Kiss Grotto

By Susan Montag

When I was growing up, my dad owned a junkyard. He would buy junked out cars, and then sell parts to guys who showed up at the junkyard looking for something they needed. These guys would not always have the cash to pay my dad. Fortunately for them, my father was a magnanimous man, and he would trade for whatever they had on hand right at that moment. That’s how I ended up with an eight-track tape of Kiss’s Destroyer album when I was in fifth grade.Image

We all gathered around the tape when my dad brought it home—my parents, my younger siblings and I—and we regarded it suspiciously. The illustrated album cover shows the members of Kiss stomping on a ruined city. They look like apocalyptic sex monsters, which is what I’m sure they were going for. My parents decided quickly that this tape was a bad thing, and not something our family might enjoy. However, they didn’t throw it away. Maybe they thought they would give it to someone—or perhaps trade it for something better—and it ended up alongside the Conway Twitty and Marty Robbins eight-tracks next to our stereo.

I was only ten at the time, and I was still fiercely aligned with my parents. If they liked something, it was good. If they didn’t it must be bad, so I tried also to disapprove of the Kiss tape. Whenever I had the chance, though, I secretly studied the drawing on the front. It made me feel something, a kind of excitement that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. And then, one day, when no one was home but me—I played the tape. The first notes of “Detroit Rock City” slammed into my soul. By the end of that song, the innocence of my childhood had ended, and my adolescence had begun. I loved something that my parents disliked. I loved Kiss.

By the time I was in seventh grade, I owned every Kiss album that existed.

I am a very, very loyal person, so I refused to buy—or really even listen to—any other music. It was all Kiss, all the time. Deeply scornful of all other genres, I often wore a T-shirt that stated: “Disco Sucks.” When I wore this T-shirt, random people would give me thumbs up orImage say, “Hell, yeah!” which totally reinforced my musical xenophobia.

In addition to being loyal, I also tend to be compulsive, and I decided that all four walls in my bedroom should be covered with Kiss stuff. I don’t mean that I had a lot of posters up. I mean that every square inch, floor to ceiling, was covered by a Kiss related clipping. My room became a visually stunning Kiss grotto. Upon seeing it for the first time, people would gasp, either with pleasure or shock, depending on their sensibilities.

I was about twelve or thirteen years old by this time, and my younger brother Paul was eight, which is the worst sort of age split between an older sister and a younger brother. I found him to be profoundly revolting in every way possible, and he found it hilarious to do anything that pissed me off. He often followed me around a public place, pointing and shouting, “That’s my sister!” while walking in a spastic way. I didn’t think I could hate him more deeply, but then he did the unthinkable. He came into my room and removed a small piece of my Kiss grotto and he flushed it down the toilet.

Honestly, I didn’t even notice right after it happened. The piece in question was about an inch square, and considering the massiveness of the collection, I might have gone months before I spotted that tiny bit of bare wall showing through. My not noticing, however, spoiled the fun for my brother, and he pointed out the bare spot and told me what he had done. I immediately told my mom. I thought he should have been locked in a small cage in the basement with no food for a couple weeks, but he got away with just a mild scolding. So I seethed, and I plotted my revenge.

To carry out my plan, I needed to be home alone for an extended period of time, so I waited for just that moment a few days later. My brother did not have a massive grotto of any particular theme in his bedroom, but he did have treasured items, along with a whole lot of junk. His room was a minefield of broken toys, army men, random Legos, ruined socks, marbles, baseball cards, rocks, and candy wrappers. My plan was to spare nothing. I went into the room with several huge garbage bags and I began to fill them. I took it all—down to the sheets on the bed. I even took the light bulb. And I hid it all in the shed behind the house. There was nothing left in his room to indicate his existence. Nothing. I had wiped him off the face of the earth.

I lounged nonchalantly as my family came home, and I waited. Then it came—the piercing wail of rage that can come only from the lungs of an eight-year-old boy who has discovered that everything he loves is gone. Ha! Ha ha ha! I thought.

I briefly held out when my mother demanded to know where the stuff was, but I could tell that she was seriously, seriously pissed, and that I better not mess with her. I brought the bags in. To my chagrin, after he removed the things he wanted to keep, the rest of it ended up out on the curb with the trash. My mom marveled that the room looked really nice now, without all the junk. So I had inadvertently cleaned by brother’s room. Unfortunately, he did not fail to see the humor in this.

A few months later, I turned on the radio and I heard Tom Petty singing “Don’t Do Me Like ImageThat.” There was a quirkiness to his voice that intrigued me. I felt a momentary pang of guilt for liking the song, but it didn’t last long. Shortly thereafter, I began to dismantle the grotto and to buy other music—Tom Petty, Phil Collins, Supertramp, Manford Man’s Earth Band. The Kiss spell was broken. It was time for me to move on.

Today my musical tastes trend more toward Bluegrass than heavy metal, but I have to admit, the first few notes of “Detroit Rock City” still get to me a little, every time.


Susan Montag teaches writing at Alexandria Technical & Community College, and is the author of Finding the Way: A Tao for Down-to-Earth People. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Hamline University and is the parent of two almost-grown-up children, whom she currently lives with, along with her husband and her seven cats.


Poop Story


By Clint Edwards

After my Dad went to jail I started having anxiety related diarrhea. I was 14. Regularly being on the cusp of shitting myself was embarrassing, so I lied about it. I lived with my grandmother. She was in her mid 60s and stood five two with brown hair and a short round nose, traits she passed down to my father and then to me. I suppose what I am most ashamed of is that I lied mostly to her. I spent hours in the restroom, crouching, grunting, and sweating. I turned on the tub to hide the sound. When Grandma knocked and asked what I was doing, I told her I was taking a bath.

“Why do you take so many baths?” she once asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I just like being clean.”

She probably assumed I was masturbating.

Lying about my diarrhea lead to compulsive, outlandish, lies. I told her the school gave me a scholarship to attend Space Camp, when really, I just wanted to spend the weekend with a friend. I wrecked my bike and came home with a black eye and scuffed knees. I told her a cougar attacked me next to the Provo River. I was full of shit, a fact that was confirmed regularly as I crouched over the toilet.

My lies came to a head during freshman P.E.. The class was playing softball on a far-off stretch of grass. I caught a ball and it knocked something loose. My stomach turned, and instantly, I needed a restroom. I dropped the ball and ran, but I couldn’t run the whole way, only in short bursts, slowing every dozen strides to flex my cheeks. I can only imagine what people thought of me. One moment my hands were waving franticly, my legs in a dead sprint. The next I stopped and walked while clenching my butt.


Young Clint pressing out another rep.

There were two restrooms. One was in the new wing. This restroom was clean and had a lilac air freshener. The other was in the old wing, across from the metal and wood shops. It smelled of grease, wood shavings, and urine. Several of the toilet seats were missing. Naturally, the latter was the closest.

Once in the building, I had to grab my butt and pinch it together. It worked. I was going to make it. Just before the restroom doors, my stomach calmed. I felt fine. I got greedy and headed for the cleaner restrooms.

Two steps later it happened. I lost it in my gym shorts, and found it in my socks.

I went back to the restroom and cleaned myself with toilet paper. The back of my shorts and the back of my socks where now a brownish black. But from the front, I looked normal.

I kept my back to the hall wall and headed to the payphone. Ahead was an open classroom door. If crossed, all the people in the room would’ve see my shitty pants. I imagined it. One kid would notice first and scream, Hey, that kid crapped his pants! And then the laughter would come with damning statements mingled in: He smells like a nursing home, He’ll never get laid now, and the worst coming from the attractive brunette in the front row, And I used to like you. I quickly crossed the hall. I was forced to do this half a dozen times before making it to the pay phone.

Once outside, I called Grandma. “I need you to pick me up.” I said. “Right now.”

She asked why, and I told her a nonsense story about a bomb at the high school. She paused, exhaled, and said, “Horse shit. Are you in trouble?”

I didn’t respond.

“Damn it,” she said. “You’re just like your father. Whenever he gets in trouble he tells some jackass story and I come running. I’m through. Is that what you want? To get locked up like your father? Cuz that’s where you’re headed.”

“I crapped my pants,” I said with sincerity, honesty, and fear.

“I don’t believe you,” she said. “You’re a grown boy.”

We went back and forth, her attempting to uncover the truth, and me repeating it in a forceful whisper, hopeful that it would sink in.

Eventually I said, “Please, please, please come. And bring a towel.” Perhaps it was the terror in my voice, or maybe it was that I asked for a towel, but she agreed.

I sat outside, my back against a brick wall, and waited. I smelled terrible. Time passed. I told a math instructor I was ill and waiting for a ride, I told the secretary that my house was on fire and I was waiting for a firefighter, and I told the truancy officer that my brother had an accident on a roller coaster. “A bolt came loose and busted him in the head,” I said. He wished me luck.

I was scanning the road when I saw Samantha Jones. I loved her. She enjoyed Metallica. Her glasses were thick with heavy brown frames that matched her hair. She was just the right mix of nerd and rebel. Sometimes she hugged me. At night, my imagination projected flickering films of Samantha onto the ceiling: Samantha ascending stairs, gracefully, naked, always naked.

I tried not to make eye contact, but she ran to me, and like an idiot, I stood so she could hug me. A hug from Samantha Jones was everything. I wanted to get excited by her soft body. I wanted to smell her hair and her perfume. But all I could smell was my shit. We separated and exchanged a glance. She knew. Her nose scrunched and she swatted it.

“What smells?” she said.

“I don’t smell anything.”

She leaned in and took a sniff. I waved my hand in front of her nose.

“You smell terrible. Did you shit yourself?”


I was a mix of anxiety, cold sweat, love, and lust. She smiled, grabbed my left shoulder, and attempted to turn me around.

“Let me see your butt.”

She peeked over one shoulder and then the other as I moved my hips from side to side. She asked what was on my socks.

“If you didn’t shit yourself than what smells like a turd?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “You?”

A pathetic childish refute. Samantha’s narrowed eyes and rigid shoulders, the way her jaw moved from side to side seemed to say, you did shit yourself. And as she walked away, I knew she was going to tell everyone.

Grandma honked the horn. She leaned across the seat, opened the passenger door, and said, “Get in.”

I placed the towel across the seat and sat down. As we drove, Grandma rolled down the windows and told me I smelled rotten.

“I’m sorry I didn’t believe you,” she said.

Then she told me of a time when Dad was fourteen. He called home and told her some cock and bull story that she couldn’t recall. He said he needed a ride home. When she picked him up, he had a black eye.

“He’d been in a fight,” she said, “and he didn’t want anyone to know he’d lost. I didn’t want anyone to know he’d been in a fight. So I took him home and put makeup on his eye. I did it each morning until it healed.”

She didn’t say anything for a while. Once our house was within view she said, “I’ve been covering up his mistakes for some time. Trying to believe his lies. Maybe that’s why he’s locked up.” We parked and Grandma looked at me. “People are smarter than you think,” she said. “Telling lies will catch up with you.” Then she looked at my shorts. “Go take a bath,” Grandma said. “I’ll wash your shorts.”


Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University, Mankato. His writing has appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Blue Earth Review, The MacGuffin, North Dakota Quarterly, Post Road, Redivider, Yemassee, and elsewhere. “Poop Story” in an excerpt from his memoir in progress. Check out his blog here.

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.”


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 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.


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.


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.


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.



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.”


Stephanie Wilbur Ash is Goth Mom [], 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. []

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.


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.


I Been Caught Stealing…Twice

By Courtney McLean


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.



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.”


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.


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).

The Real Estate Solution

By Zach Coulter

Sometimes being a smart kid can make for being a very stupid adult. When I was 26 I decided to become rich. I was very stupid.


Stray Cat

Here’s the narrative that I tell every new therapist I’ve ever had in my imagination (I can’t afford therapy) – my childhood was just lovely in a skinned knees with tube socks sorta way. My memories come shoebox-packed, golden-hewed like a stack of aging Polaroids* and so on and so forth. Seriously though, it was good. Mom and Dad loved each other and they loved the kids and they eventually let us keep a stray cat who’s buried in the front garden now. Sure, at times there was a little more month than money, but what did I care as long as Mom could get me a new GI Joe guy every once in awhile?

I was a kid who did well in school and made friends easily. I scored in the 93rd percentile on the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. Life was sweet.

SIDE NOTE: A paragraph ago, when I was trying to pull the term “Polaroid” from my temporal lobe it just kept spitting out “Instagram” over and over. There’s a lot of sadness buried in that statement. END SIDE NOTE

And then, when I was 20, my brain broke. Or something. This is where I would go on to tell my imagination therapist that in my sophomore year of college I became extremely depressed. I didn’t know why and I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t think it was appropriate to do anything because only weak people seek help for problems that EXIST ONLY IN THEIR BRAINS (emphasis mine).


Sad Carpenter

So I started running. I was afraid and broken and I blamed college and ran away from it. Then I blamed a couple more colleges and I ran away from those too. Then I decided the whole concept of “college” was to blame and became a carpenter to do something “real.” Then I was a depressed carpenter for about 5 years.

Here’s where things get dicey. I usually don’t tell imagination therapists this part until our 5th or 6th meeting.

At some point you get better at functioning with a broken brain, right? I mean, I’m no mental health expert but I’m at least an advanced beginner at understanding my own neural bologna and I know that I got better at dealing with depression because I didn’t spend nearly as many days being a depressed carpenter in bed. Things got a little better.

So there I was, a 26 year old journeyman carpenter with depressive tendencies and a metric shit ton to prove. My friends were all going off to law school and starting to get married. I had to start winning blue ribbons again! If I didn’t accomplish something amazing in the next few months/weeks/days/hours I would risk being found out as someone who’d failed at everything, most notably happiness.

There should be some kind of a psych profile required to get a real estate license but there’s not.Image So I got one. This was the tail end of the last boom. Remember booms? They were these neat periods of time when everything increased in value forever until they stopped, reversed, spiralled back to earth and landed with a resounding thwap. Booms are super awesome. The end of booms super suck.

SIDE NOTE: It’s been said that we are in the midst of another comedy boom. Given that I have now cast my lot with the rest of the joke slingers we can be confident that said boom will come to an end sometime VERY soon (certainly before I make it to network television (actually, now that I think about it, the fact that I even want to be on network television is one of the surest signs of network television’s imminent demise)).

“Remember network television?”


So I got my license and hung my shingle. My business plan went something like “Hey, I’m a charming fella who knows how to build a 3-season porch, why shouldn’t dozens (or better yet hundreds/thousands!) of people trust me with the biggest financial transaction they’ve ever been a party to? At least that’s how I wrote the business plan in my imagination, it never actually made it onto paper. I was gonna be rich for sure.

To supplement my 90 hours of realtor education I obsessively watched episodes of The Apprentice and learned to spray starch on my JCPenney shirt collars. I yearned to be one of them, one of the shiny, clean, handsome gladiators in Trump’s arena. I wanted to sell the MOST cupcakes to reluctant New Yorkers. I was so, so stupid.

I hung on for about 2 years. In that time I managed to sell a few cupcakes, but not nearly enough to keep pace with my rapidly expanding starch expenses. It started to became clear that I was in over my head. I was like a 90-pound weakling who decides it’s time to get buff, reads a book on weight lifting then struts his way over to the bench, loads 350 pounds on the bar and dies of a crushed windpipe.

It’s super hard to lead a first-time home buyer seminar with a crushed windpipe.


Underbrush on Fire

The way to think of market corrections is that they are like the forest fires that come through every once in a while to burn off the undergrowth so that the mighty oaks can sell more condos/cupcakes. Or something. I was undergrowth. When the bubble burst I got burned, and so did all of my income and savings. I went broke – and not the fun, romantic kind of broke. I was more, like, repossession and searching in the couch cushions for change to go buy generic pasta for dinner broke. I felt really, really stupid. It sucked.

Sometimes our brains tell us that it’s a great idea to do very stupid things, like sell real estate or perform standup comedy. Sometimes our brains are stupid and we need to find ways to outsmart them, but sometimes we don’t and knowing the difference is the secret to a happy life.

At least that’s what all my therapists have told me.


Zach Coulter is a standup comedian from Minneapolis. He is also one-half of the comedy hip-hop duo Valley Meadows. His mom has never seen him rap before and he hopes it stays that way.