Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in my...


By Adam Mansbach

By Alan Zweibel

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Dear Mr. Franklin, First of all, let me just say that this Assignment is Stupid. You are Dead. Why am I writing a letter to Some dead guy I’ve never even met? This is the start to a most unlikely pen pal relationship between thirteen-year-old Franklin Isaac Saturday (Ike) and Benjamin Franklin. Before the fateful extra credit assignment that started it all, Ike’s life was pretty normal. He was avoiding the popularity contests of middle school, crushing hard on Clare Wanzandae and trying not roll his eyes at his stepfather, Dirk-the-Jerk’s lame jokes. But all that changes when, in a successful effort to make Claire Wanzandae laugh, Ike mails his homework assignment to Ben Franklin???and he writes back. Soon, things go awry. After Ike has an embarrassing moment of epic proportions in front of Claire involving a playground, non-alcoholic beer, and a lot of kettle corn, Ike decides he needs to find a way to win Claire back. With some help from his new friend, B-Fizzle, can Ike get the girl and make his mark in history?


April 5, 2015

Dear Mr. Franklin,

First of all, let me just say that this Assignment is Stupid. You are Dead. Why am I writing a letter to Some dead guy I’ve never even met? For an answer, you’d have to ask Mr. Larrapin, who is my seventh-grade History Teacher and what us Teenagers of the twenty-first century would call a Grade A doofusburger. He’s not even going to Read the letters. I could seal a two-for-one coupon for Little Caesars Pizza in this envelope, and as long as I spelled your name right and sealed it with Old-Timey Candle Wax, he would give me the Extra Credit.

I am Capitalizing Random Words to Make You Feel At Home in this letter because I have Noticed that that is what you did in your Day. I am not going to make the s’s look like f’s like you guys did, because That is just too Annoying. So tough Luck.

Before you get too Flattered that I am writing You, out of all the Historical Figures in History, let me point out that I am mainly Writing to say: Thanks a lot. Which is Sarcasm, because what I really mean is not Thanks for inventing electronic kites or the Post Office, but thanks for being such a Big-Shot Inventor and Diplomat and Guy Who Walked Around Philly Eating a Loaf of Bread for Some Reason that my dad decided, “Hey, Ben Franklin is awesome. I’m gonna Name my kid after him.”

Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad to You. Maybe you’re thinking, Benjamin is a Smashing Name for a Lad, or whatever. But my name isn’t Ben, you stringy-haired old Windbag. My name is Franklin. Which might be a decent name for a medium-sized dog, but let me tell you: it is a Terrible Name for a Person.

Franklin Isaac Saturday. That’s my name, if you can believe It. Maybe that would have flown in Colonial Times, but these days it is more than enough to Get you Beat Up, even if you are not also Small for your Age and Not Great at sports, which are some of my other Characteristics, though–don’t get me wrong–I’m not a klutz or anything. I don’t get picked Last in gym class like some Loser Kid in a Book. I get picked toward the End of the Middle, and I have Kissed two girls. Which sounds like a Typical Night for you, huh, Mr. Franklin? Word on the interwebs is that you were quite the Ladies’ Man in your Day. If you are surprised that a kid of the Future knows this type of dirt about you, well, I’m sorry to Break the News. You are lucky you’re Dead because these days a whole bunch of Cable News Shows would be camped out in front of your house, and you wouldn’t be able to Waddle around, stuffing your Face with Bread.

The only time anybody hears the Franklin part of my name is on the First Day of school, when the teachers Take attendance and use whatever name is on the List, and I try to say “I go by Ike” as fast as Possible. This year Especially, because instead of a grade school, where everybody knows each other Anyway, I am in Junior High, and Five-Sixths of the kids went to other grade schools, and we have now been Dumped All Together like ingredients in a Big Stew and Mixed Up. And somehow, while us dudes were still trying to Find our lockers, all the Girls got together and Figured Out, in like Seven Nanoseconds, which guys were going to be Popular in the New World of Thomas J. Harden Junior High. Basically what happened is that these three girls named Allie, Jennifer, and Melissa, who all came from different elementary schools but went to summer camp together or something, decided to have a party the second week of school at Allie’s house and only invite the guys they thought were “hot.” And so all the guys who were invited were like, “Duh, I guess these other ‘hot’ dudes are my new buddies.” And just like that, everything got all scrambled up, and certain guys who’d been friends since nursery school, like me and Ryan Demphill, were suddenly divided from each other because they were part of different groups—groups they didn’t even have any say in making up.

Do you believe that, Ben Franklin? I mean, would you stop hanging out with, say, John Hancock because some clique of girls you barely knew didn’t think he was cool? Would you tell him that you just don’t have as much in common anymore, because his idea of a Friday night is sitting at home watching Simpsons reruns with his little sister, and yours is playing spin the bottle in Alana Shoenfeld’s basement and French-kissing random eighth-grade girls?

I bet you wouldn’t. You guys never would have gotten the Constitution written if you’d let girls turn you into a bunch of idiots. You’d bring him along, wouldn’t you? You’d tell the girls, “John Hancock is my friend, and he’s cooler than any of you. Now, spin that freaking bottle like your life depends on it.” And then it would stop right in front of Claire Wanzandae, and John Hancock would smooch the heck out of her. And you’d be like, “Dang, Hancock, maybe YOU oughta be Ambassador to France, if you know what I mean.”

All right, Ben Franklin, that’s about all I’ve got to say. Enjoy being dead. At least you’re not in junior high.

Sincerely, your angry namesake,


P.S.–You’ll be glad to know that people still use a bunch of those little sayings you made up, like “A stitch in time saves nine.” Although nobody has any idea what they mean. That one, especially. I’m guessing you were drunk when you said that.

P.P.S.–That’s another thing, by the way: I have never been drunk. Me and Ryan chugged two wine coolers he stole from his sister Joanna last summer, but they just made me feel like I never wanted to taste artificial coconut flavoring ever again. According to Ryan, though, everybody gets drunk on Jungle Juice now and it’s rad. Jungle Juice is when you take little bits of liquor from all your parents’ bottles, so they don’t notice that any is gone, and mix them together. I said that sounded disgusting, and he grinned this kind of sideways grin and said, “Yeah, dude, but it makes the chicks lose control.” I told him he sounded like a slimeball, and he told me I didn’t know thing the first about girls, and I shut up because that’s true. But what do you think, BF? That’s pretty sleazy even by your standards, right?

I don’t usually dork out on school-related stuff, but it was 6:37 P.M. Saturday when I finished writing the letter, and my only other option was to ask my mom or Dirk the Jerk, my evil stepfather, for a ride to the Loews movie theater in Wynnewood so I could mill around in the lobby with Ryan and about sixteen hundred thousand other kids from my school and the other junior high in town.

You don’t actually see a movie. You just sort of hang out, maybe eating Twizzlers and staring at some group of girls you want to talk to but not talking to them. And they’re staring at you, too. Or at Ryan and his new bros, anyway. And they’re laughing too loud and standing in these posey kinds of ways to attract as much attention as possible, and you’re doing the same thing, only instead of the posiness it’s horsing around and punching each other in the arm and stuff like that. And everybody wants the same thing, to talk to each other, but instead you’ve got to go through this whole elaborate ritual, like you’re some weird species of bird from the Discovery Channel or whatever. Maybe there’s some point to it that guys like the guy Ryan is turning into understand. I know I don’t.

And meanwhile, the ushers and the box office guys are staring daggers at all of you because, duh, this is a movie theater—buy a ticket or get out. And eventually they do make you leave, but there’s nowhere to go and nobody’s parents are coming until ten, when the movie you’re supposedly seeing ends. So you just mill around outside, where they have these stone benches—actually, everybody is waiting for that because outside there’s less space, so your group might get mushed up against a group of girls, and then you can start talking to them kind of accidentally. Or maybe there will be a fight.

So that was if I wanted to go out. Meanwhile, my little sister, Carolyn, was trying to get me to play Chutes and Ladders with her, which is a rad way to spend Saturday night if you’re five, but pretty lame otherwise, which was why Dirk the Jerk and Mom had already told her, “Maybe later, sweetie.”

I figured I might as well make my letter look as good as possible, seeing as (a) I’d already taken the time to write it, and (b) I had nothing better to do. So I went into the yard and hunted around the bird feeder for a decent-sized feather to use as a quill, thinking I could do the address old-timey-style by breaking open a cheap pen and dipping the feather in ink. Dirk the Jerk has about a million pens because he’s a sales rep for a bunch of drug companies, and they make these really ugly ballpoints with the drugs’ names on them to give out to doctors—as if any doctor has ever been like, “Hmm, let’s see. Should I prescribe Xeyltronex to this guy? On one hand, the side effects include mild dizziness, violent diarrhea, eyeballs growing on your gums, and instantaneous death, but on the other hand, I did get this cool five-cent pen from the drug rep, who also happens to look exactly like a fat, bald version of Robert Downey Jr., so why not?”

Carolyn came into the yard with me. She kept saying “Here, Ikey,” and handing me these tiny little downy feathers, the kind that come out of a pillow when you whap somebody with it. And because five-year-olds get offended easily, I had to keep being like “Wow, thanks!” and putting them in my pocket. Eventually it dawned on me that unless any eagles or hawks or other humongous birds of prey were swooping into our yard to eat some stale, month-old birdseed, I wasn’t going to find a quill-sized feather, so I gave up and went back inside.

That was when I had the idea to borrow one of Dirk the Jerk’s stamps instead, for the kind of bonus old-time authenticity that would make Mr. Larrapin dance a dance of sheer and historically accurate delight. A jig, maybe. The two of them would probably be best buds, actually: besides stamp collecting, Dirk the Jerk’s main fascination in life is genealogy. He’s always bragging about how his family has been in the country since Mayflower times, and showing me photocopies of letters from his hallowed innkeeping forbearer Josiah the Jerk, who supposedly knew everybody who was anybody back in Colonial Philadelphia. It’s as if he forgets that his ancestors are not my ancestors, which is what you would call extremely ironic, because unless he’s waving some piece of fake parchment under my nose, it’s not like Dirk the Jerk ever treats me like family. More like I’m some household pest he isn’t quite smart enough to get rid of. Although to me, he’s the household pest. Or actually, more like some tiny parasite, sitting on my mom’s back and slowly draining the fun out of her.

I told Carolyn to go make Mom and Dirk the Jerk play Go Fish with her, and then I snuck into their bedroom, where he keeps his main stamp book in the bottom drawer of a dresser. I lifted it out: this big dull-red leather-bound thing the size of a baseball base with AMERICAN PHILATELIST SOCIETY stamped on the cover in gold. Stamp dorks should really come up with a name for themselves that doesn’t sound so pervy. I creaked it open and started searching for something that looked old enough. I figured that if I was slick, I could just stick it to the envelope really carefully, like with double-sided tape or something, and after the Larrapinball Machine checked it out, I could put it back. No harm, no foul.

Then I remembered what Dirk the Jerk had done a few days earlier at dinner, when Mom was asking me about my day and I was telling her that Claire Wanzandae was my Earth Science lab partner, and that in junior high kids got together and formed study groups to prepare for tests, so maybe I’d occasionally need to go out on a school night, like to Claire’s house or something, on the night before a test.

Mom was in the middle of saying that seemed reasonable and asking me what we were studying in Earth Science, when Dirk the Jerk, who was drinking his third beer of the meal, which is about par for the course for him on a Wednesday night and which is one of the worst things about life with Dirk the Jerk, interrupted. He leaned forward with this weird, cockeyed leer on his face, and said, “Ohhh, yeah. Study group. Bom-chicka-bom-bom-bom.” And he made quotation marks around study group with his fingers and waggled his eyebrows up and down and tried to nudge my elbow with his, only I moved my elbow out of the way, so he just kind of lurched sideways for no apparent reason.

I felt myself turn bright red, and Mom said, “Dirk...” in her warning number one voice. Which is crazy, if you think about it. I mean, if you’re my mom and you’re using the same voice of authority on your husband as you are on your kids, shouldn’t that be like a giant whoa sign?

Dirk the Jerk said, “Claire Wanzandae,” stretching out all the syllables of her name so it sounded like “Wan...zan...dayyyy,” like he was a baseball announcer or something. Then he turned to Carolyn, who was just sitting there, eating her string beans, unaware of how lame her father was being because she’s just a sweet, innocent five-year-old, and said, “Hey, Car, I think your brother’s got a giiiirlfriend.”

Carolyn cocked her head toward him, confused, her pigtails wiggling, and Mom said, “Dirk...” in her warning number two voice. And I said, “Shut up, Dirk. You don’t know anything.” And then Mom said, “Ike...” in her warning number three voice, but I was already clearing my plate and walking out of the room, leaving Dirk the Jerk behind me to polish off the final swallow of the bottle and say, “Sheesh, I was only kidding around, sorr-ee,” and get up to grab himself another beer.

“Somebody’s sensitive,” I heard him mumble as I slammed the kitchen door. Dirk the Jerk was definitely either a bully or a kid who got bullied when he was my age; I can’t figure out which. But one way or the other, he picked up the tricks of the trade, especially the tactic of pretending everything you’ve ever done in your life is in the spirit of love and brotherhood right after you ice-pick a person in the heart with words.

I flipped through the stamp book, front to back, using my fingers to bookmark a couple of pages that seemed like they had really ancient ones. When I was satisfied I’d seen them all, I went back and peeled away the cellophane of the page I’d chosen and pressed my thumb against the stamp I wanted, and it came away.

I stared at it for a second, sitting there in my open palm, and thought about how old it was, how somebody had designed and made it a hundred years ago, or maybe two. How that person was dead and gone now, but maybe his great-great-grandkids were somewhere in the world. I thought about how this stamp had been made to go on an envelope but in all that time it had never achieved its purpose, never been used for the one single thing its maker had intended. Then I thought, Screw you, Dirk, you deserve it, and turned it over and gave it a big old, juicy lick and stuck it right onto the corner of the envelope.

Sometimes the cafeteria of life is sold out of everything but poopburgers. And sometimes the circumstances of the moment won’t allow you to say, “Oh, you know what? I’m actually not that hungry.” Sometimes you’ve got to step right up to the counter and order a double poopburger with a side of tater snots and a nice, tall glass of ice-cold badger vomit.

Guess what we did in history class that Monday as a big, fun surprise, seeing as almost everybody did the extra credit after getting smacked down by Larrapin’s first test, which was all essay and so long that nobody even finished it, and during which he spent the whole time pacing up and down the aisles like some kind of evil cyborg named Distractotron 4000, with a big smile on his face like the best thing in the whole world is watching a room full of kids get muscle cramps in their writing hands?

The answer is, we read our letters to famous historical figures out loud. Correction: Mr. Larrapin read them out loud.

Obviously there was no way I could let him read mine, since it called him an unflattering name and also contained personal information about myself and other people—especially Claire Wanzandae, who is also in Honors History and in fact sits directly in front of me, with her long, glossy black hair that smells like a combination of orange blossoms and gasoline, hanging over the back of her chair, so close that I could comb it for her.

But Mr. Larrapin, sneaky weasel that he is, began class by saying, “So, who did the extra-credit assignment?” and I raised my hand and put my letter on my desk, thinking he was just going to go around and check off names, the way he had when the extra credit was to make a blueprint of a British theater. A lot of the nerdier kids were pretty mad when he only took one nanosecond to look at each blueprint, when they’d probably spent all weekend hard at work with their slide rules or whatever. But the craftier kids, myself included, were like, “Aha, extra credit is a joke to Mr. Larrapin, even though it’s worth up to five points on your test grade.” Which was a much-needed chink in the armor of his class, because for the most part Mr. Larrapin grades like we’re a bunch of PhD candidates or something.

So anyway, he said, “Let’s read a few, shall we?” as if he’d just thought of it, and started walking down the first row of desks, which is mine. Claire handed him her letter, which I could see was written in her perfect, girly cursive and began with Dear Marie Antoinette and wasn’t in an envelope or anything. And then Mr. Larrapin was hovering over me.

“Franklin?” he said, and for a second I thought he was saying my name, and I wanted to punch him in the face. Then I saw that he was looking at the envelope, with BF’s name and the Philadelphia street address I’d found for him on the Internet written on it in smudgy, pseudo-old-timey, looped script.

“Interesting choice,” he said, holding out his hand.


  • "Famously funny, this book flies like Ben Franklin's kite, but into a nuclear reactor. Forget the lightning; kids' stuff!"—Ridley Pearson, New York Times best-selling author of The Kingdom Keepers series and Peter and the Starcatchers
  • "This is absolutely the funniest book about time-traveling mail and Benjamin Franklin that I have ever read. And I have read them all."—Dave Barry, New York Times Best-Selling author of The Worst Class Trip Ever

On Sale
Sep 4, 2015
Page Count
208 pages

Adam Mansbach

About the Author

An original Saturday Night Live writer, Alan Zweibel has won multiple Emmy and Writers Guild of America Awards for his work in television, which also includes It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Late Show With David Letterman, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. In the theater he collaborated with Billy Crystal on the Tony Award-winning play 700 Sundays, wrote the off-Broadway play Bunny Bunny: Gilda Radner: A Sort of Romantic Comedy which he adapted from his book, and his novel The Other Shulman won the 2006 Thurber Prize for American Humor.

Adam Mansbach is the author if the instant New York Times bestsellers Go the **** to Sleep and You Have to ******* Eat, as well as the novels Rage is Back, The Dead Run, Angry Black White Boy, and The End of the Jews, winner of the California Book Award. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, New York Times Book Review, Esquire, the Believer, and on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.

Together, Adam and Alan are also the authors of the first book in this series, Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in My . . .

Learn more about this author