Adam Mansbach and Alan Zweibel’s Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in my…! will debut next month, and EW has an exclusive look at the adventures of Franklin Isaac Saturday, below.
The story follows Franklin Isaac Saturday a.k.a Ike, an ordinary 13-year-old with the biggest crush on Claire Wanzandae. But his normal life takes a turn when he becomes pen pals with one of America’s Founding Fathers – Benjamin Franklin (or B-Fizzle as he’s affectionately referred to). It all starts with one extra credit assignment that becomes so much more.
Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in my…! hits shelves Sept. 8.
Sometimes the cafeteria of life is sold out of everything but poopburgers. And sometimes the circumstances of the moment won’t allow you to say, “Oh, you know what? I’m actually not that hungry.” Sometimes you’ve got to step right up to the counter and order a double poopburger with a side of tater snots and a nice, tall glass of ice-cold badger vomit.
Guess what we did in history class that Monday as a big, fun surprise, seeing as almost everybody did the extra credit after getting smacked down by Larrapin’s first test, which was all essay and so long that nobody even finished it, and during which he spent the whole time pacing up and down the aisles like some kind of evil cyborg named Distractotron 4000, with a big smile on his face like the best thing in the whole world is watching a room full of kids get muscle cramps in their writing hands?
The answer is, we read our letters to famous historical figures out loud. Correction: Mr. Larrapin read them out loud.
Obviously there was no way I could let him read mine, since it called him an unflattering name and also contained personal information about myself and other people— especially Claire Wanzandae, who is also in Honors History and in fact sits directly in front of me, with her long, glossy black hair that smells like a combination of orange blossoms and gasoline, hanging over the back of her chair, so close that I could comb it for her.
But Mr. Larrapin, sneaky weasel that he is, began class by saying, “So, who did the extra-credit assignment?” and I raised my hand and put my letter on my desk, thinking he was just going to go around and check off names, the way he had when the extra credit was to make a blueprint of a British theater. A lot of the nerdier kids were pretty mad when he only took one nanosecond to look at each blueprint, when they’d probably spent all weekend hard at work with their slide rules or whatever. But the craftier kids, myself included, were like, “Aha, extra credit is a joke to Mr. Larrapin, even though it’s worth up to five points on your test grade.” Which was a much-needed chink in the armor of his class, because for the most part Mr. Larrapin grades like we’re a bunch of PhD candidates or something.
So anyway, he said, “Let’s read a few, shall we?” as if he’d just thought of it, and started walking down the first row of desks, which is mine. Claire handed him her letter, which I could see was written in her perfect, girly cursive and began with Dear Marie Antoinette and wasn’t in an envelope or anything. And then Mr. Larrapin was hovering over me.
“Franklin?” he said, and for a second I thought he was saying my name, and I wanted to punch him in the face. Then I saw that he was looking at the envelope, with BF’s name and the Philadelphia street address I’d found for him on the Internet written on it in smudgy, pseudo-old-timey, looped script.
“Interesting choice,” he said, holding out his hand.
“I didn’t know anybody was going to read them,” I said, and covered the letter with my fist. “Mine is kind of personal. And I already sealed it. With wax.” I showed him the wax, which came out not great, because I had to use a sea-foam-scented bath candle of my mom’s, but it still showed Effort.
Mr. Larrapin got this soft look in his eyes when I said it, as if he realized that this was an embarrassing situation to be in if you were me, and he didn’t want to make it worse.
“I see,” he said, and for a second, I started to really like him. But then, even though his heart was in the right place, he made a totally boneheaded decision, which was to look around at the class and say, “Did anybody else write a letter that’s too personal to read?”
Mr. Larrapin probably believed he was getting me off the hook, or else he was realizing he should have thought of this earlier, and maybe he ought to cancel this activity before it backfired in his face, because who knows what was in these letters? But what he was doing in reality was (a) threatening the class with actual work when it had already geared up for something fun and time-wasting and nontest- able, and (b) giving anybody who felt like making fun of me a perfect opening, by asking a question that any twelve- year-old basically hears as “Is anybody else as big a loser as Ike?” Also, (c) he was making it all my fault if (a) happened.
So of course, everybody shouted in unison, “No!” and then a couple of kids, for good measure, added stuff like, “What did you tell him, Ike? Who you have a crush on?” and “Read Ike’s!” So even though the crisis of having my letter read out loud got averted, I still looked like a creepy weirdo, and of course I turned bright red to top it off. And then Mr. Larrapin, who knew he should say something but obviously had no idea what, turned back to me and went, “Half credit,” before moving down the row.
Also unfortunate about this situation was that History was the last class of the day, so when the period ended, everybody was slap-happy from a rare fun class—which in addition to The Humiliation of Franklin Isaac Saturday included such highlights as Matty Hall’s letter to Thomas Crapper, who might or might not have invented the toilet, and Christine Macabe’s letter to Michael Jackson, who she claimed was a historical figure because he was dead.
So everybody walked out of the room in the mood to blow off even more steam, which took the form of Dan McCarthy and Mark Giroux deciding they were going to get their hands on my letter and read it. They followed me through the hall and then out of the building, saying, “C’mon, dude. Show us the letter,” over and over, the way Carolyn does to our mom when she wants a cookie or something.
“You guys sound like my little sister,” I said. I didn’t know what I thought this would accomplish, but then again, I didn’t really know what they were trying to accomplish, either. I barely knew Dan and Mark, so why did they care what I’d written? The answer was probably that they were just hassling me for the fun of it. Which is another one of those things I understand but don’t.
I do know that both Mark and Dan were on the Cool Bros list for that party, so now they’re pals or pseudo-pals with Ryan, and as they followed me down the broad front steps of the school and onto the street, where the buses pulled up, I looked around hoping he’d appear and tell them to chill out. Or at least say “what’s up” to me, which would also have caused them to back off.
“What did you tell Ben Franklin, dude? That you’re gay?” Mark Giroux said, and both of them laughed. Half the school was coming outside now to wait for their buses, everybody who didn’t have an after-school activity or live close enough to walk. This meant that Dan and Mark had an audience to show off for. It also meant that if I could play it cool enough, they might end up being the ones who looked stupid. So right away, I decided that this was my strategy: act bored by the whole thing, like they really were five-year-olds.
“‘Dear Ben Franklin,’ ” Dan McCarthy said, pretending to write on his hand with an invisible pen. “ ‘You are the only one who understands how hard it is to be a massive gaylord who’s never kissed a girl.’”
I realize I should have probably just ignored it, but what Dan was saying was so mean and stupid that I couldn’t resist taking the bait.
“If I were gay,” I said, “why would I want to kiss a girl?”
Neither one of them had a ready answer for that, and now everybody at the bus stop was paying total attention because this was starting to get interesting. Maybe there will be a fight, they were thinking.
“So you’re saying you’re gay?” Mark Giroux said.
“No,” I said. “But what if I was? Are you saying you have something against gay people?”
“No,” said Mark. “Of course not. I just—” But it was a trick, because at that moment he stopped talking, whipped his arm around my back super fast, and snatched the enve- lope out of my back pocket.
“Let’s get to the bottom of this, shall we?” he said, and flipped it around.
This was very not good, especially because Claire Wanzandae was now walking toward the bus stop, her hair swinging back and forth behind her like life was one big shampoo commercial.
I lunged for the envelope, but Mark pulled it out of reach.
“Don’t be a jerk,” I said. “Give it back.”
“Who’s gonna make him?” Dan said, and stepped between me and Mark so I couldn’t even see what he was doing, much less get to him.
“Give it back,” I said again, and by now I wanted to cry and almost was crying. That would be the end of me, of course. I’d have to convince my mother to send me to private school or something.
“Why are you guys acting like such idiots?” I heard. And out of nowhere, standing right next to me, was Claire Wanzandae with her arms crossed in front of her chest. Mark and Dan both stopped what they were doing and stared at her.
“Give him back his letter,” she said. “What the hell?”
“You gonna let your girlfriend fight your battles for you, dude?” asked Dan.
Weirdly, just hearing him call Claire my girlfriend was incredibly thrilling, and suddenly I didn’t know if my heart was racing from fear or from excitement.
“I thought I was gay,” I said like a total moron, and stifled the urge to slap myself in the forehead.
Dan opened his mouth to respond. Meanwhile, Mark went back to work on the letter, trying to dislodge the huge glob of wax I’d dripped on there. Before he could get anywhere, though, Claire reached over and snatched it out of his hand as if he actually were a five-year-old.
“Hey!” he said like a goon, and looked up. But Claire was already walking away—from them and from the bus stop and from me.
I ran after her even though my bus had just pulled up and I’d have no way to get home if I missed it, unless I felt like walking about six miles. What else could I do, though?
I was breathing hard by the time I caught up. Claire has incredibly long legs, like a giraffe or a flamingo or some- thing. She’s a head and a half taller than me—and taller than Mark and Dan, too, for that matter. She’s basically a giant. A very cute giant.
“Hey,” I panted. And then I ran out of other stuff to say.
Claire handed me the letter without breaking her stride. The seal was still intact. Just then the wind shifted in our direc- tion, and the aroma of sea-foam candle hit me in the face.
“Thanks,” I said. “You’re like a superhero or something.”
Claire made a little snorty laugh sound through her nose, like a small, adorable horse would do.
“No, really,” I said. “I mean, you saved the day. Mark and Dan would probably be dead by now, if you hadn’t shown up. Guts spread all over the pavement. And I’d be looking at life in prison, or the electric chair.”
She opened her mouth and laughed a different laugh, more trilly, like a giant, pretty bird. All of a sudden, I was feeling really good about myself, despite all the torture of the past two hours. It was like Claire brought out the smart- ness in me. I felt loose and entertaining, like I could have jumped onstage at a comedy club and knocked the crowd’s socks off. It’s a feeling I don’t get that often. Maybe once in a while, when I’m making my mom laugh, which is usually when Dirk the Jerk is away on some stupid work trip and it’s just the two of us.
“Ben Franklin, huh?” Claire Wanzandae said.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m named after him, so I figure the least he can do is listen to me complain.”
She gave me a sideways smile of, like, encouragement. As if Claire Wanzandae was saying, Keep going, Ike. You’re killing it right now.
That was when I saw the mailbox on the corner, and a great idea popped into my head. And as we walked past, I opened the slot and slipped the letter inside, real casual, still talking to Claire as I did it, like the whole thing was no big deal and I was mailing a phone bill for my mom or something.
She thought it was freaking hilarious. SCORE. I ended up walking her all the way to her house, like ten blocks, by which time I’d found out a ton of stuff about her, including that we both think Mr. Larrapin is a toolbox, both like the same cheesy nineties action movies, and both are worried that Earth Science is going to keep us off honor roll. In other words, we have EVERYTHING in common and are basically soul mates. I didn’t exactly ask her out, but I totally could have. I barely noticed the six-mile walk home, and I certainly didn’t give any thought to mailing the letter, except to pat myself on the back for executing such a smooth move, one I’ll probably be telling our grandkids about someday in the distant future, after Claire and I get married and grow old together.
Philad. April 17, 1776
I received your letter of April 5 and found your Impudence to be repugnant and provoking. That a young man bereft of even the most basic knowledge as to what year this is should address a Founding Father, statesman, inventor, printer, author, politician, scientist, musician, philosopher, and creator of the Very postal system that delivered your rather vile missive infused me with a disdain reminiscent of that I directed at King George III after his issuance of the Stamp Act.
Therefore, in my fervent desire to terminate this correspondence with swift dispatch, I conclude with the bold proclamation that I have earned the right to merrily capitalize whichever letters I please and that it is My most modest assumption That a scamp such as yourself would experience overwhelming difficulty negotiating even life’s most rudimentary situations no matter what your first name Was.