“Things We Worried About When I Was Ten”
by David Rabe
from the February 3, 2020 issue of The New Yorker

I‘m glad to see David Rabe back in the pages of The New Yorker. Last summer, the magazine published his New Yorker debut, though he’d been writing for fifty years, albeit mostly for the theater and for film. That story was “Uncle Jim Called,” and you can read the commentary here.

I remember “Uncle Jim Called” as being very much like a play, with an emphasis on dialogue. I’m just getting back from holiday so I haven’t read it yet, but a skim of the first bit suggests this one is quite different. Here’s the first paragraph:

High on the list was trying not to have the older boys decide to de-pants you and then run your pants up the flagpole, leaving you in your underwear, and maybe bloodied if you’d struggled—not that it helped, because they were bigger and stronger—and your pants flapping way up against the sky over the schoolyard. They mostly did this to Freddy Bird—nobody knew why, but it happened a lot. It was best to get away from him when they started to get into that mood—their let’s-de-pants-somebody mood. Oh, there’s Freddy Bird. You could see them thinking it. You had to slip sideways, not in an obvious way but as if you were drifting for no real reason, or maybe the wind was shoving you and you weren’t really paying attention, and, most important, you did not want to meet eyes with them, not one of them. Because they could change their mind in a flash if they noticed you, as they would if you met their eyes, and then they’d think, Oh, look, there’s Danny Matz, let’s de-pants him, and before you knew it you’d be trying to get your pants down from high up on the flagpole while everybody laughed, especially Freddy Bird.

That last phrase really deepens this already nicely rendered scene.

Anyway, sorry for posting this later than usual! I hope you’re all having a lovely close to January, and I look forward to hearing from you about “Things We Worried About When I Was Ten.”

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