Humor, Parenting

A Note from Mom

A month before my younger daughter left for college, I embraced the fact that I was a terrible mother.

The University had apparently contracted with an outside vendor to deliver care packages to the students living in the campus dorm rooms.  When I opened the mail one day, a pre-printed card with the caption “A Note from Mom” dropped out of one of the envelopes.  I read the enclosed letter, which gave me the opportunity to purchase a series of food packages that would be delivered to my adult child throughout the course of the year.  It also suggested that I would not want to be the type of parent who would allow my daughter to experience the agony of being left out when all the other students were receiving their care packages at school.

It doesn’t take much to make my imagination run wild.  I closed my eyes and visualized a grizzled turnkey struggling to push an enormous cart full of pre-packaged snack food down the dormitory corridors.  A line of eager students reach for their packages and their computer generated notes from Mom, somersaulting through the air in excitement.  Kind of like a cross between a Busby Berkeley musical from the 1930s and an episode of Orange is the New Black.  Pan in to my own daughter, who is huddled in the corner of her room in the fetal position, sobbing and snotting into her brand new Twin XL dorm sheets.  No care package for you, my pretty.

I started to laugh hysterically.

My daughter ran downstairs to see what was wrong with me.  This happens quite often in our house.  I showed her the letter and said, “You’re going to be nineteen next month.  You have a Sam’s Club membership and a car.  You also have my credit card.  Do you really think you’re going to be scarred for life if you don’t get a goody box and a note just because someone else got one?  I’m getting a little too old for this kind of peer pressure.”

“I don’t know,” she said.  “It’s nice to have snacks.”

“You don’t even like half the stuff that’s in those things,” I said.  “For that kind of money, I can take you out shopping and buy you food you’ll actually eat.  And do you really need a note from mommy at your age?”

So there.  I was a terrible mother.

It didn’t start out that way.  When I was pregnant with my first child, I subscribed to every parenting magazine on the face of the earth, blissfully unaware of what I was getting myself into.  I tried environmentally friendly cloth diapers for a while, until I realized that they were no match for the vicious outpourings of the infant intestinal tract.  I also began to question the pictures in the magazines of all the well-dressed mothers holding their immaculate offspring.  In my experience, the best outfit for holding an infant or toddler is a heavy duty rain slicker.  Young children have many orifices.  The things that come out of those orifices generally wind up on the mother’s clothing.  Any garment with care instructions that does not include the use of a garden hose is strictly off-limits.

Things really began to reach critical mass when my older daughter reached her toddler years.  According to the magazines, a good mother would take the time to serve her child a perfect piece of buttered toast carved into the likeness of a cartoon character, then delivered to the table carefully plated with apples shaped like butterflies and carrot strips arranged into fairy wings.  My child could have cared less.  As long as she had multiple small bowls filled with ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and ranch dressing to dip everything into, she was happy.  The parenting magazines offered nothing of value to a woman who had given birth to the Condiment Queen.

By the time I was pregnant with my second child, I had allowed all of my parenting magazine subscriptions to lapse.  My older daughter was ecstatic about the new arrival.  She would be getting a sister, a brand new playmate.  For nine months, I was the best mom in the universe.  Unfortunately, it didn’t last.  Instead of a playmate, I brought home a damn baby.   I tried to make it up to my firstborn.  At her request, I spent lots of extra time sitting with her in the living room, holding her new baby sister and watching TItanic on videotape over and over and over again.  Surprisingly enough, no matter how many times we watched it, the story did not end well for most of the cast.  The baby didn’t seem to mind, but I don’t recommend this activity to any new mother coping with raging postnatal hormones and a recent episiotomy.

Apparently the marathon sessions of Titanic had more of an impact than I’d expected.  By the time she turned two, my second child was a tough little nugget who had her own opinion about what constituted being a good playmate.  I watched as my two daughters wrestled over a stuffed toy and decided to dispense some sage parenting advice.  I tapped my oldest on the shoulder and said, “I would let go of that toy if I were you.  She’s going to hurt you.”

The Condiment Queen laughed and said, “She’s only two.  I’m eight and a half.  She can’t hurt me.”

“Have it your way,” I said, as my older daughter was dragged across the rough carpet on her knees, still clutching the stuffed animal.

As I was bandaging the rug burns, I realized that some profound life lessons can be learned in early infancy.  Considering the size of the average door, there was probably more than enough room for both Jack and Rose to share that flotation device as it drifted away from the Titanic, but I think everyone knows how that situation worked out.  The baby had obviously observed that the outcome was much better for Rose than it was for Jack.  Her sister also figured it out by the time her scrapes healed.

Luckily, both my children survived childhood, despite the Titanic.  Over the years, I think I grew into my role as a terrible mother.  I willfully refused to think for my children and, although I would always provide them with advice, they both knew that they were expected to face the consequences of the decisions they made.  I wasn’t there to be their oversized best buddy, either.  If they behaved badly, I figured it was my job to let them know they were being jerks and they shouldn’t feel good about it.  One year my younger daughter, always a top student, got a bad grade on a test.  Her teacher told her that she needed to return her test paper to school the next day with my signature on it.  Knowing full well what would happen if she showed me the test, my daughter decided that she was going to forge my signature on the paper.  She got caught.  When she had to own up to what had happened, I told her that I was upset that she had done badly on the test, but I was even more disappointed by the  lousy job she’d done forging my signature.  After all, she was the daughter of an art major and I let her know that I expected much better work from her in the future.  A little humor never hurts when you’re a terrible mother.

I always let my girls read whatever they wanted, as long as they were able to understand the material.  As a terrible mother, I believed that the age of the mind doesn’t always correspond with the age of the body.  I routinely sent notes to the librarian at the middle school to permit access to the “secret” part of the library that housed controversial books.   Thankfully, by this point my daughter had given up on a life of crime.  My signature was real on these notes.  The same rules applied to television and movies, which we watched together as a family.  I was never afraid to discuss uncomfortable topics with them and never hesitated to answer even the most awkward questions.  The real world was out there waiting for them, and they would meet up with it sooner or later, whether I tried to shelter them or not.  Since I had stopped reading all the parenting magazines years ago, I wasn’t a bit interested in trying to keep them as little children forever.  I figured it was my job to turn them into adults, and, as terrible as I was, I stuck with the program and enjoyed every stage of the process.

Through the years, I think they might have learned a thing or two.  They both know that if you make a commitment to do something, you don’t back out.  If things don’t work out the way you expect, you regroup and move on.  They know that if you take a job, you show up to work on time and do your work to the best of your ability.  They know that you should try to learn something new every day and you should never let anyone put shackles on your mind or spirit.  They know that you should treat the people around you with compassion and understanding.  There is always room for someone else on that floating door if you’re willing to give a little ground.  And they know that if they don’t do the right thing, their terrible mother will still let them know about it.

Over the past few months, I’ve made multiple trips to Sam’s Club with my younger daughter, loading the trunk of my Jeep with snacks and beverages that she’ll actually eat, and even share with her friends.  To the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t been a single occasion where she’s been left alone, sobbing into her pillow as everyone else gets a care package.

Not buckling to peer pressure feels pretty good.

 

Best regards,

 

A Terrible Mother

 

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Comedy, Humor

Cat

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Cats were revered in ancient Egypt above all other animals.  The cat goddess Bastet was the protectress of the pharaoh.  Cats were often mummified to join their owners in the next life, or as offerings to the gods they represented.

We now have the 21st Century North American Tabby.  How can thousands of years of evolution go so terribly wrong?

Comedy, Humor, Satire

Animal Logic

After living together for two years, Artie the cat had come to the conclusion that Georgina was his soulmate.  Artie prided himself on being a sensitive companion, pudgy and loveable, with refined tastes in personal grooming and fine food.  Unlike most males, Artie was generally non-judgmental and held Georgina in the same high regard whether she appeared in a purifying charcoal facial mask and stained sweat pants or in her most fashionable Saturday night stilettos with a tight black skirt.  Georgina herself was also pudgy and loveable, and would often share plates of delicious greasy meat with Artie when he jumped onto the kitchen table and gently tapped her fork with his striped orange paw.  She could also count on his dependability each evening as he anxiously awaited her return home from work at his official station on the sofa, his bright yellow eyes blinking rapidly in the semi-darkness.

Artie always followed Georgina into the bedroom, an eager witness to the many small intimacies of her life.  Artie particularly liked to watch Georgina undress, fascinated by the sight of her stockings rolling down her legs and the slight fungal musk of her shoes as she tossed them into her closet.  Georgina disregarded Artie’s rapt attention, assuming that his brain was too small to process what he was seeing, and, at any rate, he certainly wouldn’t be able to brag about it to his friends the next morning.  From Artie’s point of view, the only other thing that came close to watching Georgina undress was catching a fresh young bird and snapping its bones between his fangs.  Both activities tended to lull him into a state of pleasant stupidity.

The high point of Artie’s day arrived when Georgina opened his pouch of Tender Bites in the kitchen each evening.  Georgina would call out his name and tear the little pouch open, crooning “Tender Bites, Artie.  It’s Tender Bites time.”  Artie was uncertain of exactly what Tender Bites really were, but being a very hungry animal, he devoured them anyway.

From time to time, Georgina seemed to be able to get her own human version of Tender Bites on the little rectangular light box she sometimes spoke into.  Artie would listen to Georgina talking into the gadget, his ears perking up when Georgina mentioned the word “Tender” although she failed to say the word “Bites.”  After she was done talking to the little box, Georgina would furiously swipe her finger over and over again across the front of the light box.  Artie assumed that this was some strange form of human feeding.

Sometimes Georgina would shriek in excitement at the little box after a prolonged session of finger swiping.  On these rare occasions, a male human inevitably arrived at their apartment within a short period of time.  After a few of these incidents, Artie discovered that the sight of men undressing pleased him not at all.  The men were very workmanlike about removing their clothing and most seemed to find it amusing to toss their soiled briefs onto Artie’s head.  Artie was usually able to extricate himself from the underwear fairly quickly and patiently plot his revenge.

Artie made note that most of Georgina’s visitors tended to perch on the edge of the bed before retrieving their clothes from the floor.  From the halcyon days of his kittenhood, before he was brutally neutered against his will, Artie remembered the chilling impact of a pawful of sharp claws on the scrotal sac.  His first tentative swipes at Georgina’s guest that night corroborated his theory that the effects were similar on a human male.  The intruder screamed with such intensity that the fur on Artie’s back rose up in a solid mass and he found himself fleeing to hide behind his litter box in the bathroom.

A few minutes later, Georgina, a well-intentioned paramour but a cruel nurse, attempted to treat her guest’s wounds with a topical application of rubbing alcohol.  Artie certainly approved of the rubbing alcohol, although he was somewhat alarmed when the second round of screams surpassed the first in viciousness.

Much to his surprise, after that night Artie was unceremoniously locked in the guest room, often without his own supper, when Georgina had company after her Tender meals.

One day Artie noticed that things had changed in the apartment.  Georgina was no longer screaming in delight after her Tender feeding sessions and he realized that it had been quite a while since he had spent the evening alone in the guest room.  Georgina arrived home much later than usual that night, carrying a large duffel bag and two grocery sacks full of strange green things.  Artie followed her into the bedroom, as was his habit, and was shocked to see Georgina’s stockings and dress shoes sitting in the duffel bag, along with a slightly damp towel and a bottle of water.  Instead of undressing, Georgina remained in the sweat pants and t-shirt she had worn home and marched into the kitchen.  His routine hopelessly disrupted, Artie followed closely behind, eager to share Georgina’s freshly prepared kill of the day.  Hopefully tonight would be chicken, his personal favorite.  Artie narrowed his eyes as Georgina removed the strange green objects from the paper bags and chopped several of them into pieces with a large kitchen knife.  He was unsure why she was wasting her time on this useless activity when it was clearly well past supper time for both of them.  Then, to his horror, Georgina piled the chopped green things onto her plate and sat down to eat.  A creature of habit, Artie jumped onto the table and expectantly tapped Georgina’s fork with his paw.  Georgina placed an object that looked like a stubby little tree with a tufted greyish-green top in front of Artie.  Unsure of what was expected of him, Artie let his emotions take control and swatted the nasty green thing onto the floor in disgust.  Georgina seemed to be ignoring him, so Artie continued to bat the little tree across the kitchen floor and into Georgina’s bedroom, where he finally picked it up in his mouth and dropped it into the shoe sitting in her duffel bag.  Offended to his very core by the mere suggestion that he should be expected to eat this miserable thing, Artie climbed into the duffel bag and decided that the best course of action was to urinate on it to let Georgina know that her behavior was totally unacceptable.

Much to his surprise, when Georgina came back into the bedroom, he was roughly hoisted into the air by the scruff of his neck, carried into the kitchen, and pushed through the open window onto the fire escape.  For the next three weeks, Artie was forced to live on the fire escape, a small dish of dry food pellets and a cup of water as his only sustenance.  He could see Georgina through the window, gnawing on a variety of green and yellow objects.  They were both becoming considerably less pudgy, which did not impress Artie in the least.

One evening, as Artie was waiting for Georgina to return home and thrust his bowl of food through the window, he spied a woman walking along the street below, eating a large sandwich overflowing with meat.  Being much leaner now, Artie had little difficulty racing down the steps of the fire escape and launching himself into her path, his mouth wide open in anticipation.  The woman peeled some of the meat away from her sandwich and dropped it into Artie’s mouth.  Artie trotted along beside her, keeping close proximity to her pudgy calves as she entered her apartment.  Artie looked around, pleased at his new surroundings.

After all, soulmates were a dime a dozen, but a good sandwich was hard to find.

Humor, Satire

The Tourists

Doc waited patiently on the bed, watching Patrick comb his hair.  The sounds of the street could be heard through the open window of the hotel room, horns blaring and people shouting, already drunk well before sunset.

“We’re gonna turn this place inside out, Doc,” said Patrick.  He gave a final affectionate pat to the elaborate wave on top of his head and threw the comb onto the bed beside Doc.

Doc stood up and walked over to the window.  The hotel was in the seediest location imaginable, rendering its attractive rate package considerably less appealing.  Directly below the window, a group of boys were squaring off with knives and tire irons.  A matching group of girls watched the action from across the street, nubile vampires hungry for the first drop of blood.

“Are you sure you want to go out there?” said Doc nervously.  Patrick was pacing back and forth, tugging at the waistband of his tight jeans.

“I played the tuba for a year just to go on this trip,” snarled Patrick.  “You can stay in the hotel all weekend if you want, but I’m ready for some action.”

Doc watched one of the street kids gracefully plunge a knife into another boy’s stomach.  A chorus of choked sighs arose from the girls as blood trickled from the boy’s mouth.

“Maybe some famous Broadway producer will see me and cast me in his next play,” said Patrick hopefully.  The new wardrobe his mother had bought him for the band trip was certainly fashionable enough to capture the most discriminating eye.  “I could be a star.”

Doc hunched his shoulders noncommittally and turned his back to the window. “Somebody just got stabbed down there, Patrick.  Why don’t we just order room service and call it a night?”

“Now you’re acting like a tourist, Doc.”  Patrick headed for the bathroom for one last check on his physical appearance.  One never knew who might be out and about on the streets.

Patrick grinned intro the mirror, wishing that his braces could have been removed before this weekend, then closed his lips tightly to practice the sullen, worldly look that had been so successful for his high school yearbook photograph.  As always, he was dressed in perfect style, the open neck of his sport shirt revealing a tantalizing glimpse of the tiny thatch of hair that had recently sprouted on his chest.  The gold chains around his neck were really plated copper, but no one else had to know that.

When he turned around, Doc was standing in the bathroom doorway, looking as out of place in a New York hotel room as he did everywhere else.  With his thick glasses and short, formless body, Doc was hardly a fitting companion for a debauched night on the town, but he was the only person on the band trip malleable enough to go along with Patrick’s schemes.

“We’ll have a great time,” said Patrick, trying not to sigh too loudly.  Dracula had his Renfield.  Patrick had Doc.

“I need fresh virgin blood,” Patrick said in his deepest voice, fixing Doc with a perfect preternatural stare.

Doc shrugged.  “I need to study for my Geometry test on Monday,” he grumbled.  “It’s not like the Band is my life, you know.  Some people want to go to college.”

“Are you still going to be a heart surgeon?” said Patrick, taking Doc by the upper arm and pulling him out of the bathroom.  This is the first step in mind manipulation, he thought.  Get your person so busy talking about himself that he doesn’t know where you’re leading him.

“That was in ninth grade,” said Doc.  “The real future’s in genetic engineering.”

Patrick felt the familiar pang of defeat gripping his belly.  For some reason, Doc’s dumpy body was not cooperating with Patrick’s subtle efforts at mind control.  Much to Patrick’s surprise, he discovered that Doc had pulled away from him and was heading for the stack of textbooks piled on his bed.

“What are you doing there, Doc?”  Patrick hovered directly over Doc, addressing the back of his head.

Doc peered suspiciously at Patrick from the corner of his eye.  “Patrick, back off a few steps.  You’re making me nervous.”

“It’s time to go out and paint the town red, Doc.”  Patrick moved closer and stood on the tips of his toes so he could manage to tower over Doc.  Step number two: Gain a Physical Advantage.

“If ABA equals PC and FE bisects PC, what is the area of ELF?”  Doc traced a rough triangle in the air for Patrick’s edification.

“You’d be better off slicing into someone’s aorta,” said Patrick.  “Forget that stuff.  It’s getting dark outside.”

Doc straightened slowly and pulled a lemon yellow cardigan from his suitcase.  “All right, Patrick.  I’ll go.  But we have to be back in a couple of hours.  I don’t want to blow my chances of a scholarship over a stupid band weekender.”

By the time Patrick and Doc had walked three blocks from the hotel, Doc was sweating profusely.  For a day in early spring, the streets were incredibly steamy and the strange men in long robes who repeatedly tugged at his sleeve were beginning to get on his nerves.  Every restaurant and diner they passed was filled with dangerous looking people.  Doc was becoming desperate for a simple cheeseburger from a place where he would not have to sterilize the meat before putting it in his mouth.

Patrick was also becoming desperate, his head swiveling about in search of a bar that might serve two underage foreigners from the Midwest.  From the corner of his eye, he could see desire in the eyes of the women on the street. They had obviously never seen the likes of himself in their city.  He actually pitied the poor wenches slavering after his hard, unobtainable flesh.  Perhaps when the night progressed to a fine peak of madness, he would throw them Doc as a consolation prize for their patience.

Patrick elbowed Doc in the ribs and boldly pointed to a woman standing at the entrance of a hotel even dingier than their own.  “Look at that skirt, Doc,” he gasped.  “It looks like it’s made out of rubber.  And it barely covers her you-know-what.  You don’t see too many pieces like that back home.”

Catching the boys’ stares, the woman smiled languidly and unbuttoned her blouse, exposing flattened breasts and stiff, rouged nipples.

Doc cocked his head quizzically to the side and kept on walking.  “That was a pretty friendly thing for her to do,” he said over his shoulder.  There was a hotdog vendor on the next block who had infinitely more appeal to Doc at the present moment.

“What’s wrong with you?” shrieked Patrick, almost tumbling to the ground as he raced to keep pace with Doc, while at the same time keeping his eyes fixed on the woman’s bare breasts. “Can’t you see she wanted us?”

“Will you sell me a hotdog with mustard, please?” said Doc when he reached the vendor’s cart.

“You’re from out of town, aren’t you?” said the vendor, reaching a filthy hand into a steel compartment filled with chunks of meat and other unrecognizable objects.  “I lost my tongs somewhere.  You don’t mind if I use my hands, do you?”

“We’re not from out of town,” snarled Patrick, suddenly appearing from nowhere to take charge.  “We grew up right around here.  Now shut your fucking mouth and give my friend his food.”

The vendor stoically smeared mustard across the top of the hotdog and handed it to Doc. “That’ll be ten dollars, kid,” he said.

“I don’t have ten dollars,” said Doc, stricken.  “I never heard of anyone paying that much for a hotdog.”

Patrick glared at Doc and reached into his pocket for the roll of money his mother had given him before escorting him onto the chartered bus.  He pulled a bill from the roll and threw it onto the cart, refusing to make eye contact with the vendor.

Doc trudged off before any more insults could be exchanged, taking large, hungry bites of the hot dog as he struggled for some plausible excuse to return to the hotel.  Several seconds passed before he realized that Patrick was once again at his side, hissing viciously into his ear.

“Don’t you know that you have to act like a native to survive around here,” lectured Patrick wildly.  “You’re going to get us both killed.  Just watch the way I act and follow along, Doc.  You saw how I got that hotdog guy under control in no time.”

“You paid ten bucks for a rotten hotdog.  No hotdog’s worth that much money.”

“This is New York,” said Patrick patiently, amazed at Doc’s sheltered upbringing.  “Things are expensive around here.  That’s exactly what I meant by acting like you’re from out of town.  Hotdogs naturally cost more in a big city. I know about these things.”

Doc finished the hotdog and tossed his paper napkin onto the street.  “The sign on the cart said a dollar.”

“What sign?” said Patrick.

“The one on the side of the hotdog cart.  It said ‘Hot Dogs: $1.”

Patrick stopped abruptly and glared at Doc.  Things were not going according to plan, and he was sure that Doc was somehow to blame.  “Why didn’t you say something about it, then?”

“I thought you had everything under control.”  Doc shuffled back and forth in place, wondering if there was any place in this city where he could get a decent meal without first obtaining a large bank loan.

“The trick is to let these people know that you can handle them,” continued Patrick, recovering somewhat.  “They’re all like animals.  If they detect the slightest trace of hesitation or fear in you, they move in for the kill.”

“Then why don’t we just go back to the hotel?  The people there seemed harmless enough.”

“It’s all a facade, Doc,” said Patrick sadly.  “They just wait for you to leave your room so they can break in and steal all your valuables.”

“I don’t have any valuables,” said Doc nonchalantly before a sudden burst of panic seized him.  “What if they steal my geometry book, Patrick?”  Doc moved closer to Patrick and slung his arms around his friend’s neck in misery, desperate for reassurance of some sort.  “The school charges you if you lose your textbooks.  I’ll bet they’re worth thousands of dollars.”

Patrick rapidly disentangled himself from Doc’s clutching embrace, worried that he might be establishing the wrong kind of reputation on his first night in a strange city.

Doc walked on alone, pulling at his lower lip with his teeth in despair.  He came to a halt in front of a pretzel vendor, briefly debating whether he should try to dominate the elderly Korean woman standing there with a barrage of obscenities.

“How much are those?’ he said instead, pointing at a pile of pretzels stacked in the glass case that was attached to the side of the cart.

“Those not for sale.  They very old.  No good.”

Doc leaned closer and propped his elbows on the cart.  He could barely understand what the old woman was saying to him, but knew that it was of vital importance that he establish a rapport with her.

“Will you sell me a pretzel?” he wailed.  “I’m very hungry.  I’m a tourist and I’m scared to death.”  Doc anxiously looked around for Patrick, who was nowhere to be found.  “I’m here on a weekender with the McKinley High School Marching Band.”

The old woman nodded sympathetically and handed Doc a pretzel.  Doc wonderingly took the pretzel from her wrinkled hand and sank his teeth into it, almost gagging from the heavy layer of rock salt.

“I saw someone get stabbed right in front of our hotel,” added Doc, mumbling through a full mouth.  This is the worst pretzel I’ve ever tasted, he thought, looking into the woman’s bright raisin eyes.

“Delicious,” he said.  “You’re a fine cook, ma’am.  Could I have another, please?”  Patrick seemed to have been swallowed up somewhere on the street, and the pretzels, though stale and disgusting, were oddly comforting.  Maybe city life wasn’t so bad after all.

Comedy, Humor, Satire

Young Achievers: It’s Just Different

 

After being thrown out of the bank building, we received word that the Young Achievers would be meeting the following Monday in an abandoned car repair shop. When my father pulled up in front of the building, I noticed that what had once been the front window had been replaced with sheets of plywood. This was probably merciful as long as Bill was still in charge.

At first, it didn’t look like anyone was even there. Then Bill skittered around the side of the building, gesturing wildly with one hand for me to follow him, while his other hand was occupied making strange shushing gestures. My father continued to sit in the car, glaring at Bill and shaking his head.

“Your father doesn’t have to wait for you,” said Bill. “I’m here.”

“That’s why he’s waiting,” I said.

We walked around to the rear of the building. The back door appeared to have been forced open and there were several splintered sections of wood lying on the ground, along with shards of broken glass from the shattered transom window at the top of the door.

“What happened to the door?” I asked.

“Never mind that,” muttered Bill. “This town is overrun with weasels. Those animals will stop at nothing to get to their acorns. Someone should call the police about this. I almost lost a leg fighting those miserable little bastards.”

The inside of the garage was illuminated by several kerosene lamps, which cast eerie circles of yellowish light directly around the lamps while leaving the rest of the garage in semi-darkness. The lawn chairs from the bank were placed in a row close to the lanterns. There were two boxes on the floor, overflowing with blocks of wood, a power saw and drill, used golf tees, bottles of poster paint and several paint brushes.

The area by the bay doors in the front had obviously been used for oil changes. There was an uncovered pit roughly six feet deep with metal climbing rungs embedded into one of the concrete walls. Piles of garbage were strewn over the floor of the pit. A rusted blowtorch was propped against one of the buckling walls. The cement floor surrounding the pit was splotched with patches of congealed motor oil and dried gasoline. It was gratifying to see that we were moving up in the world.

The Triplets were already seated in their lawn chairs. This week, they were wearing green polo shirts with matching plaid bowties and thick safety goggles. Their advisor was wearing his typical three-piece suit and dress shoes. As usual, they were engaged in some obscure planning activities with the advisor’s calculator. Party Girl was pacing around the edges of the room, deeply engaged in a private conversation with herself.

Suddenly, someone began pounding on the other side of the plywood panels at the front of the garage. Bill’s arms shot straight up in the air in the universal sign of pathetic surrender. “This is so much sooner than the last time,” he said. “Damn these small town police departments. There just aren’t enough donut shops to keep them occupied.”

A muffled voice came from outside. “How do we get in here? This place is all boarded up. This is not an appropriate venue for the Young Achievers. Who decided we were having our meetings in this dump?”

“It’s just Joel,” scoffed Bill, his arms dropping to his sides. “Back to business.” Bill started rummaging through the boxes of supplies. He pulled out a long extension cord and plugged it into a wall outlet, then attached the drill to the cord and tossed it back into the box.

A few seconds later, Joel forced his way in through the back door and marched over to Bill. “I called Young Achievers after our meeting last week. They don’t even know who you are. I’m supposed to be in charge of this group. I think it’s time for you to leave.”

“Of course they know who I am,” said Bill. “But they’re certainly not going to tell you. That would be corporate espionage. I invented the product that our company is producing. If Young Achievers acknowledged that I was the leader of this group, it would violate international trade laws. We could all go to jail for this. Calm yourself down, Joel. You’re just not leadership material.”

Joel attempted to storm off to the side of the room, but his feet kept sliding on the puddles of motor oil. He finally dropped down sullenly into one of the lawn chairs.

At that moment, Nancy flounced through the door. She had apparently decided that, as a businessman, she needed to upgrade her image. She had swapped out the Army surplus jacket for a very thin polyester tube top and a tight spandex skirt. Although she still had a huge wad of chewing gum in her mouth, she had chosen to do some extra work on her hair this week, pulling it tightly together at the top of her head with a thick rubber band and a bright green scrunchie and then winding it together in a tight braid. Because her hair was so abnormally thick and habitually sticky, the braid stood completely upright from the top of her head like a giant deformed carrot. She was also wearing a very tall pair of green plastic stiletto heels. As a result, from the base of her shoes to the tip of the braid, Nancy stood nearly seven feet tall. The Triplets stared at her in wonder.

Party Girl stopped talking to herself and marched over to Nancy with her hands on her hips. “You look like a prostitute. That’s not the kind of business we’re learning about here.”

“It could be,” said Bill.

“Does your mother know you’re dressed like this?” continued Party Girl.

“These are her clothes,” said Nancy. “She’ll kill me if she catches me wearing them, so we better get this meeting started pretty soon.”

“All right, kids,” chirped Bill. “It’s time to get this assembly line up and running. Did everyone remember to bring their five dollars tonight?”

We all looked down at our laps.

“We’re just kids,” said Party Girl. “We don’t have any money. I thought we were here to learn how to make money.”

“You have to spend money to make money,” snapped Bill. “I had to pay for all that wood out of my own pocket. You have to tell your parents that you need to give me five bucks or the company will go bankrupt. Don’t forget to bring lots of money next week.”

Nancy was craning around in her chair, looking down into the pit. “What’s that thing for?” she said to me.

“It’s to get under a car to do work,” I said. “This used to be a mechanic’s shop. My dad brought our car here before it closed down.”

“I want to go down there,” whined Nancy. “I don’t want to make these stupid games.”

“I don’t think we’re allowed to go down there,” I said.

Bill was busy at the front of the room setting up two sawhorses with a board resting on top. He placed one of the triangular blocks of wood on the board and grabbed a handful of golf tees. “Okay kids,” he said. “Let me show you how this works.” He started shoving the golf tees into the holes in the wooden triangle. “All you have to do is keep jumping over your pegs until you can’t make any more moves. Then you’re done. Let me tell you, this is more fun than any kid deserves.”

“Wait a minute,” said Joel. “You didn’t invent that. This game has been around forever. They have these in all the pancake houses. You’re a liar.”

Bill folded his arms across his chest. “Ours is different,” he said.

“What do you mean by…different,” said Joel suspiciously.

“Drum roll, please, kids,” said Bill smugly.

We all stared at him, unsure of what to do.

“I said….drum roll PLEASE!” Bill was getting happy feet again, waiting for the excitement to get started in the room. He began to jump up and down, frantically slapping his hands against his thighs.

“Oh my god,” said Nancy. “Here comes the underwear.”

The Triplets leapt to their feet and launched into an uncoordinated dance, made infinitely more complex by the heavy layer of fog inside their safety goggles.

“C’mon, girls!” screamed Bill. “Let’s show some Company Spirit!”

As if possessed, Nancy rose up out of her chair and did her best to stomp up and down without moving her feet. This started a chain reaction inside her tube top that brought the Triplets to an abrupt halt. Bill also stopped dancing. The room fell silent.

Joel’s face had turned bright red. “Stop that!” he shrieked, running over to Nancy and pushing her down into her chair. The Triplets sat back down, obviously disappointed.

“This is why nobody likes you, Joel,” said Bill. “We were doing the official Company Spirit dance and you ruined it for everyone. I’m not sure I can trust you now with our company secrets. What do you think, kids? I think Joel needs to go stand outside while we talk about our plans. He might try to sell our secrets on the black market.”

Joel had picked up the power drill and was advancing on Bill. “I’m going to drill holes on each side of your jaw and then ram those golf tees into them so you can’t speak anymore,” he hissed.

Bill was obviously no stranger to this particular threat. He quickly reached over and pulled the drill out of Joel’s hand.

“I was talking to the team, Joel. You have to learn to stop interrupting. Now here’s what makes our game unique. There will only be two holes in the triangle. Each game comes with our special patented wooden triangle and two golf tees. When you can’t jump your golf tee anymore, the game is over.”

“The game can’t even get started,” said Joel. “There’s nowhere to jump over the golf tee if there are only two holes in the triangle. This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of.”

“You’re just too negative, Joel,” said Bill. “This is an educational kids’ game. It teaches children valuable problem solving skills. Just think of how many hours those little tykes will spend figuring out the secret to our game. That’s time spent not watching television. Parents will go wild over this game.”

Nancy was digging around in a tiny pocket in the front of her skirt. “Look. My mom left a pack of matches in here. Maybe we can smoke something.”

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“I’m going down into that pit,” whispered Nancy. “Maybe I can find something down there.”

Nancy rose from her seat and tottered over to the side of the pit. The Triplets were instantly on high alert, eager to see another Company Spirit dance. Nancy was having more than a little difficulty getting into the pit. The stiletto heels of her shoes had become trapped in the top rung of the ladder and she was desperately clinging onto the concrete ledge to keep her balance.

“Why don’t you take off those stupid Barbie shoes?” said Party Girl.

“They’re stuck,” wailed Nancy, finally flopping down on her stomach, her skirt rolling up above her waist.

The Triplets were desperately trying to pull off their safety goggles to get a better view. Their advisor was still placidly seated in his lawn chair, hands folded in his lap, staring off into the distance. In retrospect, it’s obvious that this man was indulging himself with some very high powered drugs before attending the Young Achievers meetings. At the time, though, we all just figured that this was what happened to people when they got very old and wore suits every day. He was certainly not one of the kids.

Bill and Joel had wrestled their way over to the box of supplies and were throwing the little wooden triangles and golf tees at one another.

Nancy had finally managed to pull her feet out of her shoes and was disappearing down the ladder. After a few seconds, all you could see was the top of her braid bobbing along as she moved around the pit.

“There’s a big pile of stinky old rags and a bunch of dirty magazines down here,” yelled Nancy.

“That makes sense,” I said. “Bill was here first.”

“Hey,” said Nancy. “I found part of an old cigar down here too. I want to try and smoke it.”

“That’s disgusting,” said Party Girl. “You have no idea where that thing has been. You don’t seriously plan on putting that in your mouth, do you?”

“Sure,” said Nancy. “It was just on the floor. It’s fine.”

I heard the match strike, followed by a loud sucking noise. Nancy threw the lit match over her shoulder and began to cough uncontrollably. Suddenly, a huge plume of flame erupted out of the pit.

“Oh my god,” screamed Nancy, clambering up the ladder. “That old pile of stuff is on fire! We have to do something.”

Bill and Joel were too busy smacking at each other to notice what was going on in the room. Party Girl ran over to Bill and grabbed him by the sleeve. “The building is on fire!” she screamed. “Do you have a fire extinguisher?”

“Fire?” said Bill quizzically. “That’s not part of the manufacturing process. Is this another one of your crazy ideas, Joel?”

“Fire!” wailed Joel. “We have to get out of here right now! Someone could get hurt. Young Achievers will report me to the police for this and I’ll lose my job.”

“Here we go again,” said Bill. “Making this all about yourself.” He turned to address the team. “Hey kids, Joel’s gotten us into trouble again and we have to leave right away. The building is on fire. I’ll meet everyone across the street.” Then he took off running and disappeared through the back door. The Triplets and their advisor were already long gone, having beat a hasty retreat at the sight of the first pillar of flame. Party Girl, Nancy and I followed Bill out the door and across the street. Once again, Nancy was without shoes.

The advisor in the business suit was walking down the street towards us. “I called 9-1-1,” he said. “The police and the fire department should be here in a couple of minutes.”

“You’re in charge, Joel,” yelled Bill as he ran off down the street, jumped in his car, and drove away. He hadn’t been gone for more than a few seconds when a large explosion came from inside the mechanic’s shop and the plywood sheeting was sheared away from the building and catapulted into the street.

“Oh no,” cried Nancy. “I left my mom’s shoes in there. Do you think they’re going to be okay?”

“Probably not,” I said.

“She’s going to kill me. She was passed out when I took them off her feet, but she always wakes up eventually.”

The police and firemen had arrived. An officer was talking to Joel while the firefighters battled the blaze. For some reason, Joel did not look very happy.

It was still early, so I decided to walk home that night. My father was sitting at the kitchen table, reading the newspaper.

“Why are you home so soon?” he asked me.

“Things were kind of boring tonight at Young Achievers, Dad. I’m not sure if we’ll be having any more meetings after this”

“Well… what did you do at the meeting?”

“Nothing much. Is it okay if I just go to my room and paint? I really don’t want to talk about it.”

I just didn’t have the heart to tell him that my second venture into the business world had turned out even worse than the first one. He would find out soon enough on his own . Unless I got to the next day’s newspaper before he did.

Comedy, Humor, Satire

Young Achievers: A New Beginning

No parents want their child to be known throughout life as a Typing School Dropout. In a small town, the stigma can be unbearable. So, much to my horror, my mother and father informed me that I was going to be enrolled in a special night class for teenage entrepreneurs, where I would learn the magic secrets of how to run a successful business.

“I don’t want to run a business,” I told my father. I wanted to spend my Monday evenings drawing and painting, just like I’d been doing every other Monday night, not going to another stupid class. Typing School had hardened my heart against commercial training.

“You’re going whether you like it or not,” said my father. He handed me a piece of paper with information on the first Young Achievers meeting. It appeared that my life would come screeching to a halt the following Monday at 7:00PM.

I stormed up the stairs to my room, screaming behind me, “You’re trying to make a fool out of me. You’re ruining my life.  I’ll never forgive you for this.”

“Good,” said my father.  Then he had the nerve to laugh at me.  I slammed the door to my room three times just to let him know that I didn’t find his little schemes amusing at all.   I could still hear him laughing at me, all the way down in the kitchen.  Rude.

Unlike Typing School, I decided that I was not going to embark on this particular venture alone. The next morning at school, I recruited my friend Nancy to join the Young Achievers group with me. Although she exhibited absolutely no interest in learning about business, or much of anything else, she was the only person I knew who was allowed to wander the streets at night without supervision. She may not have come from the greatest home, but a special mixture of questionable genetics and subpar hygiene had given her the precious gift of a massive tumbleweed of bright red hair that rarely felt the tug of a brush. She also had a significant overbite and loved to chew huge wads of Bazooka bubble gum with her mouth hanging wide open. Business partners like that are hard to come by.

My parents had bought me a nice new outfit so I would make a good first impression as I ventured into this strange new world of commerce. Nancy and I met up at the corner of Main Street on the first Monday night of September. It was unseasonably cold, and the wind was howling between the towering rows of one and two-story buildings that formed the majestic downtown skyline. As we walked down the street, Nancy was forced to stop several times to wrestle with the tufts of hair that the wind had blown into her mouth and embedded into the huge ball of bubble gum clenched between her front teeth. By the time we reached the bank building, there were several long strings of spit laden pink chewing gum hanging from her hair on both sides of her face.

I knew that we only had one chance to make a good first impression.

We were doomed.

A smiling middle-aged woman with a clipboard greeted us at the door of the bank building. She checked our names off her list and directed us to go up the stairs to the second floor. I hit the stairs running, hoping I could put some distance between myself and Nancy, but she refused to let go of my sleeve, and we stumbled through the door of the waiting area as a team.

There were several plastic lawn chairs lining the walls of the waiting room. The lady with the clipboard informed us that we would be called in momentarily for our interviews with the volunteer businessmen who would be leading our Young Achievers group. Then she looked at Nancy and said, “What is that in your hair, honey?”

“They’re the new barrettes that all the girls are wearing now,” I blurted out before Nancy could open her mouth and say something un-businesslike. “She loves fashion. She brought those back from her trip to Paris this summer.”

The woman glanced from Nancy’s oversized Army surplus jacket down to the dirty toes poking out of her flip-flops and shook her head.  Then she walked into the interview room and closed the door. Nancy proceeded to blow a huge bubble with the wad of gum in her mouth and snorted.

“This is so stupid,” she said, as the bubble popped in her face.

While Nancy was occupied pulling the chewing gum off her eyelashes, I took the opportunity to look around the room and size up the competition. There were three teenage boys in the corner wearing identical plaid shirts and brown dress pants with razor-sharp creases. Each one of them was busy scribbling notes on a legal pad with a Flair pen. I couldn’t tell if they were triplets or reform school inmates out on a work release. Rounding out the group was a dazed looking girl in what looked to be one of her mother’s party dresses from the 1950s. I caught her staring at me a few times, but every time I looked her way, she would jerk back in her chair and cover her eyes with her hands. Finally, I’d had enough.

“What are you looking at?” I yelled across the room.

“You’re a liar!” screamed Party Girl. The Triplets stopped scribbling and eagerly leaned forward in their seats, ready for a primetime Girl Fight. “Those are not barrettes. Your friend has a bunch of gum hanging from her hair. Anyone can see that. And she’s not even dressed up. This class is for people who want to be in business. She should just go home.”

I glanced over at Nancy, figuring she would say something in her own defense, but she had fallen asleep in her chair. There were now strings of bubble gum attached to her eyebrows as well as her hair. She was also drooling slightly, but seemed happy enough. Just as I was preparing to elbow her awake, the door to the inner sanctum flew open and we were called in for our interviews.

This room was obviously an unused storage area for the bank. There were three battered desks that looked like they dated to the Civil War era, a few broken filing cabinets, and several piles of flattened boxes. Three men sat behind the desks. The first was a nerdy looking guy with a receding hairline who cringed when Party Girl was led to his station. The second was a pleasant-looking older man in a dark business suit. He had a neat sheaf of papers and a calculator on his desk. He got the Triplets. The third advisor was leaning back in his chair with his feet propped up on the desk. He was reading a magazine. Every two or three seconds, he would jut out his lower lip and blow a puff of air into a ridiculous ginger moustache that looked like it had been transplanted from a tabby cat’s ass. This was where I was directed. Apparently Nancy was still unconscious in the waiting area.

I sat down. My advisor was pretty engrossed in the magazine. I didn’t have the greatest view of the cover because his shoes were blocking my line of sight, but I was pretty sure it was a copy of Playboy. When he didn’t acknowledge my presence after a minute or so, I coughed loudly to get his attention. He shot up in his chair, his legs tangling together as he struggled to get his feet back under the desk. “Somebody must have left this filthy thing here by mistake,” he sputtered. “Probably the janitor. I’ll make sure I report this to the authorities. He needs to get fired for having this kind of stuff around kids.” He quickly shoved the magazine into his briefcase.

“It’s a good thing you’re here to put it back where it came from,” I said.

“Never mind the formalities,” he said. “I’m Bill. Who are you?”

Before I could answer, he jerked his thumb towards the other advisors and said, “You’re lucky you got me instead of one of those guys. I really know how to talk to people. I just have this natural ability to relate to young people, especially young girls. Look at that guy over there in the suit. Who would want to talk to him? He tries to act like he’s so successful because he’s wearing a suit, but that doesn’t fool me. I know he’s a loser.” Bill pulled up his polo shirt and scratched at his stomach. “And that other guy? His name is Joel. He’s afraid of women. Just look at him. He can’t even talk at all.”

I glanced at the other two desks. The Triplets were clustered around the man in the suit, furiously taking notes and punching numbers into the calculator. Party Girl and Joel were both sitting with their arms folded across their chests, avoiding eye contact.

“I want you to think of me as one of the kids,” said Bill. “I’m supposed to be here to advise you on how to run a business, but that doesn’t mean I’m some old guy. I’m wearing jeans, see?” Bill jumped up and tugged at the pockets of his pants, pulling them down far enough that a flabby crescent of hairy flesh peeked out from beneath his polo shirt. I turned my head away, unwilling to process what I was seeing. Bill continued to blabber on, but I had stopped listening. Finally, he ran around the desk, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, “Hey! Do you have five bucks?”

“What?”

“Can you give me five dollars? It’s for…..ummmm…..the company fee.”

At that moment, Nancy staggered through the door. There was a deep groove on the part of her face that had been pressed up against the arm of the lawn chair. Somewhere along the line, she had lost her coat and one of her flip-flops. She was waving frantically at me.

“I think I have to go home now,” I said, jumping out of my chair. “My father needs me to help him kill some squirrels in the back yard.” I figured I would put it out there right away that I was an experienced killer.   Just in case.

“But we’re ready for orientation now,” whined Bill. “I need the entire team here. I get to do the speech. Don’t forget about that five dollars, either.”

He directed me and Nancy to pull chairs to the center of the room. The Triplets and Party Girl wandered over and sat down, along with the advisor in the business suit. Joel slunk over to the water fountain at the side of the room and turned his face to the wall.

Bill bounded to the front of the room, dragging one of the filing cabinets with him to use as a makeshift podium. “Hi, gang,” he screamed. “I know we haven’t met before, but I’m Bill. I was chosen for this position because I’m a highly successful businessman with a great personality. I’ve taught this class one time before in another state, and even though I can’t really explain what happened there or why we had to leave town so fast, I want to let you know that everyone just thought I was one of the kids.” As Bill spoke, he was clearly developing a major case of happy feet. His jeans began to slowly slide down his hips, revealing a progressive expanse of some very cheerful underpants.

Joel glanced over from his station by the water fountain and suddenly charged across the room. He grabbed the back of Bill’s pants and gave them a savage upward tug. Bill’s eyes bulged out slightly.

“What company did you say you worked for?” hissed Joel.

“Never mind that,” said Bill. He turned his attention back to the kids. “This is Joel. I know you won’t like Joel. Nobody likes Joel.”

Joel stalked back to the water fountain and gave it a sharp kick.

“Be careful around Joel, kids,” cautioned Bill. “I think he has some anger issues. He’s really not fit to be with a group of youngsters. Thank God I’m here to keep an eye on things.”

Bill pointed to the advisor in the business suit. “This is the other advisor,” he said. “I’m not going to tell you his name, because you’ll probably never remember it.” The third advisor smiled pleasantly and waved at the kids.

Nancy leaned over and whispered in my ear. “Did you see his underwear?”

“I think everyone saw his underwear,” I said.

“They looked like girl’s underpants. And were those Smurfs on them?”

“Yes,” I said. “He’s one of the kids, remember?”

Bill reached into his pocket and pulled out a triangular block of wood. “This is what we’re going to be making and selling for our business this year,” he crowed ecstatically. “Everyone needs one of these!”

“We’re making wooden triangles?” said Party Girl in disbelief. “How much are they?”

“Ten dollars,” said Bill.

“Who’s going to pay ten dollars for a little piece of wood?” I said.

“Your parents, of course,” said Bill. “But these aren’t just ordinary wooden triangles. This is the hottest new game in town. I invented it myself.” Bill scurried over to his desk, returning with a drill and a handful of golf tees. Joel had wandered back over to the front of the room and reached out his hand to help Bill.

“Joel is not allowed to use power tools,” lectured Bill. “I’m not sure he’s stable enough. He might decide to drill a hole right in the middle of one of your foreheads.”

“That’s not true,” said Joel. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I think I’m going to call Young Achievers and report you when we’re done with this meeting.”

Bill ignored him and pointed at one of the triplets. “You there. Come up here so I can teach you how to make one of these puppies.” All three boys got up and trooped to the front of the room.

“I see you travel as a pack,” said Bill, plugging in the drill. “Now here’s what you need to do. Give me your pen.” Bill placed the wooden triangle on top of the filing cabinet and randomly marked several dots on the top with one of the Flair pens. “All you have to do is hold onto the triangle with your hand and drill holes into it where I marked it.”

“Wait a minute,” screamed Joel. “That’s not even safe. You can’t hold that little piece of wood with your hand and go at it with a high-powered drill. What if the drill slips? It could go right into someone’s fingers.”

“Of course it’s safe,” sneered Bill. “I invented this, remember? Now watch carefully, kids. I’ll do the first one, and before you know it we’ll be cranking these out by the thousands!”

Bill positioned the wooden triangle between his left thumb and index finger and started the drill. There must have been a knot in the wood at the spot where Bill attacked it with the drill. The wooden triangle was suddenly airborne, hurtling towards the window, while the drill bit carved a deep groove into the top of the filing cabinet. The edge of the wooden triangle hit the window just as the drill stopped, shattering the glass.

“Oh my God,” wailed Joel. “I can’t believe this is happening. I work in this bank. I had to sign a contract to use this room. I’m going to lose my job over this. You’re an idiot.”

“Accidents happen, Joel,” said Bill. “But that’s no excuse for insubordination. You need to get yourself under control. You’re setting a bad example for the staff.”

“You’re not my boss,” shrieked Joel. “I don’t even know who you are or why anyone would put you in charge in the first place.” Joel stalked off to the side of the room and gave the water fountain another savage kick.

The advisor in the business suit had left the room after the window shattered and had just returned with a C-clamp in his hand. “You might want to try clamping the wood down before you drill it,” he suggested mildly. “I just happened to have this in my car.”

“Well aren’t you just special, Mr. Suity Suit Man,” taunted Bill.  “What else do you have in your car?  I have lots of great stuff in my car too, like…”

The bank’s janitor was standing over by the water fountain with Joel.  His face was very red.  I couldn’t hear exactly what he was saying over Bill’s incessant yammering, but I could pretty much guess by the way he was pointing toward the window and the filing cabinet.  The janitor shook his fist at Joel and stormed off down the stairs.

Joel ran across the room and gave Bill a push.  “We have to leave.  Right now,” he snarled.  “And I don’t think we’re going to be able to use this room anymore.  This is all your fault.  And they’ll probably make me pay for the damage you did.”

“Hey kids,” shouted Bill.  “Joel got us kicked out of here.  I told you he was out of control.  But that’s okay.  We need a bigger factory anyway.  We’re gonna be famous.  Production starts next Monday at seven sharp.”

We all followed Bill down the stairs.

“What happened to your shoe?” I asked Nancy.

“I dunno,” she said.  “It got lost somewhere.  Doesn’t matter.  But I’m gonna be a businessman.  I can buy another one.”  Nancy loped off down the street with the typical polished grace of the single-shoed young professional.

My father was waiting for me in the car in front of the bank building.  He asked me how the meeting went.  Before I could answer, Bill came running over to the side of the car,  waving his arms.  He was holding a sign that said “Remember the $5!!”

“What does that sign mean?” asked my father suspiciously.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said.  “Just give me five bucks and let’s go home.”

It was the least he could do for a future titan of industry.

 

 

 

Comedy, Humor, Satire

The Thrill of the Open Road

I had survived the horrors of The Simulator and was ridiculously excited to finally learn how to drive a real car. When I was a little kid, my Aunt Margaret owned a very flashy yellow convertible. She loved to drive around town with the top down and a fancy scarf tied around her head that trailed behind her in the breeze. She was sure living the glamorous life, and I could picture myself doing the exact same thing on my first day of Driver’s Training. I could hardly wait for the final bell to ring at school so I could get behind the wheel of a car. I even wore a scarf to school that day. I was not deterred by the fact that it was January and the scarf was a thick knitted monstrosity that would not move in a hurricane. At sixteen, misguided fantasy trumped common sense on a regular basis.

When the bell rang, I shot out of my seat and took off at a dead run for the Driver’s Training room. Our Driver’s Ed teacher was a former military man who had a proven track record of remaining calm in the face of some of life’s worst dangers. That would change very soon. The kids all called our Driver’s Ed teacher “Pubatsch.” This was not his real name and it was never spoken to his face. It was a code name with an obscene translation that some of the older high school boys had come up with after they had failed driver’s training. It was generally accepted that students should never look Pubatsch in the eye or speak to him directly.

Before we set out on the road, we were divided up into groups of three. I was partnered with a mild mannered kid named Mike and a girl named Sue. She was the one from my Simulator class with the thick glasses who couldn’t see the screen. At this point, it still hadn’t dawned on me that I would not be the only person driving that afternoon. I pictured myself out on the open road, the breeze ruffling my hair and my scarf floating behind me as the other kids and Pubatsch stared in amazement at my motoring skills.

Pubatsch led the three of us out into the parking lot to a Chevy Vega with fake wood panel trim on the sides. There were huge signs on both the sides and the rear of the car that said “Caution! Student Driver.” This was not exactly the image I had in mind of what driving was going to be like. Caution was for losers.

Pubatsch directed Sue to get behind the wheel while Mike and I climbed into the back seat. He told us all to buckle up and jumped into the front passenger seat, glaring at his own seat belt and muttering “damn nuisance” without fastening the belt. He was holding a thick wooden ruler in his hand.

“Put the car in drive and get moving,” he snapped at Sue.

Sue stared out the windshield, frozen in place. Although she couldn’t see very well, she sure knew the rule about not making eye contact with Pubatsch.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” snapped Pubatsch. He smacked the ruler against the gear shift. “It’s right here. Now MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!”

The Chevy Vega is widely acknowledged to be one of the slowest cars ever manufactured, which was merciful in this situation. I could see the look of unmasked terror in Sue’s eyes as she reached toward the gear shift, careful to keep her fingers away from Pubatsch’s swinging ruler. We lurched out of the high school parking lot and were soon travelling at an impressive fifteen miles per hour down a side street.
Suddenly, Pubatsch decided that he had something important to tell us and instructed Sue to pull over and stop the car. Taking on a life of its own, Sue’s right foot slammed down onto the brake pedal and the Vega came to a violent stop, throwing Pubatsch into the dashboard of the car. He shook his head a few times to reposition his brain and then said, “Move it up a little.” Sue took her foot off the brake and we coasted for a few feet before she slammed on the brakes again.

“Dammit,” screamed Pubatsch, “I said to move it up! Hit the gas, girl!”

Sue tromped down on the gas pedal and the car shot forward. Pubatsch was getting tossed around like a rag doll in the front seat. He had slid so far down in his seat that most of his body was now on the floor of the car. We came to an abrupt stop when he pressed down on the secondary brake pedal on his side of the car with his bare hands and savagely shifted the car into park.

“We’re going to die, aren’t we?” whispered Mike.
“I think so,” I replied.

We all stared at our laps, waiting for what Pubatsch had to say. We expected a full blown tirade, but all he did was lean over to Sue and say, “If I’d drunk a glass of milk today, it would be buttermilk by now. Let’s switch drivers.” The man was obviously made of steel. He crooked his finger at me. I got out of the back and slid into the driver’s seat, carefully avoiding eye contact. It was show time. It was also pouring rain by this point and beginning to get dark.

Pubatsch told me to make a right turn at the end of the street. He was tapping his ruler against his left thigh, probably keeping time with whatever marching song was stuck in his head from his days in the trenches. The road I turned onto had a very steep ditch along the side. From the corner of my eye, I could see Pubatsch squirming in his seat, his head swiveling to gauge the distance between the Vega and the ditch. I was more concerned with avoiding the cars in the opposite lane of traffic, along with being on high alert for the series of projectiles that had plagued me in The Simulator. I knew that at any moment a toddler or some small animal could be catapulted into the path of the Vega and I did not intend to be caught off guard during my first Driver’s Training lesson. I felt the right wheels of the Vega slide off the side of the road at the same time that Pubatsch’s huge hairy arm shot out and jerked the steering wheel violently to the left. The car veered into the opposite lane. I thought I heard screams from the back seat, but they were muffled by my own wails as Pubatsch’s ruler slammed down on my knuckles. What is it with these people? I thought. First typing school and now this. If things kept going this way, I was going to have to spend my birthday money on a pair of stainless steel gloves.

Pubatsch jerked the wheel back to the right and hit the brake. The fuel indicator light came on. “We’re going to run out of gas,” I sobbed. This was just exactly the kind of thing that happened to Mr. Perfect in The Simulator. Driving really was a nightmare. Although we had been on the road for what seemed like hours, I later realized that by this point we were only a few blocks away from the high school parking lot.

“Take over, Mike,” said Pubatsch. “We’re going to the gas station.”

Mike was frozen in the back seat, trembling uncontrollably. I jumped out of the driver’s seat and ran around the back of the car and gave him a savage push. “Get out of the car,” I snapped. “It’s your turn.”

“I can’t,” said Mike, shaking his head from side to side.

“MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!” shouted Pubatsch. Mike jumped out of the car and scurried around to the driver’s seat, eyes fixed on the ground.

“Why do you kids keep staring down like that?” said Pubatsch. “Every group of kids I teach is like this. Is there something wrong with your hormones?”
No one would answer him.

Mike drove us to the gas station very, very slowly. We pulled up at the pump and Pubatsch jumped out to pump the gas, then went inside to pay. While he was talking to the attendant, another car pulled in behind the Vega. Pubatsch gestured through the window for Mike to drive forward a few feet to allow the other car to get to the gas pump. Mike was staring straight ahead and didn’t see this crucial hand signal.

“Pubatsch said to take the car out on the road and drive, Mike,” I said.
“What?” he squeaked.

Sue and I managed to convince him that, since he was a boy, Pubatsch wanted him to take the wheel on his own. He started to slowly move the car forward and put his turn signal on to head out onto the street. Sue and I were watching Pubatsch through the side window of the Vega. He looked out just as Mike was turning onto Main Street and charged out of the gas station and started chasing the car. Mike seemed to be pretty happy until he looked in the rearview mirror and saw Pubatsch running at full speed behind the Vega, his arms pinwheeling as he attempted to grab the rear bumper. I was pretty sure he would jump on top of the car like Spider-Man if he got close enough. Mike slammed on the brakes and put the car in park. Pubatsch opened the door, shoved Mike out of the driver’s seat, and backed the car up into the gas station parking lot. He turned off the engine. I noticed his hands were shaking slightly. Pubatsch turned to Mike and said, “What the hell did you think you were doing there?”

The three of us were crammed together in the back seat of the car. “They told me you wanted us to go out and drive without you,” Mike muttered sullenly.

I would like to describe the expression on Pubatsch’s face at that moment, but words fail me. He had probably seen live combat. He may have even killed people in the past. That day, however, he was a broken man. With a catch in his throat, he said, “That’ll teach you to listen to a bunch of women, Mike.” He paused for a moment, and then said, “I think this is enough for today. Let’s head back to the school. Sue, take the wheel.”

The elementary school had let out and we were soon following a school bus. When we reached a set of railroad tracks, the bus hurtled over them without even slowing down. Pubatsch informed us that, when crossing railroad tracks, a bus should always stop and open the door before proceeding. When we reached the railroad tracks, Sue stopped the Vega right in the middle of the tracks and opened the driver’s side door. Then she looked Pubatsch straight in the eye and smiled.


Miraculously, we all passed Driver’s Training that year, with varying degrees of skill. I also learned some valuable life lessons in the process.
There is very little in life that is more terrifying than being a passenger in a car with a driver that has no clue as to what they are doing. The terror is equally real when you’re the one who doesn’t have a clue.
Objects in the rearview mirror really are closer than they seem, especially when the object is a grown man in a state of blind panic.
Anything can be used as a weapon. I am uncomfortable around rulers to this day.
Individuals who embark on a career teaching young people how to drive are among the most fearless human beings on the planet. They deserve our utmost respect. Just don’t look them in the eye.