry as he slapped me in the gut. “For the last time, ‘the el
nino’ means ‘the the child,’ you fucking idiot!” Heh heh, oh yeah. That’s why I did it—it
really pissed Perry off.
“Hey, fuckers,” said Greg while he sat on Keith, “how was the walk?”
“It was funny,” I said while Perry was sticking his knee in my back, “it led right
“You guys didn’t eat there, did you?” asked Perry. He stopped bending my spine.
“’Cause I’m making spaghetti.”
“Check this out,” said Keith as he wiggled out from under Greg. He took Greg’s
head and started slamming it against the ground.
“Ow.” Greg smacked Keith in the belly and, free of Keith’s favorite move, rubbed
his head. “Motherfucker.” The wrestling came to an abrupt end and everyone except
Perry lay back, breathing heavily. Us smokers couldn’t last too long.
“Whose a pussy now?” Keith asked Greg.
“Hey, what’s ‘zakenna yo?’” asked Perry. Champion’s Creed number four.
Greg always carried this little blue notebook with him. Usually, that’s all he took to
class. The main purpose of the little blue notebook was for writing down random
Champion wisdom before he forgot it. Every one of the Champion’s Creeds had been
written in the little blue notebook, even number five, which had been inspired by me.
Anyway, Greg’s notebook had fallen from his pocket during the struggle and Perry was
looking through it.
“It’s Japanese,” Greg said.
“What’s it mean?” asked Perry.
I crawled over to the couch and hopped on. Greg, Perry, and Keith all stayed on
the floor. Something was bothering me, but I couldn’t quite place it. I had this nagging
feeling that I had missed something important. Then it hit me and I looked at Perry.
“Hey, you’re making spaghetti?”
“Yeah,” said Perry.
“Sweet,” I said, “I’m starving.”
Michael Garrett Perry was our dad. Not literally, of course. That would be
impossible. But he definitely acted the part. He cooked for us, he cleaned for us, and he
acted as our voice of reason. He chastised us for skipping too much or for the incredibly
idiotic way we’d conduct our love lives. He really enjoyed making us feel guilty for not
cooking or cleaning ourselves. Perry was just an incredibly responsible person. He went
to class more than the rest of us. He studied and did his homework more than the rest of
us. He had a serious, long-term girlfriend, who hated us and who we can talk about later.
He was the only one of us who didn’t smoke. He wasn’t really health conscious or
anything, but he was a thick, solid dude. He was also about six feet. Actually, except for
little Keith, we were all about the same height. He had short black wavy hair and he
wore glasses all the time, even when he was upside down.
To be honest, Perry was already defeated. He was smart enough to realize this; he
just didn’t care. He would graduate Taft U and move back to his old neighborhood and
marry his girlfriend and have 2.3 kids and a white picket fence and work nine-to-five and
take his kids to the ballgame and that was that. The System had already laid out his path
for him. That was how it would be, and Perry had already fully resigned himself to that
fate. He was content, but that’s what The System does: it makes you think that The
System was what you wanted all along, and Perry was almost completely in its grasp.
But he did love Batman.
And Law and Order. And spaghetti. And getting drunk and singing stupid songs.
And us. For as much as he was hopelessly entwined in The System, he was also
hopelessly in love with The Dream. And that is what saved him, that is why he allowed
himself to cavort around with a couple of schmucks like us. No matter how frustrated he
might get with us, no one respected us more. We lived a way that he wanted, but
Perry, more than anyone else, appreciated those small moments when The Dream
was in our grasp. It was Perry who would remind us to go to the Olive Garden from time
to time, and we were forbidden from going there unless all five of us were present. And
it would be Perry, with all of us laughing and full of pasta and on our fifth helping of free
salad and breadsticks, who would sit back with a satisfied smile, taking it all in.
Unfortunately, he was willing to leave it at that; sampling The Dream in small bites
instead of trying to make it his life. All that aside, the boy could make some damn fine
We filed into the kitchen and helped ourselves to the noodles and sauce and
meatballs that Perry had laid out for us. Then we scattered around the living room.
“Where the fuck is Shane?” asked Greg. He and Perry were sitting on the floor with
their plates on the coffee table. Keith and I were sitting on the floor with our plates on
our laps, facing each other and keeping tabs on the other guy’s progress.
“He was going to the gym,” said Perry. “He should be back soon. I told him
we’d wait for him, but I knew you jackals wouldn’t be able to.” Keith and I exchanged a
proud glance, then both tried to start eating again while the other was still glancing. I
reached over and swiped a meatball off his plate, and he stabbed me with his fork. It was
“He better hurry if he wants to eat,” said Greg. I waved at him with a mouth full
“I’m sure he knows that,” said Perry. “So, Kov, how was book shopping today?”
I didn’t feel like answering that, so I pretended to still be chewing meatball and flicked
him off instead. After hanging out with Greg all day, Perry already knew that we didn’t
go anywhere near textbooks or the bookstore. We were Champions, not fucking boy
scouts. This was his idea of a joke. I was used to it.
Fuck that Shit.
“Summa This?” Shane was back. He barged through the front door, threw his
gym bag on the floor, and headed straight to the kitchen. Shane was big and blond and
loud and lazy and he said “Some of This” all the time. He was also too late. “Where are
all the fucking meatballs?” he screamed from the kitchen. Keith and I giggled.
“No idea,” we said.
“Fuck you fat fucks,” answered Shane. He brought his meatball-less spaghetti out
into the living room, gave me an evil glare, and plopped down on the couch.
Shane Maci Valente was a crazy man. He wasn’t insane, he just didn’t give a
fuck, and he would do whatever he felt like doing at any given time. When he was tired,
he napped. When he was hungry, he snacked. When he though a girl was hot, he would
yell “Some of This” at her until she either broke down and talked to him or ran for her
It was difficult to categorize Shane using Champion standards. He definitely
loved The Dream, and he sure napped and ate pie like a Champion. But he wasn’t
opposed to The System. He was in the business school, for Godssakes. In fact, it was his
goal to own The System. He wanted to end up in a suit at a huge desk in a huge office at
the top of a huge building, telling little people what to do. Everybody’s gotta have a
dream, but dude. What Shane desired was to perpetuate a horrible entity for his own
personal gain. There was no honor in that fate, and a Champion’s got to have a sense of
honor. Still though, he was a good friend and one funny motherfucker. Plus, unlike
Perry, I never got the sense that it was too late for him to change.
So there was the five of us, our little gang. We were good people. Let me tell
you something. Every dude, every girl, everyone thinks that their friends, their group, is
one of a kind. The most unique, special, funny, greatest group of people ever assembled
in the history of time itself. They think that they are destined for greatness. Everybody
thinks that. The difference was, with us, I knew it; I could feel it.
What was cool was how nobody could be generalized; none of us would fit into a
single category. We were an eclectic group of dudes with differing philosophies and
desires, all drawn together by intellect and humor and an undying love of The Dream.
We got along for the most part—our last big fight was over a month ago when Shane,
Keith, and Greg proclaimed “Amish Night” and cut the power to their apartment while
Perry and I were watching the Pistons play the Pacers. That hadn’t been pretty, but those
times were rare. We honored our friendship, were fiercely loyal, and had nothing but the
deepest respect for each other. Truly a recipe for greatness.
“So, Kov,” said Perry, “How’s the single life going?” I looked up from my
almost-finished spaghetti and glared at him. Like his girl was so great. He grinned back.
“Going strong, baby,” I said. The key was to downplay Perry’s little putdowns.
“These girls, they just don’t appreciate me.” I finished my last two bites. “I have no idea
why, though.” Keith still had a couple of bites to go, and I shoved my empty plate in
front of his face so he could see just how empty it was.
“Probably ‘cause you’re a fat pig,” said Keith as he finished up.
“Man, you guys are animals,” said Greg. The other three weren’t even half done.
“Being single ain’t that bad,” said Shane, “Of course,” he stopped to smile and
raise his eyebrows a couple of times at me, “I choose to be single.”
“Look motherfucker,” I said. “I choose to be single too. You ever hear of a little
thing called Paul Time?”
“Ok, ok.” Shane grinned. “But maybe if you dropped the “Paul Time” and started
using ‘Summa This,’ a bit, you’d be a little more popular.”
“Yeah,” I said—I opened my eyes wide to illustrate that I was about to make fun
of him—“‘Summa This’ sure worked on Rachael.”
Shane almost fell off the couch. “Dude,” he said.
“Ooh,” said everyone else.
Out of all of us, Shane was definitely the most successful with the ladies. I am
man enough to admit that. Keith and I were just bumblers with no luck. Greg was too
selective to be a player. And Perry was fucking married. But Shane, with all his
confidence and his “Some of This,” was amazingly successful. Usually, he wasn’t too
serious about any girl. But from time to time, there would be some specific girl that he
liked. “I think I like ( ),” Shane would say, and, after about two weeks, he would be
dating her. Every time. Then, without fail, everyone else would hate her fucking guts.
It was amazing, really. Shane would start dating some girl, and three weeks into
the relationship, she would turn psychotic. We didn’t know if it was Shane or the girls he
picked, but it was fucking au-to-ma-tic. The latest in the Great Chain of Psycho Girls
was Rachael, who Shane finally broke up with about a week ago by saying that he
wanted to start senior year “unchained.”
I don’t know what Shane ever saw in Rachael. She was tall and skinny, with a rat
face and super straight blond rat hair. She also wore those fucking horn-rimmed glasses
that come to a point on both sides about three inches past a person’s face. I hate those
fucking things. But the worst thing about Rachael was her voice. It was whiny and
everything she said sounded like a question. And she never knew anything; she only felt
or thought things.
Two weeks ago, Keith and I were enjoying our own single status by watching The
Simpsons in the living room while Shane and Rachael were deciding what to get on a
pizza. I think it was the episode with Tomacco.
“What do you want on the pizza?” Shane had asked.
“What do I want on the pizza?” said Rachael.
“Yeah, what do you want?”
“Um, what do you want on the pizza?”
“I’ll eat anything. Whatever you want.”
“Whatever I want, that’s so nice?”
“I like olives?”
“Um, well, I think that I feel that maybe olives would be good?”
“You think you feel that maybe olives would be good.”
“Do you like olives?”
“I feel that I would?” By this point, Keith and I had put the TV on mute and were
focusing all our attention on this conversation. Shane looked like he wanted to cry.
“What are you saying?” he asked. “Look, what do you want on the pizza?”
“Pizza?” said Rachael.
“Yeah, so we’ll get olives. You want some meat?”
“Um, I feel that eating animals is wrong?”
“What? We went to Long John Silver’s last week. You ate an entire fish! You
cleaned out the shrimp and crab buffet!”
“I feel that fish aren’t meat?”
“You feel? Fish aren’t meat! Fish is fish!”
“Actually, shrimps and crabs aren’t fish,” said Keith, “they’re crustaceans.”
“That’s right, Keith.” I said. I looked at Rachael. “Why will you eat little fishies
and those adorable crustaceans, but not tasty tasty beef?”
“I feel that it’s okay to eat something if it doesn’t have vertebrae?” said Rachael.
“You feel?” I asked. “Who put you in charge of that?”
“Don’t fish have vertebrae?” asked Keith.
“Um?” said Rachael.
“They do,” said Shane and I.
“If God didn’t want us to eat animals,” Keith said, “He wouldn’t have made them
out of meat.”
“Good point Keith,” I said.
“That’s not the fucking point at all,” said Shane. “Now honey, sweetie, we got
olives so far, do you want anything else?”
“Um, well,” said Rachael. She looked at Shane. Shane looked at her. She kept
looking at Shane. Keith and I looked at her. Shane looked confused. Nobody said a
word for a good two minutes. “Was I saying something?” Rachael finally asked.
“I don’t know,” said Shane, “I don’t know.” He rubbed his head. “Maybe you
were saying something about pizza.”
“Pizza?” said Rachael.
“You know what,” said Shane, “let’s just have some cereal.”
“Sounds good,” said Keith. “There’s no meat in that.”
“Or fish,” I said, trying to be helpful.
Shane broke up with Rachael a week after that night. He tried to forget that he
ever dated her, but his good friends wouldn’t let him. He got pretty pissed off any time
someone mentioned her name. Including this time. He flicked me off.
“Ok, sorry Shane.” I said. That was pretty low. “That was low.” Time to
change the subject. “Our senior year starts tomorrow, and I think that we should have
some family time at Hassan’s soon. We haven’t all been there together in awhile.” I shot
accusing glares at Shane and Perry. When it came to going to Hassan’s, they were
Perry nodded. He knew that I didn’t approve of his lack-of-Hassan’s behavior.
“How about Saturday breakfast?” asked Perry. “We’ll get a week of school under our
belts, and then we can complain about it at Hassan’s.”
“So like around two?” asked Greg.
“Sounds good,” said everyone else.
“I’m only going if Becka’s working,” said Shane. “She was hot.” He gave me an
evil grin, and now it was my turn to flick him off.
“Damn straight she was,” said Keith. “Hey, Kov, does she have a new man yet?”
I will never live that one down.