Saturday, January 28, 2012

Beatlemania

"Bee-oh! (Clap!) En-oh! (Clap!) Em-oh! (Clap!) Bonomo! Oh! Oh! Oh! (Clap!) It's Bonomo! Turkish! TAFFY!"


Donna, Patti and Deb were in this real good mood, singing, dancing down the hallway. It was real sweet and funny, them singing that commercial. They sounded good, they really did.


"Bee-oh! (Clap!) En-oh! (Clap!) Em-oh! (Clap!) Bonomo! Oh! Oh! Oh! (Clap!) It's Bonomo! Turkish! TAFFY!"


Of the three, Donna's the best looking. She's the best looking girl in the whole junior high, maybe even the entire world. I mean, name any movie star, and she puts 'em all to shame. She really does. Her hair's strawberry blonde, in a beehive. It always reminds me of the cotton candy you get at Coleman Brothers Carnival. And she's got these green eyes, like glass, and this spray of freckles across the tiniest nose. You wouldn't think a nose could be so cute, but hers is, and it hovers over this easy smile. And her voice just sends me, it reminds me of church bells off in the distance, I swear. I love that voice.


Donna never wears makeup. All her friends do, but she doesn't. And she looks better than them, better than anyone, really. And today she was wearing a plaid skirt with suspenders, the hem short, above the knees, a white blouse with french cuffs and her really tuff little ankle-high black boots. I mean, she's just perfect. And the best part is, she's not the least bit stuck up, she's a really good kid. Some of the sharp girls are stuck up, but not Donna. I love that perfume she wears. All the sharp girls wear it. I should find out what it's called and buy a bottle someday, so I can sniff it whenever I want.


Yeah, I'm in love with Donna. I was from the moment I saw her, the first day of seventh grade, in home room, I'll never forget seeing her that first time. Sometimes we talk on the phone. I love her voice. After we hang up, I kiss the receiver, honest, I do.


If you saw her, you'd be in love with her, too. You really would. But Owen's her boyfriend. They've been going steady since, like, forever. Fifth grade, she told me. They'll get married someday, for sure. Still, I love her. I think about her all the time. I can't help it.


Anyway, the Bonomo song. That's how it began, the last day of seventh grade.


It's been quite a year, really, when you stop and think about it. I mean, it started off nice and fun, everything was Sugar Shack and My Boyfriend's Back, but then Kennedy got shot, and everyone seemed gloomy until just after New Year's. Then everything was Beatlemania, everyone was excited again with The Beatles and The Dave Clark Five and The Searchers and everything.


Just before Christmas vacation, though, there was one good day. Banjo Eyes, I mean, Mr. Gagliardi, cancelled gym class, we didn't have to suit up, and it was boys and girls together, he held a little dance right there in the gym for us. He said it was time we started preparing for sock hops and stuff. He played some 45's over the PA system: The Marvelettes, The Impressions and Major Lance. And Mickey's Monkey, I love that song, I really do. So we danced around. Doing The Twist, Donna lost her footing and slipped a little, but caught herself without falling and said, "Woops! La dee dah!" never missing a beat. It's stuff like that that makes you love her even more, if that's possible.


At the very end, Mr. Gagliardi held up a 45 and said, "In my opinion this is the single most significant popular song of 1963." He's a young guy, for a teacher, so he listens to WPOP and all, he's pretty sharp for a guy with banjo eyes, I'll give him that. Then he gave the record a spin.


"Deet! Dunt dunt dunt. Dunt dunt... Louie lew EYE aye... We gotta go now, yi, yi, yi, yi... LET'S GO!"


Marvin says it's got dirty words, but no one can understand most of them, although I can make out some of them, and they are pretty dirty. Anyhow, that was a real good day even if Kennedy was dead and all.


I don't tell people this because I'm not exactly winning too many popularity contests, but I felt sorry for Oswald, when I saw him get shot. Don't get me wrong, I liked Kennedy and all, he seemed pretty sharp, and I felt bad for his wife and kids and all. But when I saw Oswald get shot, that's when I got real sad. Like I said, I don't tell that to people, but it is how I feel.


After The Beatles hit, it was Beatlemania: Beatle hours, Beatle magazines, Beatle cards and stuff. One day, Lenny, this real weakling kid, wore a Beatle wig to school and got some attention for once, he was kind of a hit for once. But when he went to the boys' room, a bunch of hoody kids, eighth-graders, were in there, smoking. They yanked the thing off Lenny's head and tossed it in a toilet. He started blubbering, said his sister bought it for him, and Stanley, the leader, called him a crybaby and told him The Beatles were fairies and told him to get the hell out, go piss in the girls' room with all the other girls. On the way out, Stanley gave Lenny a kick, a hard kick, in the ass. I think that was really uncalled for, that kick. I mean, Lenny was already crying, how much do you want out of a guy?


I never had money for Beatle records, but when the old lady's out of the house, I'd listen to them on the radio. I love The Beatles, not as much as I love Donna, but I do love them.


I remember when Mr. Deros intercepted that note Owen sent to Donna. He read it out loud to the class. And this is what it was, Owen'd written out the lyrics to PS: I Love You. That was so tuff. We laughed and all, even Owen and Donna, especially the way Mr. Deros read it, all lovey-dovey, but, really, it was pretty tuff for Owen to do that. They'll get married someday. I wish I could hate Owen, but I can't, he's a real good kid. Actually, I'd like to be him, if you want to know. He has it made. I wish I was Owen.


The thing is, after school today, I got this real bright idea to skip the bus ride home, I'd walk it. My report card was real bad, one C, the rest D's, even worse than last semester. I was in no hurry to get home. So I walked, all the way down the long hill, around the corner, past The Pizza Palace and all the gas stations, stopping at the one with the '51 Ford custom, I love that car. It's candy apple green, so tuff. Then I got going again, along the factories, over the bridge - the air smells so good up there on the bridge, and spitting in the river is real fun. Then into town.


From town to home is one long walk, and I'd already had a real long walk, I was beat, but like I say, I was in no hurry to get home with this report card. My old lady's been the Creature From The Black Lagoon ever since the old man split. It's just the two of us in that crummy little house. There's times I've wished her dead, I swear. She's always on my case. It can drive me nuts. And with this report card, I knew I was done. Order the tombstone.


As long as I was in town, I figured, why not go to Woolworth's, thumb through the records? It don't cost nothing to look, as my old man used to tell me. I made a beeline to The Beatles bin, and when I saw Meet The Beatles, I just had to have it. But I don't have money, I don't have an allowance. My old man don't send us nothing, we're on relief, the idea of an allowance is a joke. Now, I know what Joey said: No one, not even him, has ever shoplifted even a 45 out of Woolworth's, let alone an album, on account of The Witch, this old bag who watches all us kids like a hawk, like we're mice for her to eat or something. But that made me want it all the more. And I remember seeing, on this TV show, that if you walk out a door, backwards, they won't notice, they'll actually think you're walking in the joint. And it was warm out, all the doors propped open. So I picked up the record, like I owned it, acting real casual - even if I was sweating icy bullets down my ribcage and my knees were flubber.


Anyhow I did it, just started walking backwards out the door, whistling. That's when I heard The Witch. "What do you think you're doing?! Come back here with that record, you little punk!"


I was shoving people out of the way, running down Main Street as fast as I could, as fast as you can run in these shoes. I mean, pointed toes, Cuban heels - with cleats?! Try it sometime - in tight pants! My heart wasn't in my throat, it was in my mouth, I could practically spit it out on the sidewalk. Then I started skidding along on my cleats, slammed into a fat man, sent him sprawling. I heard his pants rip, he was cursing, but I had no time to learn some new swear words, I just kept going, sprinting, past McCann's Hardware, I knocked over a mom and her little boy, saw Bondi's Barbershop go by in a flash. Then a hard right, down Bank St., a left, up that hill, the big one, to where all the dormitories are for the college kids, until I knew I was safe. My sides hurt SO much, and I was gasping for air, like a drowning guy, but I was safe. And I owned Meet The Beatles.


I tore the plastic off the cover, a gust carried it away. Then I decided to lie on the lawn, face down. The cool grass felt so good, so refreshing, like Coca Cola, so I just stayed like that, holding my record. I could hear the college kids walking near me, one laughing, "What's with that kid? Did he die?"


I fell asleep.


I woke up, all groggy, it was getting dark and chilly, and I had a forty-five minute walk ahead of me, my legs were all shaky and I was thirsty as anything, no dough for a soda.


What a drag it was getting home to that dump with the peeling paint. I was dead tired, dying of thirst, my feet were blistered and killing me and I knew the old lady was going to slit my throat. I was scared. Exhausted and scared. Actually, I guess the word is dread. I was filled with dread.


I tried to sneak in, but she was at the door in a flash. You wouldn't believe a fossil could move so fast. She'd been in the kitchen dicing onions, chopping them to bits with the knife, the big one, but there she is, in front of me, yelling at me. I hate it when she yells. It drives me nuts, it really does, I can't stand that voice - even when she's not shouting.


"Where have you been?! Why weren't you on the bus?! Where's your report card?!"


Then she spots the record and says, "Where'd you get that? You don't have no money! Where'd you get that?!"


"A kid gave it to me."


She called me a liar, ripped the report card right out of my hand, sent my record flying, slapped my mouth. When she saw those grades, she exploded all over again, said I was no good, just like my old man, the drunk. Then she remembered the record, started in on that a second time. She knew I boosted it, she can read me like a book, she's like a gypsy fortuneteller. She slapped me across the face again and again. I screamed, "STOP IT! STOP IT! YOU'RE HURTING ME! WAIT A MINUTE! WAIT A MINUTE! WHAT'RE YOU SO MAD ABOUT?! AT LEAST I PASSED EVERYTHING! I WON'T HAVE TO REPEAT! A KID GAVE IT TO ME!"


I used my hands to shield my face, but then she slapped the back of my head so hard I saw stars, I swear to God.


She kept whacking me, screeching, calling me a liar and a crook and a retard.


I ran into the kitchen - but still with the hitting and the screaming.


All I could see was red. I can't stand being yelled at. Why couldn't she just, at least, have shut her trap?! That voice of hers drives me crazy, it's like it's all out of tune or something. Why couldn't she have just hit me?! Kept her yap buttoned?!


But no, she kept at it. And at it... I tried to make a break for it, but she was stationed in the kitchen doorway, blocking me like some kind of Green Bay Packer, shifting left to right, on her toes, left to right, on those little feet, snorting like a beast.


Anyway, officer (deep breath... exhale)... that's when I picked up the knife.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

In Brief...

Here is a recent illustration of mine for a business trade magazine, Briefings. (And you let your subscription lapse!) The topic was crowdsourcing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Portrait of a Teen-Age Crybaby

Warren Germond wasn't the brightest kid by any stretch. And his head was pointy, a cartoon of a nuclear nosecone. With his parents and little brother, Nicky, he lived in a cramped two-bedroom brick ranch plunked onto a quarter acre of Rhode Island crabgrass and dandelions.


When he was arrested, caught red-handed spray painting a fleet of school busses with swastikas and hammer-and-sickles that August night, tears of inchoate adolescent rage flooded in his eyes as smirking cops led him away, the can of black Krylon on the parking lot tarmac, forgotten.


"C'mon, punk! Don't be a crybaby!" said the officer directly behind him, kicking Warren in the ass, good and hard, right on the tailbone, sending white razors into the teen's eyes. "What's up with all that commie jazz, anyway, asshole?! My brother's in Vietnam, asshole!" the cop bellowed, following with another well-placed kick. Touchdown!


They shoved the miscreant into the back of a patrol car, its rooftop light twirling, slicing the night, before the driver hit the siren, gunned it to headquarters.


(Warren had little chance of getting a date with any girl, let alone Lisa Maroni, that stuck-up rich blonde on Olympus Drive. A date? She never would've given him the time of day for all the "16" magazines in the world, prior. But after this?! Better get a Timex, kid. On the verge of seventh grade, the preteen queen of her purview has her pick of the litter, no time for a mangy old mutt with a rap sheet.)


Roused from a warm bed, Mr Germond drove downtown, seeing red. In three quick strides he entered the police station, saw Warren sitting stupidly on the oak bench, and socked him in the mouth with two quick punches - a left, a right - to the delight of the cops.


"You snotty little cocksucker!" he hissed at his son, eyes squinting in fury and humiliation.


Since dropping out of high school at the first opportunity last year, Warren whiled away the days drinking grape soda, sniffing glue, watching TV, thumbing through comic books, smoking the Tareytons he swiped from his mom's purse, and sneaking out of the house at night so he could jerk off outside Lisa Maroni's house, hidden by a tree, a sightline to her bedroom as she undressed before lights out. Only about ten feet away from him, she had stripped naked, head to toe, illuminated in stunning detail, night after night, all summer long. What a show! He couldn't believe his tremendous luck. Thank God someone planted this big fat tree right here! It was his special tree, a friend of sorts.


Someday, someday soon, he'd marry her. Maybe her parents will fly to Rome or Paris, and their plane will crash, orphaning Lisa? He'd step right up! They'd drive to one of those hillbilly states where they could tie the knot, all legal and moral and shit, a Johnny Reb preacher man to officiate. Or, maybe, after he introduces himself, after she gets to know him a bit, gets to see the wonders that are Warren, he'd move into her bedroom? During the day he could hide in her closet or under the bed. Or something. At night? Heaven! Paradise on earth...


O! For that first night together, losing their virginity in total communion, as one with each other... She was so beautiful, like one of those magazine fashion models.


When we're married, I'll have Nicky move in with us. Just us three in the lap of luxury on Olympus Drive, looking down on the peasantry below, looking down on mom and dad. Fuck 'em, the finks!


Married to Lisa... They'd dine in downtown Pawtucket, at Chez Pierre's, all fine and fancy. After dining, a gentle rain falling, they'd walk, no need for an umbrella. "Let it rain!" They'd laugh, holding hands.


A loner, Warren Germond, a.k.a. Germ, had no friends. Even before he dropped out, he'd been friendless. All he had were some distant heroes: Johnny Unitas, Richard Speck, Hugh Hefner, Lee Harvey Oswald. And Jay & The Americans. Of course, Jay & The Americans. He'd shoplifted all their records, even wore velour pullovers with lace-up necks, just like theirs. In front of the bathroom mirror, Germ struck poses a la Jay, combed his hair like Jay.


Seated, staring straight ahead, in the pale-blue Chevy Biscayne on the trek back, father and son didn't speak, but every so often, without warning, Mr Germond struck out, socking his boy on the temple, on the ear, on the jaw. (Like Candid Camera, it was when you least expected it.) Germ detested his father, and he detested the Chevy. It was so bush. Biscaynes rot. It didn't even have white walls. He was kind of used to getting punched by his dad, but a Biscayne? That was no class.


The Chevy pulled into the gravel driveway, they got out and trudged into the house, wordlessly. Mrs Germond sat on the plastic-covered chintz living-room sofa in a bathrobe and pink fluffy slippers, lights off, TV on, it sending ghastly bluish shadows dancing across the yellowing wallpaper.


"How could you do this to us?!" she wept, her voice tight and croaky. Warren hated that voice, hated her voice in general, but really hated it when it got like that, like some old scrubwoman's. Why couldn't he have boss parents? Parents with a cool house and a cool car?


"What will the neighbors say?!" she sobbed.


"FUCK THE NEIGHBORS!"


In a flash, Mr Germond moved in for the kill, all fists and feet, pummeling the kid, knocking him on his hip, punching and kicking without a plan, a hurricane unleashed. Warren crawled towards the front door, but his dad jumped ahead of him, blocking the exit.


"DON'T YOU DARE SPEAK TO YOUR MOTHER LIKE THAT! AFTER ALL WE DONE FOR YOU? YOU LITTLE SHIT!"


In the background, the TV prepared to go off-air for the night, the nation's tuneless anthem playing, a B&W flag waving, followed by the test pattern.


"AND I GOTTA GO TO WORK IN A FEW HOURS! WHEN THE GUYS AT THE PLANT HEAR ABOUT THIS? I'LL BE A LAUGHING STOCK!"


The torrential assault on Germ continued. Face grimaced, Mr Germond was back in the South Pacific, in hand-to-hand combat with some stinking slimy Jap.


A rib cracked. Even with the door shut, Nicky, now wide awake, could could hear it, clearly, in the bedroom the two brothers shared. He covered his head with the pillow, shut his eyes with all the might the ten-year-old could muster, wished he were in Hollywood, in the arms of Ann Margaret.


"STEVEN!!! STOP IT!!! YOU'RE MURDERING HIM!!!"


Mr Germond paused, icy palm to sweaty forehead, gulping for air like a fish on land. Not a word was uttered for an eternity until Warren, prostrate on the foyer linoleum, whimpered, "I'm... I'm sorry..." Germ's face was to the welcome mat, hiding his tears, but convulsing shoulders betrayed him.


"All right... Get up... Act like a man, not a crybaby..."


"Okay..." Germ gasped, trying to collect his thoughts as emotions raged inside his chest like a racing pack of rabid hyenas.


A minute or two later, on his feet, wobbly, he leaned against the wall with an outstretched hand, stared down at the umbrella stand, nearly puking into it. His other hand gingerly tested his ribcage, he winced in pain, almost fainted. Taking a deep breath, he winced again.


"But just one thing..." he said.


"What's that?" Mr Germond said, still panting, a sliver of mercy entering the steely voice.


There was a long parched silence, the clock on the wall tick-tocked minutes away... Mr and Mrs Germond stood stock still, Warren breathed huskily.


Finally, the teenager cleared his throat, twice, took a breath, then screeched, "YOU'RE A DIPSHIT, THAT'S WHAT! FUCK YOU! AND FUCK YOUR STUPID JOB, TOO! WHYN'TCHA GET A GOOD JOB?! LIKE MR MARONI?! HE'S AN ARCHITECT, NOT SOME LOUSY FACTORY SLOB!"


With that, Warren ducked past his stunned parents, sprinted through the living room, into the dingy kitchen, sneakers skidding on worn tiles. He banged into the Formica table, knocked over a chair, and dodged out the back door, tears streaming down his face, into the yard, then the woods. His parting words were, "GET LAID, ASSHOLES!"


It was a starless night, as dark as Germ's heart. But he'd grown up here, had spent countless hours in these woods, knew his way, didn't stumble, didn't fall. No way his pop could follow him in the pitch black through this thicket, the stupid old bastard. Warren was free. For now.


Making tracks, he circled around, across the Edwards' front yard, behind old man Roberts' tool shed, up the hill, trotting a quarter-mile until he came to the Maroni's. Warren's breathing was heavy, his side was killing him. In Keds he was quiet as a ghost rounding the corner to Olympus Drive. The air was thick with humidity and crescendos of chorusing crickets. Their sound, that August harbinger of September school days, depressed him, even after he'd dropped out. Just the thought of school put him in a funk. Horribly dyslexic, Germ never stood a chance at anything other than shop class. A spazz, he nearly flunked gym. His fever wasn't underachiever, that was the province of the high IQ kids who failed to thrive. Warren wasn't a retard, but he skirted those waters. Reading Dear Abby was a chore.


Set back from the road, its front protected from view by willow trees, the Maroni manse was modern, clean, untouchable, like something on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, its driveway sealed, smooth as Persian silk. Inside the attached two-car garage sat a Lincoln and a Thunderbird. The spread was a dollop of Beverly Hills in Pawtucket, RI.


Mr Maroni, an amateur jazz musician, kept a set of vibes in his studio. He could improvise cogent swinging choruses of standards like, "How High the Moon" and "A Night in Tunisia." As a young bachelor in Boston he'd been a denizen of the bop scene, sat in with visiting luminaries like Stan Getz and Fats Navarro without disgracing himself - still a cocktail party conversation point-of-pride for him. But that was some time ago, the early-fifties. Today he had a wife and kid, a thriving architectural business in Providence. Ending a long day, he spat a mouthful of Colgate foam into the bathroomsink, rinsed, turned off the light on his way out.


Beside his special tree, Warren pulled back a rock and grabbed a six-inch hunting knife, the kind with a serrated edge, removing it from its leather sheath. He'd stashed it there weeks ago, after nicking it from Anderson's Hardware.


For the first time that night, the clouds cleared, revealing a full moon, the stars shining bright. Crouching, Warren crept across the silvery lawn, his shadow sharp, the blade glinting.


At Lisa's window, Warren peered in, watched her sleeping, the sheet kicked back, her slim legs bare and apart. Blonde hair spilled, obscured those limpid green eyes. His breath caught as he stared at the girl for a spell, left hand clutching the knife, right hand on her window sill. Through the screen he could smell her room, could smell her: she was so close, so very close, but he had to get closer, next to her, on top of her, inside her, she moaning in ecstasy, begging - begging like a hungry dog! - for more... Unconsciously, his hips began to gyrate, hump...


Dizzied by her moonlit beauty, so perfect in every way, Warren began to cry. He whispered something.


Then, hearing a sharp metallic click behind him, he swung around instantly, his knife hand jabbing and slashing, blindly through the tears, into the night.