2nd Excerpt from “Secret Life of Homeschoolerz”

1 FORT:

Ranked a “Pwivate”

What does one living near a Wash actually–do?

Well, you either smoke in them or you build forts in them.

We built forts in them!!

 

At first . . . No, I’m kidding. If we were any more holy from abstinence and saying “No” to peer-pressure, we’d have haloes.

But if you’re just as curious to what is actually done down here, I’ll show you . .

1

BACK IN THE DAY, we had four forts in an area called the Realm of Kings. But that’s another story, a different story; our story has to do with The Three and One. .

Three were actual tree forts, like you’d expect a fort to be.

One was a tunnel carved out of a giant bush–“It’s all natural,” it was.

Um.

 

2:

Our next fort was what most of you would call a “Tree House.” It was the only tree house-House we built, so I’ll just call it The Tree House. Alfredo called it that too.

He’d been famous among us for having moved eleven times before having turned 8, so we’d only just met him. But that’s another story. He, the famous one, said, “Hi!” We all hello’d to him.

He said, “I’m a little irritated, wanna know why?” and we asked him why, and he said, “Well, I just don’t give a stink!” and made on the porch.

He was Scout’s age, but not his weight, even though Scout was heavy himself. Alfredo was the kind of child you’d show at an American obesity epidemic convention to scare adults about how bad America was getting down in the middle- (just in the same way you might show a starving African child in Uganda to scare people into caring for the existence of children); and that if we didn’t do something about it, every kid from “If You’re Going To San Francisco, Be Sure to Where Some Flowers In Your Hair” to “New York, New York!” would be just as elephant-like; and this pachyderm liked to squat in the trees. “Hey, buddy,” said the Elephant from the treetops, coz it was his new nickname. “Could you hand me a few more nails? The long ones. I lost the ones you gave me.”

“Where could they possibly go?” said Scout from the level down below. He was somewhere in the half-way stage between poster boy and Udragoth, Devourer of Planets, even though he never drank beer, or screwed interstellar Viking chicks. He could never figure out how to open one- a beer.

I dunno,” said Alfredo. And he almost meant it. “Up my butt and around the corner in the good ol’ town of ole Bendover. Who knows? Maybe I swallowed them, my Nachos did seem extra crunchy today. Maybe they’re already crapped out next to the nut house where they keep your mother. Just get s’more nails, alright?”

“Alright, but ya better not lose these. We only have so much. My allowance can’t buy a tank, you know–and if I had about every screw you lost, we’d already have enough to have built half of the Caesar’s Pizzeria. The next screw that goes loose is yours, kid.”

“Sure thing, Scout, I gets ya, I gets ya,” said Alfredo. “You threatened me, and can I tell you, I just don’t give a damn?”

 

Alfredo was high up in the trees now, on the highest limb of the tallest tower, hammering a nail into a piece of wood with a 2 by 4*. His thumb was looking real gory by now, but he still continued to whack away at it, probably because the thumb, like the rest of his body, was so cushioned with fat jokes.

* , more hitting his thumb than the actual nail

The next time Alfredo hit his thumb, the nail fell to the ground, he yipped, “!Ay chihuahua!”, but that only made him lose his balance so that he took a cartoon plummet out of the tree; cushioning his fall on his nuts spread eagle with a spangle of colors: red blood, white skin; black, and blue. It was a very patriotic moment for us, and we saluted it.

He always spread some kind of national bird when he fell like that–we’re still trying to figure it out, I think.

So The General gave Alfredo, the new grenadier, a ground job so he wouldn’t land on his nuts so often. He made him go gather rocks and plop them in a bucket so he could toss them at any passing enemies from France or Cuba or next door if ever they came wandering by.

“Oh really?” said Alfredo. “Well, cool my beans!” Alfredo always said ‘Cool Somebody’s Beans,’ like that. It was his catch phrase or something.

Suddenly: “General? General. GENITALS.”

Just then: “What?” said The General.

“Ha-ha!” said Scout. “You just answered to ‘Genitals’.”

 

Later…

My brother Scout was building a model of a new fort he called his Magnum Opus, brick by brick–in Lego’s. Now, he looked up to The General and said, “Do you need these blueprints now, General, or should I fax them to you?”

“How would you fax a thing like a Lego to me? Just give me the hard copy.”

“Can I use glue? . . . Hey, did you know glue comes from horses?” said Scout.

“I’m not sure if that’s possible,” said the General.

The General took on the appearance of a cat’s grin which put us rats at ill ease and he put a hand to Scout’s shoulder–I mean, forehead. Then desisted. I’d say he was probably 12 or 13 at the time, real tall and gangly and nerdy looking, with the tape-mended glasses and the curly red hair running over a freckled, acne face where a pair of human eyes should be and then his face said to him somethin like,

It’s okay if you’re stupid, coz my smarts balance us off.

“Um?” said Scout.

He looked down at his blueprint all built up in perfect replica of our current fort we were planning to perpetuate across The Wash. He was a secret genius, Scout.

(A bit of weepy water nearly came to his eye, but he shoved it back. He wanted to look tough.)

* * *

Scout smiled, all teeth; The General smiled too with a slight nod, hardly visible, and a visible flex of muscles at the corner of his mouth, tugging, working at a facial mechanic he had since been out of practice.

*, mussed by freckles like coins of blood

Then punching him in the shoulder, The General was off to talk to the Big, the Boss–put it all together and you got Mikey; too handsome for his shirt, too cool for seventh grade. Wasn’t that from some lame TV show?


Big Boss Mikey was my older oldest brother, 2 years plus on Scout who was 2 years better than me. So that would make Big Boss Mikey about 10 or 15 at the time. Or somewhere in the kingdom between.

Big Boss Mikey was seated in the shade wafting up the stink-waves that told of gleaming muscle, flipping channels through the economic portion of a paper weighted with news, one leg tucked over the other as he sipped freshly brewed coffee, whipping out orders occasionally to the two youngest members of the food chain, Ozzie and me.

Next to Big Boss Mikey stood a pile of quartzite about six feet tall and seven feet wide.

“Genitals,” said Big Boss Mikey with an effort at manners. He didn’t bother to rise for an order–why go in when you can order out?

**Let’s share a pizza.

The General’s eyes went green under tired lids–this clouded Mikey’s coffee. “What?”

“Shudap,” said Big Boss Mikey, though the way he said it was robotic. -(Well, he was a nice guy, you just had to see him in summer wear, out by the pool. Then he was a nice guy).

So,” said the other. “How many jewels have we found buried

‘neath said earth?”

..When Mikey didn’t answer, The General sort of went “Harumph.” He’d been doing a lot of harrumphing lately.

This gesture set Big Boss Mikey’s face aside, and ate pizza with us for a while, as he rubbed a white jewel between his tips, testing it for monetary taste with teeth and tongue. “Like, Just now,” he said. “We have amassed five hundred and thirty nine White Jewels– awh, what do you care, you’re not even listening.”

The General clapped his hands. “Brilliant!” he said. “Job well done, Mikey Kid.”

Said the Boss, “Did you expect anything less than the breast?”

“Not at all.”

“Then you are dismissed, General,” said Big Boss Mikey. . He swiftly added, “and wipe that attitude off your face. I don’t — need this much pizza!” He dropped the slice Ozzie had handed him.

The General let his face fall, his shutters closing fastly as if there were a single glob of yellow sun caught in the corner of them he could not reach or comprehend. “I heard what you said, but it’s confusing. Turn up the volume,” he cranked up an invisible stereo. “ ‘Scuse me, what?”
“You are so good-looking.”

“Yes I’m in charge here.”

“Of course you are, General. Beg your forgiveness.”

The General looked at him through one suspicious, leering eye. “Right then . . . Right . . . I’ll keep a nose tuned in on your stink. Don’t think I don’t know what’s going on here.”

Mess with the bull, you get the horns. .

 

Big Boss Mikey smiled a feline smile, intermingling with the blood of shame that described things in his cheeks. “…I would never doubt it, General.”

The General looked like if you told him a second dirty joke, one card short of a full deck, he’d cry. “It wouldn’t be fair, I tell you. Just not fair!” And he stomped his foot repeatedly into dust. “I started it all–all of it–you know? What this, yes thisss!

Big Boss Mikey tried to keep face and not to laugh, but then his eyes started to tear, nearly busting a gut.

The General looked surprised, like he didn’t get it at first, the kinda irritation a clam gets; but then his face started to crack and he started to laugh through gritted teeth.

Pretty soon, they forgot the whole dang thing and got back to mooning over everything they hated a lot.

Good clowning solves everything in our group that way.

Between all of this, a sword fight broke out–(wooden swords)–we didn’t have actual swords.

Between all of this, we had already put in a trap door and a hammock, while loading in foodstuffs to The Tree House as Ozzie and the narrative groaned over The Rock Wall that had soon surrounded it all.

And between all or nothing, Alfredo set up an illegal firework stand, which we much expected of his heritage, because he came from the mafia or Mexico or something, while the Big Boss told him to put them all away before someone got an idea. I said, “Okay!”

I looked over to Ozzie now just to look at him. What a pretty picture for a boy so young and slobber-nosed. And he’d better get his finger out of there before I socked him one as punishment so it didn’t get stuck that way!

Ozzie was The General’s younger brother, about 7 or 8 years younger, so he was about 5 or 6 at the time, but that’s none of your business, my mother tells me. It’s not polite to ask one’s age..


Ozzie was drinking whole milk straight from the gallon. He drank at least two of those a day, mouth to the nozzle. I always flirted with the idea of putting moderate amounts of Dad’s happy cough medicine in there, just because . . .

. . . one gallon of milk in the morning, one gallon of milk before bed!–one really pissed-off couple of parents from Nevada.

You’d think that the brother of a general would get more privileges because he was the brother of The General, but Ozzie was a slave. Ozzie’s rank was “Peasant” at best, and “Pheasant” at better, mispronounced; but still, it was a rank above mine.

I had also helped to build the rock wall.

I’m actually not the youngest, Ozzie was, but I feel like the youngest. You can call me the Tagalong Kid.

The thing you had to know about me was:  I forgot, but I like waffles.

Once upon a time, or maybe twice a year, when I was up at this fat camp, I met a girl who just had her mom killed by cancer and she wasn’t crying but seemed alright herself and somebody next to me, a gay boy with a mannish face who had a real sensitive heart, and he told me the girl whose mom had died was strong; that a girl was strong!

I didn’t get it. I looked at her: I saw no muscle.

So I said to Mr. Tanner, “She’s not stwong*. Wook* at her! She’s a sissy wittle* girl!”

*I think I mispronounced the letter R a lot. Please don’t laugh. It’s spelled exactly the way I said it.

To switch a subject: “Hey!” I said presently. Back at the fort. “Scout’s got a wank. Big Boss Mikey’s got a wank. {I think I meant, “rank”> Ozzie’s got a wank. Even fat ol’ Fwedo’s got a wank. When am I gonna get a à ?” I cut myself off.

Nobody hears Tagalong Brother.

Nobody loves him, Nobody cares. Nobody wears his underwear..

Hey—You—Guys!” I said louder. “C’mon: When am I gonna get a wank?”

The General turned me about face with a click of the heels and said, “We’ll discuss having sex with you when you develop natural breasts.”

“Genitals!” I said. Though I actually meant ‘General’.

He said, “I thought I already gave you a rank: Errand Boy, was it?”

“That’s no fairà ” again it came out cussing. Shit. I said something about him having a whole book full of ‘em, and that I wanted one as well, and he said, “And you eat with that mouth*.”

* when ‘shit’ came out of it.

The jowels round The General’s mouth line went sagging. Most everybody was looking at me by now. The General started to bead a little, mostly from the heat–and dabbed his head with a cloth he carried in his hand. He practiced a few swings with an illegal weapon he had made out of a metal pipe and then looked back at me, held my attention to a standstill. “Alright,” he said. “…Private.”

“Pwivate?” I said, sounding a bit too much like Elmer Fudd against my own taste, I’ll admit. “What’s dat?” I said.

“Ohohoho–dat is dis,” and The General turned away and so did everybody else as they swooped back to business. . Except for Fredo. “You’re so cutesy!” he said. “No wonder we haven’t eaten you yet.”

 

AlFredo came swooping down by me, sweating profusely through his skin-tight T-shirt. It wasn’t too attractive. He had just been gathering stones into buckets he had been dragging all day–a bucket, which, as he gathered stones, dripped out more rock than the ones he actually collected*.

* (So he really wasn’t doooing anything, if you came around to think about it.)

So Alfredo said to me, “Now, The Private,” he said, a gleam in his eye. “Now that’s something special.” He looked up reflectively, staring into a blue, cloudless sky–(as it always was)–while the noise of hammers and the rolling of stones. .  were being picked up and pieced into interpretation!

It made me want to know why Private was all the rage, and if did rage, why should I join its mosh pit? “Hey, Fwedo?” I said. “What does . . . ‘Pwivate’ mean?”

“You’re so cutesy!” He looked at me, his face becoming the seriousness of the moment.

I had to know–I was only 5 or 6. We have an inherent ache to know. “Cmon: What is it?”

What is what?” He was teasing me, I knew it, too. It made me wish I could shepherd a whole flock of scarab beetles down his nose.

What’s a pwivate?”

“Ah–You mean what part does a private have to do?” he said. “It means–well, it’s simply, really~” he said, leaning in so close. “It means if anybody necessitates- (is that too big a word?)- a squatting down to squeeze out a friend in the bushes, they’ll just have to use your mouth as a bathroom as respect to all furry woodland creatures out there. To keep it on deposit, so to speak. It is their god-given right.”

“Ewww . . . ” I shook my head, scrunching up my face and wishing I could gag, if only I had paper, or plastic. I could taste my newfound career already.

They never actually did do it, of course–(use your mouth for what? said my mother asking about this, and called my friend in Arizona)–but it scared me. I believed them. You can never be afraid of anything unless you believe in it!

I watched my back after that, and part of my front. And whenever somebody did need go to the brambles, O captain, my captain, I went to the bushes myself. . I hid.

Alfredo chuckled, mostly because my face was still messed up into an “Ewww . . . ” expression, and then he promptly ruined my hair.

I hated it whenever anyone ruined my hair. I had just suaved it up with a butt load of grease. About as much gel as there was sperm in a sperm whale. Anglo meets Saxon. White meets Bread.

“Jerky. Hey, Beef. Hey, Beef Jerky!”

Someone was calling my name. Billy Danger Henderson’s the long name, Beef Jerky’s the short one. I scowled to whoever was calling me. “What?! Ozzie, you filthy peasant!”

We pretended to laugh. He pretended to smile.

“Could you help me with this rock?” he said to me.

“On your foot!”

So I got down on my hands and knees and some more hands, and started to help Ozzie roll the stone, and pretty soon I forgot we both were rolling it all together and got to thinking I was rolling it myself because I felt more and more weight lapsing against my calluses.

Then I looked around me.

Maybe I was the only one rolling it, because I was the only one holding up the globe now. .

Ozzie was back behind me, squatting in the dirt in the Indian method of relaxing, looking bored and somewhat triumphant. He had his Gameboy out and was playing Pokemon Red and Blue somewhere in the cool shade of a bunch of sun-blackened weeds out by the dry, dried riverbed, where we got all our large, smooth stones and Bedrock appliances; and he was shivering as if cold, but it was 120 degrees outside.

“Poopface,” I said to him.

I knew Ozzie to always shiver a lot, much like a stupid animal.

His shivers seemed to forecast some sort of whether: Whether or not something bad was going to happen: a supernatural awareness of the days of future passed! A prophet of God.

To exaggerate so you can get to know us faster, and to get minutely back at him by blabbing it to you, Ozzie was stingy.

You could never get him to trade you any of the real functional Star Wars cards–Only Wolfmen and Vaders. Never the really good Vaders. . He’s a drag queen now.

Still, you gotta hate lovin a guy like that.

Um.

Every night around 7 O’clock sharp, Ozzie’d either ride his bike the mile there, walk there, or- (in his later years and on until the ripe old age of 21) -when he’d decided to give up queening around and marry a woman, see I was just kidding about that; he’d drive his truck there and help ol’ Grandpa Jecht to bed. He’d haul the guy out of some wheelchair, however heavy the old man was, and set him lightly into bed every night with no exception, except when he died. But that’s another story, and not as interesting as some may say. He’s not dead now. Ozzie says he saw him in heaven.

So–Ozzie doesn’t just have a soft spot. He’s a soft spot all over. You liked him better when he was a drag queen, didn’t you?

Not long after Ozzie tricked me into doing his work for him, the Big Boss shot up from his throne in the shade where he had been counting his Quartzite with relish–(and I’m sure he used ketchup too)–and stomped on over towards where Ozzie was crumpled up on a very happy rock, playing his Gameboy and poking a dead lizard with a stick.

I went, “Ozzie!”

He went, “-No!”

“Hey, you: Jerky’s friend!” he said; the “You!” meaning Ozzie I think.

Ozzie looked up, his face shooting blanks with a look that could impregnate your sister just on pure cuteness. “Uh-whuh?” he said, not quite understanding my descriptions, and he went back to laying finger to Gameboy, poking that dead lizard with that stick he carried around. So Big Boss laid out a whip made from fishing line and he cracked it right over Ozzie’s ear. That got Ozzie sprawling in no time.

That stood Ozzie upright on his feet, saluting with his underwear pulled wedgie style straight out of his pants, and his fly partially unzipped. He was supposed to be cute. Is he?

Big Boss Mikey cracked the whip on Ozzie’s back and Ozzie started a whole new storm front and Mikey said, “Back to work, Peasant!” till Ozzie nodded and began a slow sprint back to the dried riverbed, rolling those rocks as fast as he could to The Rock Wall (which wasn’t very fast, but he did his best). Then Big Boss Mikey went over to where Scout was and said, “Hey, Scout.”

“Spill it,” said Scout.

“Can I at least drink it first? Did you get that? It’s a bad joke. Jeez, could you play with those Lego’s a little harder and start working on making some greater blueprint, maybe for weapons? Without the Great Wall of Awesome set up and asides any real heavy defensives, tell me–how are we going to defend ourselves from French foreign invaders, or worse: P-r-e-d-a-t-o-r-s afterdark?”

Scout shrugged a big one. “Dono. Call the child molester’s hotline, I guess, they’ll know what to do. Oh, c’mon. Don’t you get it?!”

Big Boss Mikey’s face went red and the blood filled in it. “Don’t know? YOU DON’T KNOW. Well, I know how: and that’s to make more weapons, that’s HOW. Now get to work!” He didn’t seem to hear the second part–you know.

So he cracked his whip on his brother’s back and drew some blood with a marker in the spaces where the cotton tip was too weak to break any majors vessels, and then he kissed him very smartly on the hair and said, “Now, are we done playing games?” he hadn’t really hit him really, just talked about hitting. Scout let out a “Yeeeooooowch!” mostly to satisfy his deep, instinctual need; then rubbed his bleeding back and looked pleadingly up to his big brother, scraping the exclamation marks asunder from his red, red eyes. “But it’s a blueprint for our next fort!”

“I don’t care if it’s a blueprint for the new Airforce One! I don’t care if it’s for the President of the friggin United States or even a private jet for Oprah and storage for Oprah’s couch! We’re way behind in our quota for pipe swords, it’s coming out of your paycheck.”

Scout still struggled not to cry, and for all his efforts, he only succeeded in shivering like an epileptic kitten with a head cold. “But I . . . <hic> . . . hardly have enough Quartzite . . . <sniff> . . . for a bag of Cheetoh’s . . . <nano, nano>.”

“Shazbot.”

 

The sky somehow grew a little bit colder in the reflection of Big Boss Mikey’s dark-painted eyes, and knuckled

white where he clutched his weapon. “You should have thought of that earlier before you decided to play with Lego’s instead of gathering Quartzite. Sheez!” He really looked quite enormous. He mighta raised up his whip to strike. He might have been only brushing the sweat from his eyes.

Oh, how he raised it!

When it landed, it didn’t land on Scout’s back, but on the General’s wrist, who now stood between them, pushing through all the heck. He was the best of us. Now, you know why I don’t hate him when he mocks me. “Stand down,  Boss. That’s just anti-constructive.”

Mikey saluted, bolt upright with a mock smirk. “O, captain, my captain.” He felt a little better after saying that.

“As you were, Mikey Kid,” said The General.

“Jeez, why do you gotta whip everybody?”

“I don’t——know.”

So Big Boss Mikey went back to whipping Me and Ozzie into their work, and Scout was left rubbing his eyes, saying, “I’m just as good as any big kid out there,” as the Big Boss Mikey left the stage.

Now, The General went off to the shade and took some long pieces of steel pipe with him which he then started to beat like music with a hammer. Here, Big Boss Mikey gave a loud shout:

“Hey Butt-calves!” said The Boss to the kid in the sand, whip at ready. You’re starting to hate him-   don’t. I really loved him. He saved me from drowning later. He was a swimmer. “Butt-calves! Come here a minute, I need to talk to you.” He swum!

After a minute, I left him, and he said “cutey!” (Another one of my nicknames during that time and for the majority of high school was Butt-calves, because my calves are just so huge, they look like two massive butts with a crack down the middle. Have you seen them?

Would you like to?)

What up, big,” here I said brother, and again it sounded like an insult, on account of I mispronounced it. Crud!

Big Boss Mikey looked at me long and hard. “I need an errand boy –” / “Pwivate.” / “ — a Private to run some errors for me.”

I shielded my eyes from the sun, but the way I did it looked like I was saluting–it was just enough to satisfy him. “Sir, yes, sir!” I said. “What kind of air-wends, sir?” No, it’s exactly how it sounds. Don’t bother sending a complaint.

Big Boss Mikey folded up a piece of blue paper and spread it, creased and compressed in two tiny, pink hands spread like the limbs of a starfish. “Top Secret,” he said. “Only The General and you know about this classified document.” He leaned down on one knee and smiled briefly, ruining my cow-brown hair. “O-Kay?”

Although I loathed having my hair ruffled, that was as good as it got with the Big Boss, so my tears sheened green, reflecting the silver glint of a high-flung coin like the sun, and I caught it. That silver dollar was my payment. Um, I said, “Kay!” and gunned off fast as I could go on my top secret errand, wondering what the word “classified” and “document” meant, and what the one had to do with the other, and feeling a strange sort of pride that I was delivering anything with big words I didn’t understand written on it.

I looked back at the Big Boss Mikey as I was positively sprinting to deliver the slip of Top Secret blue construction paper*, him shouting “cutey!” after me.

* (which bore plans for the next fort: a Hidden Fortress; I sorta accidentally opened it up–unfolded it–and stared at it for long hours into the night), um.

Anywho–Big Boss Mikey wasn’t confined by the games we played. He always seemed a bit older, and meaner, and smarter, and as much as we liked to think that we aged at the same rate of as he, he always left us feeling long behind, uninhibited and unevolved.

 

Oh yes–Mikey always talked Money: he played the Bully, since he was an older brother and that was the expected career choice of every older brother in our brief career as children.

I remember him beating me up real good once for pestering him over somewhere by in the lazy docks of Central Wisconsin, where most of our family still loiter like lingering farts. I don’t remember what it was for, but I must’ve done something really annoying, because the next day I woke up with bruised ribs, and purpled eyes, and I asked him and he said, “How bout that?” Are you hating him now? Don’t.

I watered the grass with tears that night. It was fun. It’s a riot!

But when I was going through this plenty-rough suicidal trip and losing my hat and my sanity, to the point where I thought I was the Satan of hell, Big Boss Mikey cried for me.

That, I’ll always remember. But that’s another story. And a long one.

It was then The General had finally stopped banging the pipes into illegal merchandize–so we could actually do something.

The General picked up on something.

They say — ” (“They” weren’t anything special–like Special Intelligence or anything; “They” was The General’s mom) “ — that there are Teenagers drawing in from the South! near the proximity of The High School, bent on overtaking our private hangout. They are armed and, should be considered, emotionally incompetent.” He was very hosh-posh.

“What’s the Intel, General?” said Scout.

The General straightened his glasses, bullying them back onto his face with a wiggle of his nose; and he said, “I want you to keep a lookout. In fact, that’s a great idea! go to The Lookout or the trees nearby, hide yourself in the branches and see if they come or not. Think: They,” (meaning, The General’s mom) “could’ve given us false information. To trick us. Eyes and ears our everywhere.”

“Your mom’s a nice guy.”

Scout saluted, but his body quivered with fear. “Tweenagerz? You mean you want me to keep a lookout for — ” a gulp, and it should be said that a wet spot gathered in the groin of his pants.

The General let work the muscles ‘round his mouth. “That is, if you can do it, Scout. If you’re not scared, that is. Neener, neener. But if you don’t feel that you can carry out this Highly Honored — Top Secret Solo Mission, then –”

“Wait just a second,” And Scout started to look teasy. “Course I can! I mean, how can you fail English when you speak it?”

“You sure? It’s really scary.”

“I’ll do it, I can do it. Lemme have a shot, I can do it! And I’ll do it by myself too–you’ll see.”

“I’ll know. Very well then. Gitcher sorry keester out there.”

Scout nodded very keenly and then took off to the bushes and the land beyond on an altogether hush-hush assignment, carrying a new pipe dagger he had just been given and a grappling hook. (This is no joke: he really did have a grappling hook. In real life, he had a grappling hook. If you knew my brother, you could ask him. He made it himself!)

I looked after Scout as he launched the grappling hook up a tree like one of those fat, unpopular Olympian women shot-putting in track-and-field; then I watched him vault to the highest branch of The Lookout no faster than you can say, “Zoom”; and as he was off, you could hear the trail of his voice visibly shrinking from, “I can do it. I can do it,” to “You’ll see,” until his voice had all but trailed off into a whisper.

I bet you he was still saying “You’ll see, you’ll see,” even when he knew we couldn’t hear it. I think he just needed to hear it for himself.

Um.

So Alfredo continued flicking the bees off of petals and into the dirt where he grinded their filtered guts into a jar and attempted mixing it with Cherry Cola, tricking people to drink it, but nobody was stupid enough to drink it except for me and Ozzie.

(Well, at least, when I tasted it, I spit it out right away. When Ozzie tasted it —

He drank the whole thing, and called it a culinary smorgasbord. “What’s your recipe? I simply must know.”)

Now, Alfredo–he meander-thalled over to some ants and conjured up a magnifying glass and started to super-heat those babies, only Big Boss Mikey came back to spoil all our funshine and said, “Hey! What are you doing?”

“Looking for defective mines.”

“No, you’re not! YOU’RE BURNING ANTS.”

He made up some wild story, then said, “Get back to work,” and The General almost did.

Alfredo put up a hand, motioning for him to wait. “Right after I find the queen and make it mate with its own — ”

“Get back to work, you sicko!”

“Cool your beans, man! What’s up with you? Man-MS?”

“Oh, you wanna play that game, see which one of us is more quotable? Alright, then, I, Um.

Right away, Your Ripp-uh-ling Highness.” And he took a bow (he hardly had to bend over before his fat butt hit earth), then he rolled the heck out of there. That was his glory.

What you gotta know about Alfredo–besides he’s crazy–is he’s a pyromaniac.

He was also the Grenadier. Which meant that he was to collect as many small rocks as he could .. That’s all that job was.

What I’ll most remember about Alfredo, however, is the noises that went around at his house whenever we weren’t around.

At Alfredo’s house, you’d hear one of two booms: Either “Fredo, you’re shtupid!”, or “Alfredo Valentine! DO YOU want a swat?”

Either way, it always revolved around Alfredo getting into trouble with the law of the homeland. Oh yeah: He had two younger brothers and one younger sister.

The two youngest, a boy and a girl, were both already flamboyant Nudists. I never did see them with any clothes on. They were always streaking around, free-wheeling naked the way all good and healthy fraternity boys and girls will be. They fell down a lot.

And the other sibling–the one that was closer to Alfredo’s age–he just got beat up a lot. That was why you’d always hear “Fredo, you’re shtupid!” all the way from my house.

That was Alfredo squatting on his younger brother, threatening to sit.

“ ‘Fredo!”

What, you toad?”

The General was shouldering a long piece of plywood that would soon be used for the ceiling of The Tree Mansion. “Could you help me out with this a minute?” he said.

“I can’t a minute,” said Alfredo. “I’m the Grenadier a minute–it’s a crime to mix duties.”

The General put one fist to his chest. “Then you’re no longer Grenadier for a moment. Come over N help me. Support my left flank, alright?”

“Jeez, Fine. Okay, I’ll help ya, ya barnacle; don’t bust my balls about it, I’ll help ya. Just hold on a month.” He peered into his bucket to see how many stones he’d collected and then said, “Hey! Someone stole my grenades!”

The General was still struggling to lift the plywood up into the tree. “You just dropped them. Cmon! A little help here?”

“Alright, Mangitis, I’m coming.”

They got the thatched roof finally stamped up on The Tree House with the help of Mikey and his slaves, and that was when The General finally finished that rope trap and needed a hamster to set their pretty little foot in it and see if it worked.  “Test subject! I need a test — hey!” he said. “Guinea pig–Guinea, Guinea! Anybody willin’ to test this out? We need to see if this will hold a 60 pound rat monster.”

I came a-running and saluted to the captain, my nose a little runny. “Suh, yes, suh! Private Butt-calves reportin fo duty, sir!”

Presently, The General nodded to me and said, “At ease, Butt-calves.”

So I went “at ease,” but I still felt a little not-at-ease for certain inalienable reasons.

“Now, put your right foot right here, put your left foot here, you put your left nut there, and you do the hokey pokey.

Okay, that’s right! No, no. Put it down! Put it down and the trap should — ” he was gonna say work.

A rock hit him.

It was a teenager holding a stone. “Hey, you, kid, move!” This was the General’s favorite nickname in high school*.

* He retreated back into home school for certain obvious reasons.

It worked. I rocketed up into the solar system, my head reeling down to the planet I liked best not soon after, my ankles gory. Naturally, I congratulated his success with a few “I hate you! I hate you!”s. “I don’t wanna pway dis game no mo! I don’t wanna be Private Butt-calves! You be Pwivate! You be Butt-calves!”; but I kept on screaming and wailing and pretty soon the whole gang was standing around me, laughing. Especially Alfredo. He was rolling all over the place (Really: rolling! His body was the shape of a bowling ball.)

Even the teenagers who had thrown the stone joined in.

“It’s not funny, guys! Get me down here! Get me some ointment! Hey, My ankle burns! Get me — ”

One slice of the rope and I was down. Like, On-my-head down.

There was still whooping laughter around me, but that’s when I found a nearby hammer that lay next to Alfredo just rusty enough to work–it was already covered in Alfredo’s blood*.

* from him banging his thumbs on nails so many times before.

I intended to make it redder.

This might surprise you..

I hit the teenager behind The General, the one with the crowbar that had intended to kill him for sending his brother Bill to jail

** for burning down his mother’s house and killing his mother, the mother who chased him around the bedroom with a butcher’s ax.

** He told on him.

He ran off screaming, “My head, my head!”

We five all had our glances towards him; a few of us nodded, a few of us shrugged, a few of us picked our noses and wiped the excess grease over our shirt and pants pockets, and we-five all moseyed over for Assembly.

“Ho-kay,” breathed The General, as we gathered round. “So the roof is on, the hammock is in place, and so is the trap door. But we still need one more thing. What is it?”

“A wall?” I suggested.

“No. No. Not a wall.”

“A moat?” said Ozzie.

“No, not a moat.”

“HEY, I’M STILL COMING TO KILL YA!” said the tweenager.

I hit him with a toy hammer. He turned around, and, infuriated, ran, grabbed his bullies, grabbed his guns, and in a few moment we were assaulted by pebbles. Or we thought pebbles.

But there were still dangers in our little home school bubble. There were dangers spelled with a Capital State. / “You mean D.” / “Stop correcting me!” / Most of the dangers you could say were probably caused because us Homeschoolerz had no social skills and would frequently wet our pants in ‘crowds’ of more than five people (if we didn’t already know them, and to take in account that they were still our family.)

Action time! far-out!

So they–The Tweenagerz–came shouting through The Wash. Coming out of The Tunnel under The Bridge where cars would pass by up above in hums of swirling hot air; but you couldn’t really see into The Bridge on that side, it was usually pretty deep-sea inky in that Tunnel, so they could smoke there and drink there pretty easy without the badges sneaking in and busting them for being underage drinkers and what not.  .

So The Druggiez–probably 6 or 7 of them, I don’t remember how many–but they came in drinking while they put their arms over their girlfriends, The Vera Sisterz. I knew of The Vera Sisterz, but I didn’t like them; they were even meaner than their druggy boyfriends.

The General poked his head up from where he had a sandwich stuffed half in face and half on his shirt and spoke all with a flock of turkey stuck to the roof of mouth, “MUMBLE, MUMBLE. Hack–s’cuse me. “Maybe if we keep quiet they won’t know we hate them so much.”

But they did know where we were. How do you not notice a tree house surrounded by a wall of shimmering Quartzite? It’s akin to a diamond in shine.

It wasn’t that they noticed us that scared us, scared me.

What scared me is what they noticed us with:

BB Guns, they were carrying BB Guns. And as they laughed and they smoked and they drank, they used us for target practice. .They weren’t very good at it.

2

“Ouch!”

I guess they were quite good about it.

It was Buzz Mitchell, Tubbs McGee, and Marvin Cheddarhead who came strutting with guns, drinking bottles of stuff. We didn’t pause to ask what was in it.

They’d come down under The Bridge, because it was right next to the Valley of the Sun’s only High School.

“Duck!” said Alfredo.

“Where?” said The General.

“No time for jokes,” he said. “I mean, you should duck!”

Someone else should’ve told Alfredo the Elephant to duck, because he was the one The Tweenagerz saw and hit first. One, two, three–right in a row. Like fleas tackling a cow. It was hard to miss him. Anyways..

Big Boss Mikey moved swiftly towards me now, but it looked slow to me since he was crawling on his belly and with his knees. Mostly all of us were, save the Elephant. But because of his arm strength, he was the fastest at it. “Zed! Jerky!” he said. Zed was Scout’s real name. Jerky was my alias. Arizona has one of the highest rates for stolen identity’s in all of America.

Big Boss Mikey’s quick arms wrapped around me, and suddenly I was shot up into heaven. I was scared, you know. For some reason, Mikey thought we’d be safe if we were higher up. All about me, there was the whiz of BB’s skipping off riverrock, making “Tht!” noises as they spiraled past my ear and “Chk!” noises as they implanted themselves into the thick branches of the enveloping, paper trees.

It was the clothes they were wearing that scared me.

The Druggiez were trying to impress their girlfriends; and the strange thing was, and scary too: They were turning them on. The Vera Sisterz were laughing. They were enjoying it. Most women would have been, like, totally creeped out and stuff.

“Hey Scout!” I heard the Big Boss say that.

Scout looked quickly down the tree and then back at The Tweenagerz. There was a strong streak of pride in him: Something that wanted to prove himself, show that he could stand his ground, and do it alone. It was retarded.

“Scout! Get down here! Cmon, man!”

“No, I’d rather be a moron!” now Scout didn’t actually say this, but he might as well have, him holding the fort way up in The Lookout. He looked like he was debating whether to come down or to start ripping off branches from the tree and chucking them down at The Tweenagerz, yodeling like a Tarzan.

Big Boss Mikey absorbed me closer in his arms. “Cmon Scout! Come down now or they’ll — fine, be that way.”

I heard a thud and Big Boss Mikey grunted.

He’d been hit.

I GOT ONE,” I heard one of The Tweenagerz say. It could’ve been Buzz Mitchell, only he doesn’t get too excited about things, even when he should be excited about them. He was a wonderful human being, though he was never very good at it.

“MAN DOWN! MAN DOWN! MAY DAY. MAY DAY.” it wasn’t The General’s voice, but the sound of Alfredo screaming, as he made little whirling airplane noises as if his aluminum body shot by flak cannons were going down, down, down —

“I’M GOING DOWN HERE. FEEL FREE TO HELP ME. Any time now.”

No one did help Alfredo. We were too busy enjoying the benefits of having our own absorbent meat shield.

“Oh, hit the one in the tree! The one with brown hair! There are three of them all clustered together. Like, 500 points!” That one I can identify. That was the high-pitched whiny voice of Ashley Smilez. Buzz Mitchell’s main squeeze out of a trio of others.

“I won’t just hit one, sweet tits,” said a slow voice; the voice of a stiff romancer. That was Buzz.

Next three half-sec’s went like this:

— three BB’s, one fired straight after the other; three thuds, three grunts: Big Boss Mikey; then Scout; then Me.

“Nice shot, honey pants!” Ashley Smilez again. I wanted to break that smile.

“Wouldn’t miss for you, pillow tush,” said the slow, drawling voice of our Oppressor. He wouldn’t miss even if it wasn’t for her, though; he could shoot anything. Everybody knew Buzz to shoot geese up north with his grandpa.

Are they gone yet?” It was Ozzie’s voice from way back at The Tree House.

Eddie the General and Ozzie the Peasant were hiding behind our Rock Wall and prairie dogging their heads up every couple of seconds.

An answer: “

NO, so keep quiet.” 

O! Ohhh!” said the quick voice of Ashley Smilez; then finished it: I wanna hit the fat one!” I guess she wanted a shot at one of Africa’s Big Five. “Can I have a shot, sugar testicles?”

“Sure thing–um. Don’t call me that…”

The next few BBs ricocheted with thuds across every rock.

Ashley Smilez swore like “Dammit, dammit, dammit!” after every single misplaced BB.

 

Buzz only walked behind Ashley Smilez, set the gun and trigger back in her hand, while he worked the aim from behind her, and said simply: “Here.”

I saw her become the flutter of every thug’s young heart; like it may just blow off early and go off in her hair.

Six grunts and six men down.

“He got me in the butt!” “He got me in the spleen!” “Oy, my botox!” That was all Alfredo, of course.

“How’d he do that?” Ozzie now. Crying.

Sh!

Don’t give us away.” The General’s forehead, that was a head shot. Forehead. A way of Buzz saying, “I know you’re the leader of the pack.”

Me and my brothers, we were a bit tougher and took pain well.

 

Yes, I was beginning to think Alfredo liked the attention of being aimed at like a prize pig. It was like Dodgeball, and he wasn’t very good at it. But he was a terrific human being. What does that mean? What do you mean when you say that? For the life of me, I call you all terrible people, because, though you know not what you do, you’re just so sickeningly good at it. Am I a pessimist?

Big Boss Mikey reached Scout.

Scout boxed his ears. “Will you just shut up and be quiet for a minute? Shut up, shut up!”

Everything shut up, on Scout’s command.

There was a hush, a silence. The whizzing of BBs and the pop at the end of the pellet gun, poop! stopped on the edge of a knife, and the high-pitched whining laugh of The Vera Sisterz and the low, grunting cuss of their gorilla boyfriends faded off into the blue sky that was the floor, and all was silence except a deep toot signified by The Elephant’s presence, all was still.

All except The General.

He was crying over the dead body of Ozzie . . .

Just kidding. (That’s how I would totally trash it if this was a fiction story and not an autobiography about what really happened in my make-believe life, but anyways:).

 

None of us were dead. You think a BB Gun could kill somebody? C’mon!

These weren’t bullets we were dealing with. These were BBs. Something you’d probably use to hunt rabid squirrels.

Besides, it would take an elephant gun to take down Alfredo’s big ass.

All he had the next day were bruises.

Some of it bleeding.

Some of it . . . Infected.

3

THIS ACTUALLY TOOK PLACE OVER, like, three or seven years, I can’t remember which.  So! What a famous first chapter! It’ll never be any better than this. You had best go home, and go to college. Don’t you feel smarter for that? .  College?

But why am I laughing?

I think it’s because my wife just told me a funny joke, laughing. She’s funnier than me. She gives me my coffee in the morning, a steady waxing, and then I spank her.

She’s a real riot.

Her name is Mary, and she’s the mother of my son, you might say I married her in another world, because she’s too good for me. Mary, marry me? Are you reading this? .

I think we’re having sex now. Is your son reading this? Is your son in school? Does he know that not all books make him smarter?

 

END

2 FORTS:

Tweenagerz and The Purging of the Frogz

4

IT COULD’VE BEEN THE NEXT DAY, it could’ve been the following year, I can’t remember which, but some time later (however late that time was), The General rolled his 126-sided polygon and the number rolled was “13.” I think it was a month.

The Spirits were restless, said The 126-sided Polygon.

We were going to lose our Tree House soon if we didn’t offer up a sacrifice.

“The frogz must be purged,” said The General.

The Spirits were cloudy about the reason exactly why The Frogz must be purged; all they said was that it must be done.

Ten-SHUN! and our lord and master clicked his heels together crisply.

“This is a good day in Phoenix–boys,” said El Capitan, the General–in grim salute. Swiftly, he was on his knees, making cartoons in the dust. Presently, he looked up to us.

We were all encircled around him, the whole gang of us. Ozzie and me were a bit nervous about the whole frog-purging thing, but I was up to whatever orders were in the general’s throat. I put my conviction in him.

Alfredo and Scout were on the further edge of the circle, lisping little unintelligibles under their breath, and Big Boss Mike sat somewhere far removed from us, his stern features working at dragging down the dusky corners of his mouth, his lazy eye a cold, white stone drifting now and then back to The General, then off to The High School that stood sentinel while the little ones played G.I. Schmoe on the floor.

They say heat drives people crazy. Heat drives you nuts!

The General stood up off his knees–he stood on them–and turned his attention to us. He rubbed The Polygon briskly in his hands, then tossed it in the air, opening up his shirt pocket so The Polygon disappeared–not unlike a majik trick. “We have an understanding then?”

We all nodded, all of us; that is, all but the Big Boss Mikey, who was still farther off, now sitting down with his legs buckled up in his arms as he stared, as if listening into the distant call of the high, blinding lights of the football field and the piercing toot of the coaches who ran at the ankles of those not-quite-men performing laps.

“Alright then,” said The General. “We go.” His teeth shone like a lighthouse. Smiled.

And we were off, smiling under the guiding star of his grin, Big Boss Mikey dragging a leg behind him–somewhat reluctantly, as we hiked down The Hill and pooped into The Wash and on farther down, into The River. There was only one River.

Said our General, “There’s gotta be tousands of these frogz down in The River, Tousands, c’mon, I’ll take you there! I think we’ve disrupted their chi flow, that’s why The Spirits are all the rage about it — ” I looked back just in time to catch Big Boss Mikey roll his soft- boiled eggs at the word ‘chi flow’; I turned a curious ear back to our beloved captain. “—so it must be clogged,” that’s all he was saying. “All we have to do,” he braced a yew bow over his shoulder–strung an arrow through the bow, and said with lighthouses shining, “Is unclog it.”

Unclog my butt,” said Big Boss Mikey.

“I’m sorry, what was that, Mikey Kid?”

Big Boss Mikey turned his opinion down a bit. “…Nothing.”

Soon, as we dodged along we hit The River Bottom. I mean, we really hit it. Most of us tripped into it.

Walking through a River Bottom is like walking on a beach in some places and climbing a mountain of stones in others. No plants grow on The River Bottom because of all the colossal river rocks, but all roots in The Wash lean towards The River, thirsting for its quick, cool relief in a dry, dry land. And you’ll see their roots coming out from underneath all the riverrock in more ways than one. Some of them crooning the words “Mary!”, their mother-lovin mate.

Regarding falling down a lot, things are fun that way.

Fun’s over here, nerdz!” The General motioned to us with one hand, and with the other hand he wiped out the overhanging leaves of blonde rivertrees; on all banks clogging out our view of The Pond.

We followed him on and soon the shades of trees took on a new glow–Snow

white in tan and well-hung agriculture–An even cream color.

Certain blue rocks, cracked from tumbling round in the two-week rainy season, these stones made up most of The River Bottom, and now, in this sudden clearing The General had swiped away with but a passing of the sword, Quartzite in lesser number, then increasingly greater, scattered themselves in shades of diamond across the bottom of The River; a sort of fresh butter over hot, stale bread.

This proved slippery.

Suddenly, our General halted and put one hand to his face and one hand in a policing motion to stop us. “Okay. I lied. It’s not over here. It’s over –” Eenie, meenie, miney — He looked quickly side to side, missed the tiger by only a toe, then said, “Ah! There it is!” One swipe of his pipe sword and we were pretty sure what It might be.

The nearer you get to The River, the more exotic The Plants become.

…We had just become a little bit nearer.

It was a grass that resembled wheat and long, spiraling tails of plants that looked like foxtail. It curled up in the hot wind and the white bark of the rivertrees were fresher paper; lighter; brighter and more reflective of our yellow sun.

Where Quartzite sprinkled the ground; here in grains of fire, there in smoldering coal in a bright, sandy shore–everywhere! But you don’t care for gassy description. And on the mud was a dance called the Hop.

A million were engaged in this movement; tiny frogs no bigger than your thumbnail hopping around in a happy brown muck.

Alfredo looked down at all the dancers in the slime–all of them soon participating in a bloodbath, though they did not yet know it–and then looked curiously up to The General; for once in his life, serious. “That’s a lot of nuts!” he said, to break the seriousness.

The General turned about and puffed out his chest, paused, as he made a gap in our time as if to say–I stop and I breathe. “Okay, nerds–This is it. The Spirits say, well specifically Simon the ghostly Spirit says — ”

“You sure it’s a good idea to kill all these hoppers? It could throw off the whole ecosystem.” We revolved our big, juicy collective

I over to Big Boss Mikey, who still stood farther off, one foot dug deep into the sand.

A ha-faw from The General, but only a short one, and his peepers narrowed on Mikey. “You doubt Simon the ghostly Spirit for the silliness of his name. Really, Boss–it’s simple: He says we must — ”

“I doubt a lot you have to say about — ” Mikey’s eyes turned to mine, which were lighting lighthouses of their own, looking up at him, just about to cry. “Whatever,” his mouth said. “Get on with your ‘purging’ then. I’ll just watch. See if I do anything bout your public nuisance.” What a voice of reason~ :

The General took a noisome inhalation of breath, and turned our attention to the faithful men who stood long and sorry, staring up at him, awaiting orders. “Well then, nerdz, ” he said. “You know what must be done . . . ”

And so, The Purging of The Frogz began.

Ozzie and me worked side by side, collecting frogs one or two at a time and dumping them in iron buckets we had carried with us chocked full of water–(or what appeared as water)–while Alfredo worked his magic setting the ‘wa-wa’ on fire with matches, sticks of M80, bottle rockets, whatever works of fire-sorcery he could mustard–I’m apologizing–muster.

The General and Scout, though — they decided on a different route. Scout would corner The Frogs and chase them into a curve, and The General would personally see fit to shoot an arrow directly through its soul and pin The Frogs one by one to icy thin strips of white, hot bark. He’d do this as an example, and an offering, to The Watchful Spirit of The Wash–Simon was his English name, Heaven knows what name his name was in Navajo.

Big Boss Mikey watched this all with a face of disgust. He squatted down on his hams and ran a damp hand through his mossy hair. “What’d they do?”

I think he was asking God.

“I don’t know what they’ve done . . . ” I said in answer. I think I whispered it, for drama, but I might have not said it all. I was still doing what I was ordered to did. I collected The Frogs, plopped them in great iron buckets, with Ozzie by my side, and Alfredo gave them a match.

“Set them all in buckets now! all of the precious little ones!” The General called to us. “We gotta group them together to give them to The Spirits for what they really are. A disruption to The Chi Flow, that’s what!” He was standing now in a power stance, two feet separated like two mighty columns, one each planted on the same tree root what formed a bridge across the river bottom with a little pond in the center.

Naturally, we all worked faster and the song of The General whipped us on, while Big Boss Mikey took a dump in the Quartzite-colored sand, tearing slowly at his hair, his white clothes stained see

through with sweat.

“Couldja help me corner this one here, Private Butt-calves?”

I turned quickly towards Ozzie and helped him corner it, and he smiled, then walked away, leaving me to do The Purging myself.

Trees on this side of the hill next to The River had an ancient kind of earth all washed away underneath ‘em so that you had to pick out all the tangles out of their Medusa roots*. Like hair.

* Like the old Medusa’s hair if she had just gotten out of bed, really.

Some of The Frogs had squirmed their slimy, green squishies between these roots, and–since I was the smallest–The General ordered me with a very personal order to heave my body in there and find every last one of them. He gave me a pipe knife to perform The Purgery. Purging, I mean.

“Alwighty,” I Elmered, and dipped my head underneath the dark, cavernous Medusas, and inched and budged and I struggled all flailing limbs inside.

I found more bugs than anything down there. Some were poisonous.

I screamed, I panicked. My voice sounded like a strangled yodeler up in the Swiss Alps. I tried backing my body out of the medusa roots, but they clung tight about me and all four legs of the black widows–of one it had been missing–crawled i-n-q-u-i-s-i-t-i-v-e-ly all up in ma face, then closer to my nose.

“Get those croakers, darn you!” I heard The General say from outside.

“Sir, yes, sir, Genewole!” I tried to salute, but there was no space between the roots to salute. Then I saw a speck of green slime–(maybe a toad)–blur across my eye and make itself deeper into the cavernous hole in the darkness beyond.

5

THERE WAS A LIGHT, however short and small it seemed, that flickered continuously at the end of the Medusas. Like a faraway ghost floating in a puddle of gasoline it was; or the merest twinkling of a star.

There was a black speck growing nearly to the tip of my nose.

And after that, what? Centipedes, millipedes, scorpions. God knows what else too: The Miami Dolphins?

I-didn’t-want-to-think-about-it… Sometimes, I like to think about it.

All I knew was I had a mission and it involved purging a speck of green slime that had momentarily crossed the wires of my funky little optic noive.

 

Oh to Spock with what The Spirits said!–who cares?

It was the voice of my brother, Big Boss Mikey, only it wasn’t really his voice.

The General’s crazy!–diplomatic, charismatic, therapeutic, sure–but crazy! Look, you don’t have to get that croaker. Coz if you go after that one, do you know what’s going to happen to you?

“Whut? Say it,” I said aloud.

You’ll just crawl around in these roots for a while till you’re so tangled up, you’ll never get out! But you won’t die for lack of air or sunlight. You’ll die because of the spiders. The spiders’ll get you.

 

I nodded my head, almost sleepily. Then I made up my mind. I had to go after that frog, it was my civic duty. We’d lose The Tree Fort if I didn’t do it, I had to. What else could I do? be logical? That’d cramp my glorious style.

So I crawled onward, struggling to pry my branches free of the roots, the tickle of multiple legs tocking against the soft earth. There were hissing noises, the echo of a baby’s rattle–A snake? …maybe. But I don’t think so.

The green slime leapt again, forward, further towards that twinkling star of day I knew for an exit, but it stopped, midair, and began to writhe, to reel, to float around, bobbing in the air, as if suspended —

Wait for it.

The seismic tremor from that in-sig-nif-i-cant booger made its telephone call hurriedly up the web and the spider at the end of the thread relayed its message to the other spiders and pretty soon a whole night’s sky of starry black specks had enbordered the little green yum, invitations answers. A party had begun. I only wondered whose birthday it was.

I might have said, “Hey!” I said. That’s my frog. You get your own. But that was stupid, so I didn’t.

But the little yum was already getting spun around like a medieval merry-go-round and–although it continued to struggle–I suppose my job was done.

Okay, okay, I know, so said the Boss Mikey’s thought in mind. They’ve killed it for you–You satisfied? Now get the schmell out of here before they sew you like a quilt!

 

I nodded. That did sound like a good idea at the time. And it really still does, too.

I struggled to thread my little needle dick back.

Somehow, I had to go on through the web. Ah! It was a cave-in the other way.

In that moment I saw my whole life before my eyes, and a little of my past. No, mostly it was my past, and some future events. Apparently, I was to become a child molester and die by fire, but that was a long way off, and as I could see it most of the best years come in childhood anyways, so who gives a flaming shriek?

What happened was this

 

Aw, but I got out.

Soon, I was at the end of the tunnel and I was out of the end of the tunnel and I was looking down at the Purging of The Frogz where our General stood grinning triumphantly at his little footmen splashing around in a green, mossy pool, swiping their pipe swords and their BB Guns and their bows and its many pretty arrows through the hearts of our mortal Terror.

I saluted to The General and he nodded. Awaiting yo’ orders, I told him.

He turned to me, about face, and flashed his teeth. “Did you get that Frog?”

“It’s dead…”

“Job well done.” Then: “Now-get-down-here. We have a new method for purging these frogz, I think you might like.”

6

THE GENERAL HAD GOTTEN THE IDEA that just gathering the Frogs in buckets and blowing them up with M80’s was too slow. I thought we were going fast enough.

But with another roll of the 126-sides and a landing on the number “23”, it seemed, to The General, that The Spirits were urging us to pick up the pace.

Now, the source of the disruption in The River’s Chi Flow, that just might be the reproductive system; that’s the eco-system,” said The General. “Find the frogspawn and we excavate out the reason ‘Why?’ our Tree House will be overtaken. Um. Did that make any sense just now?”

I looked to Alfredo and he looked a little down. “What I don’t understand,” he said. “I liked the way we did it before. With the fireworks, I mean.”

The General directed Ozzie and me to isolate the parent from their tadpole babies, and we were now gathering the frogspawn in many buckets and dumping them in one small pool.

It got to the point where we had so many squiggly commas in that one small slice of color that it wasn’t green anymore–just one gelatinous shivering black.

Alright, nerds! Listen to me now!” said The General atop a tree’s bridge. And he shouted. “This is to test who the real G.I. Joey’s are! the Real American Heroes!”

“Why are you always shouting?” shouted Alfredo, gathering another bucket of shivering color. “You know, we’re not too far away or anything, we can hear you!” he shouted.

The General looked a bit embarrassed at that–(his face colored to a pasty tomato soup)–but he continued on shouting in his clipped, military drawl: “Right!” he said. “So Simon tells me, now Simon is a spirit, that if we gather up their newborns for one final sacrifice, we can stop them from mutating any further and amassing oversize frog battalions for The Witch.” / “Aw, your mom’s a nice guy,” said Ozzie. / The General leapt down from his place on high and descended to our level. He walked closer to Alfredo and Alfredo grinned a fat, rippling cat up at him. “You know, if we don’t Purge the demon infants they could infect the whole world with a Black Plague in vogue of the outbreak that took place in the 14th century. Soon too…”

“History reeks; don’t give me Social Studies,” said Alfredo.

The General winced, but continued: “You know? The Black Plague? The one that killed 30-60% of the Earth’s population back then–anywhere from 25-75 million people. Read a book! I’m not the only enlightened soul out here, am I?!” The General almost cried then, I think. Either that, or he just liked being a drama baroness. “I won’t let that happen again–Not again.”

He was crazy.

The General wouldn’t let that happen again, alright, so he ordered the whole city under a purge, and to salt all ground that didn’t burn. We raised it to the ground. (Which means ‘Destroyed’ I think. I don’t know why he said ‘Raise’ it to the ground, since ‘Raise’ is supposed to mean ‘Lift’ I s’pose, but that’s how he said it: “Raise it all to the ground.”) So we raised it alright. It took the Frogz many a summer to repopulate. Then again, I don’t think they ever did. I never saw many more skippers and hoppers after that, unless you count the stoners that skipped school. It’s a bad joke.

As we were raising the roof, I dipped my hand into a puddle of shivering black–a kinda shaving cream it seemed to me–and cupped a few of the Tadpole spawnlets in my hand. They didn’t look like demon babies to me. They looked like minnows. They looked like bolded commas

,  Only a few of them had legs, and were already taking on the quality of their FrogFatherz–oh, he has Grandpa’s chin!–hopping about nervously out to adulthood.

I looked back to The General, then back to Scout and Alfredo.

I sniffed the air. It had that hard, metallic quality of blood. It reeked of iron.

For some reason, this sacrifice of innocent frog-lives, it didn’t smell right to me. I mean, the smell of The Wash I knew and liked was the smell of blossoming yellow flowers and dried tree sap. It wasn’t supposed to smell like iron. “Private Butt-calves!”

“Huh-wha?” I turned about and saw The General smiling down at me.

He didn’t look annoyed or angry nor nothin. He never got angry with me. I think if he had to choose a worker out of any of us, he’d choose me. He just shouted, I think, because I was so lost in my own little microcosmic world and I needed to hear somebody scream in my ears now and then just for me to function. “Yop?” I said. I say, “What is it?”

Another happy thought pulled high the corners of The General’s face and he put a serious hand on my happy shoulders. “You o-kay, sport? Really–You need, like, a break?”

I shook in my body.

He ruffled my hair. I hated it when people ruffled my hair. I had just slicked it back with maybe thirty pounds of hair gel! I hated it when people ruffled my hair. “I’ll be back in a sec,” I said.

The General nodded and was off to pushing his little brother into heavy child labor. That, or slavery. I never got paid anyway.

Looking to my trees up above, I watched the wind blow the leaves.

We wanted a place that no Girlz (the spirits said, ‘girls would be our downfall’) and no Teenagerz would ever think of looking, like school. The 126-sided Polygon did say that Girlz would be the reason for the fall of The Tree Fort and that we should be aware of that. I wondered if that meant one of us would fall in love with one of them.. I wondered if this would be the sacred place of our next fort, or maybe if it would be farther back in the Wash.

“Hey Private Butt Face!”

“Yop — I mean — whutdja call me?”

He said one of two things: “Get over here, me friendly,” and “Come help me with this, ya jerk.”

He was Alfredo. Alfredo was lifting a rock the size of Salt Lake City, Utah.

 

“Wow!” I said. “Dat’s a big wock!”

“Whatever you say, Fudd. Just help me with it, alright–Ya think you can do that?”

As I lifted the rock with pie in mind, I listened to him and Scout joke about things.

“What do you get when you cross a midget with a bungee cord?”

Alfredo thought for a space age, and as he did, he let go of the rock I was helping him carry and it dropped it right on my toes with a bloody “IN YOUR FACE, CRACKER!” but no one seemed to notice. I just screamed and writhed there, whilst Alfredo the Elephant thought over what just might be the stupidest gag in the world.

Scout looked at Alfredo with a look like he finally stumped the Master of Ha-Ha’s, a grin blowing up his fat face like he had come in contact with something allergic.

A grin rippled up Alfredo’s face. Is the answer: “Your mom!”? he said.

Scout’s grin disappeared. And he kicked a nearby rock-wall Frog prison with a prissy bit of force that sent a few spliced commas flying out of it.

He was soon engaged in the old game: crossing his arms, then uncrossing them; pacing.

Man, your jokes are lame, man,” said Alfredo. “They always have the same answer: ‘My mom and how wide her end is.’ So-just-cool-your-beans-and-check-this-out, okay.”

Scout stood there, tapping his toe against a rock, while I screamed, Help me already! since I still had a ginormous rock on my now bleeding toe, by the way. “I don’t know,” said Scout after a while. “Enwighten me,” he Fudded. (Yes, we both bathed in the same gene pool.)

Alfredo held his face for a second. Then his eyes lit up, and his mouth looked so chocked full of something like he was about to pop, like he was about to puke. He hurled it: “The good ole town of ole Bendover!” was the unexpected punchline.

And he fell over in The Pond and started to roll around like a cannonball.

 

Scout turned to me. “I don’t get it. Do you get it?”

Alfredo reached out for Scout’s ankle and pulled him into The Pond and they both started to splash around in a fit of panicky giggling, positioning each other into head locks.

I don’t think the joke did have a point now that I think of it. That’s probably why Alfredo laughed so hard. He liked that sort of thing: a life devoid of all meaning cracked him up.

The General cracked a jaw, and resetting his glasses, he polished the barrel of his Gun. He did have BB gun after that incident in the first chapter. “We all over now, We done here.” The General turned to where Alfredo and Scout were rolling around in the mud. “if you two sirs want to sex each other round in the mud like a couple of sissies, go ahead, but! — ”

“Thanks!” said Alfredo. He turned briskly to Scout and said, “Hey, butt buddy! Watch this!” and leapt up on a pile of rocks that he and Scout had made and put both feet apart much the same way a sumo wrestler would.

Cmon now,” said The General. He checked up the universal watch–our sun. It was no longer noon; the chariots of fire had crawled down nearer to the horizon now. “Look: We don’t have much time. It must be four, maybe five o’clock now.”

“Oh, bend over!” said Alfredo.  He leapt from his pile of rocks down to Scout. Belly flop.

Scout’s eyes became so full of surprise I swear they were the size of the hubcaps on most semi-trucks. He promptly rolled over in the mud, just managing to miss the perilous belly flop into the little pool of slime that was The Pond, but still managing to have his leg crushed by the waters of The Elephant’s aftershock.

Alfredo stood the hell up, shifting dizzily from one leg to the other, since he’d just knocked his sorry head on a branch coming down.

“Okee-doke,” said The General. He turned from the two pussy-footers and said, “But what I was really looking forward to was rewarding you two with some pizza bagels I have stowed away, back home.” He snapped his fingers. “Darnit, you know? I guess, I’ll, yeah . . . Guess I’ll have to throw them all out.” / Alfredo and Scout exchanged glances, their bellies suddenly shriveling to the size of sun-roasted nuts, bodies drawn out to thin, sickly starving things. “Pizza bagels!” they crooned. “Holy  poop!” said Scout. “Cool beans!” said Alfredo.

They bounced right up after that and killed cities of Frogz in the next, like, minute or so, like they had been stolen away on a deserted island and hadn’t eaten in two whole days.

I was still working, doing whatever The General thought possible.

There were lots of ickies out now–Gnats.

“Yes, yes–absolutely stunning. Good and Good,” said The General.

Our General looked very pleased with our little Frog Hunt, but the Big Boss Mikey looked bored. Big Boss Mikey was now standing on a collapsed tree on the other side of The River to be the exact opposite of The General, reading a sports column. He waved his head soberly so we knew he had no drinks on him, his shoulders hunched. He said, “We must be Luney Toons.” See also: This is plum ridiculous.

The General got to arguing about which part of it was plum ridiculous or whether any of it was plum ridiculous at all: The Purging of the Frogz, I mean. And while they both argued over that for an age, the rest of us continued to end the Frogz with weapons of considerable might.

I was doing it as fast as I could, I really was. My best friend Ozzie the Peasant, though, he started to get bored. He started to yawn. It was already late for him. “I’m only five or six years old!” he had to remind us. Seven O’clock was usually his bedtime! It was already four, five O’clock now.

So yawning, he started to walk off into a clump of blue and yellow flowers a ways off into the Bush, and he started counting off the petals, reciting this wonderful phrase, “I hate her. She hates me. I hate her. She hates me? That jerk!”

After many fiery chariots had passed under The General and the Big Boss Mikey’s arguing over the ridiculousness of the situation (whether it was or was-not ridiculous, I mean), Big Boss Mikey jogged up to me and positioned himself smartly with one knee on the ground, patted my shoulder with a breath, and said, “You-can-stop-working now.”

I saluted him with “Suh, yes, suh, Big Boss Mikey, suh!” and stopped working.

The General strode quickly over and said to me, “The Polygon said we must purge The Frogz or lose our fort. Git back to work!

I saluted. Started working.

But Big Boss Mikey looked at me, with steady face, and said, “Nonsense. Offing Frogz isn’t going to stop something from happening. Stop working, Private.”

I was right in the middle of transporting a Mommy Frog and a Daddy One from one pool to the next, but as soon as I heard the words, “Stop working,” I just dropped them all down on the dirt, saluted, and said something childish.

As fate would have it, that just got The General steamed, so he strode on over to Mikey, his pants so constricted in the groin area he looked like he’d set to puke. He went up straight in front of the Big Boss Mikey, stared him right in the face with his own face scrunched up so sock-like it looked like he was having a bad case of the gas; and pushing back his wire-framed glasses, he said–not bothering to even look at me–: “…Get back to work.”

I started working.

Big Boss Mikey ordered me not to work.

I stopped working.

The General ordered me to work.

You see how this goes.

Alfredo ordered me to do a somersault.

I did a freakin somersault.

“Stop working,” said Big Boss Mikey.

“I’m not workin,” I said. “I’m doin somersaults.”

“Then stop doing somersaults.”

“Get back to work!” said The General.

“Pick your nose and eat it,” said Alfredo.

I picked my nose, then looked back to Alfredo, confused, and said, “How do I eat my nose? My teeth can’t reach my nose–see?” How cute I was.

The General ordered me to put my finger back in my nose, the Big Boss ordered me to take it out and go home. Alfredo ordered me to strip naked and start juggling rocks and doing jumping jacks, singing, “Some like it cool, I like it feisty!”

That one was probably the easiest for me, because I was used to doing weird things.

Now, Alfredo leaned in real close to me and whispered real quiet in my ear to kick Big Boss Mikey in the shin. So I went up to the Big Boss and kicked him in the shin, Mikey eeking out a “Yeowwwch!” and then running over to Alfredo to say, “What color would you like your nose to be: Blue–black–purple, or magenta?” And where does the plot go from here? Nowhere. I thought so.

“So it seems,” said Alfredo. “Considering I’m a partial negro, that’s a near-racist statement.”

The Big Boss looked sorry for a second. “No, no, no, well, what I meant was, what I mean — ”

“You threatening a black man?”

“But you’re a pure-bred Italian Nosedog,” said The General.

The Big Boss and Alfredo both looked at The General and said sharply, “This-doesn’t-concern-you.”

The General ordered me back to work, and–now that the Big Boss and Alfredo were busy fighting–The General finally got a little bit of peace for his loyal crew to work through the quiet for a while.

But I got just so flustered after that, I wouldn’t dare move! As much as I wanted to follow The General’s orders so we could stop the anonymous Girlz from stealing Our Sacred Tree House, like Simon the ghostly Spirit and The Polygon had said, I couldn’t hardly transplant my feet from Point B to Point AlreadyDoneIt.

So–stretching out in one last burst of momentum–I let gravity do the working for me, and fell flat on my nose.

I stretched out a bit more, wondering if maybe I’d pushed myself a little too far this time. My heart was beating too-quick and so-hard. For the moment, I gently kicked off my shoes and let my toes run through the cool brown murk of our mossy Pond we were Purging.

I let out sweet exhalation. The feel of dirt-and-pebble massaged the soft spots between my toes. Sand and thorns get in the shoes quick–and in the butt caverns and other unmentionables–swifter.

My eyes revolved around to The General. From the look of it–least from what I was hearing–he was ordering Ozzie to get back to work, since Ozzie’d been doing nothing the past couple hours but picking flowers in Bushes and making sand angels in the dirt.

But the Big Boss–what’d you think he did? He turned quick to Ozzie and said to him with a shiver of his head, “Not that way, Ozzie. You don’t have to work.”

So Ozzie just shrugged and gave a quick, “Okee dokee” and walked aimlessly off the other way, frolicking in the flowers while shrieking Over the Rainbow.

That got The General nasty. “I’m sure we could all just live in communes, but people just aren’t decent enough to share,” he said, and Big Boss Mikey laughed in mock triumph while The General performed a pity party, saying “Why won’t a-body listen to me?

Some time later — it must’ve been around five, six O’clock and nearing my bedtime, and long past my attention span, as I was already considering putting down this book — it was late, and I had already rubbed the sleepiness out of the corner of my eyes, and rolled over to Ozzie who was still tap-dancing in the flowers. “Hey Ozzie?” I said. I’d still have been working if I remembered my orders, but I forget where I am and why I’m doing it quite often.

Ozzie stopped singing and turned to me. “Huh-what?” he said. He always said “Huh?” the first three or nine times you said anything to him, so I decided I’d get it out of the way quick as quick can.

“Ozzie?” / “Huh?” / “Ozzie?” / “Huh?” / “Frickin Ozzie! What the heck! Listen to me now!

“Huh?” he said. His facial muscles blinked real fast and, finally, he poured me some attention.

His laugh was a flute note.

It was then we started to speak our own language, a language we developed since a very young age we called Zumo Language. Are you still paying attention?

“BbrlkjalwerkjkJ! nack glwzdsfK. zkerkjadf bjsD?” I said.

He laughed–it was supposed to be funny joke. “St glnuknock quwtanf?”

“tinstafl edcnnaeD. woz qP!”

“Ha ha!”  / “He he!” / “Mwahaha!” / “Wahahoho!”

Yeah, it had us giggling like two little school girls slobbering over, like, Leonardo Dicaprio, or whomever.

Anyways, we had made up our own language and said just the weirdest things, truly believing we knew, and understood, what we were bleching to each other.

(I’m not kidding about this Zumo language thing, though. We really did speak this lost dialect of ours, and only two people on the planet knew it, and we spoke fluently. I know that sounds idiot, but we really did that sort of thing here in Arizona.)

Anywho, it was getting way too dark by now and the yunguns–(Ozzie and me)–were way too tired and distracted to know where we were or why we were doing it, so The General said, “Well–men.” We all turned to him, the Big Boss Mikey most slowly. I was beginning to think Big Boss Mikey hated darn near everybody. “I know we were supposed to Purge all them Squiggly Commas and everything, but –” He paused to wipe the loose beads of sweat off his brow. And here he said it fast, “It’s-getting-really-dark, the-yunguns-are-tired, and we-have-only-time-enough-for-one-last…ceremony.”

Scout looked up to him, smiling feverishly. “What’s that? Can I do it? I want to do it, I know I can. What is it?”

The General put out an uplifted palm to the heaviest-torsoed of us and said, “I think we can just about Purge the remaining populous of Frogz if we use up the last of The Elephant’s fireworks.”

Alfredo looked nervously to his left and your left, sometimes mistaken for the right, “What fireworks, I ain’t got no fireworks. I don’t.” We gave him that look–the one your mother uses. “DON’T LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT. AHHHHHHHHH!! No, but I’m kidding.”

We gave him that second look–you don’t know this one. This one looks like a cuss word, but in physical manifestation.

“I’m no pyro,” said Alfredo, and he began to strut off, and The General caught him by the scruff and holding his tubby self midair, said, “I know you got some form of explosive. Show me some Dyne-O-Might. C’mon, you were so set on using it before.”

“But that was before I knew it cost money.”

But another person caught The General’s arm by the skin and said in a slow voice, “You harvestin some ee-lee-gul fire flow’r?”

The General turned about, took on the look of one who says, “And what’s it to you?” but-he-didn’t-get-it-out-in-time, because what he saw was a fist in the face and broken glasses.

And there, The General was laying in The Pond, and with bloodied nose.

Of course, it was Buzz Mitchell and his boys, followed quickly by The Vera Sisterz.

They were laughing and grunting like cavemen.

Good-for them!

7

NOW, I ALREADY TOLD YOU ABOUT THE DANGER of farm animals–hack, cough–excuse me!–of creepy-crawlers. But, really! No! that’s not the danger. That’s not even half of it.

The real danger–for young boys, I mean–is the danger of what we call “Tweenagerz,” for the Tweenagerz didn’t come down to The Wash to play, lest it’s for can-shooting. They came down to The Wash to smoke, and to drink. To drown their troubles in alcohol.

Now, there was a particular group of teenage girls that were rougher and tougher and meaner and leaner and more bully-like than even the teenage boyz that came down to smoke and drink and cuss and spray profanity on the wall. We’ll just call them The Vera Sisterz for now.

The Vera Sisterz–two older girls almost twins, only one was skinny and the other was fat (perfect matches for Buzz Mitchell and Tubbs McGee), and then there was always that stray little, tagalong cheerleader who was a sort of girlfriend to Marvin Cheddarhead, the little motor mouth, but you could tell she didn’t like Cheddarhead. Cheddarhead didn’t treat her so hot. He was never satisfied with the way any girl looked.

As always, Buzz and his girlfriend, Ashley Smilez, were sucking face–sometimes periodically groping between sentences in quite an–actually–intelligent conversation. It made you wonder if they really knew they were playing tonsil hockey at all, or if it just came so natural to them they couldn’t tell the difference between making conversation, and making out.

If you meet these sisters in The Wash or if they meet you, they’re likely to steal whatever you have on, whether Doritos, or Cherry Coke, or whatever goodie they can find on you. Maybe they’d just push you around for a bit. At least it wasn’t The Bronx or anything–it was just a small town–so they wouldn’t slit your jugular or anything.

However, if they found out whatever forts we had Lego’d up, they’d take liberty upon themselves to make the whole fort a part of their backyard. Tear it down, burn it down, maybe just party out in it for a while. There wasn’t much to do in a small town but that: Party. So you had to be buzzed on drama juice. You practically had to.

Ozzie was unaffected by this. Ozzie is an ignoramus. Ozzie was up that nearby tree–that one there–bashing his Gameboy buttons, stupidly unaware of The Teenagerz that stood just a couple butt-whooping feet off from where he was taking a squat.

Big Boss Mikey barked up to him first: “Hey, Jerky’s friend!” Jerky’s my name! “Get your butt over here!”

Ozzie said, “But I can’t get just my butt over there. The rest of me has to come too.” It was supposed to be funny.

“Fine, fine. Just get–get all of you over here. Get down here.”

“…Kay.”

Ozzie tried scrambling “the hell down here already,” like the Good Boss said, but was caught halfway by one of The Druggiez. Tubbs McGee was the one who did the caught-ing. Tubbs McGee was called Tubbs for a good reason. He was rather chubby that one, so side by side, The Elephant looked model

thin. There’s a lot of childhood obesity in America, especially in the Valley of the Sun, so for me to tell the absolute truth about my country, you must forgive me for admitting that a lot of us were–not so skinny. I hope our fatness doesn’t offend you.

Tubbs McGee, for example, was so tall–sidewise–that, well he was fat.

One time–listen to my boring @$$ story–one time, or so my eldest brother sold me, Tubbs McGee got so positively peeved at a teacher in a Social Studies class for some non-apparent reason that he ripped his desk right in half. No kidding. Hulk pissy. Hulk smash!

He chucked both remaining pieces of the desk: One at the teacher, hoping he would break, and one at the clock, hoping time would break; and this, so he could go to lunch early and swallow up a few deviled eggs. But that’s another story. That’s the legend of Tubbs McGee.

Hey,” chewed Tubbs, over a bag of eggs. “You like baseball?”

Ozzie was wearing a NY Yankees Baseball shirt. He wore that shirt everyday, everywhere. “No way!–Yuck,” he said, shaking his head furiously. “I loathe sports.”

Marvin Cheddarhead, a little runt, probably 16 or 17, peeked his tiny, little rat eyes up to Ozzie and said, “THEN WHY DO YOU WEAR IT, DUFUS?” Dufus.

Ozzie said, “Because I found it. It was free. I don’t gots much clothes!”

“Put the runt down,” said Buzz Mitchell. “

He’s not the one we’re here for.”

Tubbs nudged Ozzie to the Big Boss, just light enough to let him know he still wanted a large quantity of him to remain under his shoe. “Ha,” he said. All of us, The General’s gang I mean, circled about Ozzie, patting him on the back, asking him if he was alright, except Mikey who was leaning down towards the unconscious body of The General that lay in a pile of brown muck. “You really did a number on him, you know?” Mikey said.

Cheddarhead cleared his nostrils of mucus, rolled a loogie in his mouth, then spat the gathering snot on The General’s head. The General’s gang quickly forgot about Ozzie and circled protectively about our General.

“SO WHAT’S IT GONNA BE, BUZZ?” said Cheddarhead, what was staring up admiredly at him. “WHAT’S OUR THEME OF THE MONTH?”

Traditional pounding sound okay?” said Tubbs.

Shadows now puddled around Buzz’s feet, and him so thin his clothes seemed to float on him like a specter. “No theme,” said Buzz. “Just punishment. Do what you will and whatever happens— happens.”

The thing about Buzz is–(and I mean “Is” not “Was”): he doesn’t talk much. But when he talks, everybody seems to sit around and listen.

For what?–Why are you punishing him?” said the Big Boss Mikey. None of us else dared to speak to a Tweenager besides Mikey, and occasionally Ozzie, since Ozzie was too young to know that he was supposed to be scared of them.

Here would be the point where Buzz laughs heartedly and the rest of his gang grunt like cavemen. “Well, don’t tell me you’ve forgotten!”

But this time, they just let it slide, for the Big Boss said something they thought funny. “For what?”

Buzz leaned in real close and personal like to the Big Boss and for the shorter flicker of an instant I saw Mikey wince–just a bit.  He hardly ever did it like that. “For snitchin on us, that’s what.”

Mikey focused his mind powers real hard. “Snitching?”

Buzz leaned back and put an arm round a girl, the one that smiled. “Snitchin,” he affirmed with a half-hearted bow at the waist.

Big Boss Mikey checked back to us, wondering who had snitched, I bet, but his face had been flung back at the sound of a humming fist, then implanted in The Pond right next to The General.

Mikey spluttering out mud, writhing, as he was kicked repeatedly in the face by one Marvin Cheddarhead.

BUZZ ASKED YOU A QUESTION, DUFUS,” said the Cheddar-headed one. Oh, danger, danger! And he kicked him four times more in the head, grunting and shouting at him, before he said, “Not just any person, neither; MITCHELL!–THE BUZZ MITCHELL!” Not a very likeable fellow.

The Big Boss was now spewing up blood mud from his chapped mouth. “I didn’t; hear any question — ” he said.

“Whoa now, boys!” said Buzz, stepping in between the thunderous Tubbs and his little counterpart. “I’m sure we can come to a compromise and understand who snitched out who. It was the General, right? Hold on there, Marvin. Just hold on a minute.”

Cheddarhead looked back up to Buzz in a mood of emotion, his face full of gore and the torn skin that had splashed out from the Big Boss’s face. He was more wet with sweat in a minute than Alfredo and Scout were covered with stink after rolling around in The Pond for fifteen hours.

And so–this was Cheddarhead; the short, kinda troubled child with the speedster-mouth, who always talked big and played tough, but was really a cowardly muffin down and down.

Buzz Mitchell leaned on down to Big Boss Mikey, squatting down on his hams as he did so. “Now, I’d hate to get rough with you,” he said. He said, “In truth, I really like you, I respect you–you gotta believe it. But are ya gonna tell me who snitched or not? Help a brother out, huh?”

Mikey spluttered out some more mud-blood, a few dead corns, and with a minor disgruntled sob, said, “How can I?–I don’t even know what was snitched out.”

Buzz motioned over to Tubbs and Tubbs raised Mikey high off the ground by his shirt collar, suspended somewhere in space like a man hung by neck on a single thread of chicken wire–if you can imagine. Said Buzz, “You know ole Bill Mitchell–My younger brother–Didn’t you; did you snitch him out?”

Mikey shook his whole body in answer No, but Buzz made the goliath spank him mildly across the head and toss him back into the slop.

Buzz drew a sweaty palm through his hair and started to pace, to circle about us, eyeing each one of us suspiciously, measuring us out as a tailor sews a wedding pageant. “Now, then, I want an answer–Who snitched? Who’s gonna be my little plaything? Don’t go throwing up your hands all at once. This is a very respectful–respected position I’m gonna make you fill.”

The Giant Tubbs leaned now down next to The General and Mikey and he said, “

it’s either one of these two dopes, I’m sure of it. no need to deal out death and judgment anymore, right?

Buzz didn’t bother looking back, but continued to frowningly stare at us, interrogating us each with his cold white smoldering stones, the very same optical illusions, in fact, that throbbed in Mikey’s eyes, when aflame by some wild emotion. “Oh?” said Buzz after a while’s pause.

Tubbs nodded his head feverishly, and made his professional diagnosis, that in the short career of bullies, rang undecidedly Yes-or-No: “yop.”

Not-Snitching is a bully’s code of honor.

Buzz drew back from us and looked down to Mikey, then spoke softly to The General, “My kid brother is doin 6 years in state penitentiary coz of guys like you–or was it a correction hall? Ya see, I can’t decide which is worse.” He kicked The General once, then twice in the face–then backing off, wiped the collar of his phantom sleeve on the wire-frame bones that drooped from his face.

Of course, this had all the Vera Sisterz giggling except for one of them, the Ashley that went by the name Smilez. “Cmon, Sugar Booger, let’s leave them be,” she said sidelong to Buzz, meaning, Let’s go. “They’ve had enough punishment for one day. Ya think?”

Buzz inhaled slow, but was quick on the exhale. “I don’t wanna go. I wanna show these two guys what it means to be a prisoner–of an institution, of a concept!” / “Do you think it right, Buzzy?”

“Ah, what do you know? You’re just a lil ol’ school-person. You wouldn’t understand.”

“Would I? I’ve got a Daddy in prison–I grew up with that man in my house for a real long time, and as far as I was concerned, he was alright, and you tell me–what?–I wouldn’t understand?” / “Aw, Go your own away, Hot Pants. Come back when you have something intelligent to say–Alright?”

“Whatever, Buzzy. You make your own decisions.” She left. The other Vera’s followed.

Buzz cussed her off a little under his sleeve and looked disappointedly down at the General who was just beginning to regain consciousness.

Buzz gently massaged his temples. “Oh, screw it . . . ”

The General had now dragged his legs slowly up to his chest, the crack in his knees complaining as he stood up. Suddenly, He made for his swift escape.

“Hold-on-a-sec-there, cyber geek.”

Of course, it was Buzz. He now stood right between The General and us. He was very sneaky.

The General turned his complaint into mouthy words. “Listen, I’m sorry about your brother, but he really deserved worse — ” He looked back to Cheddarhead and to Tubbs  who now stood in a semi-circle around the standing pre-teen —

Buzz eased The General back to the trampoline-belly of Tubbs McGee, which knocked him flat on his back. The General dusted himself off, for sure, taking attention to scrape off the brown muck off his shirt. “Hey~”

“6 years,” said Buzz, as he drew in closer to him. He squatted down on him; He held up the appropriate amount of fingers. “This many.”

The General crab-crawled away in backward strokes, still clinging to Mikey’s shoulder. “Your brother,” said The General, and stood finally up. “You wanna know why I tattled, right, why I told on him? Arson, man, arson! He burned your own house down, or did you forget? Cmon already. Wake up.”

The flesh around the points in his palm where Buzz dug his fingers sizzled. Then burned. Which is a synonym, so they did roughly the same thing.

The General went on:  “So your mom takes up an axe and tries to go postal on her son. So the son burns the house down and croaks your mom, nearly lighting up the whole neighborhood with it. I know it’s tough, but I had to tell. If I didn’t —  “How did I find out? I enjoy long walks.”

This last word was followed by a loud snapping sound, and The General lying flat on his back, calm, quiet, and puffing heavily. “I do this every week!” he said. “Good show!”

“Have you no respect for the dead?” said Buzz to The General.

“He already had a record, why do you think they believed it?”

Cheddarhead leaned over to Buzz’s side of the room and said to him, “

Want I should bust his teeth out like I almost did with Mikey, huh? Want me to–because I will, oh, I can. I’ve done it before.

Buzz grimaced down at Cheddarhead and nabbed him over for a friendly headlock, and a noogie. “Not now, lil buddy.”

The General usually wouldn’t talk to them, he wouldn’t give them the time.

I know I wouldn’t talk in front of them. If I did, you can just bet on the moon they would’ve made fun of my speech impediment, and I couldn’t bear to take it like that. I was pretty sensitive.

Mikey tried helping again.

Probably by gravitational pull, Big Boss Mikey landed leaning against the comforting bulk of the Great McGee’s belly.

Presently, a few of the Vera Sisterz had just come back. Ashley Smilez said she forgot her jacket. Ashley Cakes said she just didn’t have anything better to shoot.

Well, the tension started to simmer down a bit, so Alfredo Sauce got up enough guts to take off his shirt and be weird again, scrunching up his great belly so that it looked like a bunch of lips and then he started to talk from it. “Ahem. Ladies,” he said from his belly to The Vera Sisterz. “M’Yes. Would you know, perchance, where the gym is? Usually, I’m accustomed to working out four times a day, you see, and sparring with Jackie Chan and such and-and–cor blimey!” and suddenly, his bunched-up lips barfed out a few wet, Butterfinger candy bar from the button. So he turned to the ladies, and said to them with his belly, “Oops–Pardon me.”

“You’re gay,” said Ashley Cakes. Who was still there.

Alfredo made his belly scowl and say: “I’ll have you know: I’m-a-lesbian-in-a-man’s-body!”

“Hey, I just returned to get my girlfriend’s jacket. I don’t need this.” She started walking away, remembered she had nothing else to do, and came back with crossed arms. “Well, I’m not here for you anyways…”

At that point, Buzz Mitchell looked at Boss Mikey with one head cocked to one side–not two, because that’d be ridiculous–and said, “Hey, you’re not like the rest of them. I can tell. You wanna beer or something?”

I threw my looks over to Mikey, but he didn’t look back at me. As a little homeschooler kid, sipping a beer would be the cardinal sin, or the rooster sin, I can’t remember which.

To this remark, Big Boss Mikey just shrugged and said, “What’s the big deal anyways?” So he took the beer (a 40 oz. Jack Daniels) in his fist, cupped it up to his lips, slurped a sip, and gave it back. “Tastes like piss,” he said. “Why you like it, huh?”

“Funny you know how piss tastes.” Buzz downed the rest of the beer faster than a lumberjack can chop toothpicks, and it practically full of liver-ejaculation. “Mostly, for the feelin,” he said, setting it down. “Ya get buzzed afterwards.”

“Ah, I see. So the name implies.” Big Boss Mikey wiped off his mouth parts with the corner of one finger, taking apart the frothy brown cream of it all, and said, “I’d rather drink something that actually tastes good.” He looked down to me and to his other little brother who were still playing around in the mud. “Look,” he said. “We didn’t come out here to drink booze or to pick fights with you guys; we came here to massacre these, these frogs you see just blown up everywhere. I know it’s stupid, but that’s what we’re here for. Ya see. My friend here you have crumpled up in the muck, he’s real superstitious.”

“You the strong, silent type?”

“I wasn’t aware we were classifying each other into types just yet. Look: You don’t know me, how would you know that? From taking one look at you I could say you were the I’m-getting-a-nose-ring-because-you’re-all-stupid! type.”

“Why, That’s not true at all.”

“Same with me.” :< “Look, I’m sorry about your brother, I’m sure he was a swell guy and all–Well, I didn’t actually know him, but I’ll take your word for it, just like you can take my word that I’m not who I seem to be and you’re not who you appear to be.” He wiped a chipped thing out of his smile, smearing stuff all over his shoulder sleeve.

Buzz positively chuckled. “You think I’ll give up what your friend did to my little brother just like — ” He snapped a finger-click.

Big Boss Mikey stole a peek at the sun, where it had settled beneath possible rain. “I can’t say what you’re gonna do about it. I can’t say I know who you are or where you come from just by looking at you. Hey, maybe your goodnatured Christian-dogma side will overcome you and you’ll just let it slide. Maybe you’ve got gold inside you, soft spots all over that just need to be touched with the right word or the correct emotion. Maybe you just need to come down to where we are just to understand that we’re not all too different than you just because we’re sheltered home school brats what go to church or what not.”

“Wow. We’re having a real moment.” Buzz presented that radiant smile you just wanted to kiss, regardless of sexual preference. “You’d think I’d be the one giving that little sermon you gave, my little Preacher man. Can I call you preacher?”

“I’m no preacher. I’m just a screwed up kid looking for a place to be–be what? Who knows? -Maybe you’re the same, but I can’t say.”

“You can’t, can you?”

“Who can?”

Alfredo motioned to me for the first time in, like, three hours. “Hey, Butt-Calves! Do the triple moon!”

I shook my head. “No . . . I don’t feel like it.”

“Cmon! Do the triple moon! They have to see it! Tis Fate.”

NO.

Course, by now, The Druggiez and their Vera Sister Counterpartz-(bored, they came back)-had gotten somewhat interested in what Alfredo–that very clever moron–had been yelling out about, ‘bout a so-called ‘triple moon.’ But I knew they shouldn’t see it, no one should ever see it! It would traumatize them more than their collective childhood experience’s would traumatize you. Maybe..

With the exception of Buzz Mitchell and Big Boss Mikey that were still talking over by the massacred purging of the frogz, everybody stood now just about all around me if they could claim a spot, especially our beloved Tubbs McGee, who couldn’t help but being all around me. . “

cmon, boy,” squeaked Tubbs. “show me that triple moon.” mentioning something about ‘can you eat it?’

Cheddarhead leapt up and smacked Tubbs cross the head, which was really his knee, since Cheddarhead couldn’t reach too far. “

NO, DUFUS,” he lioned, tigered, and beared. “YOU CAN’T EAT SOMETHING SOMEONE CAN DO.”

Hold it,” said Alfredo. “Give us some space!” He rushed in next to me, and The Vera Sisterz backed up and The Druggiez backed down and Ozzie and Scout and The General backed in behind me.

Now–even The Vera Sisterz looked vaguely interested, or just less

bored. “What’s the triple moon, hey?” said Ashley Smilez, munching a fiery cigar in her mouth, while Ashley Cakes just licked her chops; the third Ashley what just came back for the occasion, expecting to hold something truly amazing in her hands, I think. Her smile so big and loud I could see it across the way. . . I wanted to kiss that smile.

In answer, Alfredo slid under my legs and turned me around so that I was aimed in the other direction from The Druggiez and The Vera Sisterz, and he thrust down my pants and showed them that something special they couldn’t take home and put on a wall, unless they cut my ass off my hips: My signature triple moon.

Three moons eclipsed our sunny eyes that day: Two of them were butt-calves of mine; one was an actual butt. And the shadow of it was cast right between The Tweenagerz’ ghastly faces.

And so, The General’s Gang ran off to their mamas, followed by the quick slaps of feet on wet gravel and the feral grunting of cavemen.

Big Boss Mikey saluted Buzz Mitchell on the run and said, “It was a real treat meeting you.”

Buzz Mitchell let out a little whimper that was half a sigh, stuck his hands in his running pockets, and performed a barely noticeable nod. He too was obliged to chase us.

And in the end, which is never “The End”, Mikey ran back to get me, not having enough time to pull up my pants, so he just carried me with my pants still down and the calves still flexing The Triple Moon all the way home; while Ozzie screeched like a dying pre-adolescent weasel that never did quite make it through puberty.

And back then, what with all The Teenagerz bullying us around here, and battering us around there–I was surprised we even did make it. To puberty, I mean.

 

 

Gay

You know what, Alfredo?” said Scout, and pointed a stiff one out the minivan. “You can leave!” 

Alfredo had become a nuisance.

“Well, cool beans, that’s fine with me,” so Alfredo tipped a hat to Scout, and reversed gravity. Flipping himself down upon the floor of the minivan so he now stood correctly on his feet. “I’ll show myself the door, thank you,” said Alfredo. “Walk this way,” he said to himself, both escorting and following himself, smartly out of the minivan.

Scout called Alfredo a “Hetero,” as he left, and Alfredo called Scout a “Homo,” back.

One of the lesser characters raised a hand, “So if we’re a girl-haters club, does that mean we’re gay?”

A long, awkward silence–but of course.

They all looked at each other, blinking like they each had a single solar system flaring in the corner of all their eyes. “What does ‘gay’ mean?” said another boy to the first boy.

The gay boy didn’t answer….

Then another boy did answer: “I saw it in this old movie back in the 1950’s–well, I wasn’t in the 1950’s, the movie took place in the 1950’s –” / The boy with the gavel cleared his throat. “Your point, son.” / “Gay means happy.”

“Oh,” said Scout with an affirmative shrug and a thoughtful nod. “Sure, we’re gay alright.”

Alfredo poked his head back into the minivan, his face trembling, his eyes a crimson sauce. He was crying. “You’re all gay,” he screamed. No, he screeched it. “EVERY ONE OF YOU!!

The Boys in the Van under-the-bridge all celebrated, having just affirmed the positive meaning of the word, lighting firecrackers and breaking piñatas, shouting, “Yeah! Alright! Like yay.”

And so, Alfredo popped back out of the van, and out of our story, his face a confusion, his eyes still gory with tears.

Oh yeah,” said one of the gay boys as Alfredo left, setting himself up for the unsuccessful punch-line. “Well, your girls have cooties!”

“And you gays have AIDs!” said Alfredo, popping his head back into the story. “I’m not just sure, I’m HIV positive about that.” And was gone for a good time. You can bet your life insurance on it.

To punctuate a scene that had gone a bit hissy, Scout pounded a dead bobcat head on his podium in front of the Road Kill Gang, and said, “Order! Order! Can we have order here? NO, I already know your next question, Zukowski. Established: We’re all gay. Honestly, I think it’s terrific. But we need a little order here.”

The Road Kill Gang asked Scout what “Hetero” and “Homo” meant, and the difference twain them. To which, “Oh,” said Scout, and bit his upper lip. “That’s our second item of business. Who in here likes girls again?” He looked around the run-down minivan in that dry riverbed under that dank and smelly bridge. “Raise of hands please.”

No one raised their hands.

Anyone here ever dreamt of kissing a girl?” said Scout. “Raise your hands. Come on, get em up. Nobody? Good. There–do you see? Oh, get that finger out of your nose! That’s just siiiiick.”

No raise of hands–but it was just as well. The Road Kill Gang exchanged glances.

Next question:

Anyone here have their tongues swell up, or their knees shake, or their penis get a frightful case of the –?”

“What’s a penis?” said one of the Boys.

“–erection whenever they encounter a member of the gentler sex? “Just answer the darned question. Raise of hands, but don’t talk! Everybody. Come on-No? Good.

“Then none of you are hetero. We’re all gay homosexuals, and that’s cool. We’re off to a good start here, children. Sweet! We’re real manly men now, practically lumberjacks. The way all men should be: Gay, with fashion of plaid and work boots to–what else?–to boot.”

Hey, hey–hey Scout! I got a question, I got a question here.” One of the Boys in the back had one hand raised. “What does ‘hoe-mo-sect-shoe’–what does that word I can’t pronounce really mean?”

Scout scratched the lines in his face and seemed to think for a moment. He stabbed a finger into the air and wriggled its thoughtful webbing around for any idea of what a ‘homo’ meant floating up there. Then he caught the idea. “It means — that you don’t enjoy the company of girls. Simple as that. We’re a certified, professional, A-#1 girl-haters club, as merited under Arizonan law, ain’t we? So we’re all on the same side here. We don’t like girls, we only fraternize with other boys. Simple as that.”

“Oh,” said the Boys.

They all nodded, smiling at each other. A few of them giggled. They were a girl-haters club, after all. And gay. A few of them embraced, a pair of them made out — something safe, and far, and in the distance, using their — uh. Eyes.

 

“Alright, onto item number 3!” said Scout.

Thus, tapping it on the podium, he said, saying: “Women,” and here you’ll have to pause for a bit, looking them all with two pinched-tight eyes, and really thinking: “Is there a cure?”

8

–But that’s another story.

And that is all anyone is from first glance: One you cannot understand till you sit down and listen to their story.

So sit down–really sit–grab some popcorn, and put some sugar on it if you’re not a diabetic, and really listen to my story and I will tell you theirs. And how we all got caught up in this crap together.

Alright. Enough poetics. Back to childhood stupidity.

For that is what we all are: Someone you do not yet know.

 

9

So Spirits had predicted that Girlz were going to be the reason that we were going to lose our fort, right?

Yeah, a few days later (or a month, a year, whichever you prefer.) A few days later anyways, and we quite literally lost our fort because of some Girlz. Three Girlz.

Presently, The General sheltered his eyes against the rays of the sun. He couldn’t believe it, but all the same, he could. Twas as The Spirits had predicted. He just couldn’t believe Planet Manliness would end this way. Three girls had taken our Tree Fort hostage, and turned it into a home.

And Scout called out,

Us guys got a right to build forts!” called Scout.

“And us girls got a right to own land,” called Blossom.

“And fight wars!” chimed Bubbles. / “Yeah — and to vote!” is what was said, said Buttercup.

 

3 FORTS:

For Our First Contestant . . . :

“How Much! –” And she cocked her head to one side and gave the world a big phony thumbs up: “DO YOU WEIGH?

10

I MUST’VE BEEN 7 OR 8 BY THE TIME we carved out our next fort. It was a long time coming before we spotted out a new one.

Once Bubbles and The Powerpuff Girlz had usurped the throne of Our Tree House leastways, everybody except for the Big Boss Mikey was amazed that The General’s prediction was right and even Alfredo grudgingly admitted along with us: “He was right, sure, the Spirits really did know, just like they said.”

So Alfredo, Scout, Ozzie, and me followed The General even more wholeheartedly, even reverently. Like he was something holy, something almost deified, Herculean even: A legend in some making.

But that’s not how this particular day started (The day we spotted our next fort.)

How-it-started began with a little Game Show.

Scout was the producer and Alfredo was the host.

By and by, Teenagerz would come pimpling with their backpacks and their skateboards and their bicycles; and just plain slow-walking-(as all cool Teenagerz did; going as slow as they could with a system dictating that the slower one walked the cooler one was);

–and all these coming out from The High School.

You got that camera aimed at the right place there, buddy? Hey, I don’t want the audience of our little short film staring at my crotch the whole time, as impressive as it is.”

It was Alfredo who said that, of course.

Ozzie was supposed to be holding the camcorder, but he never took the lens off, so Scout had to take the lens off for him and periodically re

adjust the camera and point it back in the right direction. He did this whenever Ozzie got bored of holding it up, or tired, or just plain forgot what he was supposed to be doing and started to record little hummingbirds or bumblebees or empty cans gone tumbleweed, or even the stationary yellow flower that he thought was just pretty.

While Ozzie took care of the camera work, I held up the cue-cards that Scout–the producer, announcer, writer, and auto-technician–was supposed to be reading off, me occasionally picking my nose and wiping it on the key words-(mostly in smears)-of which Scout was obliged to decipher.

Alfredo, he just made up his lines as he went. He didn’t need to stick to formula, though Scout begged him to stick to the cue-cards.

Presently, Scout turned to his camera crew and gave us the ole 1-2-3 “Are you ready?” hand motion with the thumb and forefinger, and the other fingers counting off. “You ready Oz-Man? You ready Butt-Calves?”

I nodded, Ozzie picked his nose-(which was the closest thing we could get him to do for an affirmative “Yes”), then Scout began the countdown: “Okay, 10. 9. 8.”

For the signal Go, Alfredo tossed an old tin can into the path of a skateboarder and he tripped over it and fell into a bush on the side of the road.

Ozzie forgot to wipe the boogers off his shirt, and accidentally wiped it on my shirt, so I socked him in the arm, “What was that for?” he told me. / “5. 4. 3.” / So I held up the cue-cards. / “1. 2. 5!” Alfredo broke in to the count, Monty Python style.

Scout continued the joke: “3 sir!”

“3!”

I looked up to Scout, and said, “Aren’tcha gonna say ‘Bwast off!’ Doesn’t that come after 1? Bwast off?”

Alfredo just pinched my cheeks. “You’re so cutesy. 3 is the number of the counting and the number of the counting is 3.”

“4 is way off,” said Scout. “5. Don’t-even-go-there.”

Thus, they began an intellectual interchanging of Holy Grail dialogue with silly British-(and the occasional French)-accents:

ALFREDO (French accent): “I fart in your general direction!”

SCOUT: (British accent): “Where’d you get a coconut?”

ALFREDO (French): “Your mother was a hamster. And your father smelt . . . Of ELDERberries!”

SCOUT: (a Brit again) “We found them!”

ALFREDO: (Scandinavian this time) “He’s not quite dead.” “He’s gettin better!”

SCOUT: “What? Found a coconut? Coconut’s are tropical.”

ALFREDO: “How do you know she is a witch?” “Why, she turned me into a newt!”

SCOUT: “Are you suggesting coconut’s migrate?”

ALFREDO (singsong): “When danger reared its ugly head / he bravely turned his tail and fled.”

SCOUT: “Not a-tall. They could be carried.”

ALFREDO: “Help! Help! I’m being repressed!”

Ozzie actually spoke up for once in a while. “You know, I could be playing Gameboy Color right now. Are you two sirs gonna do this or what?”

Scout and Alfredo stopped being Medieval British Knights, Kings, Peasants, and the occasional Staunchy Frenchmen for an instant, and started. “Oh yeah,” said Scout.

“Right-O,” said Alfredo.

“What was my line again?” said Scout.

I tapped the cue-card, the one that had the name of the little game show we were playing, but Alfredo already memorized his lines. Or made them up.

Alfredo slapped on that big, fake Richard-Dawson-Game-Show and said, “It’s time to play — ”

“How much!” Alfredo and Scout said together, while cocking their heads and giving the whole wide world a big phony thumbs up: “DO YOU WEIGH?

“For our first contestant,” began our beloved host, Alfredo Valentine. And grinning into Ozzie’s unstable camera technique, he said, “We will be interviewing the lovely . . . ” He waved his hands around, mouthing, “Eenie, meenie, miney; Larry, Curley, Moe. If I catch her, it will snow. .My mother told me to pick the very worst one and you are it, you soggy double frog turd — in — the can — ” with an exclamation “YOU!” Fredo shoved a microphone into a passing biker’s face, which knocked him flat off his bicycle. “What is your name, good sir, my lovely, lovely piece of man, you?”

The Tweenager — he had to be at least 16 years old, and 6 feet tall to match — he should’ve knocked Alfredo flat on his butt, but the sudden camera-crew-in-his-face televising this event Live to six sheltered home school children in the neighboring district must’ve really FREAKED him, because he just quickly backed up, crab-walk-style, and didn’t even turn around before snatching up his bike and cycling frantically away; Alfredo chasing him all the while with his theatre-big megaphone.

After Alfredo couldn’t catch up to the biker, Fredo stopped and turned back to us, shrugging his shoulders, puffing, wheezing: “Meeting such a fine honkin celebrity like me must’ve plain scared the poopy out of him. Who broiled his beans?–man!” Then he turned to the heavens and screamed, tearing at his gorgeous Italian locks: “Why do I have to be cursed with these good looks? Why?! Oh, dear-sweet-Golly, why?!” He fell down on the sidewalk and started to cry then, even managing to eek out a few real tears by chomping down on his own fingers.

This got Scout flocking down from his high place and walking up to Alfredo; Ozzie and me following them with cue-cards and camcorder just in time for Scout to say, “Perhaps, my dear sir, all we needs is a big, comfy chair for our lovely contestants to squat down on.”

Alfredo-was-still-busily-squeezing an eye-lemon, but when he heard that suggestion he leapt up on his feet, and nodded his head, saying, “Sure, that’s it! Well, cool my beans! All we need is a big comfy chair, like a couch or something. But how, my dear Scout, will we acquire such a device?”

Ozzie turned first to Scout with the camera, then to Alfredo, recording magic in the making just in time to show Alfredo loosening a wedgie stuck up his butt crack; only Alfredo stopped scratching the instant Ozzie got him on camera*

* , of which he straightened up and tried to look all official.

So Ozzie mosied the camera on over to Scout till Scout opened his mouth and said, “We could just bring over my dad’s couch. He won’t mind.”

Sure, why not?” said Alfredo. “No one cares about couches in their houses anyways, they take up too much space! We’d be doing him a favor.”

“Will do,” said Scout. “But we better do it fast. School’s just gotten out and if we don’t get that couch quick all our contestants will be gone up and over that hill.”

In a coupla moments we had a big, comfy couch carried down right then and there in the middle of The Sidewalk on top of The Bridge that all The High Schoolerz on the walk had to use to get from Point School to Point Home, finding it impossible to go around unless they owned a fully functioning Mobile Suit Gundam. We also had enough time to carry with us two plastic fold-up chairs and a card table for setting a pot of desert flowers on to make it oh-so-cute, and also a coffee pot full of heated

up Cherry Coke with paper cups: for the guests.

Now; Alfredo slapped on his big, fake Richard-Dawson-Game-Show grin (again) and said (once more), “It’s time to play — ”

“How much!” ‘Fredo and Scout said together, while cocking their heads and giving the whole world a look: “DO YOU WEIGH?

“For our first contestant,” repeated our beloved host, Alfredo ‘The Elephant’ Valentine, grinning into Ozzie’s unstable camera technique. “We will be interviewing the lovely — however unlikely — ” He waved his hands about,  mouthing, “Eenie, meenie, miney; Larry, Curley, Moe. If I catch her, I might let her go.” then he exclaimed “YOU!” And shoved a microphone into a passing roller blader’s face-(roller blading was big in the early 90’s)-who, this time, was a petite little red-headed munchkin girl with, as expected, the goofy classes combination. She looked like she had just crawled out of the library. “What is your name, good sir [“Ma’am,” said Scout the Producer], my lovely, lovely piece of man pie [“Woman pie! She’s a woman!” said Scout] . . . you?”

“What is this, hey?” said the little red munchkin, peering about our open-house studio, while she shoulda just minded her own business, I thought. “Is this a research project?”

“Why, yes, sir [“Ma’am, ya incompetent doo-doo!”], I’m sorry,” said Alfredo.

Hey, I’m doing my best. “The best studio this side of the Rio Grande.” After a moment’s pause: “You know I’ve always had a dangerously, obsessive fetish for redheads — a rapist wit; But enough with the formalities. Are you ready to play —– Freckles? Can I call you Freckles?”

She wasn’t all-that-bad-looking for a geek.

“So . . . ” said Scout, motioning for our beloved host to continue. / “So,” said Alfredo, cocking his head to the little red munchkin. “How much do you weigh?”

She turned her head, picked up her books, went, “Hmph!” and was off, roller-blading fast away.

Alfredo looked to the camera that Ozzie was pointing in his face, and to the cue-card I made with the “And now for our first contestant!” still out. “What?” said Alfredo. “She’s not fat or anything, it’s not so bad a thing to ask a little scrawny girl how much she weighs, is it? She shouldn’t be self-conscious about it, or anything.”

“There’s our next contestant!” said Scout the Producer. “Quick: Elephant! Hook that big-mouthed bass before he swims away!”

Alfredo turned around and got the next teenager, this time a guy with pimples all over his face. He also had buck teeth. They usually come in pairs. “So, my good man; sir!” he began. Alfredo slapped on the Richard-Dawson-Game-Show grin (again) and said (once more), “It’s time to play — ”

“How much!” Fredo and Scout said together, while doing that thing they do so well: “DO YOU WEIGH?

“Get away from me, or I’ll issue a restraining order,” he said, and pushed Alfredo down.

Alfredo turned back to the camcorder, and said, “We better edit that one out.”

The next contestants came falumping by, this time in twos and mores, so it was a bunch of contestants. Seven of them, actually. But they were all dressed in black and wearing Dread Knot and Metallica t-shirts, their face painted white, with linked chains and bleeding mushroom creatures hanging off their clothing. Alfredo usually made judgments on the way people look, Ozzie didn’t, but he did; so he turned back to us and said, “We’ll just havta pass on these ones, as lovely as they are. Now shut up and try to supernaturally gain the power of invisibility!”

We did. We became invisible. Not a sound, not a sight to the world.

The next contestant came, safely as a dove. A girl who was suffering from a skin rash with hair the color of stringed-asparagus. Yeah, she had green air. She was a rebel.

Alfredo fully assembled the show host grin in all the right places and said, “It’s time to play — ”

Said Fredo and Scout, “How much —

DO YOU WEIGH?

SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!” she said. “LIKE DON’T I HAVE–like–ENOUGH TO DEAL WITH THAN TO THINK ABOUT–like–MY WEIGHT AND STUFF ALL THE TIME?LIKE!AHHHHH!!” And she stormed off, cussing and liking! and–as one might imagine–slitting her wrists, all the way home. I felt sorry for her.

About sixtythree other could-be contestants passed by; and the sheer amount of them coming out of The High School thinned until we breached upon our last few waves of should-be contestants. This time, Alfredo believed we had found our champion…

Alfredo applied his big, fake show host grin (once more) and said (hopefully, for the last time); “It’s time to play — ”

“How much! like, DO YOU WEIGH AND STUFF?

“For our first actual contestant,” repeated our beloved host while he grinned into the camera Ozzie had previously worked on perfecting his unstable camera technique: “We will be interviewing the lovely — ” He waved his hands about, mouthing, “Eenie, Larry, Curley, and Moe . . . ” then he exclaimed “YOU!” And shoved a megaphone into a passing pedestrian’s face, this time a rather large foreign-exchange-student dude. He looked like he had come somewhere from The Middle East. “What is your name, good sir, my lovely . . ?”

Scout quickly brought out the chair for him and shoved the foreign exchange student down into the chair, but the chair didn’t hold up under the guy’s weight and splintered into pieces (he was an exceptionally rotund fellow), so Scout helped him up onto The Big Comfy Couch we had borrowed-without-permission* from our parent’s living room.

*, but-with-every-intention-of-giving-it-back!

I put out the cue-cards and motioned them towards the foreign exchange student for him to read, hoping he could.

“So, Saddaam,” said Alfredo to our foreign exchange student pal from The Middle-East. “I can call you Saddaam, right? Last name Hussein.”

Our first contestant shook his head and said, “No. No, you may not call me by that name.”

“Bin Laden, then!” / “I’m sorry, no.”

“Muhammad?” / “Not all people from The Middle East are called by that name!”

Serious-faced: “Buddha-belly?” / “I am not from Asia.”

“But you do have one. So, Buddha, old buddy, old pal — ”

“Look,” said Buddha.

I have to study. I must go now.” He got up to leave, but Scout immediately pushed him back onto the big comfy couch and said, “But you may have already been a winner! You’re on a game show!”

Buddha looked around at us, his eyes pinched tight and discerning: “I am? I was not aware game shows in this country were run by 4-year olds.”

“Take that back!” said Scout. “I’m practically an adult!”

“I’m 7,” I said.

“I’m 4,” said Alfredo. “In spirit . . . ” He was really 10.

Ozzie looked at his fingers and put both hands up towards Buddha’s face, counting the number of his years: “This many,” he said.

That’s right!” said Scout, motioning to us all. “As you can see, we are all fully-functioning, civic-minded; heterosexual adults! and therefore super-qualified to be hosting this here game show which is to be televised Prime Time on N.O.Y. B.W.”

“What is this N.O.Y.B.W. station you are saying?” said Buddha. “I haven’t heard of it.”

“It means,” said Alfredo; “None Of Your Butt Wax!”

“Butt wax?” said Buddha. “I’m sorry, but I do-not understand your dialect.”

“It’s, none of your business,” said Scout.

Buddha looked around at us all, interrogating us with a suspicious eye, adjusting both cheeks on The Big Comfy Couch. “What is the nature of this show? I could have you kids put away for televising without a permit, and! for exploiting a migrant foreign exchange student. Not really, but wouldn’t that be fun?”

Said Alfredo, “But our show? it’s called,” and he put on the show host grin (again) and said (probably not for the last time), then together: “How much! — DO YOU WEIGH?

“Huh?”

“So how much?” said Alfredo. / “In pounds or kilos?”

“What’s a pound?” said Scout. / “You are an American citizen, and you don’t know what your own standard measurement system is?”

“I know what a Kilo is,” said Alfredo. “I watch a lot of European crap. Except Brits don’t use it, and that’s practically all I watch besides the French and Swedish stuff. So how much?”

“What?” said Buddha. / “Do you weigh?”

“How much do I weigh?” / “Yes!” said Alfredo and Scout together.

“It’s classified. Now, let me go.”

Scout took some Cherry Coke we had boiled in a coffee pot that day and shoved it in Buddha’s face, pouring the drink in a paper cup for him. Ozzie thrust the unsteady camera into his face, and I contributed by tapping onto the cue-card for Buddha to read a note from our sponsors, from Coke: “It tastes so good,” the card read. “I could never spit it out!” What a fabulous advertiser I was back then; ‘and a snazzy dresser,’ added Ozzie.

Buddha tasted the boiled advertisement, immediately spit it out, for – it – did – not – taste – so – good, then sat up, bowed to us, and said, “Thank you for your hospitality, my friends, but I really must be leaving. My host family is expecting me.”

Alfredo followed Buddha a good ways down the road. “Dear sir!” he said. “Is it true that you are planning an assassination on the president of Los Statos Unidos?”

Buddha turned around and socked Alfredo a good one in the stomach till Fredo fell crippled to the knees. Buddha then dusted imaginary dust particulars off his clothes, and said, “In this country I do believe I am entitled to two things: a) My privacy and b) I forget what b is.”

Alfredo had a surprised look on his face, falling down, gripping his stomach, that, but still mouthing the words. “So — huff, pant — a ‘yes’ then — shall I put you down for a ‘yes’?”

Buddha stepped over him and was off on his way.

Alfredo was, need I say, annoying? . .

Suddenly, there came a suddenly-sudden occurrence that happened all of a sudden.

It was The Vera Sisterz, of course, that happened upon all this suddenness.

They came walking by, talking about boys, men, and Mel Gibson (a Teenage Heartthrob back in the 90’s even though he wasn’t a Teenager).

In all this, Alfredo saw his chance to get a little revenge back on the sisterhood for pushing Buzz Mitchell and the boys into shooting him so many times with those BB Guns. Naturally, he started up the talk show, dead centered on Ashley Cakes who was . . . munching on food at the time.

You can see where this is going: Alfredo put on his real show host grin (for the last time) and said (with his last words and his last breath), “It’s time to play — ”

“How much!” Alfredo said alone: “DO YOU WEIGH?”

Ashley Cakes stopped chewing her food and, very soon, her bottom lip started to quiver. A bit of juice came slithering out of her eye.

You know where this is going.

Though you can soon guess what will come ahead, Fredo rubbed a tear out of his eye. He was crying too, but for different reasons; he always did enjoy a good laugh.

(I know there’s a lot of fat characters in this book, but that’s Modern America for ya.)

Smack! What came around went smack in Alfredo’s face and a stick of gum sprayed out his mouth, but that didn’t stop Alfredo from dying down laughing. He got right back up.

“Soon, you’ll have no teeth,” said Third Ashley, the cheerleader. “You don’t just ask a girl’s weight.”

“Huh?”

Ashley Smilez, that day, was unbearably quiet. Usually, it was her turn to say such things, but there was a certain look to her face that looked like she wasn’t up to it.

Another slap, but:

Alfredo ducked out of the way, fell over The Bridge and ran into The Wash, calling his camera crew and his producer down with him to film the up-&-coming high speed chase.

We never did return that big comfy couch we borrowed.

I think some Teenagerz brought out a truck and just picked it off the sidewalk, but oh well: My dad needed to buy a new couch anyways, and we only got grounded for a week. So The Vera Sisterz chased us all off and into The Wash, Third Ashley the cheerleader cussing and throwing stuff at us, threatening our lives and our manhood as we faded into The Wash, and into shrubbery. But we didn’t see where Ashley Smilez went. She was a tricky one.

We hid in a bush. But it was a huge bush. Indeed, it was forty thousand feet long*!

*Carved out by a pig run.

It was a fort we later called The Pig Den.

We cornered one. It didn’t like it. One of us got scratched. It hurt!

Still, we didn’t move. The Vera Sisterz came beeping in around the bush, but then they soon gave up and faded off. It sounded like there were at least thirty Teenagerz searching by the time they threw up arms and said, “Whoops. Getting late. And I want to rock n roll all night,” and party everyday.

…Except one Ashley did find us.

11

SHE WAS SMILING A LOT

As her feet tumbled and fell over rock and branch, she smiled quite proficiently. Alfredo opened his mouth to say something just right, but she just waved one finger at him, as if to say, “Uh-uh,” and he shut his mouth so tight. I could call the others.

When the searching footsteps gradually died away, she opened her mouth and said a first word. None of us moved. Neither did we whisper or exchange glances. This was her moment to speak, not ours.

“So this is what you’ve been up to,” said Ashley Smilez. She looked around, crawling on hands and knees like a giant rodent sniffing about with her little rodent nose at the pigs who dwelt here.

Alfredo opened his mouth just once more, but a look from Smiles and he shut up. “Not up to.” She looked at us for a long time, laughing softly to herself. Ozzie still had the camcorder on and was recording “Live, beep, beep,” everything she did on Station N.O.Y.B.S. I put out a cue-card for her to read that said, “Kick me,” on it. (I think Alfredo wrote that.)

She moved closer to us now, so close she was within kissing distance. “How come you didn’t ask me?” she said. “I woulda answered.”

We thought that was a strange request.

Scout blinked nervously, exchanged glances with the camera crew. I held up a cue-card to him that read “Speak and die.” Scout kept silent.

“It’s okay,” said Smilez. “It really is. You can talk.”

“Unh,” said Scout.

Alfredo crawled closer to her. “Allow me,” he said. “We were just — ”

Smilez turned quickly on Alfredo and pinched her lips tight. “Not you.” She turned back to Scout, or the rest of us, and she sparkled at him. “I want to hear what you guys have to say. Not him.” She was exceptionally weird that day. We thought it was something she’d drank.

Scout backed up, knocking Ozzie and his camcorder off balance so he nearly dropped it on the ground. Two “uh . . .”’s and an “Ask you what, lady?”

A little wind blew around Smilez’ hair, lifted it, then dropped it. Smilez shook her head.

“Well, I — ” Scout said, then he looked back to Alfredo: “Alfredo here is the host of the show. I’m just the producer, see? Alfredo does all the talkin.”

“Oh screw Alfredo! He’s talked enough,” and she turned suddenly on Alfredo. “And I mean Enough. You really hurt my friend, you know that? You know that, right? Or why did you laugh? Hey! Why are you laughing?”

Alfredo tightened his lip into a long, thin scar.

“Oh cmon, Alfredo Sauce,” she said. “Talk to me. Why did you laugh?”

Alfredo shrugged. “But you told me not to talk!”

Smilez sighed. The trickle of a nearby brook searched like blind, padded slugs down a hill, running along with a near silent *plop*. “Never mind what I told you to do. Why’d you laugh already? That was really mean, you know?” She brushed a strand of peach-colored hair out of her eyes. She waited for an answer, but for once, Alfredo said nothing. “Fine. Don’t tell me. I don’t wanna know, hey. Some people are just plain mean, you know?”

Alfredo snuck back further into The Pig Nest, and Ozzie started to shiver, like he was cold, his teeth chattering like firecrackers.

Drawing slowly towards Ozzie, Smilez extended the back of her hand and put it on his forehead, cooing softly to him. “Oh, poor son. You silly little thing: Ya cold? And in this heat? Why, it’s gotta be least 200 degrees out there, and you’re shiverin!”

Now, we weren’t all too convinced by this sudden change of her cancerous, black heart. Ozzie just tended to forget things.

Ozzie’s chattering teeth was all she got in answer. His eyes flicked up at her coldly, then flicked away.

“You’re a silly little thing, you know that? Shiverin in the heat. Pah!” She drew in her legs to her slow

breathing chest and started to shiver herself, but we didn’t say anything about it. The sunlight seemed to creep away from her face, fade out, rust, and turn to a dumb pink. “I remember one time when I was cold. It’s a dumb story. Wanna hear it?” She looked down at the ground, a faraway look gathering slowly in her eyes.

We gathered around her like she were the only warmth in a monstrous wasteland of leaping hoarfrost and biting chill, her body a living furnace. We sucked the heat out of her.

Now, her mouth started working mechanically. Her eyes looked up, and that’s where all the romanticizing began.

“I remember,” she said. She shivered again, indiscreetly, and started to scratch at these open wound on her arms. I hadn’t noticed before, but there they were, scattered about in little pink slits like sharp, red jazz cracks on an iced-over pond.

Nothing was said between us for a while for theatrical purposes, then she took out a cigarette and lit it for the sake of that drama; or what I thought was a cigarette, but probably wasn’t. Probably, it was marijuana. Finally, she spoke: “We were up in the mountains; Flagstaff, you know? It was practically arctic . . . Oh, you don’t want to know the story!” Her eyes flicked up at us, for once nervous, like she were disclosing to us her deepest secret. “He–my father, that is–had sent me out to get some timber for the fire. We had a cabin, a princely one.”

“Shut up! Your story sucks!” said Alfredo. Then sat down.

“..Okay,” said Smilez. — somewhere up in the air. “It was made of Lincoln logs, and really, it wasn’t much to look at, but it was all the world to me. Daddy, he was supposed to be going to the local store to buy hot dogs and chili for the fire that night; but I got lost.”

“So why should we care?” said Alfredo.

“Shush!” said Ozzie. He wanted to hear the story 😉

A few strands of hair blew softly over her face. She wiped them away and gazed o’er tward the light at the end of the crawlspace. “I didn’t know where to go; which way was north, south; up or down — that was lost to me. I was all a-shiver. It snowed for a bit. Shush, Fredo! I tried following the smoke that usually ran up from the chimney of the cabin, but there was no smoke to see.

It was so dark! so I shouted for my Daddy, coz you know, in a bed sheet of snow,” laid flat across all those closet-monsters, “a great burly man with a pickax is a great comfort. He didn’t come back, though. So I sat down on that snowy bed sheet, and I cried. Shut up, Alfredo!”

“But why should we care?”

“Hey, shush,” she said. “I think it’s good. I think it’s a good story.”

She said, “So I sat against a tree, huffin and puffin. Then– why am I telling you this? It’s not even a good story,” she looked us each in the eye. “No surprise, sillies: He came back, a-shoutin my name, and I followed his voice.”

We all looked at her, then to each other, not knowing what to think, or to say, whether we should let her keep speaking or say our part or just be still.

So we kept our options open.

* * *

Seems silly me disclosing all this what not needs to be disclosed, but you’re all just so silly, maybe–if I tell the truth just this once, even too much truthmaybe your silliness and mine, maybe they’ll cross each other out, but I gotta say it. It’s been boring on my mind for so long, and all my friends, they’re so stupid. And stupid is worse than silly–don’t ya think?” For now, a fire grew, dilating her pupils wide. “Daddy brought me to the fire once he found me.

“and we looked up at the swirling galaxies for a ceiling, oh don’t laugh, him telling me each their names, their stories, hobbies, interests; what suit they like to wear when going to big galactic balls; I said, don’t! what songs they like to sing when off to Captain Kirk weddings; SHUT UP, ALFREDO!

“how they each were little angels and how I was one of them.” Alfredo started to laugh because it was stupid. “Only I had granted his wish one night when he wished upon a star — or maybe it was fishing upon a star, I can’t remember — and the star he wished upon — Me — I made him so incredibly happy–(

listen now)–as he watched me dance and hum for him, and he laughed and he clapped hands and he slapped his great, big Daddy knees–(are you still listening?)–I guess the story ends there. Not a very good one, isn’t it?”

“but then –”

“I thought he really appreciated me, but he did things to me; bad things too. I’m, uh  – hey, why am I telling you this? You’re just little kids, you wouldn’t understand. You’re not a self-help kit –” She laughed, so cold. “That is, I can’t say it for sure, maybe you will understand, though –” her eyes turned to Ozzie who was still shivering in the heat. “You’re just babes in the wood, aren’tcha?”

In the distance, there was a rumbling of voices arguing from the nearby neighbors. She bit her lip.

“Funny,” said Alfredo.

She looked over to Ozzie and put the back of her hand on his forehead, saying, “There, there, baby. Don’t cry . . . ”

Ozzie wasn’t crying. She was the one who was babying, and shivering. He gave her a look what said, What are you- a grown woman-doing in a little boy’s story?

Still, our girl who was almost a woman–you could tell it in her bra–drew her legs further up, pressing them tight against her chest, with her fingers locked together so that she was one constricted little fetus of a person. “Tell ya a secret: Do you want to know one? Come closer. No, closer.” We came in closer. “BOOM!

She looked at you, then, I think. “You know what I mean?” A burning cigarette dangled limply from her mouth — for additional teenage melodrama. If she only had a plate of spaghetti and a date in a trench coat, we could crack some real Grade-A drama eggs here.

She told us about her parents, how they were always bitching.

We all looked at each other, then back at her. We also each shook our head No. We didn’t know what she meant. Our parents never fought, nor argued. We were — different: Alien to the late, great 20th century, somehow. And for some reason, knowing I was different and knowing I couldn’t think what she thought, nor feel like she felt, it made me sad. Like somehow I was missing out, even if I was missing out on something I should never be missing at all!

Ashely smilez.

but why the hell am I telling you this again?” She looked at us quickly. “You don’t; you can’t understand. None of you do. You’re just kids.”

As if in penitence, a sudden motherly instinct overtook her and she drew off the jean jacket she was wearing and gently placed it over Ozzie’s shoulders as he squat there shivering, but Ozzie threw it off of him and into the back of The Pig Nest.

Ashley’s eyes lit up; “Whoa, far out!” she said. “Like, what’s his problem?”

Scout chortled a little. “He has no problem. What’s yours?”

Why’d he throw my best coat away? the little dufus.” She paused. “Dufus? Why’d I say dufus? Now, I’m starting to sound like Marvin.” She slapped her forehead.

“So I’ve heard,” said Scout; then: “What’s your problem anyways?”

“Why’d he throw my coat away? I’d like to know.”

“I said, what’s your problem?”

“My problem? What’s the little yungun’s problem? Hey, what did you say to me?”

“You bored him to tears. Give him something like that and he’ll do whatever he wants with it, whatever entertains him. How old are you?”

A wind blew out all the smiles from Ashley’s fiery face. “Huh?”

“I asked, how old are you?”

“And I asked what your little friend’s problem was here?”

Alfredo bounced in between them and said, “Hey, cool! 20 questions! I love this game!” Then quickly: “So airline food. What’s with that stuff, huh?”

Ashley pushed Alfredo to the side. “Sit down, son.”

“Well?” Scout waited for her answer. “How old are you? Arentchu going to tell me?”

She sat up, and didn’t stop. She wiped off her mouth, which had become wet with tears. “Thirteen.” / “No, really. How old are you?”

Her face tightened, her lips now drawn thin and bloodless. “13. I really am! Just turned 13 last week.”

“That’s not true at all,” said Alfredo. “Us kids, we round our years up. It’s the mid-lifers that round down!”

No, really!” she said. “I’m 13–and hardly that.”

“You could pass for 18, easy. Heck! Maybe even 21.”

She giggled in a voice that was too sweet for a Vera Sister, and said, “Why, thank you! I already have many times. I don’t even need to be checked for a fake I.D. anymore. I just walk on in any night club and people practically assume I’m a single working mother.”

Alfredo studied her face, her wrist, the one with the bad marks in school. “You sure you’re 13? You don’t look 12, you can’t be.”

She shook her head, her voice was serious and so was her body. “I really am. I’m that old.”

“13, eh?” said Scout. “And you smoke?”

“Well, kid . . . ” She looked down at the cigarette that was still smoldering orange in her brand-stained hand, smothered in pink slitlets. “Doesn’t everybody?”

Scout tapped his finger once on his forehead. “Huh . . . ”

Smilez turned to him. “What’s all the ‘huh’ about, huh?”

Scout wavered her off. “Nothing.”

“I told you my real age, you tell me what’s all the ‘huh’ is about.”

Well,” Scout said, and up he sat. “I’m just 10. You’re 13. That’s not much of an age difference, if you think about it.”

Ashley Smilez turned to the camera crew and the host of all their game shows and said, “Well, boys–it was fun. Thanks for having me backstage where all the magic gets done; behind the scenes of your wittle show.” Then she turned to Scout and said, “107, by the way. On the dot.”

Said Scout, “What’s that s’posed to mean?”

She socked him a good one in the arm, and said, “You little dope. You don’t know a weight-confession when you hear one? You wanted to know how much I weigh.” She saluted him with one palm and put the other hand to her bra, as if giving him the scout’s honor. “107–And not a pound more. You got that? Not a rrRoyal buck.”

Scout gave her a little smile, and put a tubby hand behind his head. “Yes, ma’am,” he said quickly.

“And call me Jewels.”

“From the Family Jewels?”

Smilez flicked Scout in the nose again, but it was only a spider. “You don’t really think every teenage girl is named Ashley (or Brittany), do ya? I mean, cmon! That’s my real name: Jewels McVee. I’m Thirteen, I’ve never been single, not once; I’m an addict, and I’m 107 pounds on the dot.”

“Why are you confessing to us?” said Ozzie. “We’re not priests.”

I’m telling ya: It was like we–Alfredo, Ozzie, n Me–weren’t even there. We were just the camera crew. Scout, he scratched at a pimple. He was probably wondering why she had told us she was such a crack head. It’s hard enough to admit you got a white head.

Since this little episode was drawing to a close, Alfredo nodded his head and started scribbling invisible notes down with a stick on my cue-cards. “So Jewels. You’re 13, you’ve never been single, not since you were 7, you’re a crack addict, you’re 307 pounds.”

Jewels nodded, then shook her head. “Hey! No you did not get that right, mister, you did not get that right!! I’m 107 pounds, and not a pound more!”

“And you’re a meth addict?”

“Crack addict! I do crack.” She sighed, and rolled off into a dream. “Why am I telling all you kids this again? Oh, you’ll never understand! No one will. There’s no To-Go therapy.”

Alfredo nodded professionally, then bowed to her several times, slint-eyed, Japanese style. “I see Missee McVee, I see. Velly peculiar person you are. I can also bet you’re not a virgin — ”

She lifted one hand up to smack him. “One more word, you. One. More.”

Alfredo shut up.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s