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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.