Liars, Pine City 1978

By Scott Wrobel

On a summer evening at our lake cabin, which was actually a crappy house more than a cabin, I was in the basement watching a rerun of the Captain and Tennille Variety Show. Next to Charlene Tilton, Toni Tennille was the hottest celebrity on my closet door. Thirty-five years later, I bought the DVD collection of the variety show and watched the first episode, and two of the major platforms of my childhood were destroyed: A) I learned that Toni Tennille was not hot. She had huge teeth and a phony laugh, and B) Darryl Dragon, “The Captain,” talked a lot. The running “bit” on the show, I remembered, was that The Captain was silent, but during that first episode, he was downright chatty. At age 44, I got mad about these lies. So let me tell you about the weekend in 1978 when I committed murder and learned that God was a lie.

Captain Talked

Captain Talked

I was in the basement watching TV and the neighbor brothers, Shannon and Chris, came over. Shannon was fourteen and Chris ten, my age. Shannon was tall and muscular and wore wife-beater shirts. He drool-talked in a low, coarse voice, and wore thick glasses. Chris was obese and had kinky red hair that looked primped with one of those waffle iron things. I was short and had no distinguishing features except for an oversized head. I feared these guys and always tried to impress them because they talked knowledgeably about Bob Seger and “scoring on chicks.” They asked if I wanted to go fishing tomorrow, not on the lake, but the river, and I said “Sure,” even though I didn’t want to because Shannon did things like shoot pellet guns and talk about scoring on chicks. My dad, though, liked me to hang out with these guys because, though he didn’t say it, he thought I was a pussy – I read books and watched variety shows — and so to make him happy, I agreed to go fishing.

The next day, we walked the shoulder of the road to the river, Shannon and Chris in front. My legs were so short that I couldn’t keep up with an obese kid. Shannon said things like, “I’d go banging on a chick like that,” and Chris said things like, “No shit, Sherlock,” and I didn’t say anything because I was out of breath.

Big Head, Bird Murderer

Big Head, Bird Murderer

When we reached the river, I, not yet having had a chance to express my manliness, started picking up rocks and firing them at trees. Even though I was not as mannish as my father hoped, I could throw stuff. The fellows still weren’t paying any attention, though, and I saw some robins hopping in a clearing, just being happy and looking for worms and seeds, so I picked up a rock and fired at a bird, trying for a near-miss. The bird toppled, flopped its wings and then lay still. I ran to it. Blood drooled from its eyes. I dropped to my knees and started bawling.

Shannon and Chris finally turned around and looked at me.

“I killed it!” I said.

“Quit being a pussy.” Shannon said. “It’s just a bird.”

“Yeah,” said Chris. “It’s not like the world is running out of birds.”

They walked to the river and left me.

Too weak to stand, I crawled around the dirt and grass and found a rain-soaked shoebox someone had used for bait, smeared inside with dried worm dirt and night crawlers. I set the box on its side, grabbed a stick, and with hands quivering like a diabetic, shoved the bird into the box. I walked home, weeping and staggering on the shoulder of the road.

On the other side of our house from the lake was farmer’s corn field that hadn’t been used for years, so I buried the bird there. At night, from my bedroom window, I could look out into the field and see fireflies like stars, and think about the bird.

Later in the day, I told my dad the story.

“Shannon called you a pussy?” he said, squinting at me. Then he left the house. Ten minutes later, Shannon and Chris came over and asked if I wanted to go the Pine County Fair the next day for the wrestling match at the grandstand. I should have refused the call just like I should have stayed in the basement instead of going fishing, but my favorite AWA wrestler, Buck “Rock and Roll” Zumofe, was on the ticket, so I said, “Sure.”

Everybody Lost

Everybody Lost

The ring was set up in front of the grandstand. Grown-ups sat in the bleachers and kids stood next to the ring. Mean Gene Okerlund introduced Baron Von Raschke and Buck Zumofe, who walked right by me with his boom box on his shoulder. I was so close to the ring that I could see Zumofe pin Von Raschke against the ropes and pummel his face, Raschke’s head snapping back with each punch, except Zumofe was missing by six inches to a foot. Not even close. After the match, which Von Raschke won, I got his autograph. He shook my hand with a weak grip and spoke American. I later found out he was a school teacher.

In less than 48 hours, I’d killed a bird and learned that wrestling was fake, which launched me toward my current conditions of Atheism and misanthropy. I learned that it’s dangerous to live to impress others, especially dickheads like Shannon and Chris, and that most everything is a lie. Shannon and Chris, however, didn’t brood. Instead, after the wrestling match, Shannon said we should walk around the fair’s midway and try to “score some tail.”

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Scott Wrobel began writing by imitating Rush Lyrics. Since, he has had children and moved to the suburbs. His work has appeared in Minnesota Monthly, Pindeldyboz, The Great River Review, Night Train, and Third Coast among others. His book of short stories, Cul de Sac, came out from Sententia Books in 2012.

The Spell of Success

By Stephanie Wilbur Ash

Throughout my teen years I had a best friend named Shawna. We became besties when, the summer of sixth grade, she cooked a Tombstone pizza and instead of wheeling the pizza cutter around it pie-style, she made just one cut—right down the middle—so that our two pieces would be exactly equal.

Shawna&Steph

Shawna was into gymnastics. She had multiple colorful leotards and multiple photos of herself flipping backwards in them and multiple trophies.

Unlike Shawna, I had no leotards, though sometimes I wore my swimsuit over my tights. The swimsuit was navy blue with white piping; the tights were itchy black polyester and cable-knit like a sweater, and the feet were very slippery. I wore this when I danced to “When Doves Cry” by Prince because it was the story of my life. I danced in front of my bedroom mirror until, in the midst of a semblance of a high kick, I slipped, shattered the mirror with my kneecap, and fell screaming onto my tailbone.

Also unlike Shawna, I could not do a backflip. I could not even do a cartwheel. I could barely do a backwards summersault, and even that I had to think about.

I did have a trophy, which I received in the second grade for a commemorative D-Day poster in which I’d drawn a soldier’s helmet with a black bullet hole through it, propped on a grave, and on the headstone, written in dripping cursive: “They died.”

•••

Our differences were of no concern to Shawna and I. We were equally excellent at what really mattered—epic water balloon fights, calling boys, eating Tombstone pizza slices as big as our heads. We were as happy as two pre-teen girls whose parents let them shave their legs and ride their bikes to Taco John’s could be.

TacoJohn's

Then came middle school cheerleading tryouts.

Shawna was excited, so I was equally excited. “Tryouts are going to be so fun!” Shawna said over an order of Potato Olés. “Yeah!” I said back. And, “What does one do at cheerleading tryouts?”

Shawna casually licked salt off her fingers. “Oh, the coaches will ask you to do a cheer to see how loud your voice is and how you move. Then you’ll show them your gymnastics.”

A Potato Olé lodged in my throat. I coughed. “What if one has no gymnastics?”

Shawna shrugged. “Hell if I know,” she said.

•••

That night, during a commercial break from M*A*S*H, I repeated to my father the assertion that cheerleading tryouts would be “so fun”. He lit a cigarette. His eyes narrowed, which indicated this conversation was getting serious. “They’re going to ask you to be cheerful,” he said.

cigarettesinashtray

I cocked my hip to one side and put my hand on it, which indicated sass. I scoffed, which indicated disbelief at this conversation’s lameness. I said, “What does being cheerful have to do with anything?”

My father breathed out a cloud of smoke, and as it blew away, I saw that there was a smug smile on his face, one of those gleefully smugly satisfied smiles only the parents of overly precocious children get to make. It is the smile of rakish bastards at the end of caper films who drive away with all the cash. Slowly and with great enunciation my father said, “Why do you think they call it cheerleading?”

A chill spread throughout my body, and I became acutely aware of the terrible ache in my tailbone.

•••

Tryouts. School gym. Shawna wore a puffy-sleeved leotard that faded from light lavender to deep purple, plus athletic tape around her ankles. I wore jeans and my old green softball t-shirt from when our team was sponsored by John Deere, anarchy symbol drawn all over it to nullify the Deere logo. Terrified of slipping in the cable-knit tights (even doves have pride), I wore clear plastic jelly shoes. Perhaps the three cheerleading coaches might notice my cool black toenail polish.

A few classmates tried out ahead of us. One giggled through the whole thing and two fell down after their cartwheels. Shawna elbowed me. “None of them are loud enough,” she whispered.

When it was Shawna’s turn, she did the most complicated cheer we knew—the one where the cheerleader spells success while alternating rotational movements of her arms with precise timing so that she looks like a complicated and elegant wind chime that also knows how to spell. Shawna’s rendition was not only perfectly executed in the arms and the spelling, it was loud, with increasing volume on “That’s the way you spell SUCCESS!”  The three cheer coaches nodded in synch. Then Shawna performed her gymnastics: cartwheel, roundoff, backhandspring, backhandspring, fronthandspringintothesplits, goteam!.

The cheer coaches clapped.

It was expected that I would go next.

I stood before the coaches, and for the first time I could not ignore these differences between my best friend and I, how we were absolutely not equal at this thing that seemed to really matter.

I did not like it.

I abandoned my plan to do the easy cheer, the one where the cheerleader simply makes alligator-eating motions with her arms to indicate that her team plans to “eat up” the opposing team. I too would do the difficult “spelling wind chime” cheer.

I went with loud—people in the industrial arts lab behind the gym’s concrete wall said later that they could hear me spelling success through the sound of their table saw. I spelled it perfectly, of course, but my left arm went up on s-u-c-c instead of e-s-s, and that confused me, so I lifted my right arm up too, but I did not stop my left arm, so soon I was winding both of my arms around in their sockets simultaneously.

Fallingoffcliff

I was not physically demonstrating success. I was falling off a cliff.

“Thank you,” the coaches said.

“You’re welcome!” I shouted. “Did you note the loudness of my voice!?” I asked.

“We did,” they said.

“Is there a portion of this tryout where one may ask questions?!” I asked.

“No,” they said.

I asked anyway. “What purpose does the gymnastics serve?!” I asked.

“It serves the sport part of cheerleading. Cheerleading is a sport,” they said.

And then I made my gravest mistake of all—I laughed. I laughed at the notion that cheerleading was a sport. And I didn’t stop there. I went on to mock them for it. I shouted, “Oh! Sport!” using my fingers to indicate quotation marks around the word sport. Then I spelled it—I shouted, “S-p-o-r-t! I guess that’s the way you spell cheerleading!”

The cheer coaches blinked. They said, “We don’t need to see your gymnastics.”

“I can do a backwards summersault,” I said.

“That’s okay,” they said.

•••

OelweinCheer2

Shawna rightly earned a spot cheering for first-string all-school boys’ football and basketball, which would allow the whole town to bear witness to her electrifying gymnastics.

I was assigned to cheer for seventh grade second-string girls’ basketball, which was attended primarily by grandparents.

And moments before my first cheerleading duties—a home scrimmage between the girls’ B squad and the C squad that took place in the cafeteria with portable hoops because the varsity boys needed the gym—my father, beholding me in an itchy second-string cheerleading sweater that cut into my armpits and a cheerleading skirt that barely covered my ass crack, clicked his heels together and saluted me solemnly as if I were going to war and would certainly return wounded, if at all. “Godspeed,” he said. “Godspeed my loud-mouthed daughter. And good cheer.”

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Stephanie Wilbur Ash is Goth Mom [https://www.facebook.com/YourGothMom?ref=hl], a teller of inappropriate stories about motherhood and lead singer of the a cappella cover band, Goth Mother. She is also a senior editor at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. [http://www.mspmag.com/]

The Party

This is not a regular post this week, but rather a notification.  

I’m With Stupid is out and as celebration, the first round of readings from this blog will take place (May 16).  Here’s the official notice…

Yes, my book is coming out. But, this is more than the release of the final Felton Reinstein book. It is a celebration of being dumb when you’re young.

Reading stories of their own youthful stupidity, Dennis Cass, Molly Priesmeyer, John Jodzio, Carrie Mesrobian, Maggie Ryan Sandford, The Punk Poet Paul Dickinson, and Zach Coulter.

So many connected sad and terrible stories, also…

Some Goth Mother music performed by Goth Mom and her sick choir.

THE OFFICIAL BOOKSTORE NOTICE:

On May 16th, Addendum is proud to host the publication party for Geoff Herbach’s newest book, I’m With Stupid. The event will be held at Dr. Chocolate’s Chocolate Chateau, 579 Selby Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102 (just a few blocks down from our store — Addendum is the YA section in SubText).

Check out the Facebook invite.

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I Been Caught Stealing…Twice

By Courtney McLean

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Rotary Breakfast.

Growing up in Southern California, my brother, Colin, and I were treated to trips to Disneyland. Our parents would take us after my father’s Rotary Club breakfasts because of the close proximity of the Happiest Place on Earth to the pancake house.

On this sunny and warm October day, Colin, and I, at 13­ and 15 years ­old respectively, were going to Disneyland for the first time alone. Kind of. Mom and Dad decided to spend the day nearby at the Disneyland Hotel Resort, possibly as a sexy day­cation, a re­deux of the few days they spent there for their honeymoon. But I think they actually just wanted to be close by in case their only two babies got into trouble.

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Nelson.

Joining my brother and I on our escapade was my boyfriend Jeff: a tall, lanky, dirty rebel I had met at the park a month earlier. I was in my second year as an annual-­passholder, one of many teenaged “Locals,” as we liked to call ourselves, who hung out in Tomorrowland on the long, curvy bench just outside the Premier Shop. Our many Disneyland-­security­-annoying activities included being loud, dancing to the Space Age cover band in the Tomorrowland Terrace, and crank-­calling what we honestly believed was Edward Furlong’s number from inside the glass cage phone booths. After two years of weekly Saturday visits, I knew Disneyland like I knew all the words to the band Nelson’s debut album.

We made our way to the hustle and bustle of Main Street. Jeff and I took Colin to all our favorite places of our weekend lives: the electric voltage machine in the Penny Arcade where you deposit a quarter, hold onto the metal prongs for dear life while 250 volts coursed through your arms till you felt like your bones would break; the statue of Walt Disney and Mickey where from a certain angle, Mickey’s nose stuck out just enough to make it look like Walt had a very low boner; we munched on soft Mickey­shaped pretzels from my favorite place in Critter Country just outside the Splash Mountain exit. On Big Thunder Mountain, we made Colin privy to all our ride­-enhancing tricks like facing backwards during the loops in the dark and on Pirates of the Caribbean, we stood up on the downward slopes and were told to sit down via PA system by the ever-­watchful Disney Big Brother. We toured the shops of New Orleans Square and tried on feathered hats, rode Peter Pan in Fantasyland, the rollercoaster in Toon Town, Star Tours and Space Mountain in Tomorrowland, ejected from each ride into its respective gift shop.

Sitting on the carpeted floor in the back of the Premier Shop later that afternoon, Jeff and Colin emptied their pockets to show me the small mountain of knick­knacks they had been stealing throughout the day: little plastic figurines of the Disney character universe, keychains, buttons, candy, mini LED flashlights; anything that could be easily concealed by the lithe hand of a teenaged boy from the counter to his pocket. As the goody two­shoes older child, I was aghast. I knew that Jeff was trouble, but the fact that my brother had been swayed to follow his lead… But they didn’t stop and I didn’t try to stop them either. Obviously, they were able to steal this mound of useless items with me being none-­the-­wiser.

As the day wore on and the moon rose in the lavender Anaheim sky, the three of us visited a tourist­trap shop in Adventureland across from the Jungle Cruise that specialized in Oriental trinkets and jewelry. A few weeks prior, Jeff had stolen for me an ornate silver ring emblazoned with a yin­yang. It was from this very shop. So in order not to provoke any sort of suspicious lines of questioning from the employees and despite its mangled shape due to my having bent it to make it fit my small finger snugly, I took it off and put it in my pocket.

Ten minutes later, we left the shop a few ounces heavier with our new stolen booty. Even I took something: a little heart pendant made of some green-­brown stone. We headed towards the bathrooms to get ready for our next heist when a voice came booming out from behind us: “Okay, guys, give me the rings.” We swiveled around to see a man towering over us in a hoodie and jeans holding up a badge. Jeff and Colin obediently turned over their new loot, but I just pulled out the mis­shapen ring: “I have this ring, but it’s from a few weeks ago.” The man examined it with his huge blue eyes magnified several times through his spectacles. “No, this is from tonight. Come with me.”

The three of us were escorted across the park. Colin and Jeff were solemn and silent: Colin was probably scared, but he didn’t show it, and I doubt Jeff gave a rat’s ass what was happening. I, however, was a blubbering mess. Our father had recently become a born-­again Christian and I found myself chanting as a result of his influence, “I’m going to Hell, I’m going to Hell, I am going straight to Hell.” The only other time I had been caught stealing was at 6 years ­old when Mom discovered my shoebox full of Tidal Wave bubblegum from several sticky­-finger incidents at the grocery store and that embarrassment was enough to quench my inner­-klepto until this day. Yet despite my haze of guilt and fear, I managed to find the heart pendant in my pocket and inconspicuously toss it in a bush. Upon reaching the security offices, I had nothing on me.

Parents were called ­ Jeff’s weren’t home, nor would they have been surprised by these events, and ours were, oh yeah! At the Disneyland Hotel next door. Colin and Jeff were each pulled into separate rooms (which is when I finally saw my little brother break down into tears) and our bug-­eyed undercover cop 
brought me outside. He held up the ring I had given him. “Okay, this is clearly not from tonight,” indicating its bend and scratches. “Your parents are at the Disneyland Hotel?” I nodded, desperately trying not to sob. “Go find them.”

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Scolding Grandfather.

I scoured the grounds of the Hotel. This was in the days before the ubiquity of cell phones ­not recognizing at the time that it was extremely irresponsible for those security boneheads to allow a cute fifteen-year-­old girl to be wandering around alone at night. It might be Disneyland, but the Hotel grounds were accessible without an the exorbitant admission price to all of Anaheim, CA, a town aptly nicknamed “Anaslime.” After an hour and no Mom and Dad, I returned to the Park’s security offices to find my brother emotionally scarred from a chastising phone conversation with our grandfather and Jeff casual about his crimes as per usual, suffering no recourse because his parents were on vacation, or so he claimed. The boys returned their pile of knick-­knacks and with no guardians to take us off security’s hands, we were allowed back into the park with the warning, “If you so much as spit on our sidewalks, we’ll have you arrested.” We spent the remainder of the evening shaken and attempting to enjoy the rides at the park. Colin claimed we had been followed onto the People-Mover by our undercover friend.

Our family arrived home to the evidence of my brother’s and my bad news on the house answering machine. The punishment was huge in my young mind: grounded for a week including absolutely no Disneyland (which, as an annual-­passholder in the summer, was such torture to have to stay home the following weekend). I was barred from seeing Jeff for a month (which ended up being several months because a few days later his parents had him whisked off to one of those juvenile boot camps out in the desert) and Colin and I were allowed to never again watch MTV, it being the root of all evil in my father’s eyes. I didn’t realize till years later that he’s actually right about that. Whether or not I’m going to Hell for stealing from Disneyland is to be determined.

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Courtney McLean is a comedian, writer, storyteller, actress, and improviser originally hailing from Southern California.  After 5 years living in New York City, she now happily calls the Twin Cities home.  She is the bandleader of Courtney McClean & The Dirty Curls, pioneers of naughtybilly: dirty comedy bluegrassy music (doy).