Read Leon and the Spitting Image Online

Authors: Allen Kurzweil

Leon and the Spitting Image



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At first Leon couldn’t figure out what he was looking at. Once he had, he reared back slightly. The contents of the drawer confused him. And embarrassed him. And grossed him out. The dull gray tangle wasn’t as disgusting or fascinating as, say, teacher’s spit, but it came pretty close.

“Mr. Zeisel,” Miss Hagmeyer said.

Still puzzling over his discovery, Leon failed to hear his name.

“Mr. Zeisel!”
Miss Hagmeyer repeated more forcefully.


“Get your nose out of my PANTY HOSE!”

The Envelope

he night before the start of fourth grade, Leon Zeisel was on pins and needles. He lay in bed thinking about just one thing. An envelope.

Leon had first discovered the envelope one week earlier, while poking through his mom’s desk. The envelope had attracted his attention for a simple reason. His name was written across the front in thick block letters. For a brief moment he had thought the envelope might contain a special surprise—tickets to a Yankees–Red Sox doubleheader would have been sweet—but that dream disappeared as soon as he noticed the school seal and a single word stamped in blood-red ink:


That warning did the trick. Curious though he was, Leon shoved the unopened envelope back inside the desk.

But after a few days, curiosity turned into concern, and concern then turned into terror. Which was why, the night before school started, Leon slipped out of
bed and made a beeline back to his mom’s desk. Once there, he pulled the middle drawer halfway out. That released a catch on the slim side drawer.

Don’t rush, he told himself. Mom’s working late.

Leon squinched his eyes shut and clucked his tongue. Only after completing his good-luck routine did he remove the envelope, undo its clasp, lift the flap, and inspect the contents—three sheets of paper, each with the phrase HOME REPORT centered at the top. His fingers started shaking and his heart started thumping as it dawned on him that he was holding a top-secret history of his life at the Classical School.

Leon took a deep breath and began to read. Page one came from his first-grade teacher, Mrs. Sloat. She wrote: “Given the tragic loss of his father, it is not surprising that Leon is a tad delayed in the domain of manual dexterity.”

Leon sighed. He didn’t like being called delayed. And bringing in his dad—who had died in a freak accident at a fireworks factory when Leon was four—felt like a cheap shot.

He went back to Mrs. Sloat’s assessment: “Leon’s frustration most regularly expresses itself during craft time. He completed his macaroni necklace only with a great deal of assistance. And although a macaroni necklace might not seem important, it is. For here at the Classical School, our motto has always been, ‘Nimble fingers make for nimble minds.’”

Geez! How many times had he heard
stupid saying!

Leon recalled only one thing about Mrs. Sloat, and the memory wasn’t pleasant. He remembered her badgering him to stick his hands in Play-Doh and to
the squishiness. Leon hadn’t liked squishiness back in first grade, and he didn’t like squishiness now.

He turned to page two. It came from his second-grade teacher, Miss Toothacre. Her report was just as grim. Miss Toothacre wrote, “Leon continues to be hampered by a troubling lack of fine motor skills.”

That was another dumb thing he had heard a thousand times. Leon knew only too well that “lack of fine motor skills” had nothing to do with fancy cars. Teachers used the expression to avoid calling him a klutz.

The comment hurt. Suppose he was hampered; wasn’t that Miss Toothacre’s fault?
was the one cramming him into a bogus confidential report. Didn’t that make
the hamperer?

Leon wiped his nose on the sleeve of his pajamas and braced himself for the third-grade report. It was now Mr. Joost’s turn to get his licks in.

Mr. Joost wrote, “Leon’s handwriting is
below grade level, and he is challenged by even the most basic manual tasks, such as tying his laces. At
this juncture, I would seriously encourage corrective measures. One suggestion: Flute lessons might improve his finger movement.”

Leon had always wondered why his mother forced him to take music classes with Miss Brunelleschi. Now he knew.

The home reports felt like strikes one, two, and three. And that made it all the more odd that the only nice words in the whole secret history came from Skip Kasperitis, the former minor-league pitcher who taught PE.

Coach Kasperitis wrote, “Leon is a real treat and a very special kid. His coordination needs work, but there’s no question he’s a champ. And if he ever learns to master his passion, I’ll tell you this, Leon Zeisel is the kind of kid who could make magic.”

Trimore Towers

dog barked from somewhere upstairs. Leon glanced out the window. The lights on the convention-center sign snapped off. It was late. He tucked the three sheets of paper back into the envelope and tucked himself back into bed.

Some home report, he thought as he built a tent with his blankets. I could have done a better job myself.

That was certainly true. And what’s more, if Leon
written his own home report, he would have stuck to the assignment. There would have been no mention of macaroni necklaces, that’s for sure. He would have focused his home report on his
—Trimore Towers, a wedding cake-shaped six-tiered hotel his mother called “the finest one-star lodgings in the city.”

For a long time, Leon had assumed that the single gold star on the plaque near the key rack meant his hotel was tops. After all,
received a single gold star from Miss Brunelleschi only when he managed to make his flute do exactly what it was supposed to—and that didn’t happen too often.

Then his mom set him straight about the whole star system. “Adults like getting
of stars, sweetie,” she said. “They’re greedy that way.”

Leon didn’t care what grown-ups thought. He loved his hotel just as it was. Actually the lack of stars was a
thing, Leon decided. Because the Trimore wasn’t snazzy, it attracted guests that snootier hotels turned away.

establishments would never give a room to a seal act or a snake handler. The Trimore did. In fact, it was the only hotel in the city that had an ALL PETS WELCOME sign posted above the reception desk. On some days, the Trimore lobby resembled a petting zoo.

That didn’t make Maria, Leon’s favorite housekeeper, terribly happy, but over time, she had learned to take precautions. Along with her normal cleaning supplies, Maria relied on a highly effective product called Poop-B-Gone. Also, she kept the reception desk stocked with diapers in all different sizes. You never knew when a chimp or a llama might check in wearing a soiled nappy (or, worse, no nappy at all).

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