So, for the past week or so, I’ve had a really unpleasant case of sinusitis. I thought that reading Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing would ease my suffering, and boy, was right. To thank Judy Blume for her giving us this wonderful work, I was thinking of writing her another fan letter, but I’ve decided to just do a snarky recap of it, instead.
I seriously read the shit out of this book when I was younger.
Most of this story involves nine-year-old Peter Hatcher calmly and coolly dealing with situations that would make most adults throw a full-on temper tantrum. His two-year-old little brother, Farley (nicknamed Fudge) is basically demon-spawn sent to Earth to torture Peter and make his Mom talk in a baby voice.
What I remember most about this book is how annoying the adults were. It was like the children were the only rational characters in the room. Mr. and Mrs. Hatcher’s parenting skills are pretty questionable. For example, when Fudge goes through that whole refusing-to-eat stage that most kids go through (I never did, but that may be why I was kind of overweight until my teens–it was very Judy Blume) Mom starts first by begging Fudge to eat, and then, what that doesn’t work, Mrs. Hatcher gets the brilliant idea to get Peter to stand on his head to make Fudge eat, which works for a little while, but after about a day or so, Peter totally calls “Shenanigans!” on the whole situation because standing on your head on a hard kitchen floor is pretty unpleasant.
But the next morning I put my foot down. “No! I don’t want to stand on my ead in the kitchen. Or anywhere else!” I added, “And if I don’t hurry I’ll be late for school.”
“Don’t you care if your brother starves?”
“No!” I told her.
“Peter! What an awful thing to say.”
“Oh… he’lll eat when he gets hungry. Why don’t you just leave him alone!”
True dat, Peter. After unsuccessfully attempting to guilt-trip her eldest son, Mrs. Hatcher decides that letting Fudge pretend to be the family dog, who eats on the floor and hangs out under the table during meal-times, is the best way to get her youngest to eat. Um, ok.
But, eventually, even that won’t work. While Peter has been continuously saying that Fudge will eat eventually when he’s hungry, Mrs. Hatcher is a stupid bitch who is over-indulgent to a fault with her youngest while totally ignoring her intelligent older child. One day, Fudge is being a dick and finally Mr. Hatcher steps in:
“Eat your cereal!” my father said.
“NO! NO EAT CEREAL!” Fudge yelled.
My father was really mad. His face turned bright red. He said, “Fudge, you will eat that cereal or you will wear it!”
… Fudge messed around with his cereal for a minute. Then he looked at my father and said, “NO EAT… NO EAT… NO EAT!”
My father wiped his mouth with his napkin, pushed back his chair, and got up rom the table. he picked up the bowl of cereal in one hand, and Fudge in the other. He carried both of them into the bathroom…
My father stood Fudge in the tub and dumped the whole bowl of cereal right over his head. Fudge screamed. He sure can scream loud.
…My mother wanted to go to him, but my father told her to stay where she was. He’d had enough of Fudge’s monkey business at meal times.
…The next day, Fduge sat at the table again. In his little red booster chair, where he belongs. He ate everything my mother put in front of him. “No more doggie,” he told us.
Word, Mr. Hatcher.
After this scene, I sort of felt some respect for him, despite the fact that pouring cereal on a kid’s head may or may not be considered child abuse these days (the book was first published in 1970s).
Whatever. I think Mr. Hatcher is cool. And, because he’s in advertising, I now imagine him as a kind of Don Draper type, because Draper would never take shit from a two-year-old. Let’s all stare at sexy-ass Jon Hamm for a minute, then resume our recap.
Anyway, after the “eat it or wear it” incident, Peter decides to hang out with his friend, Jimmy Fargo, in Central Park after school. They meet up with this girl named Sheila (who stars in Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great) who Peter thinks looks like an ape. Meanwhile, stupid-ass Mrs. Hatcher decides to take Fudge to the park but then leaves him with Peter and company. Because, yeah, leaving a 2-year-old in the care of a bunch of fourth-graders in a large, open space is always a good idea. Dumb-ass.
Nobody is surprised when Fudge wanders away and falls off some playground equipment, knocking his two front teeth out.
As expected, Mrs. Hatcher acts like a total cow about the whole thing.
My mother raised her voice. “I left your brother with you for ten minutes and just look at what happened. I’m disgusted with you!”
Youch! You know what, Mrs. Hatcher? I might just want to kick your ass.
The next morning my mother came into my room and sat on my bed… “Peter, I said some things yesterday that I didn’t really mean.”
I looked at her. “Honest?” I asked.
“yes… you see… I was very upset over Fudge’s accident and I had to blame somebody. So I picked on you.”
Um, what? You HAD to take it out on someone? Learn some impulse control, lady. How is it possible that nine-year-old boy is more mature than you are? Skank.
Ugh. And then there’s this birthday party for Fudge where he invites all the other crazy three-to-four-year-olds in the building. Here’s the cast of characters:
- There’s fat Ralph, who “grunts and grabs a lot… usually his mouth is stuffed full of something.”
- Jennie, who loves to bite people, though her mother assures Mrs. Hatcher that “you don’t have to worry about it unless her teeth go through the skin. Otherwise it’s perfectly safe.” Umm, sure.
- And then Sam, who is “going through a stage” where every little thing scares the crap out of him.
So now you’ve got Fudge and these three little freaks all in the same room together–sounds like a day in hell to me. During the party, Grandma and Peter heroically wrangle the children and Mom does basically nothing, though I would almost really prefer that now that we’ve established what a bitch she is.
Peter shows the kids his turtle, Dribble, and Jennie the Psycho gets to work.
“Does he make?” Jennie asked.
“Make?” I said.
“Make a tinkle?”
“Oh, that. Well, sure. I guess so.”
Jennie laughed. So did Sam and Fudge.
“I make tinkles, too. Want to see?” Jennie asked.
“No,” I said.
…Jennie had a big smile on her face. Next thing I knew, there was a puddle on the rug.
WTF? I don’t have any kids of my own and my nephew is only about a year old now, so I don’t have a lot of first-hand experience with kids at this age but… Yuck. Is this normal behavior? It sounds really weird to me. Someone should check and see whether or not Jennie needs an exorcism.
A few days later, Mrs. Hatcher runs some errands with Peter and Fudge. When they arrive at the dentist, the nurse basically ignores Peter and creams her jeans over Fudge.
As soon as the nurse saw Fudge she said, “how’s my favorite patient?” She gave him a big hug and a book to read. To me, she said, “Good morning, Peter.”
Nurse-lady, I might just want to kick your ass, too. You and Mrs. Hatcher are so on my list.
After the dentist, Mrs. Hatcher takes the boys shoe shopping and (surprise) Fudge is complete asshole. He refuses to put his new shoes on and screams so loudly everyone turns to stare at them.
“No shoes!” Fudge said. He started kicking his feet.
“Don’t be silly, Fudgie! You need new shoes,” my mother told him.
“NO! NO! NO!” he hollered.
Jesus Christ. What is wrong with this kid? My one-year-old nephew is better behaved than this little demon. Just saying. Somehow, Fudge gets a balloon out of this entire ordeal, which doesn’t make much sense to me, but whatever.
After wrangling the shoe situation, Peter, Fudge, and Mom all go to lunch at Hamburger Heaven, where Fudge acts like a bastard yet again.
Fudge didn’t say anything. He just stuck his fork into his balloon. It popped and he screamed. “All gone! Want more balloon! MORE.”
“Shut up!” I told him. “Can’t you ever act human?”
“That’s enough, Peter!” my mother said.
She should have slugged him. That would teach that brother of mine how to behave in Hamburger Heaven!
The only bright spot in this book is when Mrs. Hatcher leaves town for a few days to meet her sister’s new baby. Mr. Hatcher takes care of the kids.
One day, Mr. Hatcher takes Peter and Fudge to his ad agency (which is eerily like an episode of Mad Men). They are holding auditions for the new Toddle-Bike commercial, and the president of the company takes one look at Fudge and decideds he’s perfect.
Knowing that lots of people are depending on him now, Fudge decides to start acting like a rude little monkey again. When the camera begins rolling, he refuses to ride the Toddle-Bike, so Mr. Hatcher asks Peter to show Fudge how it’s done.
I walked over to Fudge and told him I was going to ride the Toddle-Bike. “Get off,” I said.
Fudge held onto the bike. “No… mine!”
“It’s not yours,” my father told him.
But Fudge wouldn’t move for anything. He closed his eyes and screamed. Can he scream loud when he tries!
So my father had to pull him off the Toddle-Bike. Fudge kicked and kept screaming and I’ll bet Mr. Vincnet was sorry that he ever spotted my brother in the first place.
Way to lay down the law, Mr. Hatcher. Your dumb wife would be busy trying to bargain with Fudge and, 50 pages later, we’d still be filming this fucking commercial.
After watching Peter, Fudge finally rides the damn bike and they can finish up with the commercial. After that, Mom comes back to town and everything is back to normal until Fudge sneaks into Peter’s room and swallows Dribble.
Yes, he actually eats Peter’s turtle. I have no idea how that’s even possible.
Fudge is rushed to the emergency room and spends a few days in the hospital. Everyone is all worried and shit, except for Peter who is grieving the loss of his pet.
It all turns out all right, though, since Peter gets a pet that Fudge won’t be able to swallow whole–a puppy!
I named him Turtle… to remind me.
A fitting tribute if there ever was one, Peter.
I guess the moral of the story is: maybe doctors should think about prescribing Ritalin at younger ages. Or something like that.