by Jerry Spinelli
A.H. (Archibald Hapwood) Brubaker, a.k.a. Archie
Archie, the neighborhood wise man and resident cool old guy, is a retired paleontologist. For those not in the know, that means that he studies fossils.
Well, no wonder his home is covered in bones. According to Leo, there are "bones in every room, every closet, on the back porch" (7.1). They're all trinkets he has collected on his paleontological digs. Some of the bones belong to him, and others he meant to send to a museum but kept instead. He justifies this by saying the bones would have sat in the museum's basement and would be much better appreciated at his house. Apparently, Archie is not too worried about sacrificing the rules for the greater good.
One bone in particular stands out: a 60-million-year-old rodent skull that Archie has named Barney. Barney acts as a bit of a teaching tool for Archie, and he uses it to explain concepts, ideas, and even life lessons to the many students that pay him visits. When the students are devastated by the basketball team's playoff loss, Archie uses Barney to show the kids that everyone loses in the end. It's just a part of life.
To be fair, Archie is a paleontologist, so of course there are tons of bones lying around. But there's a lot more to these bones than meets the eye, so head on over to our "Symbols" section for more.
The Teacher Teaches
Not only is Archie a retired paleontologist, but also a retired college professor. While that technically means he doesn't have to teach anymore, he just can't resist the opportunity to impart some wisdom to his visitors. In fact, he even has a class that meets on Saturdays. (Yep, these kids voluntarily go to class on the weekend, and they're not getting course credit for it either. Go figure.)
But his students don't limit their visits to Saturdays. They were welcome at Archie's anytime, and they seem to stop by endlessly. It's a good thing Archie says his school is, "everywhere and always in session" (7.6).
Perhaps Archie's most eager student is none other than our Leo. But Leo is more interested in Archie's life lessons than his fossils. After all, Leo needs Archie's help in figuring out what to do about Stargirl. And in true teacher fashion, Archie won't tell the kid what to do. He just asks him the perfect question, through Señor Saguaro, of course: "Whose affection do you value more, hers or the others'?"
That's the question, isn't it? In just a few words, Professor Archie has managed to sum up the entire conflict Leo experiences in the novel. Impressive, no?
Eccentric? Sure. But Wise, Too
If someone told us to close our eyes and imagine a wise, older gentleman-professor, we would probably imagine someone who looks a lot like Archie. He smokes a pipe, speaks in riddles, and is just quirky enough to always keep our interest.
When Leo comes to Archie with questions or concerns, he never gives him a straight answer. Instead, he says cryptic things like this comment, which he gives Leo after the boy asks for the scoop on Stargirl: "You'll know her more by your questions than by her answers. Keep looking at her long enough. One day you might see someone you know" (7.50). Um, what? Of course the more time passes, and the more Leo ponders, the less Archie's profound statements sound like nonsense. Funny how that happens.
All those riddles show just how quirky and eccentric our Archie is. Besides the fact that he decorates his house with bones, he also talks to a giant saguaro. Yep, the man communes with cacti, and he expects his visitors to do so, too. What's so great about this particular quirk is that it serves to emphasize—in a fun, clever way—one of Archie's favorite lessons: all things in nature are alive, and we are all connected to them.
Interpreter of Stargirl
Lucky for Leo (and for us), Archie is very familiar with Stargirl. In fact, she has been visiting his house for several years now. As it turns out, Stargirl's mom would bring her daughter over so that she could have another teacher when she was being homeschooled. That means Archie should have the inside scoop on our girl, right?
Right. But even Archie hasn't totally figured Stargirl out. While he is able to give Leo some basic facts about her background, and help him understand that she is, in fact, genuine, that's about all he has for our narrator. The fact that the oldest and wisest among them cannot really figure Stargirl out may make us wonder if it is possible to figure her out at all. In fact, it may make us wonder if we can figure out anyone completely.