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Sammy Keyes and the Art Of Deception


March is windy in Santa Martina. And my theory is, it does something wicked to the air. Maybe it whooshes up devil dust and pixie pollen, I don't know. What I do know is, if you're a quiet, in-your-seat-when-you're-supposed-to-be kind of person in February, by the middle of March you'll be antsy. Hyper. Like all you want is to get outside and tear it up in nature's big gust bowl.

Which I guess is why I wasn't completely flattened when Marissa charged me out of nowhere between classes, practically swung around my neck, and cried, "Guess what!"

It's the kind of thing you learn to expect in the middle of March.

So I just hitched my backpack back on my shoulder and said, "What?"

"Danny wants to meet me at the Faire!" she says, whirling around with her arms spread wide.

"The Renaissance Faire?" I ask her, because Ms. Pilson's been talking it up all week in English class, saying it'll "tune our tympanic membranes" for some play her Drama Club is putting on next week.

Hop-hop, hippity-hop Marissa goes, like a manic March hare. "Yeah! Can you believe it? Can you even believe it?"

Well, no, I couldn't. Danny's one of those cool dudes, you know? The kind who walks cool and talks cool and even puts his jacket on cool. And since Marissa's a sucker for guys who put their jackets on cool, well, she's been sizzling for Danny Urbanski since elementary school. But since he's an eighth grader and we're only in seventh, I just figured it would never happen. Even if he did like Marissa. It would be too, you know, uncool to go out with a seventh grader.

I guess my eyebrows were stretched up pretty good, because Marissa giggles like you wouldn't believe, then runs off, saying, "Maybe Casey will ask you!"

I yell after her, "Shut up! He's Psycho-Heather's brother, remember?"

She just laughs over her shoulder and waves, and that's when I realize I'd yelled really loud. I mean, kids all around are looking at me, and I can tell--like lightning to a rod, this is going to find its way back to Heather.

I hurried off to class thinking, when, when am I ever going to learn to watch what I say? Especially at school, where gossip is king, and Heather Acosta is queen.

At least that's what she's angling for. Right now she's more like the evil step-princess or something, wearing her crown jewels all up and down her earlobes. But there's no doubt about it--that girl wants to reign supreme.

Anyhow, I blasted over to art class, and the minute I blew through the door, I could tell that our teacher Miss Kuzkowski had been outside, mixing it up with nature.

Now, Miss Kuzkowski is not real tidy looking to begin with. I think her hands are permanently stained with paint--especially her cuticles and under her nails. And even though she wears a smock and a beret when she's showing off, mixing up colors on her fancy wooden palette, she still manages to get paint in her hair and on her clothes, too.

But today she looked even messier than usual. Her hair was ratted around everywhere and falling over one eye--it was wild! She was all out of breath, too, rosy-cheeked and smiling. "Hi, guys!" she says when the tardy bell rings. "Glorious day, isn't it?"

Everyone peels off their backpacks and sort of eyes each other.

She notices some green paint on the heel of her hand and starts rubbing it away as she says, "Guys, I've been thinking . . ."

Half the class groans, because we know that when Miss Kuzkowski thinks, the rest of us suffer.

"Hang on! You're going to like what I have to say." She gives up on the paint and straightens her posture. Her hair, though, is still totally shock-waved. "I do think our section on art history was a good idea, only I've decided you're bored by it because you're not experiencing it. You don't feel it, ergo, you don't get it."

No one argued with that. For days she'd been putting us to sleep with endless names of painters and their different styles. You know--Gothic and Renaissance and neoclassicism and impressionism and post-impressionism and who-knows-what-else-ism. It was worse than regular history with Mr. Holgartner, and that's saying something.

It was also the opposite of what I'd wanted when I'd signed up for art. I was looking for a class where I could do something, not just sit like a brick, taking notes.

Anyway, Miss Kuzkowski's up front, pacing away, saying, "So I've decided . . . I've got to give you an assignment that will make you experience art. Feel art." She whips the hair out of her eyes, then clamps on to her podium with both hands and says, "Talking about art is like talking about the weather. What makes it come alive is actually experiencing it."

Tony Rozwell interrupts her with, "Does that mean we're finally gonna get a new project?"

"Yes," she says, shooting a finger up in the air. "But first I want you to walk with art, be with art, listen to your heart and spend time feeling art."

"Are you talking like at a gallery or something?" Emma Links next to me asks.

"Yes! Now, I know Santa Martina doesn't exactly have a fine art museum, but there is a gallery, and there just so happens to be an artist reception at--"


It was the loudest burp I'd ever heard. I swear the windows shook. Snap went twenty-seven heads. Gasp went twenty-seven mouths. And when we spotted little Trinity Jackson at the back table with her hand over her mouth and her cheeks on fire, twenty-seven kids all busted up.

Miss Kuzkowski stares at us a minute as we try to quit laughing, then she closes her eyes, shakes her head, and says, "Scratch that idea."

"Scratch what idea, Miz K?" Tony asks her.

"Never mind," she grumbles. "I don't need you embarrassing me in front of people I admire." Then she takes a big breath, and it's like she's putting the winds of March right back in her sails. "My other idea is probably much more in keeping with your level of appreciation anyway."

We all look at her like, Well?

"My other idea is that you should all go to the Renaissance Faire this weekend."

"The Renaissance Faire?" Matilda Grey asks.

"Yes!" She was definitely reinflating. She starts breezing around the room, saying, "Have you guys ever been? It's fabulous! The food, the atmosphere, the entertainment . . . you could have fun and learn about art."

"How art?" Emma asks her.

"There's an amazing amount of art, and the fabulous thing for you is, a lot of the artists are right there, in the booths! Think of the questions you could ask . . . think of the insight you could gain . . ."

"Think of the money you could lose," Tony says. "Last year it was like ten bucks to get in."

"Well, that's true," Miss Kuzkowski says. "So of course I can't make you go. But I would highly recommend it as a fun way to do your assignment."

We all look at her like, What assignment?

She smiles at us. A wicked, oh-it's-so-much-fun-to-torture-you smile. "Go to the Faire or check out a gallery. Choose an artist and either research them or interview them. Your marks will be higher for an interview with details about their process. Classify the art, then tell me how it affects you and why you like it or don't like it."

Tony interrupts again with, "Does it have to be a painting? What about all that clay stuff or those wooden jobbies-do those count?"

"Aha!" she says, smiling wickeder than ever. "Jolly good point!"

Jolly good point? We were in some sticky deep doonow.

"What is art? That's the other thing I want you to for me-define art. I want your definition of art. Is photography art? Are crafts art? Why? Why not? Give me y thoughts and definitions, and be prepared to defend in front of a panel of your peers."

This was going from bad to worse in a hurry. An could tell-she hadn't thought this out, she was just winging it! Demon dust was stuck in her lungs and it was making her zoom around, faster and faster, while she more and more things to the assignment. By the class, I felt like I'd been through Hurricane Kuzkowski.

When I met up with Marissa at the bike racks school, she was still flying high, too. Only she wasn’t swooping around wildly like Miss Kuzkowski had been. No, she was floating on cloud nine.

Danny, Danny, Danny. That's all she could talk about. And yeah, Danny's cute, but he's not that cute. And who cares if he's got a blue backpack some days and a brown one other days? What's it matter? I tried to tell her about Miss Kuzkowski and her wicked assignment, but she only tuned in to one thing-Danny, Danny, Danny. The walk over to the mall never seemed so long.

So I was relieved when she didn't even mention going inside the mall to play video games like she always does. We crossed Broadway, and when I turned off to go to the Senior Highrise, where I live with my grams, she just waved and zoomed off on her bike, calling, "Bye!" For the first time ever, I was glad to see her go.

Now, I did start for home, but then I plopped down on one of the mall benches and just sat there, thinking. And the more I thought, the more upset I got. I mean, Marissa has been my best friend since the third grade, and even though she's been zany about Danny Urbanski for years, she's always been able to talk about stuff besides Danny Urbanski. Like softball and what's happening at school and what we're going to do on the weekend. And even though it had only been one afternoon, I could already tell-Danny Urbanski was going to start dominating conversations. More than Heather Acosta ever had.

And it's not like I felt jealous because she was meeting a guy at the Faire and I wasn't. I mean, Marissa keeps telling me Casey likes me, but that whole situation is too weird. Sure, he seems really nice, and he has stuck up for me around his sister-even put his neck out for me in a big way-but I don't know. It's like he's playing some complicated game with me and I'm not sure what the rules are. For instance, he still has my skateboard. That's a long story, but the bottom line is, I can have it back any time-I just have to "ask nice." Or go over to his house and get it.

See? Is that stupid, or what? It's my skateboard. Why should I have to ask nice? Or go clear out to his dad's house in Sisquane? Maybe if he lived in town at his mom's I'd go. It's a whole lot closer.

Then again, Heather lives at his mom's, so probably not.

Anyway, the point is, why can't he just bring it school? It's a game, I tell you. A stupid game. And not playing. Period. And if that means I have to everywhere, well fine. That's what I'll do.

So, I guess I was feeling kinda lonely because after sitting on the bench for a while, I didn't go home. Instead I headed back into the wind, back along the mall, past the fire department and police station, over to Cypress Street. And before you know it I'm waving at my favorite guy in the whole wide world, calling, "Hiya, Hudson!" as I turn up his walkway.

"Sammy!" He swings his boots down from the porch railing and anchors his newspaper on the table with a brick. "How are you, my friend?"

All of a sudden I'm all choked up. I mean, I think of him as a friend-a great friend. But I'm thirteen and he’s seventy-two, and, well, sometimes I think I'm more trouble to him than anything. Like he's the river and I'm the bear, and I get to fish and drink and wash of bugs, all he gets is churned up and muddied.

So I'm just standing there in the middle of his walkway blinking away the sting in my eyes, when he asks me, "You okay, Samantha?"

"Yeah," I tell him. "I'm fine."

He studies me a minute, then says, "Come on up have a seat. I'll fetch us some cinnamon cake and tea." He smiles at me. "Sound good?"

Sounds great."

Hudson’s porch is the best. Nice and shady in the summertime, dry and woody smelling when it's raining. And in the wacky winds of March, it's like a quiet breezy harbor.

It's also a great place to think. Or watch the stars. Or just look at the world go by. To me, it's a maical spot. A place where even the most confusing things start to make sense.

A lot of that's thanks to Hudson, but the porch works an by itself, too. It's just an amazing place, and if you told me right now that I had to pick one place to spend the rest of my life, I'd say Hudson's porch.

Definitely Hudson's porch.

So when he came back out with a tray of cake and tea and said, "Okay, Sammy, what's got your feathers ruffled, huh?" I didn't even bother to make him coax it out of me. I jumped right in, telling him all about Marissa and Danny and the stupid Renaissance Faire and how I was afraid my best friend was turning into a boy-crazy bore.

And when I'm all done baring my soul about losing Marissa to the nefarious black hole of love, you know what he does?

He throws back his head and laughs.

"You're laughing at this?" I ask him. "It's like goodbye, Marissa-hello, Blather Brain."

"Blather Brain?" He shakes his head. "Aren't you being a little hard on her?"

"You should've heard her! She said his eyes sparkle like diamonds. His chin juts like granite." I lean in. "Hudson, she said his teeth are like little glaciers rising through a sea of minty freshness!" I stop right there and just 1ook at him. I mean, if he doesn't get it after hearing about the Sea of Minty Freshness, he's never going to get it.

"Hmmm," he says, then chuckles and takes a big of cake


"She's got it bad, Sammy."

"No kidding!"

He chewed for the longest time, then washed the down with some iced tea. "Just let her be infatuated Sammy."

"Well, it's not like I can stop her."

"That's true." He was quiet for a minute, then smiled at me. "Just try to be patient with her. Relationships this age don't last. Friendships do."

We were both quiet for a minute, and it's funny all of a sudden I felt better. A lot better. This blather-brain stuff was temporary. A phase. I'd just have to hang in there until she came back to earth. Besides, even though I'd never gone blather-brained on her, she had stuck by through some pretty tough spots. Some really tough spots.

"Feeling better?" Hudson asked.

I dug into my cake and nodded. "Thanks."

"So how's the rest of school going?"

"It was crazy! It's the wind, Hudson. I swear it's wind. Everyone's kinda wacky. Even the teachers! You should have seen Miss Kuzkowski today. She was … was wild."

"How so?"

So I told him all about her electric hair and her insane Wignment and how she's telling everyone they should go to the Renaissance Faire to look at art.

The Renaissance Fair? For art? Sammy, you'll see there is going to be ... how do I say this politely . . . B-grade, at best. You're not going to get any sense of true art at the Renaissance Faire." He shook his head and said, "I'm surprised she didn't encourage you to go to L'Artiste or the Vault or someplace like that."

"Never heard of them."

"They're local galleries, Sammy."

"The only gallery I've ever heard of is the one in the mall."

"That's not a gallery. That's mass-market junk."

"They have van Goghs and stuff there."

"Those are not van Goghs, Sammy."

"Yes, they are."

"They're reproductions."



His eyebrows are flying high, let me tell you. But before he can bend my ear about why van Goghs aren't van Goghs, I cut him off. "Well, she started to say something about some kind of artist reception, but then Trinity Jackson let out an earth-shaking burp, so she switched to talking about the Faire instead."

"A burp, huh?" Hudson yanked the Santa Martina Times from underneath the brick and started rustling through the Lifestyle section. "Was your classmate sent to the office?"

"For burping?"

He sighed, then shook his head and kept turning pages.

"I think I read that ... yes! Here it is!" He folded back the paper and stuck it in front of me. "I'll bet this is what your teacher was going to tell you about."

We both read the ad:

Join us at the Vault between 7:00 and 9:00 for an evening of celebration as we feature:

Diane Reijden, nationally acclaimed for her classically inspired oil-on-canvas portraits of the human spirit.

Austin Zuni and his vivid portrayal of Native Americans in the seductive colors of the American Southwest; & Tess Winters, Professor of Art and Expressionism trendsetter.

Admission is free.

Hudson slapped the paper with the back of his and said, "Forget the Faire. Forget the mall. I'm t you to see some real art."


"Go home, have some dinner, change your clothes and-"

"My clothes? Hudson, I'm not going if I have to dress up."

He frowned. "That attire is not appropriate for an artist reception."

"But Hudson-"

"Neither is burping, in case your teacher didn't that clear." He practically yanked me out of my seat.

"Meet me in front of your building at seven sharp. And tell your grandmother I'd love for her to join us, okay?"

"But Hudson…"

"No ifs, ands, or buts. This will be way better for your art education than the Renaissance Faire, believe me."

"I grabbed the rest of my cake and wolfed it down, then glugged some tea. And as I was jetting down his steps, I grinned at him over my shoulder and let out a burp that would have made Trinity Jackson proud.

Then I headed straight for home.

What I didn't know was that in about three hours we'd all be headed straight for trouble.

Excerpted from SAMMY KEYES AND THE ART OF DECEPTION © Copyright 2002 by Wendelin Van Draanen. Reprinted with permission by Knopf. All rights reserved.

Sammy Keyes and the Art Of Deception
by by Wendelin Van Draanen

  • hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0375811761
  • ISBN-13: 9780375811760