Copyright © 2016 by Ann Finch
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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
“You’re not going to high school in the fall because you’re a Boy Scout?” Antonio frowned. “I don’t understand. Are you ashamed? I thought you liked being a Boy Scout?”
I took a deep breath. This was hard. “I let my Twitter account go inactive three years ago, I never use Instagram or Facebook…”
Antonio said, “So the problem is not that you’re a Boy Scout but that you’re weird.”
“On my honor, I will do my best,” I said, giving the three-finger salute as a hint.
Antonio looked over at his best and often hot-headed, emotional friend. He wasn’t getting it. “My parents think I’m a good son,” I said. “My teachers and scout leader think I’m a nice boy. The families that hire me to perform magic at their kids’ birthday parties would croak if they knew my nickname is The Weasel.”
“The Weasel! Who calls you that? The soccer coach? Because you’re quick at stealing the ball?” Antonio grinned. “High school with you will be fun.”
My best friend didn’t know certain things about me. I didn’t mince words. “I’m not on social media because I have a conflict in reputation,” I said. “I’m a magician poker-playing Boy Scout! The guys I play poker with call me The Weasel.”
Antonio’s grin disappeared. “Oh.”
We were walking on the bike path in Venice Beach, a coastal town in Los Angeles County, not far from the elementary school where Antonio and I had met. Normally when we’re together we never stop talking. We were both quiet. This is bad, I thought.
“There’s something else isn’t there?” asked Antonio.
“Could you help me? If you help me, I’ll give you my Grand Theft Auto V game.”
“What do I have to do?”
Of my three good friends Antonio is the techie. If anyone could help me, it would be him.
“I need to establish a real, yet fake, social media presence in the next few weeks so that I can appear normal when I try out for soccer and begin meeting new girls; but it can’t be me.”
Antonio’s jaw rotated like a cow chewing her cud. “Are you in trouble? Do you owe money? Do any of your poker friends have scars and brass knuckles?”
“No,” I said. “Take it down a notch, man. I want you to swear you won’t tell who I play poker with.”
“I swear on my smartphone.”
“It’s not recording?”
“Mr. Vitelli and his friends.”
Antonio’s expression was one of astonishment.
Mr. Vitelli owned Vitelli’s Bakery. The place was a food-lovers destination in West LA. My dad and I liked to go there at least once a month. We’d bring home bread and desserts for my mom and sisters. Just thinking about it made my mouth water. For years I had finished my morning run at Vitelli’s where, in exchange for helping to load bread into the delivery truck, I’d get a hot roll and a lesson in how-to-talk using hand gestures.
you’re not on social media?”
“Mr. Vitelli’s wife would kill him if she found out I’m The Weasel. She thinks I’m a
cigar-smoking old guy wearing a big, thick necklace and driving a black car with black windows. Four years ago Mr. Vitelli told me I could play cards with him and his friends but only if no-one found out. The authorities could arrest him and the publicity would kill his business. But how can I go to high school and not be on social media?” I gave him a hound dog look. “The soccer coach will go to Facebook to check who I am, and the girls need to see I’m popular.”
Antonio rubbed his hair. “I get it. You need to be Eddie Rose the magician Boy Scout but not Eddie Rose the poker playing magician Boy Scout. This is interesting. A new fake you.”
“Could be interesting.”
“What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking we can create a fast-talking ladies’ man. Or…,” Antonio’s eyes took on a sparkle, “…a quiet guy with a low-pitched voice, smart, confident.”
I stared at the sand for a full minute, thinking, like I do when playing cards. Antonio was blabbering about how technology gave kids the perfect flat screen to hide behind and now was my chance. Eighth grade was coming to an end. My new persona should be awesome.
After years of living undercover it felt strange to think I was coming out. Although I’m young, my private life was a carefully guarded secret and I had gotten used to being two-faced. If I won money at cards, or got a big tip because I flirted with the hostess at a kid’s birthday party, I had never told anyone. The money was kept hidden under a vine in the backyard.
Could I be on social media and still be The Weasel?
Back then, I had no idea what would actually happen. That social media would become more consuming than sports, video games or girls. That my tweets and posts and videos would come back to bite me, and that even as my life crumbled, as the emails and postings got stranger, they would grip and hold me more than anything else. I had no idea how stupid I was. How much I loved to be a warrior.
Everyone lies on social media. The bigger the secret the bigger the lie. I liked playing poker with Mr. Vitelli. And, to be honest, I like being known as The Weasel, the guy who drives a car with black windows. There was a voice in the back of my head, telling me if I wanted to perform in Las Vegas in the future then I’d better show power and independence.
“You think you could give me thick hair and deep-set eyes and a whiter smile?”
“The soccer coach won’t recognize you.”
“He’ll be looking at my feet not my face.”
“Okay, okay. You want to look pretty. I think the first thing to do is photoshop your picture, then create your story. What do you want to highlight in your bio? Soccer, baseball, chess, magic, cards? Lover of Italian food? Hate chores? Should I mention your family?
“No cards, no family! The rest is okay but it makes me sound…so plain,” I said. I wanted to be different, unique, unlike all the other posers; which is how I think of everyone on social media. “I want someone to see my picture, read my bio and instantly click. I want thousands of followers sending their cyber-love.”
There was an awkward pause while Antonio looked like he was trying hard not to throw me to the sand in a wrestling hold. “Let’s not,” he said. When I asked why, he touched his neck and looked embarrassed. “It’s a bad idea.”
“Why?” I said.
“Well, I’d have to become Vinny the Mole and live in a windowless one room walk-up over a Laundromat and pay my tuition with bitcoin—and join the black hat hacker club—ya’ know, the Internet creeps of the universe. I’d have to lie.”
I nodded. That was asking a lot of Antonio. He was a better Boy Scout than me, yet, he’d never been one. But in his defense, he was vicious on video games.
“So now what happens?” said Antonio.
I looked out at the blue-green Pacific Ocean. Antonio hated to lie. Lying didn’t bother me. How could I create an online persona that would let me be the polar opposite of a good Boy Scout: disobedient, unfriendly, irreverent? The Weasel scout.
To my east was Los Angeles and Hollywood; home of the finest animators in the world. I was young but illusionists think big. I’d been learning entry-level software to create CGIs. What if I could create a computer generated image, an animated person who looked like me? Add in virtual reality and the illusion would be complete.
My dad worked in Hollywood for a special effects studio that created CGIs for movies. What if one of the artists helped me? They would do it for me, Chris’s son. For a school project.
Today I was feeling bad boyish, like when I held a bad hand and needed to bluff. In Boy Scout jargon: unkind. In Weasel terms, I wanted to rattle Antonio’s calm composure.
“Forget about my social media. It’ll be easier if I go live with my aunt and uncle in northern California and go to high school there,” I said. “What’s on my Facebook page won’t matter as much.”
Antonio seemed stunned.
“You can’t be serious! You signed up for drama class to be near Eva, for Pete’s sake.”
I played along to see how long it would take before he caught on. “My parents were the ones who suggested it—going to school in a small town versus Los Angeles, helping my aunt and uncle in their restaurant, learning how to cook, preparing for a trade instead of college.”
“Your mom said this?”
“Besides, really bad things happen to people who upset Diamond and she’s jealous that I like Eva.” I loved being The Weasel.
“Eva has a mind of her own. She never got along with Diamond. It’s not over. Does your mother really want you to become a chef?”
“Okay, but you’re forgetting, all the girls, including Eva, like Ricky Chavez. And, yes, my mom would like it.” Mom calls me her sous-chef when we prepare dinner together.
Antonio nudged me with his elbow and tilted his head toward a girl on a skateboard.