We recently published Tom Weller’s searing “Rangers.”
Here, we ask him two questions about his story:
1) I love the Scrap Boys — in this story and all their stories. Do you have any particular boys in mind when you write these stories, or are they more “everyman” archetypes?
In the mid 1990s, I spent two years serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Chad. Occasionally, all the Peace Corps volunteers would be invited to social events at the American Embassy in Chad. Omnipresent at these events were a group of boys. They probably ranged in age between, maybe, eight and twelve. They had to have been brothers because they looked exactly alike, just some were slightly bigger and some were slightly smaller. There might have been three of them, or there could have been four. I could never keep track because they were always swirling through these events and popping up in weird places–leaping from behind couches, scurrying out from under pool tables and on and on. These kids picked up the nickname the Rat Boys.
Fast forward to about 2016. I was drafting a story about an old man who was mourning the loss of his lover. This heartbreak was complicated by the fact that the old man had lived next door to his lover, and now, his deceased lover’s house had been sold and the backyard was suddenly always full of this group of rowdy boys. I wanted the boys to operate more like a force of nature, rather than a number of secondary characters. I wanted them to be this weird whirling dervish of boyhood. When playing with this image, I remembered the Rat Boys from the Chadian embassy. Rats Boys became Scrap Boys, and soon the Scrap Boys took on a life of their own and became protagonists in their own series of flash stories.
In their current evolved state, I think of the Scrap Boys as every group of low-income kids left to their own devices during a long hot summer. The kids wrestling in the dirt in vacant lots, the kids always hanging out in the Dollar General and being way too loud, the kids riding three to a bike, that’s who the Scrap Boys are.
2) The ritual in this piece is almost destructive. Do you see it as a kind of deconstruction of masculinity? Or are the Scrap Boys just having a good time?
I think the Scrap Boys are having a good time in this story, but I also think they are confronting some things. I think they are experimenting with masculinity, trying on different elements they associate with masculinity and trying to imagine manhood. And while this is fun, it’s also scary. The Scrap Boys are reaching the age where they are starting to recognize how their current economic and social standing stands to impact their future possibilities. So building the fire is fun, but, at the same time, that fire may be illuminating some things that the Scrap Boys would be more comfortable ignoring.