When Mothers go Rogue

I know this mom who’s a writer.  A YA writer.  And she has a teenager.

One morning, this mom had a son with a sore ass cheek and hip—the kid had wiped out on an icy ski hill.  The bruise was big, under the cheek and on the right hip, and the kid’s complaints were mighty.  There was much begging about staying home from school.  There was much wailing about P.E. class.  There was moping and foot-dragging.  But she packed him off anyway.

Before he left, she told her son to just speak up if it hurt.  The teachers would understand, wouldn’t they?  He could ask to stand in the back of class, if it hurt to sit.  Etc. Etc.   The kid screeched like a pterodactyl.  Pterodactyls don’t ask for help, nor do they like interfering mothers.

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Image comes from here.

After the kid left, the mom had a bright idea.  In the Internet age, teachers are only a click away, which is bad for teachers (which she knows, because she is also a teacher) but good for parents who are a little bit concerned.  The mom composed a cheeky note (ha ha!) to explain to the PE teacher that the kid might be moving slow that day.

The kid’s PE teacher had previously been a nice lady who might be kind about a sore ass cheek, so the mom mistakenly addressed the e-mail to the nice lady.  Then she realized the semester had changed, and so had the teacher.  She re-addressed the e-mail and sent it off, wondering why she knew the name of her kid’s new PE teacher.

Approximately ten seconds after she’d sent the e-mail, the mom’s brain fed her the connection: her son’s P.E. teacher was the head football coach.

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The mom fainted dead away.

This mom had violated about 10,000,000 teenage rules.  First up was the Teenage Man Code (Sec 23: Do Not Admit Your Ass Is In Pain), and she had done so in front of the High Priest of the Man Code.  And very soon, that High Priest would have her son in his clutches.  Courtesy of her misguided solicitousness, her kid could be in for the P.E. class from hell.  He could possibly die by the hand of her stupidity.

She had also just become a hilariously bad plot point in a YA novel.

So the mom tried to use her Jedi mind powers to blow up the coach’s e-mail account.  Mind powers on vacation.  She tried to zap her son with a magic lightning bolt and make him invisible.  Magic lightning bolts on backorder.

So she prayed:  Please, God, do not let Mr. X read his e-mail.  If he does, please strike Mr. X down with a plague so they have to find a sub.  Then please let the class play checkers. Thank you.

The kid suffered through P.E. with his busted ass, then came home sick after lunch (not because of the busted ass, but the sickness explained a lot about the intensity of the earlier protest).  She assumed the coach must not have read the e-mail because the kid didn’t lose his shit at her about a murderous P.E. class.

She’d dodged a bullet.  A bullet the size of Kentucky.

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But no one knew about her mistake.  She was safe.

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Kirstin Cronn-Mills is the author of The Sky Always Hears Me and the Hills Don’t Mind and Beautiful Music for Ugly Children. The double awareness she has to hold while parenting a teenager and writing YA is beginning to make her head explode.

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Lord of the Lawn

By David Oppegaard

I started mowing lawns when I was about twelve-years-old.  I’d whip our mower into a rumbling fury, crank up Alice Cooper’s Trash or GNR’s Appetite for Destruction on my cassette Walkman, and mow the shit out of our yard.

Grass, waist-high weeds, branches, frogs, my sister’s stupid toys—if it could be mowed, I mowed it, without mercy or hesitation.  I was an epic god of rock, cutting through the tall grass of boredom while shouting along to gloriously stupid GNR lyrics such as

Ya get nothin’ for nothin’

"I'm bored."

“I’m bored.”

If that’s what ya do

Turn around bitch I got a use for you

Besides you ain’t got nothin’ better to do

And I’m bored

while the neighborhood rabbits fled for their rabbit lives and I grew coated in sweat, chopped dirt, and gasoline fumes.

Eventually, as I grew in strength and manhood, I took on bigger lawns, jobs where riding mowers were provided by the owner.  One job was on a hog farm, a smelly place of despair where I lasted three or four weeks before I carelessly ran over the sun bloated carcass of a dead rabbit and was thankfully fired.  Another job was mowing for the town mortuary, which I had standing orders to mow every four days, whether the lawn really needed it or not.  For that gig I had to enter the mortuary’s creepy, creepy garage to get the riding mower, which was parked next to a big gray hearse.  Every time I opened that goddamn mortuary garage door I imagined a horde of carefully groomed zombies waiting for me on the other side, eager to feast on the resident lawn boy.

But I loved mowing lawns, whittling down grassy squares into tinier and tinier grassy squares while the sun cooked my teenage brain into a fine, simmering stew.

It felt pure, and good.

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Grocery Store Like Acid Trip

Grocery Store Like Acid Trip

Alas, the halcyon days of my youth were not to last.  In high school, I got a job at the local IGA grocery store and started working year-round while still mowing lawns on the side.  Then high school passed, like a horrible acid trip, and in the May of 1998 I was faced with the prospect of college in the fall.

College!

In the fall!

I would need money.  Heaps and heaps of money.  More money than a part-time minimum wage grocery store job and a few half-assed lawn mowing gigs could provide.  It was time to go big, to go epic.

I contacted my best friend Ben Jacobson, who himself worked part-time at the gas station on the edge of town.  Ben! I said.  Let’s start a fucking company.  A lawn maintenance company that will bring this town to its goddamn knees.  And lo, Ben, who was as bored as I was, said Okay, that sounds good, Dave.

We decided to call ourselves Lords of the Lawn, a mocking tribute to Michael Flatley’s

Dave about to mow.

Dave about to mow.

theatrical dance phenomena Lord of the Dance.  We printed up fliers, which proclaimed our inherent usefulness for all manner of lawn services, and drove wildly around town in my Oldsmobile land submarine, shoving fliers into screen doors and peeling madly away, cackling as I cranked up the local classic rock station.

Our first client was a nice lady I’d met at the grocery store.  She said she had a lot of work for us and I promptly quit my job at the IGA, triumphantly walking out with my head held high, destined for greater things.

As it turned out, she had only about ten days of work for two people, work that included pulling, by hand, a small sea of tiny weeds from her front yard, a mind-numbing process that caused tempers to flare among Lords of the Lawn employees and which, once, culminated in an actual knockdown fight involving landscaping forks.

After this first job petered out, the Lords of the Lawn faced a grave crisis.  Nobody had actually replied to any of the fliers we’d delivered.  We had sunburns, but not much cash.  We were weakening.

Which is why, in retrospect, we agreed to work on the Farm.

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We found out about the Farm through my stepdad, who worked as its mechanic in residence (shit is always breaking down on a big farm).  The Farm wasn’t just a farm, however—it was also a grain depot, which meant lots of grain silos and augers and a pervasive smell of rotting corn which, it turns out, smells worse than gangrene and diarrhea combined.

The first task given to the mighty Lords of the Lawn was pulling nails from the roof of a big sheet metal garage.  Ben and I worked high in the air, roasted in the July sun, and pulled nails eight hours a day (lots and lots of nails).  By the third day, I was waking up in the middle of the night with a numb, claw-like right arm that seemed to have a life of its own.

Dave's hand attacking Dave.

Dave’s hand attacking Dave.

Ben and I finished de-nailing that roof in a week or so and moved on to a series of tasks that involved shoveling rotten corn into the maw of a skid loader, sweeping feed corn into comically huge piles (we could spend a forty-hour work week just sweeping out one aircraft hangar-like building, coated in corn dust and sweating like Bruce Springsteen), and, most terribly of all, descending underground into the corn tunnels and swamping out the rotten corn that had been festering there for years and years.

This last task was so horrible that Ben and I took turns going underground.  One lucky bastard stood by the tunnel’s opening, cooling his heels until the underground bastard lifted up a five-gallon pail of corn shit for the lucky bastard to dump into the skid loader.  We did this in fifteen-minute shifts, as if excavating Chernobyl, and the combination of horseflies (how they liked to bite!), stifling underground heat, and tremendous corn stench was truly fierce, a far cry from the sunny days of lawn mowing I had once known.

Yes, life was harsh on the Farm.  We saw a farm cat holding a rat between its paws and gnawing on it as if eating a burrito.  We sweated our body weight hourly and replaced it with rusty lukewarm hose water.  I was even forced to create a story, a chaste little fantasy about Ben and me going on a bucolic picnic with two beautiful redheaded sisters.  How much fun we had on this picnic!  How kind and delightful were these girls!  Yes, I’d repeat this story daily to Ben, elaborating on it further each time, until both of us, in our sweaty delusion, almost started to believe it.

In the end, Ben and I lasted maybe five or six weeks before we quit the Farm and disbanded the Lords of the Lawn permanently.

My stepdad said he was impressed we’d lasted that long.

David Oppegaard is the author of the Bram Stoker nominated The Suicide CollectorsWormwood, Nevada, and The Ragged Mountains.  David lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota and teaches at The Loft and Hamline University.

Rat Pirate vs. Little Batman

By Maggie Ryan Sandford

Perhaps it’s unsurprising that the most cruel, shameful behavior I’ve exhibited in my life occurred while I was dressed as a rat pirate. Not a pirate. Not a rat. A rat that is also a pirate. A pi-rat you could call it, yeah, that’d be clever. But I didn’t.

It started when Summer decided she was going to do a pirate theme for her 7th birthday party. Like any worthwhile seven year old, I was thrilled; dressing up like a pirate, what could be better? But my excitement was tainted with something more sinister. Because I, more than all other seven year olds, had a special calling for playing pirate––this I believed with every fiber of my being. In addition to the ultimately arbitrary fact that I came from a long line of sailors and fishermen, my parents were both actors, which meant that they had a professional expertise in creating the illusion of old-timey piracy. Many times had I seen them don swashbuckling garb, practice their shiver-me-timbers in the mirror as they applied mean facial scars and faded blue tattoos. Consequently, as if by birthright, I had been dressing like a pirate since I was like three. Kid stuff. Easy as a yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.

Pirate Family (little pirate was going through unrelated dressing up = eyeliner phase).

Pirate Family (little pirate was going through unrelated dressing up = eyeliner phase).

And so it was that the challenge of a child’s thematic birthday party stirred in me an insidious hubris. It rose like a mutiny, demented in its insular logic:  Pirates are my thing. My dad had probably finished reading Treasure Island to me like that week. I couldn’t just waltz into this party with a clip-on earring and a plastic sword like some land-lubbing amateur. I needed the other kids to know that I knew more about pirates than them, that I had been knowing more about pirates than them, and the only way to communicate this foreknowledge would be to show up in some off-beat, esoteric, avant-garde-yet-historically-accurate pirate costume the reaction to which would separate the men from the boys.

But incredibly, as partytime drew closer, the perfect pirate-snob attire failed to reveal itself. In vain my poor parents brainstormed suggestions, weathered my rising squall: “NoooooOoOo, you don’t get it… Every girl’s gonna be a lady pirate… Bandanas are boooring… A peg-leg is so ooobvious…”

Finally, in a tone of forced enthusiasm, “What about a ship’s rat?” my dad ventured. I looked at him through half-lidded eyes. I was well aware that he was referencing the shapeless homemade mouse costume that languished in my dress-up box, well aware that to repurpose it provided a convenient alternative to potential costume pieces for which we three could neither afford the money nor the time. Maybe I felt bad for being so petty, or maybe it was the image of skittering around pretending to bite the boys’ feet, or maybe it was the first of thousands of weakly rationalized last-minute decisions I would make in my life. But this hardtack was bait I was willing to bite. In that moment, Rat Pirate made some kind of sense. We went to work.

When you get right down to it, what’s the appeal of the pirate costume, really, at the most basic level? All the stuff. The bounteous weight of one’s garb. Heavy boots and dangling gold, layers of rich fabric donned in the slapdash manner of a greedy cutthroat with no eye for restraint. Anyone with an ounce of pirate experience knows this inherently, and yet, in the myopia of the last-minute…

Closed-eye Smile Betrays Uncertainty.

Closed-eye Smile Betrays Uncertainty.

Along with a pair of big, round Mickean ears and about twice the appropriate number of hand-drawn whiskers, my rat pirate getup included the following items: a pirate’s eye patch (sure, okay), a short vest and cummerbundy sash appropriate for the early modern era, and––that was it. Just a silver drawstring sack with holes for the arms and legs, and no pants. No tights even. And ballet slippers. Half rat, my pirate was half naked of course, which no one gave much of a second thought…in the comfort of my bedroom. And so it was that in my puffy sateen onesie, I sailed into battle.

Summer’s yard teemed with miniature humans masquerading as bloodthirsty murderers. Forgetting the eight inches of mouse ear atop my head, I crouched behind the car door to spy:  My original extrapolation that everyone would be taking the dress code to a competitive level turned out to be unfounded. (Surprise, surprise. By the way, this would not be the last time I’d make this kind of miscalculation in my life, not by a long shot.) I left my parents with the adults and entered the fray. Costumes, it seemed, were tertiary to the goals of fighting and screaming/running away. If I had been the type to scream/run, which I wasn’t, my embodiment of a small, unobtrusive rat might have come in handy… If I were, myself, small and unobtrusive. Which I wasn’t. Even at seven, I was nearly a head taller than most of my peers, cute boys included. And that was without the ears. One such boy, a second-grade Errol Flynn, shimmied down the swingset beside me. “What are you?” he semi-asked, as if he needed to. I was a giant, pantless, one-eyed rat. In ballet shoes. I turned so he was in my blind spot and padded away. The party continued behind me. If just one rat leaves the ship, no one thinks much of it

Could this be the end of our fearless hero? No indeed, Dear Reader, for it was in this way that I found myself in a parley with the enemy: the mean girls. They had shed their half-assed costumes on the cement stoop, and sat brushing one another’s hair. “What are you?” they asked, looking sidelong at each other instead of me. “I was trying something but it didn’t work,” I said, “I’m the ship’s––never mind.” I pulled off my ears and flipped up my eye patch. “Who even cares,” one of them said, “Pirates are perverted.” “Yeah, pirates are perverted…hahaha perverted…” the word echoed on a wave of giggles and into the ether. It was intoxicating. Marooned on this godforsaken rock by my own crew, maybe I’d found a new calling. The call of the sirens.

They’d already drawn a victim:  A little boy with a buzz cut and a Batman t-shirt. He was about five, too young to buccaneer out back, but his eyes burned into me with a hatred that said he thought I was one of them. Those girls. Without blinking, he raised his hands, folded them into a machine gun, and let fly. A banshee scream shook the stoop.

Someone had to do something. I wouldn’t be bested like this, not here, not today. Before I knew what was happening, words fell from my mouth like a curse: “Leave the big girls alone… Little Batman.” I assessed my facial expression:  Had I done that right? I’d only ever sassed my parents before, never someone…smaller than me. My heart was pounding.

“Don’t call me that,” said Little Batman.

“Oh sorry… Little BATman,” said my mouth. That’s enough, I told myself, and was going to turn away when a chorus of titters stung my ears. I was powerless. “What’s wrong with it Little Batman, Little Batman? You’re wearing the shirt. You must like Batman. It’s a compliment.” The poison was quick. Already, I was advanced in my bullying tactics: convincing the victim he deserves everything he gets.

“I said don’t call me that!” said Little Batman, shifting in his sneakers, “If you do it again I’m going to tell my dad.”

“Pfft, please,” I said. He was bluffing. And even if he wasn’t, what parent could get mad for such a tame taunt? He had the t-shirt… “Whatever you say… LITTLE BATMAN.”

Like his namesake, Little Batman was gone in the blink of an eye. “That got him,” the mean girls cackled, but just as quickly they were talking about something else. I pretended to play it cool and listen to their slack-jawed gossip, but my eyes scanned the crowd.

“There she is! With the whiskers!” someone shouted. It was Little Batman alright, one hand gunning for me, the other on the meaty arm of a colossus with a buzz cut.

“Shiver-me-timbers,” I whispered.

If you’ve never seen a grown man chew out a child whom he doesn’t know in front of a group of girls that she doesn’t know, it’s about as painful as you might imagine. I tried to make a case for myself, but in the end I couldn’t argue with Big Batman. I’d been a bully. Not even a very good one. Where was this guy for every other picked-on kid on the planet? I thought as I looked at my dirty slippered feet. When the storm cleared, I ran for my own dad and told him I’d be in the car.

“Your ears are gone!” he said, “What are you?”

I shook my head, holding back tears. “I don’t know. I just don’t know anymore.”

Maggie Ryan Sandford’s work has appeared on Slate.com, ComedyCentral.com, the Onion/A.V. Club, mental_floss, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, and was recently included in McSweeney’s Book of Politics and Musicals. She has read/performed at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, People’s Improv Theater, and the Moth StorySLAM in New York, the Seattle Poetry Festival, and on National Public Radio. She lives in Saint Paul.

Rope and Dope

By Kurtis Scaletta

My childhood was a three-way war with ever shifting alliances and revised histories, like the political background of 1984. In this case the war involved me and my two brothers.

Ken was the oldest. He liked horror movies and drawing Holly Hobbie being eaten alive by gigantic snakes. When I was in first grade and he was in third, he made me cry by ridiculing The Velveteen Rabbit. But he was mostly harmless by himself, because he was too lazy to be a bully.

Kelly was the middle child. He was obsessed with sports and, later, strident power pop bands like Styx and Journey. He frequently made me smell his socks, which, based on the smell, he’d worn while walking shoeless across beds of festering corpses

I woke every day wondering which brother I hated more, and entered into a begrudging alliance with the third to make that one miserable. There were, of course, times when I found that I was the one against which the other two were (m)aligned, but those usually ended with me screeching my special, high-pitched, threatened-squirrel shriek that is the gift of every Imageyoungest child. It would bring our volatile father, and that would put an end to everything. I was that kind of kid. I would tip a checkerboard, and I would tip the game of war if I found out I was losing.

Oh, sometimes there were truces: I have happy memories toboganning down a flight of stairs with my brothers, or playing our favorite game, which involved trying to get a Nerf ball dislodged from the giant pine tree by hurling the corkscrew yard spike we used to chain our dog (the winner got to re-lodge the ball), and of pawing through our dad’s Playboys which her hidden under the bed in the guest room. But these accords were brief, uneasy, and oftener than not deteriorated into wrath and tears.

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Rope.

One day the oldest and I had driven the middle one into his room, where he’d slammed the door, braced it with a chair, and was now blaring Foreigner and probably paging through back issues of Sports Illustrated. I found a length of rope in my father’s “workshop” (I have no memory of him actually doing work in there, but I had performed various unsupervised chemistry and biology experiments and the place was a mess of sulfuric goo, pinewood derby car shavings, and bread molds that had evolved into sentient beings with language and plots of world domination). I eyed the knob of the door, and the nearby railing, and had an idea.

I knew that the scariest thing about practical jokes is that sometimes they worked: I’d seen a thumbtack deeply embedded in a teacher’s backside, my father soaking wet and fuming and rubbing the spot on his forehead where he’d just taken the brim of a metal bucket. There is no time to revel in success, at such moments. There is just the sheer terror that comes with success.

I eyed the doorknob and the railing and comforted myself with the idea that it probably wouldn’t work, even though the door opened to the inside and the railing was almost straight across the hall and was anchored to the wall and I had a freshly earned merit badge in knots. Then I roped that dope in there and by God if it wasn’t Alcatraz.

I knocked (loudly, to be heard over the music) and taunted him, and heard him bounding across the room to let me have it. I remember, thirty years later, his startled and confused “huh” when he found the door uncooperative. He yanked harder. The door still wouldn’t open. He pounded on the door and ordered me to let him out. Obviously, I did not let him out, and that was when he freaked.Image

I don’t mean he freaked like Hammy hopped up on Red Bull at the end of Over the Hedge. I don’t even mean he freaked like that kid on YouTube whose mom cancelled his WoW account. No, this was a culmination of over a decade of simmering middle child hostility blanched in bile with a bottle of Tabasco sauce fed to the Incredible Hulk on steroids after a fender bender at a Tea Party rally during tax season. He freaked. He went from “huh?” to an utter Krakatoa of rage in about a second. He bellowed. He bashed. He hollered. He walloped. He shouted. He kicked. And then, mere moments after learning of his predicament, he started charging the door like a boy-sized nuclear-fueled bull, visibly straining the joints and bulging the door.

Now I was in a predicament, because my options were (a) wait for him to actually tear down the door, which would then have to be explain to my anger unmanaged father, (b) let him out so he could beat the living shit out of me and shove his socks in my mouth and possibly kill me.

I chose the latter, and I don’t quite remember what happened after that. It must have been some deux et machina: my parents coming home mere seconds later, or some girl calling that my brother wanted to talk to without sounding like a madman, or maybe I just told oldest brother to give me a count to a hundred to escape, then untie him. Or maybe—it seems like a long shot—maybe he realized the moment that he was out that he’d been trapped for all of ten minutes.

It’s a rare thing for grown brothers to come to a common agreement on what happened: who made whom eat what kind of insect, what wedgie preceded which noogie, who set the fire and who put it out with his own pee. But I found middle brother and I had the same recollection this time. Here is an excerpt of the conversation:

Me: Remember the time when I used a piece of rope to tie your bedroom door closed and you went bananas and tried to bring the door down? How long were you in there?

Brother: I don’t know, about 10 minutes.

Me: I’ve been asked to write about something dumb I did as a kid. I’m going with that one.

Brother: My dumbest thing was when I forced you to smell my socks.

The common memory ends there. He thinks he only did that once?

Kurtis Scaletta is the author of four novels for young readers: Mudville (2009), Mamba Point (2010), The Tanglewood Terror (2011), and The Winter of the Robots (2013). All are published by Knopf Books for Young Readers. He is also the author of the Topps League series published by Abrams Amulet and illustrated by Eric Wight. Find more about Kurtis here.

The Devil and the FBI

By Molly Priesmeyer 

My life began at the end of a cul-de-sac.

At the edge of a road that led nowhere. A nothing in-between two somethings.

In a little green rambler that was my own suburban purgatory.

On one side was a germaphobic Christian lady who scrubbed her lawn every Wednesday after church with Palmolive soap. (If cleanliness was next to Godliness, she was going to get so close she’d smother him with her tiny chicken bone arms.)

On the other side was a minister with teeny black pin eyes and a big red beard who was a part of some whacked-out bomb-shelter religion that included hitting on my mom and using every attempt possible to place his fat fingers on the small of her back.

For nearly 16 years, that purgatory was a salve. If our property line was the difference between heaven and hell, I could always be saved. Truly saved.

Then one day, it happened. I stretched my arms far beyond my property line and into burning universes light years away. I didn’t even believe in magic or God or Jesus and had even tried to convince my religion teacher that people saw Jesus “rising” after he died because they just ate a bunch of spoiled meat and hallucinated it all.

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Molly P. Criminal

But that night with Jimmy I was sure I just enlisted for hell—an eternal service I’d be called to order to only after being hanged by the CIA or the FBI or the NSA or some other crazy super scary government organization for knowing crazy government secrets and committing the worst crime ever by a 16-year-old.

I blamed Jimmy for everything. Because only the devil could get a thrill from stealing classified government documents and pulling over a bunch of jerks using a stolen cop siren.

——————-

I don’t know where Jimmy came from. He was older than us and went to a different school and hung out at Denny’s drinking bottomless cups of coffee and playing Mahjong with old people. But he would suddenly pop up at parties and people’s houses like one of those clowns in a funhouse maze.

The night that my body extended itself so far into hell, Jimmy just showed up in the passenger seat of my car like a specter.

I’m pretty sure Jimmy drank milk jugs of speed. He was a fast-talking ginger who had freckles on his arms that converged to make a map of the United States. In the middle of his right arm was a cluster that made a giant Florida.

Our idea of a good time was driving and driving and driving until the roads ended. REM, and U2, and Black Flag, and Pink Floyd would turn the world flat and take us to its limits. There was nowhere else to go but to the end and back.

That night, Jimmy and I drove up winding hills and through trails that turned into dirt roads, past houses with fancy columns that turned into houses that were held together by driftwood patches and dogs chained to posts.

“Keep going! Let’s go higher!” Jimmy said. We pulled down the top of my convertible and drove higher through the Missouri hills, letting our bodies evaporate into the darkness.

We got so high in the hills that night that the only lights we could see were from the cosmos.

On the way up we hadn’t passed a sign of civilization for more than an hour. But five minutes down the hill we saw a car parked on the side of the road, its wheels straddling the tiny gravel road and the world beneath.

The car was empty. There was no sign of anyone anywhere.

Jimmy got out and began rummaging through the ghost car like he owned it. I was sure he was collecting clues that would lead us to save an entire family and maybe their missing dog, too, and that we’d all wind up hugging and crying on the evening news.

When Jimmy got back to my car, he was carrying a police siren and a giant locked briefcase.

“Go,” he said.

I did.

——————————————-

Back at my house we pried open the briefcase with a screwdriver.

“Holy….Shiiiiiit,” Jimmy said, thumbing through pages inside.

He handed me a piece of paper. On it was stamped CONFIDENTIAL and U.S. ImageGOVERNMENT and CLASSIFIED and other words that I knew meant this was the craziest shit we’d ever done.

The paper shook in my hand.

I was sure the government had magic crazy sonar tools that could read my fingerprints on a piece of paper from hundreds of miles away. I imagined some fat guy in a suit staring into a wall of computers and receiving the real-time “BLEEP BLEEP!” signal from my basement where “Brass Monkey” played on repeat on my boom box.

“We have to get rid of this entire thing!” I screamed.

“Calm down,” Jimmy said.

“You are crazy and you don’t even go to my school and where did you come from anyway and why are you in my house! Let’s get out of here!”

Like everything else I ever felt shame over, I wanted to shove that stupid giant blue plastic briefcase so deep into the Dumpster it could be wiped from my brain forever.

I lugged the heavy tracking device/briefcase to the car, trying as hard as I could to not let any parts of it touch me. The further it was away from me, the further I was away from Jimmy’s crime.

We drove all the way to Manchester Road, where I could bury the shame case in a sea of gas stations and fast-food joints. I got out of the car, lifted it above my head, and chucked it as hard as I could into the Dumpster at Phillips 66.

“We just threw away the secret files of a murdered spy,” I said, staring into the neon distance.

Jimmy shook his head and laughed. He reached for his side like he was about to pull out a cigarette from his pocket. Instead, he grabbed the cop siren and stuck it to the dashboard of my red Volkswagen Rabbit convertible.

“Go.” Jimmy said.

I did.

———————————————–

It only took four or so rounds of red flashes across our faces before we pulled over our first car of perps. Then, we couldn’t stop.

That night we pulled people over in front of the Steak ‘n Shake. In front of the Walgreens. In front of the Enterprise Rent-A-Car. In front the Hostess shop. In front of the Country Kitchen. In front of the Dunkin’ Donuts. Then, just as quickly, we’d speed past to laugh at their bewildered faces.

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Cop Car.

“Beeeyeeewww! Beeeyeeww! Beeeyeeww!” we howled in unison, creating siren sounds only the walls of my little phony cop-mobile convertible could hear.

Particular targets for pulling over were silhouettes in dark cars who cast shadows much like our own: Inky shapes of people dancing, their earrings dangling, heads thrashing, long-hair bobbing.

I don’t know why I did it. Maybe I thought all these bastards had it coming to them. All these bastards who were out doing way worse things than reading super top-secret Pentagon/CIA/FBI files.

Bastards doing terrible things like drag racing or mocking their girlfriends or drinking Purple Passion or being all arrogant and rich and buying all their friends Steak ‘n Shake with mom and dad’s credit card.

ImageThe CIA, FBI, Pentagon, secret Russian forces…they all might be coming for me. But for a red-light-fueled few hours or so, I could play good cop doing the law’s true dirty work.

“Oh, man. Did you just see those idiots in the BMW?” Jimmy said, pointing up ahead.

I did.

“Beeeyeeewww! Beeeyeeww! Beeeyeeww!” we sang as I hit the gas pedal.

We drove and drove and drove that night. Pulling people over for nothing at all and for crimes we were sure they’d commit in the future.

It was, for a moment, our heaven. As all of our sins were erased by the flashing red light dancing atop my ash-dotted dashboard like a plastic Virgin Mary.

Molly Priesmeyer’s stories on everything from local arts to politics to the environment have appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Saint Paul Pioneer Press, City Pages, METRO Magazine, Vita.mn, MinnPost, ArtNews, Rolling Stone, Modern Painters, and more. She is co-owner of the Good Work Group.

Love Tattoo

By David Clisbee

I was a seventh grader. She was an eighth grader.  I was 5 foot 7 while wearing combat boots. ImageShe stood 5 foot 10 barefoot. My dorky hair cut didn’t part as much as it flopped.  She wore long blonde hair that glistened and bounced as she walked.  As she walked, her boobs moved in sync with her hips.  She had great boobs and could spike a volleyball so hard it’d break your nose in no time flat.  I had itty-bitty dude boobs, thighs wider than my waist, and didn’t really understand the hows and whys of volleyball player rotation. I wasn’t sure of a lot. ImageLike, I wasn’t sure what Shannon saw in me, but she saw something, so I asked no questions. But, I was sure of a couple things.  I was sure we would make it.  So was she.  This shared belief was the numero uno thing we had in common.  Numero two was our love of slow dancing to Guns N Roses “November Rain” at school dances.  And that week was the week of the St. Regis dance.   On the telephone, we’d talked about the importance of requesting our song. We’d been together six months. We so, so, so had a song.

The night before that dance, pure certainty guided my hand as I carved her seven-letter name into the flesh just above my left ankle.  I’d plotted the action out all week.  I’d thought about how I’d do it during math and English and science and religion and soccer practice and showering and walking home and eating dinner with my folks.

After dinner the night I went through with it, I sat on the edge of my bed and mulled over my decision. I stared at my bedroom walls I’d decorated with Rolling Stone covers of Green Day, Kurt Cobain, the Smashing Pumpkins and everybody else who’d gotten on the cover since 1992.  I stared at the famous.  The famous stared back at me.  We agreed, “Do it, dude.”

Broken tip pocket knife: check.

Bic lighter for sanitizing said knife: check.

Old t-shirt for wiping away blood: check.

“November Rain” cued on my tape deck: check, check.

I pressed play.

IWSDCbtp

The S took a solid ten minutes.  I breathed deeply. I pierced skin.  A thin ribbon of red spilled.  I steadied my hand. More slow breathing.  I didn’t want to faint.  More red ran and ran down to my big toe where it dripped on to the old t-shirt.  I kept the knife tip from going to deep.  Slow breathing.  Axle Rose sang, “When I look into your eyes.”  I thought of Shannon and I dancing in front of all the other suckas in the St. Regis gym.

The S was rough and angular and bleeding bright red. I continued.  I winced. I bled.  I navigated the knife tip’s depth up the curve of my anklebone.  I made sure not to cut too deep while doing the H and A and N and N and O and N. The seven letters of her name measured roughly two inches.  My flesh was red and raw and beginning to scab. Her name on my skin looked like maybe I’d hired a serial killer to mark me.  Still, her name was spelled correctly.

We’d been at the dance about half an hour.  Nobody was dancing, just kids from our school and other Catholic schools milling around.  Everybody mingled within their grade: seventh graders with seventh graders, eighth graders with eighth graders.  I was dating a smoking hot eighth grader. I mingled with whomever and wherever Shannon and I decided.

After badmouthing our math teacher and the concept of math class altogether, I said, “Let’s go get a coke.”

“I’m good,” she said.

“Let’s go get a coke,” I said.

She raised her eyebrows.

We stopped just outside the bathrooms.

I took a deep breath.

She wet her lips.

“I wanna show you something,” I said.

“Huh?” she said.

I leaned against the wall.  I lifted up my leg.  I pulled down my sock to reveal her name in all of its reddish-brown scabbed-over glory.

“What the fuck?” Shannon said.

She leaned forward.  She stood back fast and shook her head.  “Did you do that with a….knife?”

“Oh, yeah,” I said in a smug, tough guy tone.

Shannon just looked at me like she was frozen.

One of the last songs of the night was my request, “November Rain.”  Shannon had been talking with some of the girls on the volleyball team. IWSDCar I approached. The girls stopped talking.  I asked if she wanted to dance. The girls stared at me.  I looked at Shannon.

Hand in hand, we made our way to the center of all the other slow dancing couples.  I put my hands on her hips.  She put her arms around my shoulders, wove her fingers together at the nape of my neck.  We leaned into each other.  I could smell the strawberry gum she always chewed.  She leaned down, put her head on my shoulder.  We danced slower than usual because my ankle hurt.  I didn’t really know what she thought of her name carved into my ankle. I figured it wasn’t good. I just listened to our song and kept my hands on her hips.

David Clisbee’s poems have appeared in Ninth Letter and International Poetry Magazine.  His first chapbookBotched Heroics was released by RockSaw Press in 2009.  He lives in Mankato, MN with Diana, and their wiggly son, Teddy.  His favorite color is red.  His dogs are black.

Sticks and Stones

by Dana Rossi

I WAS SO FAT.

I mean, I wasn’t. But for this to work, you need to believe I was at least sort of fat.

So let’s try this another way.

THIS IS SUZANNE FARRELL.

IWSSF

Suzanne Farrell is one of the most famous ballerinas ever to flutter across the NYC Ballet stage. Lean and lithe with limbs for days, her physique was the gold standard in ballet bodies—so graceful and effortlessly perfect that she could make wearing what appears to be a dishtowel look chic.

THIS IS ME.

IWSDR

Or rather, this was me in Philadelphia in 1998 at 20 years old, 5’2”, and probably somewhere around 150 pounds. In this picture, I’m wearing boxy corduroys (in August), a tank top I would stretch out on a bed pillow before putting it on, and underneath it all, a black leotard that looked like a lot like a vaudevillian bathing suit. That was the flirtatious statement I wanted to make to anyone who’d ever see under my clothes—a  coy, sexy little Bonjour. Je porte une ceinture discrete. Which is French for Hello. I am wearing an inconspicuous girdle.

Okay! So this is where we meet the root of the problem (and the origin of stupid). Because there’s one thing—and only one thing—that Suzanne Farrell and I had in common. We had both seen the inside of a ballet class.

For her, that was fine. She clearly belonged there. But I was a different story. Ballet class from the perspective of an active participant was never something I particularly wanted to see.  As a kid I was more into bowling than gymnastics, and at birthday parties I could always be found right next to the onion dip. But once I was a sophomore in college majoring in musical theater, ballet was just part of the deal. Take it or leave it, but if you leave it you don’t graduate. I didn’t want to dance at all, but ballet was just the worst. It was dancing IN YOUR VAUDEVILLIAN BATHING SUIT, and being required to constantly look at yourself in the mirror. And so it seemed to me every time I had to “check my form in order to learn” that the girl looking back at me from the mirror was not Suzanne Farrell. And because I didn’t look like a ballerina, I thought I was fat.

And because I thought I was fat, I didn’t want to have to be forced to look in a mirror in a class full of Suzanne Farrells. So I thought, well, I’ll just not go to this class.

Which didn’t work because I needed to finish this class to graduate.

So I went, but I made excuses to sit out. Which did not fool my whip smart teacher, who forced the girl who just wanted to sit by the onion dip to plié and grande battement.

And now we’re back where we started—with me looking in the mirror. Fat.

That’s what I had to fix. If I had to take this class, then I had to be able to look in the mirror without having a crisis. And that meant losing weight.

There are so many effective ways to lose weight. Diet. Exercise. Being Stevie Nicks in the late 70s. But none of these seemed right for me—especially once a friend told me about a place in North Philadelphia that sold herbal phen fen.

I knew the dangers of regular phen fen—that shit was killing people. But I also knew that whenever anything said HERBAL on it, that meant it was totally safe and peaceful and friendly, in a paisley print with music by Joan Baez. Right?

Right.

So even though the bottle said to take “two” a day, I decided that herbal on the label plus ballet every Tuesday morning totaled more around “eight.” So that’s what I did for months—took eight herbal phen fen a day. It made me lose some weight, but also made me lash out at fire hydrants, sewer grates, the color yellow, visible breath—I was very quickly becoming Alex P. Keaton in the episode of Family Ties when he takes speed to study for a test. But it was doing what I wanted it to do, so Alex Keaton be damned. I continued.

Then one afternoon (somewhere around pill 5) I was at home watching The Golden Girls when suddenly I felt an enormous amount of concentrated pressure on the right side of my abdomen. I thought, this is gonna be some fart, and prepared myself for a thunder down under I was glad only I would ever know about. But it never happened. The pressure just grew more and more intense until eventually, I couldn’t stand up straight anymore.

I took a cab to the ER, and by this time I was in so much pain I could barely walk and was slurring my words. After four hours in the waiting room without a doctor in sight, I was so desperate and so terrified that my appendix was bursting that I just snuck into the ER and pretended to pass out right in front of everybody so I could get drugs and attention as soon as possible.

I wish I could say, “don’t ever try this”, but it totally worked. So, you know. If you have to.

Once the drugs kicked in and all the tests were done, it was revealed I had a HUGE kidney stone lodged firmly in my right pee tube.  How huge was it? Well, did you know that according to the NIH, kidney stones are the most common urinary tract disorder, but most of them are so tiny they are easily passed without the need for a doctor to go in and surgically remove them?

Mine had to be surgically removed. That’s how huge.

The last thing I remembered before going under a couple of days later was the anesthesiologist asking me what my favorite kind of wine was. I think I said white. And the next thing I knew, I was waking up in the recovery room, my mom peering over me.  She asked how I was feeling and if I was gonna stop taking those pills now and I said, “yes.” But then I realized something very important. So important I tried (in vain) to bolt upright. I said, “Mom, what day is it?”

“Tuesday. Still Tuesday.”

“What time?”

“Around 11:30 in the morning. Why?”

I didn’t answer. I just laid back down and smiled. Because I was still pretty drugged, sure. But also because I may have gone about it the hard way, and I may have taken the scenic route to get there, but 11:30 on a Tuesday meant I had totally and completely missed ballet.

Dana Rossi is the creator and host of The Soundtrack Series in NYC–the live event and podcast where people tell stories they connect with songs from their past. She was also a contributor to the anthology Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop.