The Big Hunger

By John Fante

Harper Collins Publishers

Copyright © 2003 John Fante
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1574231219

Chapter One

Horselaugh on Dibber Lannon

Dibber Lannon has a big brother. His name is Pat Lannon. Dibber told me his brother Pat was going to be a pope some day. Well, Dibber sure got fooled. Dibber said Pat would be the greatest pope in the world, even greater than Pope Pius. Horselaugh on Dibber Lannon!

This is why:

Pat Lannon was an eighth grader when me and Dibber were third graders. I remember him. Some big brother! Fooey! He was a snitch-baby, that's what he was. He was the champ snitcher of this school, and he still holds the record. Dibber doesn't know this. How could he? He was Pat's little brother, and how could a little brother know his big brother was a snitch? Who will tell him about it? Nobody. Well, horselaugh on Dibber Lannon.

I heard some of the old guys from this school talking about Pat Lannon. They knew plenty. They told about the time they went to Manual Training but didn't go to Manual Training, but played hooky instead. Everybody but Pat Lannon. He was too good to play hooky. What did he do? He got Mr. Simmons and brought him to the trestle bridge.The guys were under it smoking. Mr. Simmons flunked everybody but Pat Lannon. And that's the kind of brother Dibber Lannon's got. And he's the same brother Dibber said would be pope.

When Pat Lannon went to our school I was only a third grader. He was an eighth grader. But I remember him. He was a very screwy guy. He looked nuts. He wore glasses. His eyes wiggled. He looked at something, and his eyes went all over. He wore sandals. Some big brother! The old guys said that when Pat was in the first grade he even wore bangs! And he was going to be pope! Ho ho.

Every year our school gives a play. I remember when Pat Lannon was in the plays. The plays are never any good. I mean, they are very lousy. The sisters write them. They aren't even plays. They are pageants. They are very goofy things. They don't have any action, nobody gets killed, and nobody ever says anything funny. The girls are not allowed to act in them. The boys dress in robes made out of sheets. It is all very crazy. Everybody has a bum part. Like one guy will be Sin. The next guy will be Purity. The next will be Faith.

The next will be Mercy. This goes on for a long time. The whole thing is done in holy-talk, like Jesus.

Sin comes out. He says something in holy-talk. Then Faith comes out. He says, "Hail ye! For I am Faith! I cometh with a message!" Then out comes Hope. He tells the people who he is and what he does. And the next guy is Charity, or Humility, or something just as goofy. They all come out to the middle of the stage and wait. And for what? For Love! And who was Love? Pat Lannon! Every time! He came out and hollered, "Hail ye! For I am Love! I bringeth peace on earth, good will to men!"The people out front thought that was just too wonderful for words. They clapped and clapped. Some pope!

Pat Lannon had a big suck with the sisters. He had a bicycle. He ran errands for them. He stayed until night, doing things. He cleaned erasers and washed blackboards. He even corrected papers. The old guys told him they would punch him in the nose if he flunked them. But he had to flunk a few to make it look right. And what did he do? He flunked the girls. And why? Because they were the only kids in this school he could lick! And Dibber said he was going to be pope! Horselaugh!

Russell Meskimen was one of the old guys. He used to let the air out of Pat's tires. Once Russell had to stay after school for writing dirty words on the sidewalk. Sister Cletus was his teacher. She promised to let him go home if he would run an errand. Russell thought he was getting off easy, so he said sure.

But there was a hitch to it.

Sister Cletus said, "Go down to Gales' and buy twenty rolls of toilet paper, and have them charged to the Sisters of Charity.

Oh oh. That was a tough one.

But Russell couldn't say no. So he said yes. He didn't want to do it. Gales' is right in the middle of town. What would all those people think? One or two rolls didn't matter-but twenty! And for the sisters too! You know how people are. Gosh-they laugh right in your face for hardly anything. Russell went to get his bicycle.

At the bike rack he saw Pat Lannon.

"Hey Pat," Russell said. "How would you like me to promise not to let the air out of your tires anymore?"

"That sure would be wonderful," Pat said.

"If you'll go downtown for me, I'll promise," Russell said.

So Pat Lannon went down to Gales'. He didn't think anything of it. He went right in and ordered twenty rolls. And he's the guy who Dibber said would be pope! What a pope! Twenty rolls, too! When he got back Russell took the rolls and brought them to Sister Cletus. On his way out, Russell saw Pat's bike in the rack. He started to figure. He figured, if a guy is as dumb as all that, he doesn't need air in his tires. So he let the air out anyhow. Which proves something.

Bob Armstrong is another old guy. He and Pat were partners on the altar boys. They served Mass together. . .


Excerpted from The Big Hungerby John Fante Copyright © 2003 by John Fante
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.