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The Age of Amy:
Bonehead Bootcamp

Chapter 1


My upstairs bedroom shook. The closet door trembled on its hinges. Loose change tap-danced on my dresser. A deep rumbling like rolling thunder pounded my eardrums. No, it wasn't an earthquake or an erupting volcano. A derailed freight train hadn't just crossed our front lawn. It was something far less destructive, yet no less annoying. My room had been jolted by it many times before, and I knew exactly what was causing the disturbance: the earth-shaking roar of the downstairs TV!
   The electronic beast was the size of a refrigerator, and its deafening sound system could blow the feathers off a goose. It ruled the living room directly below me. Amplifier switches glowed in its dark lair, like sinister eyes peering out of a forbidden forest. A comfy couch was provided for anyone foolish enough to enter. Care and feeding of the beast was easy: just turn it on and watch it devour its prey with hours of mind-numbing programming.
   My parents were in the living room watching some cheesy action movie and had turned the volume up from reasonable to earsplitting. Our wood-framed house sucked up the sound waves like a sponge. It wasn't that the flooring was substandard or the insulation not up to code. For sure, the newest house in Shankstonville had been built with the highest grade materials. Still, the vibration had turned my bedroom into a giant foot massager. Every car-crashing, bomb-exploding, alien-blasting ka-boom rattled the walls -- and my nerves.
   I was laying on my bed, engaged in my favorite pastime: reading. I loved courtroom dramas and was deep into the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird. How Atticus Finch was going to prove Tom Robinson's innocence had me totally captivated. I was also a pushover for anything sentimental. The tender father-daughter bond between Atticus and Scout was the most touching thing I ever read. But learning the life lessons of Depression-era Alabama would have to wait, while I dealt with the low frequencies traveling up my bed posts.
   I tried to isolate the noise by wedging my head between two pillows. No success. Then I stuffed my ears with wax earplugs and cotton. I tried pulling a wastebasket full of towels over my head, but even that was no match for the beast's fifteen-inch subwoofers.
   My aggravation finally reached the boiling point. I threw my book across the room. A cloud of dust rose from my desk as the binding collided with my computer monitor. I hadn't used my computer in years, and it was smothering under mounds of debris -- which was just fine with me. As far as I was concerned, technology was wireless, heartless, and meaningless. The Web was nothing more than a time-wasting distraction with advertising, and held no appeal for a girl of my intelligence.
   Don't get me wrong. The Internet is an awesome invention, but so is television, and look how it's used: to showcase rude behavior to sell light beer and toothpaste! The only piece of dumb-down technology I found at all useful was my cell phone. (How can any life form in the universe exist without texting?)
   It was clear that the racket below me would not end anytime soon. My failure to filter out the noise left me only one option: a quest downstairs to slay the beast!
   I left my room, crept to the end of the hallway, and gazed down the mahogany staircase. All of the downstairs lights were off, window blinds were closed, and curtains drawn. Outside, the midwestern sky was bright with sunlight, but in the shuttered room below, night had already fallen. The only light came from the TV, its brightness against the banister, casting long shadows up the wall like the bars of a prison cell.
   I grabbed hold of the handrail and slowly started down. With each step, the low-pitched rumbling got more intense. The crystals in the chandelier above me jingled like wind chimes. Liquor bottles rattled behind the family room wet bar. Still, I continued on, like an avenging angel sent to Earth to rid the world of mindless entertainment.
   At the bottom step, I kneeled down and looked out between the banister posts. My destination lay just beyond the marble foyer. I could see my parents sitting on the couch, the back of their heads silhouetted like paper doll cutouts. Empty pizza boxes and beer bottles were strewn about the living room. Candy wrappers and greasy popcorn kernels littered the coffee table -- and our maid had just cleaned the room that morning.
   Charging across the polished floor, I slipped on some muddy footprints made by my older siblings who never learned what a doormat was for. Once back on my feet, I made it to the couch and slid behind it on my knees like a base-stealing baseball hero. So far, so good.
    The living room smelled like an onion field. I cautiously peered over the top of the couch. There it was! On the far wall hung the video monster. Its flickering light danced in the glazed eyes of my brain-dead parents, as if a poisonous snake had injected them with hypnotic venom.
   Now to complete my mission. The TV's cable wire was within easy reach, and a pair of scissors lay conveniently on a nearby table. Wire-cutting was a bit too bold for my purposes, so I looked for a more subtle method. Then I noticed that the TV remote control had been carelessly left unguarded on the couch. I sprang to my feet, grabbed the device like it was the sword Excalibur, and aimed it toward the howling beast.
   "Amy Dawson!" my mother shouted. "Turn that back on!"
   "What do you think you're doing?" screamed my father, leaping off the couch. "Give me that!"
   He reached for the remote. I jerked it away. "No way," I said. "All you ever do anymore is watch this crap."
   "That's none of your concern," said my dad.
   "You're so wrong. That thing controls this whole family."
   "And just how do you figure that?"
   "When's the last time you threw me a birthday party?"
   "I'll give you one on your fifteenth birthday?"
   "I'm sixteen! Why don't we ever go anywhere?"
   "What about our trip to Disneyland?"
   "That was five years ago. And why don't our friends visit us anymore?"
   "They can't find the time."
   "You mean they won't find the time. I can't say I blame them. Look at this dump!"
   "I was just about to call the maid back, but you know she won't drive out here after dark."
   "After dark?"
   I pulled on a window blind cord, flooding the den of darkness with bright daylight. My parents shaded their eyes and trembled as if alien spaceships had landed in our driveway.
   Slowly, my father extended his arm and pointed toward the stairs. "You know what this means, don't you?" he said, in a stern voice.
   My father's gesture wasn't only a show of expert parenting, it was also a brilliant tactical move. While my attention was diverted, my mother snatched the remote out of my hand. The TV was back on in less than a nanosecond, and just as quickly, they both turned back toward the screen as if nothing had happened.
   An apology from them seemed highly doubtful. They showed no sign of remorse -- or any sign of a pulse, for that matter. In my endless struggle to reconnect with my parents, this was yet another crushing defeat.
   Being yelled at by them never used to happen. As the youngest in the family, I made every effort to make my parents proud of me. I got excellent grades in school and even worked part time jobs so that I wouldn't have to ask for pocket money. I was the ideal teenage daughter -- or so I thought. Now there was always something to argue about, someone to accuse, and no place to escape the hostility.
   I knew I wasn't perfect, but why did they have to be so judgmental? True, I dressed a little on the shabby side and didn't wear makeup. I listened to Chicago blues and read the editorial page of the Sunday paper. So what? I had no tattoos or any other brands that couldn't easily be removed. My only display of teenage angst was the neon-blue streak in my hair. Even that, I ran it down the back, so it wouldn't be so noticeable. Wasn't that worth something?
   My fingernails dug into the handrail as I climbed the stairs to my room. Halfway up sat my older brother, his head slumped down to his chest, playing a handheld video game. He had stacks of them in his room, along with every computer gaming console ever made. He was only two years older than me, yet he wasn't in school. Laziness was his profession.
   "Excuse me," I said, trying to step over him. He didn't budge. Then I heard a faint, thumping sound seeping from the earphones he had jammed into his ear canals. He was listening to rap music, a beastly noise I refused to accept as being "musical."
   I yanked out one of his earpieces and shouted, "The house is on fire!" No use. His thumbs kept clicking away on the evil plaything, his eyes locked on its small screen.
   I wrestled the game away from my brother's feeble grip. "Hey, gimme that!" he cried. Then I tossed it down the stairs. My brother let out a frightful gasp as he chased after it like a crazed drug addict.
   "You're gonna go blind playing that stupid thing," I said. "Why don't you go mow the lawn or something?"
   Down the hall, the door to my older sister's bedroom stood open. The room reeked of eau de Wal-Mart. I went inside and found my sister slouched in a recliner chair with her laptop resting on her swollen belly -- a symptom of too many fast-food lunches.
   She was logged on to her favorite social media website. To her cyber-friends, she was a 90-pound fashion model. Photos of a sexy woman, posing seductively in skimpy underwear, filled her photo page.
   As I quietly crept up behind her, my sister's plump fingers were busily friending another unsuspecting victim. "How many does that make?" I said, catching her off-guard.
   A dozen chicken nuggets fell to their death as she flew out of her chair. Her laptop tumbled to the floor. I cupped my hands around my mouth and shouted at the screen, "Hey, in there! Come out and meet your sexy, new friend."
   My sister snapped up her computer. "You're just jealous 'cause I got friends and you don't," she said.
   "Friends?" I said. "They're all losers -- like you!"
   "You oughta know, jerk!"
   I raced down the hall to my bedroom and slammed the door behind me. My head was throbbing. The howling TV continued its audio assault on my sanity. I covered my ears with my hands and paced the floor.
   Suddenly, the sound stopped. I cracked open the door and listened: no atomic blasts, no Jurassic growls, no exploding heads.
   There was no way to know when the next attack would come, so I retrieved my book and plopped back down on my bed. I had just removed my bookmark when I realized that every word in the book was blurred. My eyes wouldn't focus on the pages. The book slipped through my fingers like it was made of butter. Though my bedroom had stopped shaking, I hadn't.
   What just happened? I had never been prone to violence or raise my voice to anyone. I was an easy-going gal with a great sense of humor, always fun to be around, never causing any trouble -- but that was before . . .

   the Move.

-- End of Excerpt --

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