Ticking Party Ball

By Carrie Mesrobian

Let us not get specific. No addresses or real names. No times or dates.

The setting I will admit to: my parents’ house. When they were not in it for the weekend.

This information was not like other information that passed around my high school. It was not about having a sub in gym or stupid home room where you inexplicably sat in some weird teacher’s room for 7 minutes and did nothing of consequence.  The information that someone’s parents will be leaving their flag unguarded for a 36-hour period is not to be shrugged off.

All echelons of the high school caste system tuned in.

My friends, who immediately prepared their “can I stay at Carrie’s house?” requests.

My boyfriend, a year younger.

Then my friends’ boyfriends, a few years older.

In this situation, all of us had to unify. It takes a village to throw a proper high school keg party

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Village Party Ball Hand Configuration

Lucky for me, I had friends who had shady older brothers or cousins who would buy alcohol for us. I had never gotten a keg, however, and it was a daunting enterprise. The whole thing was very mysterious – how much is the tap? And the deposit? And who will transport it? And who will bring it back?

Minnesota’s public education system being keen in the training of young minds, all of this got solved before the end of the school day.

I was always very nervous about parties in those days, even ones I wasn’t hosting, because back then, you never knew what would happen. It could be fun, it could be lame, it could get busted. Sometimes all three. Anyway, I let someone else handle the dirty details of procuring the alcohol and worked on what I could control: steering my friends to help put away anything valuable that could get broken or stolen.

Of the party, I will give a few details:

There were lots of people.

Everyone, including myself, was very, very drunk.

Someone pelted peanut M&M’s from the upstairs balcony into our sunken living room.Image

Cigarettes were smoked.

There were many pictures taken with my Kodak Disc Camera that I no longer possess (the camera or the pictures).

Someone who may have been my boyfriend stayed overnight.

And someone who may have been my boyfriend smoked too much pot and barfed peanut M&M’s on the carpet.

Any other data beyond those facts will have to remain in the ether where all other stupid parties of youth reside.

There was one other key detail. This detail was that there was a boy who procured the beer. Let us call him “Randy” just for this story. And what “Randy” provided was not a keg. It was an object called a “Party Ball.” A “Party Ball” was a new invention back then. It was a round plastic ball filled with 5.2 gallons of crappy yellow fizzy American beer. Probably Budweiser. This was a cheaper option than a keg or even a pony keg. And it was the best “Randy” could do. I wasn’t going to argue with him. Securing illegal alcohol was as mysterious and complex a process as building a space shuttle or writing an opera, as far as I was concerned.

Another detail : I insisted “Randy” take the party ball with him when he left. Because I didn’t have a car or a license and there was no way I could just drag that giant thing out the front door and throw it into the Dumpster at Dirty Ed’s Superette a mile from my house without any of the neighbors noticing. I’d already made all my friends park their cars down at the elementary school lot to keep anyone from getting suspicious.

“Randy” assured me that he would take care of the “party ball” and the next day, my friends and I just worked like hell to clean up the house.

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Combatted the barf/smoke/beer smell with perfume and cleaning products.

Put back all the breakable/valuables.

Cleaned up the dirty floors streaked with footprints, removed any stray bottles and cans, dumped the ashtrays.

By the time my parents came home, the house was clean. Too clean. It also smelled weird. Like chemicals and barf and all of my LouLou perfume my father had bought me from a duty-free shop on a business trip. There was an uneasy moment when my mother stepped in the wet spot where someone’s boyfriend barfed and said, “Why is it wet here?” My parents were suspicious but couldn’t prove anything. Somehow I skated past any concrete accusation or punishment.

For several weeks, life went back to normal, except for the fact that I kept finding peanut M & M’s in the couch cushions of the living room.

Fast forward to my sister coming home from college for Christmas break.

“Let’s play a board game,” she said. Then she went to the cupboard of games where we’d stashed them. Scrabble, Monopoly, Pay Day, Trivial Pursuit, Uno. Stacks and stacks of games.

Also, one cashed-out Party Ball.

“What the fuck is that thing?”

I lost my mind. Because “that thing” had sat just feet from where my mother did her genealogy projects and stuff in the family room. It had been there THE WHOLE GODDAMN TIME, even since the party. Because “Randy” was a shitty liar fucker. I could have KILLED him.

Sweating, my sister and I pulled out a game, played it. Because we couldn’t do anything else at the moment. My parents were just in the other room, dithering around in their parental way. We couldn’t exactly wrap the dreggy Party Ball in a towel and go out in the December night, saying, “We’ll be back in a minute, don’t mind us!” and whistling, you know?

You might know how this all ended. Not with tears or consequences. But just the tensest game of PayDay ever. Then a laundry basket, some blankets, my sister telling our parents that we were going to go out and some popcorn or some other nonsense. Our parents, accustomed to our mostly-sterling behavior, just blinked and shrugged.

Then:

Wedging things in her pick-up truck.

Laughing once the truck started.

Looking for a store that had a Dumpster not in view of any employees.

Launching that plastic brown ball into it, the dregs of that party reaching for the stars.

We got away with all of it, of course. If a crime has no consequences, is it really a crime?

Carrie Mesrobian’s YA Novel, SEX AND VIOLENCE, will be out in the fall of 2013 from Carolrhoda LAB. She teaches and writes.

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Backwards

By John Jodzio

I grew up in a small town and when I was going to lose my virginity I didn’t want to go to the local pharmacy to buy condoms and so I drove to Ridgedale Target to buy them. When I was at Target I decided I didn’t want to only buy a box of condoms because I thought that would make me look like a total skeezer so along with the condoms I also bought a Nestle Crunch Bar and a cassette tape of Bruce Springsteen’s “Tunnel of Love”.

When I got to my girlfriend’s house I showed the receipt to her and she thought that was funny and cute and then we put the Springsteen cassette into her boombox and then we had sex and it was really cool. When we were done I was like “Do you want some Nestle Crunch now?” And of course she did, so we sat there naked and eating chocolate while The Boss sang his songs.  Except after a few minutes I looked over at her Sony Dream Machine and it said 10:45pm and my curfew was 11:00pm so I said “Oh shit!” and kissed her quick and jetted out to my car.

My car was a Plymouth Champ which was a cheaper version of the Dodge Colt.  This meant I had a cheaper, shittier plymouth_champ_custom_80version of shit.  Besides being shitty, there were many things wrong with my car.  For instance, the driver side door was broken and so I always had to climb into the car on the passenger side. Also for the last few weeks, it was having some transmission problems and it wouldn’t go into 4th gear and had a top speed of like 30 miles an hour.  So I knew I was probably going to be late because of my dumb car, except I knew there was one thing that might save me.  And this thing was something strange I’d discovered about my car a few months ago.  One day when my friend Russell Grabowski and I were dicking around on the dirt roads out near Delano, we discovered that my car would go like 50 miles an hour in reverse.  Which was weird because my car could hardly get up to 50 miles per hour going forward. Also in reverse, the wheels hardly shook at all, it was a way smoother ride.

“It’s fucked up,” Russell told me, “but your car drives way better backward than it does forward.”

I thought of Russell’s words as I left my girlfriend’s house.  I knew going backwards all the way home was the only way I was going to make curfew and I decided to go for it.  When I got to the end of the driveway, instead of turning my car around, I just turned myself around.

It was a pretty straight shot home and between the full moon and my backup lights I could see just fine.  I knew that the clocks in our kitchen always ran a bit slow, so I thought I had a shot at actually making it, but then, just as I came flying roe-deerdown that hill just outside of town a deer ran out front of me (or in back of me, or whatever the hell you call it when you are driving backwards and the front of your car is actually the back of your car).  It happened so quick and there was nothing I could do to avoid him.  I nailed him, square with my bumper, hard and then I screeched to a halt.  I was fine, a little shaken up, and after a minute or so I climbed out of my car to assess the damage.  My bumper had fallen off and my quarterpanel was all fucked up and one of my tires was flat.  The deer had gotten it much worse.  He was lying off to the side of the road, dead, with a telltale trail of matted fur and blood leading from its body to the back of my car.

While I stood there in the middle of the road surveying the scene, I saw some headlights coming over the hill and a truck slowed down.  It was this dude named Itchy Kowalke who I mostly knew from getting really drunk during basketball games.  Itchy worked at the lumberyard and lived up above the dry cleaners.  As he got out of his truck I was thinking about how I could explain this scene to him?  Maybe I had panicked when I saw the deer and my car spun did a 360 and I hit the deer backward?  Was that explanation even sort of possible?  In the end, Itchy saved me the trouble of having to lie.

“We’re you going backwards?” he asked.

“Uh-huh,” I told him.

“I used to do that shit sometimes too,” he laughed, picking my bumper off the ground and setting it up on top of my car.

“As long as you let me keep the deer, we’ll let this be our little secret.”

I helped Itchy load the deer into his pickup and then he bent my quarterpanel back into place with a crowbar.  We put on my spare tire and I wiped off the deer fur and blood from my car with a chamois and then I turned my car around and drove the rest of the way home, very carefully, facing forward.  My mom was waiting up for me at the kitchen table, pissed as all hell that I was an hour and a half late, but I told her that I’d gotten a simple flat tire on the way home and she totally bought it.

John Jodzio is a winner of the Loft-McKnight Fellowship and the author of the short story collections, Get In If You Want To Live(Paper Darts Press) and If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home (Replacement Press, 2010).  His work has appeared in One Story, Barrelhouse, Opium, The Florida Review and various other places in print and online.  He lives in Minneapolis with his wife Katie, his new son Theo, and a lifetime supply of tacos.

The Other Knew I’m With Stupid

By Geoff Herbach

I can think of a thousand screaming monkeys that have all been me. Let’s start with the first clear incident:

It was a big hill.  I was a little man.  Tiny little.  I was 10.

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This is not me, but I felt like him.

I had a big heart.  The heart of a lion.  I’m still not that smart sometimes.  I wasn’t very smart then.

It was a big ramp.  The two-foot-wide drainage ditch in front of my house didn’t warrant a two-foot-high ramp.  A few inches of lift and some reasonable speed and I would’ve cleared the ditch easy.

To ascend a ramp like that I had to have speed.  This math I understood.  Okay…Okay… Go too slow, that big ramp will take your momentum and you’ll plunge down into that ditch and that would not be triumphant.

I rode my bike, which I’d just converted from a banana seat bike to a jumping stunt bike by putting on dirt bike handlebars and changing the banana seat out for a regular bike seat that wasn’t shaped like a banana.  I pedaled to the top of that big hill.  I’ll need all of this for appropriate speed!  From the top of the hill, my pal Neal Duncan, so far away, looked like a tiny little donut hole rolled up against a big ramp.  All of this hill will get me up that ramp!

For a moment I paused.  The duplex I shared with my mother (and the mega-hot, tube-top Niles sisters next door) stood perhaps twenty yards beyond the drainage ditch.  Jump, then turn fast so as not to hit the house.

A competing voice entered the space behind my eyes.  You will possibly die doing this.  Maybe don’t do this.  Maybe sit down and watch some TV.

Duncan, the donut hole, shouted from below, “Come on!”

Don’t do it, said the other voice. Brady Bunch.

Shut up, said the lion heart.  Also, Get a lot of speed!

And so, I pedaled hard.  Down that big hill I roared.  The wind pummeled my face.  My eyes teared.  Duncan Donuts jumped up and down.  Twenty, thirty, maybe forty miles per hour.  My converted banana bike vibrated under me.  Shut her down, said one voice behind my eyes. Bobby Brady, okay?

Fly mother boy! said the other.

Speaking of mothers.  Inside the house, my mother reclined on the couch reading a book.  I believe it was Jackie Collins (my mother wouldn’t admit to reading Jackie Collins, but let’s say that it was Jackie Collins).  Outside, her boy sped toward her at forty miles per hour on a converted banana seat bike.

Jackie Collins

Jackie Collins

Pull up!  Pull up!  Lift!  I hit the ramp going perhaps forty-two miles per hour.  Duncan Donut, who had grown to full-sized, cried, “Yeah!” He raised both fists in the air.  I did pull up on the handlebars and my banana seat-less bike followed me into the air.  I am an eagle on the mountainside!

Due to my magnificent speed, it was immediately clear that the ditch would prove no obstacle at all.  In fact, I left the ditch behind in a millisecond and in the next was hurtling through space towards the front of our house, which was protected by a few lonely spring tulips and a sporadic, dwarf hedge row, which was unhealthy enough to include generous gaps my bicycle might pierce.

Duncan D’s testosterone cries turned to curdled screams.  My own voice ripped into the upper reaches of my prepubescent register.  My bike began a swift descent not fifteen feet from the picture window, inside which, across the room, my mother read Jackie Collins on the couch. I hit earth hard, the force of which bounced my feet from the pedals. My ass and tender undercarriage crashed onto the un-banana seat.  I steered hard to not hit bushes, but clipped the edge of one hedge, which sent the back end of my bike up into the air… and then the front wheel hit house.

It was a miracle of physics, I guess.  The second, tentative, disregarded voice behind my eyes that told me I could die was definitely right.  I really could’ve died.  But I didn’t.  Instead, I shot off my bike hands first and exploded through the picture window (see actual house, low picture window and scars on hand below).  Glass filled the air.  Shards rained down.  I rolled into a ball and lodged part way under the coffee table.

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I don’t remember much else, but know that my mother was frightened and that she stopped reading, because I did spend several hours having glass removed from my hands at Southwest Health Center’s emergency room, and while I don’t remember my mom being there, I’m sure she drove me, as I was in no condition to bike.

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That was the first time I remember having competing monkey voices in my head.  One sought glory.  The other knew I’m with stupid.

Geoff Herbach is the author of Stupid Fast, Nothing Special, and I’m With Stupid (Sourcebooks Fire), among others. He hears voices still, which tell him to eat large cuts of meat and also to drive very fast.