Bad Kid by David Crabb (5 out of 5)
This fucking book kept me up til 2am..when I finally finished it. I was about 70 pages into it before the Blackhawks/Bolts game, and then after the game I immediately picked it up and started reading it (around 10:30pm). I was still up at 2:14am when I finally finished it. And I had to be up at 6am, so it wasn’t pretty this morning. That’s why only one of my two books got posted this morning; this one, I really wanted to give the high-five and victory horns to. Because I FUCKING loved it.
David Crabb has his own show (also titled “Bad Kid”) that has had several very successful runs in the New York theater community. Now there’s this memoir that chronicles how it all began for Crabb. In his last year of middle school in San Antonio, Texas, he spends his days dreaming about the important things- great music and braiding his girlfriend’s hair. The bliss comes to an end when the school bully whacks him over the head with an encyclopedia and calls him an offensive name (the “F” word some use to describe homosexuals). He ends up alienating his girlfriend to the point that it’s over, eating lunch by himself, and redoing his wardrobe after they make fun of his clothes. So in all essence, he stops being himself. Despite any and all obstacles he is facing over his sexual orientation at school (as well as his own struggle to come to terms with his homosexuality- something that a George Michael album helps him realize), he has the unabashed love and support of his parents. His mom has a tendency to tell everyone every little thing, and his own father is very uncomfortable with the reality of homosexuality. High school beckons, and David meets a new group of people, a new group of experiences, a new cabinet of mind-altering substances, and a whole new set of experiences that shape his young life and the man he’s becoming.
High school brings Greg, an outwardly fashionable guy who introduces David to many things- Erasure, and some highly embarrassing dance moves that I’m sure we’ve all employed at one time or another to impress someone or to awkwardly try to fit in. They become best friends, and while messing around with a Ouija board one night, David tells Greg that he thinks he’s gay. Greg confides with his own story, and the bond between the two grows strong as they attempt to teach each other how to navigate high school territory as newly discovered gay gents. It’s a relationship that really grabs you while reading, while alternately making you pee your pants, because the dialogue and the situations are hilarious. Crabb has an affinity for making what would be traumatic for most (including himself and Greg), into a funny, lighthearted romp through adolescence as a gay man trying to come to terms with it. Further comedic relief is brought to us in the form of Sylvia, a friend he and Greg acquire in a teen club and who gets David into pot. She also takes it upon herself to help the boys further along in the education as gay men. Their adventures together bring out another landscape in the mind of the young David as he’s growing up and into his future self. The only downside to Sylvia is that she’s a human drug resource; pot is only the beginning for David’s education at her hands. Wait until you read about the Vicks inhaler. Something tells me that I will never be able to see one of those again without flashing back to David’s mis-adventure with one. Crabb is able to write these scenes as realistic as they are, yet also with the boundless wonderment of someone under the influence of them for the first time. That’s not an easy feat, but he pulls it off flawlessly. A lot of the things he wrote here? You can actually imagine how it was for him experimenting. Again, not an easy feat for an author to pull off. I’ve read a lot of substance abuse memoirs where they just phone it in. Not the deal here; Crabb is 100% pure giddy up. As things in life tend to happen, those who love you and enrich you, often play a large part in your downfall and dissension with life. The friends who helped David come to terms with who he was are also the ones who were enabling his unhealthy lifestyle and habits; by the end of high school, he moves away from those whom he loves a great deal, but whom are now responsible for a great many of his bad habits, and he develops into the young man he became. The end of those close-knit friendships in David’s life…reading about them made me recall toxic relationships I was in that I was hesitant to end, due to feeling as if I owed those persons some extra cred because they brought me into a whole new light of being, only to eventually drag me down back into some metaphoric darkness. Those times, mine, would not be so easily readable, because I do not have the lightness of heart that David Crabb has. There is absolutely no acrimony in this book; only love of 80’s music, pop culture, fashion, great gay icons, and friendship. There’s a little bit of the old first love business, as you would expect, but overall, what you have here is a funny, heartwarming memoir about growing up feeling as if you’re so different that you’ll never know who you truly are, and with the grace of good people around you, that eventually you’ll find your way. And hopefully, readers, you find your way to this book at your nearest bookstore. I promise you won’t be disappointed. (PS- Except the part with the pickle. That, for me at least, I may never recover)