Study Guide

Punkzilla

Punkzilla Summary

Punkzilla begins with Jamie Wyckoff, a fourteen-year-old runaway, riding a Greyhound bus from Portland to Memphis the day after doing meth for the first time. He's on his way to visit his older brother Peter, a.k.a. P, a twenty-seven-year-old gay playwright who also fled their Cincinnati home to get away from their dad, a retired army dude they call the Major.

After Jamie got caught stealing a DVD player from a Service Merchandise store, the Major shipped him off to Buckner, a military school in Missouri. Buckner was as hellish as home, though—maybe even more so—and Jamie was a complete and utter failure as a cadet. Unable to master rifle drills and push-ups, Jamie ran away in the middle of the night and hitchhiked as far as he could go, which turned out to be Portland, Oregon.

Jamie sent P a letter from Washington House, the sketchy transient hotel where he landed. P wrote back to say he was dying of cancer and probably wouldn't make it another three months. He enclosed two hundred bucks and asked Jamie to buy a bus ticket and come to Memphis to say goodbye.

Jamie bought the ticket, but he only makes it as far as Idaho before getting jumped in a bus station men's room. When he comes to and realizes the bus left without him, he starts hitching again, ultimately traveling across the country with a number of shady characters, including an eight-year-old video game junkie, a woman who wants to believe he's her dead son, an obese man who smells like pee, a woman with a leaky eye, and a janitor with a penchant for young boys.

The two bright spots in Jamie's travels are Lewis, a transgender man who loves Salisbury steak and Scarlett Johansson, and Albertina, a teenage girl with lupus to whom he loses his virginity. Ultimately, he does a somewhat sketchy modeling gig and earns enough money to pay for another bus ticket.

When Jamie finally gets to Memphis, he's too late: P's in hospice care and never regains consciousness. Jamie sits on a hill and watches P's funeral from afar, managing to avoid the rest of the family. Jorge takes him in, and he vows to start a new life in Memphis, free of the Major, military school, and (hopefully) meth.

  • Chapter 1

    March 4, 2008

    • We begin with Jamie riding a Greyhound bus from Portland to Tennessee and writing a letter to his brother, P.
    • Things have been a little crazy in Portland, which is why it's taken Jamie so long to respond to P's letter.
    • Jamie's been living in a sketchy boardinghouse/long-term hotel joint called Washington House, where his roommate was his friend Branson; they did meth together last night.
    • Now he's cold and shivering and hungry, but the bus driver—a creepy guy wearing a plastic compression mask because he has some kind of facial infection—says they're not stopping until Idaho.
    • The other folks on the bus are sketchy, and Jamie wishes he had the iPod Fat Larkin gave him, but he gave it to Branson.
    • Jamie stole at least fifty iPods for Fat Larkin, who paid him twenty bucks every time he knocked out a jogger and swiped their MP3 player. It was pretty nice of Fat Larkin to let him keep one, huh?
    • The weird thing is that Jamie doesn't feel guilty about it, even though he bashed the people in the head with a heavy alarm clock to knock them out. He wonders if he had a fever as a baby that destroyed his conscience.
    • The iPod Fat Larkin let him keep had a bunch of good punk rock on it, which Jamie loved. Fat Larkin started calling him Punkzilla, and then all his other Portland buddies started calling him that, too.
    • The other way Jamie and Branson made money was by taking up a fake collection for a kidnapped girl named April Yon. (The girl was real, but they didn't give her family the cash.)
    • Jamie knows his parents back in Cincinnati would be really upset if they knew what he was up to. His mom's already upset because he went AWOL from Buckner, the military school in Missouri where they sent him after he stole a DVD player from Service Merchandise.
    • He tells P about Branson's girlfriend, Buck Tooth Jenny, another Washington House resident, whom he occasionally paid for a hand job when business was good. Branson was okay with it.
    • Buck Tooth Jenny's twenty-four, ten years older than Jamie, and her room was a little weird. She had shelves of baby doll heads, and she gave them names and called them her special friends. She also left Oreos beside the heads in case they got hungry.
    • Jamie spent Christmas Eve with Branson and Buck Tooth Jenny, and though it was depressing, it wasn't as depressing as Christmases back home—Jamie had to get stoned on Actifed just to survive those.
    • His mom is super unhappy because she's married to their dad, a retired military dude Jamie and P call the Major. He's a homophobic jerk who made P go spend the night in a hotel when P came out as gay. He likes their brother, Edward, though, because Edward does everything right.
    • On Christmas morning at Washington House, a woman named Black Betty set her fifth-floor room on fire when she fell asleep smoking. She died, and Jamie saw the paramedics carry her body out on a stretcher, but fortunately everyone else was okay.
    • Whenever Jamie closes his eyes, he can still see her charred face.
  • Chapter 2

    March 3, 2008

    • This one's a going-away letter Buck Tooth Jenny gave Jamie before he left.
    • It's seriously misspelled, but the gist is that Jenny wishes she could have given him a gift—she's broke, but if she weren't, she'd get him a nice towel or some vitamins.
    • Jenny hopes Jamie will write her when he gets to Memphis, where she's sure he'll find a sweetheart.
    • Someday, she says, Jamie will have a girl for whom he can buy chocolates and rice pudding, and he'll be as happy with her as Jenny is with Branson.
    • Branson cries sometimes, she says, and that's how she knows he has a soul of gold. She thinks Jamie has one, too.
    • She closes with a drawing of a puppy named Poprock, who she says will guard Jamie "with ferociousness."
  • Chapter 3

    March 4, 2008

    • Jamie apologizes for ending his last letter to P abruptly; he wants to tell him a little more about Branson.
    • So here's the deal: Jamie snooped in Branson's wallet and found his birth certificate. His real name is Evan Branson—no middle name, which Jamie thinks is weird—and he was born in Waldo, Ohio, even though he tells everyone he's from Philly.
    • Fat Larkin thinks Branson's just another lost white kid from Seattle, and jokes that Branson probably has a poster of the Space Needle over his bed.
    • Once Jamie and Branson were walking past the Portland Center Stage theater, and Branson walked up and slapped a rich guy in the face just to do it. Branson felt the guy needed to be taught a life lesson.
    • When Branson said goodbye to Jamie at the Greyhound station, Jamie wanted to call him Evan as a term of endearment, but they were both sick from meth, so it didn't seem like a good time.
    • Branson told Jamie to call when he got to Memphis, but Branson doesn't have a phone, so Jamie thinks that's a little weird. He knows they've probably seen each other for the last time.
    • He ends the letter to P saying he feels like he's going to be sick.
  • Chapter 4

    December 12, 2007

    • And now for P's letter to Jamie, which set this whole Greyhound voyage in motion.
    • P and his partner, Jorge, are living in an apartment complex in Memphis populated mostly by old people. They do have a fake Christmas tree, though, so they're attempting to be festive.
    • P knows Jamie has run away from Buckner, and he promises not to tell their mom—he understands what it's like to need to escape their parents.
    • He says Jamie probably doesn't have to worry about the Buckner people hunting for him. They've got their nonrefundable tuition money, so they can't be bothered. Jamie's free.
    • However, P does want to know what Jamie plans to do with his life. He's genuinely curious, and he wants Jamie to be happy.
    • And now for the bad news: P has cancer, and he's dying at the age of twenty-seven.
    • He wants Jamie to make a trip to visit him, and is enclosing two hundred bucks. He writes his number on the inside of the envelope and asks Jamie to call and tell him if that's possible.
    • Also, he's enclosing a copy of Jamie's last letter to him, just to remind Jamie how good a writer he is.
  • Chapter 5

    March 5, 2008

    • Jamie's been on the bus for a day, and he's finally starting to recover from his post-meth nausea.
    • He slept for a while and had a dream about Torris Stone, his roommate at Buckner, and a tough dude who could do more pushups than anyone.
    • As for Jamie, he was a less-than-stellar cadet. All the new boys were supposed to get their stripes before Christmas break, but he definitely wasn't going to get his, because he wasn't good at rifle drill.
    • Torris Stone was the only person who felt sorry for him and helped him practice. It didn't help, though.
    • Buckner was a firestorm of bullying. A Pakistani kid got bashed in the head in his sleep just for not being white. Yikes.
    • Jamie ran away in the middle of the night and hitchhiked, ultimately scoring a ride with a guy named Carson Block, who was headed to Vancouver and drove him all the way to Portland.
    • Regarding P's question about what he wants to do with his life, Jamie has no idea. When he was a kid, he thought he wanted to join the army like the Major, but now that's a big no.
    • Jamie knows only two things for sure: He's eventually going to learn to play guitar and start his own punk band, and he's not going back to Cincinnati—he's sick of how the Major verbally abused their mom.
    • What finally drove him to leave Buckner was the knowledge that his family was coming for parents' weekend, and that they were already disappointed in him, having gotten the news that his grades were bad and he couldn't do the rifle drills.
    • Before he met up with Carson Block, he got a short ride with a guy named Steve. Steve dropped him off at Pittsburg, Kansas at Pittsburg State University, where he scored a free meal in the dining hall and chatted with a girl named Margaret while he ate.
    • Mags told him he was beautiful in an androgynous kind of way and would probably appeal to both sexes, which enraged him. He didn't tell her that, though. He just asked her to lend him five bucks, which she did.
    • The next person to give him a ride was a guy named Alan Skymer, a uniformed meter reader who turned out to be bad news.
    • Long story short, Alan got a room at a Motel 6 and forced Jamie into accepting a blowjob.
    • After it was over, Jamie went out to sleep in the car. He considered bashing Alan's head in, and even went back to the room with his trusty alarm clock, but Alan woke up and his plan was foiled.
    • Alan dropped him off on the western edge of Kansas the next day; Jamie declined another night in a hotel.
    • Fortunately, this was where he met up with Carson, who was frighteningly obese, but a good guy.
    • Anyway, about that androgynous beauty thing: Jamie's really concerned about the fact that puberty hasn't hit him yet. People are always mistaking him for a girl, but he's not gay.
    • The bus driver makes an announcement that they're close to the stop in Idaho. Jamie's ready to get off the bus and eat something.
    • He can't believe P is dying, and begs him not to.
  • Chapter 6

    October 10, 2007

    • And now for a letter from Jamie's mom, received while he was still at Buckner.
    • It's your typical mom letter: She reminds him to take his ADD meds, then tells him some stuff from home, such as the weather is nice and his brother Edward got into the University of Chicago.
    • Edward also went on a date with a nice girl from the neighborhood. They went to see American Gangster, went golfing, and had cheesecake. Edward seems smitten.
    • She's been fixing up the basement.
    • They're coming for Parents Weekend, where she hopes to take a walk with him and "catch up one-on-one." She wants to know what Jamie has planned for his future, because that's a totally reasonable thing to expect a fourteen-year-old to know. (Not.)
    • She can't wait to see Jamie's short haircut.
    • She's attaching a picture of Edward and his father fishing. Can Jamie even believe the size of the fish?
  • Chapter 7

    October 17, 2007

    • Time for a decidedly less friendly letter from the Major.
    • He's upset with Jamie for not writing his mom back.
    • He's upset with Jamie for not doing well in rifle drill—Jamie needs to shape up and practice.
    • He, Jamie's mom, and Edward will be there for Parents Weekend, at which point he expects to hear that Jamie has indeed shaped up and practiced.
  • Chapter 8

    March 7, 2008

    • Jamie's latest letter comes to P from "the shittiest day of my life."
    • He's riding in the backseat of a Lincoln Continental driven by a man with braces; in the passenger seat is an old lady with a leaky eye.
    • Why is he no longer on the Greyhound, you ask? Because he got jumped in the bathroom during the rest stop in Caldwell, Idaho, and while he was knocked out, the bus left without him.
    • The guys who attacked him busted a beer bottle over his head and stole his wallet, Buckner gym bag, and turquoise belt buckle. His head is swollen and bleeding, and the guy driving the Lincoln keeps rolling down the window to keep him awake.
    • The only thing he has left is his notebook and the sixteen bucks he had stashed in his sock.
    • He used some of the money to buy Advil and a Coke at the bus station gift shop. The woman behind the counter said she hadn't seen his attackers.
    • When he sat down to drink his Coke, a redheaded eight-year-old boy named Sam was on the bench next to him eating a sandwich. Sam asked what happened, and Jamie told him. Sam gave Jamie his napkin to wipe away the blood.
    • Sam had been to McCall, Idaho to visit his cousin Larry and was now waiting for his mom to come pick him up. While he waited, he and Jamie had a conversation about Sam's skill at video games.
    • Sam's mom called and Sam told her about Jamie. He kept using the pronoun "she," which led Jamie to walk into the women's bathroom just to see if he could.
    • When he came out, Sam said his mom was willing to give Jamie a ride somewhere, and Jamie accepted.
    • In the car, Sam's mom suggested he come back to their house and stay in Sam's sister's room for the night, since the sister was away at school. She also asked if Jamie was pregnant.
    • When they stopped for gas and Sam and his mom went inside, Jamie swiped Sam's backpack and took off running. It was raining, and he took shelter in an old car in the middle of a cornfield.
    • He got paranoid, though, and imagined the guys who jumped him finding him just sitting there. He took off, ran through the cornfield, and made it to a highway, where the guy in the braces in the Lincoln Continental picked him up.
    • So now he's at least dry and moving and (relatively) safe, but his hand hurts, so he closes by asking if P is stumbling around and falling into coffee tables like this guy Jamie saw in a movie about AIDS.
    • Because AIDS and cancer are basically the same thing, right?
    • (Pro tip: The answer to that question is a giant no.)
  • Chapter 9

    August 28, 2007

    • Here's the letter Jamie received before shipping off to Buckner—it's a form letter addressed to "New Boy."
    • Patrick Karl is a fifth-year Buckner student, and he used to be happy with being "good enough," what with his 3.0 GPA and all.
    • Buckner, however, made him want to excel. He goes to chapel services and ponders how they relate to his life.
    • We're thinking he's really good at rifle drill.
    • After outlining his medals and achievements, Captain Karl assures New Boy that he'll love Buckner, too.
    • (Unless he's Jamie, in which case he'll run screaming.)
  • Chapter 10

    September 10, 2007

    • This is Jamie's letter to his mom two days after arrival at Buckner. He is (understandably) terrified.
    • He admits he's weaker than everyone else, both physically and mentally.
    • He also admits he was scared to get up and go to the bathroom because of Staff Sergeant Rebillard, the guy on duty, who poked him in the Adam's apple six times in two days.
    • And so he wet the bed. Bummer.
    • He begs to come home, saying he'll never smoke pot or screw up again.
    • Then he says there's no way he's going to send the letter; it will stay in his notebook forever.
  • Chapter 11

    September 25, 2007

    • Here's a letter from Jamie's brother Edward, sent after Jamie had been at Buckner for a month.
    • Basically, Edward's perfect. He's applied to the University of Chicago, Yale, and Carnegie Mellon for pre-med.
    • He's also joined the cross-country team and is on a no-cholesterol, high-protein diet. What does he eat? Oatmeal, almonds, salmon, and coconut milk.
    • Their mom's renovating the basement, so Jamie should expect her to put him to work when he comes home for Thanksgiving.
    • Edward wants Jamie to know that he never told their parents about some of the bad stuff Jamie did, like stealing the neighbor's birdbath and smoking weed in the garage.
    • However, he also doesn't approve of this behavior, and he hopes Jamie will get it together at Buckner instead of being a degenerate (read: homosexual) like P.
    • He ends the letter by telling Jamie not to break their parents' hearts.
  • Chapter 12

    March 8, 2008

    • Jamie's writing to P from a picnic table outside the Lakeside Motel, which is somewhere near Buffalo, Wyoming. Braces guy and leaky-eye lady dropped him off.
    • He didn't have the forty-two bucks for a room, so he hung out in the lobby talking to Erin, the girl behind the desk; her parents own the place.
    • Even though he went into the bathroom and washed himself up a bit, she told him he smelled like a homeless person. The fact that he was just hanging around added to the aura (of homelessness, not B.O.).
    • When Erin went to restock the candy machine, a guy came into the lobby to pay his bill. The guy, whose name was (is) Lewis, ended up giving Jamie a cigarette.
    • Lewis seemed gay, but was blowing smoke rings and being all macho, so Jamie was confused.
    • After asking Lewis if he was a pervert, being assured he wasn't, and deciding Lewis seemed pretty safe, Jamie went back to his room, where Lewis had been living for six months.
    • Lewis fed Jamie a couple of Salisbury steak television dinners (trust us, if you don't know what that is, you don't want to) and finally told Jamie he was trans and had had top surgery.
    • Consider Jamie's mind completely blown. Jamie proceeded to ask lots of inappropriate questions that contained the word titties.
    • After receiving a Trans 101 lesson, Jamie told Lewis about his gay brother. When he got to the part about how P was dying, he broke down sobbing and started punching himself in the face.
    • Fortunately, Lewis's pot dealer showed up about that time, and Lewis smoked Jamie up. Then he said Jamie could use his phone to give P a call.
    • Jamie closes the letter by telling P he's going to call later. After all, if Jamie were dying, he'd want P to call him.
  • Chapter 13

    October 18, 2007

    • Jamie's mom is begging for a letter. He hasn't sent her any missives from Buckner in a while.
    • Will he write? Will he call? Is he taking his ADD meds? She called the infirmary, and the nurse said he was, so that's good.
    • Just in case he wasn't already stressing about it enough, she reminds him that the whole family will see him on Parents Weekend.
  • Chapter 14

    October 21, 2007

    • The Major's three-paragraph letter consists of demands for Jamie to stop being insolent and call his mom.
    • They'll be there in a few days for Parents Weekend, and the Major trusts that Jamie will have gotten in touch by then.
  • Chapter 15

    March 12, 2008

    • Jamie has been trying to call P for days, but he gets a message saying P's phone has been disconnected.
    • Lewis gave him a shower and dinner and forty bucks, and he's hitched another ride. He's on his way to Memphis by way of Lisco, Nebraska, where this obese guy named Luther is taking him.
    • By convincing a woman behind the desk at a Best Western that his dad was on his way to pay for the room, Jamie scored a free night. He even raided the minibar.
    • The next morning, after sneaking out of the motel, he had breakfast at a restaurant called Country Kitchen, which he paid for with money from his sock.
    • While he was eating, a guy showed up and asked if Jamie was a model. Because, you see, this guy is totally a legit photographer, and he'll give Jamie a hundred bucks to model for him.
    • Jamie, being the daredevil he is, rode thirty miles east with the guy to his studio in the back of a locksmith's office.
    • You might be thinking Jamie's about to get serial-killed, but surprisingly, you're wrong. The guy really is a photographer, and he really does just take (clothed) pictures, and he really does give Jamie the money.
    • Nuts, right? We totally didn't see that ending well either… Whew.
    • After the photo shoot, Will (which is the guy's name) drove Jamie to Ogallala, Nebraska and dropped him off at a restaurant.
    • Jamie proceeded to drink the stolen minibar contents, and even though he's still far from Memphis and unsure where his next ride is coming from, he's feeling pretty good.
  • Chapter 16

    November 6, 2007

    • And now for a brief letter from Cornelia Zenkich, Jamie's longtime crush.
    • The gist of it: She's having a normal, decent life back in the neighborhood, and she hopes he's having a good one at Buckner.
    • Oh yeah, and she has one piece of news: She has a new boyfriend.
    • Who is it? Why, it's Jamie's brother, Edward.
    • Because of course.
  • Chapter 17

    October 24, 2007

    • Official memorandum from Buckner to Jamie:
    • Show up at Colonel Stoops's office Thursday at 8:00AM, and be prepared to discuss how much you stink at rifle drill.
    • Bring your gym clothes and training manual, and be prepared to practice.
  • Chapter 18

    September 18, 2007

    • This one's from Jamie's grandmother, Grandma Beauty. (Such a perfect grandma name, we think.)
    • It comes with a care package, which, against Jamie's mother's wishes, is full of sugary homemade things, plus a little cash.
    • She lives in Louisville, Kentucky, and she talks about the weather.
    • She knows Jamie has to go to church, and she hopes he'll remember to be a good Catholic.
    • For Thanksgiving, she's driving up to Cincinnati with Jamie's aunt Julie, and she hopes to see him.
  • Chapter 19

    March 15, 2008

    • Life, Jamie wants P to know, is "really really weird," but he's sure P knows that already.
    • Jamie's off his medication, which makes him feel a bit like he's on meth. He wishes he had his drugs, because he could use a little focus right now.
    • When he was at the rest stop, a big red convertible Chrysler LeBaron pulled up, and Jamie had a feeling the driver was going to be the next person to give him a ride. He was right.
    • This guy was roughly the Major's age, but he was cool, wearing jeans and a black t-shirt and Chuck Taylors.
    • After ascertaining that neither of them were serial killers, Jamie hopped into the LeBaron with the man, whose name was Kent.
    • Kent could tell Jamie had been drinking. Jamie spilled his life story.
    • They stopped at a Ponderosa Steakhouse outside Des Moines, and Kent asked Jamie if he wanted to ride with him across the rest of Iowa and Illinois. He might, Kent said, be able to take Jamie all the way to Memphis.
    • On their second day together, they stopped in a town called Grinnell and got haircuts; Jamie got the black dye chopped off.
    • In one of their long road-trip conversations about life, Kent told Jamie he was on a cross-country "thinking vacation."
    • The next night, they stopped in a motel in a town called Geneva, where Kent's ex-wife Marty came and met them for a fancy dinner. Kent even bought Jamie some decent clothes that afternoon while Jamie was taking a nap.
    • After dinner, Kent and Marty had a passionate goodnight kiss before Marty got into her Mercedes and drove away.
    • Back in the LeBaron, Kent asked Jamie if he wanted to learn to drive. He took him to a parking lot, taught him, and Jamie drove back to the motel.
    • And here's where stuff gets weird.
    • The next day, Kent went out, and Marty came to pick Jamie up, dressed all fancy and wearing perfume.
    • They went to a place called Santa's Village, where Marty proceeded to act strangely motherly, asking strangers to take pictures of her with Jamie and ruffling his hair and stuff.
    • Did we mention Kent and Marty lost a baby? Marty tells him they did. She's obviously a little off, and she wants to pretend Jamie's their kid, though she never comes right out and says it.
    • Jamie's freaked out and asks her to take him back to the motel and Kent. They have a confrontation in the car, which ends with him telling her he knows she left Kent for a rich guy.
    • He calls her a "skanky bitch," she slaps him, he punches her in the breast, and she leaves him on the side of the road.
    • Jamie walks back to the motel. Kent's not there, so Jamie waits outside. When Kent returns, Marty calls him and asks to talk to Jamie. She's apologetic, and he tells her he doesn't hate her and quickly gets off the phone.
    • Kent and Jamie hit the road again, stopping for the night at a Holiday Inn in Joliet. There, Kent's gorgeous daughter Albertina comes to visit.
    • Long story short: Albertina has lupus, but she's still hot. Kent leaves them alone in the room together and they lose their virginity to each other.
    • As they fall asleep, Jamie's pretty sure he's in love, but he's afraid to tell her.
    • The next morning, he wakes up to find Kent and Albertina gone. He doesn't know what happened, but thinks Kent might have seen the condom wrapper.
    • Albertina left her hairbrush behind, so Jamie took it, left the motel, and bought another Greyhound ticket.
    • Now he's really on his way to Memphis.
  • Chapter 20

    March 15, 2008

    • Four-line letter from Jamie to Albertina: He's in love with her.
    • He has her hairbrush.
    • Someday he'll find her address and send her both the brush and the letter.
  • Chapter 21

    March 22, 2008

    • Jamie's in Memphis.
    • And P is dead.
    • Excuse us for a moment; we seem to have something in our eye
    • When Jamie arrived, P was already unconscious, and the hospice nurses sat him down and explained that P's internal organs were failing.
    • Oh, and Jamie's fifteenth birthday happened, but he was so exhausted he slept through it.
    • Jamie found a stack of P's plays and was amazed to find that P had written eighteen of them.
    • P chose to be cremated, but there was a memorial service. The whole family came, but Jamie sat far away on a hill so they couldn't see or hear him.
    • He almost revealed himself, but decided not to; he feels completely "outside of their lives" and wants to be a ghost to them.
    • Jorge offered to let Jamie live with him, and Jamie's going to. He'll be living in the room where P died, which seemed creepy at first, but now he thinks he might like it if P haunted him.
    • Jamie's sorry P got sick. He misses him, and hopes he'll have P's courage someday.
  • Chapter 22

    December 2, 2007

    • This is the letter that started the whole thing. Jamie wrote to P from Portland, shortly after going AWOL from Buckner.
    • He wasn't going to tell P where he was, but he decided to write his address on the inside of the envelope; he wants P to burn it after copying the address.
    • Is P still with Jorge? Do they still have Carlos the cat?
    • Jamie hopes P will write back.