Three boys sit together during lunch, in the cafetorium (combination cafeteria and auditorium) at Center Township Elementary School, Monaca, PA, Wednesday, October 28, 1975:
Douglas: “Here’s a good joke. So this kid named Johnny goes home and says, he says, uh, ‘Mom! Mom! I was walking past the Giant Eagle, just minding my own business,’ he says, ‘just minding my business, when I saw this kid get hit by a car, on the butt!’ Ha ha. And the kid’s mom, uh, Johnny’s mom? Yeah, Johnny’s mom says, she says ‘No, Johnny—rectum.’ And Johnny, ha ha. Johnny says ‘Rectum? It nearly killed him!’ Ha ha ha!”
No one else laughs.
Tommy: “Man, you suck at tellin’ jokes!”
Douglas: “I thought I did a good job.”
Tommy: “Then you’re a fag. Who cares about all that Giant Eagle stuff? Get to the point: ‘Mom! I saw a kid get hit by a car, on the butt!’ No, say ‘ass’ instead—that’s funnier.”
Douglas: “My mom won’t let me swear.”
Tommy: “Then you’ll never be funny.”
Douglas: “Shut up, fatso.”
Ricky: “Say ‘ass,’ Doug-ass.”
Douglas: “Shut up.”
Tommy: “Say ‘ass,’ or you’re a fag and you can’t sit here no more.”
Douglas says nothing.
Tommy: “Say it. Say ‘ass.’ ”
Ricky: “Say it, fag.”
Tommy: “His mommy won’t let him.”
Ricky: “She’s a fag.”
Douglas, very loudly: “Ass! Ass! Ass! Ass!” Background conversation stops. “ASS ASS ASS ASS ASS SHIT!”
Applause and cheers from the other students, including Tommy. A teacher, Mr. Mullen, walks toward the table.
Mr. Mullen, to the cafetorium: “All right, everyone, knock it off.” To Douglas: “Could you come with me, young man?”
Douglas, trying not to look frightened: “No! You’re a FAG!”
Mr. Mullen grabs Douglas by the arm.
Douglas, as the teacher drags him away: “SHIT! SHIT SHIT SHIT!”
The other students watch them leave the cafetorium.
Hallowe’en Spooktacular Party, at Gary and Elaine Dow’s house in Center Township, PA, Friday, October 31, 1975:
Costumed invitees cram the living room. A mixtape (to use an anachronistic word) plays on the stereo’s cassette deck; the exceedingly mellow song “Those Summer Nights” by San Jose’s biggest musical artist, Benjamin Plum, nears its chorus as Donna—wearing a headband, peasant blouse, fringed leather vest, bell-bottom jeans, and sandals—spots an uncostumed guy exiting from the kitchen. Glass in hand, she barges toward him, threading past a princess and a cowboy and a blowdried Dracula, electric guitar creeping along, Plum asserting in a reedy voice that “Those summer nights that brought us passion / Will never, ever go out of fashion.”
“Chuck Roland?” she asks.
“The one and only,” Chuck replies, holding a drink himself.
“I’m Donna Henningsen. Milo’s mother?”
“Tell your son to quit beating him up.”
“Tell your son to quit grabbing my son’s ass.”
“You believe that story?”
“Hey, your son is half Greek, so—”
She tosses the contents of her glass at Chuck, punctuated by the background tune’s somnolent saxophone-and-piano bridge.
“Now look what you made me do—waste a perfectly good whiskey,” she says reprovingly.
“You know,” he says, wiping off his face with his sleeve, “you’re lucky you have a great pair of tits.”
“Thanks. I’ll tell your wife you said that. Where is she?”
“At home. She didn’t feel good. You ever try a Harvey Wallbanger?”
“A Harvey Wallbanger? Orange juice, vodka, and some Eyetalian liqueur called Gallyanno?”
“You should. I’m having one now.” Chuck holds up his glass.
“Hooray. The next time your brat attacks my son, I’m calling the police.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Plum’s song fades out. “So I can make you one here, if you want. A Harvey Wallbanger.”
“Fuck off.” Another lifeless, piano-heavy track, one Donna’s never heard before, commences.
“Aw, you hurt my feelings.” He walks away a bit jauntily.
Slumping deep into the least dilapidated chair in the teachers’ lounge during her lunch break that rainy afternoon in late October 1975, having consumed little of the organic hummus sandwich she had packed, Miss Wyant, the subaltern substitute, worried (after futilely attempting to make the Declaration of Independence’s history relevant to three consecutive classes of bored, ahistorical students) that Center Elementary School would opt not to retain her services once the academic year concluded a month before America’s two-hundredth birthday, July 4, 1976, thus providing her with yet another excuse to loathe herself in an atmosphere of rampant celebratory patriotism.
I love my brother, but he can be a real dumbass sometimes. Like, one day, this girl I know named Livvy was walking home from school, when she saw my brother and his friend Ryan. Those last two call themselves the Dudes, after that movie about the hippie who bowls? Anyways, my brother told her, he said “Hey, little lady! Wanna join us for a threesome?” Oh, she’s twelve, and the Dudes are eighteen. So Livvy, she went home and Googled “threesome” and freaked out, then told her parents everything, and her parents, they freaked out and then called the cops. So the Dudes, they had a little talk with the cops, separately. Ryan said all that threesome shit was my brother’s idea, while my brother said it was all Ryan’s. But they both said they were just joking around, that they didn’t go for young girls. So as it turned out, neither of them got arrested or nothing, maybe ’cause they’re white and Livvy’s black, which sucks—not her race, my boyfriend’s black by the way, but the whole thing sucks ’cause the Dudes, like, didn’t go to jail and get beaten or waterboarded or whatever happens to pedophiles behind bars, even fake pedophiles. Maybe a little of that rough treatment would have worked wonders. I really don’t care about Ryan, but my brother, he needs some of the dumbass-ness knocked out of him if he doesn’t wanna end up with life without parole for being a dick. My family, like, values its reputation.
My favorite website, Pornhole, posted a video today called AOC XXX, featuring a woman identified only as AOC, an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lookalike with a huge rack and a thick Puerto Rican accent: “I have a Brrrown Nude Deal for jou!” Wanting to discover if the human race has justified its existence, I paid $14.99 for the privilege of watching the lookalike fuck lookalikes of Bernie Sanders, Nancy Pelosi, and Donald Trump, all three played by much younger thespians. Sorry, human race, don’t mean to sound reverse-ageist, but you still suck. At least I have new material for my nonexistent memoirs.
I submitted the following entry to the Pittsburgh City Paper’s Valentine’s Day Fan-Fiction contest: stories about Pittsburgh celebrities, five-hundred words maximum, PG-13. Turning in a dour tale about an obscure TV personality who (spoiler alert) never actually appears may explain why I lost, but at the time, I felt like writing such a tale; literary geniuses must follow their muses, no matter how unamusing.
I’ve slightly revised my entry for its appearance here, but I still hit exactly five-hundred words.
One day in early 2019, I got a text from my pal Shawn, the first time he’d contacted me since we’d graduated high school twelve years earlier:
remember stiffy the dead clown? he has a new band called thunderblood. theyll make their world debut tomorrow 8pm at lesters. wanna go?
Shawn and I used to spend Saturday nights alone in his basement, watching It’s Alive, a Pittsburgh cable show. They’d play some old horror movie, hosted by a black-suited zombie named Professor Emcee Square. But we preferred his sidekick: Stiffy the Dead Clown, a loser with a chalky-white face, a round black nose, and black makeup lining his eyes and mouth—a loser who usually didn’t wear a clown outfit, just cargo pants and a rock T-shirt. Seeing the Professor abuse him each week made us feel better about our status as teenage losers in that boring-ass town, Monroeville.
So of course I went to Lester’s Bar, on Polish Hill. I hadn’t been to that bar since graduating. It looked the same, all stucco and smeary paintings of generic European streets.
Shawn had already arrived. With his flannel shirt, denim jacket, and long scraggly hair, he looked the same, too, only much thinner. And with fewer teeth.
“Hey,” he said, fistbumping me.
I sat down at his table.
“So what have you done lately?” he asked.
“I work at the airport as a TSA agent.”
“Really? You give strip searches to any hot babes?”
“All the time. But it’s for free now, since I’m working without pay due to the government shutdown.”
“Well, if you need money, you could always suck dick. Turn a hobby into a career.”
“Ha ha. What have you done lately, besides meth?”
“I don’t do meth.”
“How’d you lose all those teeth then?”
“I got into a fight. You should have seen the other guy.”
“Uh-huh. What else have you done lately?
The concert, scheduled for eight, began at 8:50. The opening act, Swedge, sucked, but at least they played for only twenty minutes. Then nothing. Not a sign of Thunderblood anywhere.
10:00 passed. Then 10:30. 11. I kept drinking ginger ale. Shawn kept drinking whiskey, with me buying. I wanted to impress him for some reason. Due to the shutdown, I’d depleted most of my bank account and worried that—
“Hey, remember when Stiffy farted and made a giant mushroom cloud?” Shawn asked.
“Hee-larious! Better than Shakespeare!”
“Yeah. I don’t think the band’s gonna show.”
“Just a little while longer.”
“I have to get up early for work tomorrow.”
“Why? They’re not payin’ you.”
“I know, but I need to protect our country.”
“Screw our country. I hope the Chinese take over. Free General Tso’s for everyone!”
I got up and left. I never saw Shawn again, nor did I ever find out if Stiffy’s band had played. That was four decades ago, but it seems like four centuries.
I still love America. We all have our quirks, I guess.