Roxane Gay, Mar 31, 2009
Gérard spends his days thinking about the many reasons he hates America that include but are not limited to the
people, the weather, having to drive everywhere and having to go to school every day. He is fourteen. He hates
lots of things.
On the first day of school, as he and his classmates introduce themselves, Gérard stands, says his name, quickly
sits back down and stares at his desk, which he hates. “You have such an interesting accent,” the teacher coos.
“Where are you from?” He looks up. He is irritated. “I’m from Haiti,” he says. The teacher smiles widely. “Say
something in French.” Gérard complies. “Je te deteste,” he says. The teacher claps excitedly. She doesn’t speak
Word spreads through school quickly and soon, Gérard has a nickname. His classmates call him HBO. It is several
weeks until he understands what that means.
Gérard lives with his parents in a two-bedroom apartment. He shares his room with his sister and their cousin
Edy. They do not have cable television, but Edy, who has been in the States for several months longer than Gérard
lies and tells him that HBO is Home Box Office, a TV channel that shows Bruce Willis movies. Gérard hates that
they don’t have cable but loves Bruce Willis. He is proud of his nickname. When the kids at school call him HBO,
he replies, Yippee Kai Yay.
Gérard’s father does not shower every day because he has yet to become accustomed to indoor plumbing. Instead, he
performs his ablutions each morning at the bathroom sink and reserves the luxury of a shower for weekends.
Sometimes, Gérard sits on the edge of the bathtub and watches his father because it reminds him of home. He has
the routine memorized—his father splashes his armpits with water, then lathers with soap, then rinses, then draws
a damp washcloth across his chest, the back of his neck, behind his ears. His father excuses Gérard, and then
washes between his thighs. He finishes his routine by washing his face and brushing his teeth. Then he goes to
work. Back home, he was a journalist. In the States, he slices meat at a deli counter for eight hours a day and
pretends not to speak English fluently.
In the second month of school, Gérard finds a bag of cheap colognes in his locker. For HBO is written on the
front of the bag in large block letters. It is a strange gift, he thinks, and he hates the way the bag smells but
he takes it home. Edy rolls his eyes when Gérard shows his cousin his gift, but takes one of the bottles of
cologne. His girlfriend will enjoy it. “Those motherfuckers,” Edy says. He is far more skilled at cursing in
English. Then Edy explains what HBO means. Gérard clenches his fists. He decides that he hates each and every
motherfucker he goes to school with. The next morning, he applies cologne so liberally that it makes his
classmates’ eyes water.
When they call him HBO, he adds a little something extra to his Yippee Kai Yay.
Roxane Gay’s work appears or is forthcoming in Best American Erotica 2004, Word Riot, The Northville
Review, DOGZPLOT, and many others. She is the Associate Editor of PANK.